Social Stratification

  • George C. Guins


In the Russian Empire at the beginning of the twentieth century, there were legal classes (estates) based on historical divisions of society. Membership in these classes was determined by law. There were not only hereditary nobles, but also hereditary peasants, merchants, and burghers; and their children remained in the classes to which they belonged until such time as they acquired another status. There were also social classes whose existence is especially emphasized by Marxist doctrine, classes directly concerned with private property as the means of production, classes of capitalists, landowners, workers and peasants.


Civil Code Social Stratum Ruling Group Class Division Special Privilege 
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  1. 1.
    Arts. 1, 2, 6 of the Decree of November 10, 1917 on the Abolition of Classes and Civil Ranks.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Section II of the Declaration. Quotation taken from the collection of the early Soviet legislation issued under the title Decrees and Constitution of Soviet Russia, reprinted in The Nation, 1918–1919. pp. 32–33.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Declaration of the Rights of the People of Russia. Ibid., p. 31.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Constitution of the R.S.F.S.R. of July 10,1918, section 9.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Art. 5 of the Law Enacting the R.S.F.S.R. Civil Code. As a general rule, provisions of the Civil Code were to be applied restrictively.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Arts. 156, 166 and 171 of the Civil Code. Article 156 was repealed in 1938; Articles 166 and 171 were amended (R.S.F.S.R. Laws, 1938, text 163).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Decree of February 6, 1929. U.S.S.R. Laws, text 78.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Ezhenedelnik sovetskoi justitsii, 1927, No. 4, p. in.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Article 12 of the Leading Principles of 1919.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Article 2 of the Code of Civil Procedure. Cf. John Hazard, ‘Soviet Law—An Introduction,’ Columbia Law Review, Vol. XXXVI (December 1936), p. 1263.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Krylenko, The Judiciary of the R.S.F.S.R.(1923, in Russian), p. 27; quoted by Gsovski, I, pp. 241–242. ‘In accordance with these concepts, all efforts were made to recruit men for the bench from among Communists. They constituted 86.4 per cent of the judges of the higher courts in 1928, 89.7 per cent in 1930, and 99.6 per cent in 1935 ; the percentage of Communists among the judges of the lower courts constituted 69.8 per cent in 1928, 74.8 per cent in 1930, and 95.5 per cent in 1935.’ Ibid., p. 242.Google Scholar
  12. Professor J. Towster characterizes the Soviet system of justice ‘for about half of that period’ (i. e. up to the mid-thirties) as ‘consciously and deliberately built on class foundations, to the disadvantage of certain categories of citizens. Subsequently, however, the class principle was eliminated from the operation of the judicial system, which,’ he asserts, ‘became uniform for all groups of citizens.’ Political Power in the USSR, p. 402. This assertion is only formally correct, as we shall try to prove below (see notes 12 and 13).Google Scholar
  13. 12.
    ‘The slaughter of one’s own animals under a certain age entailed a fine for a non-kulak but for a kulak it entailed confiscation of all his animals and implements, withdrawal of the land he used, and two years’ imprisonment, with or without exile” (USSR Laws 1930, text 66, Section 1 ; id.1931, text 474), Gsovski, I, p. 712, note 76. ‘Nonpayment of a tax on the date due, “if committed by a group of people belonging to households classed as kulaki” entailed a term of forced labor twice as long and a fine five times as high as was established for other classes of people (R.S.F.S.R. Penal Code, ed. 1950, Section 60, par. 2). Refusal to pay a tax, which ordinarily entailed a fine, might have resulted, for “a peasant belonging to the upper well-to-do stratum of peasantry,” in confinement for up to two years followed by exile and confiscation of all properties (id., Section 61, par. 2).’ The courts were instructed to raise penalties also for peasants evading compulsory delivery of grain to the government, if the offenders could be classified as kulaks. Gsovsik, I, p. 712, note yy. Google Scholar
  14. 13.
    See the Correctional Labor Code of the R.S.F.S.R. adopted by the All-Russian Central Executive Committee on October 16, 1924 and revised in August 1933 (R.S. F.S.R. Laws, 1933, No. 48, text 208). This terrible law, establishing the notorious forced-labor system and directed against ‘class-dangerous elements’ (Art. 1), is still in force, giving evidence that the class problem has in fact not been entirely eliminated in the Soviet Union and that the full uniformity of the law has not been finally established. Cf. Buligin’s case and attitude of the court to his assistant, the son of a priest. (Berman, op. cit., p. 85).Google Scholar
  15. 14.
    ‘There are some people in the U.S.S.R. with relatively large fortunes, some even with more than they can reasonably spend.’ R. Schlesinger, The Spirit of Post-War Russia (Soviet Ideology, 1917–1946) (London: Dennis, Dobson, Ltd., 1947), p. 25.Google Scholar
  16. 15.
    In 1943 the Soviet press welcomed with enthusiasm the first Soviet millionaire, Comrade Berdybekov, director of one of the Sovkhozes in Kazakhstan. Izvestia, No. 107, on May 6, 1944, stated that the chairman of the Taldybulash Kolkhoz, Tlemisov, paid 500,200 rubles in cash, his family savings, for the bonds of the third State loan.Google Scholar
  17. 16.
    A. Yugov, Russia’s Economic Front for War and Peace (New York, 1942), pp. 228–229. The same in his article, ‘More about the Ruling Groups,’ Novyi Put, Febr. 14, 1943, N. 2–3 (26–27).Google Scholar
  18. 17.
    Schlesinger, op. cit., pp. 44–47. Schlesingers assertions contradict constant complaints of the Soviet press concerning bureaucracy. See, for example, Sovietskoe Gosudarstvo i Pravo, No. 8, 1950. pp. 62–70. The process of the formation of the Soviet bureaucracy with striking illustrations are given by Barrington Moore, op. cit., pp. 277–297.Google Scholar
  19. 18.
    Schlesinger translates inaccurately ‘well-known men.’Google Scholar
  20. 19.
    Ibid., p. 47.Google Scholar
  21. 20.
    David J. Dallin, The Real Soviet Russia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1947), Chapters VII–X, pp. 137–226.Google Scholar
  22. 21.
    N. S. Timasheff, The Great Retreat, pp. 310–311.Google Scholar
  23. 22.
    Gsovski, Vol. I, pp. 181–182.Google Scholar
  24. 23.
    Peter Meyer, ‘The Soviet Union: a new class society,’ Verdict of three Decades.Julien Steinberg, Editor. Duel, Sloan & Pearce. N. Y. 1950, pp. 495. ‘We know now,’ says the same author, ‘why the marshals, the party secretaries, and the “Red executives” “live better and more happily”: they belong to the class that controls the means of production. The servants and workers live in poverty because they belong to a class that has absolutely no power over the means of production.’ (Ibid.p. 496). ‘The independent peasants and craftsmen belong pre-eminently to the remnants of pre-Soviet classes ... but their control of their means of production and of their products is much more limited.’ (p. 497).Google Scholar
  25. 24.
    The concept of class in sociology is not necessarily based on economic differences. A more common definition adopted by several sociologists is as follows: ‘A social class is a horizontal stratum of an all-inclusive society, the members of which meet one another on equal terms and look on outsiders as being persons of “higher” or “lower” status.’ (See N. S. Timashefi, ‘Vertical Social Mobility in Communist Society,’ American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 50, July, 1944-May, 1945).Google Scholar
  26. 25.
    ‘Il n’y a plus de classes, en U.R.S.S., c’est entendu. Mais il y a des pauvres-il y en a trop; beaucoup trop.’ ‘Comment n’être pas choqué par le mépris, au tout au moins l’indifférence que ceux, qui sont, et qui sentent “du bon coté” manquent a l’égard des inférieurs,’ André Gide, Retour de VURSS, Gallimont, Paris, 1936.Google Scholar
  27. Joseph Newman published in the New York Herald Tribune, Nov. 4, 1949, the data about high prices on all the essentials. Remunerations are different: regimental commander from 6 to 8,000 rubles per month; opera singer, 6,000; responsible engineer, 2,500; average technician, 1,000; bookkeeper, 850; railway station master, 780; unskilled worker, 350.Google Scholar
  28. This tremendous difference in salaries reflects not only in nutrition, education, efficiency of work, but also in customs and manners. ‘One met important officials powdered and perfumed like demi-mondaine.The men of G.P.U. kissed the hands of their womenfolk,’ wrote a revolted member of the Comintern, Anton Ciliga in The Russian Enigma (London: George Routlege & Sons, Ltd., 1940), p. 48.Google Scholar
  29. 26.
    Stalin’s speech on the Communist Party, March 5, 1937. Quoted by Samuel Harper, The Government of the Soviet Union (New York, 1946), p. 53.Google Scholar
  30. 27.
    Novyi Put, Dec. 1942 and Febr. 1943.Google Scholar
  31. 28.
    See above, note 6. Since all persons work for the state, the privileges of the workers provided for by Articles 166 and 171 of the Civil Code have been extended to all tenants; on the other hand Article 156 has been repealed and the workers have thus lost their special right to the renewal of a lease without the consent of the house-owner. All persons are workers at present; besides Article 156 was a limitation not on private houseowners, but on the state and the municipalities which replaced them.Google Scholar
  32. 29.
    Decree of the Council of People’s Commissars of September 19, 1934 (USSR Laws No. 49, text 389).Google Scholar
  33. 80.
    Ukase of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR of June 26, 1940 (Vedomosti, July 5, 1940, No. 20). See also Labor Legislation (1947), PP- 36, 37-Google Scholar
  34. 81.
    See World Report, Dec. 23, 1947.Google Scholar
  35. 82.
    A resolution of the Central Committee of the ACP (b) of Oct. 20, 1930 decided ‘to keep skillful workers at their benches,’ for two years. Later they did not need such forcible measures.Google Scholar
  36. 88.
    ‘Our state is a workers’ state with a bureaucratic perversion,’ Lenin’s speech ‘About Trade-Unions,’ (Sochineniia, vol. XXVI, 1930, p. 67). About the campaign against bureaucratism in 1943–4, see M. Lôvell, The Soviet Way of Life, London, 1948, p. 90–91.Google Scholar
  37. Bureaucratism is not rarely a target of the attacks in the Soviet papers and official speeches. See, for example, Malenkov’s report to the XlXth Congress (Pravda, Oct. 6–7, 1952) and a September issue of Krokodil devoted to the Soviet bureaucratism in connection with the subsequent session of the Congress.Google Scholar
  38. 84.
    ‘Engineers in the Soviet Union constitute today almost a third of the government, a phenomenon not to be observed anywhere else. The Communist Party is no longer a workers’ party; to an increasing extent it has become the party of the officers of the various branches of economy and administration.’ Solomon M. Schwarz, ‘Heads of Russian Factories,’ A Sociological Study. Social Research.September, 1942. pp. 328, 331. S. Schwarz’s characterization may be confirmed by the data about the composition of the Supreme Soviet of the U.S.S.R. elected in 1950. Among its 1316 members thereGoogle Scholar
  39. are only in workers and 17 rank-and-file farmers, all other members belong to the administration (823) and Soviet intelligentsia (about 250) of the higher ranks, engineers, academicians, professors, writers, artists, etc.Google Scholar
  40. 35.
    The economic differentiation is not denied even by Yugov (see above note 16). Moreover, he repeated in 1943, as in 1936, (Sotsialisticheskii Vestnik, 1936, No. 12), that ‘this economic differentiation can lead to the formation of a dominant class unless some counter-acting factors stopit.’ There are, however, no such counteracting factors in sight.Google Scholar
  41. As Alex Inkeles states (‘Social Stratification and Mobility in the Soviet Union: 1940–1950,’ American Sociological Review, Vol. XV, No. 4, Aug. 1950), ‘... it still seems justified to conclude that the fee system and the labor draft act to a significant degree to restrict the mobility of some and to facilitate maintenance of the status of others.’ ‘... movement from the status of worker to high managerial position within the same generation ... is now becoming less usual whereas it was commonplace, if not standard practice, in the earlier period.’ (pp. 474, 477). ‘The social classes which are currently most highly rewarded in income, status and power are precisely those social groups on which the present regime relies most heavily as its basis of social support.’ (479). See also Barr. Moore, op. cit.: ‘... different habits of speech, manners, and dress are built up and transmitted from one generation to the next. In addition, the tendency for families of similar social station to live near each other in the same community leads to the choice of marriage partners from families with approximately the same background. All of these forces are at work in the Soviet Union, and it is a safe prediction that they will eventually result in the emergence of a class system resembling in many ways that in the United States excluding the South.’ (p. 245–46).Google Scholar
  42. 36.
    Art. 121 of the Constitution was correspondingly amended in 1947.Google Scholar
  43. 37.
    There is no accurate data about the percentage of students having fellowships. These data are not significant anyway. Distribution of fellowships depends upon the needs of the state, and not on the rights of individuals. The administration can increase and decrease the number of fellowships in proportion to the practical needs in technical personnel.Google Scholar
  44. 38.
    S. M. Schwarz was probably the first who has elucidated the social significance of the reforms in the field of education; see his articles in the Social Research (above note 29) and in the Sotsialisticheskii Vestnik, January 5, 1943. Yugov opposed him in the Novyi Put, Dec. 1942, and February, 1943. E. Koutaissoff, ‘Soviet education and the new man’ (Soviet Studies, Oct. 1953) is not very optimistic as regards the next future.Google Scholar
  45. 39.
    ‘... class frontiers in Soviet society, which were at first relatively open and elastic, have closed themselves with bewildering speed.’ ‘... there are three ways in which privileges are handed down: by inheritance, by the monopoly of education, and by patronage.’ ‘... the bureaucrats of tomorrow will be preponderantly the children of bureaucrats, and the whole policy of ruling class is slanted in this direction. It is becoming the rule more and more that the son of a worker becomes a worker, while the son of a bureaucrat, or at most, of some one belonging to the middle stratum, becomes a bureaucrat.’ Peter Meyer, op. cit., pp. 498, 499.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, Netherlands 1954

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  • George C. Guins

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