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International law can be viewed as a project of exclusion and inclusion of events and ideas into its  narrative. Some shake the pillars of international law, while others, influence its progressive  development. Widespread wars and revolutions and events and ideas behind them occupy special  place in this project: they expose irregularity in the system and at the same time may threaten its  existence. The immediate and long-term effects of such events on international law can only be  seen with a passage of time. The 1917 Russian Revolution marking its 100th anniversary this year  is an illustrative example to this statement. Though it did not end to be the event in international  law when the soviet law as predicted by some Soviet scholars replaced bourgeoisie law, it  significantly contributed to disseminate ideas that laid foundation of the general international law.  Though in post-revolutionary context Soviet Russia advanced different radical approach to  universal social and economic justice and criticized the pre-existing international law, international  law remained resistant to extremes and capable of encompassing constructive ideas. The most  spectacular example of this approach is Soviet attitude towards equality of states – one of the  main international law axioms and utopias and at the same time a cornerstone of Marxism- Leninism theory – and Russia’s early attempts to give it more precise legal meaning. This article  briefly describes the bumpy way that this principle undertook before the Russian Revolution, to  depict the background against which Soviet Russia started to advance its understanding of  equality, in some sense, picking up and developing the ideas of the 1789 French Revolution. It  further considers the meaning, that the early Soviet doctrine attached to equality and concrete  legal mechanisms through which the Soviet approach was translated into international law,  specifically focusing on the works of Vladimir Lenin. The article then studies the actual early soviet  international law practice, through the lens of predominant soviet theoretical approaches. Two conclusions are made: Marxism-Leninism had limited impact on the Soviet early practice of  international law (1) and inconsistent application of principle of equality in the postrevolutionary context should not lead to its complete disregard (2). To the contrary, it is here argued that the  Revolution has been influential in the democratization of international law by developing the  following legal dimensions of the equality principle. First, it restated equality in the terms of status,  meaning equality in acquisition and exercise of rights (1). Second, it helped to eliminate  “dual standards,” which meant the cases where a state could treat one state as dependent and the  other – as independent (2). Third, it projected the concept of states’ equal rights to nations and peoples (3). Finally, in the early Soviet Russia practice, the idea that states have equal rights  stopped to be confined to any group of states, as compared to international law at that time. To  the contrary, it implied equality between all states, even in relations between socialist and capitalist states, thus helping in long-term perspective to abandon “civilization test” (4).

About the Authors

St. Petersburg University
Russian Federation

Associate Professor of International Law, St. Petersburg University

(7 22nd Line, Vasilevskiy Island, St. Petersburg, 199026, Russia)

St. Petersburg University
Russian Federation

Associate Professor of International Law, St. Petersburg University

(7 22nd Line, Vasilevskiy Island, St. Petersburg, 199026, Russia)


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