Between rights and punishment: Labour in the early years of Soviet society

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This article considers the sphere of labour and social labour relations in the postrevolutionary Soviet Union, which always occupied an important place among the priorities of the Bolshevik regime. The author analyses the reasons, tendencies, and results of how labour law gradually became a doctrinal instrument of the Bolshevik authorities aimed at the elimination of differences between wage labour and compulsory labour, and also between compulsory labour and forced labour. The analysis is performed with reference to documents and materials of the leading official weekly of the RSFSR People's Commissariat for Justice, the Yezhenedelnik sovetskoy yustitsii (Eng. The Weekly of Soviet Justice), known as Sovetskaya Yustitsiya (Eng. Soviet Justice) from the 1930s. It is demonstrated that state policy was a combination of doctrinal propositions on liberated labour and pragmatic decisions regarding the compulsory character of labour, labour mobilisation, etc. The etatisation of the sphere in question was carried out in stages, i. e. the universal labour duty after the end of the Civil War was substituted by the Labour Code of 1922, which regulated wage labour. Together with this, the forced labour sector still existed and was constantly expanding. One part of it (prisons, colonies) was regulated by the Correctional Labour Code, while the other (camps) was no longer part of the Labor Code or the Correctional Labour Code. Forced labour that did not involve imprisonment was a special correctional measure, a lenient punishment that lasted no more than a year. In the 1930s, over 4 million people were sentenced to this kind of punishment, and between 1940 and 1955, 11 million people were sentenced to forced labour for absenteeism. Such a practice became an everyday element of the labour potential of the country and symbolised the symbiosis of compulsory and forced labour during the early Soviet era.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1027-1046
Number of pages20
JournalQuaestio Rossica
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Codes and law enforcement
  • Forced labour
  • Policy of punishing with labour
  • Sphere of labour
  • State priorities


  • 6.04 ART
  • 5.04 SOCIOLOGY


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