The Legitimacy of the Bolshevik Order, 1917-1918: Language Usage in Revolutionary Russian Law

Posted: 26 Mar 2012 Last revised: 4 Aug 2012

See all articles by Tatiana Borisova

Tatiana Borisova

National Research University Higher School of Economics

Date Written: March 20, 2012


The article describes and analyzes the legislative politics of revolutionary regimes in Russia in 1917-1918. The author aims to demonstrate the political meaning of the form of early Soviet legislation and its legitimizing effect. The revolutionary legislators often used specific language in the new laws as a vehicle of legitimacy, i.e. to make the people comply. The two main types of legal language used by the Bolsheviks can be interpreted from the perspective of different types of legitimacy. The revolutionary strategy used propagandistic legislation, written in the language of lay people, which urged them to act according to the new law. It can be seen as a request for acts of the people to legitimize the soviets. On the contrary, the traditional strategy employed old bureaucratic means of writing and distributing legislation to the local soviets. The language used by this strategy was closed to the understanding of a lay audience and implied traditions of obeying the law written in familiar legal language, which in turn implied rational/legal legitimacy. The second strategy had already become dominant after the first months of the Bolshevik revolution. This observation demonstrates that from the very beginning of their rule, Soviet leaders approached legislative policy from a technocratic point of view, which determined the further development of Soviet legal theory and practice.

Keywords: legal history, revolution, legislation, legality, legitimacy, Russia, Soviet law, language of law, legal profession

JEL Classification: N93

Suggested Citation

Borisova, Tatiana, The Legitimacy of the Bolshevik Order, 1917-1918: Language Usage in Revolutionary Russian Law (March 20, 2012). Review of Central and East European Law, Vol. 37, No. 4, 2012; Higher School of Economics Research Paper No. 05/LAW/2012. Available at SSRN: or

Tatiana Borisova (Contact Author)

National Research University Higher School of Economics ( email )

Myasnitskaya street, 20
Moscow, Moscow 119017

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