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Week 12: Socialist Medicine

Lecturer: Claire Shaw

Following the Russian Revolutions of 1917, the Bolshevik government attempted to establish a new understanding of medicine, one in which society, rather than the body, took centre stage. Diseases were understood as pathologies of the body politic, and medicine’s role expanded to treat not only the individual body, but society as a whole. This lecture will explore the establishment of this ‘socialist medicine’, trace the continuities and changes from pre-revolutionary medical practice, and consider the impact of the revolution on doctors and patients alike.


Discussion/Essay Questions:

1. How did Marxist ideology change how health was understood in Soviet Russia? How was the relationship between mind, body and society viewed?
2. What did these new ideological requirements mean for the way medicine was practiced?
3. What role were individuals expected to play in maintaining their own health, and the health of society?


Required Reading:


Nikolai Semashko, ‘Work of the People’s Commissariat of Health’, in William Rosenberg (ed.), Bolshevik Visions: First Phase of the Cultural Revolution in Russia, Part 1 (University of Michigan Press, 1990), 139-145.

David Hoffmann, Cultivating the Masses: Modern State Practices and Soviet Socialism, 1914-1939 (Cornell University Press, 2011), 70-124.

Susan Gross Solomon, ‘Social Hygiene in Soviet Medical Education’, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, vol. 45, no. 4 (1990), 607-643.


Further Reading:


Daniel Beer, Renovating Russia: The Human Sciences and the Fate of Liberal Modernity, 1880-1930 (Cornell University Press, 2008).

Frances Lee Bernstein, The Dictatorship of Sex: Lifestyle Advice for the Soviet Masses (Northern Illinois University Press, 2011).

Frances L. Bernstein, Christopher Burton and Dan Healey (eds), Soviet Medicine: Culture, Practice and Science (Northern Illinois University Press, 2010).

Andy Byford, ‘Imperial Normativities and the Sciences of the Child: The Politics of Development in the USSR, 1920s-1930s’, Ab Imperio, 2/2016, 71-124.

Mark G. Field, Soviet Socialized Medicine: An Introduction (Free Press, 1967).

Susan Grant (ed.), Russian and Soviet Health Care from an International Perspective: Comparing Professions, Practice and Gender, 1880-1960 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).

David Hoffmann, Stalinist Values: The Cultural Norms of Soviet Modernity, 1917-1941 (Cornell University Press, 2003).

Lilya Kaganovsky, How the Soviet Man was Unmade: Cultural Fantasy and Male Subjectivity under Stalin (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008).

Christina Kaier and Eric Naiman, Everyday Life in Early Soviet Russia: Taking the Revolution Inside (Indiana University Press, 2006).

Kenneth M. Pinnow, ‘Cutting and Counting: Forensic Medicine as a Science of Society in Early Bolshevik Russia’, in David L. Hoffmann and Yanni Kotsonis (eds), Russian Modernity: Politics, Knowledge, Practices (Palgrave Macmillan, 2000), 115-137.

Ethan Pollock, Stalin and the Soviet Science Wars (Princeton University Press, 2006).

Susan Gross Solomon and John Hutchinson (eds), Health and Society in Revolutionary Russia (Indiana University Press, 1990).

Tricia Starks, The Body Soviet: Propaganda, Hygiene and the Revolutionary State (University of Wisconsin Press, 2009).