The “Lost” Soviet Census

In 1937, a census was taken in Russia which ended up doing nothing but angering soviet leaders.  Despite a projected natural population growth of over 35 million citizens from the last census, the census revealed that there were only around 7 million more citizens than the last census.  This “lost” census was named because soviet leaders scrapped it all together after receiving these undesirable results and showed many issues with soviet society.


Soviet poster emphasizing the importance of the census, stating that it would allow leaders to know exactly how many schools, hospitals, and public buildings to build and serve the population.

The 1937 census was intended by soviet leaders to show that their nation was a happy, thriving, and growing nation.  The natural population would have grown the population by 37 million citizens, but the census revealed only a 7 million person growth, a result of an alarmingly high rate of unnatural death.  As Freeze pointed out, many of these deaths occurred in government organized or ordered “purges”, and the discrepancy in what the population growth was supposed to be and what it actually was showed this.  This indicated that soviet society was extremely controlling and corrupt, the exact opposite of the picture that leaders were looking to paint.  So, leaders discredited the census, claiming that it’s directors committed “crude violations of the principles of statistical science.”

Then again in 1939, soviet leaders ordered that a census be taken under their watchful eye.  This census produced more favorable results, though still fell short of the projected growth.  This census is also disputed amongst historians because it most likely included many non-citizens so as to make the numbers look more favorable to the soviet leadership.

This “lost” census followed by the highly-criticized 1939 census speak to the societal control that was prevalent in the late 1930’s in Russia.  Along with purges ordered to take out opposition groups and various other ethnic groups, the control that the government had on the census reports of 1937 and 1939 showed that soviet leaders were extremely concerned with perception of their regime and nation.  This control would not be short lived, and would persist through the entirety of the Soviet Union.


Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 209-222. Print


Original photo:


I find the “lost census” to be a really interesting topic. I wonder what countries outside of the Soviet Union thought of this and how it was portrayed internationally? I like the way that you tie the 1939 census in with the 1937 one, to show an emerging pattern.


It’s so sad to see corruption in government. Especially a government in charge of leading so many citizens. It’s also terrible to think that the government cared more about how other countries perceived them than taking care of their own people. I’m sure people in other countries were able to see past the phony numbers of the census and determine for themselves that the people were not being treated well and afraid for their lives under Stalin’s leadership.


I also wrote on this topic and I just think it’s fascinating. It makes me wonder why Stalin even bothered to take true census data and didn’t just fudge it from the beginning. Did he truly believe that the population was thriving and that a true census would back that up? Even when they re-took the census in 1939, the information was manipulated to portray the ideal Soviet society. Again, why bother with a census when you could make it all up? Just another example of Soviet backwardness.