Great Soviet Encyclopedia
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia ' onMouseout='HidePop("98660")' href="/topics/Romanization_of_Russian">transliterated
Romanization of Russian
Romanization of the Russian alphabet is the process of transliterating the Russian language from the Cyrillic alphabet into the Latin alphabet...

 Bolshaya sovetskaya entsiklopediya) is one of the largest and most comprehensive encyclopedia
An encyclopedia is a type of reference work, a compendium holding a summary of information from either all branches of knowledge or a particular branch of knowledge....

s in Russian and in the world, issued by the Soviet state from 1926 to 1990, and again since 2002 (under the name Bolshaya Rossiyskaya entsiklopediya or "Great Russian Encyclopedia
Great Russian Encyclopedia
The Great Russian Encyclopedia is a new universal Russian encyclopedia in 30 volumes, published since 2004 by Bolšaja Rossijskaja Enciklopedija publisher. It is released under the auspices of the Russian Academy of Sciences after 2002 Vladimir Putin's presidential decree № 1156.The chief editor...



There were three editions. The first edition of 65 volumes (65,000 entries, plus a supplementary volume about the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

) was published during 1926–1947, the chief editor being Otto Schmidt
Otto Schmidt
Otto Yulyevich Schmidt was a Soviet scientist, mathematician, astronomer, geophysicist, statesman, academician, Hero of the USSR , and member of the Communist Party.-Biography:He was born in Mogilev, Russian Empire...

 (until 1941). The second edition of 50 volumes (100,000 entries, plus a supplementary volume) was published in 1950–1958; chief editors: Sergei Vavilov (until 1951) and Boris Vvedenskii (until 1969); two index volumes to this edition were published in 1960. The third edition of 1969–1978 contains 30 volumes (100,000 entries, plus an index volume issued in 1981). Volume 24 is in two books, one of them being a full-sized book about the USSR) – all with about 21 million words, and the chief editor being Alexander Prokhorov (since 1969).

From 1957 to 1990 each year the Yearbook of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia was released, with up-to-date articles about the Soviet Union and all countries of the world.

The first online edition, an exact replica of text and graphics of the third (so-called Red) edition, was published by in 2000.


Editors and contributors to the GSE included a number of leading Soviet scientists and politicians: Hamid Alimjan
Hamid Alimjan
Hamid Alimjan or Hamid Olimjon , was an Uzbek writer and poet of the Soviet period. He was influenced by Vladimir Mayakovsky. The Great Soviet Encyclopedia considers his work full of "great artistic mastery"....

, Viktor Ambartsumian
Viktor Hambardzumyan
Viktor Hambardzumyan was a Soviet Armenian scientist, and one of the founders of theoretical astrophysics. He worked in the field of physics of stars and nebulae, stellar astronomy, dynamics of stellar systems and cosmogony of stars and galaxies, contributed to Mathematical physics...

, Nikolai Baibakov
Nikolai Baibakov
Nikolai Konstantinovich Baibakov was a Soviet statesman, economist and Hero of Socialist Labor. He finished secondary school in 1928 and entered the Azerbaijan Oil and Chemistry Institute, from which he graduated in 1931 as a mining engineer. In 1935, he was drafted into the armed forces...

, Mykola Bazhan
Mykola Bazhan
Mykola Platonovych Bazhan was a Soviet Ukrainian writer and poet. He was awarded the Stalin Prize ....

, Maia Berzina
Maia Berzina
Maia Yanovna Berzina was a prominent Russian ethnographer, geographer and cartographer . Among her scores are "Americans" entry in the Great Soviet Encyclopedia and several maps in the Great Soviet World Atlas...

, Nikolay Bogolyubov
Nikolay Bogolyubov
Nikolay Nikolaevich Bogolyubov was a Russian and Ukrainian Soviet mathematician and theoretical physicist known for a significant contribution to quantum field theory, classical and quantum statistical mechanics, and to the theory of dynamical systems; a recipient of the Dirac Prize...

, Andrei Bubnov
Andrei Bubnov
Andrei Sergeyevich Bubnov was a Bolshevik revolutionary leader in Russia, and member of the Left Opposition.-Biography:...

, Nikolai Bukharin
Nikolai Bukharin
Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin , was a Russian Marxist, Bolshevik revolutionary, and Soviet politician. He was a member of the Politburo and Central Committee , chairman of the Communist International , and the editor in chief of Pravda , the journal Bolshevik , Izvestia , and the Great Soviet...

, Nikolai Burdenko
Nikolai Burdenko
Nikolay Nilovich Burdenko was a Russian and Soviet surgeon, the founder of the Russian neurosurgery. He was Surgeon-General of the Red Army , an academician of the USSR Academy of Sciences , an academician and the first director of the Academy of Medical Sciences of the USSR , a Hero of Socialist...

, Mikhail Frunze
Mikhail Frunze
Mikhail Vasilyevich Frunze was a Bolshevik leader during and just prior to the Russian Revolution of 1917.-Life and Political Activity:Frunze was born in Bishkek, then a small Imperial Russian garrison town in the Kyrgyz part of Turkestan, to a Moldovan medical practitioner and his Russian wife...

, Victor Glushkov
Victor Glushkov
Victor Glushkov was the founding father of information technology in the Soviet Union , and one of the founders of Cybernetics....

, Igor Grabar
Igor Grabar
Igor Emmanuilovich Grabar was a Russian post-impressionist painter, publisher, restorer and historian of art. Grabar, descendant of a wealthy Rusyn family, was trained as a painter by Ilya Repin in Saint Petersburg and by Anton Ažbe in Munich...

, Veniamin Kagan
Veniamin Kagan
Veniamin Fedorovich Kagan was a Russian and Soviet mathematician and expert in geometry. He is the maternal grandfather of mathematician Yakov Sinai.-Biography:...

, Ivan Knunyants
Ivan Knunyants
Ivan Lyudvigovich Knunyants – December 21, 1990 , was a Soviet chemist of Armenian origin, academic of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, a Major General and engineer, who significantly contributed to the advancement of Soviet chemistry...

, Andrei Kolmogorov, Valerian Kuybyshev, Anatoly Lunacharsky, Vladimir Obruchev
Vladimir Obruchev
Vladimir Afanasyevich Obruchev was a Russian and Soviet geologist who specialized in the study of Siberia and Central Asia. He was also one of the first Russian science fiction authors.- Scientific research :...

, Aleksandr Oparin
Aleksandr Oparin
Alexander Ivanovich Oparin was a Soviet biochemist notable for his contributions to the theory of the origin of life, and for his authorship of the book The Origin of Life. He also studied the biochemistry of material processing by plants, and enzyme reactions in plant cells...

, Yuri Prokhorov
Yuri Vasilevich Prokhorov
Yuri Vasilevich Prokhorov is a Russian mathematician, active in the field of probability theory. He was a PhD student of Andrey Nikolaevich Kolmogorov at the Moscow State University, where he obtained his PhD in 1949....

, Karl Radek
Karl Radek
Karl Bernhardovic Radek was a socialist active in the Polish and German movements before World War I and an international Communist leader after the Russian Revolution....

, Nikolai Semashko, and Kliment Voroshilov
Kliment Voroshilov
Kliment Yefremovich Voroshilov , popularly known as Klim Voroshilov was a Soviet military officer, politician, and statesman...

 and S.Aunn

Role and purpose in Soviet society

The foreword to the first volume of the GSE (2nd ed.) proclaims "The Soviet Union has become the center of the civilized world." The GSE, along with all other books and other media and communications with the public, was directed toward the "furtherance of the aims of the party and the state." The 1949 decree issued for the production of the second edition of the GSE directed:
The foreword to the GSE (3rd ed.) expanded on that mission, paying particular attention to developments in science and technology: nuclear engineering
Nuclear engineering
Nuclear engineering is the branch of engineering concerned with the application of the breakdown as well as the fusion of atomic nuclei and/or the application of other sub-atomic physics, based on the principles of nuclear physics...

, space technology
Space technology
Space technology is technology that is related to entering, and retrieving objects or life forms from space."Every day" technologies such as weather forecasting, remote sensing, GPS systems, satellite television, and some long distance communications systems critically rely on space infrastructure...

, atomic physics
Atomic physics
Atomic physics is the field of physics that studies atoms as an isolated system of electrons and an atomic nucleus. It is primarily concerned with the arrangement of electrons around the nucleus and...

, polymer chemistry
Polymer chemistry
Polymer chemistry or macromolecular chemistry is a multidisciplinary science that deals with the chemical synthesis and chemical properties of polymers or macromolecules. According to IUPAC recommendations, macromolecules refer to the individual molecular chains and are the domain of chemistry...

, and radio electronics
Radio electronics
*For the magazine, see Radio-ElectronicsRadio electronics is the sub-field of electrical engineering concerning itself with the class of electronic circuits which receive or transmit radio signals....

; also the detailing the history and activities of the Russian revolutionary movement
The Bolsheviks, originally also Bolshevists , derived from bol'shinstvo, "majority") were a faction of the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party which split apart from the Menshevik faction at the Second Party Congress in 1903....

, the development of the labor movement worldwide and summarizing Marxist scholarship on political economy
Political economy
Political economy originally was the term for studying production, buying, and selling, and their relations with law, custom, and government, as well as with the distribution of national income and wealth, including through the budget process. Political economy originated in moral philosophy...

, sociology, and political science. In support of that mission, the GSE (2nd ed.) described as the role of education:
The third edition of the GSE subsequently expanded on the role of education:

"Education is essential to preparing for life and work. It is the basic means by which people come to know and acquire culture, and it is the foundation of culture's development...The Soviet education rests on the principles of the unity of education and communist upbringing; cooperation among the school, the family, and the society in bringing up young people; and the linkage of education and training to life and the practical experience of building communism. The underlying principles of the Soviet system if public education include a scientific approach to and continual improvement of education on the basis of the latest achievements in science, technology and culture; a humanistic and highly moral orientation in education and upbringing; and co-education of both sexes, secular education which excludes the influence of religion. "

Based on his extensive talks with the editors of the GSE, to whom he was granted unprecedented access, William Benton
William Benton
William Burnett Benton was a U.S. senator from Connecticut and publisher of the Encyclopædia Britannica .-Early life:Benton was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota...

, publisher of the Encyclopedia Britannica, wrote the following in observation of the GSE's chief editor B. A. Vvedenskii stating their compliance with the 1949 decree of the Council of Ministers:

"It is just this simple for the Soviet board of editors. They are working under a government directive that orders them to orient their encyclopedia as sharply as a political tract. The encyclopedia was thus planned to provide the intellectual underpinning for the Soviet world offensive in the duel for men's minds. The Soviet government ordered it as a fighting propaganda weapon. And the government attaches such importance to its political role that its board of editors is chosen by and is responsible only to the high Council of Ministers itself."


The third edition was translated and published into English in 31 volumes between 1974 and 1983 by Macmillan Publishers
Macmillan Publishers
Macmillan Publishers Ltd, also known as The Macmillan Group, is a privately held international publishing company owned by Georg von Holtzbrinck Publishing Group. It has offices in 41 countries worldwide and operates in more than thirty others.-History:...

. Each volume was translated separately, requiring use of the index
Index (publishing)
An index is a list of words or phrases and associated pointers to where useful material relating to that heading can be found in a document...

 found at the front of each volume to locate specific items; knowledge of Russian can be helpful to find the right volume the first time. Not all entries were translated into English; these are indicated in the index. Overall, some entries indicate an anti-American bias, reflecting the international tensions and ideological conflict
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

 between the United States and the USSR at the time.


The third edition has also been translated and published into Greek in 34 volumes between 1977 and 1983. All articles that were related to Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

 or Greek history, culture and society were expanded and hundreds of new ones were written especially for the Greek edition. Thus the encyclopaedia contains, for example, both the Russian entry on Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

 as well as a much larger one prepared by Greek contributors.

Finally, a supplementary volume covering the 1980s was published in 1989. It contains translated and original Greek articles which, sometimes, do not exist in the 34-volume set.

Other Soviet Encyclopedias

Original title Transliteration (if applicable) English title Volumes Dates
Українська радянська енциклопедія Ukraïns'ka radyans'ka enstiklopediya Ukrainian Soviet Encyclopedia
Ukrainian Soviet Encyclopedia
Ukrainian Soviet Encyclopedia - was a multi purpose Encyclopedia of Ukraine, issued in the USSR.Following the publication of the first volume of the Ukrainian General Encyclopedia in Lviv, Ukraine the Ukrainian Soviet Encyclopedia was commissioned by Mykola Skrypnyk...

17 1959–1965
Беларуская савецкая энцыклапедыя Belaruskaya savietskaya entsyklapedyya Byelorussian Soviet Encyclopedia
Byelorussian Soviet Encyclopedia
The Byelorussian Soviet Encyclopedia is the first universal encyclopaedia in the Belarusian language in 12 volumes printed in Minsk from 1969 to 1975....

12 1969–1975
Ўзбек совет энциклопедияси Uzbek soviet entsiklopediyasi Uzbek Soviet Encyclopedia 14 1971–1980
Қазақ кеңес энциклопедиясы Qazaq keñes encïklopedïyası Kazakh Soviet Encyclopedia 10 1972–1978
ქართული საბჭოთა ენციკლოპედია kartuli sabch'ota encik'lop'edia Georgian Soviet Encyclopedia
Georgian Soviet Encyclopedia
The Georgian Soviet Encyclopedia is the first universal encyclopedia in the Georgian language, printed in Tblissi from 1965. The encyclopedia includes 11 alphabetic volumes and a 12th exclusively dedicated to the Georgian SSR, printed in both Georgian and Russian.The main editor was Irakli...

12 1965–1987
Азәрбајҹан Совет Енсиклопедијасы Azәrbaycan Sovet Ensiklopediyası Azerbaijani Soviet Encyclopedia
Azerbaijani Soviet Encyclopedia
The Azerbaijani Soviet Encyclopedia is a 10 volume universal encyclopedia published in Baku, Azerbaijan from 1976 to 1987...

10 1976–1987
Lietuviškoji tarybinė enciklopedija Lithuanian Soviet Encyclopedia 10 1976–1985
Енчиклопедия советикэ молдовеняскэ Enciclopedia sovietică moldovenească Moldavian Soviet Encyclopedia
Moldavian Soviet Encyclopedia
Moldavian Soviet Encyclopedia - was a multi purpose Encyclopedia of Moldavia, issued in the USSR. Moldavian Soviet Encyclopedia was printed in 8 volumes in Chişinău from 1970 to 1981....

8 1970–1981
Latvijas padomju enciklopēdija Latvian Soviet Encyclopedia 11 1981–1988
Кыргыз Совет Энциклопедиясы Kyrgyz Soviet Entsiklopediyasy Kyrgyz Soviet Encyclopedia 6 1976–1980
Энциклопедияи советии тоҷик Entsiklopediya-i sovieti-i tojik Tajik Soviet Encyclopedia 8 1978–1988
Հայկական սովետական հանրագիտարան Haykakan sovetakan hanragitaran Armenian Soviet Encyclopedia 13 1974–1987
Түркмен совет энциклопедиясы Türkmen sowet ensiklopediýasy Turkmen Soviet Encyclopedia 10 1974–1989
Eesti nõukogude entsüklopeedia Estonian Soviet Encyclopedia 8 1968–1976


The Soviet Encyclopedia is a systematic summary of knowledge in social and economic studies and in the applied sciences. It became a universal reference work for the Soviet intelligentsia. According to the publisher's foreword in the English-language translation of the encyclopedia,
the encyclopedia is important for knowledge and understanding of USSR. A major value of the Encyclopedia is its comprehensive information about Soviet and its peoples. Every aspect of Soviet life is systematically presented, including history, economics, science, art, and culture. The ethnic diversity of USSR’s peoples and its languages and cultures are extensively covered. There are biographies of prominent cultural and scientific figures who are not as well-known outside of Russia. There are detailed surveys of USSR’s provinces and towns, as well as their geology, geography, and flora and fauna.

The encyclopedia’s Chief Editorial Board and Advisory board sought input from the general public. The entry list was sent to universities, scientific institutions, museums, and private specialists in every field. More than 50,000 suggestions were received and many additions were made. Scholars believe that the Encyclopedia is a valuable and useful source for Russian history. The Encyclopedia, though noted as having a strong Marxist bias, provides useful information for understanding the Soviet point of view.

Damnatio memoriae

Following the arrest and punishment of the infamous Lavrentiy Beria
Lavrentiy Beria
Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beria was a Georgian Soviet politician and state security administrator, chief of the Soviet security and secret police apparatus under Joseph Stalin during World War II, and Deputy Premier in the postwar years ....

, the notorious head of the NKVD
The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs was the public and secret police organization of the Soviet Union that directly executed the rule of power of the Soviets, including political repression, during the era of Joseph Stalin....

, in 1953 the encyclopedia—ostensibly in response to overwhelming public demand—mailed subscribers to the second edition a letter from the editor instructing them to cut out and destroy the three-page article on Beria and paste in its place enclosed replacement pages expanding the adjacent articles on F. W. Bergholz (an eighteenth-century courtier), the Bering Sea
Bering Sea
The Bering Sea is a marginal sea of the Pacific Ocean. It comprises a deep water basin, which then rises through a narrow slope into the shallower water above the continental shelves....

, and Bishop Berkeley. By April 1954, the Library of the University of California had received this “replacement.” This was not the only case of political influence. Encyclopedia subscribers received missives to replace articles in the fashion of the Beria article frequently. Content of others changed significantly, to reflect not the scientific knowledge but the current party line
Party line (politics)
In politics, the line or the party line is an idiom for a political party or social movement's canon agenda, as well as specific ideological elements specific to the organization's partisanship. The common phrase toeing the party line describes a person who speaks in a manner that conforms to his...

. An article affected in such a fashion was the one on Bukharin, whose evolution of descriptions went through several versions.

Great Russian Encyclopedia

Publication of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia was suspended in 1990 and halted in 1991, but in 2002 it was reinstituted by decree of Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin served as the second President of the Russian Federation and is the current Prime Minister of Russia, as well as chairman of United Russia and Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Union of Russia and Belarus. He became acting President on 31 December 1999, when...

. In 2003 and 2004 a team of editors overhauled the old encyclopedia by updating facts, removing most examples of overt political bias, and changing its name to the Great Russian Encyclopedia. Many outdated articles were entirely rewritten. In 2004, the first volume of the newly overhauled Great Russian Encyclopedia was published. As of 2009, the first complete (30-volume) edition since 1990 is about to be published.

Publication of the Great Russian Encyclopedia is overseen by the Russian Academy of Sciences
Russian Academy of Sciences
The Russian Academy of Sciences consists of the national academy of Russia and a network of scientific research institutes from across the Russian Federation as well as auxiliary scientific and social units like libraries, publishers and hospitals....

, and funded by the Government of the Russian Federation. The encyclopedia is now found in libraries and schools throughout the CIS
CIS usually refers to the Commonwealth of Independent States, a modern political entity consisting of eleven former Soviet Union republics.The acronym CIS may also refer to:-Organizations:...

. Additionally, the 1980s editions remain in widespread use, particularly as references in scientific and mathematical research.


  • Great Soviet encyclopedia, ed. A. M. Prokhorov (New York: Macmillan, London: Collier Macmillan, 1974–1983) 31 volumes, three volumes of indexes. Translation of third Russian edition of Bol'shaya sovetskaya entsiklopediya
  • Kister, Kenneth. Kister's Best Encyclopedias. 2nd ed. (1994)
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