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TITLE:             Crime In The Soviet Union
DATE:              1973-6-22
COUNTRY:           Soviet Union

--- Begin ---


MUNICH, 22 June 1973 (CAA/X).

Although the Soviet Press and radio give extensive coverage to
crime in the West, the persistence of crime in the Soviet Union remains
an ideological embarrassment to which relatively little attention is
drawn. Detailed crime statistics for the USSR are never published, and
a Soviet journalist, L. Vladimirov, who defected to Britain in 1966, has
confirmed that:

"It is forbidden to mention ... the number of crimes
in any category for the country as a whole or for
regions, district, provinces or cities".

The basic Marxist premise is that crime is a socio-economic

"the elimination of private property in the means of
production, the eradication of the exploitation of
one person by another, and the resolution of social
antagonisms led to the disappearance of basic social
roots of crime [in the USSR.]".

(B. A. Viktorov, Deputy Minister for Internal Affairs.
From the account of the proceedings at the fourth
UN Congress on the Prevention of Crime, Kyoto, 1972.)

The difficulty is to explain the persistence of crime in a "developed
Socialist society". Viktorov conceded that "the complete extirpation
of criminal behaviour appeared to be a lengthy and complex process.
The most immediate reason for criminal acts in the Soviet Union was
mental retardation or an inadequate adjustment to life caused by serious
shortcomings in family and school education. Many people were still
under the influence of the views and habits characteristic of
[capitalist] ideology and psychology..."

Writing in the Soviet Communist Party newspaper, Pravda, on
March 17, 1973, the Minister for Internal Affairs, N. Shchelokov,
declared that "under Socialism crime is not a form of protest against
the existing conditions of life [i.e. as it is in the West] but above
all the result of moral deformation of the personality, intellectual
retardedness and low culture". Yet the large numbers of persons
apparently convicted in the USSR suggest that other factors might also
be involved. A recent Western report concluded:

"At present, if we estimate a rough but conservative
total of 1,200,000 Soviet prisoners in camps,
prisons and mental hospitals (i.e. leaving aside
those in exile), then we see that 0.5 per cent of
the whole population is in captivity. This compares
with 0.07 per cent in Britain, 0.16 per cent in
France and 0.2 per cent in the USA. The Soviet
figure is much lower than in Stalin's day, but it


[page 2]


appears to be growing, and it is 2 1/2 to 7 times higher
than the figures for the advanced Western, countries

(From The Forced Labour Camps in the USSR Today: An
Unrecognised Example of Modern Inhumanity. Report
published in February, 1973, by the Brussels-based
International Committee for the Defence of Human
Rights in the USSR, on the basis of facts and figures
from first-hand unofficial Soviet sources.)

In his testimony to a US Senate Committee in February, 1973,
A. Shifrin, an ex-inmate of many Soviet camps, said that there were "at
least several million prisoners in the camps today and that the real
figure may surpass the five million mark".

Some idea of the scale of petty offences committed in the Soviet
Union is given by the "comrades courts" re-instituted by Khrushchev and
intended to mete out summary justice. In 1972 these courts were said to
number about 300,000.

Unreliable claims

Despite the evidence, the Soviet authorities claim that the
overall crime rate drops year by year. Soviet spokesmen (e.g. M.V.D. Gen.
Shumilin, quoted in the Guardian on October 19, 1972) have claimed that
it has been halved since 19A5, but the poor capabilities of Soviet
statistical services cast doubt on such statements. The journal Socialist
Legality (No. 5, 1972), complained:

"The methods employed at the present time in the
collection and treatment of primary information
in connection with criminal statistics bear the
stamp of amateurism... Lack of coordination in
the work [of the Ministry of the Interior, the
Procurator's Office and the courts, all of whom
keep separate records] is probably the main
obstacle to improvements in the organisation of
criminal statistics. The time is ripe for radical
changes in this field...

"There also exist no statistics about comrades'
courts or commissions for juvenile affairs which,
as is well known, have to deal with a very large
number of cases of amoral behaviour and criminal
and other offences".

But even if improvements are being made it is difficult to
understand how Soviet spokesmen can be so categorical about the crime rate in
previous years. Another factor is the reluctance of the militia to
record crimes so that they can claim a better detection record.


[page 3]


In the USSR there has been a growing willingness to discuss some
of the causes of crime. The link between drunkeness and crime, for
example, is repeatedly stressed, particularly during the periodic
anti-alcoholic campaigns. Moscow Radio's home service claimed on July 6,
1972, that half of all crimes and nearly all acts of hooliganism are
committed under the influence of drink. Ninety per cent of young people
are said to be drunk when arrested (Socialist Industry, June 8, 1972). Again,
one survey on juvenile delinquents in Leningrad demonstrated that in 160 out
of 200 cases of juvenile crime alcoholism affected one or both parents
(Novy Mir, No. 5, 1972). Another factor beginning to attract discussion
is the mass migration from rural to urban areas. Writing in Party Life
(No. 8, 1972) Shchelokov stated that the crime rate was above average in
areas with an influx of immigrant workers who had come up against
"unforeseen difficulties" and lack of attention to their needs by local

One important factor in widespread lawbreaking is the inefficient
management of the Soviet economy and the distribution network. This
creates shortages which lead to bribery, black marketeering and
speculation in "deficit goods". Similar problems arise in services of
which the State theoretically has a monopoly. Livelier Soviet publications
like the weekly Literary Gazette have occasionally called for licence for
home decorators, for example, and the "wild brigades" who perform essential
services privately in rural areas. Such people are necessary in view of
the State's inefficient monopolies, but disapproved of by the ideologists.
The RSFSR Minister of Justice (Soviet Russia, June 13, 1972) urged people
not to accede to the petty speculators blandishments - "even if it only
concerns a book or theatre ticket, but to grab [him] by the arm [and have
him arrested]".

Public ownership has led to another problem: the feeling that as
products (e.g. building materials) have no visible owner they are there
for the taking. "Thefts of Socialist property" are among the commonest
crimes, and were mentioned specifically in the March, 1972, CPSU Central
Committee resolution expressing dissatisfaction with the state of affairs
in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. At one end of the scale are major
rackets such as the ones exposed in Georgia involving at least 82 people
and total losses to the State of over 800,000 roubles (Zarya Vostoka,
February 3, 1972) while at the other is the pilfering rampant even at a
"model" factory (Pravda, January 4, 1972).

The necessity for factory managers to bend the regulations to
fulfil plans is another aspect which cannot increase respect for the law.
Nor is it increased by the practice of covering up for members of the
same circles. Frequent cases involve party officials who have disgraced
themselves in one job but are simply transferred without penalty to
another. M. Malyarov, the first deputy Procurator General, wrote in
(Izvestiya, April 10, 1972):

"Unfortunately some leading officials do not react at
all to infringements of State and labour discipline,
do not fight against drunkeness, thefts, padding of
figures and other ... crimes. Sometimes they even
themselves commit infringements of their duty towards
the party and their job".


[page 4]


Malyarov had earlier given a rough break-down of crime (Pravda,
July 11, 1972):

"Despite certain successes, the state of affairs in the
struggle against lawbreaking is rightly causing
anxiety among Soviet people... Hooliganism occupies
first place in the crime structure. This is followed
by the pilfering of State and public property and the
theft of citizens' private property. These three
types of crime account for more than half of all
criminal cases".

Drugs and young peop1e

Observers have testified that soft drugs like hashish form part of
the traditional culture of parts of Soviet Central Asia, and their use is
gradually spreading to student circles in European Russia. Official alarm
at narcotics abuse seems to be increasing. In September, 1972, following
legislation in other Republics, the Russian Republic decreed the
detention of persistent drug takers in special "curative, labour"
establishments. Occasional cases involving hard drugs are also publicised. In one
case a pusher of "technical morphine" (presumably the base for heroin) was
caught in possession of 20 five-grain packets (selling for 10 roubles per
grain): Socialist Industry, August 6, 1972. An underground drugs factory
was later uncovered in Chimkent.

The Soviet authorities do not seem to have had marked success in
curbing juvenile delinquency and recidivism. The USSR Interior Minister
admitted (Socialist Legality, No. 10, 1971) that juvenile crime, "presents
us with one of our greatest and most complicated problems. Its complexity
lies above all in the fact that it cannot be solved by punishment alone".
Random violence and vandalism by youths are sometimes described: Press
articles refer to unemployed school-leavers, drop-outs and teen-age gangs.
The tedium of life in the Soviet countryside and cramped living conditions
in towns are contributory factors. Public feeling about juvenile crime
is known to be strong and jurists have often had to explain in the Press
that increasing penalties does not in itself solve such problems.

A leading Moscow police official, writing in Izvestiya on March 27,
1973, pleaded for more help in finding jobs for released convicts who were
"treated everywhere with distrust".

To counter the high crime level much use is still made of
traditional Soviet measures - volunteer watchdog bodies, show trials,
occasional tightening-up of legislation, etc. Shchelokov (Pravda,
March 17, 1973) emphasised the need for preventive measures:

"Studies demonstrate that there are far more
infringements of the law where educational [i.e. indoctrination]
work with people is neglected, where work discipline is
low ... and where the problem of the rational use of
free time is still badly solved".

A campaign has been under way for some years to make the Soviet
people more conscious of the law through lectures, etc. Courts are urged
to issue critical riders with the sentences they hand out. At the same
time, the police forces are being equipped with modern equipment, and
mobile patrols and night squads have been instituted in towns.


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