Samizdat: system-critical publications in the Soviet Union

The Soviet Union prohibited publication or even imports of “anti-Soviet” and “ideologically vague” books. Being caught in contact with them was a sure way to become a dissident.

Inside the Soviet Union, replication and dissemination of system-critical books and articles was an impossibility. Publishing was performed by state or co-operative agencies. Publishing was under total ideological control. State censorship covered everything. Individual citizens are not allowed to engage in such activities.

Even small print runs of the Bible and psalm books required explicit permission from the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

Smuggling prohibited

Nothing deemed even remotely critical of Real Socialism was ever translated. If you traveled abroad and had such books in your luggage entering the country, they would be confiscated. If you were a foreign citizen, you risked to be expelled. Soviet citizens in possession of such books could be indicted for “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda”. Titles in Russian and other languages spoken in the country were considered an aggravating evidence.

Allowed readership

Single copies of “anti-Soviet” and “ideologically vague” works were available to “specialists” and “researchers” in Spetskhran, repositories of classified printed matters and publications with tightly regulated access. Selected members of Nomenklatura had access to referentskyie obzory, a kind of executive summaries on a range of classified subjects, including a description of book plots, with essential quotes.

” works were available to “specialists” and “researchers” in Spetskhran, repositories of classified printed matters and publications with tightly regulated access. Selected members of Nomenklatura had access to referentskyie obzory, a kind of executive summaries on a range of classified subjects, including a description of book plots, with essential quotes.

This job was assigned to the most trusted translators with impeccable resumes. Their work was anonymous and resembled the Wiki style.

Samizdat

Enthusiasts of reading sometimes translated some of prohibited works and spread them around in the form of Samizdat (“kitchentable publishing”). This involved producing six (sometimes more) carbon copies of a title using typing machines, which then would be handed to six other people who produced another batch for further cycles.

These Samizdat pieces circumvented state control and changed hands even when the disseminators were caught by the police. Novels, poems and songs
they contained enjoyed wide popularity, much more than most of the titles peddled by official media and mouthpieces.

samizdat title USSR
A typical Samizdat title, with minimized margins and single line spaces. The were rarely bound, so that several people could share a single copy for a night or two of binge-reading

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