Soviet Decree

Decrees (Russian: декреты) were legislative acts of the highest Soviet institutions, primarily of the Council of People's Commissars (the highest executive body) and of the Supreme Soviet or VTsIK (the highest legislative body),[1] issued between 1917 and 1924. Such acts issued after 1924 are referred to as Decisions (Russian: постановление) or Ukases in Soviet sources.

Bolshevik Initial Decrees

The Bolshevik Initial Decrees (the 'Decrees') were announced as soon as the Bolsheviks declared their success in the October Revolution (October 26, 1917). The Decrees seemed to conform to the popular Bolshevik slogan "Peace, Land and Bread", taken up by the masses during the July Days (July 1917), an uprising of workers and military forces. The slogan succinctly articulated the grievances of the Russian peasantry, armed forces and proletariat (the working-class sections of Russian society). As revisionist historian Christopher Read suggests, "The Bolsheviks were successful in uniting the diverse revolutionary movements and directing them towards one goal", namely the establishment of state-socialism. At the same time, the Bolsheviks were not "re-inventing the wheel." Legal reforms along similar lines to the Decrees had been discussed in the State Duma but were not implemented due to internal disagreements.

The Decree on Peace outlined measures for Russia's withdrawal from the First World War without "payment of indemnities or annexations". This decree aimed to secure the support of many soldiers on the disintegrating Russian front. The sincerity of this Bolshevik assurance came under scrutiny when V.L Lenin endorsed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk which divested Russia of its Baltic territory.

The Decree on Land outlined measures by which the peasants were to divide up rural land among themselves. It advocated the forceful dissolution of many wealthy estates by peasant forces. Such measures no doubt contributed to an increase in Bolshevik support amongst the peasantry, but were counterproductive in that the Russian war front disintegrated as soldiers (who were formerly peasants) returned to secure land for themselves.

The Workers' Decrees outlined measures for minimum wage, limitations on workers' hours, and the running of factories by elected workers' committees. This consolidated Bolshevik support amongst the working classes in the cities, where they had taken power.

The Bolsheviks also declared approximately 100 other decrees outlining the formal setup of Bolshevik government through the medium of the soviet institutions. Nevertheless, Soviet political sovereignty was to be further challenged by the fact that the Social Revolutionary party attained over 50% of the votes in a democratically elected Assembly in January 1918. The Assembly was promptly shut down by the Bolsheviks on the grounds that the Soviets (workers' councils) were a more advanced democratic representation of the Russian people.

The significance of the Decrees has been the subject of historical debate. There is consensus that the Bolsheviks wanted to secure popular support through them. However, historians question the Bolsheviks' motives in pursuing this populist agenda. Liberal historians are sceptical and see the Decrees as opportunistic. For instance, Edward Acton believes that the Bolsheviks realised that the mass of ordinary people did not share their objectives. Furthermore, those ordinary people had no idea that their interests were not tied to the Bolsheviks. The reality was that "the cleavage of the goals of the masses and that of the Bolsheviks was fundamental." Richard Pipes takes this analysis further and contends that key Bolsheviks intentionally proposed the Decrees to gain the legitimacy they would need to bring about a totalitarian state. Revisionist historians take a different view. According to them, the advent of a totalitarian state was circumstantial. The Bolsheviks were not opportunists but benevolent idealists; the point of the Decrees was to bring about a better quality of life for the Russian people. Regardless of which view is the more accurate account, it is clear from these opposing perspectives that the history of the Initial Decrees is a politically charged issue. This is perhaps because historians use the Decrees to try to discern whether the implementation of Marxist thought has totalitarian tendencies.

List of Soviet Decrees


New Style Date Decree Name Issued by E-text
November 8 Decree on Peace 2nd Congress of Soviets of Workers', Soldiers', and Peasants' Deputies
Decree on Land 2nd Congress of Soviets of Workers', Soldiers', and Peasants' Deputies
Decree on Establishment of the Workers' and Peasants' Government 2nd Congress of Soviets of Workers', Soldiers', and Peasants' Deputies
November 9 Decree on Press Sovnarkom
November 11 Decree on an Eight-Hour Working Day Sovnarkom
November 12 Decree on the Right to Issue Laws Sovnarkom
November 13 Decree on Social Insurance Sovnarkom
November 18 Decree on Transfer of Power and the Means of Production to the Toilers Sovnarkom
November 22 Decree on Establishment of the State Commission on Enlightenment Sovnarkom
November 24 Decree Abolishing Classes and Civil Ranks VTsIK
November 27 Decree on Workers' Control Sovnarkom
December 5 Decree on Courts VTsIK
December 15 Decree on the Formation of the Supreme Economic Council of National Economy VTsIK, Sovnarkom
December 27 Decree on the Nationalization of the Banks VTsIK
December 29 Decree on the Election of Officers and on the Organization of Authority in the Army VTsIK, Sovnarkom
Decree on the Equalization of Rights of All Serving in the Army VTsIK, Sovnarkom
December 31 Decree on the State Independence of Finland Sovnarkom
December 31 Decree on Civil Marriage, Children and civil registry bookkeeping VTsIK, Sovnarkom


New Style Date Decree Name Issued by E-text
January 4 Decree on the Clock Change Sovnarkom
January 7 Decree on the Rights and Duties of Soviets Sovnarkom
January 19 Decree on the Dissolution of the Constituent Assembly VTsIK
January 28 Decree on Establishment of the Workers' and Peasants' Red Army Sovnarkom
February 2 Decree on separation of church from state and school from church Sovnarkom
February 3 Decree on the Annullation of State Debts VTsIK
February 8 Decree on Introduction of the Western European Calendar Sovnarkom
February 11 Decree on Establishment of the Workers' and Peasants' Red Fleet Sovnarkom
February 15 Decree on Courts N2 VTsIK
February 21 Decree "Socialist Homeland is in Danger!" Sovnarkom
March 26 Decree on the End of Workers' Control over the Railroads Sovnarkom
April 10 Decree on Consumers' Co-Operatives Sovnarkom
April 12 Decree on the Dismantling of Monuments Erected in Honor of the Tsars and Their Servants and on the Formulation of Projects of Monuments to the Russian Socialist Revolution Sovnarkom
April 14 Decree on the Flag of the Russian Republic VTsIK
April 22 Decree on the Nationalization of External Trade Sovnarkom
Decree on Establishing Compulsory Military Training for Workers and Peasants of Age 18 to 40 VTsIK
May 2 Decree on the Nationalization of the Sugar Industry Sovnarkom
May 13 Decree Giving the Food Commissariat Extraordinary Powers to Combat

Village Bourgeoisie Who Were Concealing and Speculating on Grain Reserves

VTsIK, Sovnarkom
May 13 Decree on Forests Sovnarkom
May 29 Decree on the Compulsory Recruitment into the Workers' and Peasants' Red Army VTsIK
June 11 Decree on the Organisation of the Village Poor and Supply to Them of Grain, Prime Necessities and Agricultural Implements VTsIK
June 28 Decree on the Nationalization of Large-Scale Industry and Railway Transportation Enterprises Sovnarkom
September 4 Decree on the Nationalization of Private Railroads Sovnarkom
September 5 Decree on Red Terror Sovnarkom
September 14 Decree on the Introduction of the International Decimal Metric System Sovnarkom
October 5 Decree on Registration and Protection of Monuments of Culture and Ancient Art, Owned by Private Persons, Societies and Institutions Sovnarkom
October 19 Decree on the Establishment of the Labour Commune of Volga Germans Sovnarkom
October 31 Decree on the Social Security of Working People Sovnarkom


New Style Date Decree Name Issued by E-text
January 4 Decree on Release from Military Service Due to Religious Beliefs Sovnarkom
January 11 Decree on Surplus Appropriation System Sovnarkom
February 8 Decree on the Introduction of Time Measurement According to International Time Zone System Sovnarkom
April 22 Decree on the Order of Preservation and Annihilation of Archive Acts Sovnarkom
July 29 Decree on Abolishing Private Property Rights on Archives of Russian Writers, Composers, Painters and Scientists, Preserved in Libraries and Museums Sovnarkom
December 26 Decree on Eradication of Illiteracy among the Population of the Russian SFSR Sovnarkom


New Style Date Decree Name Issued by E-text
January 29 Decree on the Universal Labour Conscription Sovnarkom
June 8 Decree on Labour Rewarding with Premiums Sovnarkom
June 17 Decree on General Wage Regulations Sovnarkom


New Style Date Decree Name Issued by E-text
March 21 Decree on the Replacement of Surplus Appropriation System by the Food Tax VTsIK
March 28 Decree on the Free Exchange, Purchase and Selling of Agricultural Goods in Guberniyas that Ended Surplus Appropriation System Sovnarkom
April 7 Decree on Consumers' Cooperation Sovnarkom
July 7 Decree on Producers' Cooperation VTsIK, Sovnarkom


New Style Date Decree Name Issued by E-text
March 17 Decree on the Universal Food Tax for Agricultural Goods VTsIK, Sovnarkom
November 15 Decree on the Unification of the Russian SFSR with the Far Eastern Republic VTsIK
December 19 Decree on Giving Exit Visas and Passports for Going Abroad Sovnarkom


New Style Date Decree Name Issued by E-text
December 19 Decree on Transforming Labour Commune of Volga Germans into ASSR VTsIK


  1. Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd edition, entry on "Декрет", available online here
  • Bunyan, James; H.H. Fisher (1934). The Bolshevik revolution, 1917-1918: Documents and materials. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Acton, Edward (1990). Rethinking the Russian Revolution. London: E. Arnold. ISBN 978-0-7131-6609-5.
  • Fiehn, Terry; Chris Corin (2002). Communist Russia Under Lenin and Stalin. London: John Murray. ISBN 978-0-7195-7488-7.
  • Fitzpatrick, Sheila (1994). The Russian Revolution (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-289257-7.
  • Pipes, Richard (1990). The Russian Revolution. London: HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-00-272086-1.
  • Read, Christopher (1996). From Tsar to Soviets: The Russian People and Their Revolution, 1917-21. London: UCL Press. ISBN 978-1-85728-358-7.
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