History of the Soviet Union

1936 Constitution of the Soviet Union
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1936 Dec 5

1936 Constitution of the Soviet Union


The 1936 Constitution was the second constitution of the Soviet Union and replaced the 1924 Constitution, with 5 December being celebrated annually as Soviet Constitution Day from its adoption by the Congress of Soviets. This date was considered the "second foundational moment" of the USSR, after the October Revolution in 1917. The 1936 Constitution redesigned the government of the Soviet Union, nominally granted all manner of rights and freedoms, and spelled out a number of democratic procedures.

The 1936 Constitution repealed restrictions on voting, abolishing the lishentsy category of people, and added universal direct suffrage and the right to work to rights guaranteed by the previous constitution. In addition, the 1936 Constitution recognized collective social and economic rights including the rights to work, rest and leisure, health protection, care in old age and sickness, housing, education and cultural benefits. The 1936 Constitution also provided for the direct election of all government bodies and their reorganization into a single, uniform system.

Article 122 states that "women in the U.S.S.R. are accorded equal rights with men in all spheres of economic, state, cultural, social and political life." Specific measures on women included state protection of the interests of mother and child, prematernity and maternity leave with full pay, and the provision of maternity homes, nurseries, and kindergartens.

Article 123 establishes equality of rights for all citizens "irrespective of their nationality or race, in all spheres of economic, state, cultural, social, and political life." Advocacy of racial or national exclusiveness, or hatred or contempt, or restrictions of rights and privileges on account of nationality, were to be punished by law.

Article 124 of the constitution guaranteed freedom of religion, including separation of (1) church and state, and (2) school from church. The reasoning of the Article 124 is framed in terms of ensuring "to citizens freedom of conscience ... Freedom of religious worship and freedom of anti-religious propaganda is recognized for all citizens." Stalin included Article 124 in the face of stiff opposition, and it eventually led to rapprochement with the Russian Orthodox Church before and during World War 2. The new constitution re-enfranchised certain religious people who had been specifically disenfranchised under the previous constitution. The article resulted in members of the Russian Orthodox Church petitioning to reopen closed churches, gain access to jobs that had been closed to them as religious figures, and the attempt to run religious candidates in the 1937 elections.

Article 125 of the constitution guaranteed freedom of speech of the press and freedom of assembly. However, these "rights" were circumscribed elsewhere, so the erstwhile "freedom of the press" ostensibly guaranteed by Article 125 was of no practical consequence as Soviet law held that "Before these freedoms can be exercised, any proposed writing or assembly must be approved by a censor or a licensing bureau, in order that the censorship bodies shall be able to exercise "ideological leadership."

The Congress of Soviets replaced itself with the Supreme Soviet, which amended the 1936 Constitution in 1944.

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