Russian Legal Culture before and after Communism: Criminal Justice, Politics, and the Public Sphere

Article excerpt

Frances Nethercott. Russian Legal Culture Before and After Communism: Criminal Justice, Politics, and the Public Sphere. Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2007. 198 pp. Bibliography. Index. $170, cloth.

In the early 1990s I visited the law library of St. Petersburg State University and talked at length with the head librarian. She told me that there was little demand for Soviet law books but a huge demand for pre-revolutionary legal texts. Frances Nethercott's book is about the theory of crime and punishment in Russia from the early nineteenth century through 1917 and the revived interest in pre-revolutionary theory, from the end of Soviet censorship under Gorbachev in the late 1 980s through the first years of the twenty-first century. The text assumes a thorough knowledge of Russian political and intellectual history. Thus it is aimed more at the historian than the general reader.

The author is very widely read in pre-revolutionary criminal law theory, and has made a careful study of references to this theory in recent Russian publications and debates. There is some discussion of the operation of the criminal law system both before the Revolution and after the fall of communism, but the actual operation of the system appears (from the reference to "firing squads" in the late Soviet era) not to be the area of expertise of the author and certainly not a central topic of the book. The bulk of the book traces the various threads of criminal law theory in Russia as the theory grew, influenced by, but not subservient to, the ideas of Western European writers. …