“Censorship and the Third Section: How thinking became dangerous in 19th Century Russia”, an original history research paper by rootsnwingz

Introduction

When Nicholas I succeeded his older brother Alexander and became the tsar of Russia in late 1825, the attitude of the state towards its subjects changed dramatically. Nicholas’s thirty year long autocratic rule is characterized by oppressive reforms aimed at maintaining the status quo and preventing dissent in a time of socio-political instability and uncertainty. Any kind of unconventional thought or criticism of the state had to be considered a threat to the tsar’s authority and, as a consequence, Nicholas sought complete control over what could be safely published. Strict censorship laws were enacted, while a secret police, which became known as the “Third Section”, was re-established in order to regulate the press. Writers who refused to obey the tsar’s guidelines and wished to be the sole authority over their writings’ style and content were ruthlessly persecuted.

But was Nicholas’s austerity paranoid? In fact, Nicholas had real reasons to be concerned about his position on the throne and to worry about dissent. First of all, when he came to power, he immediately had to deal with the Decembrist Uprising. This uprising is generally understood as the manifestation of the educated elite’s disappointment with Alexander’s liberal, yet ineffective, government. More notably, it “produced the first open confrontation between the autocracy and members of the intelligentsia.” (Shatz, 31)

Despite the fast suppression of the Decembrist Uprising, Nicholas was left convinced that he had to adopt stricter policies. Moreover, keeping in mind that at the same time in the 19th century, revolutionary movements were blooming all over Europe, he must have been terrified by the possibility of the creation of an influential movement of dissent. “The very foundations of autocratic rule were menaced by the changes in social thought brought about by the growth of revolutionary successes abroad and their influence on internal politics at home” (Squire, 48).

As a result, the priority of Nicholas’s reforms was to ensure that public opinion agreed with the government’s views and thus, censorship and persecution on the grounds of crimes of thought reached unprecedented heights in Russian history. The success of the French revolution was also the reason why Nicholas denounced French philosophy and the Enlightenment ideas, which had been propagated in the 18th century by Catherine the Great. In the 19th century, however, such ideologies were considered dangerous. Nevertheless, Nicholas was not afraid of all Western thought. In fact, he was particularly fond of German philosophy, such as Hegel and the other “Idealists”. Therefore, the cultural shift from France to Germany reflects that the tsar had carefully observed the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars and had thus witnessed the double risk of overexpansion and fall of autocracy, which were probably his two biggest fears.

The Decembrist Uprising played a vital role in ascertaining the divide between the government’s interests and the interests of the people, especially the educated elite. In this sense, Nicholas’s adversaries were now identifiable; they were the writers, poets and playwrights who dared to challenge –either directly or subliminally- the state’s authority over the people. Therefore, perhaps for the first time, the intelligentsia was recognized as the most influential threat to the existing order in Russia. The fact that Nicholas now regarded the intelligentsia as the state’s visible internal enemy explains the abundance of repression that freethinking intellectuals faced in the second quarter of the 19th century. In other words, the absurdity of the censorship laws and the birth of the secret police affirm Nicholas’s fearfulness of the intelligentsia.

Therefore, the present research paper is an examination of Nicholas’s censorship laws and the “Third Section’s” activity. I primarily aim to demonstrate how the intelligentsia had a real effect on the society they lived in and belonged to, which in turn became a serious cause of concern for the authorities and has led to atrocious and oppressive government responses. In addition, I intend to look into the ways “intelligenty” overcame or eluded national policing, as well as the cases where they were less fortunate and paid a heavy price for their mental freedom. Specifically, illustrative examples from the lives of Alexander Herzen and Mikhail Bakunin will be provided to help the reader get a clearer idea of the limitations and sufferings they endured due to Nicholas’s repression. The fact that poets and novelists were exiled or sent off to mental asylums suggests that, historically, Russian authorities have been deeply troubled by the intelligentsia’s activity, especially its capacity to change sociopolitical structures and express dissent from the autocracy. This is why I believe that an inquiry into the censorship laws and the “Third Section” will serve to contextualize the intelligentsia’s experience under the rule of Nicholas I.

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Sluggish Schizophrenia in the Soviet Union , an original short essay by rootsnwingz

From its very early stages in the 18th century, Russian psychiatric theory viewed mental disorders as the result of “functional changes in cerebral activity or brain injuries” (Miller, 15). Although Stalin’s social reorganization condemned and politicized psychoanalytic theory and practice, the 1930s saw vital development in psychopathology, especially in the field of clinical symptomatology thanks to the work of P.B. Gannushkin. One of Gannushkin’s successors, G.E. Sukhareva, suggested an alternative classification model for the diagnosis and treatment of schizophrenia, rejecting Kraepelin’s original system (Miller, 16).

Essentially, the new model suggested that by examining the lifelong course of schizophrenia, as opposed to simply the symptoms, the disorder could be divided into two distinct types: ‘sluggish’ or ‘chronic’ on the one hand, and on the other, ‘acute’ or ‘periodic’. Sluggish schizophrenia referred to the continuous form, “which developed at varying levels of severity with periodic remissions during the life history of the patient”(Miller, 16). Soviet psychiatrists believed that there is usually a biogenetic, biochemical, neurological and physiological etiology for schizophrenia, which is triggered by the environment and manifested as a psychotic episode. The patient’s realization of his disorder’s facets and roots was considered critical to Soviet psychotherapy and, as a result, therapies aimed to be “short-term, supportive and very specific” (Miler, 17).

Critics have argued that this classification system of schizophrenia often leads to misdiagnosis or overdiagnosis because genetic inheritance with physiological manifestation is assumed more often as the etiology than cultural or individual causes (Miller, 20). Furthermore, Soviet psychiatry is often criticized for labeling its patients by “imposing an unsubstantiated diagnosis on a patient which will itself have negative consequences, both on the patient’s conception of self and in terms of the suspicious way he will then be regarded at home and at the workplace” (Miller, 20). This is largely due to the fact that any Russian, who was politically oppositional to Soviet authority and power, was in general deemed insane. Therefore, sluggish schizophrenia was thought to be manifested as a distortion of political reality by minds that were slow to realize the perceptions of Soviet reality. Substantial evidence is found for this in the establishment of special psychiatric hospitals for their ‘re-education’.

Patients were thus often regarded as political adversaries on top of being looked down upon for being insane by both the public and doctors, when they were not even mentally ill. In my view, this is what is insane. When the general population accepts that standing up or questioning political authority is always a sign of madness, then the population has evidently been tricked by those whose wealth would be threatened by any exposure of the existing established system’s injustice. This is what leads me to believe that the labeling impact of sluggish schizophrenia was merely an immoral scare tactic employed to condemn any act of resistance  as madness and to label any person unsatisfied with the political structure as mad. Fear and prevention of political dissent or an uprising could well be the underlying factors behind the phenomenon of labeling discussed above.

Nevertheless, it is unfair to condemn the entire profession even though it was abused to a certain extent, for one must keep in mind that a lot of propaganda was in play at the time, and consequently people were mostly exposed to one-sided and exaggerated portrayals of what was actually going on. Moreover, despite its drawbacks, it is undeniable that Soviet psychiatric theory & practice made some genuine and fruitful attempts to explore numerous explanations and treatments for mental illness.

Works Cited:

Miller, Martin A. The Theory and Practice of Psychiatry in the Soviet Union. 1985.