Great Soviet Encyclopedia
Bol'shaia Sovetskaia Entsiklopediia (3rd ed.)

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (NY : Macmillan, 1973-1983, 31 volumes and index) is the English translation from the original Russian of the third edition of Bol'shaia Sovetskaia Entsiklopediia (Moscow : Sovetskaia Entsiklopediia, 1970-1978, 31 volumes and index).

Considered the Encyclopædia Britannica of the Soviet Union, the first edition of Bol'shaia Sovetskaia Entsiklopediia was published in 65 volumes between 1926 and 1947. Two subsequent editions were published, with the third being the final one in the series (assumed since the Soviet Union no longer exists, hence, is unlikely to publish a new version of this work).

The original Russian 3rd edition contains approximately 100,000 entries. The translated version omits "articles that can be classified simply as dictionary or gazetteer entries." The arrangement of the translated version follows the original alphabetization of the Russian language entries. Longer entries are signed and there are sporadic illustrations.

Reviews of this work claim a bias and emphasis regarding the achievements of Communism. The Russian editors themselves note that their charge from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union directs them to cover "the achievements of worldwide historical significance in economics, culture, and science which have been made in the Soviet Union and other socialist countries and which are based on the advantages of the socialist system." (vol. 1, p. xi) However, often actual examination of key articles dispels the notion that the entries are somehow skewed and untruthful. For example, the entry "Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU)" unabashedly addresses the problem of the "cult of Stalin" in a condemning fashion.

At the Twentieth Congress a comprehensive analysis was made of the lessons of Stalin's personality cult. The cult of Stalin (he died on Mar. 5, 1953) had become very widespread, especially in the latter part of his life. The congress proposed that the Central Committee take consistent measures to overcome completely the cult of personality, so alien to Marxism-Leninism. The Central Committee resolution of June 30, 1956, On Overcoming the Personality Cult and Its Consequences, explained the causes that had given rise to the personality cult, its manifestations and consequences.

- Great Soviet Encyclopedia vol. 12, p. 288

It should be noted, however, that the above entry is unsigned.

Overall, the Bol'shaia Sovetskaia Entsiklopediia stands as one of the finest encyclopedias of the 20th Century and continues to be underestimated and underutilized. Often, the non Western viewpoints presented serve to illuminate rather than obfuscate.


Guide to Reference Books / edited by Robert Balay (11th ed.). Chicago : American Library Association, 1996.

Great Soviet Encyclopedia / A.M. Prokhorov editor in chief (3rd ed.). New York : MacMillan, 1973-1982.

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