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Revelations from the Russian Archives


Creative writers enjoyed great prestige in both the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union because of literature's unique role as a sounding board for deeper political and social issues. Vladimir Lenin believed that literature and art could be exploited for ideological and political as well as educational purposes. As a result, the party rapidly established control over print and electronic media, book publishing and distribution, bookstores and libraries, and it created or abolished newspapers and periodicals at will.

Communist Party ideology influenced the creative process from the moment of artistic inspiration. The party, in effect, served as the artist's Muse. In 1932 the party established socialist realism as the only acceptable aesthetic—measuring merit by the degree to which a work contributed to building socialism among the masses. The Union of Writers was created the same year to harness writers to the Marxist-Leninist cause. Goskomizdat (State Committee for Publishing Houses, Printing Plants, and the Book Trade), in conjunction with the Union's secretariat, made all publishing decisions; the very allocation of paper became a hidden censorship mechanism. Glavlit (Main Administration for Literary and Publishing Affairs), created in 1922, was responsible for censorship, which came later in the creative process. The party's guidance had already affected the process long before the manuscript reached the censor's pen. The Soviet censorship system was thus more pervasive than that of the tsars or of most other recent dictatorships.

Mikhail Gorbachev needed to enlist the support of writers and journalists to promote his reforms. He did so by launching his policy of glasnost' in 1986, challenging the foundations of censorship by undermining the authority of the Union of Writers to determine which works were appropriate for publication. Officials from the Union were required to place works directly in the open market and to allow these works to be judged according to reader preferences, thereby removing the barrier between writer and reader and marking the beginning of the end of Communist party censorship.

List of persons

Translation of list

Statistical report of March 21, 1988, from V. Chebrikov, chairman of the KGB, detailing 1987 investigations of the distribution of anonymous publications hostile to the Soviet government and the Communist Party.

Statistical report, image of p. 1

Statistical report, image of p. 2

Statistical report, image of p. 3

Translation of Statistical report

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