The premise behind "The World of Records Management" is this: Records and information, and the problems they create for governments and businesses, are ubiquitous--they exist in varying degrees in every organization. on the face of the earth. These problems cannot be solved unless those who must solve them possess the knowledge to do so. Our goal with this column is to help readers obtain that knowledge.
Our inaugural column considers records management in the former Soviet Union, a nation that stood at the center of the world stage during its 74 year existence from 1917 to 1991. The Soviet Empire--the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics --was, during this time, the world's largest country in geographic size and the third largest in population. This nation excelled in many areas of human endeavor: science and the arts, engineering, space exploration, athletics, and, of course, in military affairs.
But what of records management? Very little is known in North America about records management in the Soviet Union. What follows is an attempt to fill this void in our knowledge. But before describing records management, we must first consider communism--the governmental system of the Soviet Union--in the context of its significance for records management.
THE COMMUNIST SYSTEM: IMPLICATIONS FOR RECORDS MANAGEMENT
Communism is a type of economic/governmental system having the following characteristics: (1) ownership of all property by the state rather than by individual citizens; (2) a classless social system achieved by means of equal distribution of goods and by total state control of the economy through control over the means of production; (3) a non-market-oriented economic system characterized by an absence of competition among business enterprises; (4) a one-party political structure without free elections; and, (5) an emphasis on the requirements of the state at the expense of liberty and freedom of individual citizens.
What did these central organizing principles of Soviet society imply for records management? We offer the following hypotheses:
(1) In the Soviet Union, the government was the sole owner of all public and business information. The concept of private ownership of records and information over which the state had no jurisdiction was very limited. As owner of all public and business information, the government was in a position to prescribe very stringent and mandatory rules for its management.
(2) Because the governmental system was very centralized and tightly controlled in the USSR, we would expect to find a highly centralized and uniform system for records management, dictated from Moscow and imposed throughout the fifteen republics and in all institutions throughout Soviet society.
(3) Because pre-Revolutionary Russia had been a nation strongly oriented toward the West since the days of Peter the Great, we would expect the Soviet records management system to have been heavily influenced by the European archival and recordkeeping traditions of France, Germany, and other countries of Western Europe. Are these suppositions about records management in the USSR true? The balance of this article will endeavor to answer this question. We will discuss these issues in the context of similarities and differences in records management between the USSR and the United States.
HISTORY OF RECORDS MANAGEMENT IN THE USSR
The following history of records management in the Soviet Union is recounted by Edwin C. Bridges, Director of the Alabama Department of Archives and History. Mr. Bridges visited the Soviet Union in 1988, met with many Soviet archivists and records management officials, and reported his findings in an excellent article in the American Archivist.(1)
Mr. Bridges writes that modern Soviet records management practices evolved from longstanding administrative and recordkeeping traditions of Western European nations. Chief among them is the practice of document "registration," widely practiced in European nations but virtually unknown in the United States. …