Law and the Soviet Purge: Domestic Renewal and International Convergences

  • Vanessa Voisin


This chapter follows the evolution of Soviet law through the legal repression of collaborators during the Second World War, setting aside the thousands of people who were repressed in an extra-legal way. The study is based on a careful examination of a sample of 81 judiciary files in the Tver/Kalinin province, which was liberated in successive waves from December 1941 to July 1944, and of the laws according to which the alleged accomplices of the enemy were sentenced. The author defends the idea that the convergence of Soviet and international law resulted in remarkable innovations for both. Indeed, the purge first entails all of the attributes of a legal campaign, Soviet style, using Article 58 of the Penal Code of 1926 and heavily relies on categories directly inherited from the 1930s (“social dangerousness,’’ espionage…). But the purge also quickly denoted an effort of previously unknown nuance, which can be explained by a progressively improved understanding of the actual circumstances of Nazi occupation, but also by a larger re-evaluation of the role of law, whose premises date to at least 1933–1934. At the highest level of the judicial administration, there developed a reflection about the pedagogical role of justice for the “popular masses,” and, at the same time, about the political utility of centrally-controlled justice. Finally, the legal vision of how to prosecute traitors was influenced by the international debates about the prosecution of war criminals, in which USSR took a most active part.


Penal Code Criminal Responsibility Death Sentence Military Tribunal Political Repression 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© T.M.C. ASSER PRESS, The Hague, and the authors 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.French-Russian Center of Research in MoscowMoscowRussia

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