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The International Congress of Judges

V. I. Lenin

The First World Congress of Judges is now in session in Vienna, and so is the Thirty-First Congress of German Lawyers.

The speeches of the high-ranking delegates are dominated by an extremely reactionary spirit. The bourgeois lawyers and judges have launched a campaign against the participation of the people in legal procedure.

Two principal forms of such participation are customary in the modern states: (1) the jury, which decides only the question of culpability, while the punishment to be meted out is determined and the procedure directed only by judges of the crown; (2) the court of assessors, who, like our own "social-estate representatives", participate in the decision of all questions on a par with the judges of the crown.

And so, the "enlightened" judges of constitutional states are fulminating against all participation of people's representatives in legal procedure. One of the delegates, Elsner, inveighing against the jury and the court of assessors, which he said led to "anarchy in the application of laws", defended instead the principle of the irremovability of judges.

We shall remark in this connection that a liberal demand is being put forward here instead of a democratic one and as a disguise for a complete departure from democracy. The participation of people's representatives in a court of justice is undoubtedly a democratic principle. The consistent application of this principle requires, in the first place, that the election of jurors should not be made conditional on qualifications, i.e., the right to be chosen should not be restricted by educational, property, residential or any other conditions.

At present, because of the exclusion of workers, most of the jurors are often particularly reactionary petty bourgeois. This evil should be remedied by developing democracy to its consistent and integral form, and not by basely repudiating democracy. It is well known that the election of judges by the people is recognised in all civilised countries as the second condition for consistent democracy in the judicial system.

The irremovability of judges, however, which the liberal bourgeois in general and those of Russia in particular make so much of, is no more than a division of medieval privileges between the Purishkeviches and the Milyukovs, between the feudal lords and the bourgeoisie. In reality it is impossible fully to put irremovability into practice, and indeed, it is absurd to defend it with regard to unfit, careless, bad judges. In the Middle Ages, judges were appointed exclusively by feudal lords and absolute monarchs. The bourgeoisie, which has now obtained ample access to the judiciary, is defending itself against the feudal lords by means of the "principle of irremovability" (for most of the appointed judges will necessarily be—since most of the "educated" lawyers belong to the bourgeoisie—people of bourgeois origin). By defending itself in this way against the feudal lords, the bourgeoisie at the same time defends itself against the democrats by upholding the principle of the appointment of judges.

It is interesting to note, furthermore, the following passages in a speech by Dr. Ginsberg, a judge from Dresden. He enlarged on class justice, i.e., on the manifestations of class oppression and the class struggle in modern legal procedure.

    "Anyone who imagines that the participation of people's representatives in legal proceedings removes class justice is sorely mistaken," exclaimed Dr. Ginsberg.

Quite so, Your Honour! Democracy in general does not remove the class struggle but merely makes it more conscious, freer and more open. But this is no argument against democracy. It is an argument in favour of its consistent development all the way through.

    "Class justice no doubt exists in reality," continued the judge from Saxony (and Saxon judges have made a name for themselves in Germany by their ferocious sentences against workers), "but not at all in the Social-Democratic sense, not in the sense of preference given to the rich as against the poor. On the contrary, class justice exists precisely in the reverse sense. Once I had the following case. There were three of us judging—two assessors and myself. One of them was an overt Social-Democrat and the other something of the sort. The defendant was a striker who had thrashed a blackleg [‘a worker willing to work'—to quote the exact words used by the Saxon judge], seized him by the throat and shouted: ‘We've got you at last, you damned scoundrel!'

    "Normally this entails from four to six months imprisonment, which is the least punishment that should be meted out for deeds as savage as that. And yet I had the greatest difficulty in preventing the acquittal of the defendant. One assessor, the Social-Democrat, said that I didn't understand the psychology of the workers. But I told him that I understood very well the psychology of the beaten man."

The German papers which carried the text of Judge Ginsberg's speech inserted "Laughter" at the end of the above passage. The lawyers and judges laughed. To tell the truth, had we chanced to hear that Saxon judge, we, too, should have burst out laughing.

The doctrine of the class struggle is something against which one can conceivably make an effort to argue in terms of (would-be) science. But one has only to approach the matter from a practical standpoint, to look closely at every day realities, and behold! the most violent opponent of this doctrine can prove to be as gifted an advocate of the class struggle as the Saxon judge, Herr Ginsberg.

Published: Pravda No. 104, August 30, 1912.
Signed: I. V..
Published according to the Pravda text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1975], Moscow, Volume 18, pages 304-306.
Translated: Stepan Apresyan

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