Apart from the widely publicized expressions of approval in the Soviet press (some of which contained corrections and additions, which are mostly of a minor nature), the proposed Constitution has given rise to a number of letters containing serious comments and well-argued proposals. Although these letters were sent to the Constitution Commission, not one of them was even mentioned in the Soviet newspapers or official media.
The following letters are known to the Chronicle:
- the “Letter of the Twelve” (from V. Bakhmin, T. Velikanova, R. Galetsky, Z. Grigorenko, P. Grigorenko, I. Kaplun, O. Kvachevsky, A. Lavut, R. Lert, L. Poluektova, V. Turchin and G. Yakunin), addressed to the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee;
- letters from S. Kalistratova, K. Lyubarsky, M. Popovsky, G. Snegirev and L. Ternovsky;
- a letter from the members of the Christian Committee for the Defence of Believers’ Rights in the USSR, addressed to L. Brezhnev;
- and three letters from Adventists.
The most detailed and many-sided criticism of the proposed Constitution is in the “Letter of the Twelve” and the letters from S. Kalistratova and K. Lyubarsky. The authors refer to the Constitution’s declamatory form; the imprecision of its formulas, which makes it difficult (if not impossible) to ensure that the provisions laid down in the Constitution are really being fulfilled; and the inadmissible way in which the Constitution has drawn nearer to the programme of the CPSU.
Serious objections were aroused by Article 6 of the draft Constitution, which declares the CPSU to be the leading and directing force of Soviet society. The authors find that this contradicts Article 2, according to which “all power in the USSR belongs to the people”. This contradiction is, in the opinion of S. Kalistratova, the basic defect of the draft Constitution.
If supreme power in this country has been legally given to the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee, let that be stated in the Constitution, without any attempt to hide the ‘Partocratic’ nature of that power by referring to “the power of the people”. There are in this world monarchies, one-man dictatorships and theocratic States; why should there not be a State where supreme authority is held by a group of Party leaders? However, in that case, it should not be called a democracy. (“Letter of the Twelve”.)
The constitutional consolidation of a special role for one party — moreover the only party — diminishes the sovereignty of the people and will lead to future upheavals for the country. The power and influence of a party can justly be based only on the power and conviction of its ideas. (L. Ternovsky.)
The majority of the authors of the letters listed above objected to Article 6. Section II of the draft Constitution, “The State and the Individual”, was criticised in all the letters referred to. Most of the authors considered that the draft Constitution does not broaden democracy but narrows it even by comparison with the existing Constitution. (S. Kalistratova.)
Many people regard the condition made in Article 39 to be completely inadmissible: “the exercise of their rights and freedoms by citizens should not harm the interests of society or the State”. Experience shows that the authorities are always inclined to identify their own interests with the interests of society and the State. (L. Ternovsky.)
There are many objections to the formulation of Article 52, which allows only anti-religious propaganda. The authors consider that this does not guarantee freedom of conscience.
The “Letter of the Twelve” and the letters of Sophia Kalistratova and Kronid Lyubarsky propose that citizens should have the right to put up candidates for election as representatives of an independent group of citizens, that the judicial system should be reorganized on the lines of a jury system, and they speak of the necessity of real guarantees that courts are independent and public and that the right to a defence exists.
A number of authors propose important additions:
1. K. Lyubarsky insists on the necessity of abolishing the death penalty and constitutionally forbidding torture;
2. The absence in the draft Constitution of the right to strike, generally accepted in democratic countries, is pointed out in the “Letter of the Twelve” and the letters from S. Kalistratova and K. Lyubarsky;
3. The authors of the “Letter of the Twelve”, S. Kalistratova and K. Lyubarsky, consider it necessary to include in the Constitution the right to choose one’s place of residence and the right to emigration;
4. The same authors consider it necessary to set up a Constitutional Court, which would determine how far laws were in accordance with the Constitution.
Many authors justify their proposals by reference to corresponding articles in international agreements signed or ratified by the USSR.
A bulletin Concerning the Draft Constitution of the USSR under the rubric “Voices of opponents, critics and challengers”, has started to come out in samizdat. Already two issues have appeared. The authors of the letters published in it, besides those mentioned above, include: M. Debets, V. Sokirko, Z. Filippov, R., and “The Action Group of the Union of Victims of Stalinist Repression”.
[See also CCE 47.16 — Discussion of the 1977 draft Constitution, concluded]