Saturday, July 31, 2021

After Bolsheviks Looted Central Institutions to Sell Rarities Abroad, They Turned on the Regions, Tomsk Scholars Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 25 – The story of how the Bolsheviks seized priceless works from churches, libraries and museums in Moscow and St. Petersburg and sold them abroad to raise money to finance their revolutionary projects and the economic development of the USSR has been frequently told.

            What is far less well known is that after the Soviet state ran out of things to steal in the two capitals, it turned on collections in the regions and did the same thing, often justifying this act of theft as the only way industry in those then-predominantly agrarian locations could be developed.

            One example of that was the way in which the Bolsheviks stole rare books and manuscripts from the Tomsk State Library, whose own collection had been created in part by the “nationalization” of private collections, in order to finance the development of the Kuznetsk metallurgical factory.

            Radio Liberty journalist Vladimir Yakovsky describes what happened on the basis of some recent scholarship by Tomsk historians. “In 1930,” he writes, “having almost exhausted the museum reserves of the two capitals,” officials of the Antiquariat organization the Bolsheviks had set up to handle these sales descended on the regions.

            Their focus was on the 24,000 volumes of the Stroganov family collection that were then held by the Tomsk State Library. That collection had been given by members of that family, many of whom had lived abroad and collected books for decades (

            Yakovsky interviews Galina Kolosova, chief librarian of the Tomsk State University library who has specialized on the issue of Bolshevik confiscations of materials from her facility. (See in particular her articles at; and

            Tomsk scholars resisted the Moscow effort, but the Antiquariat people, supported by the Soviet secret police, go their way, seizing and taking away for sale 49 boxes of books and manuscripts, including approximately 10 percent of the Stroganov collection. The only thing that saved the rest of the collection was the unintended consequence of Bolshevik actions.

            Because Moscow was offering so many books and manuscripts on the international market in the early 1930s, the combination of increased supply at a time of worldwide depression sent prices down precipitously, something that meant Moscow could not make as much money as it hoped, especially from collections in the regions.

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