Creative writers enjoyed great prestige in both the Russian
Empire and the Soviet Union because of literature's unique role
as a sounding board for deeper political and social issues.
Vladimir Lenin believed that literature and art could be
exploited for ideological and political as well as educational
purposes. As a result, the party rapidly established control
over print and electronic media, book publishing and
distribution, bookstores and libraries, and it created or
abolished newspapers and periodicals at will.
Communist Party ideology influenced the creative process
from the moment of artistic inspiration. The party, in effect,
served as the artist's Muse. In 1932 the party established
socialist realism as the only acceptable aesthetic -- measuring
merit by the degree to which a work contributed to building
socialism among the masses. The Union of Writers was created the
same year to harness writers to the Marxist-Leninist cause.
Goskomizdat (State Committee for Publishing Houses, Printing
Plants, and the Book Trade), in conjunction with the Union's
secretariat, made all publishing decisions; the very allocation
of paper became a hidden censorship mechanism. Glavlit (Main
Administration for Literary and Publishing Affairs), created in
1922, was responsible for censorship, which came later in the
creative process. The party's guidance had already affected the
process long before the manuscript reached the censor's pen. The
Soviet censorship system was thus more pervasive than that of the
tsars or of most other recent dictatorships.
Mikhail Gorbachev needed to enlist the support of writers
and journalists to promote his reforms. He did so by launching
his policy of glasnost' in 1986, challenging the foundations of
censorship by undermining the authority of the Union of Writers
to determine which works were appropriate for publication.
Officials from the Union were required to place works directly in
the open market and to allow these works to be judged according
to reader preferences, thereby removing the barrier between
writer and reader and marking the beginning of the end of
Communist party censorship.