The Soviet State: A Study of Bolshevik Rule

By Bertram W. Maxwell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XI
STATE LIABILITY AND LAW ENFORCEMENT

LIABILITY FOR UNLAWFUL ACTS OF OFFICIALS

The Bolsheviks, upon assuming power, abolished the Senate and other judicial institutions of the old régime.1 Local justices were given authority to decide suits in the name of the Russian republic and issue their decisions and verdicts in accordance with the old laws, in so far as they were not changed by new enactments and were not contradictory to revolutionary "conscience and sense of justice." This last phrase is worth remembering since Bolshevik writers on law refer to it repeatedly. Soon after its inception the new government severed2 all ties between Soviet justice and pre-revolutionary legislation, and decisions based upon tsarist laws were absolutely prohibited. A decree regulating the people's courts stated among other things that, in examining suits, the people's court must apply the rules of the workers' and peasants' government, and in those cases in which appropriate legislation was lacking or incomplete, the decisions were to be regulated by their socialist sense of justice.

Lenin, commenting on the changed order, stated that decrees are instructions calling the masses to practical accomplishments. "To be sure", he said, "there might be a good deal in the decrees which is useless and will not serve in practical life, but they have in them material for practical matters, and the task of the decree is to instruct those hundreds, thousands, and millions of people who listen to the voice of the Soviet power. This is an experiment in practical action in the field of socialist building in the village. Considered from that standpoint, much will come out of the collection of our laws and decrees. We will not look upon it as an absolute ordinance which must be carried out at once under all circumstances."3

-180-

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