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It became a widespread practice in the Soviet Union from the mid-20's to the mid-30's to write letters of denunciation to local newspapers. As reported by Lenoe (p 160)

Fitzpatrick points out that letter-writers often manipulated the practice of denunciation for their own benefit. An ambitious peasant might denounce the chairman of his collective farm in hopes of becoming chief himself. Scholars denounced their opponents within academe for political crimes or other offenses. People of all social strata would denounce neighbors in hopes of getting hold of their apartments (Fitzpatrick recognizes this as an entire genre in itself — “the apartment denunciation”).53 In all of these cases an individual or individuals attempted to utililize the state’s surveillance mechanisms for their personal gain.

Just how “vulnerable to manipulation” was the Soviet state? One measure of this is the percentage of denunciatory letters that resulted in disciplinary or judicial action against the denounced. Fitzpatrick cites Krest’ianskaia gazeta’s claim in 1935 that as the result of 746 letters sent to outside investigative organs, 103 persons had been “dismissed, prosecuted, or otherwise punished, and in 110 cases the accusations had been found to be groundless.”54 Roughly speaking, one in seven letters eventually elicited punishment of the denounced. However, this estimate does not include the first “filter” that letters passed through — the newspaper’s letter department. We do not know how many letters of denunciation the department received but did not forward for investigation.

Fitzpatrick, Sheila, "Signals from Below: Soviet Letters of Denunciation of the 1930s," Journal of Modern History 68:4 (1996)

Lenoe, Matthew E. "Letter-writing and the state," Cahiers du Monde Russe, 40/1-2, (1999)


Russ Abbott 12:40, 20 December 2005 (PST)