The Main Directorate for Literary and Publishing Affairs (Glavnoe Upravlenie po Delam Literatury i Izdatelstv), known as Glavlit, was the state agency responsible for the censorship of printed materials in the Soviet Union. Although print was its main focus, it sometimes supervised the censorship of other media, including radio, television, theater, and film. Glavlit was created in 1922 to replace a network of uncoordinated military and civilian censorship agencies set up after the Bolshevik seizure of power. Although freedom of the press nominally existed in the Soviet Union, the government reserved the right to prevent the publication of certain materials. Glavlit was charged with preventing the publication of economic or military information believed to pose a threat to Soviet security; this included subjects as diverse as grain harvests, inflation, incidence of disease, and the location of military industries. Party and military leaders compiled a list of facts and categories deemed secret.
Glavlit was also charged with suppressing any printed materials deemed hostile to the Soviet state or the Communist Party. This ran the gamut from pornography to religious texts to anything that could be construed as critical of the party or state, whether implicitly or explicitly. Individual censors had a fair amount of discretion in this area, and often showed considerable creativity and paranoia in their work. The severity of censorship varied with the political climate. Glavlit was particularly strict in its supervision of the private publishers allowed to operate between 1921 and 1929.
Although some state publishing houses were initially exempted from Glavlit's supervision, by 1930 all printing and publishing in the Soviet Union was subject to pre-publication censorship. Everything from newspapers to books to ephemera, such as posters, note pads, and theater tickets, required the approval of a Glavlit official before it could be published; violation of this rule was a serious criminal offense.
Glavlit had several secondary functions, including the censorship of foreign literature imported to the Soviet Union. It also took part in purging materials associated with "enemies of the people" from libraries, bookstores, and museums.
Glavlit was part of the Russian Republic's Commissariat of Enlightenment until 1946, when it was placed under the direct authority of the All-Union Council of Ministers. Its official name changed several times after this point, usually to a variant of Main Directorate for the Protection of Military and State Secrets. Despite these changes, the acronym Glavlit continued to be used in official and unofficial sources. Technically a state institution, Glavlit answered directly to the Communist Party's Central Committee, which oversaw its work and appointed its leadership. Each Soviet Republic had its own Glavlit, with the Russian Republic's Glavlit setting the overall tone for Soviet censorship.
While most Soviet writers and editors learned to practice a degree of self-censorship to avoid problems, Glavlit served as a deterrent for those willing to question orthodox views. Its standards were relaxed in late 1988 as part of Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost campaign. Glavlit was dissolved by presidential decree in 1991, essentially ending prepublication censorship in Russia, but other forms of state pressure on media outlets remained in effect.
See also: censorship; glasnost; journalism; news papers; samizdat; television and radio; theater
Fox, Michael S. (1992). "Glavlit, Censorship, and the Problem of Party Policy in Cultural Affairs, 1922–1928." Soviet Studies 44(6):1045–1068.
Plamper, Jan. (2001). "Abolishing Ambiguity: Soviet Censorship Practices in the 1930s." Russian Review 60(4):526–544.
Tax Choldin, Marianna, and Friedberg, Maurice, eds. (1989). The Red Pencil: Artists, Scholars and Censors in the USSR. Boston: Unwin-Hyman.