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Book Review: Settling Disputes in Soviet Society: The Formative Years of Legal Institutions, 74 Harvard Law Review 1673 (1961)


Until recently writers on Soviet law tended to treat it largely as one big "current event" or - at best as a discontinuous series of current events patched together in what one hoped made up a connected story. The primary data were scant, inaccessible, and unreliable. The monographic literature inside and to some extent outside the Soviet Union had in many cases been contributed by men who were, in the older as well as the contemporary sense of the term, interested; it was often hard to hear the voice of reason over the harsh rasp of axes being ground to a dull edge. The current events were sometimes assimilated, or contrasted, to pre-Soviet Russian law, but legal developments of the early period of Soviet power were relatively neglected. They seemed to have been isolated from the recent past by the Great Purges, the War, and the late-Stalinist Terror.

In the past few years the study of the Soviet legal scene in the twenties has come into more favor. Simple lapse of time may lend enchantment, if not perspective. Besides, within the Soviet Union the legal reformers venturing out in the thaw of 1955-57 sought support and legitimate ancestry in evoking "the noble, mythical past when the Revolution was young, the party was virtuous, life was simple, and laws were just." Comparative attention also has been drawn to the Soviet twenties by the roughly analogous events of the late forties and early fifties in the "people's democracies." Professor Hazard's book examines the growth of legal institutions and procedures as they affected "disputes between citizens" in the interval from the second 1917 Revolution to roughly1925. Substantive law, except for that which is necessarily secreted in the interstices of procedure, is not treated directly. By the end of the period covered in the book, most of the characteristic legal institutions of Soviet authority had made their appearance; most of the important codes had been enacted; many of the future tenets of Soviet legal theory had been stated or foreshadowed; the curve of the New Economic Policy had passed its peak; and Stalin had begun to win out over his political opponents by a number of weapons, among them ideological and theoretical arguments which he was later to abandon in favor of those supported by his victims.

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