Victor Serge

Bureaucracy Adopts Barbaric Penal Code to Punish Smallest Offenses in Russia

(October 1937)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. 1 No. 12, 30 October 1937, p. 8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Barbarism. Is there a word more correct to characterize this frightful social back-sliding? Judge for yourself.

Tass, the official newspaper agency, announces from Moscow that long terms at forced labor have been re-established by decree for the “wreckers”. This type of penalty was abolished at the beginning of the revolution. The dictatorship of the proletariat made remarkable advances in the field of labor legislation even in the very midst of the civil war. The Council of People’s Commissars, presided over by Lenin, decreed that that the longest penalty depriving a defendant of his liberty shall not extend beyond five years. The absurd and degrading inhumanity of perpetual or quasi-perpetual penalties in civilized society, was thus abolished. Later on, the maximum penalty was increased to ten years. Beginning with October 3, it has been extended to twenty-five years!

Dispatches on the same day apprise us that the Siberian authorities, in order to combat “hoodlumism”, have decided to institute the death penalty for this crime and that as a result, some 35, in two groups, have been shot. Crimes ascribed to “hoodlums” or hooligans,” are regarded in every other country as minor offenses usually punished with short jail sentences or fines. From the social point of view, they are due to a lack of education, or improper supervision of adolescents, alcoholism and poverty.

Soviet penal law is thus becoming the most inhuman in existence. It is the only penal law in the world which applies the death penalty to minors, the death penalty for theft, the death penalty for crossing the frontier without a passport; the obligatory deportation of the families of those condemned to heavy sentences; imprisonment for inverts.


From a personal source I have been informed with certainty that Karakhan, who was one of the first Soviet diplomats, serving as ambassador in China and in Turkey, has been shot. Previously, it had been ascertained that he had disappeared. My informants are categoric on this subject.

Last updated on 19 November 2014