(As a part of year-long observance of historic November Revolution, Proletarian Era has decided to publish a brief history of the course that led to this epoch-making event, as well as a few historic documents pertaining to it. Reproduced below is observation of Anna Louise Strong, well-known American Journalist, on the Soviet Constitution placed by great Stalin which was hailed by renowned personalities of the world as a living embodiment of dreams and aspirations, rights and responsibilities for people entering into a new era of human history. This is from her celebrated book The Stalin Era.)
… The feelings of Soviet youth in those days appear in two incidents. Anna Mlynik, valedictorian of the first Moscow class to finish the new ten-year school, said in her valedictory, June, 1935: “Life is good … in such a land, in such an epoch. We, young owners of our country, are called upon to conquer space and time.” Some extravagance is allowed to valedictories, but youths in the past have been subjects of kings or citizens of democracies; never, till Socialism, dared they call themselves “owners” of the land in which they lived. The same year, Nina Kamenova made a parachute jump from icy space twice as high as Mt. Rainier, winning a world record. Her words on landing, at once seized by Soviet youth as a slogan, were: “The sky of our country is the highest sky in the world.”
… One fruit of those happy days remained for history – the new Soviet Constitution was born in those years.
The USSR has always claimed to be democratic; this the West has always denied. Here is no space to trace the Soviet political and electoral system in detail. Whatever Americans thought of Soviet elections, Soviet people took part in them at least as energetically and hopefully as we. They not only voted for candidates; they wrote their demands into the “Nakaz,” the “People’s Instructions,” which became first order of business for incoming governments.
In the 1934 elections, my husband spent every evening for a month as a precinct worker, visiting every person in his precinct and stimulating them not only to come out but to list things they wanted the government to do. He told me of an old woman who had never before voted – “What use am I to the Soviet Power,” she said – but who, on his prodding, looked around her kitchen hung with laundry and decided to ask the government for more public laundries. She got them eventually, too. Moscow City Soviet, that year, received 48,000 “people’s instructions” and had to report on them all in three months. Many, of course, were duplicates or had to be referred to the central government, but a large number were reported back to the people in a novel way. The demands could be met, said the City Soviet, if the people who wanted them would give volunteer work. “Soviet democracy” was judged not only by the number who tured out in elections – this grew from 51 percent of the voters, in 1926, to 85 percent in 1934 – but by the number of volunteers a deputy could gather to help in government tasks. Much work on taxing and housing commissions, for instance, was by volunteers. Howard K. Smith, in the late thirties, noted the atmosphere this created, and said on his visit to Moscow: “You got the impression that each and every little individual was feeling pretty important doing the pretty important job of building up a State. … The atmosphere reminded me of a word … it was ‘democracy’.”
Since the 1922 Constitution, however, great changes had taken place. The basic wealth of the land was publicly owned; the people were no longer illiterate. Indirect, unequal voting from the place of work no longer fitted; people everywhere knew of their national heroes and could vote for them directly. On February 6, 1935, the Congress of Soviets decided that the Constitution should be changed to conform to the changed life of the nation. A commission of thirty-one historians, economists and political scientists, under Stalin’s chairmanship, was instructed to draft a new Constitution, more responsive to the people’s will, and more adapted to a socialist state.
The method of adoption was highly significant. For a year, the commission studied all historic forms – both of states and of voluntary societies – through which men have organized for joint aims. Then a proposed draft was tentatively approved in June, 1936, by the government and submitted to the people in sixty million copies. It was discussed in 527,000 meetings, attended by thirty-six million people. For months, every newspaper was full of people’s letters. Some 154,000 amendments were proposed – many, of course, duplicates, and many others more suitable for a legal code rather than a constitution. Forty-three amendments were actually made by this popular initiative.
In the great white hall of the Kremlin Palace, 2,016 delegates assembled in December of 1936, for the Constitutional Convention. It was a congress of “new people,” risen to prominence in tasks of industry, farming, science. Farmers came, no longer listed under the generic title “grain-growers,” but as specialists, tractor-drivers, combine-operators, most of whom had made records. There were directors of great industrial plants, famous artists and surgeons, the president of the Academy of Science. This was the new representation of the Soviet Union towards the end of the second Five-Year Plan.
The Constitution reflected the changes in the country. It began with the form of the state and the basic types of property. Land, resources, industries were “state property, the wealth of the whole people.” Cooperative property of collective farms and “personal property” of citizens in their income, their homes and chattels, were “protected by law.” Elections were to be by “universal, direct, equal and secret ballot for all citizens over eighteen.”
The section on “Rights and Duties of Citizens” was cheered section by section; it was the most sweeping list of rights any nation ever guaranteed. The right to life was covered by four headings: “The right to work, to leisure, to education, to material support.” The right to liberty was expanded into six paragraphs, including freedom of conscience, of worship, of speech, of press, of assembly, demonstration and organization, freedom from arbitrary arrest, inviolability of home and of correspondence, “irrespective of nationality or race.”
The Constitution was a direct challenge to Nazi-Fascism, then in power in Germany. The Nazis called democracy outworn; all Soviet speakers hailed democracy and socialism as “unconquerable.” Hitler preached “superior and inferior races.” Stalin challenged him in one of the most sweeping statements ever made of human equality: “Neither language nor colour of skin nor cultural backwardness nor the stage of political development can justify national and race inequality.”
Tens of millions of people poured into the wintry streets of the USSR to hail the event with bands. Progressives around the world hailed it. “Mankind’s greatest achievement,” said Mrs. Sun Yat-sen in far-away China. Romain Rolland spoke from the placid Lake of Geneva: “This gives life to the great slogans that until now were but dreams of mankind – liberty, equality, fraternity.”