Book Publishing in Russia



THE volume of books published in Soviet Russia has been growing in arithmetical progression, the demand in geometrical. How many years it will take for the two to stabilize, no one can predict. It all rests with the progress of the publishing business in the U.S.S.R., and that business has been trying to catch up ever since the revolution of 1917. Publishing in the U.S.S.R. is a headache.

Because of the general shortage of metal, which has been aggravated by the war, one of the most perilous stages in the life of a book is when it has been set up but not yet run off on the press. Delay in proofreading or the insertion of corrections places a book in mortal danger, for the manager of the print shop has authority to seize the type and have it melted down again to meet the constant rush of other orders. On most occasions, as soon as a book comes off the press, the plates are immediately melted down. So more often than not a new printing requires complete resetting.

There are other shortages to consider: the shortages of equipment, of printers, and — most important of all — of paper. A local skirmish has been raging for twenty-six years between the publishing houses and the Commissariat of the Lumber and Paper Industry, and it still flares up with renewed vigor at the end of each fiscal year. The umpire in this annual paper chase is the Propaganda Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, headed by 37-year-old Grigori Alexandrov, a leading Soviet philosopher and lecturer.

The Communist Party maintains its authority in all questions of ideological and cultural significance and lends guidance in literature, particularly through local organizations of the party, the publishing houses, and the Writers’ Union. This is done in conformity with the firm conviction of the party that, to quote Stalin, “the printed word is the sharpest and most powerful weapon of the Communist Party.”

Control is exerted by a special organization called the Central Administration on Literary and Publishing Matters, commonly known as Glavlit, which censors everything intended for publication.

Joseph Stalin himself keeps an eagle eye on literature and finds time not only to read the major works of Soviet writers, but also to receive the authors for long discussions. I know of at least half a dozen cases where Stalin got in touch with an author, often by telephone in the middle of the night, congratulating him on his new book, and going on to extend detailed encouragement and advice. In this way Stalin approached playwright Leonid Leonov, author of Invasion, and Ilya Ehrenburg, Soviet writer and publicist who, so rumor says, has been in hand-to-hand fighting with the Germans. Stalin gave his personal approval to the shortstory writer Vadim Kozhevnikov, author of one of the finest stories of the war, March-April, and to Antonovskaya, a woman writer whose Great Mouravi, a historical novel about Georgia, Stalin’s birthplace, had been soft-pedaled by the publishers until Stalin telephoned to congratulate the author on the brilliance of her story and to give her pointers on the history of Georgia.

There are hundreds of publishing houses in Russia. The leading one is Ogiz, a word formed from the initials for “Obyedineniye Gosudarstvenikh Izdatelstv,” meaning Association of State Publishing Houses. It has seven branches in Moscow and Leningrad, and smaller branches in each of sixteen Soviet Republics. Ogiz brings out books on every conceivable subject from fiction and poetry to politics and agriculture. It is a huge concern, controlling factories that produce materials and equipment for printshops. It runs printing establishments and special schools for training editors and artists, for designers and illustrators of books, and for proofreaders. The fourteen printing shops which handle the work of Ogiz include “The Model Prmtery” in Moscow, employing 2000 workers, and “The Printing House” in Leningrad, which before 1941 used to print a total of 24 billion typewritten pages annually. Ogiz runs more than 3000 bookshops and stands throughout Russia, including stores trading in rare books.

The war has had an adverse effect on the production of Ogiz as on that of other publishing houses. It has curtailed the output of paper, printing equipment, and replacement parts. The absorption of labor in war work has limited publishing as it has other civilian industries. Such new men and women as are available have to be speedily trained for jobs which formerly demanded skill and experience.

The drop in book production was very sharp during the first stage of the war, when Leningrad was a besieged city and Moscow itself in mortal danger. Leningrad, which used to do some of the best printing and publishing in the Soviet Union, lost several of its main printing establishments. Others were badly damaged by shell fire or bombs. Nevertheless, the city managed a certain amount of “token” book publishing even during the worst months of the siege, and it never let up on its mass circulation of magazines, posters, and leaflets. In line with the slogan “Be as normal as we can,” Leningrad brought out a series of children’s books in 1943, including Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tales. Recovery came with rapidity; in 1943, for example, Ogiz, whose publishing is not limited to departmental subjects, produced 25 per cent more books and magazines than in 1942.

The very day after Hitler attacked Russia, war pamphlets were sold on the streets of Moscow and Leningrad. More than 100 million such pamphlets, involving 700 different titles, appeared in those two cities alone during the three years of war. Soviet publishers regarded it as their duty to equip the army and the people with fighting words.


ONE of the best-sellers of Ogiz is a collection of Stalin’s war speeches, On the Creed Patriotic War of the Soviet Union, 51/2 million copies of which were sold in the days immediately following publication. Other wartime best-sellers under this imprint are: Alexey Tolstoy’s Road to Calvary, Ilya Ehrenburg’s Fall of Paris, Sergei Sergeyev-Tsensky’s The Harvest of Sevastopol. But all through the war, no other work of fiction has been so popular as Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which has been published by a number of houses, including Ogiz.

Ogiz also has to its credit new translations of Shakespeare — and remarkable translations they are — by Boris Pasternak, one of the most original poets in the history of Russian poetry, whose works call to mind John Donne. The works by Charles Darwin and the Russian scientist, Klimenty Timiriazev, have also appeared during the war along with a mammoth new English-Russian dictionary.

There are four leading publishers in the field of fiction and poetry, headed by Goslitizdat, or the State Literature Publishing House. Having a book accepted by Goslitizdat gives the author considerable standing. The smallest printing of any work of fiction by this house is 25,000 copies, and it recently broke all records by printing half a million copies of The Unvanquished, a novel by the comparatively unknown Russian writer Boris Gorbatov, who spent most of the last three years at the front as a reporter.

Goslitizdat prints the lion’s share of translations and the works of foreign authors. Translations into Russian are made on a staggering scale and still fall short of the demand. The translations, it may be remarked, are excellently done, and one of the most interesting is the Russian version of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales by Ivan Kashkin, which originally appeared in the late thirties and has been reprinted by Goslitizdat during the war.

Just as the United States has captured the imagination of the Russians, so American literature in translation bulks large. Between 1918 and 1943, Russians issued 2102 editions of 201 American authors, the overall figure approaching 40 million copies.

Jack London is undisputed leader in popularity, having 567 editions in 28 languages of the peoples of the U.S.S.R., totaling 101/2 million copies. He is followed by Mark Twain with 130 editions in 22 languages, totaling 3 million copies, and by Upton Sinclair with 236 editions in 14 languages, totaling 2.9 million copies. War has cut the number of translations sharply, but thousandsof copiesof works by Mark Twain, Theodore Dreiser, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway continue to come out.

Besides Goslitizdat, other leading houses that publish are “Sovietsky Pisatel,” meaning Soviet Writer, which has a large branch in Leningrad; “Molodaya Gvardia,” meaning Young Guard, controlled by the Central Committee of the Komsomol — Young Communists League; and finally, Detgiz, publishers of books for children. All other publishing houses in Russia are limited to a particular field. Gospolitizdat has printed a total of 120 million books and pamphlets in the last three years, the leading best-seller being A Short History of the Communist Party of the U.S.S.R.; 19 million copies were issued in 59 languages, making it one of the world’s most widely distributed books.

Voyengiz, which we should call a textbook publisher, is run by the Propaganda Department of the Red Army, headed by General Alexander Shcherbakov, alternate member of the Polit-Bureau, and one-time general secretary of the Writers’ Union. Voyengiz specializes in military textbooks, army regulations of Russia and foreign countries, military theory (outstanding translations are books by Clausewitz), and manuals for snipers, sappers, infantry, and others. The Soviet Navy has a similar house.

As a side line, Voyengiz regularly publishes fiction and verse that may help in the education of Red Army men as soldiers and citizens of the U.S.S.R. General Shcherbakov — who, like Stalin, closely follows literary developments and practices by direct contact with authors — frequently confers with writers and is quick to recognize books useful for Voyengiz. One of the most recent examples is the historical novel Bagration (the name of one of the leading Russian generals in the War of 1812), by Sergei Golubov. This novel first appeared in a magazine, and very soon after that Shcherbakov invited the author to see him, congratulated him, and ordered the novel published in book form.

Voyengiz runs a network of bookshops throughout the country, giving first-class service. The stores are always crowded by youngsters whose knowledge of military literature is striking, as I discovered through numerous conversations with them.


THERE are two publishing houses which have grown in scope and importance during the last few years: the State Publishers of Dictionaries and the institute of Encyclopedias and Reference Books. The first of these has been working in 80 different languages with particular attention to EnglishRussian and Russian-English dictionaries. Hero is a sample of what it published this spring: the new revised and enlarged editions of Professor V. K. Muller’s English-Russian Dictionary (60,000 definifions, first imprint 25,000 copies); Russian-English Dictionary by O. S. Akhmanova, head of the English Section of the Moscow Institute of Eoreign Languages (20,000 definitions, 40,000 copies); Anglo-Russian Naval Dictionary by A. M. Taube and V. A. Schmidt (22,000 definitions, 10,000 copies).

I tried hard to purchase a copy of each of these dictionaries without pulling strings as a foreign correspondent, but all I could lay my hands on was the Anglo-Russian Naval Dictionary. I bought one of the last two copies on the shelf of the Military Store. The bulk of the edition went to Naval Unit Libraries and bookshops in seaports. This illustrates the difficulties experienced by any private collector in Russia. The policy is to distribute about 75 per cent of all books published among libraries open to the general public. Scientists, writers, engineers, and political or military leaders have the initial privilege of buying any new books. However, they are limited in purchasing to a sum not exceding 1000 rubles a month.

the Encyclopedia publishers have been busy since 1925 on the gigantic job of bringing out the Soviet equivalent of the Britannica — the 65-volume Great Soviet Encyclopedia. All but six volumes have already appeared. This house published the 10volume edition of the Small Soviet Encyclopedia and is now completing printing of the second edition, which has grown to twelve volumes. The house has also launched a scries of Reference Libraries.

The enormous and ever growing demand makes nearly every book a potential best-seller in Russia; therefore the size of each edition is established more or less arbitrarily by the publishers. As a rule, editions of fiction range from 10,000 to 100,000 copies, and in exceptional cases up to half a million. The usual run is 25,000; 3000 is the lowest figure and is reserved for editions of poetry by men like Boris Pasternak, a poet’s poet. A book of poems by Konstantin Simonov, who has written some of the most moving war verse in Russia, came out in an edition of 50,000 copies and was sold out in a fortnight. Many people would gladly exchange several days’ bread ration or a month’s vodka ration for a volume of Simonov’s verse.

There is one publishing house which does not belong to the state. It is owned and controlled by the Greek Orthodox Church of Russia. It issues each month the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchy and will soon begin the printing of textbooks for its seminary training of Orthodox clergy. The publishing ventures of the synod of the Greek Orthodox Church are the result of an increasingly friendly relation between the church and the state, culminating in Stalin’s reception of the late Patriarch Sergius in the Kremlin on September 4, 1943. Evidence of the interest in religious literature in Russia is the distribution of the book, Truth About Religion in Russia, 50,000 copies of which were issued in August, 1943. This was followed in 1944 by a collection of church documents, The Russian Orthodox Church in the Great Patriotic War.

Russian magazines, like ours, consume a tremendous amount of paper and labor. In format and content they are as varied as the books, but I will pause to discuss briefly only the magazines devoted to literature. More often than not, these magazines serve as midwives to the best works of fiction, poetry, and drama. Outstanding are four so-called “thick” magazines. Serious literary magazines have been called “thick” since time immemorial in Russia. They are about three times as thick as the Atlantic Monthly, and because of the small type recently reintroduced in Soviet publishing, they contain a wealth of reading material. There are four: “Znamya,” meaning Banner; “Novi Mir,” meaning New World; “Oktyahr,” meaning October; and “Molodaya Gvardia,” meaning Young Guard.


WARTIME conditions account for the paper covers and the cheap quality of paper used in all mass editions of books, but every effort is made to achieve neatly designed covers and to make the books as easy to read as possible. Illustrations are almost uniformly excellent. The other day I luckily procured one of the most popular historical novels of the year, Brusilov Breakthrough, by SergeyevTsensky, depicting the Russian offensive on the eastern front during a critical period of the First World War. Even though bound in a paper cover, it is a handsome volume, attractively illustrated.

The Russians have not entirely given up their famous de luxe editions because of the war. For instance, there recently appeared a thousand-page volume on Mikhail Lermontov on snow-white paper, with a calico cover and leather back. The book has superb illustrations in color in addition to numerous fine engravings, and is encased in an elegant cardboard box. Academia Publishers specialized in de luxe editions but will be able to resume work on a large scale only after the war.

The pride of the Soviet publishing business is The Great Soviet Atlas in four volumes, two of which have already appeared, each the size of the Times gazetteer. As a work of art and science, the Atlas would do credit to any publisher in the world. The price is 600 rubles a volume, or $50 at the diplomatic rate of 12 rubles to the dollar. (The official rate is 5.41 rubles to the dollar.) The price of the average de luxe edition is high, too, but not prohibitive. The Lermontov volume costs 180 rubles. The priee of the average novel is 10 rubles.

Soviet publishing seems to be unfamiliar with India paper and thumb indexes. When a Russian bibliophile friend of mine saw my one-volume indexed edition of Shakespeare, he at first thought it could be only a Shakespearean dictionary, but when he was finally convinced that it was a complete edition of Shakespeare, his admiration and excitement were unbounded.

The other evening I compared two dictionaries in my Moscow library—Webster’s one-volume Collegiate Dictionary, fifth edition, containing 110,000 entries, and Ushakov’s four-volume dictionary of the Russian language, containing 90,000 words. As I looked at those sizable Russian volumes, I realized that the production of modern handy light editions such as Americans use every day remains a distant goal for the Russian publisher.

Authors in the U.S.S.R. are paid for their work according to the length and type of the manuscript, as well as by the size of the editions. Royalties vary with the individual writer, and to some extent with the publishing house, but they are generous, making Soviet authors one of the most prosperous groups in the country. Royalties on original writing start with 800 rubles and jump to 3000 (about $250) according to the “printed list,” and range from 250 to 700 rubles for translations. The “printed list” is simply a yardstick consisting of 40,000 letters, or approximately 3500 words. A writer is paid according to the “printed list” of one edition, usually 25,000 copies. A mass edition of 100,000 copies usually ups royalties to four times the agreed sum. A second printing provides 100 per cent royalties; a third, 80 per cent; and all subsequent printings 60 per cent each. This is the basis of the prosperity of Soviet writers. When the Soviet government floated the last war loan, a number of authors subscribed 40,000 rubles each.

I recall an old poster, one of the first to appear after the revolution of 1917. It showed a little boy Struggling with his homework and saying, “Oh, mother, if you could only read and write! I need your help so much.” For twenty-six years tho Soviets have consistently pushed the battle against illiteracy. Before 1917, hardly one third of the Russians could read and write. Compulsory education for children, and courses for the “liquidation of illiteracy” which “opened the eyes” of more than fifty million men and women, have created a demand for books that for years to come will be far ahead of the supply.