Soviet Decrees

Soviet Decrees

Decrees ( _ru. декреты) were legislative acts of the highest Soviet institutions, primarily of the Council of People's Commissars (the highest executive body) and of the Supreme Soviet or VTsIK (the highest legislative body), [Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd edition, entry on "Декрет", available online [ here] ] issued between 1917 and 1924. Such acts issued after 1924 are referred to as Decisions ( _ru. постановление) or Ukases in Soviet sources.

Bolshevik Initial Decrees

The Bolshevik Initial Decrees were announced as soon as the Bolsheviks declared their success in the October Revolution (October 26, 1917). The decrees seemed to conform to the popular Bolshevik slogan "Peace, Bread, and Land", taken up by the masses during the July Days (July 1917), an uprising of workers and military forces. The slogan succinctly articulated the grievances of the Russian peasantry, armed forces and proletariat (the working-class sections of Russian society). As revisionist historian Christopher Read suggests, "The Bolsheviks were successful in uniting the diverse revolutionary movements and directing them towards one goal", namely the establishment of state-socialism.

The Decree on Peace outlined measures for Russia's withdrawal from the First World War without "payment of indemnities or annexations". This decree aimed to secure the support of many soldiers on the disintegrating Russian front. The sincerity of this Bolshevik assurance came under scrutiny when V.L Lenin endorsed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk which divested Russia of its Baltic territory.

The Decree on Land outlined measures by which the peasants were to divide up rural land among themselves. It advocated the forceful dissolution of many wealthy estates by peasant forces. Such measures no doubt contributed to an increase in Bolshevik support amongst the peasantry, but were counterproductive in that the Russian war front disintegrated as soldiers (who were formerly peasants) returned to secure land for themselves.

The Workers' Decrees outlined measures for minimum wage, limitations on workers' hours, and the running of factories by elected workers' committees. This consolidated Bolshevik support amongst the working classes in the cities, where they had taken power.

The Bolsheviks also declared approximately 100 other decrees outlining the formal setup of Bolshevik government through the medium of the soviet institutions. Soviet political sovereignty was to be further challenged by the fact that the Social Revolutionary party attained over 50% of the votes in a democratically elected Assembly in January 1918. (This was promptly shut down by the Bolsheviks on the grounds that the Soviets were a more advanced democratic representation of the Russian people).

The significance of the initial decrees has been the subject of much historical debate. Some Liberal historians see the decrees as policy-making which was designed to secure the support of the population at a time of instability within the regime, only so that they could be betrayed by the Bolsheviks in search of an totalitarian state (Richard Pipes). More recently, revisionist historians have interpreted the initial decrees as popular social policy undertaken by the Bolsheviks with a view to precipitating a better quality of life for the Russian people. With this belief in mind, historian Richard Acton states, "The cleavage of the goals of the masses and that of the Bolsheviks was fundamental." It seems to be universally accepted that the initial decrees were an attempt by the Bolsheviks to secure popular support. However, historians question the intentions of the Bolsheviks in achieving widespread endorsement.

List of Soviet Decrees





*cite book|last=Acton|first=Edward|title=Rethinking the Russian Revolution|year=1990|publisher=E. Arnold|location=London|id=ISBN 978-0-7131-6609-5
*cite book|last=Fiehn|first=Terry|coauthors=and Chris Corin|title=Communist Russia Under Lenin and Stalin|year=2002|publisher=John Murray|location=London|id=ISBN 978-0-7195-7488-7
*cite book|last=Fitzpatrick|first=Sheila|title=The Russian Revolution|year=1994|edition=2nd ed.|publisher=Oxford University Press|location=Oxford|id=ISBN 978-0-19-289257-7
*cite book|last=Pipes|first=Richard|authorlink=Richard Pipes|title=The Russian Revolution|year=1990|publisher=HarperCollins|location=London|id=ISBN 978-0-00-272086-1
*cite book|last=Read|first=Christopher|title=From Tsar to Soviets: The Russian People and Their Revolution, 1917-21|year=1996|publisher=UCL Press|location=London|id=ISBN 978-1-85728-358-7

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