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Body Soviet

Propaganda, Hygiene, and the Revolutionary State

Tricia Starks

Publication Year: 2008

In 1918 the People’s Commissariat of Public Health began a quest to protect the health of all Soviet citizens, but health became more than a political platform or a tactical decision. The Soviets defined and categorized the world by interpreting political orthodoxy and citizenship in terms of hygiene. The assumed political, social, and cultural benefits of a regulated, healthy lifestyle informed the construction of Soviet institutions and identity. Cleanliness developed into a political statement that extended from domestic maintenance to leisure choices and revealed gender, ethnic, and class prejudices. Dirt denoted the past and poor politics; health and cleanliness signified mental acuity, political orthodoxy, and modernity.
            Health, though essential to the revolutionary vision and crucial to Soviet plans for utopia, has been neglected by traditional histories caught up in Cold War debates. The Body Soviet recovers this significant aspect of Soviet thought by providing a cross-disciplinary, comparative history of Soviet health programs that draws upon rich sources of health care propaganda, including posters, plays, museum displays, films, and mock trials. The analysis of propaganda makes The Body Soviet more than an institutional history; it is also an insightful critique of the ideologies of the body fabricated by health organizations.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiii

Za vashe zdorov'e! ("To your health!") The toast that has launched a million celebratory gatherings in Russia-and dozens that I have had the great joy to attend personally-seems a fitting beginning to the most enjoyable part of any book-the moment when the author thanks all those who have helped to bring it into existence. I wish a hearty "To your health!" to all who helped me in the...

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pp. 3-11

In the midst of the devastating Russian civil war, V. I. Lenin turned his attention from the bourgeois parasite to another bloodsucker-the louse. "Either the lice will defeat socialism;' he cautioned the 1919 All-Russia Congress of Soviets, "or socialism will defeat the lice." Concern for health is not often associated with the years of revolution, but even in the thick of war...

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1. Revolution: Destruction, Cleansing, and Creation

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pp. 12-36

Though his doctors had ordered him to rest, the enfeebled V. I. Lenin would not allow the German socialist Klara Zetkin to end her visit in 1922 until he had read her a letter sent to him by a class of rural schoolchildren. He began, "Dear little grandfather Lenin, we want to tell you that we have become very good. We study diligently. We already read and write...

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2. The State: Diagnosing, Monitoring, and Disciplining

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pp. 37-69

The densely layered poster "People's Health Care in the USSR" (1926- 29) presented the primary methods and goals of an idealized Narkomzdrav (plate 2). A red scroll across the top emphasized that though the workers had rights as citizens, they also had duties, declaring: "The protection of the health of workers is the responsibility of workers themselves...

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3. The City: Instruction, Regulation, and Isolation

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pp. 70-94

In May 1920 reports glorified the transformation of a mortar-and-stone reminder of tsarist oppression-a palace on Kamennyi Island in Petrograd- into a House of Leisure. In this revolutionized palace, as well as others like it reclaimed allover the former empire, workers spent their annual two-week vacation learning how to rest rationally, for in the workers' state even...

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4. The Home: Housekeeping, Social Duty, and Public Concern

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pp. 95-134

When the curtain rose on the 1925 play Our Life: An Agit-Lifestyle-Buffoonery in Two Acts, the stage set resembled the audience's apartments- crowded, filthy, and disordered. In the midst of the muddle, an infant squealed, an older girl sang loudly, and twin boys splashed in a washtub. Another boy, sprawled on the floor pretending to read, bellowed a demand...

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5. The Family: Maternity, Birth, and Parenthood

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pp. 135-161

In the eyes of the young mother entering the consultation room, everything looked bright and clean, so different from her own home. Doctors and nurses wore spotless white gowns, as did the medical personnel featured on the posters affixed to the walls. Two other mothers awaiting medical attention chided the newcomer for bundling her baby and cradling it to still its...

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6. The Body: Hygiene, Modernity, and Mentality

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pp. 162-201

The clock ruled life-or at least that was what the 1927 poster's Hours for Leisure-S Hours for Sleep-S Hours for Work" implied (plate 4). While pictures of daily activities obscured the fact of it, the overarching reality and template against which these activities were measured was the clock. A giant twenty-four-hour timepiece, it formed the background...

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pp. 202-210

The February 1929 issue of the satirical magazine Krokodil included a cartoon parodying children's games for a very adult purpose (plate 8). The "Puzzle Picture for Party Children of a Young Age" challenged the reader's purity and their perspicacity with a depiction of two common types. On the right a smiling, capped figure whose coveralls, hands, face, and legs were...


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pp. 211-277


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pp. 279-300


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pp. 301-313

E-ISBN-13: 9780299229634
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299229641

Publication Year: 2008