Contrary to the conventional wisdom among scholars and lay people that law had little meaning in the USSR, documents that were made accessible after the collapse of the Soviet Union indicate that Soviet leaders, from Lenin to Gorbachev assigned law a central role in building the first communist society. This was particularly true of the post-Stalinist period, when the new leadership sought to replace terror with other mechanisms of control, law being one of them.
The lecture examines the doctrine of ‘Socialist legality’, which was introduced by the 'collective leadership' shortly after Stalin's death. While the original purpose of the doctrine was to legitimize repression of citizens who broke the law, under Stalin's successors the term called for strict adherence to legal principles by state officials and its institutions. Legal education programs, popularization of justice, competitions for 'Best Soviet Advocate,' and legal reforms of the 1950s and 1960s were introduced in order to pave a new road to communism. However, as my work shows, the quest for legality had unintended consequences, which changed the relations between citizens, legal institutions and the state, thus undermining the revolutionary project.
Dina Moyal teaches Soviet and Modern Russian history at Tel Aviv University. She holds an LLB degree from Tel Aviv University and a PhD degree in history from Stanford University. Dina's research focuses on Russian and Soviet legal history and culture and the role of legal mechanisms in realizing social and political goals. Dina is currently completing her manuscript on post-Stalinist legal institutions and the interaction between law and politics under Khrushchev and Brezhnev. Dina's second project examines trials and legal processes, which took place at major transitional moments in Russian/ Soviet history, from the Extraordinary Commission of Inquiry against Tsarist ministers in 1917 to the Process of the Communist Party in 1992. In addition to her research and teaching, Dina is the Program Director of the Israeli Inter-University Partnership in Russian and East European Studies, which is a collaborative project of four Israeli universities (Bar-Ilan, Ben-Gurion, Haifa and Tel Aviv University) and is supported by the Council of Higher Education in Israel.