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  • Sovetskaia tsenzura v epokhu total′nogo terrora, 1929-1953
  • Brian Kassof
Arlen Viktorovich Blium, Sovetskaia tsenzura v epokhu total′nogo terrora, 1929-1953. St. Petersburg: Akademicheskii proekt, 2000. 314 pp. ISBN 5733101903.

In his new, sometimes illuminating and sometimes frustrating monograph, Arlen Blium looks at the censorship activities of Glavlit (the Main Directorate for Literature and Publishing Houses) between 1929 and 1953. The book is a welcome addition to the growing body of scholarly work focusing on various aspects of cultural production during the Stalinist period. These works have begun to show the complex processes which lay behind the creation of Soviet culture, as party and state regulators, artists and scholars, and audiences fought, cooperated, and negotiated over its form and content.1 The study of how Soviet cultural artifacts (newspapers, books, films, music, images) were produced is of considerable importance, especially as more and more scholars become interested in the reception and redeployment of these items by the Soviet population. In order to comprehend this process fully, it is essential to understand the conditions and interests that shaped the production of these artifacts.

The past ten years have seen the publication of a number of works on the subject of censorship during the Soviet period, but these have focused either on the NEP period or on the censorship of specific types of literature.2 A number of [End Page 689] document collections encompassing the Stalinist period have also appeared, including Denis Leonidovich Babichenko's books on the relationship between writers and the Party, and T. M. Goriaeva's massive compilation, Istoriia sovetskoi politicheskoi tsenzury.3 Babichenko's two collections, which focus on literary politics, are the best of these, showing in detail the complex interactions between prominent Soviet writers and several key institutions, such as the Communist Party's Central Committee (TsK), the Union of Soviet Writers, and Glavlit.

Goriaeva's collection, both richer and more problematic, encompasses all aspects of Soviet censorship, from 1917 to 1991. Readers are presented with a wealth of material, but not much context. Important policy decisions appear alongside relatively obscure documents. As a result, although the reader is given a sense of the scope and many facets of Soviet censorship, those without advanced knowledge of Soviet cultural policies will quickly find themselves lost in this maze of documents.4

Blium is the first author to take an in-depth look at the role of censorship during the 1930s and 1940s. His monograph, which is a continuation of his earlier work on Soviet censorship in the years before 1930, is meant to provide a detailed, analytical examination of censorship in the Stalinist era.5 Blium starts by laying out the geographic, chronological, topical, and institutional limits of his study. He has assembled a rich collection of archival material, which forms the bulk of his evidence. Almost all of it concerns the RSFSR; there is little or no mention of any other union republics in the text. Further, he draws most of his evidence from Leningrad, although he does include some material from other areas, such as Karelia and Pskov, as well as documents from the central Moscow archives. He focuses on material predominantly from the 1930s, with a few cases from the 1940s or early 1950s. Blium's examples on the censorship of books and journals are taken mostly from the fields of fiction and poetry; there is also material on newspaper censorship. Finally, he has chosen to focus his study institutionally on Glavlit, the only official censorship body in the Soviet Union. Blium [End Page 690] argues that, despite these restrictions, his material is representative of censorship in general during the Stalinist period, a claim to which I will return later.

In his opening section (the introduction and chapter 1), Blium defines the term "censorship" and looks at the broad contours of its practice in the Soviet Union. He argues that any action or structure which interferes with the right of individuals to express themselves freely should be seen as a type of censorship. This includes such obvious forms of interference as state legal action against writers and performers, but also more subtle forms of economic and moral pressure (10–11...


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