Federalism or Federationism

When I took up my appointment in October 1970 as Reader in Comparative Law in the University of London, I was invited to collaborate in teaching the LL.M.’ course in Soviet Law offered within the University on an intercollegiate basis. The course had been introduced two years previously, the first of its kind within the realm. Originally it was offered by a team of three, regrettably all now deceased: Edward Johnson, Ivo Lapenna, and Albert K. R Kiralfy. I had come to England to replace the late Edward Johnson, whose untimely death had left vacant the Readership in Soviet Law, tenable at University College London. He had, I believe, been instrumental in introducing the Soviet Law course, having in 1967 launched a series of evening lectures on the subject which were open to the public, were well attended, and resulted in the book that appeared posthumously. With my arrival, Albert Kiralfy decided to step out of the course and leave it to be taught by Lapenna and myself, which we duly did for the next seventeen years. It soon became clear that we shared a fundamentally different perception of the nature of the structure of both the USSR and, within that entity, the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (“RSFSR”). Having discovered the differences, we developed a “horse and pony” show over the years to introduce students to what we considered the core issues to be. And great fun it was. I was away on sabbatical during the 1986-87 academic year, so I never learned Lapenna’s latest views on perestroika and its implications for constitutional law. When we last had the opportunity to perform together in autumn 1985, no changes were in evidence. The essence of Lapenna’s perception therefore will not, I think, have changed. In his view the Soviet Union as a whole, and the RSFSR as a constituent union republic of the USSR, were thoroughly “federalized.” In substance the USSR was a unitary state clothed in “federal” dress. The trappings of statehood for the fifteen union republics, and a fortiori for lesser administrative-territorial entities, were nothing more than a symbolic genuflection in the direction of structures that served, and should serve, ideological purposes against the particular background of Russian history. The Soviet Union in this respect was a triumph of substance over form, and that was all that truly mattered.