11 June 2008

What, no sunset clause?

Press restrictions in the Soviet Union were implemented by the following decree, which was proclaimed as a 'temporary and emergency measure'.  The measures remained in force from 1917 until press reforms in 1990 under Gorbachev, 73 years later:

'The Workers' and Peasants' Government points out that in our society behind this liberal screen, in fact there is only freedom for the property-owning classes, seizing the lion's share of the press, freely poisoning minds and introducing confusion in the consciousness of the masses.  Everyone knows that the bourgeois press is one of the most powerful weapons of the bourgeoisie.  Especially in critical moments when the new power, the power of the workers and peasants, is only just gaining a foothold, it is impossible to leave this weapon entirely in the hands of the enemy at this time, when it is no less dangerous than bombs and machine-guns.  That is why temporary and extraordinary measures have been adopted to cut off the stream of filth and lies in which the yellow and green press would gladly drown the youthful victory of the people.

As soon as the new order is consolidated, all administrative restrictions on the press will be lifted; it will be allowed full freedom within the limits of responsibility before the courts according to the widest and most progressive laws in this respect.  Considering, however, that only the absolutely necessary limits on the press, even in critical moments, are permissible, the Council of People's Commissars decrees as follows:

General Regulations on the Press

1) Press organs to be closed are only those: a) calling for open resistance or insubordination to the Workers' and Peasants' Government; b) sowing confusion by the obvious distortion of facts; c) calling for openly criminal actions, i.e. of a criminally punishable character.

2) The temporary or permanent banning of press organs is carried out only by a resolution of the Council of People's Commissars.

3) The present regulation is temporary and will be revoked by a special decree with the onset of normal conditions of social life.

(Signed) Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars,
Vladimir Ul'yanov (Lenin)'

- Source: 'Decree on the Press' made on 27 October (9 November) 1917, reported in Pravda, 28 October 1917, and quoted in 'The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union 1917-1991' by Richard Sakwa, London, 1999, p.58-59. 

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