Stalin and the final solution to the eugenic question

Rapid “animal philosophy”

The first international eugenic congress was held in London in 1912 and caused a mixed reaction in the Russian Empire. In particular, Prince Peter Alekseevich Kropotkin wrote in connection with this event:

“Who is considered unfit? Workers or idlers? Women from the people, independently feeding their children, or ladies of the high society, unadapted to motherhood due to their inability to fulfill all the duties of a mother? Those who produce degenerates in the slums, or those who produce them in palaces? ”

In general, Kropotkin was a very perspicacious person. His ideas were appreciated decades later. Here’s how he spoke about the sterilization of the “unfit”:

“Before recommending the sterilization of the imbecile, epileptics (Dostoevsky was an epileptic), was it not their duty, the eugenics, to study the social roots and causes of these diseases?”

And he went on about racial theories:

“All those supposedly scientific data on which the doctrine of higher and lower races is based does not stand up to criticism for the simple reason that anthropology does not know pure races.”


Petr Alekseevich Kropotkin

However, from the side of Russian doctors one could hear more and more praise and even calls to develop a new direction.

Terms such as “hereditary degeneration” have emerged in relation to the study of mental illness. In the first issue of the magazine “Hygiene and Sanitation” in 1910, they write that eugenics should be an important part of Russian health care. And the founder of the journal, a prominent bacteriologist Nikolai Fedorovich Gamaley, two years later writes a review “On conditions favorable for improving the natural qualities of people.”

Further more. Geneticists Yuri Alexandrovich Filipchenko and Nikolai Konstantinovich Koltsov became the country’s first active conductors of the ideas of eugenics both in tsarist Russia and in the post-revolutionary country. It can be argued that Koltsov and Filipchenko, as well as Nikolai Vavilov, to a certain extent tarnished their reputation by contacting Charles Davenport at the very beginning of the 1920s. This transatlantic geneticist and eugenicist was involved in the promotion of the barbaric tradition of sterilization of the “inferior” in his homeland.

In many ways, the work of Davenport, as well as his students and associates, became the object of imitation and creative rethinking in Nazi Germany. For Soviet eugenic geneticists, Davenport was a source of rare specialized literature and all kinds of moral support.

Perhaps under the influence of Davenport in 1922, Filipchenko, among his many eugenic endeavors, paid special attention to the collection of statistical data among the outstanding, in his opinion, scientists. The St. Petersburg branch of the Archive of the Russian Academy of Sciences keeps 62 questionnaires filled in by scientists of that time. Among the 25 questions of this questionnaire, most of them are devoted to the heredity of the respondents. Do you feel what Filipchenko was driving at? Pundits were carriers of certain genes of genius or exceptionalism, which could be used in the interests of “improving the human race.” This, by the way, was pointed out by many scientists when they answered the questionnaire. Many refused to take the survey altogether, citing the lack of questions about their education and work activity.

Two years later, Filipchenko developed a new questionnaire “Academics”, which, along with questions about family ties and heredity, included items on the education of the respondents and their work activities. But such eugenics, in which representatives of the intelligentsia are the carriers of the most valuable genes, were already wary in the Soviet state.


Yuri Alexandrovich Filipchenko, one of the most moderate eugenics in the USSR

By the mid-1920s, eugenics in the USSR was becoming one of the fashionable trends not only in science, but also in culture. The play “I Want a Child” by playwright Sergei Tretyakov described a typical Bolshevik woman, Milda Grignau, who really wants a child, but not a simple one, but an ideal one. A convinced member of the Communist Party, Milda approaches this desire in accordance with the instructions of the party – scientifically. She doesn’t think about love or marriage, she just wants to find a suitable father for her unborn child and convince him to impregnate her. An intellectual named Discipliner does not interest her, but a 100% proletarian, according to Milda, is quite suitable for the role of the father of an unborn child. Jacob for some time justifies himself that he loves another, Olympiada, but nevertheless agrees to an adventure with paternity. The play ends with a children’s competition held by a medical committee to determine the best child born in the past year. Two children win the competition – both were born of the same father, the proletarian Yakov, but with different mothers, Milda and Olympiada. In the midst of the general jubilation, the intellectual Discipliner gloomily declares that more than half of the geniuses were childless. It smacks of absurdity and a kind of promiscuity, doesn’t it? So the Soviet censorship made it clear to the playwright Tretyakov and the director Meyerhold, who wanted to stage “I Want a Child” on the stage, that this is unacceptable. In 1929, the play was banned for staging in theaters – just the case when censorship turned out to be a good thing. And in 1937 Tretyakov was shot, though not for the play.

It is fair to say that Soviet eugenics was never committed to extreme measures in the form of sterilization or segregation (this was in American, German and Scandinavian eugenics), but the idea that from one “extremely valuable producer” should become pregnant as many women regularly surfaced in speeches and articles. Actually, by analogy with the word “zootechnics” appeared “anthropotechnics”, which sometimes replaced the term eugenics. “Animal philosophy”, what else can I say?

Beginning of the End. Letter to Stalin

A definite political mistake of Soviet post-revolutionary geneticists and eugenics was the assertion that the carriers of the “creative” genetic capital of the nation were not the proletarians who gained power in the Soviets, but intellectuals. And given that the Civil War and emigration seriously crippled this “creative” resource of the nation, it was necessary to create, in the opinion of eugenics, conditions for the further preservation and “reproduction” of the intelligentsia.

The doctrine of the possibility of inheritance of acquired traits, which was developing in the USSR at that time, directly pushed materialist and eugenics scientists against each other. Thus, the founder of the Circle of Materialist Physicians Leviticus wrote in 1927:

“The majority of Russian doctors have long recognized the possibility of inheriting acquired properties. How else can one theoretically substantiate the slogan of restructuring all medicine on a preventive basis? Is it conceivable to talk seriously about such events, proceeding from the assumptions about the invariability of the genotype? “

The first wave of Marxist criticism of eugenics arose. In this regard, Filipchenko removed this term from almost all works, replacing it with human genetics or medical genetics. Many eugenicists followed suit.


Alexander Sergeevich Serebrovsky. Proposed, in particular, to inseminate Soviet women only from the “creative” color of the nation

As a result, already in 1931, in the 23rd volume of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia about eugenics, in particular, they wrote:

“… in the USSR, NK Koltsov tried to transfer the conclusions of fascist eugenics into Soviet practice … Koltsov, and partly Filipchenko, expressed solidarity with Lenz’s fascist program.”

Eugenics Franz Lenz was one of the most ardent supporters of Nazi racial ideology, so comparison with him was comparable to humiliation for a genetic scientist.

And in the mid-30s, eugenics was frankly unlucky with the Nazis, who raised the ideas of science on the improvement of human nature on their banners, perverting them to the point of disgrace. This is also the reason for the disgrace of eugenic scholars in the Soviet Union.


Eugenics Adept Hermann Joseph Meller

The nail in the coffin of Soviet medical genetics, eugenics, and indeed genetics in general, was driven by Herman Joseph Meller, a geneticist and future Nobel laureate (1946), when in 1936 he wrote a letter to Joseph Stalin.

Few advocates of biologists and geneticists write about the content of that letter – it seemed too radical. Möller explained to Stalin in sufficient detail for his time the structure of the gene and its purpose, and also carefully proposed to artificially inseminate women in those regions where there are few men. Moreover, it was men who were carriers of advanced genes; the women in this story were seen as nothing more than incubators.

Further more. Meller writes to Stalin:

“In this regard, it should be noted that there is no natural law that would determine that a person instinctively wants and loves the product of his own sperm or egg. He naturally loves and feels like a child with whom he was connected and who depends on him and loves him, and to whom he, in his helplessness, took care and raised.

That is, even in married couples, the scientist suggested “injecting” the genes of gifted and talented men, justifying this by the economic interests of the state. Möller even considered that in 20 years an unprecedented economic upswing would begin in the USSR – millions of smart, healthy and talented young people with signs of the most gifted personalities of their time would appear in the country. It is only necessary to place the insemination of Soviet women under public control.

Möller, who had worked in the USSR for many years, also attached to the letter his eugenic book “Out of the Dark”, in which he outlined his ideas in more detail. The heresy that was in the letter and the book naturally angered Stalin. And then began what we all know as the persecution of Soviet eugenics and medical genetics.

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