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.

Author Biography

Dmitrii Khristenko

PhD (History), Associate Professor, Yaroslavl State Medical University.

5, Revolutsionnaya Str., 150000, Yaroslavl, Russia.

ORCID 0000-0002-6221-8991


Bogdanov, N. (1930). Sovety v raionakh sploshnoi kollektivizatsii [The Soviets in Areas of Mass Collectivisation]. Saratov, Gosudarstvennoe izdatel’stvo. 64 p.

Bol’shakov, A. (1927). Derevnya 1917–1927 [The Countryside in 1917–1927]. Moscow, Rabotnik prosveshcheniya. 471 p.

Bulgakov, M. A. (1989). Zapiski yunogo vracha [A Young Doctor’s Notebook]. In Bulgakov, M. A. Sobranie sochinenii v 5 t. Moscow, Khudozhestvennaya literatura. Vol. 1, pp. 71–146.

Buxton, Ch. R. (1922). In a Russian Village. L., The Labour Publ. 96 p.

Chekhov, A. P. (1984). Gore [Sorrow]. In Chekhov, A. P. Polnoe sobranie sochinenii i pisem v 30 t. Moscow, Nauka. Vol. 4, pp. 230–234.

Danilov, V. P. (1979). Sovetskaya dokolkhoznaya derevnya: sotsial’naya struktura, sotsial’nye otnosheniya [The Soviet Pre-Kolkhoz Village: Social Structure, Social Relations]. Moscow, Nauka. 357 p.

Farson, N. (1930). Seeing Red: Today in Russia. L., Eyre & Spottiswoode Publ. 275 p.

Fischer, L. (1935). Soviet Journey. N. Y., Harrison Smith and Robert Haas. 309 p.

Fitzpatrick, Sh. (2008). Stalinskie krest’yane. Sotsial’naya istoriya Sovetskoi Rossii v 30-e gody: derevnya [Stalin’s Peasants: Resistance and Survival in the Russian Village after Collectivisation]. Moscow, ROSSPEN. 421 p.

Gaditskaya, M. A., Samsonenko, T. A. (2017). Meditsinskoe obsluzhivanie v povsednevnosti kolkhoznoi derevni 1930-kh gg. (na materialakh Yuga Rossii) [Medical Service in the Everyday Life of a Collective Farm Village in the 1930s (with Reference to South Russia)]. In Vlast’. No. 5, pp. 192–197.

Gamburg, M. (1929). Polovaya zhizn’ krest’yanskoi molodezhi [The Sexual Life of the Peasant Youth]. Saratov, S. n. 42 p.

Gladkov, F. (1935). Kolkhoznik i kul’tura [The Collective Farmer and Culture]. In Pravda. September 16. No. 256, p. 3.

Gonchar, V. V., Ratmanov, P. E. (2015). Modernizatsiya zubovrachebnoi pomoshchi naseleniyu Dal’nevostochnogo kraya v gody pervoi sovetskoi pyatiletki (1928–1933 gg.) [The Modernisation of Dental Care for the Population of the Far Eastern Region during the First Soviet Five-Year Plan Period (1928–1933)]. In Dal’nevostochnyi meditsinskii zhurnal. No. 1, pp. 73–77.

Gorfin, D. V. (1961). Ocherki istorii sel’skogo zdravookhraneniya SSSR (1917–1959 gg.) [Essays on the History of Rural Healthcare in the USSR (1917–1959)]. Moscow, Medgiz. 236 p.

Hindus, M. (1931). Red Bread. N. Y., Jonathan Cape & Harrison Smith. 372 p.

Iiesh, D. (2005). Rossiya. 1934 [Russia. 1934]. Moscow, Khroniker. 239 p.

Khristenko, D. N., Krasovskaya, Yu. V (2019). Kollektivizatsiya i stanovlenie sistemy zdravookhraneniya na sele [Collectivisation and the Formation of the Public Health System in Rural Russia]. In Samarskii nauchnyi vestnik. No. 4, pp. 200–205. DOI 10.24411/2309-4370-2019-14215.

Mirskii M. (2005). Meditsina Rossii X–XX vekov [Medicine of Russia of the 10th–20th Centuries]. Moscow, ROSSPEN. 631 p.

Nash otvet [Nash Otvet]. (1933). Stalingrad, Partizdat. 55 p.

Nefedov, S. A. (2013). Agrarnye i demograficheskie itogi stalinskoi kollektivizatsii [Agrarian and Demographic Results of Stalin’s Collectivisation]. Tambov, Izdatel’skii dom Tambovskogo gusudarstvennogo universiteta imeni G. R. Derzhavina. 238 p.

Newsholme, A., Kingsbury, J. (1933). Red Medicine: Socialized Health in Soviet Russia. N. Y., Doubleday, Doran & Co. 324 p.

Otkrytoe pis’mo obshchestvennym sanitarnym inspektoram Moskovskoi oblasti po sankul’trabote v kolkhozakh v svyazi s provodimym konkursom na chistuyu kul’turnuyu izbu [An Open Letter to the Public Sanitary Inspectors of the Moscow Region on Sanitary and Cultural Work in Collective Farms in Connection with the Ongoing Competition for a Clean Cultural Rural House]. (1934). Moscow, Tipografiya MOIKa. 7 p.

Renn, L. (1932). Russlandfahrten. Berlin, Lasso-Verlag. 190 S.

Scott, J. (1942). Behind the Urals: An American Worker in Russia’s City of Steel. Massachusets, The Riverside Press. 279 p.

Shingarev, A. I. (1907). Vymirayushchaya derevnya. Opyt sanitarno-ekonomicheskogo issledovaniya dvukh selenii Voronezhskogo uezda [A Dying Village: The Experience of Sanitary and Economic Study of Two Villages in Voronezh Uyezd]. St Petersburg, Obshchestvennaya pol’za. 223 p.

Sigerist, H. (1937). Socialized Medicine in the Soviet Union. N. Y., W.W. Norton & Co. 378 p.

Smirnov, N. G. (1930). Dzhek Vos‘merkin Amerikanets. Povest’ v 3 ch. [Jack Vosmerkin the American. A Story. 3 Parts]. Moscow, Leningrad, Gosudarstvennoe izdatel’stvo. 286 p.

Smith, V. (1936). In a Collective Farm Village. Moscow, Cooperative Publ. Society of Foreign Workers. 229 p.

Sorok let sovetskogo zdravookhraneniya [Forty Years of Soviet Healthcare]. (1957). Moscow, Gosudarstvennoe izdatel’stvo meditsinskoi literatury. 662 p.

Viola, L. (2010). Krest’yanskii bunt v epokhu Stalina: kollektivizatsiya i kul’tura krest’yanskogo soprotivleniya [Peasant Rebels under Stalin: Collectivisation and the Culture of Peasant Resistance]. Moscow, ROSSPEN. 366 p.

Volkova, T. (2001). Stanovlenie i razvitie zemskogo zdravookhraneniya v Yaroslavskoi gubernii (1865–1917 gg.) [The Formation and Development of Zemstvo Healthcare in Yaroslavl Province (1865–1917)]. Yaroslavl, OOO “Liya”. 128 p.

Vyltsan, M. A. (1970). Sovetskaya derevnya nakanune Velikoi Otechestvennoi voiny. (1938–1941 gg.) [The Soviet Village on the Eve of the Great Patriotic War. (1938–1941)]. Moscow, Politizdat. 200 p.

Williams, A. R. (1928). The Russian Land. N. Y., N. Republic. 294 p.

Yakovlev, Ya. A. (1924). Derevnya kak ona est’ [The Village As It Is]. Moscow, Krasnaya nov’. 152 p.

Za zdorovyi kul’turnyi byt. Sbornik statei [For a Healthy Cultural Life. A Collection of Articles]. (1931). Moscow, Gosudarstvennoe uchebno-pedagogicheskoe izdatel’stvo. 176 p.

Zatravkin, S., Vishlenkova, E., Sherstneva, E. (2020). “Korennoi perelom”: dovoennaya reforma sovetskogo zdravookhraneniya [“A Radical Turn”: The Reform of the Soviet System of Public Healthcare]. In Quaestio Rossica. Vol. 8. No. 2, pp. 652–666.

How to Cite
Khristenko, D. (2022). Pre-War Soviet Rural Medicine as Assessed by National and Non-National Observers. Quaestio Rossica, 10(2), 629–645.
Problema voluminis