The Authoritarian Editor

The tyrannical tendencies of Stalin were evident in the “editorial mania” he exercised at Pravda:

Even when not wielding his blue pencil, Stalin’s editorial zeal was all-consuming. He excised people—indeed whole peoples—out of the manuscript of worldly existence, had them vanished from photographs and lexicons, changed their words and the meanings of their words, edited conversations as they happened, backing his interlocutors into more desirable (to him) formulations. “The Poles have been visiting here,” he told the former Comintern chief Georgi Dimitrov in 1948. “I ask them: What do you think of Dimitrov’s statement? They say: A good thing. And I tell them that it isn’t a good thing. Then they reply that they, too, think it isn’t a good thing.”

All editors, wrote the cultural historian Jacques Barzun, “show a common bias: … what the editor would prefer is preferable.” Being an author is well and good, and Stalin wrote several books—the word “author” does after all share a root with the word “authority”—but he knew that editing was a higher power. Naimark argues that editing is as much a part of Stalinist ideology as anything he said or wrote. This insight warrants amplification. Under Stalinism, anyone could speak or write, but since Stalin was the supreme gatekeeper of the censorship hierarchy and the gulag system, the power to edit was power itself.