Symbols and Legitimacy in Soviet Politics

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Review of G. Mark Hurst. It is clear that the Soviet regime, from its earliest days, utilised symbolism as a political tool to control the population in its efforts to establish a communist nation. By the second half of the twentieth century, this symbolism came to dominate the Soviet political landscape.

The cult of personality instigated by Stalin undoubtedly accelerated this process, which had begun under Lenin in the early years of the Bolshevik regime. This metanarrative played an essential role in both the development and decline of the Communist party and their control of the Soviet Union. This subtle force, which should be considered as a fluid entity to which the communist regime pinned their legitimacy, shaped the manner in which the Soviet system existed.

Gill sensibly takes a chronological approach to this piece, assessing the developing nature of the metanarrative across four main chapters after setting out his concept of this term at length in an introductory section. In this extensive introduction, Gill describes the multifaceted nature of the metanarrative, identifying four main types of symbols utilised by the Soviet regime to construct this discourse: language, visual arts, the physical environment, and ritual.

This book uses symbols drawn from each of these four areas throughout to illustrate the impact of symbolism on the Soviet system. The first main chapter considers the construction of this metanarrative immediately after the October revolution. It illustrates how in these foundation years the public discourse used by the regime to consolidate their power was rich in symbolism that directly impacted the metanarrative, positioning the party as an unquestionable body — something that was later to impact its relationship with its citizens.

Gill uses references to propaganda posters in particular to illustrate how the Bolsheviks were actively promoting the image of the worker as a central component of this new society, casting the peasantry and other classes as subordinate. Whilst this is very interesting analysis of the developing position of the worker, the fact that copies of these posters do not appear in this piece does come across as a striking omission. This would give strong visual prompts to the points that Gill makes, and would certainly reinforce his argument regarding the importance of these symbols in Soviet culture.

The second chapter considers how this discourse developed under Stalin, arguing that in this relatively chaotic period, the symbol of Stalin came to dominate the metanarrative. He neatly highlights how Soviet leaders in the wake of Stalin struggled to reassert themselves as this dominant figure in the metanarrative, something that may have contributed in some sense to the emerging dissident movement and opposition to the Soviet regime.

Whilst it is clear that the dissidents faced an uphill struggle against the overwhelming dominance of the Soviet metanarrative, a further assessment of the role played by dissidents in combating this omnipotent discourse may have produced an interesting consideration of the position of this metanarrative in Soviet culture. He argues that in the period of these reforms, the attempt to create new meaning for old symbols, alongside the rejection of other discourses was so dramatic that it damaged the metanarrative beyond repair. Symbols and Legitimacy in Soviet Politics is a compelling book that uses symbolism as a prism to consider the shifting base of power in the Soviet regime.

If the State Duma objects to the proposals of the upper chamber in the conciliation process, it may vote by a two-thirds majority to send its version to the president for signature.

The making and unmaking of revolutions

Because the Federation Council initially included many regional administrators appointed by Yeltsin, that body often supported the president and objected to bills approved by the State Duma, which had more anti-Yeltsin deputies. The power of the upper house to consider bills passed by the lower chamber resulted in its disapproval of about one-half of such bills, necessitating concessions by the State Duma or votes to override upper-chamber objections.

In February , the heads of the two chambers pledged to try to break this habit, but wrangling appeared to intensify in the months that followed. The State Duma confirms the appointment of the prime minister , although it does not have the power to confirm Government ministers. The power to confirm or reject the prime minister is severely limited. According to the constitution, the State Duma must decide within one week to confirm or reject a candidate once the president has placed that person's name in nomination. If it rejects three candidates, the president is empowered to appoint a prime minister, dissolve the parliament, and schedule new legislative elections.

The State Duma's power to force the resignation of the Government also is severely limited. It may express a vote of no-confidence in the Government by a majority vote of all members of the State Duma, but the president is allowed to disregard this vote. If, however, the State Duma repeats the no-confidence vote within three months, the president may dismiss the Government. But the likelihood of a second no-confidence vote is virtually precluded by the constitutional provision allowing the president to dissolve the State Duma rather than the Government in such a situation. The Government's position is further buttressed by another constitutional provision that allows the Government at any time to demand a vote of confidence from the State Duma; refusal is grounds for the president to dissolve the Duma.

The legislative process [4] in Russia includes three hearings in the State Duma, then approvals by the Federation Council , the upper house and sign into law by the President. Draft laws may originate in either legislative chamber, or they may be submitted by the president, the Government, local legislatures and the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court, or the Superior Court of Arbitration within their respective competences.

Draft laws are first considered in the State Duma. Upon adoption by a majority of the full State Duma membership, a draft law is considered by the Federation Council, which has fourteen days to place the bill on its calendar. Conciliation commissions are the prescribed procedure to work out differences in bills considered by both chambers. A constitutional provision dictating that draft laws dealing with revenues and expenditures may be considered "only when the Government's findings are known" substantially limits the Federal Assembly's control of state finances.


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However, the legislature may alter finance legislation submitted by the Government at a later time, a power that provides a degree of traditional legislative control over the purse. The two chambers of the legislature also have the power to override a presidential veto of legislation.


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The constitution requires at least a two-thirds vote of the total number of members of both chambers. The district courts are the primary criminal trial courts , and the regional courts are the primary appellate courts. The judiciary is governed by the All-Russian Congress of Judges and its Council of Judges , and its management is aided by the Judicial Department of the Supreme Court, the Judicial Qualification Collegia , the Ministry of Justice , and the various courts' chairpersons.

There are many officers of the court , including jurors , but the Prosecutor General remains the most powerful component of the Russian judicial system. Many judges appointed by the regimes of Leonid Brezhnev in office and Yuri Andropov in office remained in place in the mids.

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Such arbiters were trained in " socialist law " and had become accustomed to basing their verdicts on telephone calls from local CPSU bosses rather than on the legal merits of cases. For court infrastructure and financial support, judges must depend on the Ministry of Justice , and for housing they must depend on local authorities in the jurisdiction where they sit.

These circumstances, combined with irregularities in the appointment process and the continued strong position of the procurators, deprived judges in the lower jurisdictions of independent authority. Numerous matters which are dealt with by administrative authority in European countries remain subject to political influence in Russia. The Constitutional Court of Russia was reconvened in March following its suspension by President Yeltsin during the October constitutional crisis. The constitution empowers the court to arbitrate disputes between the executive and legislative branches and between Moscow and the regional and local governments.

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The court also is authorized to rule on violations of constitutional rights , to examine appeals from various bodies, and to participate in impeachment proceedings against the president. The July Law on the Constitutional Court prohibits the court from examining cases on its own initiative and limits the scope of issues the court can hear. These reforms help make the Russian judicial system more compatible with its Western counterparts and are seen by most as an accomplishment in human rights.

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The reforms have reintroduced jury trials in certain criminal cases and created a more adversarial system of criminal trials that protect the rights of defendants more adequately. Another significant advance in the new Code is the transfer from the Procuracy to the courts of the authority to issue search and arrest warrants. In the Soviet period, some of Russia's approximately nationalities were granted their own ethnic enclaves, to which varying formal federal rights were attached.

Other smaller or more dispersed nationalities did not receive such recognition.

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In most of these enclaves, ethnic Russians constituted a majority of the population, although the titular nationalities usually enjoyed disproportionate representation in local government bodies. Relations between the central government and the subordinate jurisdictions, and among those jurisdictions, became a political issue in the s. The Russian Federation has made few changes in the Soviet pattern of regional jurisdictions. The constitution establishes a federal government and enumerates eighty-nine subnational jurisdictions, including twenty-one ethnic enclaves with the status of republics.

There are ten autonomous regions, or okruga sing.

Symbols and Legitimacy in Soviet Politics - Graeme Gill - Google книги

The cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg are independent of surrounding jurisdictions; termed "cities of federal significance," they have the same status as the oblasts. The ten autonomous regions and Birobidzhan are part of larger jurisdictions, either an oblast or a territory. As the power and influence of the central government have become diluted, governors and mayors have become the only relevant government authorities in many jurisdictions. The Federation Treaty was signed in March by President Yeltsin and most leaders of the autonomous republics and other ethnic and geographical subunits.

The treaty consisted of three separate documents, each pertaining to one type of regional jurisdiction. It outlined powers reserved for the central government, shared powers, and residual powers to be exercised primarily by the subunits. Because Russia's new constitution remained in dispute in the Federal Assembly at the time of ratification, the Federation Treaty and provisions based on the treaty were incorporated as amendments to the constitution. A series of new conditions were established by the constitution and by bilateral agreements.

The constitution of resolved many of the ambiguities and contradictions concerning the degree of decentralization under the much-amended constitution of the Russian Republic; most such solutions favored the concentration of power in the central government. When the constitution was ratified, the Federation Treaty was demoted to the status of a subconstitutional document.

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