Renovating Russia

Renovating Russia: The Human Sciences and the Fate of Liberal Modernity, 1880–1930

Daniel Beer
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Renovating Russia
    Book Description:

    Renovating Russia is a richly comparative investigation of late Imperial and early Soviet medico-scientific theories of moral and social disorder. Daniel Beer argues that in the late Imperial years liberal psychiatrists, psychologists, and criminologists grappled with an intractable dilemma. They sought to renovate Russia, to forge a modern enlightened society governed by the rule of law, but they feared the backwardness, irrationality, and violent potential of the Russian masses. Situating their studies of degeneration, crime, mental illness, and crowd psychology in a pan-European context, Beer shows how liberals' fears of societal catastrophe were only heightened by the effects of industrial modernization and the rise of mass politics.

    In the wake of the orgy of violence that swept the Empire in the 1905 Revolution, these intellectual elites increasingly put their faith in coercive programs of scientific social engineering. Their theories survived liberalism's political defeat in 1917 and meshed with the Bolsheviks' radical project for social transformation. They came to sanction the application of violent transformative measures against entire classes, culminating in the waves of state repression that accompanied forced industrialization and collectivization. Renovating Russia thus offers a powerful revisionist challenge to established views of the fate of liberalism in the Russian Revolution.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6847-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-26)

    In their rejection of the inevitability and permanence of the status quo, revolutionaries seek to identify, understand, and overcome their own inheritance. The Bolshevik Revolution was no exception. The Bolsheviks were obsessed with the legacy of both the tsarist social order and the economic and cultural forces of capital that had been gestating in the womb of the ailing autocracy since the 1880s. Aron Aleksandrovich Sol'ts (1872–1945), chairman of the Central Control Commission responsible for the morality and conduct of the Party’s members, noted ruefully in 1924, “The Communist Party did not fall from the sky with its thoughts...

  5. 1 “Morel’s Children” In Search of the “Degenerate”
    (pp. 27-58)

    It might seem paradoxical that the degenerative model came to exert such a fascination over educated Russians in late Imperial Russia in the midst of the astonishing technological and material achievements of the empire’s industrialization drive.¹ It might seem all the more peculiar that science—usually understood to be a source of inspiration for Russia’s progressive forces—should articulate an anxious or even pessimistic vision of the future. Science was both ideologically and practically central to the educated public’s desire for strategic action to bring about the renewal and reform of society. Empiricism, rationalism, and scientific modes of expression all...

  6. 2 The Etiology of Degeneration
    (pp. 59-96)

    By the end of the nineteenth century, a consensus of sorts had emerged within the human sciences in Russia that degenerates did not constitute a separate species of humanity. Rather, they were the fallen, or the children of the fallen, firmly embedded in the matrix of sociohistorical forces that had shaped both their milieu and their heredity.¹ The absence of obvious environmental causes of degeneration in a given generation did not mean that they had not played a role in the onset of the disorder. As Pavel Kovalevskii had pointed out in 1886, even the hereditary component in the theory...

  7. 3 “The Flesh and Blood of Society”
    (pp. 97-130)

    In 1913, the psychiatrist Samuel L'vovich Tsetlin (1878–?) reported in the influential Sovremennaia psikhiatriia on the case of a young man who had killed his father. Sergei Martionov had entered his father’s room very early one morning in 1911 and stabbed the sleeping man to death with a dagger. Martionov made no effort to escape and returned to his own room in the house, where he was subsequently apprehended by the police, still in possession of the murder weapon. Tsetlin was explicit in approaching his examination of the crime “with the same methods with which one approaches the history...

  8. 4 “Microbes of the Mind”
    (pp. 131-164)

    Lev Tolstoi’s War and Peace, published in 1869, contains an arresting scene depicting the lynching of a young man. Vereshchagin stands accused of disseminating defeatist literature in Moscow as Napoleon’s army sweeps eastward. On the eve of the city’s fall in September 1812, a crowd of fearful and panicked Muscovites assembles in front of the residence of the city’s governor, Count Rostopchin. Disconcerted by the crowd’s unpredictable and riotous potential, Rostopchin pronounces the prisoner responsible for Moscow’s surrender and orders his dragoons to cut Vereshchagin down in front of the crowd. Yet events quickly run out of control:

    “Sabre him!”...

  9. 5 Social Isolation and Coercive Treatment after the Revolution
    (pp. 165-204)

    In 1927, the criminologist G. N. Udal'tsov published a study entitled “Criminal Offenses in the Armed Forces from the Perspective of Pathological Physiology” in the authoritative Obozrenie psikhiatrii, nevrologii i refleksologii. The study related the case of a student at a technical college. Actively religious before the revolution, he had been drafted into the imperial army in 1916 and in 1920 joined the Bolshevik Party. Recently the young man, who was described as “a passive rank and file worker,” had been admitted to the clinic for mental illness at Leningrad’s Military-Medical Academy. Udal'tsov’s diagnosis of the student’s condition is worth...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 205-210)

    In 1929, Ivan Vvedenskii argued that psychiatry was the branch of medicine in which coercion was “the rule rather than the exception.” He explained that

    the principle of coercion is deployed specifically and systematically in psychiatry. … The premise for the deployment of psychiatric coercion is the thought that mental illness distorts the individual’s capacity to understand his situation and his interests, rights, and obligations, disrupts his reciprocal relations with the surrounding environment, and in so doing deprives him of the right autonomously to decide his own actions and to bear the responsibility for them.¹

    Vvedenskii’s statement offers a distilled...

  11. Bibliography of Primary Sources
    (pp. 211-224)
  12. Index
    (pp. 225-230)