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From 'Beastly Philosophy' to Medical Genetics: Eugenics in Russia and the Soviet Union

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Abstract:

This essay offers an overview of the three distinct periods in the development of Russian eugenics: Imperial (1900-1917), Bolshevik (1917-1929), and Stalinist (1930-1939). Began during the Imperial era as a particular discourse on the issues of human heredity, diversity, and evolution, in the early years of the Bolshevik rule eugenics was quickly institutionalized as a scientific discipline—complete with societies, research establishments, and periodicals—that aspired an extensive grassroots following, generated lively public debates, and exerted considerable influence on a range of medical, public health, and social policies. In the late 1920s, in the wake of Joseph Stalin's 'Great Break', eugenics came under intense critique as a 'bourgeois' science and its proponents quickly reconstituted their enterprise as 'medical genetics'. Yet, after a brief period of rapid growth during the early 1930s, medical genetics was dismantled as a 'fascist science' towards the end of the decade. Based on published and original research, this essay examines the factors that account for such an unusual—as compared to the development of eugenics in other locales during the same period—historical trajectory of Russian eugenics.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/00033790.2010.527162

Affiliations: University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

Publication date: 2011-01-01

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