CRIMINAL RUSSIA by Valery Chalidze


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The criminal undertow of Soviet life is obscured by official policy which holds that crime is a vestigial survival of the ""capitalist mentality."" Probing beneath this fiction, Chalidze, the dissident author of To Defend These Rights (1975), finds that every crime from murder to ""theft of socialist property"" to the ubiquitous ""hooliganism"" (catchall for deviant or anti-social behavior) is systematically underrecorded by a government which fears criminal contagion and sets up ideological barricades to avoid confronting the stresses of Soviet society that lead people to aberrant, often violent behavior. Further, Chalidze finds a chasm between customary law and the statutes: the ancient Russian attitude that state property is fair game has survived to produce endemic pilfering and ""speculation."" More important, Chalidze throws new light on the organized subculture of professional thieves who live by a social ethic and argot that isolates them from the morality and conventions of society as a whole. Though the Soviets have tried vigorously to crush these bands, evidence from the labor camps indicates that they continue to resist integration. While Chalidze lacks the first-hand knowledge and fabulous story-telling ability of Mikhail Dyomin (Day Is Born In Darkness, 1976) his historical perspective on thievery and pre-Soviet brigandage suggests that this form of resistance and self-exclusion from the Worker's Paradise will be hard to stamp out. Though Chalidze doesn't postulate crime as social protest he comes close to it, and his findings--gathered from prison camp journals and such Soviet sources as exist--point to extensive sociopathic behavior erupting in the crevasses of Russian society.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1977
Publisher: Random House