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American Imago 57.1 (2000) 5-24

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Psychoanalysis in Russia:
The Past, the Present, and the Future

Nina Vasilyeva

Countries, like individuals, have their own life cycles and fates--some lead calm and quiet lives, some lead socially active lives, and some are more impulsive and unpredictable than others. Some countries are lucky enough to smoothly develop their egos, but some unfortunately go through periods of diminished common sense. After such periods, it is important for the whole country as well as for each individual to try to reflect on what happened, why it occurred, and what the purpose of the cycle was. Those reflections may be of use to other countries as they add to an understanding of human beings and the nature of society.

Russian psychology has a long and proud historical traditions. Laboratories were established in the latter half of the 19th century, (for example, in 1875 in Kazan). Russia had a strong psychiatric school, led by Bechterev. At the beginning of the 20th century there was an awakening interest in Freud's work and theory. In 1904 Freud's book on dreams was published in Russian; it is interesting to note that this was the first foreign translation of Freud's works. Between 1904 and 1914 twenty-two works by Freud were published in Russian. Until the 1930s Russia was the leader in translating and publishing Freud's works. In 1908-1909 several Russian psychiatrists (Nikolai Osipov, Moisei Vulf, Nikolai Vyrubov, Osip Feltzman) published articles and gave lectures on Freud's theory and method. In 1911 the book series "Psychotherapy Library" was published. Moscow, Petersburg, and Odessa were the centers of psychoanalysis in Russia. Many leading Russian psychiatrists were involved in the psychoanalytic movement. They were in contact with and met with Freud and his collaborators in many countries. In 1912 the psychiatric society "Small Fridays" was organized by Vladimir Serbsky (unfortunately, most foreigners [End Page 5] are familiar with his name only in relation to the Serbsky Institute for Forensic Psychiatry--the center of oppressive psychiatry from the 1960s through the 1980s). Psychoanalysis promised to become the basis for the future development of psychiatry and psychotherapy.

Even the First World War and the Russian revolution of 1917 didn't stop this development. In the early 1920s the psychoanalytic movement sharply increased, largely in its application to childhood.

Civil war in post-revolutionary Russia sharply defined the problems of childhood. There were many homeless children who had experienced war and had lost their families and parents. Childhood prostitution and criminality and widespread illiteracy demanded immediate and effective intervention. It was clear that the emotional adaptation of children was the most emergent and difficult problem. This problem was resolved in different ways. School-colonies like that of Anton Makarenko (a kibbutz-like community based on the strong rules of an army or anthill) were established. Teachers began paying more attention to the family because the children of bourgeois or intelligentsia backgrounds needed "the rebuilding of consciousness," as did the children of workers and peasants.

Two mainstream movements attempted to answer these problems. The first was psychoanalysis and the second was pedology (the Russian version of developmental psychology, which was based on the naïve test/statistical approach). In the early 1920s psychoanalysis and pedology were developing intensively and extensively. New centers, laboratories, and experimental schools were set up. From 1922 until 1929 Professor Ivan Ermakov in Moscow published a series of books entitled the "Psychological and Psychoanalytical Library." In Odessa, Jakov Kogan published the series "Problems of Theory and Practice of Psychoanalysis." Between 1919 and 1930, nineteen more books by Freud, Anna Freud, and other famous psychoanalysts were translated and published. The Russian psychoanalytic society was established and was very active. The state psychoanalytic institute was opened. In this decade new approaches to childhood and basic approaches to psychotherapy were formulated. [End Page 6]

It would be fair to admit that the quantity of psychoanalysts at that time began to exceed their quality. Supported by the communist government, psychoanalysis was enlisting many uneducated political speculators who...


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