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State and Society Under Stalin: Constitutions and Elections in the 1930s

Author(s): J. Arch Getty


Reviewed work(s):
Source: Slavic Review, Vol. 50, No. 1 (Spring, 1991), pp. 18-35
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J. ARCH GETTY

Stateand SocietyunderStalin:
and Electionsin the1930s
Constitutions

It is clearthattestedbytheConstitution
oftheSovietUnionas revisedandenactedin
1936,theUSSR is themostinclusiveandequaliseddemocracy in theworld.
Sidneyand BeatriceWebb,1937

ManywholaudedStalin'sSovietUnionas themostdemocratic country on earthlivedto regret


theirwords.Afterall, theSovietConstitution of 1936was adoptedon theeve oftheGreatTerror
of thelate 1930s;the"thoroughly democratic" electionsto thefirst SupremeSovietpermitted
onlyuncontested candidatesand tookplace at theheightof thesavageviolencein 1937. The
civilrights,personalfreedoms, and democratic formspromisedin theStalinconstitution were
trampled almostimmediately andremained dead lettersuntillongafterStalin'sdeath.
Yet,whilerejectingthehollowclaimsoftheconstitution andelections,we can tella great
deal abouttheworkings of Stalinistpolitics,Sovietsociety,and theinteractions betweenthem
whenwe studytheirevolutionas process.The Stalinistleadershiptooktheconstitution very
seriouslyand indeed,fora while,prepared to conductcontested elections.Newlyavailablear-
chivaldocuments makeitpossibletoexaminethechanging intentions oftheMoscowleadership
and thereactionsof specificsocial groupsto thisprocessthrough studyingthedrafting of the
1936constitution(1935-1936), the"all-uniondiscussion"ofthedocument (1936), andtheSu-
premeSovietelectoralcampaign(1937).' These eventsinvolveimportant politicalissues and
disputesinvolvingcenter-periphery relations, articulation
of class interests,
and theunforeseen
consequencesoftheregime'spolicies.2

The researchforthisarticlewas supported in partbytravelandresearchgrantsfromtheInternational Re-


searchand ExchangesBoard(IREX), and theUniversity of California-Leningrad StateUniversity faculty
exchange.I wishto expressmygratitude and intellectual debtto EllenWimberg oftheUniversity of Pitts-
burghandV. V. KabanovoftheInstitute ofHistory, USSR AcademyofSciences,bothofwhompointedme
towardimportant sources.Specialthanksalso go toTat'ianaFeliksovnaBavarova,whowentoutofherway
to locatewhat,to her,certainly seemedbizarrearchivalmaterials, andto mycolleaguesandfriends Andrei
K. Sokolovand EfimI. Pivovarfortheirhelpon manyfronts.
1. Thisarticleis basedon archivalfilesfromthelate1930sintheTsentral'nivi gosuda stn'ennvi
arkhiv
oktiabr'skoirevolilutsiii sotsialisticheskogostroitel'stvaSSSR (hereafter TsGAOR), whichwererecently
openedto foreignscholars.Fonid v 3316 and 1235 are partof thefilesof theRSFSR and USSR Central
ExecutiveCommittee (TsIK) ofSoviets.
2. Relativelylittleserioushistorical
workhas beendoneon thedrafting oftheStalinconstitution. An
uncriticalreviewof thearchivaldocuments is providedby Z. S. Bogatyrenko, "Obzor dokumental'nykh
materialov po istoriisozdaniiakonstitutsii SSSR 1936g," Istoricheskii arkhiv,no. 2 (1959): 197-204. A
sketchyaccountof the subsequentdiscussionof theconstitution is G. I. Tret'iakov,"Vsenarodnoeob-
suzhdenieproektaKonstitutsii SSSR," Voprosy istorii,no. 9 (September1953):97- 102. The mostserious
Sovietworkis V. V. Kabanov,"Iz istoriisozdaniiaKonstitutsii SSSR 1936 goda," IstoriiaSSSR, no. 6
(1976):116-127. See also S. L. Ronin,Konstitlitsiia SSSR 1936g (Moscow,1957),andS. I. Iakubovskaia,
RazvitieSSSR kaksoiluznogo gosludarstva.1922-1936 gg. (Moscow,1972);A solidanalysisofthepressis
EllenWimberg,"Socialism,Democratism, andCriticism: The NationalDiscussionofthe 1936DraftCon-
stitution,"unpublished paper,University of Pittsburgh, 1989. Otherworksthattouchon theconstitution
and theelectionsare V. Z. Drobizhev,V. S. Lel'chuk,et al., Razbochlii klass v itpravleniii
gosludarstvonli
(1926-1937 gg.) (Moscow, 1968); E. M. Kozhevnikov, Istoricheskii opvtKPSS po rukovodstvu Sovetskim
Gosudarstvomn (1936-1941) (Moscow, 1977); I. Ia. Kernes,Chtochitat'k vvbora,nv Verkhovnvi Sovet
SSSR (Moscow,1958); Vvborv v Verkhoi'nvi SovetSSSR i v'Verkhoownve Sovetvsoiuzniykh i avtonornvkh-es-
pliblik1937-1938 gg. (tsifroi'oi (Moscow,1939). SeveralSovietdissertations
sbornlik) also deal withthis
question:S. Ia. Bard,"Bor'ba partiibol'shevikov za podgotovku i provedenie pervykh vyborovv Verkhov-
nyiSovet SSSR v 1937 godu na osnovenovoiKonstitutsii" (Moscow, 1952); 0. Soshnikova,"KPSS v
SlavicReview50, no. 1 (Spring1991)

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Stateand SocietyunderStalin 19

Apparently at Stalin'sinitiative, theSeventhCongressof Sovietsand theparty'sCentral


Committee announced inFebruary 1935theneedtointroduce somechangesintotheSovietCon-
of 1924. Subsequent
stitution elaborations inthepressindicated thattheCentralExecutiveCom-
mittee ofSoviets(TslK) wouldappointa specialcommission tostudybroadening thebasisofthe
regime;equal, direct,and secretelectionswerementioned, as was a generalstrengthening of
legality.3
Officialspokesmenjustifiedthe need to changethe constitution by citingthe dramatic
changesin Sovietsocietysince 1929. In a formulation thatwas to becomequitecommon,they
notedthat,becausecapitalism hadbeendefeated, thelegalandpoliticalsystem hadtobe brought
intolinewiththenewsocialistsociety.Sincehostileclasseshadbeendestroyed, particular social
groups("class-alienelements"hadbeendeniedthevotesince1924) no longerhadto be disen-
franchised and indirect electionswereno longernecessary.Procedurallegalitycould now re-
place class-basedjudicial nihilism,universalsuffiagecould be implemented, and basic civil
rightscouldbe guaranteed to all in a societywithout class conflict.
Such moderatesentiments had beenexpressedat theSeventeenth PartyCongressin early
1934. Withthevictoryof socialism"thereis no one leftto fight"(in Stalin'swords)and the
dictatorship of theproletariat couldbe relaxed.In 1934 and 1935 theregimetooka seriesof
measuresdesignedto ease thetensesituation in thecountry: Breadrationing was abolished,the
fearsomeOGPU (secretpolice) was reorganized intotheostensibly moreresponsible Peoples'
Commissariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD), thenewWriters'Unionpreachedliterary toleration,
and theComintern's class-against-class policywas replacedby themoreecumenicalpopular
frontstrategy. The announcement of a revisedor newconstitution promising civil and demo-
craticrightswas consistent withtheseevents.4
Since theprocess(and nottheoriginalmotivations) of theconstitution is oursubject,we
neednotbe detainedbylengthy speculation on thevariety ofreasonsforwriting a newconstitu-
tion.Becausethenewversioncoincidedso closelywiththeadoptionofantifascist popularfronts
andwiththeregime'ssearchforwestern alliesagainstGermany, thereform's propaganda value
is obvious.The reform permitted theSovietgovernment to appearto be as democraticas its
erstwhile allies and theoppositeof AdolfHitler'sGermanyand also provideda contrast in the
popularmediato themoresordidunfolding of politicalterror. In thisway,forexample,press
coverageof theconstitution hadthesamefunction as thereports oftheaccomplishments of So-
vietaviatorsandpolarexplorers, whichalwaysseemedto appearin thenewspapers simultane-
ouslywithimportant eventsoftheterror. Atthesametime,though, a genuineextension ofpopu-
larparticipation was a primary motivation.
Although thethirty-one members oftheConstitutional Commission hadbeennamedinFeb-
ruary,theirfirst meetingdid nottakeplace until7 July1935. Stalinchairedtheinitialsession,
whichappointed twelvesubcommissions andapproveda pressrelease.Stalinwas electedchair-
man of the commission,withViacheslavMolotovand MikhailKalininas vice-chairs.The
chairmen of thesubcommissions werea virtualgalaxyof theStalinistelite:Stalin(generaland
editorial),Molotov(economic),Vlas Chubar'(finance),NikolaiBukharin(law), Karl Radek
(electoral),AndreiVyshinskii (legal), Ivan Akulov(central-localrelations),AndreiZhdanov
(education),Lazar Kaganovich(labor),KlimentVoroshilov(defense),and MaksimLitvinov
(foreign affairs).Atthisfirst meeting, thechairswereinstructed tonominate theirsubcommittee
memberships andtopreparedrafts intheirareaswithin twomonths. Thisfirstmeeting also com-

bor'beza pobedublokakommnunistov iz bespartiinykh


na vyborakhv Verkhovnyi Sovet" (Kiev, 1954); and
V. la. Ashanin,"Organizatorskaia rabotaKommunisticheskoi partiiSovetskogoSoiuza v usloviiakhza-
versheniiastroitel'stva
sotsialisticheskogo obshestvai provedeniianovoi konstitutsii(1934- 1937gg.)"
(Moscow, 1954).
3. See Pravda,7 and 8 February 1935. fortheannouncement andamplifications.
4. The originalannouncemeint inFebruary 1935calledonlyforamending and "correctingthetext"of
the 1924 Constitution.The decisionto produceall entirelynew documentwas apparently takenbetween
February andJuly1935,whentheeditorialcommission beganto drafta constitution.

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20 SlavicReview

missionedRadekto gathertextsofforeign constitutionsandto reviewthemwithBukharin and


Lev Mekhlis(theeditorof Pravda).'
The two-month deadlinewas notmet;drafting workin thesubcommissions continued past
theendof 1935.Thewriting oftheconstitutionbecamea lengthy anddetailedprocess,involving
at least fivedrafts.First,each subcommission produceda partialdraft.Second, theeditorial
subcommittee (IakovIakovlev,AlekseiStetskii,andB. M. Tal' 6) produceda roughdraftbased
on thesubcommittee draftsin February1936. (Theywrotea secondversionin April1936.7)In
mid-April, theroughdraftwas sentto thesecretariat of theConstitutional
Commission,which
produceda revisedthirdversion8 thatwas thenstudiedandcorrected by Stalin.On 17, 18, 19,
and 22 April1936,Iakovlev,Stetskii,andTal' had lengthy sessionswithStalinin hisofficeto
workon thedraft.These meetings produceda "FirstDraftof theConstitution of theUSSR,"
whichwas actuallythefourth draft.9
Thisdraftwas againrevisedduringthelastweekof April
andsenttoa jointmeeting ofthePolitburo andConstitutional Commission, whichtookplace on
15 May.Finalrevisionsweremadeaboutthen,andthefifth version,thefinalProektKonstitutsii
SSSR, was submitted to nationaldiscussionon 12 June.Duringthisprocess,severalthemes
emergedthatwouldcharacterize thefinaldocument: centralization,
democratization, thesepara-
tionof powers,anddisputeson howto achievethem.
The notesforthefirstdraftshowclearlythatone majorpurposeof the 1936 Constitution
(andone notwidelypublicized)was thecentralization ofadministrative
andjudicialfunctions at
theexpenseof therepublics.Bothold and newresearchon theSovietUnionin the 1920sand
1930shas notedtherelativepowerof local andregionalgovernment in relationto thecenter.'0
Indeed,manyofMoscow'spoliciesandinitiatives in the1930scan be seenas attempts to reign
in local satrapsand centralizepersonnel and policyauthority.The draftsshowthattheauthors
beganwiththeidea of a strongcentralpowerandthenleanedevenmoretowardincreasing the
prerogatives ofthecenter.
The 1924 Constitution had organizedtherepublicsintoa federation, theUnionof Soviet
SocialistRepublics.Comparedto therather loose structuresince 1918,thisfederation was al-
readya steptowardcentralization. Nevertheless,the1924arrangement hadformally limitedcer-
taincentralprerogatives. For example,theSupremeCourtwas notat thetopof an integrated
courtsystem.Unionrepubliccourtsenjoyedconsiderable autonomy, and theUSSR Supreme
Courtcouldneither reviewrepublican courtdecisionson itsowninitiative norissuebindingde-
cisionson them.Similarly, theUSSR Procuracy didnothavesupervisory powersoveritscoun-
terparts in republics,whichremained attachedto republiccommissariatsofjustice."
The firstdraftof thejudicialsubcommissioni stressedtheneedfora unified judiciary.To
thatend, thecommittee quicklydecidedthattheSuprerne Courtshouldbe thehighestjudicial
andjudicial-administrative organoftheSovietUnion.The financesubcommission also notedat
thebeginning thatthemaineffort shouldbe theunityof all financeand creditin thecentral

5. TsGAOR,fond3316, opis' 40, delo 81, listy1-5; ibid.,dd. 20 and 74-78 containextractsand
textsoftheGerman,French,andotherconstitutions gathered byRadekandBukharin. the
Delo 19 contair.s
1917 electorallaw oftheProvisional Government.
6. These threewereheadsof important CentralCommittee departments: Iakovlevwas head of the
department;
agricultural Stetskiiwas headof Agitprop;Tal' was headofthepressdepartment.
7. TsGAOR,f. 3316, op. 40, dd. 39, 81, containgeneralprotocolsof thecommission's workin this
period.Ibid., dd. 1 and4 containthesetwodrafts.
8. Ibid., d. 5.
9. Ibid., dd. 2 and5--7.
10. See MerleFainsod,SmolenskUnderSovietRul4e(Cambridge:Harvarcl University
Press,1958),
forthefirstscholarly ofpowerful
description familycircles;J.ArchGetty,Or-igins oftheGreatPurges:The
SovietCoimmunist PartvRecotnsidered, 1933-1938 (New York:CambridgeUniversity Press,1985),chaps.
1-4; Gaboi T. Rittersporn, "The StateagainstItself:Social TensionsBehindtheRhetoricalApotheosis,"
Telos46: 1979,and " Rethinking History, 11:4; T. H. Rigby,"EarlyProvincial
Stalinism,"Russiani Cliquies
andtheRise ofStalin,"SovietStudies3 (January 1981):3-28.
11. See AryehL. Unger,Conistituitional Developmnent in theUSSR (London,1981),chap. 2.

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StateatndSocietyunderStalin 21

government. The subcommission on centralandlocal affairs beganwiththepremisethatit was


necessaryto bringaboutthe"unificationi ofterritorialorganizations" andto secureverification
of theirwork.2
The cenitral and local affairsandjudicialsubcommittees wrestledwithstriking a balance
betweenrepublicandcentralauthority, butthematter becameconcrete onlywiththethirddraft,
whichstipulated thatthecentralorganswouldhaveauthor-ity overlanduse,forests, waters,labor
policy,andjudicialorganization. Centralization increasedin thefourth draft(theone in which
Stalin participated) in whichrepublicansovereignty was further limited."Administrative-
territorialquestions"werespecifiedas centralprerogatives thatrepublicscouldinfluence only
"in fullaccordancewiththeUSSR Constitution." Similarly,theroleoftheprocurator inrelation
to localjudiciarieshadbeenunclearuntilthefourth version,whichcharacterized theprocuracy
as a function of central,ratherthanrepublic,power.'3In thefinaldraft,republicorganswere
deniedtherighttoprotest decisionsoftheCouncilofPeoples'Commissars, whichweredeclared
bindingon therepublics.
Asidefromn theevolvingcentralization in successivedraftsof theconstitution, we can see
theoutlinesofcontroversies to theseparation
relating ofpowers.Sovietsecondary sourcessug-
gestthatAkulovand NikolaiKrylenko(bothmembers of thecentraland local subcommittee)
disagreedstrongly on thebalancebetweenthelegislativeand executivepower.'4Krylenkofa-
voredcombiningthetwo functions in thesovietapparatus,whileAkulovfavoredseparating
thenm. Although thearchivaldocuments arenot clearon thematter, thefirstsubcommittee draft
seemsto havecombinedbothfunctions in thesovietstructure. By theseconddrafttheywere
formally separated:The SupremeSovietwas designated the"unified organoflegislative power"
whiletheCouncilof Peoples' Commissars was namedthesupremeorganof executiveand ad-
ministrative authority. Krylenko hadfavored makingtheSupremeCourtthehighest judicialand
judicial-administrative organ,butby thefinaldraftthecourt'sadministrative, supervisory, and
executivefunctions overrepubliccourtshadbeenreducedtojudicialreviewof lowercases, al-
thoughsuchreviewcould now be initiated by theSupremeCourtand was bindingon lower
courts."
Krylenkolost the arguments on separationof powersbutwon on the issue of electing
judges.The first draftofthejudicialsubcommittee hadcalledforjudgestobe popularly elected
at all levels. Kryleniko, as a former prosecutor and commissarofjustice,doubtlessknewthe
regime'sproblems withpoorlyeducatedandincompetent judgesinthevariousregions.He there-
forereactedto thefirst draftin writtenremarks to thesubcommittee. Writingto Stalin,Akulov,
andVyshinskii on 27 September 1935,he apologizedforhavingbeenon vacationwhenthefirst
draft was producedbutaddedthathe "disagreedwithmuchofit' forbeingvagueandinmprecise.
Specificallyhe opposedtheprincipleof electingall judges. Onlyjudges in lowerinstances
shouldbe elected,he wrote,becausehigherones needspecialqualifications and shouldbe ap-
pointed.His arguments carriedtheday,andhissuggestions wereincorporated inthenextdraft.'6
Similarly,the electoral principleevolved throughthe drafts.Up to the time of the second
draft,theunderstanding hadbeenthatvotingunderthenewconstittution
was tobe direct,free,
chairedbyRadekproduceda corresponding
and secret,and theelectoralsubcommission draft.
In theseconddrafttheRadeksubcommittee's was rejectedinfavorofa formulation
formnulation
adding "universal." i' The differencewas importantbecause universal suffragewould apply to
formier
kulaks,WhiteArmyofficers, andotherclassenemieswhohadbeendisen-
"exploiters,"

12. T.sGAOR, f. 3316. op. 40, d. 81, 11.20, 22, 24, 26, 50.
13, Ibid., d. 5, 11,2-14.
14. Kabanov,"Iz istoriisozdanlia,"118.
15. TsGAOR,f. 3316,op. 40, d. 45 11.15, 19,andd. 2,1. 17. Forbackground, see Peter.H.Solomiion,
"Local PoliticalPowerand Soviet Criminial Justice1922-1941," SovietStuidies37 (July1985), and
GaborT. Rittersporn, "SovietOfficialdom andPoliticalEvolution:Judiciary andPenalPolicyin
ApparatuLs
the1930s," Theoryand Society,13 (1984).
16. TsGAOR,f. 3316, op. 40, d. 81,11.34-40, 42-45, 47-52.
17. Ibid., 1.42;andibid.,d. 4, 11.16-18.

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22 SlavicReview

franchised in 1924 and wouldhavecontinued to be undertheoriginalRadek subcommission


formula.
The disputedpointsin thevariousdrafts(votingrights,controland function of thejudi-
ciary,and therightsof local government) wouldalso be criticizedin thesubsequentnational
discussionoftheconstitution. Beforeturning tothatdiscussion, however, we mightdeal withthe
questionof therolesofvariouspersonsin thedrafting oftheconstitution.
One ofthepersistent rumors ofSoviethistory is thatformer oppositionists NikolaiBukharin
and KarlRadekplayeda decisiverolein drafting thenewconstitution. It is said thatBukharin
and Radekwere"theactivemembers of thecommission"and thatBukharinin particular was
"mainlyresponsible"forthedocument."8 The archivaldocuments do notsupport thisassertion.
Although Bukharin andRadekchairedthesubcommissions on law andon elections,theirnames
do notappearveryofteninthedocuments. TheirassociationwithMekhlis,theeditorofPravda,
alongwiththeirsubsequentwritings in Pravda and elsewhere,suggestthattheywererespon-
siblemoreforpraising,thanwriting, the"mostdemocratic constitution in theworld."Akulov,
Krylenko,Vyshinskii, Stetskii,Iakovlev,Tal', and Stalinall seemto haveplayedmuchmore
substantial rolesin thedrafting. Moreover, thedrafts producedby Bukharin's and Radek'ssub-
commissions wererejectedor changedbytheeditorialsubcommission (of whichtheywerenot
members) intheredaction thatimmediately followedtheirs.Finally,neither Bukharin norRadek
weremembers of thead hoc group(Iakovlev,Stetskii, Tal') that,withStalin,producedtheau-
thoritative draft.
Stalinclearlyplayeda majorrolein theprocessanddevotedconsiderable timeto it. Like
theothercentralleadersinvolved,he seemsto havetakentheconstitution seriously. He chaired
themeetings of theConstitutional Commission andtwoofthetwelvesubcommissions (general
andeditorial),andhissignature appearsseveraltimeson variousprotocolsofmeetings. His par-
ticipation was also decisivein producing theauthoritative firstdraft(actuallythefourth sequen-
tially)in thefour-day seriesofmeetings in hisofficeat theendofApril1936.
The changesin thedraftintroduced at thattimemaywell indicatesomething of Stalin's
thinking on thevariousissues.On theproblemof electingor appointing judges,he introduced
compromisewordingwithoutreal compromise.His formulation was onlywindowdressing:
Judgeswereto be "elected"not"named"by theappropriate soviets.Sincebeingelectedby a
sovietexecutivecommittee was tantamount to beingappointed,Stalinthussustainedtheidea
thatmostjudgesshouldnotbe popularly elected.Thewordings thatclearlydesignated theprocu-
ratoras an agentof centralpowerand allowedunionrepublicsto exerciseauthority only "'in
accordance"withtheconstitution (thatis, withthecenter'sinterpretation of it) werealso intro-
ducedat theStalinmeetings. On theseissues,Stalinwastheleadingcentralizer ofa commission
ofcenter-minded leaders.
Anotherchangeintroduced at theStalinmeetings mightat first glanceseemmoreformal
thanreal.Up tothattime,thedrafts oftheconstitution hadcharacterized theSovietlustroistvo as
a "stateoffreeworkers oftownandcountry." The newversionproducedat theStalinmeetings
was a "socialiststateof workersand peasants."The first, and mostobvious,difierence is the
designation socialist,a changethatreflects thechangednatureofproductive property intheSo-
vietUnion,as Stalinhad frequently explained.Whilethefirst formula had puturbanindustiial
workers andruralagriculturalists intothecategory freeworkers, Stalin'sversiondrewa distinc-
tion:Ruralfarmers, of whatever type,werenotregardedas workers.Kolkhozniki and single-
homestead farmers werethusclassifiedtogether as peasants.
The legaldistinction betweenworkers andpeasantswas a realoneandhadmaterial implica-
tions.Articles119, 120,and 121ofthenewconstitution guaranteed all citizenstherights torest,

18. RobertConquest,TheGreatTerror(NewYork:Macmillan1973), 134,citingBorisNicolaevsky's


"Letterofan Old Bolshevik"(BorisI. Nicolaevsky,
Powerand theSovietElite[NewYork,1965],22). The
"Letter"is themuch-quoted originof manypersistent
rumorsaboutStalinistpoliticsin the 1930s. Forcri-
tiquesof theLetter'svalue,see RoyA. Medvedev,NikolavBukharin(New York,1980), 115-118; Robert
H. McNeal, Stalin:Man andRuler(New York:New YorkUniversity Press,1988),355. See also therecent
criticaltestimony
of Bukharin's widow:AnnaLarina,Nezabyvaetnoe(Moscow,1989),272-289.

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Stateand SocietyunderStalin 23

materialsecurity inold age, andeducation.The articlesensuredtheserights bythestate'sprovi-


sionoffreesanatoria,resthomes,pensions,socialinsurance, medicalservices,paid vacations,
educational andso forth
facilities, "fortheworking people."Although all "citizens"wereguar-
anteedtheserights, theconstitutionspokeaboutproviding themfreeonlyto "workers."Stalin's
formulation ofstateustroistvo, therefore,technically meantthatthestate'sobligation toprovide
thesefreeservicesto "peasants"was ambiguous.Sovietpeasantsimmediately understood the
possibleimplications of theconstitutionalformulaand in thenationaldiscussionthatfollowed
raisedthequestionoftheirexclusionfromfreevacations,pensions,healthcare,andeducation.
The statewas awareofextensive complaint on thisissue,butdidnothing toredressit,andinfact
concealedthescale oftheprotest fromthepublic.
The draftconstitution was publishedin theSovietpresson 12 June1936and submitted to
thepublicforan "all-uniondiscussion."Throughout thesummerand intothefall,thepress
carrieda constant streamofeditorials, reports, andquotations fromSovietcitizenson themerits
and deficienciesof thedocument.'9 The evidencesuggeststhattheMoscowleadership tookthe
matter seriouslyandpaid close attention to theprocess.
One can imaginethreepurposesforthenationaldiscussion.First,theregimedoubtless
wantedto samplepublicopinionabouttheconstitution. The TsIK archivescontainhundreds of
filesin whichtranscribed statements of ordinary citizenswerecollated,digested,and summa-
rized.Oblastandkraiorganizations wererequired to reportregularlyto thecenterin a seriesof
dokladnyezapiskior otchety on theprogressof thediscussionand wereexpectedto provide
statistical
summaries of thecomments. In Moscow,theseregionalsummaries, quotations,and
extractswerecollectedintonationalsummaries andcirculated everytwoweeksto membersof
theTsIK Presidium andthePolitburo.20Moscowseemsto havebeenvitallyinterested in public
reactionto theconstitution.
Second,theeffort thecenterdevotedto thediscussionsuggestsa kindof propagandaand
mobilizationstrategy. The Moscow leadershipwas determined to broadenthe discussionas
muchas possibleand to use it to praisetheSovietregimeand its accomplishments. Moscow
bombarded local partyand sovietorganizations withdemandsto propagate theconstitution,or-
ganizemeetings, and encourageas manycitizensas possibleto participate. The TsIK sentout
letters,
forms,andblankstatistical reports to localorganizations anddemandedpreciseinforma-
tionon thenumberofmeetings, participants, andso forth.Flurriesoftelegrams wentbackand
forthbetweenthecenterandthelocalitiesrequesting andproviding information on thelevelof
participation.Centralofficials becamequiteangrywhenlocal leaderswerelax in organizing
meetings orreporting on them.Akulovissueda number ofirateandthreatening communications
to local bodies.Detailedfileswerekepton local measuresto organizediscussionsand on their
size andfrequency. Local officialswereexhorted on numerous occasionsto use thediscussions
as a forumto celebratetheachievements oftheregime.2'
Third,thecentralleadership usedtheoccasionto criticizeandbrowbeatlocal officials for
laxityanddereliction inconducting thediscussion.On 14 August1936,whentheprogress ofthe
campaignseemedto be lagging,MikhailKalinin,chairman of theTsIK, senta telegram to all

19. Wimberg,"Socialism,Democratism, andCriticism."


20. TsGAOR,f. 3316, op. 8 and 41, containsmanyfilesof citizencomments.In LeningradA. A.
Zhdano'vreceivedreportsfromtheraionyandhis staffassembledthemfortransmission to Moscow.Ibid.,
op. 41, d. 126, 1. 7 is a reportto Zhdanov;ibid.,d. 127, 1. 145 is the"Svodkaob itogakhvsenarodnogo
obsuzhdeniia"hisoblastsentin on 25 November1936. See also thesvodkiandreports in ibid.,d. 136, 11.
74-87, 93. Ibid., op. 41, d. 207,11. 1-46, 46-77, 79-135, 135-152, 153-177, 203-217 aresix "infor-
matsionnye svodki"on thediscussioncirculated to topleaders.
21. ForAkulov'scommunications fromTsIK andthevarioustelegranms inreplysee TsGAOR,f. 3316,
op. 8, d. 222,1. 37-39, 51-52, 94- 106. Ibid.,1.92, is an Akulovmemorandum tolocalsaccusingthemof
"weaklyorganizing"thediscussion.Ibid., op. 114, is an exampleofexhortation to use theforumto cele-
bratetheregime.Itcontainssomeoftherecordsoftheorgotdel oftheTsIK on thenationaldiscussionbroken
downby oblast.Fond 1235,op. 114, d. 35, containssomeof therecordsof thediscussionin theWestern
oblast' (Smolensk).

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24 Slavic Reviewv

local sovietsandexecutivecommittees throughout thecountry. Kalinincomplainedthat"many


sovietsand executivecommittees are badly helping,are not promoting natiollwidediscus-
sion . . . are not organizingthe recordingand generalization of suggestionsand amend-
ments.. . . This situation is intolerable.Chairmen of sovietsand ispolkomsare obligedto en-
surea genuiine discussionof thedraftconstitution by all citizens."Local sovietofficialswere
orderedto sendto thePresidium oftheTsIK twicea month reportson theprogress ofthediscus-
sion,alongwithsummaries of thesuggestions fromthepopulace.22
Even beforeKalinin'smessage,thepresshad begunto attacklocal leadersfortheir"for-
mal" anid"bureaucratic approach"tothediscussion.Alreadyat theendofJunepressquotations
fromcitizenscriticizedlocal leadersfortheirmismanagement of thediscussion.Manycitizens
consideredtheirleaders'apathyon theconstitution to be symptomatic of theirlack of concern
andgeneralignorance aboutlocal problems.23
Kalinin'sthreateniingtelegram provoked an upsurgeindiscussion.In thefallof 1936,some
51 millionpersonsweresaid to haveparticipated in hialfa milliondiscussionmeetings.Even
then,thelevelofparticipation didnotsatisfy Moscow.On 23 September 1936Akulovwroteone
ofhismanymemoranidums tolocalleadersandhe warnedthat"despitethetelegram ofComrade
Kalinin,youare weak in reporting theresultsto us." Centralcriticism of bureaucratized local
leaderscontinued through thefallof 1936,bothinthepressandin secretcommunications. Ulti-
mately14,953 deputiesto sovietsin twenty-one oblastiand kraiawererecalledand removed
fromofficebyOctober1936.24
Whatdidordinary citizenshavetosayabouttheconstitution? Thepressandarchivalcollec-
tionsprovideaccess to theirremarks. The pressaccounts,whilerevealing, are less satisfactory
becausetheyreflect passagethrough thefilterof theeditors:Newspapercomments to a
reflect
considerable extentwhattheleadership wanited to publicizeaboutthediscussion.The archival
collectionsofcitizencomments, usedwithcare,can bringus closertotheintentions andactions
of theleadership. Theyalso represent theonlythingresembling surveyresearchfromtheentire
epoch and providetheclosestthingwe have to souices about"publicopinion"in theStalin
period. In a limitedsense, theyare something like the cahiersde dolUancesof the Stalin
revolution.
Valuableas theyare,theymustbe usedwithcareandcriticalattention to twomainweak-
nesses.First,we cannotbe assuredaboutprinciples of selectionor inclusion.Despitethepres-
enceof hundreds ofthousands oftranscribed comm11ents in thecentralarchives,we do notknow
whetherthe collectionsrepresent all of tiheconminents receivedin Moscow.25We cannotsay
whether or notlocal compilersforwarded everything to Moscowor whether theyputtheirown
interpretations on thediscussionsor summaries.Local leadersprobablyhesitatecl to forwal-d
commentssharplycriticalof themselves or theirassociates.Second,thecollectedstatements
sample of freelygiven opinions. Althoughmany of the com-
cannot be considered a scienitific
mentswere criticalof the constitution,citizens hostile or indifferent
to the soviet regime might
nothavebothered thethousandsof
(or dared)to speakup. These weaknessesnotwithstanding,
commentsare a valuablesource.Maniyof thecomments collectedwereconfused,and some

22, TsGAOR,f. 3316, op. 8, d. 222, 1.36. The telegramn is inBogatyrenko, "Obzordokiinmiental'niykh
materialov,"200, andWimlberg, 'Socialism,Demnocratism, andCriticism,"21.
23. Wimberg,"Socialism,Democratism, anidCriticismn," 15.
24. Roniri,Konstitutsiia SSSR 1936 g., 63. Akulov'simemorandlumii is in TsGAOR,I. 3316, op. 8,
d. 222, 1. 92. Forotherexamples,see ibid.,11.51, 110- 112, 135- 136. RecallandremovalOfdeputiesis in
ibid.,op. 41, d. 105,1. 1. Suchattackson regionalleaderswerenotoutofplacein 1936.Chargesofbureau-
cratism,laxity,corruptioni,atnd"familiness"werehurledat provincial politicalmachinesfronm
above anid
below.See Getty,Origins.
25. The totalof suggestions andcomments receivedin Moscowis unclear.One authoritativesecond-
arysourceniotes thatsometwomillionsuggestions wererecorded andthat13.721wer-ereceivedbytheTsIK
up to November1936 (V. Z. Drobizhevet al., Robochiiklass ) uproavlenii gosudarstvomn(1926-1937 gg.)
[Moscow,1968], 121). Internal TsIK datasumnmaries involvemorethan40,000 suggestions. Onlyspecific
prog,rammatic suggestions seemto havebeensaved.

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Stateand SocietyunderStalin 25

Table. Suggestionsand ProposedAmendmentsto 1936 DraftConstitution


from
Leningradand Smolensk

Leningrad Smolensk
Suggestion Number Percentage Number Percentage
1. guarantee insurance,rest,pension
benefits to kolkhoznikias to workers 837 31.9 104 21.9
2. moreeducation,eradication of
illiteracy 312 11.9 56 11.8
3. allowkolkhozesto use woodand
forestson theirterritory 298 11.3 0 0
4. allow arrestswithout procuratorial
sanction 211 8.0 63 13.3
5. compulsory servicefor
military
womentoo 209 8.0 24 5.1
6. denyelectoralrightsto priestsand
class aliens 202 7.7 80 16.9
7. electjudgesandprocurators more
democratically andto shorter terms 128 4.9 32 6.8
8. morepopularcontrolof deputiesand
sovietchairmen 100 3.8 20 4.2
9. strengthen rightto workandleisure 83 3.2 11 2.3
10. strengthen labordiscipline;theft=
treason 82 3.1 24 5.1
11. change ustroistvo to stateof toilers 50 1.9 10 2. 1
12. harsherpunishment forspiesand
traitors 41 1.6 0 0
13. betterchildcare,maternitybenefits 36 1.4 31 6.5
14. moredemocratic andfrequent voting 27 1.0 10 2.1
15. limitson freedom of speechand
press 11 0.4 9 1.9
Totals 2,627 100 474 100

Souirce:
TsGAORf.3316,op.41,d. 127-129;op.41,d. 136,ll. 8-72; op. 8, d. 222,1.160.

betrayeda misunderstanding of theconstitution.


Quitea fewthought thatthenewconstittution
meanta return to privateproperty, thatpeasantswould"live as before"or thatkulakswould
returnto claimtheirfarms.One peasantwomanthought thatthesecretballotmreant thatthe
ofthecandidateswereto be secret.26
identities
The naivesuggestionsofothersmusthaveamusedtheirMoscowreaders.G. I. Kurkovof
Romnysubmitted an elaborateelectricalvotingscheme(completewithdiagram).The voter
wouldinserthisorherhandintoa machineandvote.All votingmachinesin thecountry would
be connectedin paralleland thetotalvoltagesmeasuredto determine thewinner."I wouldbe
gladtodo itifyouareinterested. I liveinRomny;letmeknow.(If I amon vacation,I willbe in
Sochi. H-ereis the address."27 Some participantshad ideas about changingthe capital to
Leningrad,aboutrenaming Moscow "GreatStalingrad," aboutsubstitutingbustsof Leninand
Stalinforthehammer andsickle,oI-aboutputting on thenationalflag.
tractors

26. Ibid., 11.139-141.


27. Ibid., 1.7.

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26 SlavicReview

The majorityof thecollectedsuggestions, however,wereseriousand programmatic.28 A


majority ofall suggestions fromLeningrad andSmolensk,andapparently fromacrosstheSoviet
Union,was criticaloftheconstitution.29 The mostcommonsuggestion was a complaint:thatthe
draftdidnotguarantee (pensions,accessto sanatoria,sickinsurance)to collective
socialbenefits
farmers;one-fourth of all suggestionsfromSmolenskand one-third nationallywere on this
point.30Peasantswereclearlyawareof theirinterests in thisregard;theyfrequently voicedthe
demandthattheyreceive"benefitsas workers"and werebraveenoughto speakup aboutit.3"
Theywerealso obviouslyconcernedabouttheruraleducationalsystem,landuse rightsof col-
lectivefarms,andpopularcontrolofkolkhozchairmen.Crimeandtheadministration ofjustice
werealso strongconcerns(see table). Roughlyone-tenth of all suggestionsdemandedforvil-
lages and kolkhozestherightto arrestand detainsuspiciouspersonswithoutwaitingforthe
approvalof theprocurator. Another5 percentto 7 percentrequestedmorefrequent and demo-
craticelectionofjudges. Suchdemands,reflecting primary concernwithlocal or class interests
(social benefits,education,local justice),togetherconstituted the majorityof suggestionsin
Leningrad,Smolensk,andtheSovietUnionin general.
Although citizenswereconcernedwithbreadandbutter issuesandpopularcontrolof local
affairs,theywerenotworriedaboutindividualrightsor civilprotection. Workersand peasants
who werenotpartymembersdisplayeda distinctly unliberalattitude on personalfreedom.One
speakerin Leningradvoiceda commonsentiment whenhe said that"all citizensreceivingedu-
cationand notworkingwithout good reasonshouldbe chargedwitha crime."Anotherthought
that"loiterersand bureaucrats shouldbe regardedas enemiesof thepeopleand charged."One
peasantthought that"usingfreespeech,meetings, andso forth toopposetheSovietstateconsti-
tutesa betrayalofthecountry andshouldcarryheavypunishment." Stillanothersaidthat"rela-
tiveshavingconnectionwithtraitors shouldface thefullseverity of thelaw," and one of his
neighbors thought that"any citizenof ourcountry can arrestpersonswho wrecksocialistcon-
struction."32 Whether ornotsuchstatements werethesimpleparroting ofregimepoliciesis open
to question,althoughit is worthremembering thatthesesuggestions wereinherently criticalof
theproffered Stalinconstitution.
A strongbutperhapsunexpectedsentiment concernedvotingrights.Those responding to
thediscussiontooka hostileattitude towardthe1936Constitution's extensionofthefranchise to
priestsand membersof alienclasses. In ruralregionslikeSmolensk,and indeedacrosstheSo-
vietUnion,around17 percentofall suggestions represented a protestagainstallowingsuchper-
sonsto vote;itwas thesecondmostpopularsuggestion in Smolensk.In an internal TsIK memo-
randumof 15 November1936, complaints aboutArticle135 (thevotingsystem)outnumbered
thoseon all otherpointsexcepttherightsandbenefits of citizens.33
The vastmajority ofthosespeakinginPavlovskiiraion(Gor'kiikrai)andin Orshanskii and
Borisovraionyin Belorussiadidnotwantprieststo vote.A peasantfromKalininoblastthought
thatmaybethechildrenof priestsand kulakscould votebut "kulaksand priestsmustnotbe
givenelectoralrights."SergeiBelkanov,a testypeasantfromOgnego,Cheliabinsk oblast,said,

28. The approximately 3,000 comments in thetableare theauthors'samplingof originalstatements


fromthreeof thefouravailabledela fromLeningrad(an urbanoblast)and all thosefromSmolensk(rural).
Not includedare nonprogrammatic remarks thanking Stalin,changingthenameof thestate,drawinga new
flag,establishing newholidays,or generally demanding moremoneyorresources.
29. SeveralSovietworkshavereproduced tablessuggestingthatmostof thecomments expressedap-
provalof theconstitution's provisions:see Bogatyrenko, "Obzor dokumental'nykh materialov,"202, and
Tret'iakov,"Vsenarodnoeobsuzhdenie,"99. Kabanovis an exception:His carefuland honestanalysis,
couchedin theAesopianlanguageof theLeonidBrezhnevera, does mentionthepresenceof dis-
skillfully
sent;see his "Iz istoriisozdaniia,"126.
30. If we includesuggestion no. 11 in thiscategory.
31. Althoughthesuggestions fromLeningradincludedthosefromindustrial areas,theoverwhelming
majority of thosecollectedin thearchivesappearto be frompeasantmeetings.
32. TsGAOR,f. 3316, op. 41, d. 127,11.9, 13, 40, 53-54, 84.
33. Ibid., op. 8, d. 222, 11.158-162.

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Stateand SocietyunderStalin 27

"We kolkhozniki greetthenewConstitution. Butwe havesomequestions.Whataboutpriests?


Will theyor willtheynotbe able to vote?"3
Withoutdetailedstudiesof theSovietcountryside in the1930s,it is difficult preciselyto
interpret suchdata. These sentiments represent lingering butstrongresentment and bitterness
against"former people" datingfrom1917andthecivilwar.Theyalso raisean interesting ques-
tion.Ifone-sixth ofall personsoffering suggestions felttheneedtoraisethispoint,we maywell
wonderwhether ornot"anti-Soviet"socialgroupsdidnotperhapsmaintain a strong presencein
thecountryside as lateas themid-1930s.Whytakethetrouble openlytocriticizetheconstitution
(andthegovernment) aboutletting priestsvote,ifsuchvotingposedno perceiveddanger?As we
shallsee below,theMoscowcenterwas indeedworriedabouttheinfluence ofpriestsandkulaks
on theupcomingelections.
Takentogether, thesecomments, suggestions, and criticisms-mostof whichcame from
peasants-suggesta gooddeal aboutthepersistence ofvillagementalite. The peasants'recogni-
tionof howthepromisedconstitution affectedtheircorporate anddailyinterests showsa strong
senseofclass consciousness. Peasantswerekeenlyawareofthenegativemeaningofa "socialist
stateof workers andpeasants"andwerequicktoprotest theirsecond-classstatusunderthenew
system.Theywerealso eagerto affirm theirlocal controloverjusticeandadministration. Their
comments represent a traditional,down-to-earth, no-nonsense, "settingthingsstraight" attitude
towardcrime,andan intolerance withtheprocedural nicetiesofregularized justice:Manycould
see no reasontowaitforan official procurator'sapprovalbeforearresting andpunishing malefac-
tors.Theywantedto electtheirownjudgesandtrytheirowncriminals.Manytooka "genetic"
approachtocriminality: Relativeswereheldresponsible forthecrimesoftheirkin.Theyseemed
quickto brandexcessivefreespeech,loafing,andtroublemakingas alienactivity thatdeserved
punishment andtooktheattitude thatin therealmof laboreveryoneshoulddo hisor hershare:
Loiterers wereconsidered criminals.In thisregard,theirattitudes seemedlittlechangedsincethe
old regime.35
In all this,a clearlyself-conscious worldview is evident,andis familiar to studentsofpeas-
anthistory. ForSovietpeasantsofthe1930s,as fortheirfathers, theworldwas dividedintotwo
groups:membersof thelocal collective(us) and everyoneelse (them).The peasantsinstantly
knewhowthingsaffected us anddideverything theycouldtoprotect whatlittlecorporate auton-
omytheyhad. They,a categorythatincludedcriminals, members of otherclasses, and some-
timesthestate,wereconsidered a dangerous andhostileforceandan appropriate targetforrough
justice.The peasantsresponding tothisdiscussionhadno troubleexcludingpriests,kulaks,and
former exploiters fromparticipation incollectivesocietyevenifitmeantdepriving themofcivil
rights.Peasants'corporate spiritwas hardlyin linewiththe"liberal"approachofthenewcon-
stitution(or withthatprevailing in thewest,forthatmatter) and itquitenaturally favoredcom-
munalassertions overindividual prerogatives.
Accordingly, theirattitudetowardtheSovietstatewas ambiguousat best,and itis notob-
vious whether theyconsideredtheregimeto be partof us or them.Certainly, mostof them
expressedpatrioticsentiments, a naiveattachment to Stalin,and generalapprovalof thecon-
stitution. At the same time,theircommentsindicatedoppositionto stateintrusion, outside
interference, and,especially,official exclusionoftheirrights to socialbenefits.
Thesecomments
suggestthesurvivalofa self-conscious andclass-conscious Russianpeasantry evenaftercollec-
tivization. In theirremarks, theycouchtheirtraditional class interestsandprotests in praisefor
theregimeanditsleader,justas theyhadforcenturies. The discussionshowedthatin 1936the
peasantclass was able to adaptto theStalinistsystemby usingthelanguageand normsof the
stateto protest itspolicies.

34. Ibid., 11.26, 50, 62; andop. 41, d. 207,11.173-202. 230.


35. See Moshe Lewin's"Customary Law and RuralSocietyin thePostreform
Era," RussianReview
44, no. 1 (1985), and "PopularReligioninTwentieth-Century Russia" in TheMakingoftheSovietSystem
(New York:OxfordUniversity Press,1985),57-71. See also StephenP. Frank,"PopularJustice,
Commu-
nity,andCultureamongtheRussianPeasantry, 1870- 1900," RussianReview46 (1987): 239-265, foran
analysisofpeasantconceptions ofjustice.

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28 SlavicReview

Combinedwithscattered openlyhostilecomments (discussedbelow),thisprotest madean


impression onitheMoscowregime,whichhadtoputa positivefaceon theconstitution andgloss
overthecriticisms.On 25 November1936,StalinspoketotheExtraordinary EighthCongressof
Soviets,whichhadbeencalledtoratify theconstitution.Beginning withthetheoreticaljustifica-
tionsforthenewdraft, he analyzed"bourgeois"constitutions andthereactions ofwestern states
to thedraftandthenturned to a discussionoftheproposedamendments andadditionsproduced
bythediscussion.Mostofthesuggestions he describedhadtodo withminorpoints:therightof
freesecessionfromtheSovietUnion(Stalinwas forit), therightsof autonomousareas, the
bicameralnatureand size of theSupremeSoviet,and theelectionof a president of theSoviet
Union(Stalinwas againstit).
He somehownevermentioned thatthemostcommoncriticism regardeddenyingsocial
benefitstothepeasantry,andhe dodgedtheissueintwoways.First,he quicklydismissed"cer-
tainquestionsconcerning socialinsurance, somequestionsconcerning collective-farmdevelop-
ment"as pointsthat"deal notwithconstitutional questionsbutwithquestionis thatcomewithin
thescope of theroutinelegislativeworkof future legislativebodies." Second,he defendedhis
wording oftheSovietUnion'sustroistvo byignoring theantipeasant implicationsofhisformula
and makingit a matter of terminology and theory.Speakingaboutamendments to changethe
ustroistvooftheSovietUnionbackto "freeworkers," he said:
As we know,Sovietsocietyconsistsof two classes, workersand peasants.... Conse-
quently,ArticleI of theDraftConstitution properlyreflects
theclass composition of our
society.. . . The factthata majorityof peasantshavestartedcollectivefarmingdoes not
meanthattheyhavealreadyceasedtobe peasants.. . . Andif[thepeasants]havenotdis-
appeared,is it worthwhile deletingfromour vocabularythe establishednames for
them?. . . Evidently, whattheauthorsof theamendment havein mindis notpresentso-
ciety,butfuture society,whenclasseswillno longerexistandwhentheworkers andpeas-
antswillhavebeentransformed intotoilersof a homogeneous communist society.Conse-
quently,theyare obviouslyrunning ahead. But in drawingup a constitution
one mustnot
proceedfromthefuture,butfromthepresent,fromwhatalreadyexists.A constitution
shouldnotandmustnotrunahead.
Althoughhe deftlysidestepped themostcommoncomplaintaboutthenew constitution,
Stalindid deal withthesuggestion thatmembers of alienclassesbe deniedthevote.Rejecting
thisproposal,he quotedLenin'sstatement thatuniversal suffrage wouldsomedaybe restoredand
minimized thedangerof allowing"whiteguards,kulaks,priests,etc." to vote. "But whatis
thereto be afraidof? If youare afraidof wolves,keepout of thewoods. (Laughterand loud
applause.)" Stalinclaimedthatthedangercouldbe prevented bypropaganda:"If, however,our
propaganda workis conductedina Bolshevikway,thepeoplewillnotlethostilepersonsslipinto
thesupremegoverning bodies."36
Like anyskilledpolitician,Stalinhad managedto avoidunpleasant subjectsby omission,
misdirection,andhumor.Ihe constitution was ratified
withonlyminorchanges;thevastmajor-
ityof suggestions and proposedadditionswerecompletely ignoredin thefinaldocument.The
regimeentered1937,theyearofthefirst electionsunderthenewconstitution, underthebanner
ofuniversalsuffrage anddemocracy. Butthediscontent andpotentialdangerfrombelow,which
Stalinhad deliberatelymisconstruedor laughedoff,remained. Theybecameevidentin thecon-
fused,contradictory, andultimatelyfrightened waytheregimehandledthenewelections.
The firsthalfof 1937 was a timeof mounting terrorin thepartyand state.In January
GeorgiiPiatakov,Radek,andGrigorii Sokol'nikovweretriedinthesecondoftheMoscowtrea-
son trials.In the nextmonththe FebruaryPlenumof the CentralCommitteecondemned
BukharinandAlekseiRykovandexpelledthemfromtheparty.In thefollowing months, arrests
ofkeyleadersofpartyand statemounted as theEzhovshchina spread.
Atthesametime,though,in a curiouskindofoverlay, a populistcampaignforgrass-roots

36. This formulation


was pureZhdanovismin the 1930s,and provideda theoretical
riposteto N. 1.
Ezhov'scampaignagainst"enemies."

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Stateand SocietyunderStalin 29

participationwas also spreading. Itcomplemented theviolencebyproviding a vehiclefordenun-


ciationof bosses and officials of all kindsforbeingantidemocratic or bureaucratic. The same
February1937 plenumthatcondemned Bukharinand Rykovannounceda roundof partyelec-
tionsto be heldin thespringof 1937andto be explicitly patternedon therulesmandatedin the
newconstitution. Based on a much-publicized speechbyZhdanov,thepartyelectionsweretobe
free,direct,andsecret.ThesepartyelectionstookplaceinMay,and,although powerful regional
officialsandpartysecretaries retained theirposts,some50 percent oflowerpartysecretaries and
committeemen werevotedout.37
Shortlyafterthecompletion of the1937partyelections,theTsIK and theparty'sCentral
Committeeannouncedthe regulations and procedures forthe constitutionally mandatedfirst
electionsto theSupremeSovietin a detailedPolozhenieo vyborakh v Verkhovnyi SovetSSSR.38
Accordingto thiswidelypublishedregulation, citizensandorganizations couldfreelynominate
multiple candidatesforseatsintheSupremeSoviet.Each seatcouldbe contested, andall quali-
fiedcandidatescouildrunforoffice.A majority votewas requiredforelection,and provisions
weremade forrunoffs betweenthetoptwocontenders if nonereceiveda majority in thefirst
election.Local and regionalsovietofficialswereto organizethedrawingof electoraldistrict
lines,thepreparation and verificationof voterlists,thenominating meetings, and theelection
itself.Nomination meetings wouldtakeplace inOctoberandtheelectionwas scheduledforDe-
cemberof 1937. Archivalevidenceon theseeventssuggeststhatthecenterdevotedgreatatten-
tionand energyto thepreparations forcontestedelections.The Sovietand Russianrepublic
TsIKs wereattentive totheprocess,busying thelocal ispolkomn andsovietofficials withregula-
tions,reportforms,andadvice.39
In thelocalities,though, therewasconsiderable foot-dragging. Officials hadtobe prodded,
browbeaten, andthreatened intoorganizing thedistricting, preparation ofvoterlists,andnomi-
nationefforts. TsIK ChairmanM. I. Kalinini had to intervene on twooccasionsto forcelocal
officialsto completethedistricts and lists.In one urgenttelegramto all ispolkomy, Kalinin
orderedimmediatecomplianceand complainedabout"insufficient work" in makinglistsof
voters,forming electoraldistricts, providing paperand printing facilitiesforballotsand lists,
andpreparing electoralmeetings. On occasion,whenlocal sovietofficials refusedto comply,or
did so dishonestly,theywerearrested bylocal procurators.40
Provincialofficialstriedtonarrow theprocess.In someplaces,theyrestricted
orrestrict the
franchise byclaimingthat"thoseunderinvestigation" (whichcouldincludeentirecategoriesof
thelocal population)couldnotvote.On 15 October1937,theTsIK sentto all ispolkomy a cir-
cularthataccusedlocal officials of leavingthepreparation ofelectoralliststo "purelytechnical
workers":Voterlistswerebeingfalsified, electoralboundarieswerestillnotfixed,and many
personswerebeingexcludedfromvotinglistscontrary totheconstitution. The circularcalledon
local procurators and courtsto investigate thesepractices.To strengthen thepoint,Chairman
Kalininissuedan orderthenextdayspecifying thatall personshadtherightto voteunilessthey
hadexplicitly beendeprivedofelectoralrights.4'
Whywerelocalofficials so reluctant toopentheelectoralprocessandmoveitalong?Partof
theanswerlies in theirtraditionally lackadaisicalattitude towardcarrying outMoscow'sroutine
orders.Local partyofficials frequently ignored,diverted, and modified centralpoliciesto suit
themselves andto adaptthepoliciesto local conditions. The statesituation seemsto havebeen
thesame.To takeonlyoneexample,theRussianrepublic TsIK ofsovietscomplainedina secret
April 1937 reportto Kalininthat"local ispolkomy and sovietsin a seriesof places notonly

37. See Getty.Origins,chaps.4 and6, foran accountofthedemocracy campaignandpartyelections.


38. Pravda,2, 7, and 8 July1937;Partiinoestroitel'stvo, no. 14 (July1937):20--28.
39. TsGAOR,f. 1235,op. 76, containspartof thefilesof theTsIK on thesematters. See especially
dela 160, 163, 164.
40. Ibid., op. 78, d. 159,1.4. See also histhreatening 29 September 1937letteron electoraldistrict-
ing:Ibid., op. 76, d. 162, 11.1-2. Refusalof local officials
andtheirarrestscan be foundin ibid.,op. 78,
d. 159, 11.121- 122.
41. TsGAOR,f. 1235. op. 76, d. 157,1. 92: "Delo no. S-52/20"; andop. 78, d. 159, 1. 74.

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30 SlavicReview

thedecisionsof thePresidium,
do notfulfill butalso ignorequestionsand reminders fromthe
TsIK. . . we have nottakensufficiently seriousmeasuresagainstthiscompletely intolerable
situation."The samereportrecounted a storyin whichtheWestern oblast(Smolensk)ispolkom
had notfulfilleda routineTsIK requestfortwoyears.Elevenreminders producedno replyto
Moscow,"and onlyafterwe sentan instructor to theplace was it established
thatNOTHING
HAD BEEN DONE tofulfill thisorder.... Itis completely
evidentthatsuchdisorder cannotbe
tolerated."42
In thecase ofthebungledelectoralpreparations,however, one suspectsthatmorethanrou-
tineslothand disobediencewas at work.Local sovietofficials seemtoo havedeliberately frus-
tratedtheelections.By thesummer of 1937Moscowhadclearlyshownitsdetermination thatthe
electionssucceed.The spectacleof theconstitutional processthepreviousyear,combinedwith
extensive1937 publicity elections,madeit clearthatthiswas no routinebureau-
on contested
craticmatter hadbeenexplicitly
to be safelyignored.Local officials criticizedforbureaucratic
slothand obstructionism duringthenationaldiscussionand fifteenthousandof themhad been
removedat thattime.Theircounterparts in thepartyapparatushad suffered in theMay 1937
partyelectionswhenthecenterusedgrass-roots populismto unseatthem.Fortheirparts,local
raionandoblastsovietofficials musthavefeltthatin anyopenlydemocratic process,theycould
lose theirjobs. TheyknewbetterthanMoscowthatin thenationaldiscussiona majority of the
participantshadexpressedfundamental criticismsof theconstitution.
To defendthemselves fromthepossibleresultsoffreeelections,locals notonlystalledthe
preparatory processbutalso playedon thecenter'sfearof "enemies"bywarning Moscowabout
thepossibilitythatalienelements mightbe elected.Therewas somebasisforthethreat. Theyear
before,duringthenationaldiscussionoftheconstitution, anti-Soviet
distinctly remarks werenot
as uncommon as one mightthink.Forexample,GrigoriiGorbunov, a peasantfromtheUkraine
and a former SocialistRevolutionaryhad said
If we havea secretballot,we willchoosewhomwe want.I hopethattheywillelectme.
ThenewConstitution saysthattherewillbe a SupremeSoviet:I think
thatthentherewillbe
no moreParty,or thatitwillmergewiththeSupremeSoviet.The Constitution permitsthe
organizationof partiesapartfromtheVKP(b). Accordingly, we are organizingourparty,
ourpress,andwe willcarryoutourline.43
Manyof Gorbunov's neighbors agreedwithhim.Othersthought thatthenewconstitution
meantthatprivatepeasantscould"live as before."Kulakswerereturning fromexile,spreading
rumors thattheelectionsmeantthatsocialismwouldbe defeated, anddemanding theirold prop-
ertyback. "Priestsandevangelists"weredemanding reopening of prayerhouses,and peasants
wereaskingforclosedchurchesto reopen.Even poorpeasantsand kolkhozniki showedsome
signsof vacillation:
Kolkhoznitsa KaniushinafromLeningrad oblastsaidthat"thekulaksnever
repressedus. Theyhelpedus . . . nowwe givemostof thebestqualitybreadto thestate. . .
andgeta poorprice."44Othercomments atthetimeoftheconstitutional discussionwereequally
hostileto Sovietpower.For example,kolkhoznik P. Kalinin(describedby therecorder of his
comment as a "loafer")said "it is notforus todiscusstheConstitution.Wedidnotwriteit." An
anonymous kolkhoznik saidthat"iftheUkraineis ableto secedefromtheUSSR, itwillbe very
richagain."4
knewthattheirownhigh-handed
Local officials manners andmisconduct hadnotwonthem
manyfriends amongthelocal population. An April1937TsIK report to ChairmanMikhailKa-
lininnotedthat"manytimesmisconduct andlawlessness, committed byvariousorgansofpower
andvariousworkers in thecenterandlocalitiesgivestrength to thehandsof theclass enemyto

42. Ibid., op. 76, d. 149,1. 13 (emphasisin original).


43. Ibid., f. 3316, op. 8, d. 222,1. 72, 73.
44. TsGAOR,f. 3316, op. 8, d. 222, 11.139-141, on priestsand evangelists;quotationin ibid.,
op. 41, d. 126, 1. 11.
45. Ibid., op. 8, d. 222, 1. 73. Such "anti-Soviet"comments
wererarein thearchivalcollections.
Thatthereare anyis surprising.

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Stateand SocietyunderStalin 31

discredit our statesystemand weakenthepowerof thecountry." 46 In Belyiraion,nearSmo-

lensk,ComradeIvanovspokeof his unit'susual ruralpartywork:"If we act thisway in the


electionsthenwe willundoubtedly suffer a defeat."Throughoutthesummer of 1937,local offi-
cials triedto convinceMoscowofthedangersofcontested elections,sayingimplicitlythat"ei-
therwe local officials
getreelected willwin." In Smolensk,activ-
or else overtanti-communists
istswarnedthat"alien elements,""enemies,"priests,and even "friendsof Hitler"could be
elected.4
Fromthepublication ofthePolozhenieo vyborakh v Verkhovnyi SovetSSSR inJulyandthe
beginning ofOctober,theMoscowleadership resistedlocal pressuresandheldfirmto contested
elections.The TsIK monitored local discussionsoftheelectoralsystemandsuggestedtacticsto
thelocals. In a seriesofinternal
reports andmemorandums tolocal soviets,theTsIK recognized
thedangerfromkulak,class-alien,andreligiouselementsin thecountryside, butadvisedlocal
to keeptheirheads.In September
officials 1937,on theeve ofthenomination process,a central
memorandum admittedthat300,000 religiousinstitutions stillexistedand 600,000 persons
workedin them.It admitted thatreligiouselementswouldtryto sabotagetheelectionsbuttold
simplyto workhardertowintheelections."The struggle
local officials willbe serious,anditis
necessarytoprepareseriously!"Local officials wereexhorted againstanti-Soviet
to struggle ele-
mentswithpropagandaratherthan "administrative measures."As additionalvote-getting
schemes,theTsIK recommended stepping upbreaddeliveries tokolkhozesandcompleting more
popularlocal construction on time.48
Up to October1937 theTsIK had continued to spellouttheprocedures and timetables for
runoffs betweencompeting candidates,and local newspapers had promulgated theprocedure.
The presswas fullofpropaganda on theupcoming elections.Electioncalendarswereproposed
and approvedanddetailedruleswerespecified forcontested runoffs.49
At thesametime,however,a plenumof theCentralCommittee suddenlyand secretlyre-
versedtheelectoralsystem.The Octoberplenumdecidedto ban contested electionsin theup-
comingvoting;onlyone candidatewouldrunforeach position.No announcement ofthisvolte
face was publisheduntilDecember,and even thenthedate of theOctoberdecisionwas not
given.Aftersucha loudcampaigninfavorofthefreeelections,sucha reversalmusthavebeen
embarrassing. Indeed,so secretwas thedecisionthatwe can placeitinearlyOctoberonlyfrom
circumstantial evidencein thepressand hintsfromSoviethistorians withaccess to partyar-
chives.50Shortly aftertheplenum,thecentralandregionalpressbegantopreparethepublicfor
thechange.It abruptly beganto publisheditorialsand articlesstressing the "unshakableal-
liance"and"bloodconnection" betweenthepartyandthemasses;theretreat fromfreeelections
to singlecandidateswas to be presented as theresultof socialandpoliticalunanimity.5
Privately, wordof thedecisionfora "bloc of partyand nonparty candidates"(thatis, un-
contested singlecandidacies)trickled downtothelocalities.In thesubsequent nomination meet-

46. Ibid., 1. 11.


47. SmolenskArchivefileWKP 111, 14, 33, 75; WKP 321, 97, 216.
48. TsGAOR,f. 1235, op. 76, d. 158, 1. 23-24: "O khodeizucheniia'Polozheniiao vyborakh v
Verkhovnyi Sovet':Informatsionnyi Biulletenno. 1,";andibid.,1.25: "Organizatsiia massovo-politicheskoi
rabotyv sviazis vyborami."
49. See, forexample,ibid.,d. 157,11.71, 76. See also the23 October1936TsIK scheduleforvoting:
"O kalendarnykh srokakh otdel'nykhmeropriiatiipo provedeniiu vyborov v SovetNatsional'nostei,"
which
specifiedtheprovisionsforcontested runoffs,in ibid.,d. 161, 1. 13. See also Rabochiiput' (Smolensk),
"Poriadokgolosovaniia,"9 October1937.
50. S. Ia. Bard,Bor'ba partiibol'shevikovza podgotovku i provedeniie pervykh vvborov v Verkhovnvi
SovetSSSR v 1937 goduna osniove novoiKonstitutsii(Moscow,1952), 18- 19, placesthedecisionto nomi-
natesinglecandidatesin October;he writesthatthe"bloc" of candidates(theeuphemism forsinglecandi-
dates) "appeared" afterthe Octoberplenum.See also E. M. Kozhevnikov, opytKPSS po
Istoricheskii
rukovodstvu Sovetskim gosudarstvom(1936-1941) (Moscow,1977),82.
51. See Pravdaeditorials,13 and27 October1937,andRabochiiput' (Smolensk),"Krepchesviaz' s
bespartiinymi massami!,"14 October1937,forexamples.

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32 SlavicReview

ingscoveredinthepress,singlecandidates werenominated, although at leastpublicly,multiple


nominations werepossible.The actualdecisionforsinglecandidates(forthepartyto enterthe
electionsina "bloc" withnonparty candidates)was notpublished untilDecember,on theeve of
thevoting.The announcement tookup theentirefront page of Pravda and was presented as a
victorioussignof the "close connection"betweenthepartyand themasses.52Actually,the
Moscowregimehadbecomeconvincedthattheoppositewas thecase.
This decisionto restrict theelectionsis cloudedin secrecy.No Sovietpublication or cur-
rently availablearchivalsourcedocuments it. Local anti-Soviet opposition probablyappearedin
thefinalprenomination process.One Sovietdissertation withdocumentation frompartyarchives
claimsthatin theprocessof organizing theelectionsenemiestriedto place "anti-Sovietele-
ments"on thenominating commissions.53 We do notknowwhether thisstatement is trueor not,
butitseemssafeto assumethattheaccumulation oflocal warnings andcentralfearsofenemies
convincedStalinto retreat on contested elections.
Of course,onemightarguethattheregimeneverreallyintended toexpandpoliticalpartici-
pationor to permitfreeelections.Indeed,the1936Constitution andelectionsthatfollowedare
usuallycharacterized as an officially sponsoredruse or publicitystunt.Hindsight,however,
allowsone automatically to assumethattheMoscowregimeneverseriously entertained thepos-
sibilityofexpanding politicalparticipation solelybecausethepromisesofthe1936Constitution
wereultimately frustrated.Evidencestrongly suggeststhatthecentralleadership tooktheconsti-
tution andcontested electionsseriously untillate1937.First,important issueswereintheconsti-
tution:issuesthatpreoccupied theleaders,provoked disagreement amongthem,andfoundreso-
nancein societyduringthepublicdiscussion.In centralization, unionrepublicrights,social
benefits,electoralrightsandbalancebetweenlegislative, executive,andjudicialthe 1936Con-
stitutionwas an important document withrealramifications forrealpeoplethenand now.Sec-
ond,theconstitution was drafted by a commission of theparty'stopleaderswho spenta good
deal of timeawayfromtheirotherdutiesto workon thedocument.Stalinalso devotedmuch
timetothedocument andsupervised theprocess.Moscowcarefully organizedtheall-uniondis-
cussion,forcedreluctant local officials to carryit out,and scrutinized theresultswithintense
interest.Finally,hadStalinplannedall alongonlytostagea democratic farce,he wouldnothave
proclaimed one thingforso long(contested elections),onlytoenacttheopposite.It is difficult to
imaginea regimeplanningto inflictsuch a glaringcontradiction on itself.The sequenceof
eventsdiscussedaboverathersuggestsa regimethatgovernedby opportunism, improvisation,
andreactionto changing eveints thanbyadherence
ratlher to a long-term plan.
Trhe"democratic"projectofthe 1936Constitution was a trialballoon.Fromtheregime's
pointof view,social realityburstit. Stalinandcompanyexperimented withbroadening thepo-
liticalbase byexpanding politicalparticipation in boththepartyand sovietapparatus.Whenit
offeredtheplan to thepopulation,it was startledto finda sullen,critical,unliberal,class-
consciouspeasantry moreinterested incorporate rightsandpunishing itsperceivedenemiesthan
in constitutionalniceties.Despitethispopularambivalence, combinedwithmountitng evidenice
of survivalsofanti-Soviet Moscowheldto itscommitment
hostility, to theconstitution forsev-
eral months.Onlyaftera year'swarningsfromlocal partyactivists,growingchaos fromthe
arrests,andpressuLre fromantimoderates didStalinbecomefrightened off.
The questionof electionsmayalso havedividedtheMoscowcenter.Untillate 1937,with
Zhdanovas itsmainspokesman, theMoscowleadership heldfastto theidea ofcontested elec-
tions.Suchelectionsweregoodinternational propaganda, gooddomesticpublicrelations, anda
centralizing anddisciplining weaponagainstcentrifugally mindedlocal leaders.Theexhortation
to use propagandaratherthan"administrative measures,"or force,recalledspeechesand re-
marksbyZhdanovandothersfronm 1934- 1936,andbefore.Arguingin theearly1930sthatthe
class enemywas destroyed withthevictory ofcollectivization and industrialization, moderates

52. Pravda,7 December1937, 1: an "address"tothevotersfromtheCentralCommittee.


The expres-
sion"bloc" ofpartyandnonparty candidateshadnotbeenuseduntilthisdate.
53. Bard,"Bor'ba partiibol'shevikovza podgotovku,"
21.

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Stateand SocietyunderStalin 33

hadcalledfora generalrelaxation ofthecombative policiesofthe1929- 1931 "culturalrevolu-


tionperiod."Oftenidentified withSergeiKirov,thislinecalledforreconciliation withformer
class enemiesand oppositionists, institutionalization and regularizationof thejudiciary,and a
generalizeddemocratization of theregime.Although theswordof theproletarian dictatorship
was notto be beatenintoplowshares, itcouldat leastbe sheathed.
BeginningwithStalin's1931 speechrehabilitating theold intelligentsia,
themoderateline
extendedinto1933 withtheStalin-Molotov telegram releasinglargenumbers of prisoners and
thedecisionto reduceplannedindustrial targetsin theSecondFive-YearPlan.54It continued in
1934 withthereadmission and rehabilitationof former oppositionistsat theSeventeenth Party
Congressandtheabolitionofbreadrationing attheendofthatyear.Evenaftertheassassination
ofKirovattheendof 1934,thepolicyendured withtheantifascist popularfronts, theannounce-
mentof thenewconstitution anda campaignto expandpartyparticipation and politicaleduca-
tionas an alternativeto administrativemeasuresor repression. Zhdanov'sLeningradorganiza-
tion producednumerousresolutionscalling for increasedpoliticaleducationand popular
participationin partycommittees.55 He also tookthelead in callingfortherestoration to party
membership ofthoseexpelledinthe1933-1936 purges;hisidea was thaterrant partymembers
shouldbe trained andnurtured ratherthanexpelled.A campaignagainstbureaucratic practicesin
regionalpartyorganizations attracted nationalvisibility in 1935, whenin a highlypublicized
attackZhdanovaccusedtheSaratovkraikomof dictatorship and repression.In 1936 came the
all-uniondiscussionof thedraftconstitution and evena declinein thepopulationof thelabor
camps.AttheFebruary1937CentralCommittee plenum,Zhdanovgavethekeynotespeechon
democratizing partyorganizations,endingbureaucratic repression of"littlepeople,"andreplac-
ingtheco-optionofpartyleaderswithgrass-roots elections.56Indeed,underpressure ofthisline,
contested secretpartyelectionswereheldin 1937.
Of course,another moresinister current, thecall forvigilanceagainstenemiesandtraitors,
ultimately destroyed themoderatepolicy.This line was mostcloselyidentified withNikolai
Ezhov,theCentralCommittee secretary whoheadedboththePartyControlCommission andthe
NKVD, and itssupporters resistedanyrelaxation of thedictatorshipand arguedthatplentyof
enemiesremainedat largein thecountry. This group'sslogansaboutunmasking enemies,de-
stroying theclass enemy,and "enemieswithpartycards"arewell-known. Undoubtedly, many
intheMoscowleadership acceptedtheargument that"enemy"strength inthecountry was a real
dangerto theregime.Some, likeEzhovhimself, hadmadecareersby advancingtheargument
thatclass enemiesandanti-Soviet wreckers wereeverywhere. Whilenotnecessarily sympathiz-
ingwiththelocal bosses,Moscowleadersmayhavearguedagainsttesting massopinionin such
dangeroustimes.
It wouldcertainly be a mistaketo regardZhdanovas somekindof liberalor democratin
oppositionto Stalin.Zhdanovranhis Leningradpartyorganization in theusual Stalinistdic-
tatorialstyle,andhispostwaractivities incultural affairsclearlyshowhisintolerance ofdissent.
He promoted thedemocratic-participatory linein the1930sinorderio promote hispersonalca-

54. WithintheRussianFederation thenumber ofcriminalsentences in 1934was morethan25 percent


lowerthanithadbeeninthepreviousyear.Verdicts againstcounterrevolutionaries
nuimibered
some4,300 in
1934,a dropofmorethan50 percent fromthepreviousyear.Theseestimates arebasedon PeterH. Juviler,
Revolutionary Law and Order(New York:FreePress,1976),50, 52.
55. One of the most famous of these was "Zadachakh partiino-organizatsionnoi i politiko-
vospitatel'noi
raboty,"Pariiinoestroitel'stvo,
no. 8 (April1935),7- 16. Itscall fornurturing
andpromoting
new cadres,collectiveleadershipof partycells, and increasedparticipation werepickedup and discussed
aroundthecountry. See SmolenskArchivefilesWKP 322, 81, andWKP 89, 3.
56. See Pravda, 12 June1935,forZhdanov'sattackand also Zhdanov'smass-circulation pamphlet,
UrokipoliticheskikhoshibokSaratovskogo kraikomza (Moscow,1935). Forstatisticson theGulagpopulation
see " 'ArkhipelagGULAG' glazamipisateliai statistika," Ar-gumenetifakty,no. 45 (1989) (thesestatistics
applyonlytotheGULAG campsanddo notincludeprisonsorlaborcolonies).Zhdanov'skeynote speechis
"The preparation of partyorganizations
forelectionsto theUSSR SupremeSovietunderthenewelectoral
systemandthecorresponding reorganizationofpartypoliticalwork,"Pravda,6 March1937.

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34 SlavicReview

reer:It gave himan issuein thecompetition forStalin'sfavorand support.Zhdanov'slinecan


bestbe seenas one possibleStaliniststrategy forbroadening thesocialbase of thedictatorship
without threatening ortrulydemocratizing it. IfZhdanov'stendency hadwon,theSovietsystem
underStalinwouldnothavebecomedemocratic, butitmighthavebecomeslightly moreconsti-
tutionalandparticipatory. Attheleast,itmighthaveprovideda firmer constitutional
andphilo-
sophicalbasis fordemocratization andreform afterStalin'sdeath.
Ofcourse,intheclimateofthemid-1930s,neither oftheselinescouldhaveexistedwithout
Stalin'ssupportor approval,and neitherline everchallengedhis authority. Once he made a
choice,thedecisionwas final.Whatwe nowknowaboutStalin'smethods ofrulesuggeststhathe
ratherlikedto encouragecompetition amongpolicyoptionsand thespokesmen who supported
them.We knowthatin the 1930she juggledLitvinov'scollectivesecurity and Molotov'spro-
Germantendency andputoffmakinga finalchoiceuntilforcedto do so. Testimony fromeco-
nomicand military leaderswho dealtwithStalinalso suggeststhathe encouragedcompeting
initiativesandexperiments havingto do withnewtanks,guns,or factories. We aretoldthathe
oftenlistenedto bothsides untilforcedto makea choice. By fostering suchcompetition, he
maintained severallinesofinformation andkepthispolicyoptionsopen.By reserving andhold-
ingbackhisdecision,he maximizedhispersonaldictatorship.
In thecase oftheconstitution andelections,Stalinmighthavetriedtoridebothhorses.By
continuing to supportcontestedelections,he reservedthe optionof a morepopulist,par-
ticipatory, "democratic"dictatorship whileconveniently providing a distractionto thehuntfor
enemies.Betweenthemurder of Kirovandtheelectoraldecisionof October1937,thevigilant
policyoverlappedthemoderateline. In 1935calls forconstitutional democracy coexistedwith
newarrestsof theopposition.In 1936thefirst showtrialcoincidedwiththeconstitutional dis-
cussionand thegeneralizeddeclinein theGULAG population.In 1937 Zhdanov'santipurge
sentiments andcalls forpartyrevivalcoexistedwithEzhov'spolicedepredations. In Octoberof
thatyeartheMoscowleadership was forcing local leadersto planandimplement procedures for
contestedrunoff elections;at thesametimeit was decidingto cancelthem.Stalinheldhis op-
tionsopenuntiltheverylastminute.On theeve oftheelectionshe was forcedtochooseamong
his minions;onlythendid he changehis mindand decideto cancel thecontestedelections.
Ezhov was elevatedto the Politburoat the same CentralCommitteemeetingthateclipsed
Zhdanov'spolicies.Formorethana yearafterthatOctobermeeting, all Zhdanovist talkofpopu-
lar mobilization and participation stopped,and theGULAG laborcampsreceivedthelargest
annualpopulation increasein theirhistory.57
Evenaftermakingthedecisionto restrict theelectionsto singlecandidates,Stalinwas not
atease. Becauseofthepossibility ofwrite-ins orcrossed-out ballots,theregimestillfearedthat
theelectionscould turnout badlyforthem.In theweeksprecedingtheDecemberballoting,
GeorgiiMalenkov,a keyEzhov aide andCentralCommittee operative,quietlytookchargeof
theCentralElectionCommission, whichtechnically hadbeenan armoftheTsIK rather thanthe
party.In a secrettelegram toall localelectoralcommissions, Malenkovorderedthatspecialpro-
ceduresbe followedin theelections.58 As soon as theballotswerereceivedand counted,local
officialswereimmediately totelephone orwireto theCentralElectionCommission thenameof
thecandidateelected,thenumber ofvotersin thedistrict, thenumber votingforthecandidate,
thenumber votingagainst,andthenumber ofwrite-in votes.Thisinformation was tobe commu-
nicatedto Moscowbeforetheofficial localelectoralprotocolswerefilledout,andthepresswas
tobe toldnothing aboutthevotecount(exceptthenameofthewinning candidate)untilMoscow
agreed.Originalsof theballots,tallysheets,andprotocolswereto be sentto Moscow through
theNKVD courierservice.59 Even thoughtheyfacedtheelectorateuncontested, theMoscow
leadership apparently fearedtheymightlose.
Theydid not,at leastaccordingto theofficial announcements. Dependingon therepublic,

57. Fora detailedtreatment


ofthemoderate chap.4.
see Getty,Originls,
current,
58. TsGAOR,f. 1235,op. 76, d. 161,1. 58-59.
59. Ibid., 11, 60-65.

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Stateand SocietyunderStalin 35

between95 percentand 99 percentweresaid to havevotedforthecandidateof thepartyand


nonparty bloc. GivenMalenkov'sinsistence thathis officecontrolall reporting
of votecounts,
we can wonderwhether thereported totalsboreanyrelationto reality.On theotherhand,with
onlyone candidateon eachballot,theprocedure atthepollingplacesmadeitdifficult todissent.
Thosevotingfortheproffered candidateshowedtheirsupport andpatriotism bysimplyreceiving
theirballotsandpubliclyputtingtheminthebox. True,onecouldhavecrossedoutthenameon
theballot,buttodo so meantostentatiously thevotingboothinordertodo so. Everyone
entering
presentwouldrecognizeopposition totheofficial
candidateata timewhenenemiesofthepeople
werebeingroundedup wholesale.One shouldnotbe too surprised thatfewwouldchoose to
demonstrate in public.
dissatisfaction

The lineageof MikhailGorbachev'seconomicpolicycan easilybe tracedto themixed-


economygradualismof theNEP supported by Bukharin.On thepoliticalside, however,his
quasi-democratic butparticipatory policyechoestheabortivemoderate policyofthe1930s. Al-
thoughStalin'sand Gorbachev'spolicieswereradicallydifferent, boththought to use elections
andexpandedpopularparticipation tosupport thegeneralsecretary andtoundermine opposition
fromtheterritorial partyapparatus.In 1937,as we haveseen,theexperiment was quashed.A
fearfulregimesoundedsocietyand foundambiguousloyalty, peasanthostility, and a lack of
educationand sophistication. Stalinpanickedat thepossibleresults,and terrorand forcere-
placedmassparticipation as modesofgovernment.
The 1936Constitution was an important document. Of course,arguments aboutseparation
of powersand therightsof unionrepublicswererendered meaningless duringStalin'slifetime.
The CentralCommittee andpoliceapparatus dominated byStalinactuallycontrolled theworkof
all "branchesof government." Yettheseconstitutional arrangements nevercame intoplayonly
becauseof Stalin'sdominant position.Had he orthepartybeenoverthrown, theseissueswould
havebeenmostimportant, andtheyhavebecomeso sincehisdeath.Dictatorscomeandgo, but
theirheirsmustwrestlewithconstitutional and institutional
arrangements that,in thelongrun,
areimportant. In 1936theunionrepublicswerestripped ofwhatever independent authority they
had enjoyed.Today,theyare trying to regainit. The Constitution of 1936 (and itscentralizing
spirit)outlivedStalinand, morethantheexorcismof his ghost,theyare thestuffof current
Sovietpoliticaldebates.The declineofcentralized partycontrolmeansthattheseconstitutional
issues of therelativepowersof branchesof government and of therelationsbetweencentral
powerandunionrepublicshavecometocenterstage.The intenseconstitutional debatestodayin
theSupremeSoviet,andtheredefinition ofthatbodyin 1989,showthatconstitutions areimpor-
tantin theSovietUnionand,in theabsenceof a dictator willingto use forceto controlcentral
administration, issuesrelating to checksandbalancesin government havegreatmeaning.
As in all politicalsystems, SovietsocietyintheStalinperioddefinedtheparameters within
whichpoliticaldecisionscouldsuccessfully be taken.In Stalin'stime,thepoliticalspheredidnot
operateindependently ofthesocial.In thisinstance, thestatehadconfronted societywitha new
plan. Society,or rathertheregime'sperception of it,reflectedindifferenceand hostility to the
regime.The state'sagentswarnedthata planthatgenerated suchambiguity, combinedwithlin-
geringanti-Soviet couldleadtopoliticaltroublenotonlyfortheagents,butforthestate
hostility,
itself.Afterconsiderable defensive reflectionthestateadmitted theseunforeseen consequences
and recognizedits inability to controlsocietywithanything otherthanforce.The decisionto
cancelthesedemocratic and participatory reforms and to fallbackon forcewas a signof state
weakness,notomnipotence.
The Staliniststatecouldnotswallowsociety,at leastnotcompletely. Althoughit was ca-
pable of sporadicand terrible violence,thestatewas weak. Society,howeverdisorganized and
inert,was massive.Societyhadnot,however, wontheroundina clear-cut conflictbetweenstate
and society.The defeatof politicalparticipation andtherenewalof forcewerehardlyvictories
forsocietyat large.The interaction betweentheStaliniststateand Sovietsocietywas complex
andmultidirectional, anditis stillpoorlyunderstood. The 1936Constitution and 1937elections
illustrate
thelimitsof statepowerin itsinteraction witha vast,multifaceted society.

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