Pre-War Soviet Rural Medicine as Assessed by National and Non-National Observers
Keywords:history of medicine, rural health care, village, foreign observers, USSR
This study analyses the full-scale transformation of rural health care in the USSR in the late 1920s and the second half of the 1930s. The work is relevant because it fills serious gaps in our understanding of both the development of the national health care system and the realities of the Stalin era, thereby acting as an interdisciplinary social history. This work rejects the inherent bias of numerous studies when the task of exposing the Stalinist regime dictates the logic of analysis of social life, including the health care system, and determines the conclusions prematurely. This work is based on the principle of objectivity and rare sources little-known in Russia. They consist of personal observations of foreign eyewitnesses, both journalists and professional doctors, who visited the Soviet Union in the late 1920s and the second half of the 1930s. The study of these documents makes it possible to scrutinize the key moments of social modernisation processes in the Soviet countryside and feel the acute need for the reforms. Without any censorship restrictions in the analysis of the events taking place before their eyes, on the one hand, and any bias towards the Soviet social system, on the other, foreign eyewitnesses could impartially describe the sweeping transformation of the rural health care system in the USSR. The value of foreign observations is also enhanced by numerous comparisons of Soviet medicine with the medical system of their own states. It is established that foreign eyewitnesses agreed on the success of the Soviet government’s policy in rural health care, considering it a real social revolution in medical care for Soviet peasants. To prove the objectivity of the foreign nationals’ judgments, the author uses cross-references from domestic documents from the 1920s–1930s, which confirm the statements of foreign authors. As a result, this work concludes that until the beginning of the period of massive collectivisation in the USSR, foreign eyewitnesses unanimously characterised the medical care available to the peasant population as limited and insufficient. They described the general sanitary and hygienic situation in the village as outrageously deteriorated. At the same time, foreign observers are characterised by equally consolidated evidence of the rapid development and quick progress of rural health care after the establishment of the collective farm system, the first time in the country’s history when medical care became an integral part of everyday peasant life.
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