This article seeks to examine how concept of state and international law have been ascertained and assimilated into practice in Soviet Union despite having a fervent ideological opposition to the said concepts. Furthermore objective of this article lies in examining the contribution made by major Soviet jurists to the realm of international law and in order to comprehend the scope of state and place of international law in Soviet Union , this article has made a historical observation. Results emerging from this article could be utilized in appreciating the scholarly contribution of USSR to international law and at the same time this article has unveiled anomalies existed between Marxian doctrine and Soviet practice on law and state.
Key Words : Soviet, State, International Law, Ideology
The events took place in 1917 October Russia disrupted the myth of impossibility of creating a proletarian state and in the words of John Reed’s “The ten days that shook the world” it broke the existed myth about formation of socialist society and the creation of USSR in 1921 saw the emergence of different ideological, political bastion in world which lasted for seven decades of modern history. Nevertheless the state apparatus adopted by Soviets on treating state, international law have had peculiarities from how they were perceived by Western democratic states in Europe and the USA. Ascertaining the scope of state and international law under Soviet doctrine have generated an academic knack during the heyday of USSR as an interesting topic and the greater ambiguity loomed before understanding of Soviet doctrine to state and international law was essentially attributed to the unavailability of materials in English and the articles written on the subject were more or less filled with misshapen facts on Soviet doctrine. Even though it’s been two decades after the dissolution of USSR the legacy left by Soviets on treating state and international law from their doctrinal perspective still remain quite attractive examine. In this article we make an attempt to recognize the exact nature of state described in Soviet doctrine after revolution and how Soviet state organized itself would be examined in this article, also we further examine the anomaly between the international law practice in USSR and the Marxist –Leninist ideology towards the law generally.
In tracing the conception of state from Soviet perspective, it should be understood that cardinal understanding of state is imbued with the Marxian dogma of state and the very roots of Soviet understanding of state have been bulwarked by the depiction of state as an oppressive tool. Pioneer of Bolshevik revolution Lenin himself took the task of comprehending the notion of state in accordance with his understanding of Engel’s book “The Origin of family, private property and State” and having gained much profound inspiration from Engels’ discourse on state, Lenin went on to propound his own concept of state which eventually paved its path to become an inherent part of Soviet ideology on state. In his classic work “State and Revolution” Lenin states “State is the product of irreconcilability of class antagonism. The state arises then and there, when and where class antagonism cannot be objectively reconciled. Or to reverse the object: the existence of state proves that class antagonism is irreconcilable”.1 Lenin seemed to be adamant on his stanch belief that state would play a least role in mediating in the class struggle and his view on state as villain was decorated from his deep historical analysis over how state has hindered the class struggle through enabling the continuation of class structure. While quoting Engels Lenin states “ not only the state in antiquity and Middle Age had been organs of exploitation of slaves and serfs, but even the contemporary representative state is an instrument of exploitation of hired labor by capital “. Having seen the decedent nature of state in its historic role as brutal organizer of class division, Lenin believed in the classic Marxian prediction of the extinction of state from its very existence. After following the hypothesis established in Engels’ work, Lenin affirmed in his thoughts that state is naturally destined to be ceased from its existence in a society where class does not exist anymore. He states
“ With the extinction of classes the real state itself will inevitably pass out of existence. The society which will organize production on a new basis of free and equal association will relegate the state where it shall belong: to the museum of antiquities along with the spinning wheel and the bronze axe”.2
However the incongruity of Marxian idea of withering away of state began to appear in the dawn of USSR as world first socialist state as its approach to conception of state was paradoxical at outset from what Engels propounded, because in Engels’ belief “ state will not be eliminated, but will wither away . But the emergence of USSR as a union under proletarian dominance did not accomplish the Marxian desire of seeing the withering away of state, instead of it transformed into a more rigid state mechanism. According to Lenin the proletarian state will succeed the bourgeois state and then it will reach the ultimate state of withering away. When withering away stage seemed to be an anomaly after formation of Soviet Union, it was Stalin who gave the maiden Soviet interpretation of state at the his address to 18th party congress of Communist party. Stalin’s position on state and reason for its existence without withering away emphasized that as it would be an impossible task to reach the withering away stage of state as long as one socialist state has been surrounded by capitalist countries which was the exact situation envisaged by USSR after October revolution.3 For an example the proletarian need to crush the remaining of capitalistic society was reflected in the Article 9 of the constitution adopted by Soviets in 1918. It states
“The fundamental aim of the Constitution of the Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic, designed for the present transition period, is to establish a dictatorship of the urban and rural proletariat and the poorest peasantry in the form of a powerful All-Russian Soviet government with a view to crushing completely the bourgeoisie, abolishing the exploitation of man by man, and establishing socialism, under which there will be no divisions into classes and no state power”
The continuity of state after revolution and the conceptual approach to state in Soviet doctrine saw many challenges as it began negate itself from original idea of Marxism. As I described above USSR was surrounded by number of capitalist states and but maintaining international relations with those states was inevitable as the political and social unrest were blooming before the severe economic dislocation. Large parts of the country were affected by famine resulting from civil war policies of forced requisition of grain from the peasantry. However in 1921 Great Britain happened to be the first country to accept Lenin’s offer of trade which led to sign Anglo-Soviet Trade Agreement in 1921 and Britain took one step further by accepting de facto existence of Soviet state. However the continuation of international relations between USSR and bourgeois, capitalistic states shocked the proletarian movement in USSR as the later was the incarnation of evil which is the fundamental caused prolonging the emergence of communist society. From Marxist Leninist ideology the Soviet state needed to fight for the liberation of world working class against the bourgeois states and the tools to be used in this battle were not ballot boxes and voting paper which known to be Communists as debilitating tools, but the instruments supposed to be used in this crucial struggle was summed up in the term “World Revolution “. But the question arose was that how would it be legitimate to continue a state mechanism and relations with other states which was known in Soviet terminology as “Capitalist Encirclement “. This dilemma was confronted by Soviet jurists and mainly it was their theoretical task to trace legal aspect of state and the relation between USSR and the states of “capitalist encirclement”. In examining the Soviet attitude to state that it is important to observe the two ideological differences displayed by two grand jurists of early Soviet era Korovin and Pashukanis. Korovin’s position was essentially painted from the antipathy on seeing state as an oppressive tool and he went on to say
“These illustrations permit to draw the conclusion that the theory of class structure of the contemporary state is not only a very instrumental hypothesis for understanding the mutual relations between Soviet Russia and the world of imperialistic colossuses and pygmies, but also the official doctrine of the U.S.S.R. which is consistently released by the government in building up the structure of the republic as well as in its international relations”.4
However Korovin’s position was critiqued by another prominent Soviet jurist Eugene Pashukanis vehemently albeit his initial admittance of state as an instrument of class oppression and he too denied the state centric solution for clashing class struggles, yet his opposition to Korovin’s position emerged from his reaction to seeing foreign relations with others states as a unity. Nevertheless it was highly vague to understand whether Pashukanis regarded Non Soviet state as a personified unity and none of his writings give a clue about his exact understanding of statehood under international, especially his masterwork General Theory of Law and Marxism was mainly referring to elucidating the deep inter connection between the legal form and the commodity form in Marxism. When Paushkanis was finally vanished by Stalin’s purge, Korovin became the only authentic Soviet state jurist for interpreting Soviet concept of “State”. All in all the Soviet attitude to state was moulded under the guise that the legitimacy of state intervention in some circumstances. Regarding the intervention upon state, it should be really important to observe that Soviet theory does not solely reject the idea of intervention. Korovin has looked at the interventions of allied powers in Russia in 1918-1919 as the realization of the principle of class struggle on an international scale and says
“ As such their legal aspect, are acceptable to the legal scene of the transitional epoch, as class struggle is the established method of mutual relations between opposite worlds on the international arena. The strictly negative attitude of the Russian working people to the various interventions by the allied powers does not indicate the rejection of intervention as a method of class struggle. It was rejection and condemnation of those given interventions “5
1 Lenin,V.I, “State and Revolution “, First Edition, 1943, P.24.
2 Lenin,V.I, “State and Revolution “, First Edition, 1943, P.24.
3 Mintatuts Chakste, Soviet Concepts of state, international law and sovereignty , American Journal of International Law, Vol.43, No.1, 1956, pp.35.
4 Eugene Korovin, “The Second World War and International Law”, American Journal of International Law, Vol.40, 1946, pp.742.
5 Korovin, “ Mezdunarodnoye pravo na sovermennom etape”, Bolshevik, October, 1946, P.26.
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- Punsara Amarasinghe (Autor), 2019, Re assessing the depth of state and international law in Soviet Ideology, München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/489809