Soviet Criminal Justice under Stalin

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Soviet Criminal Justice Under Stalin is the first comprehensive account of Stalin's struggle to make criminal law in the USSR a reliable instrument of rule, emphasizing the initial weakness of the Soviet state and the limits of Stalin's capacity to rule. Peter Solomon also offers new perspectives on collectivization, the Great Terror, the politics of abortion, and the disciplining of the labor force. This book should appeal to anyone interested in the political, social, or legal history of the USSR, judicial reform in post-Soviet states, law in authoritarian regimes, or comparative legal development.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A historical study examines Stalin's struggle to make criminal law in the U.S.S.R. a reliable instrument of rule. Data were obtained from recently declassified archives and from interviews and secondary sources." Criminal Justice Abstracts

"This erudite, calmly reasoned book should be the starting point for all who want to understand how the Soviet Union was ruled, and why it failed." Jane Burbank, The Russian Review

"Solomon does an excellent job of placing Soviet criminal policy in a comparative context. All Russian historians of the modern period, as well as scholars of law, legal history, revolutions, and comparative politics will find this book essential reading." J. Arch Getty, Slavic Review

"This large work on criminal justice under Joseph Stalin is a first-rate book on a difficult subject. Yet Peter H. Solomon Jr.'s discussion of the Soviet use of criminal justice and its bureaucratization makes a fascinating read. ...demonstrates the complex and contradictory development of Stalinism well. The present book has to be read by anyone interested in Stalinism." Hiroaki Kuromiya, American Historical Review

"...monumental... Solomon exploits an impressive array of sources, including the recently declassified holdings of several archives, central and local newspapers and journals, and approximately sixty interviews with former Soviet legal officials. This study will become required reading for specialists interested in the history of Soviet law, institutions, education, labour, and society,as well as for students of comparative legal system." Heather Coleman, Canadian Journal of History

Kathryn Hendley
SOVIET CRIMINAL JUSTICE UNDER STALIN, by Peter H. Solomon, Jr., is a remarkably thorough and engaging analysis of the development of Soviet criminal law and the related legal institutions and actors during the decades of Stalin's power. Solomon has made superb use of previously unavailable archival resources. Specialists on the former Soviet Union will be spellbound by the wealth of new information, which Solomon uses to create a more nuanced picture of how legal institutions operated in the Stalinist context. Those less familiar with Soviet history will not be left behind. Solomon succeeds in sustaining the broad historical narrative while undergirding it with detailed examples. This is the unusual book that will appeal to students and specialists from many disciplines. Historians will surely welcome the book as a major contribution to our empirical knowledge about Stalinism. Solomon provides new information about collectivization and the terror. His focus on legal bureaucrats (including judges) and institutions allows us to see these familiar events from a new vantage point. He also lays out, sometimes in painstaking detail, the battles between the ministry of justice and the procuracy (in all their institutional forms), and brings to life the key figures. In particular, the crisp portrait of Vyshinskii captures his contradictory nature. One strength of the book is that it follows the facts, and does not become distracted by allegiance to either traditional or revisionist interpretations of Stalin. Stalin used law as a sledgehammer, and this did not always produce the desired results. The vision of Stalin as the total master of the Soviet Union cannot survive Solomon's careful description of the responses to decrees outlawing abortion or criminalizing labor offenses. Solomon documents Stalin's personal involvement in the harsh laws mandating long prison terms for theft. Although he concedes that this personal participation was not the norm, he is convinced that top levels of the Stalinist regime were aware of the problematic aspects of criminal justice. Judges and legal bureaucrats tend to be forgotten in most scholarship on authoritarian regimes. When mentioned, they are often treated as mere puppets of the regime. Perhaps this reflects the more general tendency to leave law out of historical and political analyses or perhaps it results from a reductionist assumption that an authoritarian leader is in complete control of his country. Whatever the cause, Solomon breaks decisively with this unfortunate tradition. He brings the puppets to life. Those interested in judicial behavior will be fascinated by his analysis of the relationship between the Soviet judiciary and various representatives of the regime. (Solomon never makes the mistake of viewing the Soviet state as a unitary actor. He is always careful to clarify the players.) With respect to the terror and other campaigns, Solomon convincingly explains how judges attempted to resist the pressure from above, and the tactics used to "persuade" them to tow the line. What emerges is a sympathetic portrait of the no-win situation in which these officials often found themselves and the price they paid for trying to find a self-interested or more public-minded ways out. Students of comparative law will be interested in Solomon's analysis of the evolution of legal institutions in the Soviet Union. He weaves together the stories of the courts, the procuracy, and the ministry of justice. At times the specific accounts of individuals, who come and go from the story very quickly, can overwhelm the reader. (Perhaps a list of key figures could be included in the next edition to assist readers unfamiliar with Soviet history.) Yet the narrative remains clear. He documents the preferential treatment of the procuracy, and ties this to political influence. On the other hand, the courts were less favored. The Communist Party's attitude toward courts was concretized by the consistent unwillingness to provide even the most basic financial support. Solomon recounts that the USSR Supreme Court obtained its own building in the center of Moscow only by appealing to Stalin's well-known penchant for keeping up appearances. Lower courts were not so fortunate. Trial judges had to make do in the most appalling circumstances, sometimes being forced to take rain breaks in proceedings due to holes in the roofs. The book should be required reading for those engaged or interested in legal reform in post-Soviet Russia. Solomon persuasively argues that many of the behavioral patterns have their roots in Stalinist policy initiatives. His argument extends to both institutional and individual behavior. He explains how the desire for greater control led to centralization of the legal bureaucracy which, in turn, resulted in a greater reliance on quantitative indicators in assessing performance. As a top Soviet official commented: "without statistics one cannot direct the work of judges." (p. 285) Not surprisingly, these evaluation methods influenced behavior. Solomon documents the tightrope that judges walked in trying to guess what sort of sentence would hold up on appeal. There is no doubt that political reliability trumped justice in these years. The dependence on quantitative indicators also gave rise to efforts to manipulate the data. The attitude is captured well by a 1951 quote from the RSFSR minister of justice: "Statistics is an art, not a science." (p. 374) How this played out (and continues to play out) will be of tremendous interest to students of other civil law legal systems. After all, Russian judges are still evaluated by using these quantitative tools, though the consequences of a bad report are less dire. Another pattern that persists is the campaign mentality that surrounds legal reform. Solomon traces this back to collectivization, and provides numerous other examples. The ends may have changed from enforcing the accepted line of the Communist Party to building market democracy, but the means are largely unchanged. Likewise the conflicted attitudes toward law have echoes in contemporary Russian legal culture. Solomon devotes considerable attention to issues of legal education. For much of the Stalinist period, few judges had formal legal education, and there were few teaching institutions. He traces the struggle to professionalize the courts and other legal institutions. The underlying questions of whether legal education should be primarily technical or whether an effort should be made to produce more well-rounded lawyers are still being actively debated today. Solomon's arguments as to the role of correspondence courses in undermining the creation of a cohesive legal ethos is not entirely persuasive. The problems of divisiveness and lack of strong commitment to legal process that he describes persist today even though formal full-time legal education has now become routine. In short, SOVIET CRIMINAL JUSTICE UNDER STALIN should be of great interest to historians, political scientists, and legal scholars. It stands as a fascinating case study of the evolution of legal institutions and the limits of law, even in an authoritarian state.
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Product Details

Table of Contents

Introduction; Part I. The First Phase: 1. The design of an experiment; 2. Criminal justice under NEP; Part II. The Years of Collectivization: 3. Campaign justice; 4. The decline of legality; Part III. The Conservative Shift: 5. The return to tradition: Vyshinsky and legal order; 6. Stalin's criminal policy: from tradition to excess; 7. Criminal justice and the great terror; 8. The reconstruction of criminal justice; 9. Preparing for war: the criminalization of labour infractions; Part IV. The Stalinist Synthesis: 10. Moulding legal officials for careers; 11. The dynamics of Stalinist justice: bureaucratic and political pressures on legal officials; 12. The distortion and limits of criminal policy; Conclusion.

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