Irina Sirotkina

Cultivating genius in a Bolshevik country

Genealogies of Genius. Ed. by Joyce E. Chaplin & Darrin M. Mcmahon. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. P. 137-151
What is the place for genius under communism? If equality is the utmost aim, is there room for persons with outstanding abilities in a socialist society like the Soviet Union? In a crude utopia, labeled as barrack communism, talents should be leveled. By contrast, in the early Soviet years there was a eugenic project for cultivating genius whose supporters wanted both to study geniuses and to offer them practical help. Though the project never materialized in full, some allowances were made for both scientific and artistic talent. In the 1930s, however, all conceptions which linked the social and the biological, including the idea of genius, became politically unacceptable.

Key words: genius, communism, Dostoevsky, europathology, Segalin
Fyodor Dostoevsky was arguably the first to examine the dilemma of genius and equality in the Russian context. In his novel, The Possessed, Petr Verkhovensky and Nikolai Stavrogin discuss a quasi-socialist doctrine by someone called Shigalov (or Shigaliov):

Shigalov is a man of genius! Do you know he is a genius like Fourier, but bolder than Fourier; stronger. I'll look after him. He's discovered 'equality '! <…>
He suggests a system of spying. Every member of the society spies on the others, and it's his duty to inform against them. Every one belongs to all and all to every one. All are slaves and equal in their slavery. <…> To begin with, the level of education, science, and talents is lowered. A high level of education and science is only possible for great intellects, and they are not wanted. The great intellects have always seized the power and been despots. Great intellects cannot help being despots and they've always done more harm than good. They will be banished or put to death. Cicero will have his tongue cut out, Copernicus will have his eyes put out, Shakespeare will be stoned—that's Shigalovism (Dostoevsky, 1916).

In the name of Shigalovism, Dostoevsky wrote a parody of early socialist thinkers, of whom he himself had been a follower in his youth and for which he paid so dearly. Yet, even in his young years, the writer was not an adept of the proposed socialist way of living. In the words of a contemporary, he once said that life in an Icarian commune or phalanstery seemed to him more terrible and repugnant than any prison. Dostoevsky also spoke of the “relentless necessity of Fourierism in his deposition,” and his like-minded friend, “when called in for questioning, expatiated on the lack of privacy in the phalanstery and compared life there to living in an army barracks” (Frank, 1976: 254). It was a bitter irony that Dostoevsky’s own worst suffering in prison was from the lack of privacy: as a prisoner, he was never left alone.

The ideological origins of Shigalovism could be found in the Programme of Revolutionary Activities by Sergei Nechaev (Nechayev) (Frank, 1997: 450; Goodwin, 2010). After Nechaev’s attempt to found a secret society and to seal the bonds between the members by a group murder of one of them, nearly all fellow revolutionaries distanced themselves from him. Critical of Nechayevshchina/Nechayevism, Karl Marx coined the term, “barracks communism,” to refer to a crude, authoritarian, forced collectivism and communism, where all aspects of life are bureaucratically regimented and communal. “What a wonderful example of barracks-communism!” – he wrote. – Everything is here: common pots and dormitories, control commissioners and comptoirs, the regulation of education and consumption – in one word, of all social activity; and at the top, our Committee, anonymous and unknown, as the Supreme direction” (quoted in Bryant, 2013: 186).

Dostoevsky wanted to show how, starting from unlimited freedom, Shigaliov (and his protagonist Nechaev) arrived at unlimited despotism, or barrack communism, to use Marx’s term. Both terms, Nechayevshchina and Shigalovschina, could be used as synonyms. While Soviet Marxists termed the forced communism of Mao Zedong “Nechayevshchina”, the poet Boris Pasternak called Stalin’s repression “Shigalovshchina” (Young, 2012). During the repressions carried out in the name of equality, the whole class of old professionals—especially scientists and engineers--was labelled “bourgeois specialist” and, together with intellectuals, repressed. To be precise, the politics of the Soviet government towards the intelligentsia varied: it alternated between exterminating the old intelligentsia and “winning it over,” that is, using their capacities. At the same time, an effort was made to form a new intelligentsia, the “red professors” and young Soviet specialists (David-Fox, 1997). The effort included bringing part of the new intelligentsia into the Party-state establishment and offering them social protection benefits. This was the context in which it became viable to speak about genius and talent and to suggest a kind of eugenic project in connection with persons of outstanding ability--geniuses.

The project came as the personal initiative of a medical doctor and artist, G. V. Segalin (Sirotkina, 2002). It can be viewed as part of eugenic movement widespread in Russia as well as in other countries in the first decades of the twentieth century. In general, eugenics refers to demographic policies applied to individuals for the sake of improving the hereditary qualities of the population. In conception, eugenics is an application of animal breeding practices to the human species. Two approaches are possible: negative and positive eugenics. The former consists of either exterminating or excluding from procreation individuals with negative qualities, like hereditary mental illnesses. The latter encourages procreation of individuals with positive or valued qualities.

The same year the Russian revolutionaries drew up a plan for a new social order and tried to implement it, Francis Galton in Britain published a book, Hereditary Genius (Galton, 1869), in which he demonstrated, to his satisfaction, the hereditary nature of talent in general, and he went on to suggest improving society by encouraging talented persons to procreate. Galton had followers in Russia. Segalin was one of them, and he suggested a eugenic policy for protecting persons of genius and ensuring their productivity for the sake of the entire country. His plan included both a research institution to deal with all aspects of genius and creativity and a social welfare system for geniuses. Though the project never materialized, such ideas were characteristic of the very beginning of the Soviet era, when the wildest human and social experiments seemed possible. We will examine the motivation behind Segalin’s project and the turn it took during the first Soviet decades.
Girsh (Grigorii Vladimirovich) Segalin (1878-1960) was a son of a wealthy Jewish manufacturer, an owner of a factory in Moscow. The family subsequently moved to Kazan’ (now the capital of Tatarstan). In Kazan’, he studied painting with Nikolai Fechin (1881-1955), subsequently a famous Tatar-Russian-American artist. In the 1920s Fechin left Russia and settled in the United States; later he moved to California, opened a studio in Pasadena, and eventually died in Santa-Monica. He was especially famous for his portraits; like him, Segalin specialized in portrait painting. After having studied with Fechin in Kazan’, he went to an art school in Berlin. Although was already twenty-five, his father’s capital allowed him to take another degree, now in medicine. From 1904 till 1909, Segalin studied at the University of Jena, then worked on a dissertation at Halle (Sorkin, 1992).

In the last decades of the nineteenth century, Jena gained a reputation as a “citadel of Social Darwinism” owing to Ernst Haeckel and his followers. In 1898 the Jena historian, Ottokar Lorenz, published a book on genealogy relating his approach to Weismann’s concept of the ancestral germplasm – an early concept of genes (Weindling, 1989: 231). In 1904, the year when Segalin arrived there, Jena hosted a competition for the best essay on the application of the laws of evolution to society, which stimulated a variety of socio-biological projects. The same year, the Jena psychiatrist Wilhelm Strohmeyer launched a research program for psychopathology based on statistical genealogy, an idea soon enthusiastically developed by Ernst Rüdin. The Nietzschean aphorism, “the way forward led from being a species to a superspecies,” stimulated Alfred Ploetz to write the first monograph on racial hygiene. It also inspired a cult of geniuses which penetrated medicine and biology with the help of such authors as Max Nordau and Otto Weininger (Weindling, 1989: 141-154). In 1905, the same year when the racial hygiene movement established itself, Haeckel founded his Monist League with the goal to reform life, art and psychology on a biological basis. Segalin became enthusiastic about the eugenic idea of cultivating scientific and artistic geniuses.

He started working as an intern specializing in psychiatry--a discipline he had chosen probably because it was closer than other medical disciplines to his interests as a portrait painter. Yet, in 1914, the war pushed him out of Germany. Back in Kazan’, he converted his German medical degree in order to qualify for Russian state employment. Immediately thereafter Segalin was sent to the front where he served four years in a psychoneurological hospital of the Russian Red Cross located in Kiev. After the Bolsheviks had taken over the Ukraine, Segalin worked in the Red Army medical commission organized to fight the typhus epidemic. Demobilized, he settled in Ekaterinburg, a town in the Urals (renamed Sverdlovsk after 1925), where he helped organize a medical school at the new University of the Urals. He taught psychiatry and neurology there and founded a laboratory of psychotechnics at the Polytechnic College. He was also active in the public sphere as a member of the local government commission on minor criminals, as an expert in political trials, so frequent during the Stalin years, and as a consultant to a variety of institutions from the Institute of Occupational Hygiene to the Opera Theatre.

“A weedy long-haired and sociable man in large glasses,” Doctor Segalin “appeared in a shapeless Tolstoy-shirt, with a case full of manuscripts, drawings, and proofs” (Evgenii Petriaev, quoted in Kormushkin, YEAR). To his townsmen, he appeared “a mad original, bearing some fantastic ideas,” yet an observant contemporary found him “though not without oddities, a most interesting person” (Sorkin, 1992: 4). Segalin was in correspondence with many celebrities including Maxim Gorky who collected such interesting and odd people. Having become part of the Soviet medical establishment, Segalin did not give up his artistic interests. His most successful painting was an epic tableau, “Madhouse, or Victims of the War.” It was allegedly painted directly in a hospital, and invoked consultations with the patients. In the center, there was a full-size figure of the “prophet,” with his head giving out light. The prophet was surrounded by various groups of people, some of whom met his preaching enthusiastically while others rejected it aggressively. The painting caused much talk in town. During the Second World War, Segalin founded a portrait gallery of local celebrities and veterans and he himself painted several portraits. He also wrote journalistic sketches and even was, in a sign of the highest official recognition, elected to the National Writers Union. Unfortunately, many of Segalin’s paintings and the biggest part of his literary archive were lost after the war, when he moved from the Urals. His last medical work on “pre-cancer syndrome” is dated 1948 (Sorkin 1992: 4).
The Institute of Genius
In the early twentieth century, Russia was ready for change. The intellectuals almost univocally welcomed it, though different groups envisaged different ways by which the alterations would come. The methods of modernization varied from a revolution and reforms to the improvement of human nature. By contrast with political and social changes, the latter measures focused on the individual and the biological. A new cohort of experts in the human sciences aspired to achieve moral and mental perfection of humankind trough eugenics, mental hygiene, and psychology. They positioned themselves as a new technocracy (Beer, 2008). After the Revolution, these experts gained the chance to implement their plans for the betterment of humankind, on a scale unseen before.

In Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution, a group of left-wing psychiatrists developed an ambitious plan to transform mental health care by making it preventive. The plan was for creating a network of out-patient units modeled on French dispensaries and, with their help, monitoring the entire population. The proposed health care system had an ambivalent character as it potentially turned everybody in into a patient for the dispensaries. In a similar way, Segalin planned dispensaries for geniuses, where these otherwise “socially ill adapted” people would receive professional help and care.

In this case, the clash between the ideas--of genius as an embodiment of human excellence, on the one hand, and of institutions of a welfare state such as social medicine, on the other hand, is particularly striking. Although Segalin’s project followed in Francis Galton’s steps of positive eugenics, it did not repeat it. The Russian experts suggested their own ways combining experiments on human nature with social reforms. Like many eugenic and para-eugenic projects, Segalin's was not implemented. Yet, its development and, especially, its end reveals the fate of the hope for improving society through perfecting human nature, in a dictatorship like the Soviet Union under Stalin.

Segalin proposed to take care of talented people who were often exploited and abused in the past. “Who does not know the sad pages from great people’s biographies,” he rhetorically asked, and listed these pages himself:

Complete misunderstanding of new ideas of a talented person by his contemporaries; prosecution of any creative innovation if it contradicts the tastes and wishes of the powerful; incredible exploitation of artists’ work by editors, re-sellers, agents of different kinds; abuse of wunderkinds; talented people living in poverty and dying early as a result of inability to adapt to social and economic conditions, to be servile and please their patrons, to advertise themselves and sell their souls; their abuse by the corrupt media; or the opposite--when talented people have to serve the vulgar tastes of the petty bourgeoisie, produce pseudo-art, prostitute art, literature, science, theater, when they clown, pose, arrogantly advertise themselves. All this in order not to starve (Segalin, 1928).

Though socialism should eliminate the conditions which made abuse of geniuses possible, the author assumed that the situation would not improve automatically. Geniuses, he argued, owing to their individualistic, asocial nature and frequent ailments, find adjustment to any society difficult. Asocial by nature, they easily fall victim to society and may be incarcerated in asylums and prisons. If, however, they are cured of their illnesses and socialized on a par with everybody else, they may loose their creative abilities. The author suggested that a special branch of medicine--aesthetic medicine--should protect geniuses from routine abuse and increase the output of their work.

Only in a socialist society, where protection of the weak is state policy, could aesthetic medicine become a reality. Alongside general departments of social welfare, the state should establish special institutions for geniuses: dispensaries and “departments of social welfare for mad geniuses” (sobez genial’nogo bezumtsa; sobez is an accepted abbreviation for a social welfare department). The institutions would assist in protecting talented people from hostile environments and in placing them in favorable conditions for the completion of socially valuable work. The plan for institutions for geniuses was designed to take care of children--both wunderkinds and those who appear mentally retarded at school but nevertheless grow up as talented people--within this framework. It suggested that children should be either directed to special schools or provided with individual developmental counseling.

In fact, some measures for which Segalin aspired were indeed implemented in Russia with the introduction of the New Economic Policy in 1921. About the same time, the Bolshevik government changed from attacking the old intelligentsia--the so-called “bourgeois specialists,” a category which included scientists and engineers--to “winning them over.” This lead to the establishment of the Central Commission on Improving the Life of Scholars and other forms of state support and privileges for scientists including upgraded food rations and medical care. Likewise, tests were introduced in schools to classify pupils according to their intellect and to select those who promised high achievement level.

Segalin’s project went beyond welfare institutions for geniuses; on top of it, there was to be a program of research coordinated by the special Institute of Genius: “Since a talented person’s brain and body have not yet been objects of systematic study,” Segalin wrote, “the Institute is to decree the compulsory dissection of brains of all outstanding people without exception, and, if necessary, also a post-mortem on the corpse, which then will be kept in the anatomical theater for subsequent study” (Segalin, 1928). Other tasks assigned to the Institute included experimenting with the conditions which are known to produce creative states of mind (including stimulating substances) and even fulfilling the functions of the art critique. Segalin claimed that contemporary was degenerating into “almost hysterical forms” (“pochti sploshnoe klikushestvo”; klikushestvo is a Russian term for a particular form of hysteria which affected peasant women). His ambitions was to assist to art experts in museums and galleries to distinguish a genuine work of art inspired by a “real creative illness” from a fake made by a pretended “mad artist.” For this, a new branch of medical science, aesthetic medicine, was needed. Parallel to the work of a forensic psychiatrist, a specialist in aesthetic medicine would provide expertise for the courts in questions of pornography and “anti-social” art in general (Segalin, 1928: 57-58). This was relevant in the circumstances when, in 1922, the Party-state readjusted its policies towards literature and art and established new institutions of censorship,including Glavlit--the Main Administration for Literary and Publishing Affairs.

The project for aesthetic medicine was a continuation of psychiatric ambitions to control artists and art education. Thus a proponent of mental hygiene in Russia prior the Revolution, Grigorii Rossolimo (1860-1928), labeled some contemporary artists as insane and their art as a danger to the mental health of the population. Rossolimo worked on child neurology, psychiatry, and psychology; he founded a neurological clinic for children, the first in Russia, and composed psychological tests for diagnosing mental development. He was the key person who helped Segalin arrange the presentation of his projects in the Institute of Child Neurology in Moscow. Rossolimo was also instrumental in establishing a government commission to oversee the work on the project--the commission which he headed and which included the painter Vassily Kandinsky, the literary critic Yulii Aikhenval’d, the psychologist Nikolai Rybnikov, and the psychoanalyst Ivan Ermakov (Vol’fson, 1928). The commission, however, never functioned.

In spite of acquiring influence locally and beyond, Segalin had difficulties in promoting his project. An obstacle could have been his focus on associating talent with mental illness. In Germany, as I have already mentioned, he was exposed to the cult of genius and the ideas of race hygiene. He read the authors who elevated genius above the average healthy person and believed that mediocrity rather than disease is the cause of degeneration. These authors thought that geniuses, whether ill or healthy, showed the road to a progressive evolution of the human species (Iudin, 1924: 72). Inspired by Nietzsche and Haeckel, Russian intellectuals shared the belief. In the entry on genius in the Soviet Medical Encyclopedia, the psychologist L. S. Vygotsky and the psychiatrist P. M. Zinov’ev defined genius, referring to the work of the Italian psychiatrist Enrico Morselli, as “an evolving, progressive variation of the human type” (Vygotsky and Zinoviev, 1929: 612). Segalin suggested that by examining, analyzing, protecting, and stimulating geniuses, the human species could cultivate itself and rise to as yet unknown heights. He argued for the divide between the normal and abnormal be abandoned because “nature <…> knows only one division--between repetitive and creative work.” The distinction, he argued, should lie not between illness and health, but between productive and unproductiveillness. Segalin compared creative illness with birth. He could have had in mind the common image of Russia as a woman giving birth, as the country lay in ruins and awaited regeneration. This was also a motive for Russian biologists and medical scientists, such as Nikolai Kol’tsov, Yurii Filipchenko, Sergei Davidenkov or Aleksandr Serebrovsky, to establish the Russian Eugenic Society in 1920 (Adams, 1990).

Many believed, however, that revival was impossible without sacrifices, and that the country would have to pay a heavy cost for its communist rebirth. In 1926, a fellow-psychiatrist, Pavel Karpov, wrote: “in the course of human development some individuals are ahead of others, and because of that they are unstable and vulnerable to mental diseases <…> Humanity makes sacrifices, leaving in its path of development individuals who fall down in a disordered state” (Karpov, 1926: 7). At the newly established Academy of Art Sciences, Karpov founded and headed the Commission for Studying Creative Work of the Mentally Ill(1924-1929). The ideas of humanity’s progeneration and the sacrifices it has to make on the way echoes the Russian proverb, “when you chop wood, chips fly.” Incidentally, Stalin made the proverb a slogan of the day, in order to justify the repression. Using the same metaphor, Segalin compared human evolution to a gigantic building site where pathology--­“the chips”--are the inevitable cost of progeneration, the process opposite to the dreaded degeneration of humankind. His own project aimed at minimizing the amount of “chips”--the number of geniuses who perish in this process.

The reason why his project remained unfulfilled did not lie in its unreality. It was hardly odder than Professor I. I. Ivanov’s experiments in cross-breading apes with humans (Rossiianov, 2002) or indeed the hereditary data-banks created by German psychiatrists and a great deal more innocent than the sterilization of the mentally ill in some Scandinavian countries. In fact, Segalin’s idea to collect outstanding people’s brains in the Institute of Genius anticipated V. M. Bekhterev’s idea of a “Pantheon of Brain.” In 1926, Segalin’s journal published an article by A. A. Kapustin who reported on his dissections of the brains of the famous physicians, S. S. Korsakov, A. Ia. Kozhevnokov and P. I. Bakmet’ev, which were kept in the collection of Rossolimo’s Neurological Institute (Kapustin, 1926; Spivak, 2001). But, unlike the academician Bekhterev--a physician to many notables, including the last tsar, Lenin and Stalin--Segalin was an eccentric provincial who, as a result of many years abroad, had not sufficiently established himself in Russia. Though the presentation of his project in Moscow went well, he failed to maintain the interest of those with access to power. He therefore reoriented his project towards a journal, which he launched in the provinces in 1925 and published almost single-handedly, financed from his personal budget.

In the center of Segalin’s project was the assumption that scientific and medical experts would take control over “geniuses” and their work. The project sent therefore ambiguous signals to the authorities. On the one hand, the Bolsheviks deeply mistrusted the old intelligentsia and tried to control it--in this way, the project might have appeared attractive. On the other hand, they wanted to do it themselves rather than passing the control functions over to what is now called a “technocracy” (Adams, 1990). What was the role of experts, including Segalin? If they were unable to be, in the sociologist Zigmunt Baumann’s terms, legislators of culture, they could still become its interpreters (Baumann, 1987). The interpretation of genius as mad became a brand mark of Segalin’s journal.
The Journal
The journal had a long and loud title: Clinical Archive of Genius and Talent (of Europathology), Dedicated to the Questions of Pathology of Gifted Personality As Well As of Creative Work With Any Psychopathological Bias. For the opening and subsequent issues, Segalin arranged contributions from the Swiss psychiatrist August Forel, and the Germans, Wilhelm Lange and Walther Riese. The journal consisted of two main divisions: a theory section, filled mainly with Segalin’s own writings, and a pathography section. In the first theoretical article, Segalin announced the creation of a new academic discipline which he termed interchangeably, “ingeniology”(the study of creative work of any origin, “healthy” as well as “pathological”) and “europathology” (the study of the effect of mental illness on creative work). The latter term was derived in part from the Greek word, “Eureka” (from which “heuristic” also originates), but it also resembled such neologisms of the time as “eugenics” or “eurythmie”--a name for both Emile Jacque-Dalcroze’s gymnastic and Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophic dance. Whatever the name, the new discipline was to study creative people, from children to mad geniuses, under a variety of conditions, and from normal states to bouts of momentary madness. As one of his purposes, Segalin mentioned the construction of creativity tests, so-called schemes for “practical semiotics and diagnostics,” in order to distinguish, for instance, “the inspirations of an epileptic” from those of a hysterical person. Armed with these tests and schemes, a psychiatrist would be able to diagnose the disease “as easily as a chemist detects the composition of minerals in the sun by its spectrum” just by looking at a person’s artistic style (Segalin, 1928: 55).

In the atmosphere of early Soviet iconoclasm, previously sacred names were reconsidered. The old culture found itself cast into purgatory by proletarian critics. The literary associations, the Futurists and Proletkult, who were the first to declare themselves on the side of the new regime, launched a nihilist attack on the past threatening to “throw Pushkin and Dostoevsky overboard the ship of modernity” (Struve, 1971: 14). As before the Revolution, the new cultural criticism readily found support in psychiatry. If Pushkin was a model poet for pre-Revolutionary critics and an example of perfect mental health for psychiatrists, after the Revolution the literary young Turks denounced the classics, and psychiatrists of the younger generation questioned Pushkin’s mental health. Zinov’ev wrote that “in order to understand Pushkin <…> correctly, it is necessary to accept that from the psychiatric point of view he was, though a highly valuable person, yet a psychopath” (Zinov’ev, 1935: 411-413). Similarly, Rozenshtein assumed that Pushkin was a cycloid, according to Kretschmer’s classification of character, and that Pushkin’s famous irony resulted from his occasional “hypomaniac states” (Rozenshtein, 1926). Another psychiatrist argued from the position of a fashionable endocrinology theory, according to which individual differences are a function of glands. He classified Pushkin as an erotoman with hypertrophied gonads, and Gogol as a “hypogonadial type” accompanied, in his case, by schizophrenia (Galant, 1927: 50).

Psychiatrists of the younger generation found “absolutely unjustified” their predecessors’ unwillingness, out of respect for the writers’ suffering, to speak about the writers’ mental illnesses. One of the departments of Segalin’s Institute of Genius was to rewrite old-fashioned biographies, which avoided exposing the weaknesses and illnesses of outstanding people, and to stress the role of illness in talent. He also encouraged contributors to the Clinical Archive to write pathographies of outstanding figures--a suggestion which they eagerly followed up. A psychiatrist, N. A. Iurman, insisted on a thorough examination of Dostoevsky’s “shadowy as well as bright sides” (Iurman, 1928: 62), which was soon undertaken by a psychoanalytically oriented author, Tatiana Rozental’, who interpreted Dostoevsky’s disease as hysterical epilepsy (Rozental’, 1919). Segalin agreed with her that Dostoevsky’s epilepsy was not genuine but “affective,” that is, caused by traumatic influences (Segalin, 1926).

Alongside the ongoing reevaluation of the past, the Revolution initiated extravagant literary experiments, and in the atmosphere of relative political freedom literary and artistic movements and groups proliferated. The Symbolists’ successors, the Akmeists, coexisted with the militant Futurists, the visionary Imaginists, the peasant poets fearful of growing urbanism, and the proletarian writers, who glorified industrialization and argued that the new culture should be based not on art but on science and technology. The Communist leaders recognized the existence of non-proletarian writers as “fellow-travelers,” but they wanted either to reform or break the authors labeled as “bourgeois.” Not coincidentally, these poets became objects of psychiatric attention. Referring to a literary critic who argued that Alexander Blok’s poetry was “ill” and his romanticism “unhealthy,” a Moscow psychiatrist diagnosed Blok as epileptic (Mints, 1928: 53). His colleague from the town of Smolensk, V. S. Grinevich, quoted the pre-Revolutionary view, repeated by proletarian critics, that Symbolism and Decadence are an escape from reality. Grinevich diagnosed as a “psychopath” the poet Nikolai Tikhonov, a member of the “fellow-travelers” group, “The Serapion Brothers,” because he “quarreled with the commissars in the Cheka” (the security police, “Emergency Commission”) (Grinevich, 1928: 49). Grinevich, who presented himself as an “objective psychopathologist,” concluded that the unstable, pessimistic, doubting, and schizophrenic “bourgeois” poets should give way to healthy proletarian writers. He died from consumption at the age of twenty-four the same year when his paper was published.

Responding to Segalin’s invitation to rewrite biographies as pathographies, a young Moscow psychiatrist reassessed even Jesus Christ (Mints, 1927). Pathographies of religious figures were not a new phenomenon, but psychiatrists felt especially encouraged to write them when atheism became state policy. The psychiatrist, Ia. V. Mints, diagnosed paranoia in Jesus Christ and attributed it to his week “asthenic” constitution. Exercising Marxist analysis, Mints concluded that the founder of Christianity, who originated from a craftsman’s family, had a “petty bourgeois” social background.

Writers with established reputations were not excused from pathographies either. Gorky’s mental health was questioned on the grounds that, when he was eighteen, the writer made a suicidal attempt (Galant, 1925a; 1925b; 1928). Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Nekrasov, Byron, Balzac, and Nietzsche underwent the same scrutiny (Segalin, 1926a). Segalin diagnosed Tolstoy’s “affective epilepsy” discovering traces of the disease in the “epileptic intensity” of his literature as well as in the writer’s supposed conservatism (Segalin, 1929c). He followed the radical critics who had earlier reproached Tolstoy, writing that in his struggle with tsarism he did not go far enough--up to revolution. Segalin’s article persuaded his colleague from Baku, V. I. Rudnev, who reported that it “clarified for me both Tolstoy’s world-view and his sudden change [in the late 1870s] which took all of us by surprise.” Rudnev wrote that he had found further evidence of Tolstoy’s epilepsy in his Memoirs of a Madman (Rudnev, 1929: 69) which only confirmed Segalin’s diagnosis (Segalin, 1929a).

Written in the year of Tolstoy’ jubilee, Segalin’s articles might have been the last drop that finally brought the journal to an end. (Another reason could be the lack of funds: Segalin, as we have mentioned, published the journal privately with his own means). By the late 1920s, the nihilist spirit and wild experiments which followed the Revolution were already tamed, and the Soviet literary establishment had returned to the classics. Both Tolstoy and Dostoevsky were--successfully though not without controversy--accepted into the Soviet literary pantheon. The leading critic of the 1920s, A. K. Voronskii planned “to limit Dostoevsky’s pessimism with Tolstoy and to adjust Tolstoy’s optimism with Dostoevsky” (Maguire, 1968: 280-281). Though he viciously attacked Tolstoy’s philosophy of non-resistance, Lenin respected his unique stature in Russian culture and preferred him to the new Soviet writers. He supported the publication of the unprecedented ninety-volume collection of Tolstoy’s work. Tolstoy’s centenary in 1928 was the first large-scale government-sponsored event celebrating a pre-Revolutionary writer. It included a seven-hour celebration at the Bolshoi Theatre, with the keynote address by the minister of education Lunacharsky (Frank, 1996).

The Tolstoy issue of the Clinical Archive had become its last volume (the following issue, though announced, never came out). Following the pattern of Stalinist political campaigns, the journal’s end was prepared and was then followed by a series of critical articles written not by political leaders but by psychiatrists. Thus, a psychiatrist from the provinces, N. I. Balaban, published a critical review of Segalin’s article in the official organ of the Society of Psychoneurologist-Materialists, Soviet Psychoneurology (Sovetskaia psikhonevrologiia). He argued that Segalin’s diagnosis of Tolstoy would confuse the reader familiar with the writer’s international reputation. Lenin’s and Lunacharsky’s view of Tolstoy as a sober realist stood in a sharp contrast to the image of a hallucinating writer created by Segalin. The latter had argued that Tolstoy, before he was fifty, was at a “manic stage” and that later his “affective epilepsy” switched to a “depressive stage.” In Balaban’s view, Segalin repeated the outdated cliché about Tolstoy’s “sudden crisis” which had already been rejected by literary historians. Balaban insisted that Tolstoy’s changes should not be explained by illness, and he criticized Segalin for reproducing suspicious Lombrosian views without enriching medical knowledge (Balaban, 1933).

Balaban’s article only confirmed the end of Segalin’s initiatives. Yet, at that time Segalin still believed that the Institute of Genius stood a chance. His hopes revived when he had heard that “some psychological circles” in Moscow discussed an idea for a “eurological institute.” He also learned about the Academy of Sciences’ decision to establish a “central organ” superintending the conditions of scientists’ life and work. Further, the success of neuropsychiatric dispensaries encouraged Segalin to raise the question of “special dispensaries for creative people.” The ambitions of social hygienists had indeed grown, and they campaigned to place all medical institutions under the “united dispensary.” Their objectives were to screen the population, to introduce health passports for every worker, “to calculate the coefficient of work capacity,” and to provide “timely prophylactic, curative, sanitary and social aid” (Smirnov, 1930: 5). Similarly, in Segalin’s project, dispensaries for geniuses were to control “abnormal and asocial art” and stimulate “unproductive euroneurotics” with the help of “eurotherapy” (Segalin, 1929b: 70-72). Yet, together with the Institute of Genius and aesthetic medicine, the plan had to be abandoned in circumstances unfavorable for the early Soviet project of preventive mental health care.

In the 1930s the Narkomzdrav was in crisis. It lacked both the funds and the strategy to cope with the consequences of brutal industrialization and collectivization. The welfare services did not match the needs of the growing urban population--a result of the disastrous famine. Although the strategy for preventive health care was widely publicized and had already attracted the attention of socialist-oriented physicians in the West, the gap between the ambitions of social medicine and the reality was blatant. In 1931 a government decree indicated the grim situation in the understaffed and under-supplied mental hospitals, where the number of patients many times exceeded the intended population (Sirotkina, in print). The decree also ordered that no other institutions of preventive psychiatry were to be founded. The dispensary campaign slowed down, and its main proponents disappeared from the stage. In 1930 the patron of social hygiene, N.A. Semashko, was removed from his post as Commissar of Public Health. The new Narkomzdrav strategy was more class-oriented and concentrated on establishing medical facilities for workers at their workplaces (Zdravookhranenie, 1973: 174-176).

Segalin’s marginal position as a provincial psychiatrist protected him from physical repression, yet his europathology was destroyed in embryo. Its association with eugenics, which in the West had by that time acquired racial connotations, made it especially vulnerable. In 1928 both the German Society of Mental Hygiene and the Eugenic Society in London initiated a campaign for sterilization as a preventive measure against mental illnesses. Three years later, National Socialists in the Reichstag petitioned for the sterilization of hereditary criminals. The founding father of German racial hygiene, Alfred Ploetz, as the historian Paul Weindling remarked, “metamorphosed from being an admirer of Kautsky to a supporter of Hitler” (Weindling, 1989: 451-452). In the Soviet Union these developments were ideologically unacceptable, and they endangered the position of eugenics in this country. In 1930, the Russian Eugenics Society was disbanded and its journal terminated, almost simultaneously with Segalin’s journal. Segalin wisely closed down his europathology project and retreated to general medicine.

The Great Break--Stalin’s name for the sharp turn towards industrialization and collectivization--directly affected theories which linked the biological and the social, including eugenics (Adams 1990) and the idea of mad genius. Firstly, in the new political climate psychiatrists could no longer claim scientific neutrality. When Lombroso’s contemporaries reproached him for “compromising” genius by his theories, he wrote in his defense: “but has not nature caused to grow from similar germs, and on the same clod of earth, the nettle and the jasmine, the aconite and the rose? The botanist cannot be blamed for these coincidences” (Lombroso, 1910: ix). In the 1930s it was no longer possible to argue that the psychiatrist studies mental illness as the botanist examines a flower--the myth of politically neutral psychiatry ceased to work. It was arguably one of very few positive outcomes of state control over scholarship exercised in the 1930s--an early example of political correctness.

Yet, political censorship over these matters also had negative consequences. With the end of eugenic research, the concept of genius also went out of fashion. To reiterate the paradox of genius and equality, in The Possessed
Petr Verkhovensky announces Shigalov “a man of genius” because “he’s discovered ‘equality’”. Shigalov’s own “genius” was to deny genius. “To level the mountains is a fine idea, not an absurd one,” Verkhovensky claims:

I am for Shigalov. Down with culture. We’ve had enough science! Without science we have material enough to go on for a thousand years, but one must have discipline. The one thing wanting in the world is discipline. The thirst for culture is an aristocratic thirst. The moment you have family ties or love you get the desire for property. We will destroy that desire; we’ll make use of drunkenness, slander, spying; we’ll make use of incredible corruption; we’ll stifle every genius in its infancy. We’ll reduce all to a common denominator! Complete equality! (Dostoevsky, 1916)

When Dostoevsky published
The Possessed, his contemporaries saw the novel as a political pamphlet, not a prophecy. Yet, half a century later the country’s intellectual elite perished in the purges and was replaced by the under-educated and mediocre. Shigalov’s prospect for total levelling won over Segalin’s project of cultivating genius; the crude notion of equality finally won over exceptionality. Yet, while paying lip service to equality, the country was in fact building a highly controlled hierarchical society--a dictatorship. The only genius was thereby the man who topped the hierarchy--the dictator himself. For several decades to come, scientific studies of creativity stopped, and the very concept of “genius” was excluded from academic discourse.
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There is a recent re-edition of the journal’s issues by A.N. Kormushkin, a psychologist from Saint Petersburg

Karl Kautsky (1854-1938)--a socialist, at one time close to Marx, and a leader of the Second International