Pravda (Russian: Правда, "The Truth") was a leading newspaper of the Soviet Union and an official organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party between 1918 and 1991. The paper was closed down in 1991 by decree of Russian President Yeltsin, although a new paper was started immediately under the same name and an unrelated online version was begun in 1999. Pravda is most famous in Western countries for its pronouncements during the period of the Cold War. Although its name means "truth," the view of those outside the Soviet bloc was that Pravda was a purveyor of Communist theories and interpretations rather than objective reality. Given its founding intention of making information freely available to the Russian people, this was an unfortunate loss of freedom of speech so valued in democratic societies.
Origins: The Vienna Pravda
The original Pravda ("The Truth") was founded by Leon Trotsky as a Russian social democratic newspaper aimed at Russian workers. The paper was published abroad to avoid censorship and was smuggled into Russia. The first issue was published in Vienna, Austria on October 3, 1908. The editorial staff consisted of Trotsky and, at various times, Victor Kopp, Adolf Joffe and Matvey Skobelev. The last two had wealthy parents and supported the paper financially.
Since the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party was then split into multiple factions and since Trotsky was a self-described "non-factional social democrat," the newspaper spent much of its time trying to unite party factions. The editors tried to avoid issues that divided Russian émigrés and concentrated on issues of interest to Russian workers. Coupled with a lively and easy to understand style, this made the paper very popular in Russia.
In January 1910, the party's Central Committee had a rare plenary meeting with all party factions represented. A comprehensive agreement to re-unite the party was worked out and tentatively agreed upon. As part of the agreement, Trotsky's Pravda was made a party-financed central organ. Lev Kamenev, a leading member of the Bolshevik faction and Vladimir Lenin's close associate, was made a member of the editorial board, but he withdrew in August 1910 once the reconciliation attempt failed. The newspaper published its last issue on April 22, 1912.
The St. Petersburg Pravda
Before the 1917 Revolution
After the breakdown of the January 1910 compromise, the Bolshevik faction of the RSDLP started publishing a Saint Petersburg-based legal weekly, Zvezda, in December 1910. When the Bolsheviks formally broke away from the other factions at their conference in Prague in January 1912, they also decided to convert Zvezda, which was by then published three times a week, into a daily Pravda.
The Bolsheviks finally realized their plan when the first issue of Pravda was published in Saint Petersburg on April 22, 1912. It continued publishing legally, although subject to government censorship, until it was shut down in July 1914 by the government at the beginning of World War I.
- Рабочая правда (Rabochaya Pravda Worker’s Truth)
- Северная правда (Severnaya Pravda Northern Truth)
- Правда Труда (Pravda Truda Labor’s Truth)
- За правду (Za Pravdu For Truth)
- Пролетарская правда (Proletarskaya Pravda Proletarian Truth)
- Путь правды (Put' Pravdy The Way of Truth)
- Рабочий (Rabochy The Worker)
- Трудовая правда (Trudovaya Pravda Labor’s Truth)
In what appeared to be a minor development at the time, in April 1913, Trotsky was so upset by what he saw as a usurpation of "his" newspaper's name that he wrote a letter to Nikolay Chkheidze bitterly denouncing Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks. Trotsky was able to suppress the contents of the letter in 1921 to avoid embarrassment, but once he started losing power in the early 1920s, the letter was made public by his opponents within the Communist Party in 1924 and used to paint him as Lenin's enemy.
After a period of relative social calm in 1908 - 1911, 1912 - 1914 was a time of rising social and political tensions in Russia following the Lena execution in April 1912. In contrast to Trotsky's Pravda, which had been published for the workers by a small group of intellectuals; the Bolshevik Pravda was published in Russia and was able to publish hundreds of letters by the workers. A combination of rising social tensions and workers' participation made it quite popular and its circulation fluctuated between 20,000 and 60,000, a respectable number for its time, especially considering its audience and government harassment. Another difference between the two Pravdas was the fact that Trotsky's version was financially supported by wealthy contributors while the Bolsheviks were experiencing financial difficulties at the time and had to rely on workers' contributions.
Although Lenin and the Bolsheviks edited many newspapers within and outside of Russia prior to their seizure of power in 1917, it was this 1912 - 1914 incarnation of Pravda, along with Iskra which ran from 1900 to 1903, that was later regarded by the Communists as the true forerunner of their official, post-1917 Pravda. The significance of Trotsky's Pravda was downplayed and, after Trotsky's expulsion from the Communist Party, the original Pravda was all but ignored by Soviet historians until perestroika.
Although Lenin was the leader of the Bolsheviks in 1912 - 1914, he lived in Europe (in Kraków between mid-1912 and mid-1914) in exile and could not exercise direct control over Pravda. Vyacheslav Molotov was the de facto editor who controlled the paper from 1912 to 1914 while other prominent Bolsheviks, including, briefly, Joseph Stalin (until his arrest and exile in March 1913) served on the board as circumstances permitted. As it later turned out, one of the editors, Miron Chernomazov, was an undercover police agent.
In order to avoid disruption in case of arrest, the real Bolshevik editors were not officially responsible for the paper. Instead, Pravda employed about 40 nominal "editors," usually workers, who would be arrested and go to jail whenever the police closed the paper.
During this period, the editorial board of Pravda often tried to avoid government fines or an outright ban by moderating its content. This stance led to repeated clashes between Lenin and the editors, the latter sometimes altering Lenin's articles or even refusing to publish Lenin's works. These clashes were used by Nikita Khrushchev in late 1961 when he was trying to discredit Molotov.
In December 1912 - October 1913 Pravda was also a battleground in Lenin's struggle with the Bolshevik Duma deputies, who were trying to mend fences with the Menshevik deputies while Lenin insisted on a complete break with the Mensheviks. In January 1914, Kamenev was sent to Saint Petersburg to direct Pravda and the Bolshevik faction in the Duma.
During the 1917 Revolution
The overthrow of Tsar Nicholas II by the February Revolution of 1917 allowed Pravda to reopen. The original editors of the newly reincarnated Pravda, Molotov and Alexander Shlyapnikov, were opposed to the liberal Russian Provisional Government. However, when Kamenev, Stalin, and former Duma deputy Matvei Muranov returned from Siberian exile on March 12, they ousted Molotov and Shlyapnikov and took over the editorial board.
Under Kamenev's and Stalin's influence, Pravda took a conciliatory tone towards the Provisional Government — "insofar as it struggles against reaction or counter-revolution" — and called for a unification conference with the internationalist wing of the Mensheviks. On March 14, Kamenev wrote in his first editorial:
- What purpose would it serve to speed things up, when things were already taking place at such a rapid pace?
and on March 15 he supported the war effort:
- When army faces army, it would be the most insane policy to suggest to one of those armies to lay down its arms and go home. This would not be a policy of peace, but a policy of slavery, which would be rejected with disgust by a free people.
After Lenin's and Grigory Zinoviev's return to Russia on April 3, Lenin strongly condemned the Provisional Government and unification tendencies in his "April Theses." Kamenev argued against Lenin's position in Pravda editorials, but Lenin prevailed at the April Party conference, at which point Pravda also condemned the Provisional Government as "counter-revolutionary." From then on, Pravda essentially followed Lenin's editorial stance. After the October Revolution of 1917 Pravda was selling nearly 100,000 copies daily.
The Soviet period
The offices of the newspaper were transferred to Moscow on March 3, 1918 when the Soviet capital was moved there. Pravda became an official publication, or "organ," of the Soviet Communist Party. Pravda became the conduit for announcing official policy and policy changes and would remain so until 1991. Subscription to Pravda was mandatory for state run companies, the armed services, and other organizations until 1989.
Other newspapers existed as organs of other state bodies. For example, Izvestia—which covered foreign relations—was the organ of the Supreme Soviet; Trud was the organ of the trade union movement; Komsomolskaya Pravda was the organ of the Komsomol organization; and Pionerskaya Pravda was the organ of Young Pioneers.
Thus Pravda dealt with domestic matters, offering well-written articles on topics in areas such as science, economics, and literature, always including analyses that reflected the "party-line." Using an attractive layout and photography, Pravda did not include sensational scandals but rather sought to educate the public in a common way of thinking. It also published details of official Communist programs and explanations of Communist theory.
In the period after the death of Lenin in 1924, Pravda was to form a power base for Nikolai Bukharin, one of the rival party leaders, who edited the newspaper, which helped him reinforce his reputation as a Marxist theoretician.
Pravda helped to form a cohesive culture among the disparate peoples gathered under the banner of the Soviet Union under the leadership of Joseph Stalin. The mandatory subscription to the paper provided (at least in theory) an engaged audience for the rulers of the party to disseminate any information they deemed important. Consolidating publication of major news outlets into Pravda allowed for the Party to express a unified voice to all citizens of the Soviet Union, regardless of location, which helped to maintain order. Similar to the struggle for power following the death of Lenin, after the death of Stalin in 1953 Communist Party leader Nikita Khrushchev used his alliance with Dmitry Shepilov, Pravda's editor-in-chief, to gain the upper hand in his struggle with Prime Minister Georgy Malenkov in the power struggle that ensued.
As before, Party control of the paper under Khrushchev proved beneficial to the government. Despite numerous gaffes endured by the Khrushchev government including worsening relations with China and the United States (the later most famously exacerbated by the Cuban Missile Crisis), control of Pravda allowed the government to explain negative events in a voice most favorable to its actions. This control allowed the government to save face in front of its citizens. This controlled voice proved useful to Khrushchev’s successor, Leonid Brezhnev, as he suffered the lackluster results of planned industrial and agricultural reforms yet still held the Soviet Union together.
Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of glasnost (or transparency) made information more readily available to the public, undermining the effectiveness of Pravda as an outlet of propaganda and helped lead to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
The post-Soviet period
Following the official dissolution of the Supreme Soviet and the passage of power from the now defunct office of the President of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev to the President of Russia Boris Yeltsin, Yeltsin took the opportunity to close down the official voice of the Communist Party, Pravda. Its team of journalists did not struggle for their newspaper or for its history. Instead, they registered a new paper with the same title just weeks later.
A few months later, editor Gennady Seleznyov (by then a member of the Duma) sold Pravda to a family of Greek entrepreneurs, the Yannikoses. The next editor-in-chief, Alexander Ilyin, handed Pravda's trademark — the Order of Lenin medals — and the new registration certificate over to the new owners.
By that time, a serious split occurred in the editorial office. Over 90 percent of the journalists who had been working for Pravda until 1991 quit their jobs. They established their own version of the newspaper, which was later shut down under government pressure. These same journalists, led by former Pravda editors Vadim Gorshenin and Viktor Linnik, in January 1999 launched Pravda Online, the first web-based newspaper in the Russian language, with versions in English, Italian, and Portuguese also available.
The new Pravda newspaper and Pravda Online are not related in any way, although the journalists of both publications still communicate with each other. The paper Pravda tends to analyze events from a leftist point of view, while the web-based newspaper often takes a nationalist approach.
Meanwhile, in 2004, a new urban guide Pravda was launched in Lithuania. It has no connection to the original communist Pravda whatsoever, although in its ironic mission statement it purports "to report the truth and nothing but the truth."
Pravda was founded with the admirable intention of making information freely available to the people of Russia, which was difficult under the regime during which it first published. Thus, Pravda functioned as an organ which contributed to the overthrow of the repressive Czarist regime. Throughout its life, Pravda's purpose switched somewhat from free, democratic publishing to becoming a voice of the Communist state of Russia. This represented an unfortunate blow to free speech. With the fall of the Soviet Union, Pravda in both its print and online versions now have the opportunity to resume the goal of the original Pravda as a credible media outlet.
Beyond its important place in the history of journalism, Pravda's importance is highlighted in various works of literature and art. American science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein, wrote a nonfiction article about his experiences as a tourist in Russia during the Soviet period, entitled "Pravda" means "Truth". The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, a tale of revolution in a lunar colony also by Heinlein, contains a paper named Lunaya Pravda. Pravda is often present in artistic works of Socialist realism.
- Tony Cliff. 1975. Lenin; Chapter 19. Retrieved February 23, 2007.
- Leon Trotsky. My Life; Chapter XLI - Lenin's Death and the Shift of Power.
- W. Bassow. "The Pre-revolutionary Pravda and Tsarist Censorship." The American Slavic and East European Review (1954)
- Marcel Liebman. 1975. Leninism under Lenin. (London: Jonathan Cape. ISBN 0224010727)
- E. H. Carr. The Bolshevik Revolution. (London: Macmillan. Vol. 1, 1950), 75.
- Mark Hooker. The Military Uses of Literature: Fiction and the Armed Forces in the Soviet Union. (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1996. ISBN 027595563X)
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- Cookson, Matthew. 2004. The Spark that Lit a Revolution. Socialist Worker, p.7.
- Goyal, Ajay. 2003. Uncovering Russia. Russia Journal Publishing Company. ISBN 0972970800
- McKenna, Kevin. 2001. All the views fit to print : changing images of the U.S. in Pravda political cartoons, 1917-1991. Peter Lang. ISBN 0820450081
- Roxburgh, Angus. 1987. Pravda : inside the Soviet news machine. G. Braziller. ISBN 0807611867
All links retrieved November 30, 2022.
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