Progressing the Soviet Union One Word At A Time

“Literacy Is the Path To Communism” (1920).

Literacy has been a priority for the Soviet Union for a long part of its history.  The emphasis on literacy and the esteem that the Soviet government held literacy too was also rather impressive.  As far back as 1919, the government has been pushing the end of illiteracy in its vast empire.  When Lenin took power in 1917, it was estimated that only 25% of the population was literate. Lenin began to push literacy through the factories in Russia by creating literacy (reading and writing) clubs through the factories.  On January 29th, 1919, the government issued a statement on the “Liquidation of Illiteracy” where the government emphasized education for people between the ages of 8 to 50 years old.  This statement of ending illiteracy and promoting education to a massive population showed just how important literacy was to the Soviet Union.  By 1927, 70% of Russia was literate and by 1939, 94% of the population was literate. This tradition of literacy and education was not only a phenomena in the early 1900s, but something that was carried on well into the 1960s, 70s, and 80s by the USSR.

The “Liquidation of Literacy” is shown above in the Soviet Union, 1929.
Russian literacy is truly a fascinating concept and is incredibly diverse.  The Soviet Union was the largest publisher of translated literature with over 2,000 translated texts published a year.  Newspapers and journals were very popular and often circulated through factories and constructions sites, often promoting the cultivation of socialism and communism in Russia.  The number of libraries in the Soviet Union also climbed throughout the years, as literacy continued to become a large part of the culture.  In 1913, there were around 14,000 public libraries who had about 9.4 million copies of literary work.  After 1974 when the Russians decided to work through the promotion of public libraries, there were 133,700 public libraries in 1984.  These public libraries held over 2,050,400,000 copies of literature.  At the end of 1986, it was estimated that about 40 billion books were in Russia.  To say that the Russians emphasized literacy and literature is an understatement.
The promotion of literature can also be seen in an attempt to increase education through schools and creating an education system.  In the early 1930s, the government instituted a universal mandatory elementary education evolving slowly into the 1940s in a mandatory 7 year education and then in 1950s becoming a mandatory 8 year education.  in 1968, a mandatory secondary education was created as the next step in the education evolution of Russia.  With this process of improving the education in Russia came a problem in the world of educators.  The quality of the educators in the Soviet Union began as very poor, with a plethora of dropouts and repetition of grades (of the 73,735 students who entered fifth grade in 1963, only 56,929 finished eighth grade in 1967).  With the quality of educators as a problem, the government headed out projects to motivate professors to enhance their abilities with works such as housing for educators, amongst other motivating factors.  The kind of education that students were receiving in the Soviet Union at the time were more centered around mass training as skilled workers.  This meant a broad, general education as well as learning about vocational skills.  A rise in these technical schools occurred with the progression of education in the Soviet Union, reaching around 65 vocational schools throughout the country by 1974.  The message that was meant to hit home to these students was to give them an appreciation of labor.  Labor was a staple for the Soviet Union and a concept that was engrained into the minds of the Russian people since Lenin took over.  Through the vocational schools, not only was education a product sought after, but the appreciation for labor was as well.
While Russia has an interesting and evolving history on literacy, the importance of literacy during the Brezhnev years can be seen through the progression of literature during this time.  As shown above, much of the improvements made to the educational system and literary reforms were made during the Brezhnev years (1964-1984).  The rise of public libraries and available texts during the Brezhnev years and educational reforms during these approximately two decades was a large step.  The rise of vocational schools also showed a heightened emphasis on literature and education in the Soviet Union.  Literacy was a highly touted skill and education was certainly pressed on the people of Russia for many years.  The continuation of this tradition through the Brezhnev years showed how literacy continued to be at the forefront of Russian culture.

Andreyev, V. “A Vocation and Secondary School Education.” East View Information Services. N.p., 16 Oct. 1974. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.
Barker, Adele Marie, and Bruce Grant. The Russia Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2010. Print.
“EDITORIAL-Universal Education.” East View Information Services. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.
“Search Results For: Literacy.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.

6 thoughts on “Progressing the Soviet Union One Word At A Time

  1. I find it fascinating that the Soviets were on par if not surpassing American literacy rates. It is also so interesting how they utilized the workplace as a means to educate. My question is how much Western literature was actually translated and circulated to the populace?

  2. This is a great post! It really highlights just how hard the push for literacy was in the USSR. It is interesting because when you think of bottom down governments, it is easy to associate them with narrow mindedness and in some extreme circumstances (Nazis) book burnings. Books (and the ability to read them) opens the mind to the world and gives the individual the power to question what he or she sees around him. By pushing for this literacy, the USSR was creating better, more intelligent citizens who would grow up as beneficial and influential members of the Soviet society.

  3. I find the literacy rate in the USSR very impressive. I think the most difficult part or their promotion of literacy would be bringing the education to rural areas and difficult to reach locations.

  4. I really appreciate the depth of this post. By looking at how the Bolsheviks championed literacy as part of the revolutionary project, and how that commitment to having an educated citizenry became essential to post-war society you show how the means can sometimes shape the ends. As Sean suggests in his comment, literacy and reading encourage inquiry. Literature helps people make sense of the world and also helps raise questions about how the real world works.

  5. The Soviet Union’s dedication to education is truly amazing. They brought the literacy rate up at such a rapid rate in such a short amount of time that it is almost unbelievable. Especially given the size of the Soviet Union and the various rural communities throughout. This was a really well done post, you definitely did your research and presented it in a clear manner.

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