A Bolshevik Census



The above picture states “Beginning of the All-Union Census. Citizen, don’t forget to go through the census. We will conduct a Bolshevik census. It is a citizen’s duty to pass through the census and give correct answers to all questions on the questionnaire.” This actually made me chuckle a little. 

The results of the 1939 Bolshevik census are widely recognized now as having been highly fabricated. In the years leading up to the 1937 census, Stalin spent a good deal of time publicizing the great benefits provided by life under Stalinist collectivization. In December of 1935 Stalin released a speech saying “Everybody says that the material situation of workers has dramatically improved, that life has become better and more fun. It is of course true. But this has led the population to breed much faster than in the old days. The birth rate is higher, the death rate is lower and the pure population growth is far stronger. It is of course good and we welcome it. [Jolly murmurs in the auditorium.] Now every year we have a population growth of three million souls. It means that every year we grow as much as the whole of Finland. [Everybody laughs.]”. Prior to the 1937 census, Stalin told the head of the national census agency, I.A. Kraval, that he expected the census would show that the Soviet population had increased to 170 million citizens. This kind of population growth would have been foolishly optimistic if you were taking in to account the deaths resulting from the Stalin-orchestrated famine and purges in the early 1930’s, however Stalin had silenced those numbers as well.

Although he may have been able to eradicate reports and accurate tallies of the deaths from starvation, it is estimated that some 7 million Russians may have died during this period (with Ukrainians actually being the hardest hit area, in an attempt to simultaneously kill nationalist stirrings). There were even horrific reports of people not only dropping dead from starvation, but in the countryside of a rising commerce in human meat. People were eating the soles of their shoes, ground bones, rats, mice, clothing, and in some cases, there were even reports of peasants killing and eating their children. Population loss combined with the inhumane conditions of life in the Bolshevik countryside at this time did not present a compelling circumstance for the extreme population growth as Stalin was proclaiming. 



Obviously, the 1937 census reflected this apparent discrepancy between Stalin’s claims and reality.  The census showed only 162 million documented citizens, and also conveyed unfavorable information such as that despite 20 years of official atheism, nearly half the population was religious. Many census surveyors were actually killed by religious peasants who viewed them as a symbol of an evil empire. 

This was not the only reason that being a census-taker at this time was a dangerous occupation. Upon receiving the report of the 1937 census, Stalin furiously buried the document along with those who had been in charge of its creation. The 1937 census was declared invalid and a new census was scheduled for 1939. The conductors of the 1939 census, ever mindful of their predecessors’ fates, used various techniques to ensure that the numbers of the 1939 census read 170.6 million, exactly as Stalin had predicted. Mostly they used a double counting method, whereby when the census taker went to someone’s home and they were absent (perhaps they had gone to the market, or were visiting a friend for dinner) they were counted as though they were there, and then were also counted by the census taker when they were encountered in whatever location they actually were at. On top of that, in order to make up for the very low populations in the areas hit worst by the famine, census forms that were filled out by prisoners in northern Russia were then redistributed to the lower populated areas. The 1939 census was accepted by the regime, and was the only census taken until 1959. 


First Picture: http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject&show=images&SubjectID=1939census&Year=1939&navi=byYear

Second Picture: http://www.infoukes.com/history/famine/gregorovich/

Quote from Stalin’s speech: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_Census_(1937)

Information regarding atrocities of the famine: http://www.volgagermans.net/norka/famine_1930s.html

Information regarding figures and fates of the 1937 and 1939 censuses: http://www.library.yale.edu/slavic/microform/census3739.html

Information regarding double- counting census methods in the 1939 census: http://www.academia.edu/1522451/The_Soviet_Censuses_of_1937_and_1939_Some_Problems_of_Data_Evaluation



2 comments on “A Bolshevik Census

  1. A. Nelson says:

    Some terrific research went into this post! Given what we know about why the regime found the 1936 census problematic, why is not surprising that the next census won’t happen until 1959?

  2. Casey Pietsch says:

    You did a awesome job with this post! I think your pictures tied in nicely with your context. I really liked how you explained the importance of the picture and how it stated “We will conduct a Bolshevik census. It is a citizen’s duty to pass through the census and give correct answers to all questions on the questionnaire.” You did a really great job of explaining the 1936 census!

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