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Detski Dom

DETSKI DOM

The Detski Dom (Children's Home, also known as the Solidarity International Experimental Home) was a kind of boarding school and experimental laboratory designed to help model the future "new man," the builder of communism. It opened in August 1921 in the center of Moscow and shared with the Psychoanalytic Institute the magnificent former home of Stepan Ryabushinsky. Though Ivan Ermakov, president of the Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, was officially responsible for the home, Vera Schmidt ran day-to-day operations. During a period filled with revolutionary ideas, in the broadest sense of the term, an attempt was made to merge Freudianism and Marxism. For many of Ermakov's friends this involved using psychoanalysis, "a powerful method of liberating man from his old reductive shackles," to create individuals who conformed to the ideals of the new society. At this time the new discipline of "pedology" was established.

Vera Schmidt ran the home on a theoretical, as well as practical, level. For Schmidt, an adept of Freud, early childhood was a critical period in the formation and evolution of the future adult. Accordingly, children were admitted to the home between two and four years of age. Initially, the twenty-four residents were cared for by fifty-one staff members. The children lived there permanently, parents visiting only periodically. The residents came from various social backgrounds. They included Schmidt's son Volik (mistakenly referred to in some publications as Alik). After 1925 residents included many children of party bureaucrats, government officials, the Komintern, and even the youngest of Stalin's two sons, Vassili.

High-ranking visitors and inspectors found the environment pleasant; the staff calm, attentive, and considerate; the children clean and properly dressed; the rapport with teachers good; and the physical and psychological state of the children healthy. Moreover, in spite of external unrest, the home was well financed. Contributors included the State Department of Finance, the Union of Manual and Intellectual Workers of Germany (from which the name Solidarity International was derived), and some of the children's families. Otto Schmidt, Vera's husband and publisher of The Library of Psychology and Psychoanalysis, allocated a portion of the profits from the publishing house to the home.

Vera Schmidt organized periodic meetings of the teachers, who kept daily logs with detailed observations and prepared personal reports, diagrams, and graphs detailing the evolution of each child. Staff organized wake-up activities: drawing, découpage, modeling with clay, educational games. One of the purposes of the study was to examine infantile sexuality as well as various forms of impulse display.

Professional psychotherapists, including Sabina Spielrein, treated the children. Though Vera Schmidt did not have any psychoanalytic training, her publications on the experiment and the methods used at the home (which she herself translated into German) attracted high regard even from Anna Freud in Vienna, according to some sources. In early 1923 the Schmidts went to Vienna, where they met Sigmund Freud, Otto Rank, Karl Abraham, and other analysts.

Although the trip was successful (the Russian Psychoanalytic Society became a member of the International Psychoanalytic Association), back in Moscow the situation deteriorated for the home. The staff, with Vera Schmidt at its head, continued to request psychoanalytic training. United until then, the staff began to argue among themselves. In mid-1923 the number of residents fell from twenty-four to twelve, and the staff was reduced to no more than eighteen members. The Solidarity International Experimental Home had to confront serious financial problems (exacerbated by the fact that assistance from Germany ceased). Moreover, the institution began receiving unfavorable publicity in the local press. In late 1923 and early 1924 a struggle broke out about the future of the Home. Several committees were dissolved and wild rumors circulated, most of which were based on an incorrect understanding of childhood sexuality. Aron Zalkind, the father of pedology and a Marxist-Freudian defector, wrote in 1926, "The sexual must be subjected to the class principle."

Ideological resistance grew, and the home became its first victim, followed by psychoanalysis and pedology. Having become a nursery school, the institution had assumed an elitist character. On August 14, 1925, the Narkompros (Ministry of Public Education) ordered the experimental home closed. Later, during the 1930s, the house on Malaya-Nikitskaya Street became the personal residence of Maxime Gorky. Today the magnificent building houses the Gorky museum.

Irina Manson

See also: Marxism and psychoanalysis; Pedagogy and psychoanalysis; Russia/USSR, Schmidt, Vera Federovna.

Bibliography

Etkind, Alexander. (1997). Eros of the Impossible: The History of Psychoanalysis in Russia (Noah Rubins and Maria Rubins, Trans.). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Palmier, Jean-Michel. (1982). La psychanalyse en Union soviétique. In Roland Jaccard (Ed.) Histoire de la psychanalyse (Vol. 2). Paris: Hachette.

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