The phenomenon of self-publishing is by no means new or unique to the Soviet Union. Indeed, self-published letters and manuscripts have been circulated among the people of Russia from the time of Prince Kurbskii’s letter to Ivan the Terrible to the 17th century writings of archpriest Avvakum. However, the term samizdat (literally “self-published”) can be used to refer more specifically to a particular kind of writing that appeared in the Soviet Union following the end of Stalinism.
Throughout this paper, we will examine how the samizdat movement changed throughout its history, before going on to ask what a study of samizdat and its focus can tell us about the wider context of Soviet society. Before doing so, however, it is necessary to find an appropriate definition of the term samizdat for our purposes.
The term samizdat was coined in the 1940s by Nikolai Glaskov, who typed copies of his poetry using the word samsebyaizdat on the title page in place of the name of a publishing house. This acronym played on the name of gospolitizdat, an official printing organ of the USSR, replacing the particle gos (state) with the words sam sebya (by myself) to show that the book had not been officially published. In this context, the term samizdat came to refer to a body of unofficial texts and manuscripts which were circulated covertly throughout the Soviet Union.
As access to copy machines was strictly controlled, these texts were most frequently produced by typewriter. Multiple copies would be produced using carbon and tissue paper, and would then be passed along a trusted network of friends.
However, attempts to define samizdat are not as simple as they may first appear. What distinguishes it from other forms of writing is its unofficial nature—and yet, as Peter Steiner of the University of Pennsylvania has pointed out, the word “unofficial” is in itself problematic, encompassing anything from overtly anti-governmental texts to works of poetry signed by the “wrong” author. Furthermore, there was no distinct dividing line between “official” and “unofficial” literature; what had once been deemed official could later be banned and vice versa. Indeed, censorship in the Soviet era was particularly fickle in which works it chose to approve or ban; as Valeria Stelmakh has stated, “it was not restrained by provisions of law and hence was arbitrary and not accountable to anyone.” Thus, defining what precisely constitutes “official” literature is not a simple task.
If this is the case, then how should we understand the term samizdat? Ann Komaromi of the University of Toronto has suggested various alternate definitions for the term as “a medium, a genre, a corpus of texts, or a specific textual culture.” Each of these four definitions provides a different angle on the topic, and each elicits different questions; if, for example, we were to take samizdat as a corpus of texts, then which texts should be included in this corpus? We have already noted that a blurred border existed between “official” and “unofficial” texts. What had once been published via an official medium could find itself being reproduced in samizdat; what had once been part of the samizdat “corpus of texts” could one day be approved by changes in censorship law. Therefore, defining what should be included in the samizdat corpus is not a straightforward task, and it may not even be possible or desirable to form such a list. Neither is it helpful to define samizdat as a “genre;” if anything, restricting the works of samizdat to one genre would simply ignore the many forms and variations of the movement, which encompassed texts of a literary, political, nationalist, religious and feminist nature, to name but a few. For this reason, also, to define samizdat as a “medium” would be too restrictive for our purposes, as the samizdat movement was not restricted to the medium of text alone, encompassing others such as audio (magnitizdat), which was created using tape recorders.
What is more relevant here is to find a definition of samizdat which will not limit our understanding of the term by restricting it to one strictly delimited corpus or genre, but will allow us to explore the movement in all its various forms and practices. It is for this reason that Komaromi’s fourth definition, that of samizdat as a “textual culture,” seems most plausible. The idea of samizdat as a “culture” does not restrict it to any specific genres or mediums, but rather allows for variation. In this way, samizdat is not defined rigidly, but given meaning by the authors and activists who saw themselves as participating in the samizdat movement.
If we accept that samizdat is not a fixed entity and can change in focus and style over time, then, what is most relevant to our discussion is not finding one all-encompassing definition of what samizdat is and is not, but rather defining samizdat in such a way that allows for differences in the nature and status of specific texts. What is important for a text to be considered samizdat is not that it fits an arbitrary set of criteria regarding its subject matter or how it was viewed by Soviet authorities, but a set of shared ideas and experiences held by the authors, arising from the unique set of problems posed by the authoritarianism of the Soviet regime.
This understanding of samizdat as not a fixed entity, but rather a movement with many different forms and variations, will be vital to achieving the aim of this paper, which is to analyse the changes and developments in the samizdat movement following the end of the Khrushchev Thaw. While the precise dates of the Thaw have been disputed, we will take as its end point the month of November 1964, which saw the appointment of Leonid Brezhnev as General Secretary of the Communist Party. This event heralded a number of societal, political, and technological changes which would become highly important to samizdat. Thus, by examining the post-Thaw period, we will be able to gain a greater understanding of the various practices and styles of text which contributed to the samizdat movement and the extent to which these practices and styles differed from each other. Furthermore, studying samizdat as a varying movement, rather than a fixed entity, will allow us to explore more fully the question of how the movement responded and adapted to various policies and forms of censorship from the Soviet authorities.
The question of how samizdat developed following the end of the Krushchev Thaw will be analysed in three parts. Firstly, we shall begin with an analysis of secondary literature on the topic. In this way, we shall identify a dominant scholarly interpretation of the history of samizdat, before analysing this interpretation in order to determine its strengths and weaknesses. In the second section of this paper, specific political and social changes in the post-Thaw period shall be examined in order to determine their relationship with any changes that occurred in samizdat. Finally, we shall analyse excerpts from the Soviet journal Chronicle of Current Events. This journal has been chosen due to its regular section on samizdat-related news, which will allow us to track and analyse any changes in the type and form of samizdat in circulation throughout the years of the Chronicle’s publication in 1968-1983. Through analysis of these three aspects of samizdat, we will be better able to explain how the samizdat movement changed throughout the post-Thaw era and to theorize some possible reasons for such changes.
I. Statement of Argument
A number of scholars have taken the view that the history of the samizdat movement can be seen as a linear progression, beginning with the copying out of literary works by Pasternak and Akhmatova, and progressing from literary to more explicitly dissident, political works. This is the view of Soviet writer Natalya Gorbanevskaya, for example, who in 1968 stated that “during the last few years samizdat has evolved from a predominant concern with poetry and fiction towards an ever greater emphasis on journalistic and documentary writing (…) samizdat, in addition to its role as supplier of books has begun to fulfil the functions of a newspaper.” The use of the term “evolved” here implies a clear sense of progression, with the movement beginning with the production of many literary works and ending with the production of large quantities of political writing.
This view is also held by Valeria Stelmakh, senior researcher at the Russian State Library, who splits the samizdat movement neatly into several time periods, describing the work of the 1960s and early 1970s as primarily literary in nature, whereas that of the late 1970s and 1980s is described as mostly dissident. By the mid-1980s, she argues, the creators and most prominent distributors of samizdat had begun to merge with human rights activists, engaging in “open opposition to the regime.” In this interpretation, not only does samizdat progress from the literary to the dissident, but it is also endowed with a sense of purpose; the samizdat movement is no longer seen as simply textual, but as beginning with the production of texts and progressing to an explicitly political movement, even becoming actively engaged in opposition.
It is true that samizdat began as the copying of literary texts and later expanded to include other genres, such as dissident and political writing. However, to argue that this was nothing more than a linear progression, and to conflate authors of samizdat with the opposition movement, is to oversimplify the situation in a number of respects. If, as scholars such as Stelmakh argue, texts can be divided into “literary” and “political,” then the question arises of how to understand texts which contain elements of both genres. This question applies to some of the most noted examples of samizdat, such as the works of Solzhenitsyn, which can be considered as examples both of literature and of political dissidence.
Furthermore, we must ask what exactly constitutes a “political” text; every officially published text was read and approved by Soviet authorities. It can be argued that this very process endowed the text with some political significance. In this context of the over-politicisation of literature, the decision to avoid the censors and self-publish can also be seen as a political decision. As such, the division of texts into “literary” and “political” is overly simplistic, as the highly politicised circumstances of publishing in the Soviet Union arguably led to each text being endowed with at least some political significance.
Aside from this, to consider the history of samizdat as a linear progression from the publication of literary texts to texts explicitly engaged in opposition to the Soviet regime is to ignore a number of other genres of samizdat which have flourished in certain periods and in certain locations. Far from being restricted to the literary genre and texts explicitly concerned with opposition, samizdat has encompassed a number of other, more nuanced styles of writing, from feminist to nationalist to religious. Komaromi gives the example of Tatiana Goricheva, a writer who “inflected Soviet dissident feminism with Russian Orthodoxy in a way that challenged Western feminists,” to show that samizdat writers cannot be divided neatly into categories.
Stelmakh’s second point, that from the mid-1980s onwards samizdat writers became actively engaged in opposing the Soviet regime, is also an oversimplification. While some authors of samizdat were actively engaged in politics, this was not true of them all—for example, Komaromi has spoken of the “vigorously apolitical literary culture” that flourished in Leningrad towards the end of the 1970s. The use of the word “vigorously” here implies not merely a lack of interest in politics, but a conscious choice to withdraw from political life in one’s work. A closer look into the wider societal movements of the time suggests that this was indeed the case among some artistic groups. For example, Alexei Yurchak of the University of California, Berkeley quotes one early 1980s Soviet musician anonymously as being “interested in universal problems which don’t depend on this or that system, or on a particular time.” In the context of Soviet society, in which the most basic elements of life such as education and work were heavily politicised, this decision not to engage with the political can in itself be seen as a political decision. However, Stelmakh’s argument that the creators of samizdat were engaged in “open opposition” by the mid-1980s does not take into account these nuances and differing ways of engaging with the Soviet regime. While some actors were indeed politically active, others found their own ways of engaging with the political situation, including complete withdrawal from political life.
This brief examination of less conventional aspects of samizdat has made it clear that the movement included writers from a number of genres who engaged with the Soviet regime in various ways. Yet scholars such as Stelmakh and Gorbanevskaya have portrayed the history of samizdat quite differently, as a simple linear progression or “evolution” from one genre of text to another. This linear view is by no means rare within the academic community, appearing in influential works such as Lyudmila Alekseyeva’s history of dissidence, Soviet Dissent. In fact, the idea is repeatedly referred to throughout the history of samizdat, with scholar and Soviet dissident Andrei Amalrik referring to a “cultural opposition” which gave way to a “political opposition,” and even then-KGB chief Yury Andropov publicly worrying in 1970 about samizdat’s shift from the literary to the political, to give just a few examples.
If, as we have seen, the samizdat movement comprised a variety of genres and actors engaging with the regime in a variety of ways, then why is the tendency so strong to view the history of samizdat in simple, linear terms? This understanding may be partially a result of the problems of archiving—of the samizdat texts that were produced, only a fraction have been archived, and thus accessible texts may not be representative of the movement as a whole. Soviet emigrant Michael Meerson-Aksenov suggests this in his critique of a Western compilation of samizdat, stating that “having taken from the whole corpus of varied social and theoretical articles of samizdat only those which preserve a Marxist tendency, and preceding them with a larger quantity of old Trotskiite materials, the compiler gives the impression first of all that dissident thought is entirely Marxist, and secondly that this Marxist thought is a direct continuation and revival of Trotskiism. Both are untrue.” In this instance, at least, it is proposed that the role of the archivist in preserving samizdat is not entirely neutral. If this is the case, and archiving has indeed favoured Marxist and Trotskyite works of samizdat over some of the more varied genres of work available, then it is understandable that scholars of samizdat would take those works as representative of the movement as a whole. In this case, we can see how it is possible to reach the conclusion that later authors of samizdat hold largely Trotskyist political views, and as such focus almost exclusively on opposition to the Soviet regime in their writing.
Taking all of the above into account, then, it is evident that the history of the samizdat movement is more nuanced than it may first appear. While some scholars have presented samizdat as a linear progression from the literary to the dissident, a closer examination shows the existence of various different genres and authors, engaging with the Soviet regime in various ways, throughout the history of samizdat.
II. Political and Social Changes in Post-Thaw Soviet Culture
Following the end of the Khrushchev Thaw, a number of pivotal events occurred in Soviet political and social life that led to a boom in the amount of samizdat produced. Generally, samizdat flourished because Brezhnev’s rule ended liberalising reforms and marked a return to stricter censorship. For example, one crucial event of this period is the Sinyavsky-Daniel trial of 1965-66, in which writers Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel were arrested and accused of publishing anti-Soviet material in foreign publications under pseudonyms.
The Sinyavsky-Daniel trial is important in two respects: firstly, it marked a return to policies of censorship and repression, as the trial was closed to international and public observers and accompanied by an aggressive propaganda campaign. These were clear signals that Brezhnev had no intention of continuing with the liberalising reforms that had been characteristic of the Thaw era, instead attempting to rein in these changes. Secondly, the Sinyavsky-Daniel trial is widely acknowledged to have heralded the birth of a new civil rights movement in the Soviet Union. The movement can be said to have begun on Soviet Constitution Day—December 5, 1965—when supporters of the two writers gathered in Moscow’s Pushkin Square in protest, calling for openness and fairness in the legal system. While the protests had little effect on the outcome of the trial – Sinyavsky was sentenced to seven years in a labour camp and Daniel to five – the overall significance of the protest were clear .This was the first unsanctioned public political protest of its kind in two decades, and as such, it can be seen as a major turning point for the dissident and civil rights movements. In this way, the trial and its aftermath had a huge effect on the development of samizdat.
After the protest, a pamphlet entitled Grazhdanskoe Obrashchenie (Civic Appeal)was circulated clandestinely, calling for justice for the two writers. As one of the first demonstrations of informal text-sharing of its kind, this pamphlet heralded a new direction in the development of samizdat. For instance, the text included direct instructions to the reader to “invite another two citizens [to protest] by passing on this text” This technique of using text to instruct readers to carry out an action was new to the development of samizdat, leading to the rapid distribution of the pamphlet with a speed that was previously unheard of. Komaromi has quoted a number of Soviet authors recalling the imaginative ways in which it was distributed, “being left on the back steps of Moscow State University or brought disingenuously into a university seminar for discussion.” Thus, distribution of the Grazhdanskoe Obrashchenie can be seen as a key point in the development of samizdat. By inviting its readers to disseminate the text more widely, it introduced a new method of distribution, which allowed the text to reach a wider audience. In this way, the events following the Sinyavsky-Daniel trial contributed to the growth of public political consciousness.
In addition, there were a number of social changes at this time which created favorable conditions for a boom in samizdat. For example, from the 1960s to the early 1980s, the Soviet Union saw increase in the percentage of the population living in cities, and a growth in the number of educated citizens. These changes can be attributed to Krushchev’s reforms in the field of education, which aimed to achieve universal secondary education and encourage children from working class families to attend universities and other institutes of higher education. Also, from the beginning of the 1960s, a number of changes in working patterns contributed to growth in leisure time for citizens. The working week was shortened from six days to five, and less time was spent on political meetings. Furthermore, private access to media became much more widely available, with ownership of both private radios and book collections on the rise.The production and ownership of tape recorders also increased hugely between 1960 and 1985, with approximately 50 million Soviet-made tape recorders bought during this period. This would lead to an explosion of a type of samizdat known as magnitizdat, that is, the copying and distribution of unofficial live audio tape recordings. The rise in education and access to media, combined with an increase in leisure time, naturally led to a higher demand for literature, with many people being unsatisfied with the “official literature” approved by the state. The growth of demand for samizdat is reflected by statistics; Stelmakh notes that 68% of families living in major cities only bought books from the black market.
As the demand for samizdat grew larger, the means of distribution became more effective. One key development was the formation of Radio Liberty, which broadcasted works of samizdat beginning in early 1969. This meant that works which had previously been shared among limited networks of trusted readers suddenly became available to millions of Soviet short-wave radio listeners. One other technological innovation stemmed from the growing ownership of tape recorders: jacking multiple tape recorders together allowed distributors to create more than one copy of a recording at a time. This process was far less time-consuming than the manual reproduction of a written text and allowed for unofficial audio files to be created and distributed at greater speed. In the field of written samizdat, too, access to technology became less restricted. One example of this is the Xerox project in Hungary, which saw hundreds of photocopy machines installed in public libraries.This, of course, would allow for the quicker reproduction and distribution of unofficial texts. Thus, social and technological factors combined to lead to a “boom” in the amount of samizdat produced after 1965.
Stelmakh has used a number of these reasons to reinforce her theory that the post-1965 samizdat movement underwent an evolution from the literary to the dissident. She argues that this progression can be explained by the growth of independent public opinion, the formation of groups that began to oppose the regime (which led to the creation of texts specifically for samizdat, a phenomenon which had been rare in the 1960s), the growth of uncensored political journalism and improvements in distribution methods and channels.
It is true that these phenomena account for the large growth in samizdat, and the impact of events such as the Sinyavsky-Daniel trial on the growth of the dissident movement should not be underestimated. However, it can also be argued that improvements in distribution led to the sharing of a variety of ideas, which were not exclusively anti-regime in nature. For example, an experiment conducted by Pravda in 1974 saw Soviet citizens traveling long distances and queuing for extended periods to obtain copies of “rare” books, including foreign literature such as Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles and Wilkie Collins’s Woman in White, as well as Soviet comic novels such as Ilf and Petrov’s The Twelve Chairs. While it cannot be denied that there was a demand for dissident literature, it is clear that other genres of texts, such as light reading, mystery and crime fiction, were also highly prized by the Soviet reader.
A number of other factors that contributed to the growth of varied genres of samizdat have also been overlooked. A variety of genres of samizdat existed, both those which were produced constantly throughout the period and those which emerged briefly in response to some social or political issue. Religious samizdat, for example, was produced fairly consistently throughout the post-Thaw period, making up approximately 20% of all samizdat materials in the archival source Arkhiv Samizdata. Other genres, however, were more short-lived. To give just a few examples, we can mention nationalist samizdat, which appeared in the 1960s in response to the demolition or neglect of ancient churches and local historical monuments, or the appearance of environmental samizdat in the 1970s, criticising the consequences of Soviet deforestation policies and the poisoning of air, land and water. In this case, we can see how the variety of focuses and themes addressed paints a more complex picture than that typically given by scholars such as Stelmakh: rather than describing the entire samizdat movement as converging on one politically critical agenda, we can see that the topics and themes addressed by samizdat texts were actually rather diverse in focus and in nature. We can also note the expansion of Soviet Village Prose  in the years 1965-70, which was partially influenced by Brezhnev’s heavy investment in the countryside and in farming technologies 
It can be concluded, then, that a number of political and social changes from the 1960s onwards led to a boom in the amount of samizdat produced. Events such as the Sinyavsky-Daniel trial of 1965-66 lead to the growth of a public political consciousness and opposition to the Soviet regime, which was certainly reflected within the samizdat movement. However, once again there is evidence that the scope of samizdat was broader than commonly thought. It has been shown that a high demand for other works such as foreign literature existed, proving that the population demanded more than politically critical works. In addition, a brief examination of a number of subgenres of samizdat, including environmental and nationalist works, shows that the focus of samizdat was not fixed, but often varied in response to specific Soviet policies. On this basis, it can be suggested that the purpose and focus of samizdat texts expanded greatly with improvements in technology and distribution techniques. It is difficult to speak of samizdat as converging on one theme or area of interest; rather, it can be argued that these themes diversified as time went on.
III. Analysis of Change Based on a Close Reading of the “Novosti Samizdata” Section of the Chronicle of Current Events
Having determined that samizdat included a number of genres of writing which appeared at different times and in response to different issues, it is necessary for us to carry out a close examination of the types of samizdat which appeared during the post-Thaw period in order to determine exactly how authors responded to changing social and political conditions. To achieve this, we will analyse the “Novosti Samizdata” section of the Chronicle of Current Events, a Soviet human rights journal which tasked itself with documenting political and criminal trials and cases of human rights abuse, as well as other information relevant to the dissent movement. The Chronicle was itself a samizdat publication and was therefore in a unique position to be able to provide frank insight into the samizdat movement. Furthermore, as one of the longest-running and best-known publications of its time, the Chronicle has been called the “principal expression of the Soviet human rights movement,” and its importance cannot be overstated. The Chronicle has been chosen for close analysis for a number of reasons: firstly, as it was published for fifteen years beginning in 1968 (publication ceased in 1983 following the arrest of editor Yurii Shikhanovich), it covers the vast majority of the post-Thaw era. Secondly, each issue contains a section dedicated specifically to news on samizdat, naming and describing the most recent manuscripts in circulation. A close analysis of this section will be highly useful in tracking the amount and type of samizdat produced during the post-Thaw period.
The focus of this paper shall be on the Novosti Samizdata sections of only fifteen issues of the Chronicle, in order to be able to provide a fuller analysis. These issues—numbers 5, 11, 17, 22, 27, 30, 32, 38, 43, 47, 51, 55, 60, 63 and 65—have been chosen specifically as they were published towards the end of each year. By analysing one issue from each year, it will be possible to achieve a relatively precise sense of how trends in samizdat shifted over time.
However, it is first necessary to return briefly to the issue of archiving. Although the Chronicle of Current Events remains one of the fullest archives of samizdat, the quantity of samizdat produced over the years, together with the clandestine method of its distribution, means that any attempt to produce a complete and accurate list of all samizdat publications will almost certainly be lacking in some respects. The Chronicle itself recognises this, stating that “Нижеследующий обзор, вероятно,окажется неполным.” Therefore, in conducting this analysis it is necessary to be aware that, as there is no complete archive of samizdat, the sources may not be fully representative. However, these problems would be encountered when working with any archival source.
The Chronicle itself dedicates a paragraph to changing trends in samizdat, stating that “Самиздат начал выполнять функцию не только книги, но и газеты.” This would suggest that samizdat had progressed from its origins as the copying out of only literary texts, expanding in new directions and taking on new functions, such as the informative function of the newspaper. The Chronicle reinforces this point by mentioning the new forms that samizdat had taken; while before 1968, the yearly output of samizdat could typically be characterised by one monumental text (the novels of Solzhenitsyn and memoirs of Evgenia Ginzburg are given as examples), from 1968 onwards the stream of samizdat featured a large number of smaller documents, including letters, speeches, articles and notes. From this it can be understood that the improvements in technology, such as the formation of Radio Liberty and setting up of new channels of distribution in the mid-1960s, led to a sharp increase in both the number and types of samizdat created. While samizdat began as copying out works of literature, after the mid-1960s it began to increase widely in scope, encompassing not only fiction, but documents of all kinds. Hence, the purpose of samizdat shifted from largely artistic purposes to the diffusion of information.
Through analysis of a number of issues of the Chronicle, it becomes clear that this widening of scope is not limited to the immediate post-Thaw period, in which documents such as the Grazhdanskoe Obrashchenie opened up samizdat to the dissident and oppositional as well as to the literary. Rather, throughout the whole period of the publication of the Chronicle, that is, until 1983, new genres of samizdat appeared at various intervals. Analysis of the 1968 review of samizdat shows that the documents listed are mainly concerned with the political and legal systems: for example, material on the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, on current political trials and cases of human rights abuses, critiques of Brezhnev’s policies, etc. However, in this year the second most numerous genre of samizdat presented is the religious, including a number of letters from priests and two religious books from Anatoly Krasnov, Khristos i master(Christ and Master) and Stromati (Stromateis) Indeed, religious samizdat forms a consistently large part of the samizdat listed by the Chronicle over each of the issues analysed, no doubt as a response to the harsh anti-religious policies of the Khrushchev era.
Aside from these two largest categories of samizdat—the explicitly political and the religious—the 1968 Chronicle mentions one article on intellectual freedom, some documents related to Solzhenitsyn and three collections of poetry. Thus, while we must be careful not to oversimplify the situation, we can argue that samizdat of the late-1960s fell overwhelmingly into one of three categories: that focused explicitly on the political and legal systems, the religious, and, to a lesser extent, the literary. Already, then, we can see that the scope of samizdat is broader than often presented to be, encompassing a variety of genres. However, through examining later editions of the Chronicle, we see the scope of samizdat expand further from the explicitly political and religious to include entirely new genres and represent new schools of thought and areas of interest.
This is particularly evident throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, when nationalist movements grew not only in Russia, but also in Lithuania and Poland. Accordingly, this period saw the birth of the Lithuanian journals Aushra and Okkupirovannaya Litva (Occupied Lithuania), as well as Pol’sha – sama o sebye (Poland – by herself, about herself) in Poland. Indeed, by 1979 the output of samizdat from Lithuania was so large that it merited its own section of the Chronicle, Litovskii samizdat. Aside from nationalism, however, this period saw growth of unofficial journals dedicated to a number of social issues, including Zhenshchina i Rossiya, the first journal dedicated specifically to women’s issues, and a series of bulletins related to disability rights in the Soviet Union.
Taking this into account, we can suggest that rather than converging into one agenda, the samizdat movement actually expanded in scope over time, introducing a larger variety of social issues. The Chronicle also presents further evidence against Stelmakh’s claim that samizdat moved linearly from the literary to the dissident; in fact, towards the end of the 1970s a variety of literary and artistic samizdat was produced, including a collection of Vera Matveevna’s songs in 1977, and no fewer than eight different poetry collections circulated in 1982.
Therefore, an analysis of samizdat based upon a close reading of the Chronicle of Current Events gives a different picture from that presented by a number of scholars, who have proposed that the history of the samizdat movement can be seen as evolution from one genre to another, culminating in open dissent against the Soviet regime. To the contrary, it was the immediate post-Thaw period that concentrated most exclusively on explicitly political works of samizdat, while samizdat gradually expanded to include other societal issues and genres as time went on.
At the beginning of this examination of the history of the samizdat movement during the post-Thaw period, we examined Stelmakh’s claim that the movement could be seen as an evolution from the literary to the dissident, culminating with the merging of samizdat creators and distributors “in open opposition to the regime.” To conclude our discussion, we shall take as a starting point this statement from Reverend Michael Bourdeaux, an expert on religious samizdat: “As the perspective broadens in all this (dissent), so [do] the opinions, the different type of opinions, as the Soviet Union moves painfully towards pluralistic society.” That is, the trend of diverging opinions in samizdat can be said to be representative of a greater shift towards diverging opinions and beliefs within Soviet society as a whole. The examination in this paper of a variety of aspects of the samizdat movement suggests that Bourdeaux’s thesis is more plausible for a number of reasons.
Of course, it cannot be denied that politically critical texts formed an important part of the samizdat movement. Events such as the Sinyavsky-Daniel trial of 1965 and the Grazhdanskoe Obrashchenie that was circulated soon afterwards did much to raise awareness of human rights issues and consolidate opposition to the regime. However, there is considerable evidence to suggest that as time went on, the opinions expressed in samizdat began to diverge rather than converging into one politically critical opinion.
First, we have seen that technological changes throughout the post-Thaw period enabled works of samizdat to reach a much wider audience. This led to a boom in samizdat not only of the dissident and politically critical type, but of a variety of artistic genres. We have seen that Soviet readers were highly enthusiastic about literature from a number of genres, including foreign literature, mystery and thrillers. This would suggest, then, that politically critical literature was one of a number of different genres of sought-after texts. Furthermore, we have noted the existence of samizdat produced by a number of groups concerning themselves with different social issues during the post-Thaw period, including environmentalism and nationalism, and some groups even made the decision to withdraw from political life altogether. It can be argued, then, that the scope of samizdat was in fact much wider than the narrow view presented by Stelmakh.
An analysis of the Soviet journal Chronicle of Current Events serves to reinforce this theory. Through analysis of reports on samizdat produced throughout the years of 1968-83, it becomes clear that as time progresses, the scope of samizdat expanded to include new themes such as feminism and disability rights. It is also apparent that the idea that samizdat evolved away from the literary to focus solely on the political is erroneous, with collections of poetry and songs being circulated in samizdat throughout the entire post-Thaw period.
Based on this evidence, it seems logical to concur with Bourdeaux’s argument that far from being a solely dissident movement, the samizdat movement was representative of a wider change in Soviet society—the move towards pluralism. As technology improved and citizens were given more leisure time and access to media, including stations such as Radio Liberty that were able to broadcast works of samizdat to large audiences, opinions began to diverge and new societal issues were considered, which was then reflected in the widening scope of samizdat. These issues also extended beyond the scope of samizdat; for example, the growth of nationalism in samizdat publications was mirrored by nationalist protests and riots in areas such as the Baltic states and Poland. More than an exclusively political movement, then, the history of samizdat can be seen as a reflection of a progression of the views of the population of the Soviet Union, expanding from a relatively small number of topics to include new views and genres as time went on.
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