Soviet law was rooted in pre-revolutionary Russian law and Marxism-Leninism. Pre-revolutionary influences included Byzantine law, Mongol law, Russian Orthodox Canon law, and Western law. Western law was mostly absent until the judicial reform of Alexander II in 1864, five decades before the revolution. Despite this, the supremacy of law and equality before the law were not well-known concepts, the tsar was still not bound by the law, and the "police had unlimited authority."
Marxism-Leninism viewed law as a superstructure in the base and superstructure model of society. "Capitalist" law was a tool of "bourgeois domination and a reflection of bourgeois values." Since law was a tool "to maintain class domination", in a classless society, law would inevitably disappear.
Like all other government institutions, the judiciary was officially subordinated to the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union.
In 1917, the Soviet authorities formally repealed all Tsarist legislation and established a socialist legal system. According to a critic, Richard Pipes, this system abolished Western legal concepts including the rule of law, the civil liberties, the protection of law and guarantees of property. For example, profiteering could be interpreted as a counter-revolutionary activity punishable by death. Soviet authors claimed that a new socialist rule of law was created, protecting personal properties and civil liberties, and developing the basis of an international rule of law.
The deportation of the 'Kulaks' in 1928–31 was carried out within the terms of Soviet Civil Code. Some Soviet legal scholars even asserted that "criminal repression" may be applied in the absence of guilt.".
The 1960s reforms tried to improve the judicial system and the activities of the courts, the restoration and development of several democratic principles dismantling special conferences attached to the USSR Ministry of Internal Affairs and certain categories of state crimes