As an act of unbridled individualism, suicide confronted the
Bolshevik regime with a dilemma that challenged both its theory and
its practice and helped give rise to a social science state whose
primary purpose was the comprehensive and rational care of the
population. Labeled a social illness and represented as a vestige
of prerevolutionary culture, suicide in the 1920s raised troubling
questions about individual health and agency in a socialist
society, provided a catalyst for the development of new social
bonds and subjective outlooks, and became a marker of the country's
incomplete move toward a collectivist society.
Determined to eradicate the scourge of self-destruction, the
regime created a number of institutions and commissions to identify
pockets of disease and foster an integrated social order. The
Soviet confrontation with suicide reveals with particular force the
regime's anxieties about the relationship between the state and the
individual. In Lost to the Collective, Kenneth M. Pinnow
suggests the compatibility of the social sciences with Bolshevik
dictatorship and highlights their illusory promises of control over
the everyday life of groups and individuals.
The book traces the creation of national statistical studies,
the course of medical debates about causation and expert knowledge,
and the formation of a distinct set of practices in the Bolshevik
Party and Red Army that aimed to identify the suicidal individual
and establish his or her significance for the rest of society.
Arguing that the Soviet regime represents a particular response to
the pressures and challenges of modernity, the book examines Soviet
socialism-from its intense concern with the individual to its quest
to build an integrated society-as one response to the larger
question of human unity.
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