As in Western political systems, a constitution (or fundamental law, as it is often called) in the Communist setting is the formal basis of and for all law, enacted and adopted with special formalities, changed only according to special processes. As in the West, Communist party-state constitutions provide for (1) a definition of the basic philosophy and/or fundamental social and political principles of the political system; (2) a legislature, its composition and powers; (3) an executive and the exercise of executive powers; (4) local government and organs; (5) courts and the judicial functions; (6) the rights of the individual citizens; and (7) a method of constitutional amendment. In the federal Communist party-states, (8) the federal organs and the definition and division of authority between the federation and its members is also provided for, as is (9) the instrumentality of conflict-solving between them.
As in the West, Communist party-state constitutions establish fundamental principles for all law, thereby unifying the legal system of the state. But unlike the Western concept, these fundamental principles, embodied in the constitution 'and other major instruments of the state,' are the result of 'scientific generalization of state development.'
In the tradition of Western civilization, constitutionalism is a venerated concept: it defines a political scheme in which law, rather than men, is supreme. Political authority is exercised according to law, which is to be obeyed by all, including the governors, who cannot depart from it at whim. By definition, then, a constitutional government is limited government, deliberately adopted by the people governed by it. A cherished symbol of freedom, constitutionalism is held in esteem because it ensures the equality of all citizens before law. The constitution limits the powers of the constituent organs; its authority and sanction is highest in the political system. The constitution thus is endowed with a superior moral binding force. And as the will of the people ('a constitution is not the act of a government but of a people constituting a government,' wrote Thomas Paine), the constitution receives broad societal support.
Communist party-state constitutions do not limit the respective governments; instead, they are themselves limited by the ruling party's principal decision-makers, whether in the government or not. Men are supreme, not law; hence the Communist party-state constitutions are not the symbols of freedom they are in Western democracies. They have no great moral force nor are they broadly supported. As major instrumentalities of the rulers they are obeyed, but they are not cherished. And because they serve the rulers, rather than limiting them, the norms which they contain are interpreted from the sole point of view of the interest of the state as determined by the rulers.
Constitutions function both to legitimize the rule within the state and to socialize the citizens into their political and social roles. In the Communist party-states, the constitutions formulate the theory of state and law current at the time of enactment . . .