Soviet NKVD ChiefLavrenti Beria Demands To See Advanced Copy Of Pravda

In his role as Chief Censor of the Soviet Union, Lavrenti Beria reviewed newspapers, photographs, and documents to ensure that they conformed to communist ideology  and portrayed the Soviet Union in a positive light. The cover of this September issue of Pravda, the USSR parliament's upper chamber newspaper featured Stalin's speech announcing the unconditional surrender of Japan and the end of WWII. , Beria writes across the top in blue pencil, "Asking you to send me separate off-print of Comrade Stalin's speech." Signed, "L. Beria."

The press was perhaps the most controlled of Soviet institutions. After seizing power in 1917 in the wake of the Russian Revolution, Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin initiated a virtual monopoly over public information, and his successor, Josef Stalin, oversaw its fullest realization. The Moscow newspaper Pravda (Truth) was the official voice of the party leadership. It occupied the summit of the hierarchical system of official public expression, and during Stalin’s long rule, informed readers believed that Stalin used it to express his views. Historians today for the most part agree. For roughly three quarters of a century, the Soviet press embodied an official vision of the world and of Soviet daily life. Since there was no competition and little if any opportunity to challenge its representation of events, the official press served to explain daily life and the wider world to those who believed in communist rule as well as to those who questioned it. Even critics of the communist system often utilized its stock phrases and formulations as early as the mid-1920s because they had become accustomed to these familiar forms of speech and were unable to invoke a rival language of public expression. The press figured importantly not only in Soviet domestic life but also in Soviet foreign relations. Western diplomats and journalists who commented on the Soviet Union used Pravda and other central Soviet newspapers as a chief—if not the chief—source of regular information. The press was also the conduit of the Stalin cult—the endless celebration of the leader as inspiration of the communist system and its living ideal. Stalin served as the symbolic center of this officially imagined world. Publicists made the regime’s claims seem real by praising Stalin for the presumed success of such policies as rapid industrialization and collectivization. The press celebrated Lenin as a deceased leader and the founder of the system. Stalin was celebrated as a living god. He was not only Lenin’s heir. He outshone Lenin as the creator of Soviet economic and political power. His cult was part of a system of official political theater in which public figures outdid themselves in praising the leader and crediting him with for all accomplishments. Everything positive in Soviet life was coupled with his name–from the Stalin Constitution of 1936 that promised freedoms that in practice were denied, to the victory in World War II.1