Great Soviet Encyclopedia

Last updated
Большая советская энциклопедия
GSE 3rd edition 1st volume title.jpg
Publisher Sovetskaya Entsiklopediya
Publication date
1926–1981 (printed version)
Media type30 volumes (hardbound) in 1981
OCLC 14476314
The first edition from 1927 Bol'shaia sovetskaia entsiklopediia - pervoe izdanie.jpg
The first edition from 1927
The second edition from 1950 Bol'shaia sovetskaia entsiklopediia vtoroe izdanie. Toma na polke.jpg
The second edition from 1950
The third edition from 1977 Bol'shaia sovetskaia entsiklopediia.jpg
The third edition from 1977

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (GSE; Russian:Больша́я сове́тская энциклопе́дия, БСЭ, tr. Bolsháya sovétskaya entsiklopédiya, BSE) is one of the largest Russian-language encyclopedias, [1] published in the Soviet Union from 1926 to 1990. After 2002, the encyclopedia's data was partially included into the later Bolshaya rossiyskaya entsiklopediya (or Great Russian Encyclopedia ) in an updated and revised form. The GSE claimed to be "the first Marxist–Leninist general-purpose encyclopedia". [2]



The idea of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia emerged in 1923 on the initiative of Otto Schmidt, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences. In early 1924 Schmidt worked with a group which included Mikhail Pokrovsky, (rector of the Institute of Red Professors), Nikolai Meshcheryakov (Former head of the Glavit, the State Administration of Publishing Affairs), Valery Bryusov (poet), Veniamin Kagan (mathematician) and Konstantin Kuzminsky to draw up a proposal which was agreed to in April 1924. Also involved was Anatoly Lunacharsky, People's Commissar of Education (Narkompros), who had previously been involved with a proposal by Alexander Bogdanov and Maxim Gorky to produce a Workers' Encyclopedia.


There were three editions. The first edition of 65 volumes (65,000 entries, plus a supplementary volume about the Soviet Union) was published during 1926–1947, the chief editor being Otto Schmidt (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 Vvedensky (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 being a full-sized book about the USSR, all with about 21 million words, [3] and the chief editor being Alexander Prokhorov (since 1969). In the third edition, much attention was paid to the philosophical problems of natural sciences, physical and chemical sciences, and mathematical methods in various branches of knowledge. [4]

From 1957 to 1990, the Yearbook of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia was released annually 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:

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." [7] 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." [7] The 1949 decree issued for the production of the second edition of the GSE directed:

The second edition of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia should elucidate widely the world-historical victories of socialism in our country, which have been attained in the U.S.S.R. in the provinces of economics, science, culture, and art. ... With exhaustive completeness it must show the superiority of socialist culture over the culture of the capitalist world. Operating on Marxist-Leninist theory, the encyclopedia should give a party criticism of contemporary bourgeois tendencies in various provinces of science and technics. [7]

The foreword to the GSE (3rd ed.) expanded on that mission, paying particular attention to developments in science and technology: nuclear engineering, space technology, atomic physics, polymer chemistry, and radio electronics; also detailing the history and activities of the Russian revolutionary movement, the development of the labor movement worldwide and summarizing Marxist scholarship on political economy, sociology, and political science. [8] In support of that mission, the GSE (2nd ed.) described as the role of education:

To develop in children's minds the Communist morality, ideology, and Soviet patriotism; to inspire unshakable love toward the Soviet fatherland, the Communist party, and its leaders; to propagate Bolshevik vigilance; to put an emphasis on internationalist education; to strengthen Bolshevik willpower and character, as well as courage, capacity for resisting adversity and conquering obstacles; to develop self-discipline; and to encourage physical and aesthetic culture. [7]

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 of 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. [9]

Based on his extensive talks with the editors of the GSE, to whom he was granted unprecedented access, William Benton, publisher of the Encyclopædia Britannica , wrote the following in observation of the GSE's chief editor B. A. Vvedensky 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. [7]



Complete set of an English-language version of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia UBN Great Soviet.JPG
Complete set of an English-language version of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia

The third edition was translated and published into English in 31 volumes between 1974 and 1983 by Macmillan Publishers. Each volume was translated separately, requiring use of the index 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.


The third edition was translated into Greek and published in 34 volumes between 1977 and 1983 from Akadimos publishing company (owned by Giannis Giannikos), which has also translated various Soviet encyclopedias and literature. All articles that were related to Greece or Greek history, culture and society were expanded and hundreds of new ones were written especially for the Greek edition. Thus the encyclopedia contains, for example, both the Russian entry on Greece as well as a much larger one prepared by Greek contributors. Each article written especially in the Greek edition is marked with the note "Greek version supplement" (or "Συμπλήρωμα ελληνικής έκδοσης" as written in the Greek translation).

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. The articles of the Greek version are being gradually digitised now; the digitised volumes can be found on "vivlio2ebook" blog, which is dedicated on digitising various books in Greek language. It is written on Modern (Demotic) Greek, but it uses the polytonic alphabet.

Other Soviet encyclopedias

Soviet encyclopedias
Original titleTransliteration (if applicable)English titleVolumesDates
Українська радянська енциклопедіяUkrajinśka radjanśka encyklopedija Ukrainian Soviet Encyclopedia 171959–1965
Беларуская савецкая энцыклапедыяBiełaruskaja savieckaja encykłapiedyja Byelorussian Soviet Encyclopedia 121969–1975
Ўзбек совет энциклопедиясиOʻzbek sovet entsiklopediyasi Uzbek Soviet Encyclopedia 141971–1980
Қазақ совет энциклопедиясыQazaq sovet ensıklopedııasy Kazakh Soviet Encyclopedia 101972–1978
ქართული საბჭოთა ენციკლოპედიაkartuli sabch'ota encik'lop'edia Georgian Soviet Encyclopedia 121965–1987
Азәрбајҹан Совет ЕнсиклопедијасыAzərbaycan Sovet Ensiklopediyası Azerbaijani Soviet Encyclopedia 101976–1987
Lietuviškoji tarybinė enciklopedija Lithuanian Soviet Encyclopedia 101976–1985
Енчиклопедия советикэ молдовеняскэEnciclopedia sovietică moldovenească Moldavian Soviet Encyclopedia 81970–1981
Latvijas padomju enciklopēdija Latvian Soviet Encyclopedia 101981–1988
Кыргыз Совет ЭнциклопедиясыKyrgyz Sovet Ensıklopedııasy Kyrgyz Soviet Encyclopedia 61976–1980
Энциклопедияи советии тоҷикEntsiklopediya-i sovieti-i tojik Tajik Soviet Encyclopedia 81978–1988
Հայկական սովետական հանրագիտարանHaykakan sovetakan hanragitaran Armenian Soviet Encyclopedia 131974–1987
Түркмен совет энциклопедиясыTürkmen sowet ensiklopediýasy Turkmen Soviet Encyclopedia 101974–1989
Eesti nõukogude entsüklopeedia Estonian Soviet Encyclopedia 81968–1976
Сибирская советская энциклопедияSibirskaya sovetskaya entsiklopediya Siberian Soviet Encyclopedia 4 (planned — 6)1929—1933
Малая Советская ЭнциклопедияMalaya sovetskaya entsiklopediya Small Soviet Encyclopedia 111928—1960 (3 editions)
Уральская советская энциклопедияUralskaya sovetskaya entsiklopediya Ural Soviet Encyclopedia 1 (planned — ?)1933


The Soviet Encyclopedia is a systematic summary of knowledge in social and economic studies and in the applied sciences.[ citation needed ] It became a universal reference work for the Soviet intelligentsia. [10] 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 the Soviet Union and its peoples. Every aspect of Soviet life is systematically presented, including history, economics, science, art, and culture.[ citation needed ] 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, flora and fauna. [10]

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. [11] Scholars believe that the Encyclopedia is a valuable and useful source for Russian history. [12] The Encyclopedia, though noted as having a strong Marxist bias, provides useful information for understanding the Soviet point of view. [13] [14]

Damnatio memoriae

Following the arrest and execution of Lavrentiy Beria, the head of the NKVD, in 1953 the Encyclopedia—ostensibly in response to overwhelming public demand—mailed subscribers to the second edition a letter from the editor [15] 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 18th-century courtier), the Bering Sea, and Bishop Berkeley. [16] [17] By April 1954, the Library of the University of California, Berkeley had received this “replacement.” [18] This was not the only case of political influence. According to one author, Encyclopedia subscribers received missives to replace articles in the fashion of the Beria article frequently. [19] Other articles, especially biographical articles on political leaders, changed significantly to reflect the current party line. An article affected in such a fashion was the one on Nikolai Bukharin, whose descriptions went through several evolutions. [20]

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. 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. The complete edition of 36 volumes was released by 2017. [21]

Publication of the Great Russian Encyclopedia is overseen by the Russian Academy of Sciences, and funded by the Government of the Russian Federation. The encyclopedia is now found in libraries and schools throughout the CIS. [22] Additionally, the 1980s editions remain in widespread use, particularly as references in scientific and mathematical research.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Encyclopedia</span> Type of reference work

An encyclopedia, or encyclopaedia is a reference work or compendium providing summaries of knowledge either general or special to a particular field or discipline. Encyclopedias are divided into articles or entries that are arranged alphabetically by article name or by thematic categories, or else are hyperlinked and searchable by random access. Encyclopedia entries are longer and more detailed than those in most dictionaries. Generally speaking, encyclopedia articles focus on factual information concerning the subject named in the article's title; this is unlike dictionary entries, which focus on linguistic information about words, such as their etymology, meaning, pronunciation, use, and grammatical forms.

<i>Encyclopædia Britannica</i> General knowledge encyclopaedia

The Encyclopædia Britannica is a general knowledge English-language encyclopaedia. It is published by Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.; the company has existed since the 18th century, although it has changed ownership various times through the centuries. The encyclopaedia is maintained by about 100 full-time editors and more than 4,000 contributors. The 2010 version of the 15th edition, which spans 32 volumes and 32,640 pages, was the last printed edition. Since 2011, it is being published exclusively as an online encyclopaedia.

<i>Encyclopedia Americana</i> Encyclopedic dictionary written in American English

Encyclopedia Americana is a general encyclopedia written in American English. It was the first major multivolume encyclopedia that was published in the United States. With Collier's Encyclopedia and Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopedia Americana became one of the three major English-language general encyclopedias: The three were sometimes collectively called "the ABCs". Following the acquisition of Grolier in 2000, the encyclopedia has been produced by Scholastic.

<i>Chamberss Encyclopaedia</i> Encyclopedia

Chambers's Encyclopaedia was founded in 1859 by William and Robert Chambers of Edinburgh and became one of the most important English language encyclopaedias of the 19th and 20th centuries, developing a reputation for accuracy and scholarliness that was reflected in other works produced by the Chambers publishing company. The encyclopaedia is no longer produced. A selection of illustrations and woodblocks used to produce the first two editions of the encyclopaedia can be seen on a digital resource hosted on the National Museums Scotland website.

<i>Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary</i> Comprehensive multi-volume encyclopedia in Russian

The Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopaedic Dictionary is a comprehensive multi-volume encyclopaedia in Russian. It contains 121,240 articles, 7,800 images, and 235 maps. It was published in Imperial Russia in 1890–1907, as a joint venture of Leipzig and St Petersburg publishers. The articles were written by the prominent Russian scholars of the period, such as Dmitri Mendeleev and Vladimir Solovyov. Reprints have appeared following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

<i>Wielka Encyklopedia Powszechna PWN</i>

The Wielka Encyklopedia Powszechna PWN was, until 2005, the largest Polish encyclopedia ever written. It was published between 1962 and 1970 by Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe in Warsaw. The WEP contains about 82,000 entries, 12,000 illustrations, 200 color and 650 black-and-white inserted illustrations, and 120 color maps in thirteen volumes. Many entries are signed, and many contain bibliographic material. The encyclopedia shows severe censorship. As is stated in the foreword, the encyclopedia is "based on rationalist and materialist assumptions" and reflects the worldview of the "socialist ideology".

Compton's Encyclopedia and Fact-Index is a home and school encyclopedia first published in 1922 as Compton's Pictured Encyclopedia. The word "Pictured" was removed from the title with the 1968 edition. The encyclopedia is now advertised as Compton's by Britannica.

<i>Great Russian Encyclopedia</i> Universal encyclopedia in Russian

The Great Russian Encyclopedia is a universal Russian encyclopedia, completed in 36 volumes, published between 2004 and 2017 by Great Russian Encyclopedia, JSC. It is released under the auspices of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) after President Vladimir Putin signed a presidential decree №1156 in 2002. The complete edition was released by 2017.

History of the <i>Encyclopædia Britannica</i>

The Encyclopædia Britannica has been published continuously since 1768, appearing in fifteen official editions. Several editions have been amended with multi-volume "supplements", consisted of previous editions with added supplements or gone drastic re-organizations (15th). In recent years, digital versions of the Britannica have been developed, both online and on optical media. Since the early 1930s, the Britannica has developed several "spin-off" products to leverage its reputation as a reliable reference work and educational tool.

<i>Armenian Soviet Encyclopedia</i>

The Armenian Soviet Encyclopedia publishing house was established in 1967 as a department of the Institute of History of the Armenian Academy of Sciences under the presidency of Viktor Hambardzumyan (1908–1996), co-edited by Abel Simonyan (1922–1994) and Makich Arzumanyan (1919–1988). In 1988–1999 the editor-in-chief was Konstantin Khudaverdyan (1929–1999) and since 1999 Hovhannes Aivazyan. It produced the Soviet Armenian Encyclopedia from 1974–1986.

<i>Ukrainian Soviet Encyclopedia</i>

The Ukrainian Soviet Encyclopedia was a multi-purpose encyclopedia of Ukraine, issued in the USSR.

The Lincoln Library of Essential Information was originally published as a one-volume general-reference work, in 1924. In later years, it was published in two- and three-volume editions, and the title was changed.

The Concise Literary Encyclopedia was a Soviet encyclopedia of literature published in nine volumes between 1962 and 1978. The main 8 volumes were published in 1962-1975, the additional 9th volume in 1978. In the encyclopaedia more than 12 thousand author articles ; The alphabetical index contains about 35,000 names, titles and terms. Edition - 100 000 copies.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of encyclopedias</span> Aspect of history

Encyclopedias have progressed from the beginning of history in written form, through medieval and modern times in print, and most recently, displayed on computer and distributed via computer networks.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Evgenii Eduardovich Bertels</span>

Evgenii Eduardovich Bertels, also written as Berthels, (Russian: Евге́ний Эдуа́рдович Берте́льс | Romanization: Evgeniĭ Ėduardovich Bertel's was a Soviet-Russian orientalist, Iranologist and Turkologist, born in a family of Russian free professionals of Danish ancestry. Professor of the Leningrad State University, correspondent member of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, correspondent member of the Iranian Academy of Sciences, Turkmen Academy of Sciences, Arab Academy of Sciences in Damascus. After World War II Bertels lived and worked in Moscow. After a short-lived interest in entomology, Bertels went into legal studies, graduating from the St. Petersburg Imperial University. But his genuine interest was oriental studies, so he taught himself Persian and Turkish and in 1918 became a student of the Petrograd Conservatory and the Oriental Department of the Petrograd State University, where his teachers were Aleksandr A. Romaskevich, Alexander Freiman, Vasily Bartold, and Sergey Oldenburg. Bertels first academic appointment, in 1920, was at the Asiatic Museum, where he worked till his death. In 1934, on the occasion of Ferdowsi millennial celebration, held in Tehran, the Soviet Union sent the largest delegation, which included Bertels, he delivered a lecture, in Persian, on Yazdan and Ahriman in Shahnameh.

<i>Soviet Military Encyclopedia</i> Soviet encyclopedia of military strategy, tactics, formations, history and equipment

The Soviet Military Encyclopedia is an eight-volume encyclopedic dictionary of military subjects. It was published by Voenizdat, the publishing house of the Soviet Ministry of Defense, between 1976 and 1980.

Collins Concise Encyclopedia was the most common name for an encyclopedia that was published in various formats and names from 1921 until at least the early 1990s.

Cultural Revolution in the Soviet Union

The cultural revolution was a set of activities carried out in Soviet Russia and the Soviet Union, aimed at a radical restructuring of the cultural and ideological life of society. The goal was to form a new type of culture as part of the building of a socialist society, including an increase in the proportion of people from proletarian classes in the social composition of the intelligentsia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Veniamin Dymshits</span>

Veniamin Emmanuilovich Dymshits was a Soviet state and party leader. Hero of Socialist Labor.


  1. The 3rd edition contains more than 95,000 articles, and nearly 35,000 illustrations and maps. Compare with over 120,000 articles in the Russian Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary (1890–1907) and with 100,000 in the 15th edition of Britannica
  2. "Great Soviet Encyclopedia".
  3. Kister, p. 365
  4. "Beginning of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia issue". Boris Yeltsin Presidential Library. Archived from the original on 2014-07-25. Retrieved 2013-02-20.
  5. "В редакцию БСЭ. Письмо 1".
  6. Указатель жанров > Статья для энциклопедии
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 From extensive discussions with the editors of the second edition of the GSE, editor-in-chief Vvendensky. Benton, W. This Is The Challenge. Associated College Presses. 1959
  8. "Editors Foreword, Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition". Archived from the original on 2010-01-30. Retrieved 2010-03-25.
  9. Образование. Great Soviet Encyclopedia (in Russian). Retrieved 22 June 2020.
  10. 1 2 Publishers' Foreword, Great Soviet Encyclopedia: A Translation of the Third Edition. Volume 1. Macmillan, Inc.
  11. Большая советская энциклопедия. Great Soviet Encyclopedia. Retrieved 22 June 2020.
  12. Fritze, Ronald H.; Coutts, Brian E.; Vyhnanek, Louis Andrew (May 31, 2004). Reference Sources in History: An Introductory Guide. ABC-CLIO. ISBN   9780874368833 via Google Books.
  13. Allen Kent, Harold Lancour, Jay E. Daily, Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science: Volume 25 CRC Press, 1978, ISBN   0-8247-2025-3, Google Print, p.171
  14. Bill Katz, William A. Katz, Ruth A. Fraley, Evaluation of reference services, Haworth Press, 1984, ISBN   0-86656-377-6, Google Print, p.308
  15. Sophie Lambroschini, “Russia: Putin-Decreed ‘Great Russian’ Encyclopedia Debuts At Moscow Book Fair Archived 2007-12-05 at the Wayback Machine ,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
  16. O. Lawrence Burnette Jr. and William Converse Haygood (Eds.), A Soviet View of the American past: An Annotated Translation of the Section on American History in the Great Soviet Encyclopedia (Chicago: Scott, Foresman, 1964), p. 7. Archived 2011-06-04 at the Wayback Machine
  17. "Soviet Encyclopedia Omits Beria's Name". The Times-News. December 2, 1953. p. 8. Retrieved April 23, 2017 via Google News Archive.
  18. He who destroys a good Book, kills reason it self:an exhibition of books which have survived Fire, the Sword and the Censors Archived 2007-03-07 at the Wayback Machine ” University of Kansas Library 1955
  19. John T. Jost, Aaron C., Social and Psychological Bases of Ideology and System Justification, Oxford University Press US, 2009, ISBN   0-19-532091-3, Google Print, p.465
  20. Ludwik Kowalski, "Discriptions of Bucharin in Great Soviet Encyclopedia" Archived 2016-05-23 at the Portuguese Web Archive
  21. Сергей Кравец: Российская энциклопедия – это и есть мы (in Russian). Evening Moscow. 2014. Archived from the original on 2013-11-09. Retrieved 2014-05-02.
  22. "Главная". Archived from the original on 2014-01-03. Retrieved 2014-01-07.