How to deal with the censor, or, the value of old fogeys

When Pravda first started as a ‘legal’ newspaper after the 1905 revolution in Russia, it still had to pass under the beady eyes of the censor. Apart from having nominal editors, who would go to prison on a regular basis while leaving the real editors to do the job, and apart from all manner of shady networks to ensure copies got out (up to 60,000 a day), they discovered the value of old fogeys.

Each day, the first three copies of the paper had to be sent to the censor for approval. But since Pravda would be distributed whether the censor liked it or not, they figured out a way to gain as much time between the dispatch of the three copies and the inevitable arrival of the police at the printers. A close reading of the law revealed that copies must be sent to the censor, but it did not give a time limit for that delivery. So they gave the task of delivery of the three copies to a 70-year print worker. Given the aches and pains of age, he would creak along to the censor’s office on foot, taking more than two hours to get there (while the paper was rapidly distributed). Then of course he needed a rest after his exertions, so he would stay at the censor’s office, keeping one eye on proceedings. If the censor put down Pravda after reading it and then reached for another newspaper, the old man would say his farewells and meander back to the print shop. But if the censor opened Pravda and immediately called the police, the old man would leap out of the room, call a taxi and race back to the press. Lookouts would watch for his return and if they spotted him careening around the corner in a taxi, they would raise the alarm. The remaining papers were hidden, the distribution department closed and the printing press stopped. By the time the police marched in, a few papers would be left for them to seize.


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