Engineers of the human soul

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Engineers of the human soul (Russian: Инженеры человеческих душ, Chinese: 人类灵魂的工程师) was a term applied to writers and other cultural workers by Joseph Stalin.

In the Soviet Union[edit]

The phrase was apparently coined by Yury Olesha. Viktor Shklovsky said that Olesha used it in a meeting with Stalin at the home of Maxim Gorky, and it was subsequently used by Stalin, who said «Как метко выразился товарищ Олеша, писатели — инженеры человеческих душ» ("As comrade Olesha aptly expressed himself, writers are engineers of human souls").[1]

During his meeting with writers in preparation for the first Congress of the Union of Soviet Writers, Stalin said: "The production of souls is more important than the production of tanks.... And therefore I raise my glass to you, writers, the engineers of the human soul" (Joseph Stalin, "Speech at home of Maxim Gorky", 26 October 1932). It was taken up by Andrei Zhdanov and developed into the idea of Socialist realism.

China and Vietnam[edit]

Deng Xiaoping spoke approvingly of "engineers of the human soul" in the post-Mao era, while also condemning the "Gang of Four". Xiaoping stated:

Writers and artists should conscientiously study Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought so as to enhance their own ability to understand and analyse life and to see through appearances to the essence. We hope that more and more comrades in their ranks will become real engineers of the human soul. In order to educate the people, one must first be educated himself; in order to give nourishment to the people, one must first absorb nourishment himself. And who is to educate and nourish our writers and artists? According to Marxism, the answer can only be: the people.[2]

This term is used extensively in the People's Republic of China and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to refer to the teaching profession.


Beginning in 1953, The American psychiatrist and author Robert Lifton interviewed American servicemen who had been prisoners of war (POWs) during the Korean War. In addition to interviews with 25 Americans, Lifton also interviewed 15 Chinese who had fled their homeland after having been subjected to indoctrination in Chinese universities.[3] Lifton's 1961 book Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of "Brainwashing" in China was based on this research.[4]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Союз писателей СССР, Воронежское отделение, «Подъëм» (1990), p. 48.
  2. ^ Deng Xiaoping, "Speech greeting the 4th Congress of Chinese writers and artists", October 30, 1979. Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping, Vol. II (1975-1985). Beijing: People Publishing House, 2nd edition, October 1994.
  3. ^ A. L. Wilkes Knowledge in Minds, p. 323, Psychology Press, 1997 ISBN 978-0-86377-439-3
  4. ^ "CLIO Holdings Information". Retrieved 2013-09-29. 


  • Sheila Fitzpatrick, Cultural revolution in Russia, 1928-1931. Indiana University Press, 1984.
  • Abraham Rothberg, The heirs of Stalin: dissidence and the Soviet regime, 1953-1970. Cornell: Cornell University Press, 1972.
  • Frank Westerman, Engineers of the soul. In the footsteps of Stalin's writers. New York: Vintage, 2011.

External links[edit]