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From Communism to Anti-Communism

 | 
Andre Liebich
, 
Svetlana Yakimovich

Soviet Life in 1931

Sovkhoz Medical Consultation

Lewis H. Siegelbaum

Texte intégral

The back of the document reads in German: “Alle Staatsgüter in Russland haben einen eigenen Arzt, der zugleich auch die umliegenden Dörfer bedient. B.z. In der Sprechstunde einer Aerztin. 41518”. [Purple stamp] UNIONBILD G.m.b.H. – Berlin SW 68 Zimmerstrasse 70”. [Other purple stamp in Russian]. Handwritten inscription (in French): “L’heure des consultations médicales sur un sovkoz. Des postes médicaux dont sont prémunies [sic] tous les sovkoz profitent aussi les villages environnants” – ["The time for medical consultations on a state farm. The surrounding villages also benefit from medical posts at all sovkhoz”]. Black and white photograph; 14 x 18.5 cm.

1State farms (sovkhozy) distinguished themselves from collective farms in a number of respects. First, as state-owned entities, they hired and paid workers a wage, much as industrial enterprises did. This meant that, like other kinds of workers but unlike collective farmers, state farm workers belonged to trade unions. Second, state farms tended to specialize. Some concentrated on livestock and dairy production; others cultivated particular fruits and vegetables; while still others raised exotic species such as sable and mink. Third, state farms contained scientifically trained staff devoted to experimentation, for example, in cross-breeding.

2Although the earliest state farms date back to 1918, the period of their greatest growth, like that of collective farms, occurred during the late 1920s and early 1930s. In August 1928, the Soviet government decreed the formation of “grain factories” (zernozavody) to expand wheat and other grain cultivation on the steppe. The first of these, aptly named “Giant” (“Gigant”), was located in Rostov Oblast (region). It contained 240,000 hectares, covering over 70 kilometers from north to south. Much celebrated at the time of its inauguration, the farm eventually became notorious for over-extension, that is, the sin of “giganticism”. Meanwhile, the number of state farms rose from some 4,000 in 1940 to well over 7,000 by 1960.

3State farms provided not only employment but also medical services. In 1918, Soviet Russia became the first country to promise universal “cradle-to-grave” healthcare coverage through the complete socialization of medicine. The "right to health" thus became a “constitutional right” of Soviet citizens. It was developed under the Commissar for Public Health throughout the 1920s, Nikolai Aleksandrovich Semashko and reached remote areas.

4As this photograph illustrates, women comprised the majority of medical personnel. Indeed, along with teaching, medicine was one of the few professions that Soviet gender norms encouraged women to enter. Salaries remained correspondingly low. Nevertheless, the expansion of medical services in rural areas may have been the most beneficial social consequence of the institution of state farms.

5The young woman doctor, with a sensible short modern haircut and properly attired in a white coat, with medical equipment on her desk is clearly a novice. She seems to be as intimidated as her patient, a long-bearded peasant of venerable age. In all likelihood she was seconded to this makeshift clinic, with the rough plank door one sees behind her, soon after graduation. She may have been the first doctor to tend to the villagers’ needs and most probably the first female doctor which may explain her patient’s embarrassment.

Bibliographie

Mark Field, Soviet Socialized Medicine, New York: Free Press, 1967.

Wendy Goldman, Women, the State and Revolution: Soviet Family Policy and Social Life, 1917–1936, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Lewis H. Siegelbaum, “Dear Comrade, You Ask What We Need: Socialist Paternalism and Soviet Rural Notables in the Mid-1930s,” in Sheila Fitzpatrick. ed. Stalinism: New Directions, London: Routledge, 2000.

Table des illustrations

Légende The back of the document reads in German: “Alle Staatsgüter in Russland haben einen eigenen Arzt, der zugleich auch die umliegenden Dörfer bedient. B.z. In der Sprechstunde einer Aerztin. 41518”. [Purple stamp] UNIONBILD G.m.b.H. – Berlin SW 68 Zimmerstrasse 70”. [Other purple stamp in Russian]. Handwritten inscription (in French): “L’heure des consultations médicales sur un sovkoz. Des postes médicaux dont sont prémunies [sic] tous les sovkoz profitent aussi les villages environnants” – ["The time for medical consultations on a state farm. The surrounding villages also benefit from medical posts at all sovkhoz”]. Black and white photograph; 14 x 18.5 cm.
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