Amnesty of 1953 and the first experiments in the revision of social control practices in the USSR

 
PIIS086956870015595-5-1
DOI10.31857/S086956870015595-5
Publication type Article
Status Published
Authors
Affiliation: Institute of Russian History, RAS
Address: Russian Federation, Moscow
Journal nameRossiiskaia istoriia
EditionIssue 3
Pages264-274
Abstract

        

Keywords
AcknowledgmentThis article is a translation of: Е.Ю. Зубкова. Амнистия 1953 года и первые опыты по пересмотру практик социального контроля в СССР // Rossiiskaia Istoria. 2021. № 2. P. 149-160. DOI: 10.31857/S086956870014466-3
Received27.06.2021
Publication date27.06.2021
Number of characters41504
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1

When we are studying the "Soviet project" and the phenomenon of the Soviet life in general we should take in account that the most arguable subjects are the formation, evolution and functioning of the Soviet society, which was formed under the influence of historical and cultural traditions and current challenges of the its epoch. At the same time, we can considered the Soviet Union as a project, which reflects the results of political and social constructions. A social control was a tool for implementing this Soviet project. First of all, there was a concept of the division of society into "friends" and "aliens", "necessary persons", "freeloaders" and “dangerous persons”. There were people which had mark "criminals", these people stood in the category of “outsiders”, they committed crimes (real or imaginary) and were temporarily isolated from society. The fight against crime, primarily criminal, was a form of social control and a way to maintain order1.

1. Gilinskij YA.I. Social'nyj kontrol' nad prestupnost'yu: ponyatie, rossijskaya real'nost', perspektivy [Social control over crime: the concept, Russian reality, prospects] // Rossijskij ezhegodnik ugolovnogo prava [Russian Yearbook of Criminal Law]. 2013. №. 7. Pp. 42–58.
2

There were after 1953 new trends in the state policy of combating crime and delinquency: the regime was softened, an intensive process of a lawmaking began, the policy of isolating the marginals was replaced by steps to incorporate them into society, and a significant number of the functions of maintaining public order were transferred to the area of a public rule. However, the liberalization of the policy in the sphere of a struggle with criminals had intermittent and often reversible character, we explain this as results of an inertia of a previous tradition of repressions and isolation. In addition, reformers posed with a criminal challenge as mass riots and an increase of hooliganism.

3

The revision of the norms and practices of social control took place in the context of changes in the country and was a reaction on the problem of crime and the state of the repressive system primarily its prison-camp segment (the situation of convicts and prisoners). The revision developed in stages, although this did not have a clearly defined dynamics and had peculiar character in the field of lawmaking, ideological support and policy to persons which committed criminal and other offenses.

4 The Stalinist repressive system, which was created and considered as a mechanism for ensuring political stability, grew and became a threat to the social order, because of this its transformation was inevitable, this began during the life of Stalin, but this process had reached a qualitatively different level after his death. The Minister of Internal Affairs of the USSR L. P. Beria sent a note to the Presidium of the Central Committee of the CPSU on March 26 1953, which stated: "At present, there are 2 526 402 prisoners in penal labor camps, prisons and colonies, of which: 590 000 prisoners sentenced to a term of up to 5 years, 1 216 000 from 5 to 10 years, 573 000 from 10 to 20 years, and 188 000 over 20 years… The detention of a large number of prisoners in camps, prisons and colonies, among whom there is a significant part of convicted persons for crimes which do not have a serious danger for society, including women, adolescents, the elderly and sick people, is not caused by state necessity2». 2. Lavrentij Beriya. 1953 g. Stenogramma iyul'skogo plenuma CK KPSS i drugie dokumenty / Pod red. A.N. YAkovleva; sost. V. Naumov, YU. Sigachyov. [Lavrentiy Beria. 1953. Transcript of the July plenum of the CPSU Central Committee and other documents / Edited by A. N. Yakovlev; comp. V. Naumov, Yu. Sigachev]. Moscow, 1999. P. 19.
5 A significant part of the camp contingent consisted of people convicted for minor, from the point of view of the Minister, offenses: unauthorized leave working place, official and economic crimes, petty theft, hooliganism, petty profiteering. The GULAG was significantly expanded after the adoption of the decrees of 1947, which toughened criminal liability for theft of state and public property, theft of personal property of citizens. There were 1 January 1953 out of the total number of prisoners 1 241 919 persons stood in the camps according to sentences for these crimes. 300 000 people including the chairmen and foremen of collective farms, engineers, heads of enterprises were convicted to the term of 5 to 10 years for official, economic and military crimes. A significant share of the contingent were women 438 788 persons including 6 286 pregnant women and 35 505 mothers of children, which were not elder as 2 years. Many children under the age of 10 were in orphanages or in the families of relatives. 238 000 imprisoned men and women were over the age of 50 years. There were 31 181 prisoners under the age of 18, the vast majority of whom were sentenced for petty theft and hooliganism. About 198 000 people suffered from severe and incurable diseases, being completely unable to work3. 3. Lavrentij Beriya. 1953 g. Stenogramma iyul'skogo plenuma CK KPSS i drugie dokumenty. P. 19-21.
6 Criminologists and psychologists (foreign, and once domestic) insisted that long-term imprisonment not only does not solve the problem of reducing crime and does not perform a "correctional and educational" function, but leads to further criminalization of society, as well as to the desocialization of an individual4. Beria, who was hardly familiar with the research of scientists, actually agreed with their point of view: "It is known that imprisonment in a camp, associated with separation for a long time from the family, from the usual living conditions and activities, puts convicts, their relatives and close people in a very difficult situation, often destroys a family, extremely negatively affects their entire subsequent life." Based on this, and with reference to the fact that "most of these prisoners behave well in the camps, are conscientious about work and can return to an normal working life," the minister proposed a big amnesty, reducing the population of the GULAG by almost half5. 4. Gilinskij YA.I. Deviantologiya: sociologiya prestupnosti, narkotizma, prostitucii, samoubijstv i drugih «otklonenij» [Deviantology: sociology of crime, drug addiction, prostitution, suicide and other "deviations"] St. Petersburg, 2004. Pp. 425–426

5. Lavrentij Beriya. 1953 g. Stenogramma iyul'skogo plenuma CK KPSS i drugie dokumenty P.20.

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