The Rise and Fall of a Soviet Jurist: Evgeny Pashukanis and Stalinism

Posted: 9 May 2005  

Michael Head

Western Sydney University, School of Law


One question looms large in the early history of Soviet legal theory and practice: how and why did Evgeny Pashukanis emerge as the pre-eminent Soviet jurist from 1924 to 1930, come under only minor criticism from 1930 to 1936 and then be denounced and executed in 1937 as a 'Trotskyite saboteur'? Of course, Pashukanis was not alone. Virtually every leading figure associated with the October 1917 Russian Revolution and the early years of the Soviet Union fell victim to Stalin's purges by 1937 (from Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev and Bukharin to thousands of less-known socialists). Yet, there are some particularly revealing aspects in the case of Pashukanis that have not been probed adequately by most Western or Soviet writers. His rise to leadership of Soviet legal work in 1924, with the publication of his The General Theory of Law and Marxism, coincided with Stalin's initial victory over the Left Opposition and the enunciation of Stalin's program of seeking to build 'socialism in one country'. Pashukanis' unexpected emergence from obscurity appears to be related to the fact that he publicly lined up against the Left Opposition as early as 1925. Pashukanis' central theme in his General Theory, somewhat simplistically referred to as a 'commodity-exchange' theory of law, was related to the limited restoration of commercial property and market relations under the 1921 shift to the New Economic Policy. The dangers inherent in this temporary retreat became entrenched in Stalin's bureaucratic elite after 1924. As discussed in this article, Pashukanis' approach, which regarded commodity exchange as the essence of legal relations, to some extent reconciled Marxist theory with the official revival of economic relations based on private ownership and market forces.

Keywords: Soviet law, Marxism, Pashukanis

Suggested Citation

Head, Michael, The Rise and Fall of a Soviet Jurist: Evgeny Pashukanis and Stalinism. Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence, Vol. 17, No. 2, pp. 269-94, July 2004. Available at SSRN:

Michael Head (Contact Author)

Western Sydney University, School of Law ( email )

Locked Bag 1797
Penrith, NSW 2751

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