861.00/10–645: Telegram

The Chargé in the Soviet Union (Kennan) to the Secretary of State

3469. By way of background to today’s announcement of forthcoming election of new Supreme Soviet69 following may be worth noting:

Present Supreme Soviet is first and only one ever elected under new Soviet constitution of 1936. It was elected on December 12, 1937, and will therefore have been in existence more than 8 years by time it is replaced. There was no provision in constitution for this long tenure. Constitution provides flatly for 4-year term. New elections have been postponed from year to year by executive decree since expiration of original 4-year term, on grounds of special wartime conditions.
Present deputies were elected from single lists ostensibly setting forth candidates of an electoral bloc made up of Communist Party and non-party people. This propaganda device, adopted to obviate criticism that candidates were advanced solely by Communist Party, was purest eyewash. Non-party people had no organization of any kind among themselves through which they could have influenced selection of candidates.
Actual election in 1937 proceeded as follows: Voters found themselves confronted with a piece of paper containing a single list of candidates. If they marked this in any way, mutilated it or destroyed it their ballot was considered invalidated. If they handed it in or even left it in the booth unmarked or unmutilated, it counted as a ballot for list in question. Many were completely bewildered, and never understood, either before or after, what it was all about.
There must, particularly in view of wartime vicissitudes, have been considerable mortality in a body so long in office. In local Soviets this is reckoned as high as 30–40%. It must have been nearly as high, one would think, in Supreme Soviet. We are not aware that any by-elections have ever been held. Nevertheless, at recent sessions the hall seems to have been no less full than 8 years ago. This has occasioned some questioning [by?] foreign observers as to manner of selection of many of delegates, particularly since it is known that in case of local Soviets new deputies have been freely “co-opted”, presumably by Communist Party’s authorities to take places of those who had dropped out.
Constitution provided voters had right to recall their deputies if latter should swerve from correct path. Stalin himself sternly admonished public, at time elections were held, to remember this right and to exercise it where called for. Evidently no deputies have ever swerved from path. I am personally not aware, in any case, that right of recall has ever been exercised, even in cases of those who, like the notorious Yezhov,70 have since been most ruthlessly purged by secret police authorities. For this reason present Supreme Soviet, in its personal composition, is by no means ridiculous body. But its influence as a body on major Soviet policy during 8 years of its existence has been exactly nil: And it should be thought of rather as an honorary panel of docile distinguished citizens than as a legislative body in the Anglo-Saxon sense.

Sent to Department as 3469, repeated to Paris as 372, to London as 499, to Rome as 70.

  1. The Moscow press published a ukaz of the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the Soviet Union calling for elections to the Supreme Council. Now that the war was ended and the powers of the first Supreme Council had expired, on the basis of article 72 of the constitution elections for a new Supreme Council were set for the non-working day of Sunday, February 10, 1946.
  2. Nikolay Ivanovich Yezhov, People’s Commissar for Internal Affairs of the Soviet Union. 1930–38, conducted the purges during this time.