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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Kazan", Cheliabinsk, Ivanovo, Ufa and Kuibyshev, amongst others.8
In response to this call to labour, deaf people threw themselves into the work of supplying goods to front-line troops. Under the slogan ?All for the Front, All for Victory!" they formed ?front brigades" (frontovye brigady) in armaments industries and laboured to raise production levels.9 These efforts took the same form as pre-war labour initiatives, seeking to over-fulfil planned targets through shock work and Stakhanovism. In 1943, for example, a collective of deaf workers from the Vladimir
Il"ich Factory in Moscow published a call to all deaf-mute workers of the USSR to begin socialist competition amongst themselves. The Arkhangelsk department of VOG was the first to heed the call, and by 1944, 56 collectives in twelve regions were participating.10 Significant numbers of deaf people were awarded the title of
Stakhanovite during the war: 169 of the 183 deaf workers at the Vladimir Il"ich
Factory were Stakhanovites by 1944. Similarly, a great number of deaf people were awarded state orders and medals for their labour, including the lathe-turner Kabanov, who was presented with the Order of Lenin in recognition of his wartime efforts.11
Whilst relegated to the ranks of the ?disabled" by their ineligibility to fight, the deaf sought to reclaim their place in Soviet society through that core component of Soviet ideology: their participation in labour. In fact, the experience of war did much to cement the particular deaf-Soviet identity emergent in the 1920s and 30s, defined by industrial labour and commitment to the Soviet cause, but also by a distinct deaf community. The evacuation of large numbers of deaf people from the occupied zone to the Urals region facilitated the urbanisation and ?concentration" of deaf people.
Often, the workforces of several factories from the west of Russia would be amalgamated with local factories in the evacuation zone, allowing the few deaf workers from each to join together and form larger deaf brigades.12 Through the combined efforts of VOG activists, VTsSPS and the evacuation points (evakopunkty), deaf individuals, families and schools were moved east and placed in industry.13 Representatives of the local VOG departments maintained a constant presence at the railway stations, greeting evacuated deaf individuals and directing them to factories and hostels.14 Nikolai Buslaev was a key figure in this wartime concentration effort; sent to the Cheliabinsk Tractor Factory on the orders of VTsSPS, he used his pre-war experience of placing deaf individuals in work to establish large and successful deaf brigades in local factories.15 As a result, by the war"s end, over 20,000 deaf people were working in industry, of which 5,000 were members of deaf brigades in evacuated factories in the Urals.16
Deaf engagement in the war was not merely confined to labour activity. Throughout the war, VOG continued to unite deaf people in local deaf clubs and to provide cultural and social services. Many of these services sought to prepare the deaf for the practical realities of war: during the first year of the war, the Leningrad House of
Enlightenment held classes on the use of domestic and ?trophy" firearms in case of the invasion of the city, and several city-based VOG organisations taught their members basic defence drills in case of air or gas attack. 17 In addition, through their club activities, VOG sought to ensure that the deaf community understood the purpose and political significance of the war. In Moscow, the local VOG club organised lectures, discussion circles and readings of literature and news reports to keep over 350 deaf members informed of the battles in progress.18 The fourteen members of the Moscow Drama Collective performed ?antifascist" plays almost daily until the end of the war, for which efforts they were each awarded the medal, ?For the Defence of Moscow."19 Local deaf clubs also held collections of funds to help the war effort, an activity which had begun during the late 1930s: VOG funded the building of a tank, ?Vogovets", and a squadron of aeroplanes, as well as making presents of money and books to individual soldiers.20
The war thus provided an opportunity for deaf people to prove their ?Sovietness" and to fight, in different ways, for the defence of their nation. As a poem by the leading VOG member I. K. Labunskii, the ?March of the Deaf-Mute Stakhanovites", declared, ?A deaf-mute cannot be a soldier/ But he may beat the enemy with his labour!"21 In fact, the experience of war provoked a strengthened commitment to the Soviet cause in many deaf people: Ianina Vinkent"evna Kovalevskaia, who as a fourteen-year-old schoolgirl had worked an armaments factory in the Urals, remembered that ?during the war we lived with only one idea in our minds: all for the front, all for victory".22
At the same time, however, the war proved deeply traumatic for the deaf community. It is difficult to estimate the number of civilian deaf casualties; pre-war records of deaf people were far from complete and data on deaf casualties was not collected by any central body. Anecdotal evidence suggests, however, that casualties were numerous. According to a VOG report from 1945, many died in the occupied zones
?at the hands of the fascists (especially Jews)", and 883 VOG members perished in Leningrad. 23 The deaf peasant Fedor Shul"zhennikov was shot to death because he could not answer the questions put to him by German officers.24 Another deaf-mute man, an industrial worker from Bezhitsk, had his eyes put out after being accused of espionage.25 Nine members of VOG were killed in Rostov on the Don, and the chairman of the Stavropol krai department of VOG was shot alongside his wife and three children.26 VOG membership, which could prove indicative of wider trends in the deaf community, sharply dropped from 46,404 in 1941, to 21,757 in 1943.27
The drop in VOG membership should also be attributed to the chaotic nature of the evacuation process. Whilst some semblance of order could be found in the organisation of labour brigades in the Urals, the majority of deaf people found evacuation to be a confused and chaotic experience.28 The deaf communities of major cities were divided up and sent to different locations, often with little idea of what was waiting for them upon arrival. From Novgorod, for example, some deaf workers made for the Urals, whilst others joined fellow hearing residents to travel en masse to the city of Borovich.29 Little attempt was made to direct deaf people to places where their labour was needed, or to keep track of where they were going. After the war, the VOG activist I. B. Dubovitskii from Zlatoust took Savel"ev to task for his lack of planning and control during the occupation: ?It was necessary to direct deaf-mutes. A workforce was needed. But there was no organisation [organizovannost"], they fled to Tashkent, to the countryside, and we had no manpower". As a result, argued Dubovitskii, at the end of the war ?many deaf-mutes came to us. They were louts [bezobrazniki], hooligans, thieves, murderers, drunkards. From Smolensk, Ukraine, etc. During the war they went to Alma-Ata,
Saratov, Tashkent, they didn"t want to work in the factories". 30 Amidst the chaos, local organs of VOG had lost track of their members. In its first post-war report,
Savel"ev stated bluntly that from Leningrad, ?over a thousand left, it is not known where to".31
This loss of control was unsurprising in light of the damage caused to the VOG system by the war. Whilst the Moscow City Club and the regional organisations in the Urals had continued to work, the network of clubs and local organisations throughout the country was all but destroyed. The number of functioning VOG organisations in the regions dropped from 461 in 1941, to 200 in 1943, and VOG
primary organisations fell from 730 to 286.32 In the occupied zones, club buildings were flattened and property was stolen.33 Imminent danger of Nazi attack provoked the closure of some clubs, such as the Leningrad House of Enlightenment, which was suspended by order of the Leningrad ispolkom on 1st June 1942.34 Frequently, however, the needs of the deaf were subordinated to the greater needs of the war effort. Deaf clubs were closed by order of local state bodies in order to use the premises as ?organs of the war office": a two storey VOG building in Kuibyshev, built by the local VOG department before the war, was taken over by a driving school, and the club building in Kirov was commandeered by the regional bureau of
Zagotskot (the state body in charge of livestock).35
The chaos in the primary and local organisations was mirrored in the VOG leadership. During the first few years of war, the work of the Central Directorate had ground to a halt. In the winter of 1941-1942, with Moscow under attack, members of the Central Directorate fled independently to safety: the chief accountant Fedot"ev travelled with his family to Sverdlovsk, and the deputy chairman N. M. Krylov was evacuated with his family to the city of Molotov. Only nine VOG members, including Savel"ev, remained in the city.36 As a result, the plenum of the Central Directorate, which before the war was held yearly to discuss questions of planning and organisation, did not meet again until September 1943.37 The lack of centralised management had an immediate impact on the work of VOG as a whole: as
Dubovitskii commented, ?during the war everyone scattered and didn"t know what to do. For something [...] was lacking in VOG - great responsibility".38 As
Dubovitskii"s words suggested, the lack of direct responsibility within VOG for deaf people"s care during wartime was a point of serious complaint in its aftermath.
This lack of infrastructure did not only have an impact on the existing deaf community. As Beate Fieseler has pointed out, ?the war left not only 27 million
dead, but also millions of widows, orphans and invalids".39 Approximately 2.5 million soldiers were discharged as invalids by war"s end, a figure which represented about 7.46 per cent of the entire Red Army.40 Amongst these invalids were approximately 3,000 men who had suffered permanent hearing loss as a result of combat.41 Most of these men were rank-and-file (riadovye) soldiers, though several hundred were from the officer corps. In addition to their deafness, the majority of these men were also physically disabled. Amongst the 1,649 deafened invalids who were in contact with VOG in 1947, only 188 men were classified as group III invalids, signifying a ?loss or impairment of one limb or organ" (the standard classification of a deaf individual), whereas 934 were group II (loss of more than one organ, able to work only in special conditions) and 470 were group I (severely disabled and unable to work).42 This group of individuals was thus extremely varied, in terms of their social background, the extent of their disability, and the nature of the services they required to aid their return to civilian life.
The experience of war thus added a small but significant minority group to the Soviet deaf community: that of deafened veterans. For these men, the loss of their hearing and their transition to the status of ?invalid" represented an end to the lives they had had before the war. As the veteran N. M. Parkhomenko explained in 1946:
?Participating in the battle for the defence of Stalingrad, I received a severe concussion and lost my hearing. I thought that it was all over for me".43 This sense of dislocation was magnified by the ?scatteredness" of these newly deafened men: approximately 80 per cent lived in the countryside, far from the focal points of the Soviet deaf community, the organisations of VOG. Deafened veterans were thus suspended between two states: no longer members of the ?healthy" body politic, they had yet to be integrated into the deaf community.
Beyond the ?front brigades" and VOG club activities, therefore, there was a secondary deaf experience of war: one that represented alienation from the Soviet collective. With the lives of deaf people so intimately bound up in the deaf community fostered by VOG, the disintegration of the VOG apparatus within the first few years of war had the effect of cutting the links that bound deaf individuals to each other, and to the Soviet body politic as a whole. Given the central role of labour in the Soviet identity of deaf people, the results of this fragmentation, in particular the phenomenon of deaf hooligans roaming the countryside, appeared to negate the transformative efforts of the 1930s. The newest members of the deaf community, the deafened veterans of the conflict, were similarly alienated from Soviet society as they struggled to come to terms with their disability. As the German advance was halted and reversed and the Soviet Union began to reconstruct its shattered infrastructure, therefore, the need to reconceptualise and rebuild the ranks of the Soviet deaf was paramount.
Reconstruction and Reinvention
The Soviet response to the upheavals of war began long before hostilities had ceased.
As Juliane Fьrst has stated, =as soon as the first shock of the invasion had waned off, the Soviet administrative machinery started rolling to deal with the most immediate damage and initiate a programme of reconstruction".44 Amongst the deaf, this reconstruction began as early as 1942. As cities were liberated from the German occupation, members of the VOG aktiv began to return and re-establish their local organisations. In January 1942, the chairman of the Kaluga city department of VOG set up a sewing workshop on October Street, to replace the UPM on Kirov Street that had been bombed during the invasion.45 In Voronezh oblast", the VOG department resumed its work on 27th March 1943, electing a new chairman and finding new premises for their club and workshop.46 New departments of VOG were established in areas which had seen an influx of deaf evacuees during the war, such as the Novgorod oblast" department of VOG, founded in Borovich in 1944.47 This
reconstruction was swift and organised: by 1946, VOG could claim that, except in the territory of Kalinigrad, the pre-war network of city, oblast" and republican departments had been re-established.48
The work of reconstruction was not simply a matter of recreating the deaf community that had been established before the war, however. The re-establishment of VOG as an organisation was seen as a key tool in the rehabilitation of deaf individuals after the war, and the drawing of deaf people into the work of constructing a socialist society.49 This task was, of course, not new: from the revolution, the Soviet state had stated its purpose to ?return to working life each person who has dropped out of the working track [kazhdogo vybitogo iz trudovoi kolei]".50 After the war, however, the physical damage inflicted on the Soviet population invested this task with new significance. Whilst before the war, as Beate
Fieseler has pointed out, ?the reintegration of disabled people into the working process (trudoustroistvo) [had] gained enormous priority in all institutions charged with social welfare", the principle finally ?achieved mass application during and after the Second World War when millions of ill or wounded demobilised soldiers returned from the battlefield, the majority of whom suffered from injuries to the spine or from damage to or loss of limbs".51 The return of the disabled to working life thus represented a vital step in the reconstruction of Soviet society in the aftermath of war.
This increased priority was initially directed at those individuals newly deafened by the conflict. As the war progressed, the Central Directorate of VOG began to focus significant attention on the rehabilitation of deafened veterans. According to Palennyi, members of the VOG aktiv visited injured soldiers in hospital, providing them with moral support, teaching them the finger alphabet and basic sign language,
and helping to find them jobs in industry.52 In June 1943, on the initiative of
Savel"ev, the brochure ?Instruction for Deafened Invalids of the Patriotic War" was published, containing details of Soviet laws applicable to the deaf, the addresses of hearing-aid workshops, and information on VOG and the availability of labour education through the Society. The brochure also included a copy of the finger alphabet.53 In a similar brochure, published in 1947 by the Kirov oblast" department of VOG, deafened veterans were informed that ?the loss of hearing must not plunge you into despair. Deafness is a grave physical lack, but it does not prevent a person from living a full, industrious life [polnotsennaia trudovaia zhizn"] in a socialist society and being a useful member of our society. The All-Russian Society of the Deaf will help you to obtain a qualification or re-qualification, to find a use for your strengths and abilities, to help you enter into the life of the collective".54
Through publications and hospital visits, therefore, VOG members sought to draw individual veterans into VOG during and after the war and, through the work of the society, into the social and industrial life of the country. In light of the need to reintegrate disabled veterans into the workplace, however, such positive propaganda was not considered sufficient. VOG was expected proactively to ?take charge" of all deafened veterans and assist their restoration to productive health. As such, in 1944, VOG began a census of deafened veterans, carried out by 39 local departments of VOG.55 The census was to establish the level of invalidity of each veteran, their educational background, their ability to work and their need for treatment, training, work placement and the like. With this information, it was hoped, VOG would be able to direct its work more quickly and effectively.
This method of working with deafened veterans had mixed results, however. The census was initially carried out by sending questionnaire cards to veterans" homes, with instructions to return the information to the local department of VOG. In many cases, invalids were reluctant to admit openly that they had been deafened, choosing instead to ?keep quiet about their condition". As a result, the data collected by VOG was far from complete: in Voronezh oblast", for example, of the 105 individuals identified by the state as having been deafened by war, only 13 were counted by VOG. Only 417 came forward in total in the RSFSR. 56 Another attempt was made to collect information in 1946, with considerably more success: 1,649 of the 2,926 deafened veterans provided their details to members of the VOG aktiv who visited them in person.57 According to the data, 23 were in need of work placement, 206 of some form of industrial education, 39 of general educational training (including literacy), 185 of medical treatment (lechenie) and 213 of material assistance.58
This knowledge may have been useful, but it was not a guarantee of VOG"s success in integrating deafened individuals into the Society. The 1946 census data showed that 73.3 per cent of those deafened veterans interviewed had families, and 79.5 per cent had returned to their pre-war place of residence in the countryside.59 As a result, it was extremely difficult to implement the same techniques of work placement and education that had been used by VOG in the 1930s, which had relied primarily on the urbanisation of deaf individuals and their integration into distinct deaf communities. At the same time, many deafened veterans proved extremely reluctant to engage with VOG at all, refusing to become involved with the deaf community and rejecting opportunities for education and work placement amongst the deaf. In 1944, for example, VOG identified a group of deafened veterans who had completed their middle-school education before the war, and offered them the chance to study as a group in the local tekhnikum. Of the 18 approached, only three expressed an interest.60 By January 1947, a VOG report noted, only 994 deafened veterans had joined VOG.61
Whilst many deafened veterans were thus reluctant to identify themselves as deaf and engage with the deaf community through VOG, the post-war period did see many veterans taking advantage of their disability to become senior figures in the deaf society. The vast majority of deafened veterans were literate and retained good speech and were thus able to perform a valuable role liaising between VOG and state departments. As a result, they were quickly able to secure appointments to senior positions in the VOG apparatus. By 1947, 56 deafened veterans were working for VOG as managers: five were chairmen of oblast" or krai departments of VOG, and six were directors of UPMs. Seven war veterans were members of the Central Directorate.62 Furthermore, the special status awarded to deafened veterans of the Patriotic War went some way to neutralising the animosity usually felt towards late-deafened members of VOG. During the V Congress of VOG, held from 30th June - 2nd August 1951, members debated the candidacy of A. Ia. Vostrikov, the chairman of the Astrakhan department of VOG, for membership of the VOG plenum. At the beginning of the discussion, a ?voice from the crowd" had shouted out that ?he doesn"t know sign language; how will he help the work of the plenum?" After having established that Vostrikov had fought in the battle of Stalingrad, however, the mood changed. ?He was a participant of the battles near Stalingrad! He decided the fate of the Motherland! He has to stay", another ?voice" commented. The Congress, it was announced, had rejected ?the opinion that war veterans [frontoviki], having lost their hearing, are given a hostile reception because of their ignorance of sign language.
How could they know it?"63
In the aftermath of war, therefore, the rehabilitation of deafened veterans was considered one of the fundamental tasks of VOG. Whilst not all deafened veterans chose to engage actively with VOG, those who did join the organisation found that they were accorded an elevated status within it. As literate and, for the most part, educated individuals, deafened veterans were able to function as successful managers of VOG organisations. At the same time, their status as ?defenders of the Motherland" singled them out from amongst their deaf peers, making their return to a successful, working life all the more symbolically significant. The presence of deafened veterans in VOG had a further, secondary impact. The importance accorded to the rehabilitation of war invalids elevated the status of VOG, and placing renewed emphasis on its work, not just with deafened veterans, but with all deaf people.
Serving the Deaf
In the post-war years, the state began to place new demands on VOG, not only to rehabilitate those deafened by war, but also to continue to establish the community of Soviet-minded, labouring deaf people that had begun to emerge in the late 1930s. On 16th May 1945, the Ministry of Social Welfare (Minsobes), charged VOG with the task of carrying out a census of all deaf people in the RSFSR, to be completed by 1st April 1947.64 On this basis, VOG was to analyse the needs of each deaf individual and establish how best to return them to labour.65 By 1947, the partially completed census had uncovered a total of 82,600 deaf people in Soviet Russia, of which 20,279 were VOG members and 31,589 worked in some form of industry or agriculture.66 On the basis of these figures, Minsobes began to set ambitious targets for VOG membership and job allocation.67
As the experience of the war had shown, vast numbers of deaf people were able to work to extremely high standards and levels of productivity, and those individuals continued to work in state industry after 1945. Yet the transformative process begun in the 1930s was far from complete, and the obstacles, though familiar, had been magnified by war. The conflict had disrupted the education of over 15,000 children, many of whom, by the war"s end, had reached the age of fourteen and were thus no longer eligible for places in the Ministry of Enlightenment (Minpros) network of special schools.68 Similarly, VOG"s system of likbezy, or literacy classes, had ceased to function during the war. In 1946, therefore, 31,300 deaf people were still illiterate and lacking the necessary skills to enter state industry.69 Despite the attempts of the 1930s to draw deaf individuals into the cities, over half of those included in the VOG
census still lived in the countryside, a fact which made these individuals particularly
?hard to serve".70 In addition, VOG also had to deal with those homeless, hooligan youths (besprizornye) described by Dubovitskii at the IV Congress. According to a 1947 report, many such youths were being directed to VOG by the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) for work placement and training.71
In light of these obstacles, the rehabilitation of deaf individuals and their inclusion into Soviet labour appeared fraught with difficulties. Yet, as a VOG report from
1947 declared, ?our organisation must not retreat in the face of difficulties, but fight them, overcome them".72 In the post-war years, the VOG aktiv continued to apply themselves to the task of transformation. Deaf individuals continued to be placed in state industry, invalid cooperatives and state farms (sovkhozy). If the number of individuals placed in work in 1942, the ?year of crisis", was 1,722, by 1946, that number had risen to 5,332.73 Similarly, in 1946, 1,659 individuals were completing their professional education in factory schools and VOG UPMs.74 Rally-conferences (slety-konferentsii) continued to be held in the countryside to unite rural deaf individuals and draw them into the work of VOG.75 Despite these efforts, however, the targets set by Minsobes for VOG membership were not being met. In the immediate post-war years, the Central Directorate of VOG had anticipated a steady growth in VOG members, but ?the absolute growth of Society members is lower in
1946 than in 1945 by 1,000 people [...] and 1945 was worse than 1944".76
This failure to draw deaf people into VOG at a steady rate was blamed squarely on
?the weakening of the mass-organisational work of relevant departments".77 Yet the decision by deaf individuals to refuse to join VOG, or to allow their membership to lapse, could also be interpreted as the result of a new understanding of the role of VOG in the post-war period. The change in status of disabled people in the aftermath of war was contributing to an emerging new conception of social welfare, one that
emphasised the passive reception of benefits and services alongside the established values of agency and labour rehabilitation. In other words, deaf individuals no longer simply demanded the ability to support themselves through work, they now also desired a better quality of life, material assistance and ?privileges" (l"goty). Whilst these demands were most often associated with disabled veterans (Fieseler has noted that ?crippled and injured veterans expected significant improvements in their lives - in exchange for the victory, for which they had fought so bitterly and tenaciously"), the expectation that the deaf should receive some form of material compensation was equally acknowledged by those whose deafness had preceded the war. Four years after victory was declared, for example, a VOG report noted that ?deaf-mutes from rural areas are extremely reluctant to become members of the Society; this is motivated by the lack of any kind of benefits and privileges for members".78
In the years following the war, VOG reports began to record the increase in
?everyday social services" (sotsial"no bytovoe obsluzhivanie) provided to members.
These services initially sought to facilitate the ?return to normalcy" after the upheavals of war: in 1944, for example, the society spent considerable funds to ensure that local clubs and workshops were equipped to survive the winter, providing money to restore hostels and replenish stocks of firewood, alongside a total of 12,000 metres of cotton fabric, 7,000 towels and about 3,000 pairs of socks.79
By 1946, however, the parameters of what constituted ?social service" had widened considerably. The report of VOG"s Central Directorate for that year noted the variety of work carried out: VOG organisations spent 276,800 roubles in one-off grants to deaf individuals to fund re-evacuation, treatment and the acquisition of necessary clothing to return to work; negotiated with local trade departments to help members acquire flats or places in dormitories (obshchezhitii); provided interpreters and legal advice; placed the hearing children of deaf adults in nurseries; and organised places for deaf people at rest homes and sanatoria.80
The desire to provide increased services to deaf individuals did not originate within VOG. On 27th February 1946, the secretariat of the trades union (VTsSPS) had published the decree ?On the improvement of the work of professional organisations in the service [obsluzhivanie] of deaf-mute and deaf blue- and white-collar workers, and also invalids of the Patriotic War".81 This document repeated many of the ideas of the VTsSPS decree of 1931, including the concentration of deaf people in industrial brigades and the provision of labour education.82 In addition to this, the new decree focused on the provision of social services for deaf people: the allocation of separate rooms in factories for VOG clubs; the guarantee of living space, with
=necessary help [for deaf people] to organise their services, in canteens, shops and laundries, placing children into nurseries, crиches and pioneer camps"; a budget of
200,500 roubles to organise after-school services for deaf children; the provision of sporting equipment; the organisation of cultural and theatrical activities; and the creation of new sanatoria for deaf people.83
Although instigated by the VTsSPS, the notion of providing wide-ranging, everyday services for deaf people was brought to fruition by VOG. In many ways, this was the result of the failure of VTsSPS to fulfil the terms of their decree. VOG members had joined VTsSPS representatives in inspecting the condition of deaf services in state factories, and their report from 1949 noted, for example, that in the Volodarskii
Sewing Factory, ?the factory commissioner [fabkom] doesn"t even know how many deaf-mutes there are in the factory. Deaf-mutes complain that no attention is paid to them: despite their Stakhanovite work, not one worker has received any incentives and the fabkom has not given them passes [putevki] to rest homes or sanatoria".84
Similarly, at the Kolomenskii Locomotive Plant, ?the plant commissioner [zavkom] on his own initiative does not concern himself with questions of work amongst deaf- mutes."85 As a minority group amongst the mass of workers served by the VTsSPS, the deaf had to fight for their rights to specialised services. In VOG, by contrast, their needs could be placed centre stage. The amount of money devoted to ?everyday social services" thus increased rapidly. In 1948, 322,000 roubles were spent on material grants to deaf individuals and families in need, and a vast 3,005,200 roubles on cultural and educational services.86
This increase in service provision placed a considerable economic strain on VOG. In 1948, for example, an urgent message was sent to local organisations, exhorting them not to give out individual grants of more than 250 roubles without the express permission of the Central Directorate, and without verifying the material situation of the claimant (Moscow City VOG, it seems, had been giving out grants of 400 roubles to anyone who asked).87 VOG"s operational expenses were covered by state grants from government bodies such as Narkomsobes and membership fees, but these sources could not supply the sums required for VOG to provide extended services to its members. In order to be able to afford such significant expenditure, it was soon realised, VOG needed to strengthen its ?material base": the Educational-Industrial Workshops, or UPMs.
The VOG UPM had grown out of the grass-roots workshops of the 1920s as a means to allow deaf individuals to support themselves and their families through ?honest labour". In the 1930s, the workshops had allowed deaf individuals to learn labour skills before finding positions in state industry. Yet the constant shifting of organisational jurisdiction over the UPMs and the frequent bankruptcy and closure of individual workshops over the 1920s and 1930s had prevented them from contributing financially to the work of VOG. By establishing the UPMs as an integral part of the VOG system, therefore, the VOG aktiv could kill two birds with one stone: establish a system of labour education to suit the particular needs of the deaf community, and provide a stable financial base for the cultural and social services provided by the society.88
To that end, over the course of the 1940s, the VOG aktiv worked to strengthen the UPM system. As part of the reconstruction of the society following the occupation, a series of UPMs was established in urban centres across Soviet Russia. Given the widespread destruction left by the German army, the establishment of these workshops was difficult and proceeded on an ad-hoc basis: in Kalinin, for example, the VOG activist B. Travin founded the local UPM in the remains of the bombed-out
VOG dormitory, which was ?without a roof, flooded with water to knee level, without windows and without fuel".89 The bookbinding workshop began life as two deaf workers using discarded cardboard scavenged from the snow; the sewing workshop, due to the lack of machines, needles and thread, was forced to hire two hearing individuals who could provide their own equipment.90 Over time, however, the situation stabilised. By 1944, the Kalinin UPM employed and trained 55 deaf workers and had a fully restored building, 15 sewing machines, and a separate building for a club work, political and industrial education classes.91 Its initial capital of 3,000 roubles had grown to 125,000 roubles, with a yearly profit of approximately 65,000 roubles.92
The example of Kalinin was echoed elsewhere. If in 1942, VOG had a total of 18 UPMs serving approximately 850 people, by 1944 that number had risen to 40, and by 1948 had reached 64, employing 3,600 deaf people and producing over 70 million roubles" of profit.93 In the new VOG Charter for 1948, this significant increase in
VOG"s material base was acknowledged: in a new section entitled ?Means of the Society", the ?profits of educational-industrial enterprises" was listed prominently, ahead of the allocations from state bodies.94 This increase in emphasis on the UPMs was not warmly welcomed by all: at the IV VOG Congress, Dubovitskii, in his wide-ranging criticism of the VOG leadership and Savel"ev, complained that ?Comrade Savel"ev has only one thing in his head: UPMs, money, millions, millions, turnover, and he doesn"t concern himself with work placement in the provinces". The ?pigmy" UPMs, according to Dubovitskii, could never match the state industrial enterprises, either in terms of the quality of industrial education, or in terms of the earning potential of the deaf individual once they had completed the ?workers" university" course. 95 Yet over the next few years, in a series of state decrees, the UPM cemented its position as the financial and educational heart of VOG.96
As a result of the upheavals of war, therefore, the rehabilitation of all disabled individuals had been invested with new status, and the need to provide the disabled with benefits and services was enshrined in legislation. These changes saw an equivalent rise in status of the organisations surrounding disabled individuals, including both VOG and its sister organisation, the All-Russian Society of the Blind (Vserossiiskoe obshchesvo slepykh, or VOS), which saw a similar widening of its services for blind people, and strengthening of its own material base, in this period.97
The apparent placing of responsibility, both financial and symbolic, for all deaf people onto VOG fulfilled the demands of its members from the 1930s, when they had battled for control of their own services. At the same time, however, the changes it entailed placed particular strains on the organisation, and provoked significant reform of its structures and hierarchy.
The reform of VOG began at the height of the war. On 6th December 1943, Narkomsobes published a decree, ?On the Improvement of the Work of the Central Directorates of VOG and VOS." This decree noted that the Central Directorate of
VOG managed its work poorly and did not extend sufficient control over the work of the primary and regional organisations. In addition to this, ?gross violations of the
organisational norms of the Society" had been permitted.98 The Congress had not met for eleven years, and the plenums of the Central Directorate and local departments of VOG met irregularly, a fact which had led to the ?liquidation of the election
[vybornost"] of the leadership of departments throughout the system".99 The Central
Directorate was therefore ?invited" to reform the central apparatus of VOG and improve work within it.
The lack of central control was not the only organisational problem facing VOG. The society"s cadres were often untrained and lacking specialist knowledge, a problem which became more acute as the society began to expand its membership base and services. As a VOG report from 1945 noted, some workers ?do not demonstrate creative initiative and activity on the question of the development of socialist competition amongst members of the society, on the organisation of cultural-educational work, on the economic strengthening and expansion of the UPKs and
UPMs towards the best everyday service of members of the society."100 In some cases, such incompetence had a direct financial impact; the large sums of money and raw materials under the control of VOG managers were subject to continuous wastage and stealing. In 1948, for example, during the inspection of 103 VOG departments, clubs and UPMs, VOG inspectors uncovered financial losses of approximately 125,000 roubles.101
To combat these problems, the Central Directorate and the Inspection Committee began to demand greater accountability from its regional organisations. The Narkomsobes decree had stipulated that VOG inspect each of its regional departments twice a year, and action was quickly taken to put this into practice.102 In September 1945, members of the Central Directorate travelled down the Volga River on a motorboat, from Moscow to Astrakhan and back, inspecting the state of local organisations as they went.103 In the years that followed, members of the VOG aktiv were sent into the provinces to inspect individual departments, and local VOG
departments were expected to provide full and critical reports of their work on a yearly basis. Occasionally, managers were required to travel to Moscow in person to answer questions and account for their actions. The inspections were often incomplete: in 1944, inspections and checks of financial accountability were carried out only in 18 per cent of departments, and in 1948, reports were completed by 48 departments, partially completed by another twelve, and not completed at all by six.104 Yet despite their shortcomings, the information gleaned by such inspections was enough to begin making changes.
For the most part, these changes involved the firing and appointment of cadres. The inspection of local departments made it possible to identify the weak links, and such individuals were quickly replaced. In 1946, Rakushin, a member of the Inspection Committee of the Central Directorate, was fired from his post, alongside the senior accountant Frankovskaia who was accused of ?using her service position for mercenary ends". Over the course of the year, 74 chairmen of oblast" and krai departments of VOG were relieved of their positions.105 Their replacements tended to be deaf workers with a higher education and experience of industry and management. For example, a number of late-deafened graduates of the VTsSPS Higher School of Professional Activity (Vyshaia shkola profdvizheniia) found senior management jobs in VOG during the war and post-war period, including P. K. Sutiagin, who became manager of the Moscow VOG UPM, and G. M Lukinkykh, who became chairman of the Moscow City department of VOG.106 Similarly, during this period, VOG began to pay increasing attention to the training of cadres, through central and local courses: at the IV VOG Congress, the presidium announced the organisation of courses to train (and re-train) chairmen and instructors for republican departments of VOG, alongside the directors of large clubs and translators.107
This was not just a case of reasserting control, however. As VOG began to turn its attention to questions of financial management and the UPPs, the demands it made of its cadres began to change. The wholesale turnover of VOG workers following the war was thus not merely a means to weed out incompetence, but a chance to bring about a ?changing of the guard" which would usher in a new era in the life of the
Society.108 According to Palennyi, the desire of the ?young guard" to take over the reins of the society was far from hidden, as was their contempt for the working practices of the ?old guard": in the post-war period, A. I. Iampolskii, one of the new cadres in the Central Directorate, pointedly refused to work with the chairman, P. A.
Savel"ev.109 In 1949, at a meeting of the Presidium of the Central Directorate, this shift reached its zenith, with the replacement of Savel"ev, the founding chairman of
VOG, by Pavel Kirillovich Sutiagin.
Sutiagin was born in Cherkassiia, in the Kiev guberniia of Ukraine, in 1906. At the age of 22, after an incomplete middle school education and a brief period working in the mines in Stalinsk, Sutiagin fell ill with meningitis and completely lost his hearing. He chose to continue his education in the Kiev tekhnikum of the Ukrainian Narkomsobes, before finding himself a position as the deputy chairman of the Stalinisk organisation of deaf-mutes and, simultaneously, the director of an evening school for deaf-mute adults. Sent to Moscow to study at the VTsSPS Higher School of Professional Activity in 1934, Sutiagin would later serve five years as an instructor to the Union of Workers of Mid-Sized Machine-Building. During the war, he helped to build defensive structures in the Leninsk district, and then returned to Moscow in 1942 to re-establish VOG"s UPM No. 1 in the city.110 At the sole wartime plenum of the Central Directorate, held from 21st - 23rd September 1943, he was elected as a member of the Presidium.111 On 25th May 1949, Savel"ev was relieved of his position as chairman ?for reasons of health", and Sutiagin was elected by the presidium to replace him.112
Sutiagin"s record was not spotless, however. In the early 1930s, just after he had joined VOG, he had been sent as a representative of the Society to assist with the sowing campaign in the Donbas region. During that time, a number of cows died of suspected poisoning, and Sutiagin, alongside the chairman of the oblast" department of VOG, was charged. According to Sutiagin, ?the court found nothing incriminating
[otiagchaiushchii]", but the pair was nonetheless sentenced to two years" probation.113 Sutiagin had made full disclosure of this fact upon his entry into the Communist Party, yet questions continued to be raised by members of VOG. At a meeting of the party group at the V Congress of VOG, the first congress to be held after Sutiagin had been elected as chairman, a ?voice from the hall" demanded: ?I would like to hear comrade Sutiagin explain how he was fired from his work in Krasnodarsk krai, about his work in the L"vov oblast"."114 Sutiagin, however, was unrepentant: ?I will write it everywhere: I was not found guilty. The Supreme Soviet has explained the matter in full." His defence found support from others in the party group: another ?voice from the hall" added that, ?I am a living witness, I worked with him, I know that he was acquitted."115 This explanation appeared to be sufficient for the party group, and no further questions were asked.116
Despite this controversy, Sutiagin had established a reputation as a man of authority and managerial experience by the time of his appointment. His sign name gave some indication of this reputation: whilst his original sign name signified ?shoulder belt"
(portupeia), within a short time of his assuming his new role, the sign had morphed into a gesture meaning ?the general".117 This authority was manifest in his actions as VOG chairman. In his first year in the post, he increased the activity of the Presidium of the Central Directorate, which began to meet four times per month to discuss questions of planning, with particular emphasis placed on raising the
?executive discipline" (ispolnitel"skaia distsiplina) of the organisation. In 1949, 39
local organisations, including UPMs, clubs, and departments of VOG gave reports to the Central Directorate, and two departments of Minpros gave speeches on their work with deaf children and adults.118 Work on the cultural education of VOG members was improved: on the initiative of the Central Directorate, republican meetings of club managers were held throughout 1949, and the Committee for the Affairs of Cultural-Enlightenment Establishments within the Soviet of Ministers of the RSFSR began to offer methodological help to club workers. Political education work was also developed, with the number of political speeches and reports increasing by 50 per cent between 1949 and 1950.119
By the V Congress of VOG, held in Moscow between 30th July and 2nd August 1951,
Sutiagin was able to announce that significant reforms to VOG"s organisational structures had been carried out. The census of deaf people was completed, the number of VOG members had risen to 61,000, and the number of primary organisations had reached 1,740.120 In response to the demands of Minsobes, the management of VOG at all levels had been made accountable to its members; elections were held across the VOG departments in 1950, and closer inspection of work from the centre allowed unsatisfactory workers to be called to account.121 In this way, Sutiagin argued, the ?collegial nature" (kollegial"nost") of VOG work had been re-established.122 There was much still to be done, however. VOG membership had not reached the Minsobes target of 70 per cent of all deaf people, standing at only 66.2 per cent overall, and only reaching 36 per cent in the countryside.123 Work in the countryside remained unsatisfactory, and the 2,465 rally conferences held over the four year period between congresses was considered far from sufficient. The Congress also noted the need to reform the work of the UPMs, to establish norms of work and to refurbish and mechanise the workshops.124 Yet in the two years since his appointment, Sutiagin"s reforms had already strengthened the VOG apparatus to a significant degree.
The VOG that was re-established after the war, therefore, was qualitatively different to the Society that had been destroyed by the conflict. A stronger, more disciplined organisation, staffed by educated, managerially trained cadres, it was able to provide services to deaf individuals that went beyond the work placement and training of the 1930s. The expanded network of UPMs provided funds, not only to support the material needs of society members, but also to improve the cultural and educational functions of the Society, including the capital building of workshops, clubs and dormitories. The extension of VOG"s ambitions, and capabilities, of providing ?all round service" to deaf people were such that, by the beginning of the 1950s, VOG was in a position to take sole charge of the service and care of Soviet deaf individuals. The VTsSPS Section for Work amongst Deaf-Mutes, engaged for so long in a struggle for power with VOG, was finally liquidated in 1954. According to A. Ia. Iampolskii, a member of the Central Directorate of VOG, the Sector was abolished ?because in its work it virtually copied the Central Directorate of VOG, it dealt with the same questions that are reflected in the VOG Charter and which are dealt with by the Central Directorate itself in its everyday work". In the future, he pointed out, ?the Central Directorate itself will address the management of VTsSPS without middlemen, and, consequently, no-one will contest the opinion of the
Central Directorate of VOG".125
The Great Patriotic War, in its widespread destruction, had thus proved paradoxically constructive for VOG as a social institution. By the early 1950s, the Society had established itself as the sole provider of social welfare services, basic training and cultural activities for deaf people. Yet despite its increased status,
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