Ideological repression in the Soviet Union

Ideological repression in the Soviet Union targeted various worldviews and the corresponding categories of people.

Ideological repression in arts

Until the late 1920s various forms of artistic expression were tolerated. However the increase of the scope of the Soviet political repression, marked by the first show trial, the Shakhty Trial, brought into the focus of Bolsheviks the question whether "bourgeois intelligentsia", including workers of culture and arts, can be loyal to the Soviet power and can be trusted. As an early step was an instruction to the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers "to scourge and chastice [literature]" in the name of the Party", i.e., effectively encouraging censorship of literature on ideological grounds. Among the first targets were Yevgeny Zamiatin and Boris Pilnyak.[1]

Soon the concept of Socialist Realism was established, as the officially approved form of art, an instrument of propaganda, and the main touchstone of ideological censorship.

Repression of religion

Ideological repression in science

Certain scientific fields in the Soviet Union were suppressed after being labeled as ideologically suspect.[2][3] In some cases the consequences of ideological influences were dramatic. The suppression of research began during the Stalin era and continued, in softened forms, after his regime.[4]

Soviet Science during the Stalin Years

The Stalin years (1924—1953, with a big impact on the next decades) were very significant and controversial in the history of the Soviet science. On the one hand, these years are marked with a rapid industrialisation of the Soviet Union for which a great deal of research, mainly in the technical fields, has been done. On the other hand, in the Stalin times, many prominent scientists underwent repressions, purges and humilation.

Under Stalin the education system would be stunted by the strict codes on proper speech and what is acceptable to discuss as a good Communist because he had the strictest rules on the matter of propriety and discussion. The Soviet Sciences Academy would be affected like all universities by the rules imposed particularly those pertaining to censorship. Not only would it be directly affected by censorship in the sense that some materials would be banned but people would be put in charge or taken out of leadership of the schools based on censorship and false accusations of improper behavior would be used in attempts to gain favor.[5]

The Soviet Science Academy ended up with a leader of the philosophy department who was placed there simply to keep the man out of trouble. The government decided to not execute or send the famous writer to the gulag because he had won the Stalin award. Doing this would have discredited the Stalin award and thus Stalin the leader of the Communist party himself. So instead, the Soviet Science Academy would have Georgy Aleksandrov work for them placing him as a department head because they believed there that he could be more easily controlled and kept within party parameters in regards to his behavior and speech.[6] They did so because he attempted to publish works and write about topics that were considered questionable. The topic which he wanted to write about were philosophers who were not the four main Communist philosophers he wanted to mention the Western philosophers in his writings. This was decided to be inappropriate and his proposal was refused by the authorities. They then decided that it would be best to demote him from his current position of research and place him as a head of department at the Soviet Science Academy because it was considered a lesser position where he could be kept out of further mischief.

Another incident which happened regarding the Soviet Science Academy during this period is that a jealous scientist would attempt to discredit two famous geneticists. These genetics had government permission to publish their findings in an American journal of science which made the Soviet Union and the Science Academy look distinguished and able to compete with the Western world. However, the scientist Trofim Lysenko would falsely accuse them of collaborations with the West and selling secrets because he wanted to gain recognition of his own and gain funding. He felt as though more money should be put into agriculture instead.[7] However, this attempt would backfire and he would be ignored even during this period of intense concern with such problems. During this era the expected move would have been to arrest the scientists but like the philosopher they were very high profile and so rather than arresting them for flimsy charges they looked into the man making the accusations and would choose instead to take a wiser and more reasonable course of action.

In the Soviet Science Academy as well as in the USSR science field in general, people often used informal networks to communicate. This was true of prominent scientists such as Nikolay Zelinsky an internationally reputable organic chemist who began before the revolution and continued his work after.[8] He was not a member of the Communist party nor did he hold a high position but he did hold discussion with scientists from across various fields of study. This meant that people knew and would support him across fields of science which was common for this period.[9] So there was a certain amount of cooperation and working together to be found as well scientists who tried to get each other in trouble.

The Soviet Science Academy would be pitted against the Communist Academy in terms of status. Both of them would compete in terms of relevancy and official recognition by the party. These organizations would struggle within the bureaucracy to gain more resources and respect during the late 1920s.[10] Until party leader Avel Enukidze would be placed in charge of it and he made it superior to the Soviet Academy by declaration.[11] However, the Communist Academy would fade in the 1930s because it was seen as promoting the older Bolshevik ideals and would cease to exist ending the competition between the two. This period of completion though led to a restructuring in the Soviet Sciences Academy in order to better it so that it would not be seen as obsolete. It came close in the late 1920s to dissolving the Science Academy but would stop short of it because they decided it was important to have a singular scientific institute. The reasons for nearly destroying it had to do with the danger of thinking minds under the Soviet system and the concern that they did not uphold the right sort of ideals.[12] They would decide that the Science Academy was necessary for the Soviet Empire and decided not destroy it but rather to rework the system. This would eventually lead to the Soviet Science Academy dominating as they found it continued to be useful as a way of competing with the West.

The last major thing that would happen with the Soviet Science Academy would be a struggle to allow more Western ideas into the Physics Department. This obviously was in response to America having nuclear weapons and the Soviet Union realizing they needed to catch up with them. An article would be published by Vladimir Fock through the Soviet Science academy criticizing the theories of Einstein because he was a Western scientist.[13] However, this propagandist work was found to have shoddy science behind it and the entire department upon inspection was found to be less productive than the rest of the Science Academy. The more realistic scientific work written by Moisey Markov which agreed with Western theories would receive more support.[14] So in the beginning, with people like Aleksandrov in the philosophy department there was the idea that people should not bring up Western ideology even to criticize it and explain why Communism is better but now there is a turnaround where because beating the West is what matters good science needs to take place even if it means talking about ideas that go against principles to do so. This is because the philosophy of the West had been more important to defeat than proper research methods until the concerns about nuclear war emerged. They would decide to fire more of the department and hire more competent people because of the increased importance of nuclear research. The need for physicists would protect Jewish people from the xenophobic wrath of Stalin and Beria but not everyone would be spared for these reasons.[15] Still many scientists would be protected by the institute because they were seen as important to the success of the country. The Soviet Science Academy would help to play their part in the goal of the Soviet Union to surpass the military might of the United States through the use of physics and chemistry research.

Important members of the scientific community were spared from Stalin's usual amount of wrath and their punishments were often lessened from what one usually would expect from the regime. In the beginning this was mainly because of ideological reasons to not harm the party by punishing someone who had received a major award or had international accreditation. Scientists were given more chances to explain their behavior or prove their innocents than average citizens because they were seen as valuable. Later, though it would be for more practical reasons as scientists became the leaders in the arms race which played a major part in the Cold War. The Soviet Science Academy would become the dominant institute where these scientists were educated and often worked.

However, from 1928 on the Politburo interfered in the affairs of the Academy. By the summer of 1929, Yuri Petrovich Figatner headed a special government commission that had to inspect the Academy and purge it of "counter-revolutionaries," turning it into a Stalinist organization. Figatner's commission originally included Sergey Oldenburg, but he was sacked for "obstructing the reconstruction of the Academy of Sciences". By the end of 1929, 128 members of staff out of 960 were fired, with a further 520 supernumeraries from 830 also dismissed. In the following year over 100 people (mainly scholars and humanists, including many historians) were charged in what is called the Academicians' Case. Former Academicians such as G.S. Gabaev, A.A. Arnoldi, Nikolai Antsiferov, had already been exiled or imprisoned, but were also put on trial. On August 8, 1931 the Board of the Joint State Political Administration Board condemned 29 people, including:

In 1931 the Joint State Political Administration Board imposed another wave of punishments on the research officers of various establishments of the Academy of Sciences, the Russian Museum, the Central Archives, and others. These included A.A. Byalynitsky-Birulya, A.A. Dostoevsky, B.M. Engelgardt, N.S. Platonova, M.D. Priselkov, A.A. Putilov, S.V. Sigrist, F.F. Skribanovich, S.I. Tkhorzhevsky, and A.I. Zaozersky. Some former officers, who worked for the Academy of Sciences such as A.A. Kovanko and Y. A. Verzhbitsky, were executed by shooting. N.V. Raevsky, P.V. Wittenburg and D.N. Khalturin who had organized various expeditions, the priests A.V. Mitrotsky, M.V. Mitrotsky, and M.M. Girs (the church group), Professor E.B. Furman, Pastor A.F. Frishfeld (the German group) and F.I. Vityazev-Sedenko, S.S. Baranov-Galperson and E.G. Baranov-Galperson (the publishers group) were also punished.[16]

Smaller commissions investigated institutions, thus the Commission for the Reorganisation of KIPS and the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography subjected these organisations to "socialist criticism".[17]


  1. ^ Rudova, Larissa (1997). Understanding Boris Pasternak. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press. p. 64. ISBN 1-57003-143-6.
  2. ^ Loren R. Graham (2004) Science in Russia and the Soviet Union. A Short History. Series: Cambridge Studies in the History of Science. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-28789-0
  3. ^ Mark Walker (2002) Science and Ideology. A Comparative History. Series: Routledge Studies in the History of Science, Technology and Medicine. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-27122-6
  4. ^ Loren R. Graham, Science and philosophy in the Soviet Union. New York, 1972, https://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=8979265
  5. ^ Pollack, Ethan (2006). The Soviet Science Wars. Princeton University Press.
  6. ^ Pollock, Ethan (2006). Stalin and The Soviet Science Wars. Princeton University Press. pp. 16–18.
  7. ^ Stalin and the Soviet Science Wars
  8. ^ Lubrano (Spring 1993). "The Hidden Structure of Soviet". Science, Technology, & Human Values. 18 (2nd): 153.
  9. ^ Lubrano. "The Hidden Structures of Soviet Science": 153–155. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  10. ^ David-Fox, "Symbiosis to Synthesis" Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas 46, 226-227
  11. ^ David-Fox, Symbiosis to Synthesis, 236-238
  12. ^ David-Fox, Symbiosis to Synthesis, 243
  13. ^ Pollock, The Soviet Science Wars,76
  14. ^ Pollock, The Soviet Science Wars, 80
  15. ^ Pollock, The Soviet Science Wars, 82-84
  16. ^ Academics' Case, accessed July 13, 2008
  17. ^ Empire of Nations. Retrieved 12 June 2015.

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