There is no better key to the strengths and weaknesses of the Soviet social system than Soviet law. Here in English translation is the Criminal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure of the largest of the fifteen Soviet Republics—containing the basic criminal law of the Soviet Union and virtually the entire criminal law applicable in Russia—and the Law on Court Organization. These two codes and the Law, which went into effect o January 1, 1961, are among the chief products of the Soviet law reform movement which began after Stalin’s death, and are a concrete reflection of the effort to establish legality and prevent a return to Stalinist arbitrariness and terror.
In a long introductory essay Harold Berman, a leading authority on Soviet law, stresses the extent to which the codes are expressed in authentic soviet legal language, based in part on the pre-Revolutionary Russian past but oriented to Soviet concepts, conditions, and policies. He outlines the historical background of the new codes, with a detailed listing of the major changes reflected in them, interprets their significance, places them within the system of Soviet law as a whole, and discusses some of the principal similarities and differences between Soviet criminal law and procedure and that of Western Europe and of the United States.