International Criminology and the Russian Fight against Transnational Obscenity, 1885–1925

In: Russian History

This article examines Russian criminologists’ engagements with emergent norms of international criminal law at the fin-de-siècle. In particular, it discusses attempts to end the ‘international traffic in pornography’ from the 1880s onwards, framing these attempts as key elements in the development of Russian ideas about sexual crime more broadly. For pre- and post-revolutionary Russian criminologists involved with the Hague-based International Union for Penal Law, the crime of trafficking in pornography was conceptualized as both a crime against the censor and also an offense that did specific harm to certain social groups, namely women and children. In this way, anxieties about gender and sex lay at the heart of the calls to ban the cross-border trade in obscenity, suggesting a particular biopolitical understanding of international security haunting early twentieth century international criminal law.

  • 8

    KoskenniemiThe Gentle Civilzer, p. 39.

  • 16

    Deanna HeathPurifying Empire: Obscenity and the Politics of Moral Regulation in Britain, India and Australia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press2010); Pamela Cheek, Sexual Antipodes: Enlightenment, Globalization, and the Placing of Sex (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003). Heath argues that, in the British case, ‘empire played an important role…in spurring the transformation of obscenity regulation from a juridical to a governmental form of power,’ as ‘the governmentalization of the socio-moral realm by the state had come to be regarded as vital for the maintenance of the ‘strength’ and purity’ of the British nation – and also its empire.’ As we shall see below, similar claims were being made in immediately pre-war Russia. Heath, Purifying Empire, pp. 63–64.

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  • 19

     See for example LewisThe Birth of the New Justice2014; Kevin John Heller, The Nuremberg Military Tribunals and the Origins of International Criminal Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

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  • 23

    Paul KnepperThe Invention of International Crime: A Global Issue in the Making (London: Palgrave2010); Paul Knepper, International Crime in the Twentieth Century: The League of Nations Era, 1919–1939 (London: Palgrave, 2011).

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  • 30

    RadzinowiczThe Roots of the International, p. 2.

  • 32

    Prof. P.I. LiublinskiiMezhdunarodnye S’ezdy po voprosam Ugolovnago Prava za desiat’ let (1905–1915) (Petrograd: Senatskaia Tipografiia1915), p. 144.

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  • 37

    NethercottRussian Legal Culture, p. 54.

  • 43

    KnepperInvention of International Crime, p. 6.

  • 47

    RadzinowiczThe Roots of the International, p. 9.

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     See V.D. Nabokov‘K voprosu o ‘opasnom sostoianii’Zhurnal Ugolovnogo Prava i Protsessa, Vol. 2, 1912, pp. 25–34; A.A. Zhizhilenko, ‘K voprosu o merakh sotsial’noi zashchity v otnoshenii opasnykh prestupnikov’, Zhurnal Ugolovnogo Prava i Protsessa, Vol. 2, 1912, pp. 35–44; S.P. Ordynskii, ‘K Metodologii opasnago sostianiia prestpnika’ Zhurnal Ugolovnogo Prava i Protsessa, Vol. 2, 1912, pp. 45–69; A.A. Zhizhilenko, Mery sotsial’noi zashchity v otnoshenii opasnykh prestupniko, (spb: Tip. A.G. Rozena, 1911). See Daniel Beer’s discussion of the shift to ‘social defence’ among Russian criminologists in Beer, Renovating Russia, pp. 124–129.

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  • 55

    NethercottRussian Legal Culture, p. 120.

  • 57

    Nabokov, pp. 3–4.

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     See LiublinskiiMezhdunarodnye S’ezdy, pp. 5, 6–7, 40, 86, 124, 15, 236, 263–73, 324, 334.

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    LiublinskiiMezhdunarodnye S’ezdy, pp. 41–43; ‘Etude sur les moyens de reprimer la criminalié international,’ Mitteilungen der Internationalen Kriminalistischen Vereinigung xiii (Berlin: J. Guttentag, Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1906), pp. 360–367; ‘La lutte contre la criminalite international,’ Mitteilungen der Internationalen Kriminalistischen Vereinigung xiii pp. 281–360.

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  • 65

    LiublisnkiiMezhdunarodnye S’ezdy, p. 325. Mark Lewis suggests that this distinction between political and non-political crimes was central to the emergence of international criminal law in the late nineteenth century, but does not elaborate on this point. See Mark Lewis, The Birth of the New Justice, p. 5.

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  • 66

    V.E. GrabarThe History of International Law in Russia, 1647–1917 (Oxford: Clarendon Press1990), pp. 560–562. Grabar highlights the fact that discussions about international criminal law had almost entirely consisted of examination of extradition treaties before the late nineteenth century, when specialists in imperial universities began to examine cross-jurisdictional crimes in part as a result of the influence of the International Union as well as numerous international penitentiary congresses.

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  • 70

    EngelsteinKeys to Happiness, p. 80.

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    LiublinskiiMezhdunarodnye S’ezdy, pp. 42–43.

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    LiublinskiiMezhdunarodnye S’ezdy, pp. 161–162.

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    LiublinskiiMezhdunarodnye S’ezdy, p. 43.

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    Elena G-G‘Bor’ba s pornografiei,’ Zhurnal Ugolovnago Prava I Protsessa, Volume 1, 1913, pp. 103–104. This emphasis on the health of the race reflects the extent to which Russian specialists shared with their western European fellows a tendency to ‘conceive of the nation’s life in organic terms to be regulated by experts in the body’s struggle against contamination and infection.’ Dean, The Frail Social Body, p. 5.

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  • 81

    EngelsteinThe Keys to Happiness, pp. 227–229, 234–236; Susan Morrissey, ‘The Economy of Nerves: Health, Commercial Culture and the Self in Late Imperial Russia,’ Slavic Review, 69:3, 2010, pp. 645–675 (see especially pp. 661–663).

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  • 84

    Svod Zakonov Rossiiskoi Imperii 1912p. 103.

  • 86

    EngelsteinThe Keys to Happiness, pp. 276–383.

  • 87

    A.I. Zak‘Kinematograf i detskaia prestupnost’Zhurnal Ugolovnogo Prava i Protsessa, 1913, 3.

  • 88

    Zak‘Kinematograf i detskaia prestupnost’, p. 24.

  • 89

    Zak‘Kinematograf i detskaia prestupnost’, p. 31.

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    P Liublinskii‘Pornograpfiia,’ Entsiklopedicheskii Slovar’ Russkogo Bibliograficheskogo Instituta ‘Granat’, T. 33 (Moscow: A Granat i K, 1916), p. 57.

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  • 92

    P Liublinskii‘Pornograpfiia,’ Entsiklopedicheskii Slovar’ Russkogo Bibliograficheskogo Instituta ‘Granat’, T. 33 (Moscow: A Granat i K, 1916), p. 59.

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  • 95

    HeathPurifying Empire, pp. 66–69; Walkowitz, ‘The Politics of Prostitution.’

  • 102

    LiublinskiiOkhrana detstvo, p. 6.

  • 103

    LiublinskiiPrestupleniia v Oblastakh Polovykh Otnoshenii (Moscow: L.D. Frenkel1925), pp. 89–145.

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    LiublisnkiiKinematograf i Deti, p. 81.

  • 109

    LiublinskiiKinematograf i Deti, p. 82.

  • 111

    LiublinskiiKinematograf i deti, pp. 72–80.

  • 112

    LiublsinkiiKinematograf i deti, pp. 78–79.

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    LiublinskiiKinematograf i deti, p. 74.

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    LiublinskiiKinematograf i deti, p. 79. From 1921, the League of Nations began to redraft early agreements on the multi-lateral prosecution of the trade in pornography, making the suppression of cross-border trade in obscene materials once again a question of international law. As with earlier agreements, the Convention limited itself to prohibiting the international distribution of pornography, leaving sovereign states to decide how best to suppress it within their borders.

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  • 116

    LiublinskiiOkhrana Detstva, p. 14.

  • 117

    LiublinskiiOkhrana Detstva, p. 16.

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