Main features of the Constitution

According to the Constitution, Communist Russia called itself the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. There were 11 republics, representing the different racial groups and possessing limited powers over their own affairs. Of these the Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic was the largest and the dominant one.On paper, the 1936 Constitution had all the democratic features of the Western European parliamentary governments.It provided for universal suffrage for every man and woman aged 18 or over. They voted by secret ballot. They had the right to vote for the various soviets, high and low, including the Soviet of the Union.For the whole country, the highest organ of state power was the Supreme Soviet :1. It was composed of 2 houses : the Soviet of Union, representing the people of Russia and elected them in the proportion of 1 deputy for 300,000 electors; the Union of Nationalities representing the Union republics and elected by the union republics (each republic elected 25 members). Both chambers had equal legislative powers. No bill could become law without the approval of both chambers. The Supreme Soviet met twice a year (usually for more than a week at a time).2. When the Supreme Soviet was not sitting, the Supreme Soviet elected from among its members a Standing Committee, the Presidium, to perform its functions. The President of the Presidium is usually known as the President of the Soviet Union, but he is only the symbolic head of the State.3. The Supreme Soviet also elected a ‘Council of People`s Commissors’ (the Council of Ministers) to act as a kind of cabinet. Each Minister was head of a department such as War, Finance, Foreign Affairs, Heavy Industry etc. The administrative and executive work of the country was carried on by this Council of Ministers.Finally, the 1936 Constitution also had a Bill of Rights. The citizens were guaranteed the freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly and of religion. They were guaranteed the right of employment and holidays with pay.N.B. One feature however of the Constitution marked the Russian Constitution off from the Constitutions of the Western nations. The Constitution left unimpaired the dominant position of the Communist Party. The Constitution mentioned the Communist Party was the only legal party in Russia. The Party controlled the machinery of government, the economic system and the apparatus of culture, alone capable of leading the workers towards communism.Qst. (11) To what extent was Stalin`s cult of personality the key factor in his control of the Soviet Union between 1929 and 1941 ? (22 mks).Ans. Much debate has surrounded the so-called ‘cult of personality’ developed by Stalin in the 1930s.There is no doubt that Stalin was extremely charismatic and someone who achieved heroic status in Russia – but there is evidence to suggest that his ‘cult status’ was to some extent manufactured.Lenin never had his own cult, it was made for him by Stalin, who, it is suggested, then manipulated it to put forward his own image. ‘Stalin is the new Lenin’ idea, the cult was legitimised by the cult of Lenin.As far back as 1922 when he became General Secretary, Stalin began to occupy a great position in the Bolshevik Party. His success in the struggle of power with Trotsky after Lenin`s death in 1924 made his image as an able and shrewd administrator with a tendency to ruthlessness.Stalin was also a chance-maker due to his delivery of an oration at Lenin`s funeral in order to attach himself to the legacy of Lenin and totally defeat Trotsky.In the 1930s Stalin`s promotion of the ‘cult of personality’ brought about his popularity and worship from the majority. He was successfully ‘hailed as a hero of the revolution’ after Lenin`s funeral through tremendous propaganda activities to endlessly present Stalin`s image of great leader in connection to the former god-like figure, Lenin. His skilful use of youth organisations eg Morozov and education, the media and the arts and popular culture made him a star throughout the whole country.The 1930s saw a drastic reduction in creative freedom. This was in line with a general suspicion by the state of all independent lines of thought. Creativity had to serve the immediate needs of the government – ‘Partiinost’ (Party Spirit).Socialist Realism replaced the abstract experimental work of the 1920s with stereotypical art forms designed to convey immediately obvious pro-Soviet messages.Under Stalin there was some growth in popular culture. By 1940 Russia had 28,000 cinemas and stadiums were built in all the bigger towns as were parks such as Gorky Park. Books became very popular, but all the art was ‘Social Realism’ (whilst all archictecture was ‘Stalinist Gothic’ ). In order to further elevate his status the Stalin regime used art, posters and the media. Artists were forced to create works which glorified Russian achievement – ‘Social Realism’ art, lots of red and tractors and Stalin in the sky. Artists painted pictures glorifying Stalin and considerable effort was employed to create striking and inspiring posters and sculptures which represented Soviet Society as happy and engaged in constructive and exciting industrial work. Often Stalin was included in set-piece artwork (often in a white suit so that he stood out from the crowd) showing a people and leader harmoniously working towards a new Russia.Stalin gained the nickname ‘Uncle Joe’ which was an attempt to develop an image of a kind, homely man who was the ‘father’ of all Russians.Education was strictly controlled by the State – with again Stalin`s ‘cult of personality’ promoted in the curriculum (eg. in History Stalin`s part in the 1917 Revolution and his relationship with Lenin were overplayed).Religion was attacked on all fronts throughout the 1930s. Communism had taught people that religion was ‘the opium of the masses’ (Karl Marx) and church leaders were arrested and churches physically shut down. Stalin could not allow a challenge to his position and anybody who worshipped God was a challenge as the ‘personality cult’ was meant for people to worship Stalin.Stalin`s control over Russia meant that freedom was the thing people lost. The people of Stalinist Russia had to read what the State allowed, see what the State allowed and listen what the State allowed. The State`s control of the media was total.All of this propaganda was highly successful – people did genuinely believe much of what they were told, and arguably Stalin`s popularity (via the ‘cult of personality’) increased as a result of its use.In recent years the concept of Stalin`s ‘cult of personality’ has been challenged however by various writers – who have presented evidence indicating that the ‘cult of personality’ was in fact alien to Stalin himself and may indeed have been promoted by ‘wreckers’ with the aim of discrediting him.Neutral observers and / or hostile eye-witnesses suggest evidence that far from being egoistic Stalin portrayed simplicity and modesty.The American diplomatic (and Ambassador to Moscow 1936-38) Joseph Davies remarked on Stalin`s simple, kindly manner ‘His demeanour was kindly, his manner almost depreciatingly simple’.Issac Don Levine (Russian born American newspaper correspondent) (1892-1981) writes in his hostile autobiography of Stalin (1931) ‘Stalin does not seek honours. He loathes pomp. He is averse to public displays’.Furthermore, the facts show that on numerous occasions Stalin himself denounced and ridiculed the ‘cult of the individual’ as being contrary to Marxism-Leninism eg.August 1930 : ‘I would advise you to discard the principle of devotion to persons. It is not the Bolshevik way. Be devoted to the working class, its Party, its State. That is a fine and useful thing. But do not confuse devotion to persons, this vain and useful bauble of weak-minded intellectuals’. (J.V. Stalin : ‘Works’ Vol 13 Moscow. 1953).Feb 1938 : ‘I am absolutely against the publication of ‘Stories of the Childhood of Stalin’. The book abounds with a mass of inexactitudes of fact, of alterations, of exaggerations and of unmerited praise. But … the important thing resides in the fact that the book has a tendency to engrave on the minds of Soviet children (and people in general) the personality cult of leaders, of infallible heroes. This is dangerous and detrimental. The theory of ‘heroes’ and the ‘crowd’ is not a Bolshevik, but a Social-Revolutionary (ie. Anarchist) theory. I suggest we burn this book’. (J.V. Stalin. ‘Works’ Vol 13, 1955).Such facts would indicate that the ‘cult of personality’ around Stalin was not built up by Stalin – but by revisionists and concealed revisionists like Karl Radek (1885-1939) and Nikita Kruschev and was probably against Stalin`s wishes.The German writer Lion Feuchtwanger (1884-1958) in 1936 confirms that Stalin suspected that the ‘cult of personality’ was being fostered by ‘wreckers’ with the aim of discrediting him. ‘It is manifestly irksome to Stalin to be worshipped as he is, and from time to time he makes fun of it. Of all the men I know who have power, Stalin is the most unpretentious. I spoke frankly to him about the vulgar and excessive cult made of him, and he replied with equal candour. He thinks it is impossible even that ‘wreckers’ may be behind it in an attempt to discredit him’. (Feuchtwanger. Moscow 1937).Hence we need to be cautious in concluding that Stalin`s cult of personality was the key factor in his control of the Soviet Union between 1929-41 – particularly in light of evidence which appears to contradict the stereotyped view portraying Stalin as an egoistic dictator and which rather reveals the leader as a modest and self-effacing individual.

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