Printed media in the Soviet Union

Printed media in the Soviet Union

Printed media in the Soviet Union, i.e., newspapers, magazines and journals, were under strict control of the Communist Party and the Soviet state.

Early Soviet Union

* Zhizn' Natsional'nostei,(Life of the Nationalities): a journal published by Narkomnats in Moscow, 1918-1924.

Late Soviet Union



In 1988 the Soviet Union published more than 8,000 daily newspapers in approximately sixty languages, with a combined circulation of about 170 million. Every all-union newspaper was circulated in its Russian language version. Nearly 3,000 newspapers, however, reached the population in non-Russian languages, constituting roughly 25 percent of the total circulation, although non-Russians made up almost 50 percent of the population.


Most of newspaper reporters and editors belonged to the Communist Party-controlled Union of Journalists, composed of nearly 74,000 members. In 1988 some 80 percent of the union's reporters and editors were party members. Inevitably, assignments of editors had to be approved by the party. In the late 1980s, all the central editors in chief of major all-union newspapers belonged to the CPSU Central Committee.

The party also sought to control journalists by combining higher education and Higher Party Schools with schools of journalism. Reporters and editors thus were trained under the aegis of the professional party elite. For newspaper journalists and television and radio reporters, newspaper photographers, and literary editors, Moscow University's School of Journalism provided a main conduit to party positions concerned with the media. In the 1980s, some 2,500 graduate, undergraduate, evening school, and correspondence students annually graduated from the School of Journalism. Students were taught party strictures within the following eight departments: Theory and Practice of the Party-Soviet Press, History of the Party-Soviet Press, Television and Radio Broadcasting, Movie-making and Editorial-publishing Work, Foreign Press and Literature, Russian Journalism and Literature, Stylistics of the Russian language, and Techniques of Newspaper Work and Information Media. By the late 1980s, Moscow University's School of Journalism had graduated approximately 100,000 journalists.

Late developments

In the late 1980s, newspapers gradually developed new formats and new issues. Under Andropov, "Pravda" began to print short reports of weekly Politburo meetings. Eventually, other major newspapers published accounts of these meetings as well.

Under Gorbachev, Politburo reports expanded to provide more details on the leadership's thinking about domestic and foreign affairs. Before Gorbachev's assumption of power, Western sources had identified a partial list of proscribed topics, which included crime, drugs, accidents, natural disasters, occupational injuries, official organs of censorship, security, intelligence, schedules of travel for the political leadership, arms sales abroad, crime or morale problems in the armed forces, hostile actions against Soviet citizens abroad, and special payments and education for athletes. After 1985 Gorbachev's policy of openness gave editors a freer hand to publish information on many of these subjects.

In the 1980s, regional newspapers differed in several ways from all-union newspapers. The distribution of regional newspapers varied from circulation at the republic level to circulation in a province, city, or district. The party allowed many regional newspapers to print most of their issues in the region's native language, which reflected the Stalinist policy of "national in form, socialist in content." Local newspaper circulation remained restricted to a region. These publications often focused on such issues as local heroes who contributed to the good of the community or significant problems (as expressed in letters to the editor) relating to crime or natural disasters. By contrast, after Gorbachev came to power, most all-union newspapers began to report on societal shortcomings. However, in the late 1980s regional papers continued to contain more personal advertisements and local merchant notices than the all-union newspapers, if the latter carried any at all.

Letters to Editor

Originally, Lenin argued that criticism should be channeled through letters to the editor and would assist in cleansing society of its problems. He believed that public discussion would facilitate the elimination of shortcomings and that open expression of problems would create a significant feedback mechanism for the leadership and for the country as a whole. Lenin's ideas in this regard were not carried out by Stalin and Khrushchev, who apparently believed the party needed no assistance from the people in identifying problems. But in 1981, Brezhnev created the Central Committee Letters Department, and later Andropov called for more letters to editors to expose corruption and mismanagement. Chernenko advocated that greater "media efficacy" be instituted so that newspapers, for example, would carry more in-depth and current analyses on pressing issues. Gorbachev expanded the flexibility allowed by giving newspapers leeway in publishing letters critical of society and even critical of the government.

Newspaper letters departments usually employed large staffs and handled extremely high volumes of letters daily. Not all letters were published because they often dealt with censored subjects or their numbers simply posed too great a burden for any one newspaper to handle. The letters departments, however, reportedly took their work very seriously and in the late 1980s were used by the press to encourage the population to improve society.

Letters to editors on a great number of previously forbidden topics also elicited responses from the population that could be manipulated by the Soviet newspapers to influence public opinion in the desired direction. Because party members made up the majority of active newspaper readers, according to polls conducted in the Soviet Union, they wrote most of the letters to the editor. Thus, their perspectives probably colored the newspapers' letters sections.


Major newspapers

Translations of names given in parentheses.

Of all the newspapers, "Pravda" (Truth), an organ of the CPSU Central Committee, was the most authoritative and, therefore, the most important. Frequently, it was the bellwether for important events, and readers often followed its news leads to detect changes in policies. With about 12 million copies circulated every day to over 20 million citizens, Pravda focused on party events and domestic and foreign news.

Other newspapers, however, also commanded wide circulation. "Izvestiya" (News), the second most authoritative paper, emanated from the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet and in the late 1980s circulated to between 8 and 10 million people daily. Izvestiya also contained official government information and general news and an expanded Sunday section composed of news analysis, feature stories, poetry, and cartoons.

"Trud" (Labor), issued by the Soviet Labor Unions, circulated six days a week, reaching 8 to 9 million people. It emphasized labor and economic analyses and included other official decrees.

"Komsomolskaya Pravda" (Komsomol Truth), published by the Komsomol, was distributed to between 9 and 10 million people.

"Krasnaya Zvezda" (Red Star), published by the USSR Ministry of Defense, covered most daily military news and events and published military human interest stories and exposes.

The literary bimonthly "Literaturnaya Gazeta" (Literary Gazette) disseminated the views of the Union of Writers and contained authoritative statements and perspectives concerning literature, plays, cinema, and literary issues of popular interest.

A publication of the Central Committee, "Sovetskaya Rossiya" (Soviet Russia), was the Russian Republic's most widely distributed newspaper, with a circulation of nearly 12 million.

Major sports newspaper, "Sovetskiy Sport", published by the government and VTsSPS, had a circulation of 5 million.

A weekly regional newspaper, "Moskovskiye Novosti" ("Moscow News"), appeared in both Russian and English editions and reported on domestic and international events. It became very popular during the late 1980s, both in the Soviet Union and abroad.

The weekly newspaper "Za Rubezhom" (Abroad) devoted its pages exclusively to international affairs and foreign events.

Finally, "Sotsialisticheskaya Industriya" (Socialist Industry), a daily newspaper, concentrated on industrial and economic events, statistics, and human interest stories.

Republican and regional newspapers

Republican, regional, and local newspapers were published in dozens of languages, even very minor ones. For example, the Khakas language newspaper "Ленин чолы" printed around 6.000 copies, three times a week, for the around 60.000 speakers of the language. Below is a non-exhaustive table of those newspapers; it generally includes the most important newspaper published in each language.

Magazines and journals

In the late 1980s, weekly, monthly, and quarterly magazines and journals numbered almost 5,500 and had a circulation nearly equal to that of the daily newspapers. The same CPSU regulations and guidelines that applied to newspapers extended to magazines and journals. In the mid-1980s, under the regime's less-restrictive censorship policy, both magazines and journals published articles and stories to fill in historical "blank spots." These articles included works of past and contemporary authors once banned and new works that challenged the limits imposed on literary society by previous leaders. Assessments and criticisms of past leaderships exposed many historical atrocities, particularly those committed under Stalin. As a result, in the late 1980s the number of subscribers to periodicals climbed considerably, and magazines and journals frequently sold out at kiosks within minutes.

In the late 1980s, these magazines and journals created reverberations throughout society with their publication of controversial articles.

"Krokodil" (Crocodile), one of the most popular magazines with a circulation of approximately 6 million, contained humor and satire and featured excellent artistic political cartoons and ideological messages.

"Nedelya" (Week), another magazine, was published as a weekly supplement to "Izvestiya" newspaper and appeared every Sunday, having a circulation of some 9 to 10 million.

Such journals as "Ogonyok" (Little Fire), a weekly that became more popular in the late 1980s because of its insightful political exposes, human interest stories, serialized features, and pictorial sections, had an audience of over 2 million people. In 1986 it published excerpted works by the previously banned writer Nikolai Gumilev, who was shot in 1921 after being accused of writing a counterrevolutionary proclamation. In 1988 it also published excerpts of poetry from Yuliy Daniel, imprisoned after a famous 1966 trial for publication of his work abroad.

"Novy Mir" (New World), one of the most controversial and often original literary reviews, attracted widespread readership among the intelligentsia. The monthly publication reached nearly 2 million readers and concentrated on new prose, poetry, criticism, and commentary. Many previously banned works were published in its pages, most notably "Doctor Zhivago" by Boris Pasternak. (The publication of Doctor Zhivago in the West not only resulted in Pasternak's expulsion from the Union of Writers in 1956 but won him the 1958 Nobel Prize for Literature.)

"Oktyabr" (October), a journal resembling "Novy Mir" in content, circulation, and appeal, espoused more conservative viewpoints. Nevertheless, Anna Akhmatova's "Requiem" a poetic tribute to those who perished during Stalin's purges, appeared in its November 1987 issue.

"Sovetskaya Kultura" (Soviet Culture), a journal with broad appeal, published particularly biting indictments of collectivization, industrialization, and the purges of the 1930s. In 1988 the journal published articles indirectly criticizing Lenin for sanctioning the establishment of the system of forced labor camps.


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Notable book publishers of the Soviet Union include Progress Publishers, which produced much of the English-language translations of the works of Marx and Engels for export to the West.

ee also

*Mass media in Communist Czechoslovakia
*Television in the Soviet Union
*Radio in the Soviet Union


*loc - [ Soviet Union]

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