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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WFD"s activities. Similarly, the 1960s saw a boom in international scientific conferences dealing with the problem of deafness, such as the International Congress on Questions of Deaf Education and the International Conference of Experts on Professional Rehabilitation, both held in Washington in 1963, and the International Scientific Conference on the Problem of Deafness in 1957 and 1966.140 In the field
of Soviet science, the awareness of international scrutiny and the resulting need to convince the international scientific community of the validity of Soviet ideas was evident: the journals Spetsial"naia Shkola and Defektologiia were published with parallel English and Russian language contents pages, and articles on deaf education in other scientific publications, such as Sovetskaia pedagogika, were often accompanied by English-language summaries.141 Papers by leading defectologists, such as Professor D"iachkov, the scientist S. A. Zykov, and the linguist I. F. Geil"man, compiler of the first dictionary of Russian sign language, were given at international conferences and the WFD, in both French and English, and published abroad.
At the same time, however, the development of defectology as a discipline reflected more fundamental shifts in the nature of Soviet science that had begun in the final years of Stalin"s life. These shifts marked efforts to move away from the politically and ideologically determined scientific tradition that had existed since the late 1920s, epitomised by T. D.Lysenko, the ?peasant scientist" whose ideologically-based theory of vernalisation (a method of seed treatment) was championed by Stalin but proved devastating to Soviet agriculture. According to David Joravsky, Lysenko"s works were finally opened up to (limited) criticism in 1951, ultimately leading to
Khrushchev"s calls for ?creative discussions and free exchange of opinions" in science after Stalin"s death.142 Significant changes followed this watershed moment: in 1956, the Academy of Sciences of the USSR developed new, competitive systems of training and appointing cadres.143 A growing emphasis on research and publication - ?the two sides of scientific work" - saw a threefold increase in spending on science and scientific publications, with the result that, by the mid-
1960s, the publishing house Nauka (Science) was producing around 47,000 pages per year.144 This boom was accompanied by increased scientific specialisation: gone were the generalised collections (sborniki) of disparate articles, to be replaced by publications on narrow, specialised fields of enquiry.145
In a similar manner, defectology looked to shake off the constraints of the 1930s, when the Stalinist crackdown on educational psychology had stymied the development of the innovative research discipline pioneered by Lev Vygotskii.
Within the Institute, D"iachkov fostered a vibrant research community, in which young specialists carried out focused empirical research, based on experimentation and long-term observation of deaf subjects, and debated that research amongst themselves.146 This research was by no means ideologically neutral: in his articles on defectology, D"iachkov made it clear that the discipline was still predicated on ?Marxist-Leninist methodology and the principles of communist education".147 Yet the need for the objective scientific study of all aspects of deaf people"s lives was consistently stressed. In the 1960s, alongside work on deaf education, studies were carried out by the Central Institute for the Examination of Work-Capability and the Organisation of the Labour of Invalids (TsIETIN), under the Ministry of Social Welfare, on the capabilities of deaf individuals working in industry and agriculture.148 Similarly, in 1961 a new research centre was established, the Laboratory of the General and Professional Education of Deaf Adults, within the Institute of Defectology.149 Throughout the decade, these departments conducted scientific studies on the labour and education of the deaf.
The considerable quantities of research produced by these new scientific-research bodies did not fundamentally change the way that deafness was understood in the Soviet school and the workplace. Long-established approaches, such as differentiation in the education system, the use of finger-spelling in the classroom,
the concentration of deaf individuals in work brigades and the procedures for work placement amongst deaf individuals remained essentially unchanged. What these studies did, however, was to subject techniques long-practiced within the Soviet deaf community to scientific scrutiny, and to apply a scientific gloss to established traditions. For example, from 1957, the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences began to publish detailed studies of the experience of successful deaf schools, such as the Kolomenskaia School for Deaf-Mutes, and the Sverdlovsk School for Deaf Children.150 Similarly, a two year research project by TsIETIN on the theme of
?Professional Education and Work Placement of the Deaf in Agriculture", completed in 1962, studied 2,638 deaf individuals working in the Gor"kii, Tambov and Krasnodar oblasti, and used the findings to establish general recommendations for work placement among deaf people in the countryside.151
On the international stage, these scientific studies proved compelling. In the WFD,
VOG"s UPP system was frequently cited by Magarotto as an example of successful professional rehabilitation.152 In 1971, during the VI International Congress, the highest category of WFD medal - the Order of International Merit - was awarded to
D"iachkov (posthumously), F. F. Rau and Sutiagin.153 American experts in special education gave considerable credence to the works produced by the Institute of Defectology; in the 1960s, journals such as The Volta Review and the American Annals of the Deaf published reviews of Soviet research and attempted to integrate Soviet findings into their own understanding of deaf education.154 Yet in their international successes, Soviet scientists contributed to the shift in agency away from Soviet deaf individuals. By configuring the deaf as objects of scientific study, rather than individuals in charge of their own lives, science contributed to the growing objectification of the deaf.
As was the case with international propaganda, the relationship between narratives of deaf agency and state (and scientific) objectification was a complex one. The Institute of Defectology, despite being a state scientific body, was not entirely divorced from the deaf community, and did not establish its scientific views in a vacuum. The Institute was organisationally intertwined with VOG, which used some of its vast resources to pay the salaries of Institute scientists, many of whom (particularly within the teacher training department) were themselves deaf.155 The Laboratory of the General and Professional Education of Deaf Adults was founded on the initiative of VOG, after Sutiagin sent a request for methodological guidance to the Ministry of Education and the Institute of Defectology.156 Sutiagin himself was to work at the Institute for several years after leaving the VOG chairmanship in 1970. However, the increasing authority assigned to science imposed particular constraints on the lives of deaf people. Methodologies and objective facts, established through scientific study, could not be easily challenged. Examples of this could be seen in Vartan"ian and Gitlits" Of Those Who Cannot Hear. In the section detailing the choice of profession open to a deaf individual, free choice was emphasised, but with a significant caveat: ?Everything depends on what the individual wants to do and the report of the medical commission. If a deaf lad expresses a desire to become a miner (a highly respected trade in the USSR), he will not be encouraged. In fact, the doctors will firmly oppose his choice. That is one of the few trades banned to people with impaired hearing."157 Scientific research had decreed that mining was unsafe for the deaf, and deaf individuals could not argue.
The development of defectology as a research discipline, therefore, contributed an additional dynamic to the shift from the deaf as agents, to the deaf as objects, here of scientific study and expertise. This scientific objectification could be further seen in the increasing tendency to send hearing scientists to international meetings, instead of deaf members of VOG. Scientists from the Institute of Defectology, such as
D"iachkov, Zykov and Geil"man, and representatives of the Ministry of Social
Welfare, including the minister herself, N. A. Korsunskaia, had all become familiar faces within the WFD and the international scientific community by the late 1960s.
In return, hearing deaf-education specialists visited the USSR and were shown the trappings of care and scientific research surrounding the deaf, such as the system of schools and the Institute of Defectology.158 In one famous example, Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of the former American president Franklin D. Roosevelt, visited the USSR in 1957. In the build-up to her visit, VOG"s Central Directorate was informed that she might visit the VOG House of Culture in Moscow.159 However, Roosevelt instead spent her time visiting a prosthetics laboratory and meeting with Korsunskaia. In her newspaper column My Day, Roosevelt reported the institutional view from the centre: ?the Moscow ministry [of Social Welfare] employs 380 persons and throughout the country there are 70,000 on the social welfare staff. There is a chief for medical and labor matters and one to look after the invalids and aged. [...] The ministry's budget in 1957 was 34 billion rubles, with a principal expenditure of 32 billions for pensions and help for large families".160
The development of the science of deafness thus shifted the balance of agency, away from VOG as a self-representative social body, and towards institutions of welfare and expertise, such as the Ministry of Social Welfare and the Institute of Defectology. At the same time, the internal dynamics of VOG itself during this period were also demonstrating a similar shift: away from the mass, inclusive politics of the early decades, and towards a stabilised bureaucracy that was less and less representative of the deaf community as a whole. These changes built on the reforms to VOG"s structure, begun in the immediate post-war period and strengthened with the election of Sutiagin as VOG chairman in 1949. These reforms, which had enabled the boom in production and spending that characterised the cultural ?golden age" of the post-war period, had also produced a more streamlined, stable and hierarchical political system within the deaf society. The 1948 VOG charter had set out a new system of governance for the society: the All-Russian Congress, made up of local, elected VOG managers, would meet once every three years and elect the Central Directorate and the Central Inspection Commission. In
turn, the Central Directorate would elect a Presidium, (through an ?open vote") and nominate its chairman and deputy. In the years between the All-Russian Congresses, the Presidium would be the ?organ of governance of the Society", meeting three times a month to manage the local VOG organisations, set planning targets and oversee reports, and manage the frequent election campaigns within the society.161
Alongside these structural reforms, Sutiagin had introduced a system of planning and targets, covering all areas of VOG activity, including capital building, culture, education and sport.162
Despite the marked rise in revenue from the VOG UPPs as a result of these reforms, the targets set by the Central Directorate were rarely met; a point of some concern in
VOG"s yearly reports. In order to facilitate and oversee the fulfilment of VOG plans, new organisational bodies were needed. Between the VII and VIII Congresses, held in 1958 and 1963 respectively, several new departments were created within the Central Directorate and overseen by the Presidium. These bodies included the Department of Industrial Enterprises, to run the UPP system, the Department of Culture and Cadres, to oversee such projects as the Theatre of Sign and Gesture and the VOG social clubs, and the Central Project Construction Bureau, to control the society"s expansive capital building projects.163 In 1963, the All-Russian Sports Federation of the Deaf saw the sporting activities of the society come under the combined governance of VOG and the Trades Union. By the mid-1960s, therefore, all of the major activities of the society had been centralised and brought under the control of the Central Directorate and the Presidium.
This development of a centralised bureaucracy within VOG was framed in the same language of democracy and accountability that had characterised the reforms of the post-war period. Yet its results were far from democratic. In his history of VOG,
Victor Palennyi argues forcefully that these reforms caused VOG to cease being a
?voluntary social organisation", becoming instead a hierarchical ?state within a state" which neither included nor represented ordinary deaf people.164 For Palennyi, the centralisation of the VOG infrastructure, which saw members of the organising departments appointed directly by the Presidium, led to particular biases manifesting themselves within VOG. On the one hand, the money-making UPPs, and their managers, were prioritised: Palennyi quotes I. F. Geil"man, a member of the presidium of the VOG Central Directorate, who noted in 1968 that ?an analysis of the work of the presidium over the last year shows that, of 91 questions heard by the presidium, 28 were devoted to the activities of the UPPs. Questions of education were heard 4 times, question of culture only 6 times".165 Large salaries were paid to directors and specialists within the UPP system, whilst other workers within the society, such as regional managers and translators, received very low pay. On the other hand, the growing presence of hearing people within VOG began to be felt. By the late 1960s, two-thirds of the VOG leadership were hearing, a figure which included 67 of the 70 UPP directors. Many of these VOG leaders were former employees of the Ministry of Social Welfare, a body which, Palennyi argues, had come to see VOG as a ?sinecure": ?MSO Їdropped? their old workers, whose usefulness was not great, if not completely negligible, into the VOG apparatus".166
Unlike such figures as Geil"man, who, as the son of deaf parents, was considered ?one of us" by the deaf, these ex-Ministry workers usually had little or no knowledge of the deaf community.167
The tensions engendered by these changes came to a head in 1970, when Sutiagin, the principal creator of this bureaucratic hierarchy, was dramatically ousted from his position as chairman. On the initiative of the editor in chief of Zhizn" glukhikh, G. M. Lukinykh, a collection of compromising material on Sutiagin was sent to various state bodies, including the Ministry of Internal Affairs" Department for the Battle against the Theft of Socialist Property and Speculation, and the office of Leonid Brezhnev himself. This material detailed the myriad failings Sutiagin had allegedly
displayed during his time as VOG chairman. Sutiagin"s domineering managerial style was turned against him: he was accused of rudeness and abuse of his position, with no lack of VOG workers willing to testify against him. Two points, in particular, stood out. His abuse of his position for ?personal enrichment" was much resented, and his accusers dwelled on tales of his personal apartment in the Kriukovo Resort and the special delivery of luxury products from around the country. Furthermore, his tendency to appoint hearing specialists to run VOG departments was singled out for criticism. A deaf engineer complained to V. V. Grishin, a member of the Politburo, that deaf specialists were leaving the VOG Central Directorate, and the Central Constructional Bureau because Sutiagin had appointed
?people foreign to our society [i.e. the hearing]".168 Finally, and damningly, his opponents brought up his 1934 trial for mismanagement and the poisoning of livestock, during his time as an agricultural worker in Ukraine.169 Under this onslaught of criticism, Sutiagin was summoned to the Ministry of Social Welfare and relieved of his position.
Although Sutiagin"s removal from the chairmanship clearly demonstrated a general frustration at the VOG apparatus"s increasing distance from the interests of the deaf community as a whole, his departure did little to change matters. Sutiagin"s replacement, the 37 year-old Vladimir Anatol"evich Fufaev (Sutiagin"s third deputy for the last three years of his chairmanship), had little experience of management, and did nothing to dispel the impression that the Ministry of Social Welfare was influencing the running of VOG: his appointment over more experienced candidates came on the recommendation of D. P. Komarova, N. A. Korsunskaia"s replacement as Minister of Social Welfare. A hard-of-hearing graduate of Moscow"s Engineering and Economics Institute, Fufaev was a firm believer in the omnipotence of technology, and was vocal in his conviction that powerful hearing aids would spell the end of deafness as a social issue. Ivan Isaev, the deaf poet, quoted Fufaev as saying that ?science and technology are developing such that soon there will not be
one deaf person left. We will dissolve VOG, and its history will end with it…"170
After a reshuffle at the 1971 plenum of the VOG Central Directorate, two of
Fufaev"s three deputies were hearing appointees from the Ministry of Social
Welfare. During his chairmanship, none of the directors of VOG"s 70 UPPs would be deaf.
By the beginning of the 1970s, therefore, the leadership of VOG had ceased to be directly representative of its membership base. This problem of representation seems contradictory: by the 1970s, VOG had practically achieved its goal of including the entire deaf population in its membership (in 1967, 88.6 per cent of all adult deaf people were members of VOG; by 1978, the figure had reached 98.3 per cent).171
Certainly, on the international stage, VOG was viewed as a synecdoche of the
Russian deaf community as a whole. In fact, VOG"s recognition on the world stage likely contributed to its development as a high-status organisation into the Brezhnev era. However, the bureaucratic changes in VOG did not mirror those of other
?entitlement communities" which used their international standing to fight for recognition in Soviet society, such as the Soviet Committee of War Veterans (Sovetskii komitet veteranov voiny or SKVV). According to Mark Edele, ?the SKVV became an organisation rooted in the localities which legitimized its function as a lobbying organisation for war veterans with service to the regime in the arena of international politics and the cold war." VOG"s activities on the world stage, in contrast, masked an ossification in its bureaucracy and the development of a representative void.
Whilst propaganda brochures and films told stories of a vibrant community, in which deaf people could overcome their handicap and find individual and collective fulfilment through labour, education and social life, the reality contradicted that view. A growing reliance on scientific research to define deafness and shape responses to it, and a developing bureaucracy that saw emphasis shift to the needs of production and a predominantly hearing hierarchy, demonstrated that the
conceptualisation of the deaf as passive objects of the ?system" was not merely a narrative trope. By the 1970s, it was grounded in a material reality.
From the moment of VOG"s entry onto the world stage, its engagement with the international deaf community was fraught with the tensions of Cold War politics. Foreign deafness was not experienced in an ideological vacuum: the differences between West, East and Developing World were interpreted in terms of their social and governmental systems. Whilst the deaf of the West were seen as victims of the social inequalities inherent to capitalism, the deaf of Eastern Europe were freed by the socialist system to develop fully, both as individuals and as a community. Within this vision of world political systems, the Soviet Union, and particularly the Soviet experience of deafness, was held up as an ideal. In the context of the WFD, the lack of discrimination, the right to work for equal pay, and the lively social and cultural life experienced by the Soviet deaf community was seen to show that a solution to the problem of deafness was possible. Yet the tendency to understand national experiences of deafness in terms of the action (or inaction) of national governments definitively shaped the way in which the Soviet deaf community propagandized this ideal experience. Whilst the vibrancy and activity of their lives were stressed, these were attributed to the freedoms granted by the Soviet government. Material benefits and state care became dominant tropes in the narrative of Soviet deafness. In addition, the growing influence of hearing scientists on the field of deaf education and deaf labour practices, and the developing bureaucratisation of VOG, added to this narrative (and material) paradox. The deaf, it seems, were no longer the lead actors in their own story.
Having grasped the opportunities inherent in the Soviet project, therefore, and having fought so vehemently for their own self-determination as a community, the Soviet deaf failed to transmit the uniqueness of their experience to the world at large. Representing themselves as objects of Soviet humaneness and welfare, the political potential of their own unique social identity was lost. As such, by the 1970s, the Soviet deaf community had begun to lose interest in engaging with the Western
world. Whilst the 1950s had been characterised by intense excitement at the development of internationalism and the building of links with other deaf communities, over the following decades, this excitement waned dramatically. On the pages of V edinom stroiu (the renamed and re-launched Zhizn" glukhikh), first-hand accounts of ?deaf tourism" to countries of the West almost completely disappeared, to be replaced by formulaic propaganda on the ?hidden reality" of life in the capitalist world.172 The International Day of the Deaf continued to be celebrated, but its international scope had contracted: VOG celebrations by the 1970s tended to focus on news from the ?Brother Republics" of the USSR and the countries of
For ordinary members of VOG, therefore, contact with the Western world, through the ?armchair travel" of deaf journalism, had diminished greatly by the 1970s, to be replaced by a growing focus on the socialist countries of Eastern Europe. In a similar manner, focus shifted from the WFD as a potential forum for international influence to a new body, the International Symposium of the Deaf of Socialist Countries, founded by VOG in 1968. Held every two years, the Symposium brought together delegates from the USSR, Eastern Europe and Mongolia to debate ?the social welfare, cultural provision, [and] professional education of the deaf" in a socialist society. According to a VOG report, the work of the Symposium had a twofold aim; to debate the differing views on the treatment of deaf people, and to reach a consensus that could be applied universally. 173 Whereas the WFD had failed to be convinced of the wisdom of the Soviet approach to deafness, the political climate of Eastern Europe was seen to be a much more fertile ground for Soviet influence. VOG did remain a member of the World Federation, but it no longer functioned as a forum for Soviet political propaganda on the scale experienced in the first years of deaf international politics.
By the 1970s, therefore, VOG had become markedly more insular in its attitudes to foreign deafness. As a result, when deaf communities in the West began to fight for their own civil and community rights (echoing the rhetoric used by the Soviet deaf community in the 1920s) their actions were not reported in the Soviet Union, and parallels were not drawn. For example, during the 1988 protest Deaf President Now (DPN), when students of Gallaudet College barricaded the site of the university and successfully demanded the instatement of deaf college president, V edinom stroiu remained silent. A brief note in the party newspaper Pravda made mention of the protest, but instead of commenting on the political significance of the situation for the deaf community, the newspaper merely noted that Gallaudet was the ?only higher educational establishment for the deaf in America".174 The standard narrative of Western inequality thus won out, and the Soviet deaf community remained largely ignorant of developments amongst the deaf in the West, an ignorance that would persist until the fall of the Soviet Union.175
In their encounters with foreign deaf individuals and communities, therefore, VOG convinced itself and its members of the inherent superiority of the Soviet system, in allowing the deaf the freedom to overcome their disability and lead ?useful" and fulfilled lives. Yet in shifting the emphasis from deaf agency to state action, narratives of Soviet deafness negated the dynamic and active nature of this unique community. The outward gaze of international propaganda turned inwards, revealing a community that was increasingly static and cut off from the world.
?24 chasa planeta: SShA", Pravda, 15th March 1988, p. 5. Even more surprising was an article in V edinom stroiu from late 1988, detailing a visit to Moscow by the American actress Marlee Matlin.
Matlin, the first deaf woman to win an Oscar for her role in Randa Haines" 1986 film Children of a Lesser God, had been an outspoken supporter of DPN, yet the article made no mention of the protest.
B. Vasil"ev, ?Moskovskie vstrechi Marli Metlin", VES 41, no. 9 (1988), p. 26.
174 On occasion, readers of V edinom stroiu reacted against this lack of information about the West. In 1982, a reader wrote that he had read about a new French miracle treatment to cure deafness on the pages of the central Soviet newspaper Za rubezhom, and demanded to know why V edinom stroiu was not covering such stories. A. Kukoverov, ?Frantsuzskaia gazeta soobshchila,.. a chto na samom dele?",
VES 35, no. 6 (1982), p. 18. Likewise, in 1988, readers complained that hearing newspapers covered news about foreign treatments for deafness which were not reported in V edinom stroiu: ?There is other information about the rehabilitation of the deaf, but the newspaper is deaf to this subject. Excuse my abruptness." I. L"vov, ?Ataka na glukhikh", VES 41, no. 7 (1988), p. 14.
In April 1974, the magazine V edinom stroiu published an appeal under the title, ?We Will Reconstruct Our History". The short article called on readers to prepare for the fiftieth anniversary of VOG by sending materials from the Society"s history, including newspapers, brochures, documents and photographs, to the Central
Directorate in Moscow. ?It is our duty", the article declared, ?to reconstruct the history of our Society, to widely and fully tell of its best people - of those who laid the foundations of VOG, and those who continued and still continue the glorious traditions of the veterans".1 In 1976, on the basis of these materials, VOG members opened a Central Museum of the History of VOG in the Republican House of Culture in Moscow and published an accompanying volume of text, entitled 50 Years of the All-Russian Society of the Deaf.2 This volume, divided into thematic sections, was to be used by the VOG aktiv in local deaf clubs to lead discussions on the history of their organisation.
Through visiting the Museum and debating the content of 50 Years, ordinary members of VOG were encouraged to reflect on the history of the Soviet deaf community. The text of 50 Years, produced by A. S. Korotkov, cogently summarised the history of deaf organisation since the pre-revolutionary period, painting a picture of Soviet deafness that told of the opportunity provided by the revolution and its liberation of the deaf from tutelage and marginality. In tsarist times, Korotkov argued, with deaf people deprived of civil rights and lacking a ?permanent job or a permanent home, thousands had wandered about the villages and cities of Russia, feeding themselves through charity, hiring themselves out for odd jobs to earn a crust of bread".3 The October Revolution, however, had conferred ?civil and political
rights" upon deaf people, who became equal members of society. Deaf people had grasped this opportunity with both hands, their ?thirst for greater activity" driving them to organise themselves, a process which culminated in the foundation of VOG in 1926.4
Korotkov"s narrative told of how, after the revolution, deaf people had actively remade themselves as Soviet individuals - those literate, conscious workers, shaped by their interactions with the life of the social collective and on whose initiative socialist society was to be built. He thus recounted the foundation of the first deaf Communist Party and Komsomol cells, the entry of deaf people into the factories and sovkhozy, their participation in higher education and their involvement in theatre and sport. Yet his text inadvertently revealed the central tension between the integration of deaf people into the Soviet collective and their isolation within deaf-only institutions. By focusing on the administrative structures of VOG - the separate clubs, educational establishments, work brigades and sporting associations - Korotkov implicitly highlighted the bureaucratic division between the deaf community and Soviet society as a whole. VOG was portrayed as a self-funding, self-sustaining micro-community, founded on the Soviet values of ?democratic centralism" and ?collective management", but also standing apart.
Whilst Korotkov"s narrative accurately painted the broad strokes of Soviet deaf history, the text itself still represented a reconstruction of the past. The immense difficulties faced by deaf people, for example, as they tried (and sometimes failed) to master the skills necessary to enter the factory and the classroom, were strikingly absent from the text. Moments when the Soviet state had opposed the organisation of deaf people, painting them as isolated and anti-Soviet individuals, were glossed over. Similarly, the occasionally violent debates within the deaf community on the nature of their engagement with the Soviet project were not discussed. In particular, no mention was made of the ongoing attempt by Buslaev and members of the deaf section of the VTsSPS to counter the expansion of VOG and integrate deaf people into the trades union system: Korotkov merely noted that the VTsSPS had ?played a
great part" in serving deaf individuals since 1931.5 In sum, the instances of difficulty and the moments of choice which had shaped the development of the deaf society were a part of deaf history no longer told. Similarly, those deaf individuals who chose not to be a part of VOG were blotted out. Instead, deaf history was viewed teleologically, with VOG portrayed as the inevitable culmination of the liberation of deaf people by the state. Korotkov thus produced a version of Soviet history that had been cleaned up, stripped of the moments of tension between the particular needs of deaf individuals and the broader demands of Soviet individual and collective selfhood.
At the same time, Korotkov"s narrative revealed much about the changing identity of deaf people over the fifty years since VOG"s foundation. As this thesis has shown, the early years of deaf organisation were characterised by demands for agency, independence and self-determination as a community. The desire to reject tsarist frameworks of tutelage and marginality led deaf people to actively engage with the Soviet project to remake man and society, seeking to forge themselves anew as conscious and active labourers, farmers and students. Whilst this process of transformation was often problematic and did not involve all deaf people to the same extent, it provided a means for many to ?overcome" the limitations of their defect and show themselves to be capable and equal members of Soviet society. As the decades passed, however, this agency and independence gave way to new paradigms of deaf identity. The legacy of the Second World War, including the increased social presence of disabled veterans, raised the status of disability and encouraged deaf people to frame themselves as deserving recipients of state welfare. At the same time, the growth of the VOG bureaucracy saw the deaf increasingly defined by institutional structures of service and care. To be sure, this post-war period also saw the development of other modes of deaf-Soviet identity, positively defined through community, language, culture and art. Yet by the 1970s, the dynamism and passion with which earlier generations of deaf people had fought for the right to work, study and play alongside their hearing comrades had given way to a more static and bureaucratised identity politics: deaf people were depicted as privileged members of Soviet society, enabled by the state and the deaf society to live fulfilled lives
This paradigm of deaf identity, in Korotkov"s text, was projected backwards onto the early years of the deaf society, now viewed through the prism of state care. The foundation of VOG, a moment of victory for the deaf community against a state that shied away from ?independent" organisations, was retold, erasing the struggles, the contingencies, the visionary dreams: ?with the support of the party and government the deaf labourers of the RSFSR were given the possibility to unite into an organisation, in order, on the basis of autonomy [samodeiatel"nost"], to solve the questions of work placement, general education and mass-cultural work. These tasks were resolved in the shortest possible time with the help of state organs."6
As the text of 50 Years suggests, the shift from agency to welfare was not purely rhetorical. The section, ?State Care of Deaf Invalids", stressed the passive role of Soviet deaf individuals. Though granted equal rights and the opportunity to work, they were also provided by the Soviet state with various means of support, including state pensions, supplementary student grants, special translators in workplaces and educational establishments, housing, leisure and hearing aids. Again, this welfare and care was presented as a constant theme throughout the Soviet period, rather than as a development of the post-war era. From the moment of the ?Great October
Revolution", it seemed, deaf people had the right to expect ?a whole series of privileges and benefits provided by the government and state organs".7 Whilst the
?thirst for greater activity" of the early deaf activists was not negated by this growing reliance on welfare, the passivity of deaf individuals in relation to the state became the dominant mode of identity.
Within this new paradigm of deaf identity, the fiftieth anniversary of VOG in 1976 was viewed as the apotheosis of the Soviet deaf community. Having developed and expanded over its long history, VOG now embodied the dreams of its original founders. Deaf people were no longer downtrodden, backward and unable to support themselves: on the contrary, the volume proclaimed, ?all work-capable deaf people are engaged in socially useful work; illiteracy is liquidated and the law on universal
education is realised".8 Not only had the political and cultural level of deaf people been raised; VOG had also developed a strong financial base of factories and workshops, as a result of which the organisation was financially independent and free of state subsidy. To be sure, the Society was not free of a few ?shortcomings"
(nedostatki), but these were the result of a lack of activity on the part of its members, and did not tarnish the structure of the organisation. In recognition of this moment of achievement, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR awarded VOG the title, ?Mark of Honour" (Znak Pocheta), in a lavish ceremony at the Republican House of Culture in Moscow on 15th September 1976. During the ceremony, the Minister of Social
Welfare, D. P. Komarova, fixed the official medal to the Society"s flag, and the
President of the World Federation of the Deaf, Dragoljub Vukotic, gave a speech on the authority and reputation of VOG in the international arena. 9 1976 was thus a moment of celebration and resolution, as VOG and the Soviet deaf community had finally achieved their place within Soviet society.
The VOG Museum and Korotkov"s 50 Years marked the beginning of a period of historical reflection: from the mid-1970s, V edinom stroiu published regular articles on major events in Soviet deaf history, and a series of books on the history of VOG was published into the 1980s.10 Yet despite (or perhaps because of) this self-reflection and focus on the past, it is particularly difficult to find materials to analyse the contemporary experience of the Soviet deaf community in this period, or the extent to which grass-roots members of VOG defined their identities in the terms espoused in its glossy propaganda. The VOG collection of the State Archive, which contains a rich collection of documents stretching back to the first Congress of Deaf-Mutes in 1917, was closed in 1972. In the aftermath of its closure, documents and reports from VOG"s Central Directorate and local organisations were stored at the new VOG Palace of Culture, the seat of the Central Directorate and the Presidium, in the Pervomaiskaia area of Moscow. However, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, much of this documentation was destroyed.11 In the absence of archival
information, therefore, the history of the Soviet deaf community in the late Brezhnev and Gorbachev eras is particularly hard to trace.
Nevertheless, it is possible to glean some insights into the nature of the Soviet deaf society as it moved into the era of glasnost" and perestroika by examining articles in
V edinom stroiu and other newspapers, and accounts of contemporary deaf activists.
As Soviet society became more open to debate and criticism, it became increasingly clear that the glorified narrative of Soviet deafness exemplified by Korotkov"s 50 Years was not reflected in the experience of many deaf individuals. In June 1980, for example, during the XII Congress of VOG in Kirov, the delegate V. A. Komashinskii was given no opportunity to voice the grievances of VOG members from his region. In a letter to a friend in Moscow, he complained that ?the congress is like a play. Everything is arranged beautifully: the food, the surroundings. But this is hardly a tourist trip [No ved" eto ne turpoezdka]."12 The pomp and circumstance thus provided no room to discuss the discontentment, needs or ideas of ordinary VOG members.
From the mid-1980s, this discontentment became more visible, and the complaints of VOG members more specific. At the VII Plenum of the Central Directorate of VOG in 1988, a member of the Inspection Committee, I. P. Ubogov, raised the question of deaf representation in the upper echelons of the VOG administration. The managing organs of VOG, he argued, were made up almost exclusively of ?staff members", that is, state administrators rather than elected representatives of the primary organisations of VOG: ?In these conditions, the decisions taken by our managing organs do not have a democratic character, they do not take into consideration the interests of all members of the Society: pensioners, students, workers, engineers from state enterprises, the peasantry. [...] Those who will fulfil the decisions should themselves make them. Is that not right, is that not democracy?"13 Ubogov thus identified the dominance of hearing specialists and administrators in the VOG administration as a denial of deaf agency: in the absence of deaf leaders, deaf people were not able to be represented.
Tensions between the deaf community and hearing administrators had been a perennial problem throughout VOG"s history, a problem compounded over the post-war period by the development of a bureaucratic (and often hearing) elite within VOG. The political climate of glasnost" allowed these resentments to be openly voiced. In 1989, a group of approximately 50 people (primarily from the VOG administration) travelled to America to attend ?Deaf Way", an international conference and arts festival held at Gallaudet University. Shortly afterwards, V edinom stroiu published an article, again by Ubogov, who complained that the delegation had not adequately represented the Soviet deaf community: ?On what basis did workers of the apparatus of the Central Directorate of VOG and Minsobes RSFSR deprive deaf people of the ability to speak about themselves and their problems, and consider themselves the representatives of their opinions and interests? It was no coincidence that members of the VOG delegation made no speeches or presentations at the conference. [...] We had something to say, but there was no one there to say it."14 According to Viktor Palennyi, the sense that deaf people were alienated within their own society had been developing since the late
1970s: ?it was very strange for deaf people, entering their own Central Directorate
[building], to see such a multitude of hearing people, at times with no knowledge of
VOG"s affairs, but immediately taking for themselves the right to treat deaf people in a didactic manner."15 These hearing administrators benefited from the lavish material benefits awarded by VOG to its staff: they travelled abroad on VOG"s behalf, took long holidays in VOG"s sanatoria and on occasion were awarded flats from the society. Their presence not only deprived deaf individuals of the resources meant for them, but also gave the lie to the notion that VOG was a society governed by its deaf members.
The dominant role of ?didactic" hearing administrators within VOG was not merely a problem of representation. The ability of hearing specialists, particularly within the fields of education and the ?science of labour", to determine the lives of deaf individuals had been growing over the post-war period. In the 1980s, deaf people
also began to oppose this scientific objectification. Articles in V edinom stroiu complained of the dominance of the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences (APN), nicknamed the ?Academy of Fallen Sciences" on account of its constant failures: ?The most painful problem is the semi-literacy of graduates of those special schools which follow the programme of the Scientific-Research Institute of Defectology. The method of teaching [...] leads late-deafened and hard-of-hearing children to deaf-muteness."16 It was not only the poor methodology that drew criticism, however. From the moment of diagnosis, deaf children were considered the responsibility of the state and were sent away to boarding school at the age of three. For many parents, this meant sending their child thousands of miles away, to see them only during the school holidays. The helplessness of parents in the face of the decisions of doctors and educators was brought into the public eye in 1986, when the newspaper
Izvestiia published an article by O. Iatsunova, a mother from the city of Gor"kii. Iatsunova"s daughter had fallen ill and lost her hearing at a young age, and as a result was to be sent away to boarding school in Khabarovsk, ?2,000 versts [approximately
2,000 miles] away from home". Iatsunova instead chose to teach the child at home, using experimental methods and losing her job as an engineer in the process. Throughout, she complains, her decision to keep her daughter with the family was treated as a ?whim" (blazh"), and she was offered no help by the state.17
Iatsunova"s article and the complaints of VOG members during the 1980s thus demonstrate a resurgence of the fight for agency on the part of deaf individuals and their families. Using strikingly similar language to that of the deaf activists of the 1920s, deaf people began to call for the right to ?determine their own fate", to represent themselves and to organise their own lives. These demands were shaped by the particular concerns of the Gorbachev era: Gorbachev"s calls to ?democratise" the Soviet system in the late 1980s and his emphasis on the ?human factor" in social interaction encouraged deaf people to frame their demands in terms of democracy, personal choice and experience.18 Yet the impulse was the same: to free deaf people
from the tutelage and care of a state that believed it knew best, and to achieve agency on an individual and group level.
This attempt to revive deaf agency began to achieve some limited changes. In 1990, VOG held its first Conference in Kuibyshev, to which 211 delegates were elected by secret ballot from local organisations. According to a contemporary accounts, delegates discussed a variety of fundamental questions: ?what should the Society be like, what place should it hold in the system of social organisations, whose interests should it defend, who should lead it..."19 Shortly afterwards, a draft document entitled, ?The Fundamental Direction of VOG"s Activities for the Period 1991-
1995", set out a series of reforms, including the ?study of social opinion, [and] the use of sociological studies in practical activity", the ?widening of the rights and activities of primary [...] organisations of the Society" and the ?establishment on a voluntary basis of associations in order to assure the more effective protection of the interests and rights of individuals with hearing loss."20 These changes were reflected in the new VOG Charter, approved by the Ministry of Justice on 31st July 1991.
By 1991, therefore, deaf people were apparently beginning to distance themselves from the Soviet identity that had been developing over the past seventy-four years. Over this time, deaf people had fought to remake themselves as Soviet people and to create an organisational body that reflected the communal values and commitment to labour and activity that characterised Soviet society. That organisation was now viewed as unrepresentative and limiting. By 31st December 1991, when the Soviet Union was formally dissolved, few deaf people appeared keen to retain VOG as a Soviet-style administrative body. As a result, VOG began to fragment. According to Michael Pursglove and Anna Komarova, the first blow to VOG was the loss of its income: ?the UPPs, hit by the loss of regular orders from the state, declined to send their hard-earned profits up the pyramid [to the Central Directorate] and, instead, kept some or all of it for themselves."21 In light of such financial challenges, the
Central Directorate"s headquarters, alongside other regional headquarters, were rented out to commercial interests. Finally, VOG"s administration split down the middle, ?with a Їrepresentative? section staffed by deaf people and an Їadministrative? section staffed by hearing people".22 Almost all of VOG"s local departments remained open, but the links between them dissolved: since 1991, for example, the Moscow Branch has considered itself an independent organisation, the Moscow Federation of the Deaf.23
In the aftermath of the Soviet Union"s fall, the nature of deaf identity in Russia has been the subject of much debate. Whilst many deaf people have been keen to reject the Soviet past and redefine themselves as ?Russian" - notable in the renaming of sign-language (mimika) as Russian Sign Language (russkoi zhestovoi iazyk, or RZhIa) - there has been no apparent attempt to instil a positive, new sense of deaf identity in post-Soviet society. Many scholars see this as the negative result of years of Soviet oppression: Pursglove and Komarova have emphasised lack and failure, commenting that ?Russian has no established terms for Їdeaf culture?, Їdeaf awareness?, Їdeaf identity?, Їdeaf pride?, or Їdeaf heritage? [terms largely drawn from the American Deaf movement of the early 1990s]. Interpreters have to resort to elaborate periphrases to render them in Russian or RSL [Russian Sign Language]. Indeed, even the concepts expressed by these terms probably do not exist in Russia today. It is perhaps symptomatic that one eminent hearing specialist on deafness reacted to the term deaf pride with the comment, ЇWhat rubbish! What is there to be proud about in that??"24 Yet an understanding of Soviet society and models of identity provides the key to understanding the Russian deaf community, in both its positive and negative aspects, to this day. Testament to this is the recent resurgence of historical interest in the deaf society, encapsulated in the work of the Moscow Symposium of Deaf History, held every two years from 1996 to 2002, and publications by Viktor Palennyi, the current editor of V edinom stroiu.
As Alla Borisovna Slavina, an eminent deaf archivist and historian of the Soviet deaf society, has perceptively remarked: ?VOG marched in step with the country".25 It is precisely this point that underpins this thesis. Engagement with the Soviet project, on an individual and a collective level, shaped the development of the deaf community and the nature of deaf identity. Over the course of the Soviet period this engagement shifted: the liberation and opportunity of revolutionary politics gave way to a view of deaf people as passive recipients of Soviet ?humaneness" and welfare. Yet the passivity and stasis of the Soviet deaf community in its latter years should not negate the utopian promise encapsulated in VOG. By joining together as a community and espousing the Soviet values of collectivism, labour and independence, deaf people were able to stake their claim to social equality and agency. This claim was far from universally realised and some deaf people sought to keep their distance from this community and its increasingly bureaucratic structures - a story that available sources do not currently allow scholars to explore in any detail. Nevertheless, its revolutionary roots and its complex and contradictory development represent a unique example of the Soviet project in practice. The Soviet deaf experience thus provides the context necessary to understanding the nature of the Russian deaf community as it moves into the twenty-first century. Moreover, in its successes and failures, the history of this marginal community has much to tell us about the constitution of society and selfhood in the Soviet Union.
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