“The Law Today”

“The Gulag Archipelago Three (1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation V-VII)” by Aleksandr L Solzhenitsyn

“The vessel of Soviet Law is ready for the sharpest turn. If orders
come tomorrow to put millions inside again for their way of
thinking, or to deport whole peoples (the same peoples as before,
or others) or rebellious towns, or to pin four numbers on prisoners
again — its mighty hull will scarcely tremble, its stem will not

There remains — what Derzhavin tells us, what only those who
have experienced it for themselves can feel in their hearts:

“An unjust court is worse than brigandage.”

Yes, that remains true. As true as it was under Stalin, as it was
all through the years described in this book. Many Fundamental
Principles, Decrees, and Laws, contradictory or complementary,
have been promulgated and printed — but it is not in accordance
with them that our country lives, and that arrests are made, trials
held, expert evidence given. Only in those few cases (15 percent,
perhaps?) in which the subject of investigation and judicial pro-
ceedings affects neither the interests of the state, nor the reigning
ideology, nor the personal interests or comfort of some of-
ficeholder — only very rarely can the officers of the court enjoy the
privilege of trying a case without telephoning somebody to seek
instructions; of trying it on its merits and as conscience dictates.
All other cases — the overwhelming majority: criminal or civil, it
makes no difference — inevitably affect in some important way the
interests of the chairman of a kolkhoz or a village soviet, a shop
foreman, a factory manager, the head of a Housing Bureau, a
block sergeant, the investigating officer or commander of a police
district, the medical superintendent of a hospital, a chief planning
officer, the heads of administrations or ministries, special sections
or personnel sections, the secretaries of district or oblast Party
Committees — and upward, ever upward! In all such cases, calls
are made from one discreet inner office to another; leisurely, low-
ered voices give friendly advice, steady and steer the decision to
be reached in the trial of a wretched little man caught in the
tangled schemes, which he would not understand even if he knew
them, of thoserset in authority over him. The naively trusting little
newspaper reader goes into the courtroom conscious that he is in
the right. His reasonable arguments are carefully rehearsed, and
he lays them before the somnolent, masklike faces on the bench,
never suspecting that sentence has been passed on him already —
that there are no courts of appeal, no proper channels and due procedures through which a malignant, a corrupt, a soul-searingly
unjust verdict can be undone.

There is — only a wall. And its bricks are laid in a mortar of lies.

We called this chapter “The Law Today.” It should rightly be
called ‘There Is No Law.”

The same treacherous secrecy, the same fog of injustice, still
hangs in our air, worse than the smoke of city chimneys.

For half a century and more the enormous state has towered
over us, girded with hoops of steel The hoops are still there. There
is no law. “

The Moscow Show Trials:

Article 58 of the Russian SFSR
The article covered the following offenses.

* 58-1: Definition of counter-revolutionary activity:

“A counter-revolutionary action is any action aimed at overthrowing, undermining or weakening of the power of workers’ and peasants’ Soviets… and governments of the USSR and Soviet and autonomous republics, or at the undermining or weakening of the external security of the USSR and main economical, political and national achievements of the proletarial revolution”

It was not limited to anti-Soviet acts: by “international solidarity of workers”, any other “worker’s state” was protected by this article.

o 58-1а. Treason: death sentence or 10 years of prison, both cases with property confiscation.
o 58-1б. Treason by military personnel: death sentence with property confiscation.
o 58-1в. In the case of flight of the offender in treason subject to 58-1б (military personnel only), his relatives were subject to 5–10 years of imprisonment with confiscation or 5 years of Siberia exile, depending on the circumstances: either they helped or knew and didn’t report or simply lived with the offender.
o 58-1г. Non-reporting of a treason by a military man: 10 years of imprisonment. Non-reporting by others: offense by Article 58-12.

* 58-2. Armed uprising or intervention with the goal to seize the power: up to death with confiscation, including formal recognition as “enemy of workers”.
* 58-3. Contacts with foreigners “with counter-revolutionary purposes” (as defined by 58-1) are subject to Article 58-2.
* 58-4. Any kind of help to “international bourgeoisie” which, not recognizing the equality of communist political system, strives to overthrow it: punishment similar to 58-2.
* 58-5. Urging any foreign entity to declaration of war, military intervention, blockade, capture of state property, breaking diplomatic relations, breaking international treaties, and other aggressive actions against USSR: similar to 58-2.
* 58-6. Espionage. Punishment: similar to 58-2.
* 58-7. Undermining of state industry, transport, monetary circulation or credit system, as well as of cooperative societies and organizations, with counter-revolutionary purpose (as defined by 58-1) by means of the corresponding usage of the state institutions, as well as by opposing their normal functioning: same as 58-2. Note: the offense according to this article was known as wrecking and the offenders were called “wreckers”.
* 58-8. Terrorist acts against representatives of Soviet power or of workers and peasants organisations: same as 58-2.
* 58-9. Damage of transport, communication, water supply, warehouses and other buildings or state and communal property with counter-revolutionary purpose: same as 58-2.
* 58-10. Anti-Soviet and counter-revolutionary propaganda and agitation: at least 6 months of imprisonment. In the conditions of unrest or war: same as 58.2.
* 58-11. Any kind of organisational or support actions related to the preparation or execution of the above crimes is equated to the corresponding offenses and prosecuted by the corresponding articles.
* 58-12. Non-reporting of a “counter-revolutionary activity”: at least 6 months of imprisonment.
* 58-13. Active struggle against revolutionary movement of tsarist personnel and members of “counter-revolutionary governments” during the civil war, same as 58-2.
* 58-14 (added on June 6, 1937) “Counter-revolutionary sabotage”, i.e., conscious non-execution or deliberately careless execution of “defined duties”, aimed at the weakening of the power of the government and of the functioning of the state apparatus is subject to at least one year of freedom deprivation, and under especially aggravating circumstances, up to the highest measure of social protection: execution by shooting with confiscation of property.


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