The Main Features of the Soviet Constitution of Ninteteen-Thirty Six
In 1936, Stalin judged the time ripe for drafting a new
constitution which would preserve his autocratic power in the country.
It was adopted by popular vote the following year and went into effect
on January 1st 1938.
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
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
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