1996 issue 4


Volume 5, issue 4


Political Psychiatry in Soviet Russia before the year 1951

1. I Kliniki Psychiatrycznej AM w Warszawie
Postępy w Psychiatrii i Neurologii, 1996, 5, 453-470
Keywords: political psychiatry, Soviet Russia 1917-1951


On the grounds of archival materials unpublished so far, the paper presents the situation in Russian psychiatry after the Bolshevik revolution. The new regime that according to Soviet ideologists was a guarantee of social justice, has brought terror, famine, death, and thought control following the official ideology. Psychiatrists were involved in Bolsheviks' activities from the very beginning. This was due to: 1) an increased prevalence of reactive disorders among prisoners, 2) striving to utilize psychiatrists' experience in work therapy, since the latter was considered by Bolsheviks to be the basic method of resocialization of the detained, 3) transformation of psychiatric facilities into agricultural colonies for the imprisoned and into labor camps, 4) establishment of forensic psychiatry institutes' that were to assess psychiatric disorders in prisoners. In 1918 such an Institute was established in Pyotrogrod, and in 1921 – in Moscow. The Pyotrogrod Institute, in contradistinction to that in Moscow, was characterized by a liberal approach towards the patients and more frequent diagnoses of non-accountability, owing to the humanitarian attitude of L. G. Orszanski, Director of the Pyotrogrod Institute. However, the patient saved from a labor camp was committed to a mental hospital with similarly dramatic living conditions. E.g. in the St. Nicolas the Miraculous Hospital in Pyotrogrod the mortality rate after the year 1917 amounted in some months to 60-80%. The Soviet penal code based on the concepts of "dangerousness of the individual" and "social safety measures" provided grounds for abuse in Soviet psychiatry. In the former Soviet Union the first "specbolnica" (special psychiatric hospital) for political prisoners was established in Kazań in 1939. A substantial part of Soviet psychiatrists, particularly during the first period of the Bolshevik dictatorship, proudly defended the patients' rights. E.g. appeals of Pyotrogrod psychiatrists for preservation the orthodox churches in the psychiatric hospitals. In the years 1936-1951 a battle was fought between followers and opponents of Pavlovism. It was won by the followers, due to the Communist party support. For many years to come Pavlovism was the official ideology of the Soviet psychiatry. It was promoted also in satellite countries, including Poland.

Address for correspondence:
Dr Tadeusz Nasierowski, I Klinika Psychiatryczna AM,
ul. Nowowiejska 27, 00-665 Warszawa