Anti-Soviet agitation

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Anti-Soviet Agitation and Propaganda (ASA) (Russian: Антисове́тская агита́ция и пропага́нда (АСА)) was a criminal offence in the Soviet Union. To begin with the term was interchangeably used with counter-revolutionary agitation. The latter term was in use immediately after the first Russian Revolution in February 1917. The offence was codified in criminal law in the 1920s, and revised in the 1950s in two articles of the RSFSR Criminal Code. The offence was widely used against Soviet dissidents.[citation needed]

"Anti-Soviet Agitation" under Stalin

The new Criminal Codes of the 1920s introduced the offence of Anti-Soviet Agitation and Propaganda as one of the many forms of counter-revolutionary activity grouped together under Article 58 of the Russian RSFSR Penal Code. The article was put in force on 25 February 1927 and remained in force throughout the period of Stalinism. Article 58:10, "propaganda and agitation that called to overturn or undermining of the Soviet regime", was punishable with at least 6 months of imprisonment, up to and including the death sentence in periods of war or unrest.

As applied in Stalin's time, the phrase in practise could mean virtually anything that a State security interrogator or informant wanted it to mean; consequently, the charge became an exceedingly potent weapon in political or personal quarrels and intrigues.

"Anti-Soviet Agitation" in the 1960s-1980s

Article 70

"‘You are a Soviet man,’ says the KGB detective, ‘and therefore obliged to help us.’ And what can you say in reply? If you’re not Soviet, what are you: anti-Soviet? That alone is worth seven years in the labor camp and five in exile." (Vladimir Bukovsky)[1]

The offence was significantly revised in the post-Stalin Criminal Code of the RSFSR, introduced in 1958. Article 58.10 was replaced by Article 70, Anti-Soviet Agitation and Propaganda. (Note: in the new criminal code of the other 14 union republics this offence had a different numeration, e.g. Article 62 in Ukrainian SSR, and to avoid confusion was usually expressed as Article 70.)

The new definition brought it closer to Western legal norms,[clarification needed][2] although it had few if any parallels in the criminal codes of democratic countries.

It was defined as: [2]

  1. propaganda or agitation with the purpose of undermining or weakening of the Soviet power or with the purpose of committing or incitement to commit particularly grave crimes against the Soviet state (as defined in the law);
  2. the spreading with the same purposes of slanderous fabrications that target the Soviet political and social system;
  3. production, dissemination or storage, for the same purposes, of literature with anti-Soviet content

The penalty was from six months to 7 years of imprisonment, with possible subsequent internal exile from 2 to 5 years.[2]

Article 70 was considered by critics of the Soviet System to be a grave violation of freedom of speech. It was one of the two the main legal instruments for the prosecution of Soviet dissidents, the other being Article 190 of the RSFSR Criminal Code. Other means of control were extrajudicial, such as the use of punitive psychiatry or the generalised offence of the social parasitism. In particular, the clause about literature targeted the samizdat.

While the clauses was phrased using the provision "with the purpose of", official commentaries (referred to as "Additions and Explanations to..."), as well as the actual legal practice made it sufficient to assert that the prosecuted person of sane mind must have realized the malicious implications of their utterances.[2]

Article 190-1

Shortly after the Sinyavsky-Daniel trial, the Soviet Penal Code was augmented with Article 190-1, Dissemination of knowingly false fabrications that defame the Soviet state and social system (1967), which was a weaker version of Article 70. It basically repeated the Article 70, with the omitted provision of the "anti-Soviet purpose". The penalty was lower: up to 3 years of imprisonment.[2]

Petro Grigorenko in his memoirs wrote that any critique of the Soviet government or events in the Soviet Union was easily classified as ASA. Dissemination of any information which was not officially recognized was classified as "Anti-Soviet slander". In this way nearly all members of Helsinki Watch were imprisoned.[3] Anti-Soviet political behavior, in particular, being outspoken in opposition to the authorities, demonstrating for reform, writing books were defined in some persons as being simultaneously a criminal act (e.g., violation of Articles 70 or 190-1), a symptom (e.g., "delusion of reformism"), and a diagnosis (e.g., "sluggish schizophrenia").[4] The 70th and 190th Articles of the Criminal Code concerning "slanderous fabrications that discredited the Soviet system" and "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda" served as the formal basis to sentence Vladimir Bukovsky, Pyotr Grigorenko, Valeria Novodvorskaya, Zhores Medvedev, Andrei Amalrik and many others to months and sometimes years of indefinite confinement in psychiatric institutions.[5]

On 19 February 1986, Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov in his letter to Mikhail Gorbachev wrote, "application by courts of Articles 70 and 190-1 is pronounced persecution for beliefs."[6]:559

In 1990, just before the very end of the Soviet regime, "Anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda" was excluded from the RSFSR Criminal Code after three decades of its application.

The new Russia

Abolished as an offence at the end of perestroika, "anti-Soviet propaganda" had no parallel in the new Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, effective from 1 January 1997. More recently a retrogressive trend in amendments to existing laws led attorney Henry Reznik to raise the alarm about the appearance of the phrase "anti-Russian" in certain legislative proposals.[7]


  1. Urban, George (1 October 1987). "Can the Soviet Union be reformed? An interview with Vladimir Bukovsky". Crisis Magazine.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Ferdinand Joseph Maria Feldbrugge, Gerard Pieter van den Berg, William B. Simons (1985) "Encyclopedia of Soviet Law", BRILL, ISBN 90-247-3075-9
  3. Petro Grigorenko Memoirs: Pietro G. Grigorenko W W Norton & Co Inc; 1st edition (1982) ISBN 0-393-01570-X
  4. "Report of the U.S. Delegation to Assess Recent Changes in Soviet Psychiatry" (PDF). Schizophrenia Bulletin. 15 (4 Suppl): 26. 1989. doi:10.1093/schbul/15.suppl_1.1. PMID 2638045.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Ryzhkov, Vladimir (28 May 2009). "A backward tradition of manipulating history". The Moscow Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Сахаров, Андрей (1996). "Письмо М.С. Горбачеву". Воспоминания. В 2 томах (in Russian). Vol. 2. Moscow: Права человека. pp. 557–562. ISBN 5771200263. Unknown parameter |trans_chapter= ignored (help); Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link) CS1 maint: ignored ISBN errors (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Елена Масюк (27 July 2015). "Адвокат Генри РЕЗНИК: "В этой норме фактически меняется только одно прилагательное — с «антисоветская" на "антироссийская"". Novaya Gazeta (in Russian) (79). Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Feldbrugge, Ferdinand Joseph Maria (1973). "Law and political dissent in the Soviet Union". Current Legal Problems. 26 (1): 241–259. doi:10.1093/clp/26.1.241.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Yeo, Clayton (June 1975). "Psychiatry, the law and dissent in the Soviet Union". Review of the International Commission of Jurists (14): 34–41. PMID 11662196.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Ciuciura, Theodore (January 1979). "Dissent, law and psychiatry in the Soviet Union". Canadian Slavonic Papers. 21 (1): 98–108. doi:10.1080/00085006.1979.11091571. JSTOR 40867419. PMID 11614322.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

See also