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Internal Affairs of the Soviet Union, 1930-39
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by Allison L. Ryall
The 1930s were a very conflicted decade in the history of the Soviet Union. The eyes of the world were upon Joseph Stalin and the party leaders as they made decisions that affected not only the Soviet Union but also the world. Stalin implemented his five-year plans, rapidly industrializing and modernizing the country and leading to major social and economic transformations that impacted all levels of society. The great purge filled forced-labor camps known as the Gulag and led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands, and possibly even millions, of people. This arduous decade was the period that gave birth to the familiar Soviet system.
The US Department of State was established by a 15 September 1789 Act of Congress that replaced the old Department of Foreign Affairs. Part of the Executive Branch, it assists the president and government officials in foreign policy decisions. During the 1930s, the Department of State documented a wide variety of activities and issues relating to the Soviet Union’s internal policies and practices. These official documents cover diverse topics including, but not limited to communist activities, Soviet government policies and practices, living conditions, treatment of Americans living within the Soviet Union’s borders, collective farms, economic matters such as Stalin's five-year plans, army maneuvers, emigration and immigration, and the Soviet government's punishment practices. This collection of documents consists of letters, telegrams, and official reports.
Many of the documents contained in this publication were originally restricted and were only declassified in the early 1980s. The vast majority of the documents were declassified according to the guidelines in Section 3-402 of Executive Order 12065, issued on June 28, 1978. This section of the executive order permits the original classifying body, in this case the Department of State, in conjunction with the Archivist of the United States to declassify documents automatically at the end of twenty years from the date of original classification unless the document had been assigned a specific declassification date at the time it was created.
The vast majority of the documents in this collection are written in the English language, but occasionally a document written in Russian is included. The Russian-language documents usually were submitted as evidence and attached to an official report that was prepared by an agent of the Department of State. When a Russian language document was attached to official correspondence, a translation of the document was usually provided. The English translation either appears on the same page or on adjoining pages (original, translation).
Decimal classification system
From approximately 1910 until 1963, all correspondence sent or received by the Department of State was filed according to a fixed decimal file classification system. Each document has a decimal file number, frequently followed by a slant mark (/) and another number.
As an example, look at document 861.01/2166.
- The first number in the decimal file number is the class designation. The number 8 class designation refers to the matters of individual countries.
- The digits immediately following the number 8 are a country number. The number 61 designates the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Russia).
- The decimal file number 861 refers to the internal affairs of the USSR.
The number following the decimal point indicates specific topic categories within the broader category of internal affairs of the Soviet Union.
- The 01 following the decimal point represents the subcategory "Government." In most instances, a descriptive page begins each subcategory (i.e. the beginning of .01), describing the specific topic category associated with each number. For example, at the beginning of the 861.01 series there is a National Archives inserted page that explains that .01 designates the subcategory of “Government” and covers topics such as “Recognition, Constitution, Citizenship, Political Rights, Territories, Civil Service, Foreign Agents, Flag, Passport and Visas.”
- All numbers following the slant mark, such as /2166, were assigned to individual documents as they were collected within each specific subcategory. The numbers following the slant mark also indicate the total number of documents on file for each subcategory and are frequently in order by date created and/or date received.
- Telegram from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Michael Kalinin, the President of the All Union Central Executive Committee, on the anniversary of the establishment of the Soviet Government, sending best wishes for the welfare and prosperity of USSR.
- Report summarizing the Acquisition of Soviet Citizenship by American Citizens. This document gives specific names and tells the stories of Americans living in the USSR who, for a variety of reasons, were considered Soviet citizens by the Soviet government.
- Report on Emigration from Soviet Russia via Latvia which discusses migration patterns and contractual involvement of well-known shipping lines and migration patterns.
Hand-written personal letters
- Letter from Eugene Cannava, a US citizen living in the Bronx, New York City, to the Secretary of State asking what would happen to his citizenship status if he was to accept a job offer that required him to live two years in Moscow, Russia.
Translated court documents
- Transcripts of the Zinoviev-Kamenev Trial of 1936 (also known as the Trial of the Sixteen or the trial of the Trotskyite-Zinovievite Terrorist Center), one of the most famous and public trials during Stalin’s reign. Both Zinoviev and Kamenev were found guilty and were executed. (The link takes you to the first page in this series of documents.)
Using the collection
Using these rich historical Soviet and American documents is challenging. Currently there is no separate manuscript or name index available. The documents either must be searched manually by subject or through Fold3’s OCR text search function.
Choose State Department Records – Russia from the drop-down menu on the Fold3 Search Documents page, then type names, places, or keywords in the search box to locate a specific document.
Highlight the State Department Records - Russia link under the title menu to browse the collection by subject. Choose the subject of interest, the file-number-range, and then page number to browse specific documents.
After selecting the State Department Records – Russia, the specific subject of interest, such as emigration or naval maneuvers, can be selected and browsed. Documents can be searched based on keyword or name through Fold3's regular search feature, as well.
Manual for Classification of Correspondence, Department of State, (4th ed. 1938), 1938. General Records of the Department of State, Record Group 59, Publication Number M600; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
RG 59 Department of State: Classification of Correspondence August 1910-December 1949. Descriptive Pamphlet and Finding Aid. National Archives, Washington, D.C. Available online.
Explore this title
Records of the Department of State Relating to Internal Affairs of the Soviet Union, 1930-1939. General Records of the Department of State, Record Group 59, Publication Number T1249; National Archives, Washington.
The list of documents available on each roll of microfilm is found on the NARA descriptive pamphlet here.