Censorship of Books in the Soviet Union from 1920-1940

In Tim's Post on September 21, 2010 at 11:13 pm


            Lenin and Stalin both had ideas of how books should be used in the Soviet Union and these ideas are contrary to how we perceive the use of books today.  The main use of books in the Soviet Union was to imbed “cultural products into the collective memory” of the people.[1] Libraries were used as tools for Soviet party propaganda to promote “the spirit of the ideas of socialism and communism.”[2] In the time of Lenin and Stalin the libraries in the Soviet Union were repeatedly purged of all books deemed “harmful” to society.[3]  These purges dramatically changed what books could be found at libraries and which ones were censored. This article will explain the history of the library purges and the ideas behind book censorship in the Soviet Union.

            In 1923, a man named E. Proskuriakova outlined the characteristics of books that were considered “harmful” to the Soviet Union.  On this list was: Failure to promote the worker’s class consciousness and willingness to work hard, religious propaganda, pro-tsarist ideas, opposition to revolutionary class struggle, and promoting national hatred.[4]  It was this same year that Krupskaia (Lenin’s wife) started a book purge which banned “Plato, Descartes, Kant, the Gospels, the Koran, the Talmud, Carlyle, Tolstoy and William James.”[5] When ask for reasons why, Kruspskia replied, “The masses do not read Kant.”[6]  These authors were all censored for containing “harmful” material that questioned the Soviet message that the party was trying to impose onto the people. This purge was followed by another in 1927, where sixty percent of all books were eliminated in most Soviet libraries. Yet again, in 1929 libraries were forced to censor their collections further by party demand.[7]

            In the 1930’s book censorship in the Soviet Union did not stop; between 1930 and 1932, libraries lost sixty percent more of their stock that was already purged at least three times.[8] During just one year in Moscow over 779,579 books were lost and most books were never reprinted.[9]  The over accumulation of censored books stored away also became a storage problem in the libraries.[10] An investigation committee was made on March 27, 1934 to oversee library affairs in the U.S.S.R. and they wanted library workers to use books “for the purpose of communism and for party political education work.”[11]  Books were treated as sources of propaganda and not sources enlightenment. In 1936, an All-Union Library Conference took place from December 16-27 and looked at problems in library science and bibliography.[12] The number one issue discussed at this conference was “the role of catalogs in helping libraries fulfill their propaganda functions.”[13]

            It can be seen that in the years between 1920-1940 that book censorship was based on protecting the party image of the Soviet Union and utilizing books, as well as libraries as tools of propaganda.  The libraries in the Soviet Union lost almost all of their book collections due to the various purges over the years.  In the end, the libraries were void of any substantial books because the harsh censorship that was imposed by Lenin and Stalin. In an interesting example, Soviet Writer A. Pokrovskii was labeled a criminal for stating that no books were good or bad and praising “American public libraries for offering a universal, free service and being accessible to all the people.”[14] It makes one realize how terrible book censorship was in the Soviet Union and it shows how highly praised the American library system was at the time.


Choldin, Marianna T. “Access to Foreign Publications in Soviet LIbraries.” Libraries & Culture Vol. 26, no. 1 (1991): 135-150.

Plamper, Jan. “Abolishing Ambiguity: Soviet Censorship Practices in the 1930s.” Russian Review Vol. 60, no. 4 (2001): 526-544.

Robert Rogers, A. “Censorship and Libraries in the Soviet Union.” Journal of Library History, Philosophy, and Comparative Librarianship Vol. 8, no. 1 (1973): 22-29.

[1] Plamper 552

[2] Choldin, 137

[3] Rogers, 24

[4] Rogers, 24

[5] Rogers, 24

[6] Rogers, 24

[7] Rogers, 24

[8] Rogers, 25

[9] Rogers 25

[10] Rogers, 26

[11] Rogers, 26

[12] Rogers, 26

[13] Rogers,26

[14] Choldin, 138

  1. Censorship of information around the world isn’t limited to libraries. In the news, we often hear about state-run media which determines what stories can be published based on their ability to further a country’s ideological mindset. Cuba, for instance, states that it recognizes “freedom of speech and the press in accordance with the goals of the socialist society.” See the Committee to Protect Journalist’s article about the top 10 most censored countries at http://www.cpj.org/censored/censored_06.html. While their report was published in 2006, not a lot has changed since. I’d be interested in seeing each countries policies on libraries in comparison. There is an organization called the Alfred Friendly Foundation which is committed to training foreign journalist in the professional standards and ethics of the U.S. media to foreign journalists via 6-month fellowships which include placement at major news outlets during their fellowship. See http://www.pressfellowships.org. The goal is to expose them to the U.S.’s free press system and take those principles back to their foreign positions.

  2. Modern Russia has hardly become a haven for the Freedom of the Press, even after the break-up of the USSR. It’s come under criticism from multiple humanitarian groups, such as the International Press Institute, Reporters Without Borders and the Freedom House for managing and putting pressure on the media and not protecting journalists. Although the Russian government can hardly control Russia’s 40,000+ publications, government and society can still make things very unpleasant for critics of such policies as those in Chechnya. The Committee to Protect Journalists estimates that 50 journalists have been killed in Russia since 1992 for their work, most recently and notably the internationally recognized Anna Politkovskaya. The Wikipedia article on Freedom of the Press in Russia has links to extensive documentation on the subject:


    See Also:




  3. hi i am a junior in highschool doing a report on this okay bye <3<3<3

    -Nick Pham

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