Deaf in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics: "Defect" and the New Soviet Person, 1917-1991
This thesis examines the history of the deaf in the Soviet Union. The disability on Soviet programmes of identity and the fashioning of a Soviet subjectivity and selfhood. Deaf individuals adopted Soviet values, to find their place within Soviet society.
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Deaf in the USSR: "Defect" and the New Soviet Person, 1917-1991
Claire Louise Shaw
School of Slavonic and East
University College London, PhD
I, Claire Louise Shaw, confirm that the work presented in this thesis is my own. Where information has been derived from other sources, I confirm that this has been indicated in the thesis.
This thesis examines the history of the deaf in the Soviet Union from the February Revolution of 1917 to the fall of communism in 1991. Its primary goal is to assess the impact of disability on Soviet programmes of identity and the fashioning of a Soviet subjectivity and selfhood. From the birth of the Soviet state, the nascent deaf community sought to cast off the stigma, marginality and legal restrictions of their pre-revolutionary status and re-forge themselves as Soviet people. Deaf individuals adopted and transformed Soviet values, such as collectivism, humanism, labour and initiative, in an ongoing attempt to find their place within Soviet society. This utopian drive for equality and inclusion was tempered, however, by competing and sometimes contradictory understandings of the deaf: as objects of state beneficence and welfare, and as a separate community defined (both positively and negatively) by their Їdefect?.
The thesis explores the activities of state bodies in the spheres of deaf education, labour and culture as well as the changing medical and educational theories of deafness, but its primary focus is the agency of deaf individuals, including how they constituted their own individual and collective selfhood. Its main source base is the archive of the All-Russian Society of the Deaf, the organisational body run by the deaf from 1926 to the present, alongside archival sources from other state institutions (the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, the Soviet of Ministers of the USSR and the Trades Union) as well as printed sources (deaf journalism, literature, theatre and art). On this basis, the thesis argues that a unique deaf-Soviet identity developed in the Soviet Union, at times in opposition to state action, but firmly embedded within the ideological framework of the Soviet utopian project as a whole.
List of Illustrations
Note on Transliteration and Terminology
Glossary and Abbreviations
1. Revolutionising Deafness
2. Making the Deaf Soviet
3. War and Reconstruction
4. Speaking in the Language of Art"
5. Cold War in the Deaf Community
List of Illustrations
figure 1: Deaf-Mute Cell of the RKP(b), 1925 38
figure 2: May Day Parade, 1933 75
figure 3: A ?Deaf" Postcard Seller, 1934 99
figure 4: Moscow, 22nd June 1941 120
figure 5: Poster, the Moscow Theatre of Sign and Gesture, 1966 168
figure 6: Poster for Zhili liudi, 1963 184
figure 7: Zhili liudi, 1963 188
figure 8: Set design, Zhili liudi, 1963 188
figure 9: Deaf Students of the Zlatoust Industrial School, 1963 205
This thesis has been funded by a Doctoral Award from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, and a Scouloudi Fellowship from the Institute of Historical Research. I thank both organisations for their support.
I am especially grateful to those individuals who opened the doors of the Russian deaf community to me. Alla Borisovna Slavina was an inspiration to meet: her insistence that Soviet deaf people ?stepped to the tempo of the March of the
Enthusiasts" could not help but shape the direction of my research. Viktor Palennyi was a generous host, allowing me unrestricted access to the documents of the VOG collection and helping me navigate my way through them. During my time in the VOG offices, Viktor Skripov introduced me to the world of deaf art and provided an endless supply of tea, sweets and conversation. Tania Davidenko and Vera Ezhova were enthusiastic teachers of Russian Sign Language; it is testament to their patience that I am the now the proud owner of a Level 1 Diploma. When my hands failed me, Rosa, the redoubtable secretary of the VOG offices, was an invaluable translator.
The support I received as I made my way through the archives and libraries of Moscow and London has made this project possible. Nina Vladimirovna, in particular, was an efficient and tolerant guide to GARF"s second reading room.
Marina Galkina, Maksim Kushnarev, Anna Sokolovskaia and James Marson were my Moscow family: I could not have finished this work without them. In London, thanks go to the staff of the RNID library, especially the lovely Dominic Stiles, for giving me the keys to their store cupboard and allowing me to explore their eclectic Russian collection. The SSEES library staff were ever-helpful: thanks in particular to Wojciech Janek for taking the time to dig up volumes of Soviet legislation for me.
During my time at SSEES, my fellow research students have made the good times better and the stresses easier to bear. Zbigniew Wojnowski has been a colleague, sometime-house-mate and friend since the beginning of our MA: his prolific writing style is deeply disconcerting, but I love him nonetheless. Thanks to all of my PhD
?generation", in particular Dragana Obradovic, Delphine Grass and Anna Toropova, for their support and good conversation. My London housemates have provided enthusiasm, kindness and cups of tea in abundance: thanks in particular to Alex Nice for making this city finally feel like home.
Many people have contributed to this project by debating ideas, commenting on presentations and answering questions. Chris Ward, my undergraduate supervisor, has been unfailingly encouraging, both of my decision to pursue history at postgraduate level, and of the thesis as a whole. I don"t always take his advice, but our disagreements always make me think. The SSEES Arts and Humanities Research Seminar gave me the opportunity to debate my research in a supportive setting. Phil Cavendish"s MA class on Valerii Todorovsky"s film Strana glukhikh sparked the idea for this thesis. Wendy Bracewell and Kristin Roth-Ey were discerning readers of my work for the upgrade; Kristin"s exhortation to be ?messy and bold" changed this project much for the better. Julian Graffy has been consistently supportive, helping me locate the rare appearances of deafness on film. Polly Jones has read my work, in fragments and as a whole, and her perceptive comments have been invaluable. Most importantly, my supervisor Susan Morrissey has been involved in this project since its inception. Her insightful readings of my work have pushed me to challenge my ideas, to think and to develop. Her faith in my ability to write this thesis has pulled me through, and I can never thank her enough.
Last, but by no means least, my thanks go to my parents, Ruth and Tony, and my brother Edward, for their support and love. Dad"s years of dedication to teaching deaf children have clearly rubbed off on me: I can only hope to have done justice to that legacy.
Note on Transliteration and Terminology
Russian words have been transliterated according to the Library of Congress scheme and are italicised in the text.
The Russian word ?deaf-mute" (glukhonemoi), in adjective and noun form, was in common use for much of the Soviet period. I use the term when translating from original source material; elsewhere, I use the terms ?deaf" (glukhoi), ?hard-of-hearing" (tugoukhii) and ?hearing" (slyshashii). Although it has become the convention in Western scholarship to capitalise the adjective ?Deaf", this has political connotations specific to the Western (and particularly American) deaf community, and as such I do not follow that convention here.
Glossary and Abbreviations
artel work group
aktiv group of activists
APN Academy of Pedagogical Sciences
d. delo, archival file
f. fond, archival fund (collection)
fizkul"turniki participants in ?physical culture" activities
FZU Factory-Plant School
GARF State Archive of the Russian Federation
GTO ?Ready for Labour and Defence", a state-sponsored physical-culture
internat boarding school
ispolkom executive committee
kolkhoz (plural kolkhozy) collective farm
Komsomol Communist Union of Young People
komsomolets (plural komsomol"tsy) member of the Komsomol
likbez literacy class
Minsobes Ministry of Social Welfare (previously Narkomsobes)
Minzdrav Ministry of Health (previously People"s Commissariat of Health)
Mintrud Ministry of Labour (previously People"s Commissariat of Labour)
Minpros Ministry of Enlightenment (previously People"s Commissariat of
MVD Ministry of Internal Affairs
Narkomsobes People"s Commissariat of Social Welfare (later Minsobes)
Narkomzdrav People"s Commissariat of Health (later Minzdrav)
Narkomtrud People"s Commissariat of Labour (later Mintrud)
Narkompros People"s Commissariat of Enlightenment (later Minpros)
op. opis, inventory
Osoaviakhim ?Defence, Aviation and Chemical", a voluntary defence organisation
profsoiuz trade union
rabfak workers" faculty at an educational establishment
RGANI Russian State Archive of Contemporary History
RGASPI Russian State Archive of Social and Political History
RSFSR Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic
SEER Slavonic and East European Review
sovkhoz (plural sovkhozy) state farm
Sovnarkom Soviet of People"s Deputies
SPON Social and Legal Protection of Minors (department under
UPM Educational-Industrial Workshop, subordinate to VOG (later UPP)
UPP Educational-Industrial Enterprise, subordinate to VOG (previously
VES V edinom stroiu (In a United Rank) VOG magazine, 1972-present
VIKO All-Union Industrial-Consumer Unification of Invalids
VOG All-Russian Unification of Deaf-Mutes
later All-Russian Society of Deaf-Mutes
later All-Russian Society of the Deaf
VSG All-Russian Union of Deaf-Mutes
VSNKh Supreme Soviet of the Economy
VTsSPS All-Union Central Soviet of Professional Unions (Trades Union)
VUZ Higher Educational Establishment
We do our deeds in silence,
And our deeds speak for us.
Ivan Isaev 1
Dvoe (The Two), a short film from 1965 by the director Mikhail Bogin, opens in the bustling streets of a nameless Soviet city.2 A music student, Serezha, is walking home from rehearsals at the conservatory of music when he accidentally knocks into a young woman, Natasha. His verbose and witty apologies are met with nothing but an enigmatic smile in response, and she walks on. Intrigued by her beauty - and her silence - he follows her across town, making a series of fruitless attempts to provoke her into speaking to him. The reason for her reticence soon becomes clear. On the steps of a theatre, she stops to chat to a friend, expressing herself in vibrant sign language. Time freezes. In an instant, Serezha understands: Natasha is deaf.
From its opening scenes, Dvoe plunges the viewer into the everyday world of the Soviet deaf community. Natasha is a member of the All-Russian Society of the Deaf (Vserossiiskoe obshchestvo glukhikh, or VOG), and subscribes to its monthly magazine, Zhizn" glukhikh (Life of the Deaf), a poster for which adorns the front door of her flat. In the daytime she studies acrobatics at the State Circus School, and at night she operates the lights at the Theatre of Sign and Gesture, the professional Soviet deaf theatre founded in Moscow in 1957. Natasha communicates in sign language with her deaf friends, and with Serezha through lip-reading or written Russian on scraps of paper torn from his book of musical scores. The film revels in her ?otherness" and the exoticism of her community, hidden in plain sight within the city Serezha thought he knew. Yet at the same time, as Bogin himself was keen to
1 Ivan Isaev, Mnogogolos"e tishiny: Iz istoriia glukhikh Rossii (Moscow, 1996), p. 80.
2 Dvoe, directed by Mikhail Bogin, 1965, USSR. The film was shot in Riga, but aspects of the screenplay, such as the scenes shot in the Theatre of Sign and Gesture, situate the action firmly in Moscow.
stress, the film also reveals the commonalities between the two young people, especially the uniquely Soviet identity that they both share. As they get to know each other, Serezha and Natasha discover their mutual interest in the arts, their similar ambitions and experiences. She comes to see his chamber orchestra play, and he attends a performance by the Theatre. ?Above all", Bogin commented, ?we wanted to tell on screen of the spiritual community of Soviet people, of genuine human dignity and humanism".3
According to deaf reviewers, Bogin"s film ?vividly and accurately told of our society, which offers people all possibilities for the highest and fullest development of their creative strengths".4 Yet despite this positive interpretation, the film is not without its ambiguities. Whilst the relationship between Serezha and Natasha points to a shared Soviet identity, Natasha and her deaf friends are far from integrated into the wider Soviet community. Their reliance on sign language actively prevents interaction with hearing people. Similarly, the reaction of certain hearing individuals to deaf characters is telling: in a later scene, some young men try to get the attention of two of Natasha"s friends (using the same chat-up lines as Serezha had used on Natasha) but, on realising that the pair are deaf, they turn away in disgust. It is not even clear if the relationship between the two central characters is ultimately successful. The final scenes show alternating shots of Serezha and Natasha walking separately through a park: whether they are walking towards or away from each other is a matter of interpretation.
Zhizn" glukhonemykh, published in various forms throughout the Soviet period, is one of the central sources used in this thesis. Founded as an organisational newspaper in 1924 under the auspices of the Deaf-Mute Section under VIKO, it was re-launched in 1933 as a fortnightly magazine under VTsSPS, the central body of the trades union. Publication was suspended in 1941, on the eve of the Second World War, and not resumed until 1957, at which point the magazine was re-launched as the monthly Zhizn" glukhikh under the All-Russian Society of the Deaf (VOG). In 1972, the magazine was renamed V edinom stroiu (In a United Rank). The referencing for this source follows the pattern established by the magazine itself. From 1924 to 1933 it is treated as a newspaper and referenced by date. 1933 is considered its foundation as a magazine (zhurnal), and volume numbers are counted from this date, regardless of the pause in publication or the change in name: thus the first volume of Zhizn" glukhikh, published in 1957, is referenced as volume 10, and the first volume of V edinom stroiu is referenced as volume 25. The newspaper only provides the first initial and surname of its authors, instead of the usual name and patronymic: as such, unless the author can be identified from other documentation, they are referenced in this manner throughout this thesis.
3 Baulin and Razdorskii, ?Dvoe", p. 13.
Bogin"s film thus portrayed deaf people as both Soviet and un-Soviet, engaged in and distanced from the wider Soviet community. It is this tension - between inclusion and exclusion, equality and difference - in the lives and identities of Soviet deaf people that forms the central focus of this thesis. It examines the history of the deaf in the Soviet Union from the February Revolution of 1917 to the collapse of the Soviet state in 1991, situating the experience of deaf people within the broader framework of Soviet programmes of identity and the fashioning of a Soviet subjectivity and selfhood. Using sources from the All-Russian Society of the Deaf, an organisational body run by the deaf from 1926 to the present day, alongside institutional archives, deaf journalism, literature, theatre and art, it traces deaf engagement with the Soviet project to remake man and society in its various incarnations throughout the Soviet era. It argues that a unique deaf-Soviet identity developed in the Soviet Union, at times in opposition to state action or distanced from hearing Soviet society, but always firmly embedded within the ideological framework of the Soviet utopian project as a whole.
Deafness, referred to in Soviet parlance as a ?defect" (defekt), took on particular meanings in the Soviet context. Understandings of deafness became intimately bound up with Bolshevik ideology and the ideals of the communist experiment. From the moment of its creation, the Soviet state represented an ongoing transformative project, through which the raw human material of a ?backward", peasant country was to be forged anew as a classless, egalitarian, and ultimately communist, society. The individual was viewed as plastic, able to be moulded into the revolutionary ideal of the ?New Soviet Person", the rational, conscious and collectivist worker in whose name power had been seized. In popular culture, this ideal individual was often manifested physically, embodied in the healthy, muscular workers and plump children of Soviet novels, films, posters and parades. Soviet individuals were expected to work to remake themselves in the mould of these Soviet heroes. Yet, within these utopian dreams, it was unclear what the consequences would be if an individual was physically flawed. What impact did the disabled or ?defective" body have on a person"s ability to become a New Soviet
Person? This question has particular significance in understanding both the nature of the ideal of selfhood perpetuated by the Soviet Union, and the techniques of population politics employed to achieve it: recent studies of the treatment of deaf people in Nazi Germany, for example, including their sterilisation and murder by the state, have shed new light on National Socialist theories of heredity and genetics and their implementation in practice.5
Deafness occupied an ambiguous role in the Soviet Union. Not in itself incapacitating (or even visible), deafness did not preclude physical fitness or labour, key aspects of the theoretical make-up of the New Soviet Person. In fact, as the key Soviet theorist of deafness, Lev Semenovich Vygotskii, was to point out in 1924, ?as a labour apparatus, as a human machine, the body of a deaf-mute barely differs from the body of a normal person and, consequently, a deaf person retains all the fullness of physical possibilities, bodily development, the acquisition of skills and labour abilities".6 As an ?invisible" disability, deafness did not prevent an individual from wielding a hammer or working a metal lathe; nor, as the decades passed, did it impede deaf participation in the symbolic rituals of Soviet life, such as the May Day parades on Red Square.
Although the deaf might blend into the Soviet crowd, their hearing loss nonetheless represented a direct challenge to Marxist ideology, which posited the primacy of community and social interaction in the shaping of individual consciousness. Being deaf, as Commissar of Enlightenment Anatolii Lunacharskii would assert in 1929, meant an inability to ?enter into real relationships with others, to extend those telegraph lines that are speech between people".7 This lack of speech was seen to impact directly on a deaf individual"s mental development, and as such, his ability to become a rational and collective-orientated Soviet person. At the same time, the
?oral" nature of Soviet life, with its songs, speeches and slogans, was configured as a vital facet in the construction of the new, collective social order. As Michael Gorham suggests, in the years following the revolution, oratory was viewed as a process that enabled both speaker and listener to lose ?attributes distinctive to his personality and enter into the ranks of the collective ЇI?".8 Inability to engage with this vital part of Soviet culture had the result of pushing the deaf further to the margins of Soviet life.
Deafness, therefore, represented a particular obstacle to the Soviet transformative project. By depriving individuals of speech and thus distancing them from social life, hearing loss cut deaf people off from the educative influence of the collective. In a society predicated on collectivism and the ?illiberal self", this distance could be interpreted as anti-Soviet, and perhaps even dangerous.9 Yet at its heart, the revolutionary project also rested on ideals of opportunity and transcendence. The utopian potential inherent in the ideal of the New Soviet Person - that of transforming a flawed individual into the Soviet ideal - was applied equally to the deaf. In the Soviet context, deafness was seen as a challenge, an obstacle to be
?overcome" through medical, social and educational means. With the right training and skills, and the right support, it was argued, deaf people could transcend their
?defect" and become active and useful members of Soviet society. As Vygotskii affirmed, ?if we create a country, where [...] the deaf find their place in life, where
[deafness] will not automatically signify a lack, then [deafness] will not be a defect. [...] To overcome defect - that is the central, fundamental idea".10
Soviet ideologues thus posited a complex theory of deafness, in which fears of the marginal and isolated position of deaf people sat at odds with deaf people"s perceived ability to labour and ?overcome" their defect. This thesis traces the shifting contours of these ideas, including how they manifested themselves in medical, educational and social policy enacted by the state. The main focus of the thesis, however, is not on the perceptions of deaf people by the Soviet state and society, but rather on the agency and activity of deaf people themselves: the manner in which deaf people engaged with the Soviet project and constituted their own individual and collective selfhood. From 1917 to 1991, the changing frameworks of Soviet identity found an echo in the deaf community, as deaf people worked to make (and remake) themselves as Soviet individuals. Within this broader transformative process, three distinct themes are identified: agency, community, and welfare.
The revolution was a watershed moment for deaf individuals. Before 1917, deaf people had been equated with the insane or mentally impaired and kept under a system of tutelage which curtailed their rights and individual freedoms. In its destruction of the legal structures of tsarism, therefore, the revolution also enabled deaf people to shake off the bounds of tutelage and claim agency and independence for themselves. Throughout the Soviet period, this demand for agency would prove a defining motif in the history of the deaf. Soviet deaf individuals insisted time and again on their right to work, to study, to support themselves and to be independent (samodeiatel"nye) citizens of the Soviet state. This demand for agency was not simply a question of self-sufficiency, however. Soviet deaf people wrote themselves into the Soviet narrative of ?overcoming", challenging their ?defect" by seeking to demonstrate that their capabilities matched, and even surpassed, those of the hearing. Over the Soviet period, these claims to agency shifted, from a practical focus on industrial skills and basic education, to a broader conception of the artistic and educational talents of Soviet deaf people (as epitomised in the figure of Bogin"s
Natasha). In labour, education, culture, and social life, deaf people rejected their marginal, pre-revolutionary identity and claimed equality of capability and opportunity.
Whilst claiming the right to be viewed as equal Soviet citizens was an important step, achieving this equality in practice was much more difficult. In 1917, the majority of deaf people in Russia lived alone in rural communities, were illiterate, unskilled, and supported by their families. Turning this group of ?scattered" and uneducated deaf people into ideal Soviet citizens - from ?backward" individuals to the ?first ranks" of the Soviet body politic - represented a unique challenge to individual and collective transformation. Deaf individuals, state agencies, and the All-Russian Society of the Deaf thus struggled to find the appropriate techniques to facilitate this transformation. The 1920s and 1930s saw a privileging of industrial labour, with deaf people encouraged to migrate from the countryside to the city in order to remake themselves as Soviet workers. Political education, often through the medium of sign language, was conducted in the factories and in local social clubs. Similarly, adult education and literacy training were called upon to enlighten and raise the Soviet ?consciousness" of deaf workers. In later years, participation in
?high" culture, such as film, theatre and art, rounded out the picture of the ideal
Soviet deaf individual. These techniques changed over time and had various degrees of success: whilst many individuals grasped the opportunity to become skilled workers eagerly and with ease, transformation proved a frustrating and incomplete process for others. The frequent disjunction between the ideals of deaf transformation and its problematic reality is a central theme in this thesis.
To strive to remake deaf people as equal and active Soviet citizens did not imply complete integration into the broader Soviet collective. From the very beginning of the Soviet period, deaf people insisted that agency and ?Sovietness" were possible only if the deaf joined together to run their own services and facilitate their own transformation: ?the affairs of deaf mutes are their own", asserted one of the early leaders of the deaf community, P. A. Savel"ev, in 1925.11 The Soviet period thus saw the creation of a distinct deaf community, framed by its institutions, but increasingly defined in terms of language and everyday life. The All-Russian Society of the Deaf (VOG), founded in 1926, but with roots stretching back to before 1917, created an institutional framework that gradually came to encompass all areas of deaf people"s lives, including work placement, living space, social activities and cultural and educational services. Techniques of ?concentration", or the grouping of deaf people in state industry and educational establishments, similarly fostered a collective deaf identity. This creation of a distinct deaf community was not immediately accepted by the state, or even by many deaf people themselves: the 1920s and 1930s saw bitter power struggles between VOG and state departments over the control of services for deaf people, including direct challenges to VOG"s dominance from deaf activists in the trades union. By the early 1950s, however, such struggles had been resolved, and VOG had become the sole institution managing the lives of Soviet deaf individuals. This deaf community, institutionalised in VOG, thus became a defining factor in the lives and identities of Soviet deaf people.
11 P. A. Savel"ev, ?Istoriia povtoriaetsia", Zhizn" glukhonemykh, 1st October 1925, p.1.
Alongside institutional factors, a significant role in the development of Soviet deaf identity was played by the development of a national sign language. The Soviet state had a fluctuating and ambiguous attitude to sign language: in line with most Western theorists of the time, Soviet linguists did not consider sign to be a language in its own right. This attitude had its roots in the work of Soviet psycho-linguists and behaviouralist psychologists such as Ivan Petrovich Pavlov, who argued that individual consciousness was formed through the translation of sensory perceptions, such as sight and sound, into spoken language.12 Sign language, as a communicative system based on visual perception of gesture, was thus not considered capable of allowing an individual to access higher levels of consciousness. The most damning criticism of sign language was made by Stalin in discussions of his theoretical work
On Marxism and Linguistics, published in 1950, when he dismissed sign language as
?not a language, and not even a linguistic substitute".13 This argument was most strongly adhered to by Soviet educators, who kept sign out of the classroom throughout the Soviet period.
Yet despite this theoretical condemnation of sign language, the state tacitly accepted sign language as a communicative tool within the deaf community, even facilitating its development. Groups of ?concentrated" deaf individuals in state industry were served by sign-language instructors, who translated lectures and instructions and liaised between hearing managers and deaf workers. This not only absolved deaf people of the need to communicate in spoken or written Russian on a daily basis, but also encouraged the learning of sign language by the wider deaf masses. Deaf individuals from the countryside, who were predominantly illiterate and communicated in some variant of ?home sign", were thus required to learn standardised ?city sign" to be able to work in state industry. Sign language translation, in factories, higher education establishments, courts of law and doctors" offices, became a common feature of daily life for deaf people. Over time, this acceptance of sign language as an everyday reality provoked a reconceptualisation of its role as a language. By the 1950s, the development of sign-language theatre as an art form, both on an amateur level within the deaf club system, and on a professional level in the Theatre of Sign and Gesture, raised its status. Similarly, developments in linguistics, such as the creation of the first sign language dictionary by I. F. Geil"man in 1957, caused sign to be recognised more widely as a language worthy of the name.
As the Soviet deaf community developed, therefore, deaf individuals began to define themselves through their newly acquired language. This definition often functioned in an oppositional manner, with signing deaf individuals (who referred to themselves as ?deaf-mutes" well into the 1950s) often constructing their identity in opposition to the ?speaking" masses. In many cases, the pejorative term ?speaking" was applied equally to the hearing and to those late-deafened individuals who argued against deaf separatism within Soviet society. Whilst this linguistic identity was a consistent and significant dynamic, the Soviet deaf community never followed in the footsteps of the American Deaf community to construct their identity in ethnic-linguistic terms.
The notion of deafness as a distinct, language based ?nationality" was occasionally raised within VOG discussions, but always dismissed. At a lively VOG meeting in
1936, for example, the suggestion by VOG chairman P. A. Savel"ev that the deaf community was like a separate nation was soundly rejected by those present. As one deaf activist remarked, ?does comrade Savel"ev wish this to imply that deaf people should have their own specific culture? The question comes down to the fact that deaf people have special conditions that makes their access to general culture more difficult. Our task is to overcome these difficulties."14 In the Soviet Union, therefore, deafness represented what the historian of deafness in Japan, Karen Nakamura, has termed a ?hybrid and intersectional identity".15 Whilst individuals sought to remake themselves as ?Soviet", they at no point rejected their identity as ?deaf", understood both in medical terms - as ?defect" and ?physical lack" - and in terms of their language and everyday lives within the deaf community. Yet a third dimension was at play which further complicated this ?deaf-Soviet" hybridism.
Throughout the Soviet era, but particularly in the post-war period , deaf people were increasingly conceptualised as worthy recipients of state welfare and care. This emphasis on welfare sat somewhat awkwardly with the desire for deaf agency and independence that had developed after the revolution. Nevertheless, welfare was a significant dynamic within the broader contours of the Soviet project that shaped understandings of selfhood and identity. As Jeffrey Brooks has suggested, Soviet society under Stalin functioned as a ?moral economy" in which citizens expressed gratitude to the beneficent state (and in particular to its leader, Stalin) for their continued well-being.16 Yet in the post-war and Khrushchev eras, as
Mark Smith argues, the concept of welfare became deeper and more universal: ?it was a stage marked by popular participation, revived Leninist idealism, and state investment, making possible, apparently, a newly vigorous attempt to modify the consciousness of the Soviet person while improving all aspects of his standard of living."17 Receipt of state welfare thus became a defining mode of Soviet citizenship.
In the post-war period, deaf individuals began to engage actively with this notion of Soviet welfare, demanding benefits (l"goty) and care from the state. From the late 1940s, deaf individuals were offered material benefits and a wide variety of cultural and social services to facilitate their engagement in Soviet society. In 1956, a new state law granted deaf individuals the right to pension payments on top of their usual salaries in industry. In this manner, deaf people began to configure themselves as an
?entitlement community", defined by Mark Edele as ?a collection of individuals sharing similar claims to special treatment".18 Deafness, in this conception, made deaf individuals deserving of benefits above and beyond their fellow, hearing citizens. This dynamic was encouraged by both deaf people and the state: the provision of benefits and pensions for deaf citizens was configured as an example of
Soviet ?humaneness" (gumannost") that was widely propagandised, both within the Soviet deaf community and abroad. Yet the receipt of state welfare did not necessarily contradict notions of deaf agency and independence. Many of the material benefits and services for deaf people were provided by VOG, an institution
that was (from 1954) independent of government subsidy and funded by the profits from deaf-run factories. Similarly, the provision of pensions for deaf people did not deny them the ability to work, study and be active members of Soviet society; it merely provided additional subsidies to improve their quality of life.
This thesis thus traces the shifting interactions between these three modes of identity in the lives of Soviet deaf people. Through examining how Soviet deaf individuals acted and sought to frame their actions, it attempts to uncover the complex and evolving relationship of deaf people to the ideological framework of the New Soviet Person. At the same time, it examines the development of a deaf community, institutionalised in VOG, which shaped and informed the lives of deaf individuals. Due to its focus on the institutional frameworks surrounding deafness, the scope of this thesis is confined to Soviet Russia and the All-Russian Society of the Deaf: the experiences of analogous deaf societies in the ?Brother Republics" are touched on but not examined in detail. The majority of these societies, however, were established after VOG and modelled upon it: as such, in many ways the Soviet Russian experience can be read as the foundational history of deafness in a socialist state.
Disability and the Body
In its examination of deafness and disability, this thesis builds on a narrow body of literature that examines disability and the body in the Soviet context. The question of Soviet disability as an area of study was first raised in 1985, at a conference convened at Michigan State University by William McCagg and Lewis Siegelbaum. The resulting volume of papers identified three areas of potential investigation: the historical backdrop to disability in the Soviet Union from before the revolution to the Second World War; the contemporary picture of the treatment of disability; and the
?popular image" of the disabled, discerned, in the absence of popular opinion surveys, through ?literature, aphorisms and jokes".19 The editors made clear that they were breaking new ground: ?Our subject is in fact enormous. But even within the
USSR, the dimension of the disabled population and the extent and effectiveness of its treatment is little publicised, and for decades virtually nothing on the subject reached the foreigner"s eye."20 The significance of this new topic for the field of
Soviet studies was stressed: ?societies always reveal themselves through their treatment of the helpless among their own populations."21
The papers collected by McCagg and Siegelbaum provide a wide-ranging introduction to the subject of Soviet disability, covering such varied topics as the treatment of schizophrenia (David Joravsky), the problem of industrial accidents (Lewis Siegelbaum) and the image of the war wounded in Soviet literature (Vera Dunham). The collection provides an excellent background to the conceptual frameworks governing disability in the Soviet context, such as the holistic and rehabilitational attitudes inherent in defectology, and the problem of consciousness in the scholarship of Lev Vygotskii. Bernice Madison"s article is of particular value, presenting a detailed overview of the legislation governing disabled individuals, including the war disabled, physically disabled, blind and deaf.22 These works are somewhat hampered by the limited access to sources in the 1980s: in the absence of archival documentation, the papers use published state legislation, newspapers, statistical collections and works of literature and art to glean a picture of disability in the Soviet Union. As a result, they are unable to analyse the individual and collective agency of disabled individuals in any detail, leaning instead towards examinations of attitudes to, and treatment of, the disabled. One notable exception is Paul Raymond"s article, which uses dissident samizdat literature to examine the activities of the Action Group to Defend the Rights of the Disabled in the USSR.23 Yet despite these limits, the collection raises significant questions about Soviet disability, and posits a number of methodological approaches in order to answer them.
The Michigan Conference opened up the subject of Soviet disability to scholarly analysis. Since that time, however, few scholars have attempted to extend the
begun by McCagg and Siegelbaum. The understanding of disability in the Soviet context, and the everyday experiences of Soviet disabled individuals, has represented a significant lacuna in Soviet historical scholarship. This is especially surprising given the institutionalised nature of Soviet disability, and the resulting rich source material available in the newly opened archives. One facet of disability that has warranted some attention, however, is the treatment and activities of those individuals disabled by fighting in the Second World War, as examined by the historians Beate Fieseler and Mark Edele.
Making detailed use of archival sources, Fieseler has traced the attempt by disabled veterans to reintegrate themselves into the Soviet workforce after the war. She argues that the expectation that war invalids would be rehabilitated through labour led to the neglect of their social welfare: ?the provision for invalids became subordinate to the reconstruction process."24 Similarly, Mark Edele has discussed the problem of disability as part of his work on war veterans as a developing social movement. He charts the ?tension between symbolic status and frustrated material expectations" in the experience of disabled veterans after the war: the perceived right of disabled veterans to state welfare and benefits in return for fighting and being wounded in the service of their country (their role as an ?entitlement community") was counteracted by an incomplete welfare system and a fragmented sense of identity.25 These studies of disabled veterans have done much to highlight the ambiguous and problematic role of disabled individuals in Soviet society, particularly in terms of their relationship to the welfare state. In light of their ?special status" and the broader dynamics of the post-war treatment of veterans, however, the experience of the war disabled must be considered a particular case. As yet, those disabled at birth or by peacetime accident have not merited similar scholarly investigation.
Alongside case studies examining the experience of disabled veterans, scholars of Soviet history and cultural studies have published works which have illuminated the
role of perfect (and imperfect) bodies in Soviet culture. In his detailed analysis of Soviet cultural norms from the revolution to the Second World War, David Hoffmann has discussed the promotion of the healthy body as a vital part of the attempt to produce New Soviet People. Through techniques of public health and hygiene, as well as an emphasis on physical culture and leisure pursuits, he argues, the Soviet state sought to ?acculturate" individuals and their bodies, instilling enlightened and ?civilised" behaviours and practices. This process of physical acculturation had a dual purpose, in that it ?was prompted by both instrumental and aesthetic considerations": ?These officials needed a healthy and orderly workforce, and particularly during the industrialization drive of the 1930s they emphasized values of hygiene, order and efficiency above all others. But they also sought to improve and uplift workers and peasants for their own sake, and because cleanliness and neatness corresponded to aesthetic ideals of what a socialist society should look like."26 The healthy body was thus conceived as both a tool for improving the quality of individual labour, and an aesthetic goal in its own right.27
Hoffmann"s analysis situates the promotion of the healthy body within a broader ?civilizing process", through which the Soviet state attempted to create a modern, enlightened and aesthetically pleasing body politic. His work investigates the tools of this promotion, including state health, labour and leisure policy, ideological debates and propaganda images. Despite this focus on Soviet ideals of health and vigour, however, Hoffmann makes no mention of those who were unable to conform to these ideals: the disabled ?other" against whom the ideal Soviet self was implicitly juxtaposed. By contrast, Lilya Kaganovsky has made this ?other" the central focus of her work.28 Using psychoanalytic theory to examine the production of ?Stalinist heroes", she argues that ?the world of the Stalinist novel and Stalinist film is filled with damaged male bodies. Their sacrifices to the Soviet cause make them worthy of elevation to the status of Їhero?; yet their extreme forms of physical disability reveal
what might be called an ideological and cultural fantasy of Stalinism: the radical dismemberment of its male subjects".29 Alongside the promotion of the ideal body,
?socialist-realist novels and films of that period surprisingly often rely on the figure of the wounded or mutilated body to represent the New Soviet Man".30
For Kaganovsky, this prevalence of disabled male heroes provides a key to understanding the aesthetics of power in the Stalin period. Physical lack, she asserts, is a ?precondition of Stalinist male subjectivity": ?a response to the narrative of Їextravagant virility? produced by Stalinist art, pointing to the mediation between reality and desire, of what it means to be so close and yet so removed from power."31
The dominant ideological discourse of Stalinism informed its male subjects that to be whole, they ought to be superhumanly active, able and strong - in the model of
Stalin, the ?father of the people, leader, master" - yet in reality, Stalinist men were unable to live up to that ideal. This disjunction, according to Kaganovsky, resulted in cultural products that emphasised the ?circumscribed masculinity" of its heroes, ?a masculinity that openly acknowledges and privileges its own undoing, that insists on weakness, on blindness, on distance from power".32
The disabled heroes of Stalinist literature and film, in Kaganovsky"s analysis, provide a means by which to reflect on the impossible ideals of Soviet masculinity.33
In a similar fashion, other scholars of Soviet literature have attempted to discern the unconscious or symbolic meanings conveyed by disabled characters in Soviet fiction. Keith Livers has analysed metaphors of disability used in Lev Kassil""s 1939 novel The Goalkeeper of the Republic. Recurrent images of blindness and lameness, he argues, are used to provide symbolic keys to understanding individual characters in the novel, with disability ultimately understood as a positive stimulus to self-development, pushing the wayward, individualistic hero toward greater
consciousness.34 Similarly, Iurii Murashov has examined the symbolic significance of blindness in Soviet cinema: examining scenes from the socialist-realist classics
Istrebiteli (The Fighter Pilots, 1938), Povest" o nastoiashchem cheloveke (The Story of a Real Man, 1948) and Podvig razvedchika (Secret Agent, 1947), he concludes that ?the eye divides, the ear unites".35 These works thus analyse disability in terms of cultural image-making and ideology, with disabled bodies being ?read" in order to better understand the dominant norms of Soviet selfhood. Yet the impact of these norms in practice on Soviet attitudes towards the disabled, and on the experience of disabled individuals themselves, is not addressed.
In Russia, by contrast, the last fifteen years have seen a slew of publications detailing the history of the deaf community. In the mid-1990s, the deaf archivist Alla Borisovna Slavina began to criticise the tendency of VOG members to reflect nostalgically and at a distance on the Soviet past: ?there is only one fundamental source - the [archival] document."36 Between 1996 and 2003, the Moscow Symposium of Deaf History was held every two years, resulting in four edited volumes of papers by deaf and hearing individuals alike. These volumes focused primarily on local and institutional histories: the first Symposium included papers on the history of the primary deaf organisation of the 1st State Ball-Bearing Works, and the development of deaf education at the Moscow Institute of Chemical Engineering.37 In 2007, this growing tradition of deaf history culminated in Viktor
Aleksandrovich Palennyi"s 700-page History of the All-Russian Society of the Deaf.38 This work, intended to be the first of a two-volume definitive history of VOG, combines a narrative of the development of deaf organisation in the Soviet Union with appendix collections of primary materials, including archival documents, newspaper articles, letters and poems. These works have been published by VOG for distribution amongst their members: as such, they do not seek to engage with
scholarly debates on disability and ?Sovietness" as such. Yet in their meticulous and detailed attention to sources, they provide a solid base of information on the nature of deaf organisation in the Soviet period. Palennyi"s volume, in particular, has been an invaluable resource in the preparation of this thesis: his work draws on sources that are not readily available to the researcher, and as such has proved extremely useful in filling in the holes left by the accessible archival and print record.
This thesis seeks to build on this existing literature to examine the experience of Soviet deaf people, both in relation to the images of perfect and imperfect bodies that abounded in Soviet culture, and as a facet of broader questions about disabled individuals, their agency and activity, and their relationship to the Soviet state. At the same time, however, it attempts to situate deafness within current debates on individual and collective subjectivity and the role of ideology in shaping the Soviet self.
Soviet subjectivity, especially the dialogue between individual agency and ideology within the Soviet self, has long been the subject of scholarly debate, a debate which has only intensified with the fall of the Soviet Union and the opening up of new source materials to historical investigation.39 In the 1960s and 1970s, ?revisionist" Soviet historians challenged the prevailing ?totalitarian" view of the Soviet subject as ?a victim of Їpropaganda and terror?, atomised from his fellow men by fear, dissolved in communist Їpatterns of thought?, and unable to sustain a critical distance between himself and society".40 The new archival histories produced after 1991 appeared to vindicate this view: works based on the newly-discovered archival files of citizens" letters, public opinion reports, meeting transcripts and personal diaries began to construct a new narrative of popular agency and ?everyday resistance" to Soviet rule.41 Yet these new works often sidelined the role of ideology
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