From the Russian State Archive of the Economy (RGAE)
This microfilm project is the first full publication of the long suppressed Soviet censuses of 1937 and 1939.
In early 1936, Josef Stalin had talks with I.A. Kraval, the head of the agency preparing to conduct the first national census since 1926 -- the Central Economic Accounts Administration. Stalin told Kraval that the new census would show a figure of 170 million, a significant increase over the 147 million in 1926. The 170 million figure would disregard the staggering losses from the collectivization of agriculture, famine, and the operation of the purges and terror. But Kraval, his chief associate, O.A. Kvitkin, and the census takers results showed a total national population of only 162 million. Moreover, the census revealed other unpopular information including the fact that nearly half of the population was religious -- this after two decades of official atheism. When Stalin learned the results, the census was denounced as a "wrecker's census" and those who took it were either imprisoned or shot. A new census was ordered. This 1939 census also showed a figure of approximately 162 million, but the census takers, mindful of their predecessors' fate, told Stalin the number was 170 million. Understandably, the actual aggregate figures were immediately classified and remained so until the 1990s.
Taken together, the two censuses offer a remarkable statistical portrait of Soviet society at the end of the first decade of Stalinist rule. Not only are the catastrophes of collectivization, famine and The Terror quantified, but also the immense ethnic, racial, cultural and religious diversity of the Soviet Union is documented.