Medicine:Deafness in Soviet Russia

From HandWiki
Short description: Social historical topic in deaf history

Deafness in Soviet Russia experienced a cultural transformation following the Russian Revolution. The Soviet's collectivist ideology, termed New Soviet, promoted the integration of deaf people within a predominantly hearing civilization. Thus, state-sponsored organizations, such as All-Russian Society of the Deaf, fostered cultural and professional opportunities for Russia's deaf population.


Prerevolutionary Russian culture considered deafness a crippling condition comparable with insanity and mental retardation.[1][2] Birthed from the prerevolutionary establishment of deaf schools, Russian deaf culture communalized said minority.[3] However, Russia's deaf education system struggled due to inconsistent government funding.[3] Thus, deaf schools relied on philanthropic contributions.[3][1] The lack of government financing helped preserve Russian Sign Language during an oralist era.[3] Marginalized by the tsarist legal system, Russia's deaf population supported the Bolshevik revolution.[1] Soviet socialism promoted economic participation, thereby favoring physically able beings.[3]

Deaf Cultural Identity

The New Soviet ideology promoted unity through the personal surmounting of physical and social obstacles.[2] Thus, societal contribution superseded physical defects.[2] A dire need for laborers and an affirmative outlook on disabilities strengthened Russia's deaf communities.[2][3] Furthermore, the deaf established themselves as able-bodied workers by highlighting the invisible nature of their disorder. [3][2] Soviet ideologies allowed for the politicization of deaf community members.[4][2] As a result, political collaboration fostered the development of deaf community identity.[2] However, the strengthening of Russia's deaf movement brought the invisible disorder to light.[2] The establishment of deaf-accessible spaces highlighted the deaf communities' otherness.[2] Furthermore, the deaf labeled themselves as medically handicapped.[3] Thus, Russia's hearing communities lacked faith that the deaf could successfully overcome their impairment and become ideal New Soviet people.[4][2]

To combat such stigma, deaf communities developed a social identity focused on self-sufficiency.[4][2] The self-establishment of deaf culture highlights deaf community members' embracement of New Soviet values.[2][4] In 1962, the Soviet government recognized deaf peoples' future capability of embodying the New Soviet ideal.[2] Thus, the late 1940s through 1970s represent a high point in Russian deaf history.[4][2] However, Russia's deaf population struggled to prove their self-sufficiency.[2] A 1957 Izvestia article highlights the deaf population's acceptance of social welfare.[2] Furthermore, the deaf's ability to achieve New Soviet ideals came into question following Izvestia's publication of "Pygmalion."[2] This article reveals an unwillingness to assimilate into New Soviet culture among some of Russia's deaf population.[2] Additionally, "Pygmalion" notes comparatively increased deviance and economic nonparticipation among Russia's deaf.[2]

Ultimately, Russia's deaf population failed to transition into New Soviet culture.[2] In the 1960s, the deaf population's focus shifted to strengthening deaf communities, falling further into social seclusion.[2] Thus, a clear societal division saw the return of prerevolutionary deaf marginalization.[2] An article published in 1984 notes the medical use of "GN—UO," a prerevolutionary term meaning "Deaf-mute—Mentally Retarded."[2]


Deaf education stabilized following consistent financial backing from the Soviet regime.[3] Additionally, the Soviet Union partitioned deaf schooling into the following categories: born entirely deaf, born partly deaf, late-deafened.[3] Such division increased social interaction and tailored language modalities to account for students' needs.[3] However, prerevolutionary oralism extended into the Soviet era.[3] The New Soviet's commitment to social and economic participation favored the speaking modality.[3] Russia's deaf population recognized the economic implications of sign-only communication.[3] Thus, Russia's deaf embraced both spoken and signed language modalities.[3]

Higher education was accessible to deaf students.[3] Furthermore, VOG organized vocational training workshops for the deaf.[2] With the state's support, VOG established deaf-only alternatives for on-site industrial-educational programs termed Rabfaks.[3]


The Soviet's collectivist ideologies alleviated economic competition, thereby easing the deaf population's employment barriers.[3] In addition, by highlighting their physical capabilities, the deaf population realized greater employment opportunities than those with other disabilities.[3] According to Soviet theorist Lev Vygotsky, deaf laborers exhibit comparable working abilities to their hearing counterparts.[2] Thus, the deaf disorder's invisible nature aided in the economic advancement of Russia's deaf.[3][2]

Through employment, the deaf approached New Soviet idealisms.[2] Thus, oralism's vocational advantages encouraged its acceptance among Russia's deaf population.[3]


Following the Russian Revolution, communal urban areas saw an increased presence of deaf beings.[2] However, public signing illuminated the naturally invisible disorder that is deafness.[2] Thus, social disparities and public inaccessibility prompted the creation of deaf spaces.[2] Such spaces demonstrated the deaf's cultural, self-sufficient, and economic advancements.[2] Additionally, hearing people were encouraged to use these spaces.[2] Through social integration, the deaf wished to highlight their capability of New Soviet transformation.[2]

The deaf population benefited from Russia's cultural enthusiasm toward mime and theater.[4][3][2] Viewed as a natural setting for the deaf, theater highlighted deaf cultural sophistication.[4]

Deafness in Public Space

Distinguishable by a dense signing presence, deaf spaces encouraged public collaboration among Russia's deaf community members.[2] Language accessibility fostered a unique deaf identity that overlooked their physical inabilities.[2] Additionally, the deaf identity embodied labor capability, cultural advancement, and self-sufficiency.[4][2] The construction of deaf spaces strengthened internal community ties and encouraged social engagement.[2] Furthermore, deaf spaces represented the deaf population's embracement of New Soviet values. However, congregated public signing illuminated the deaf disorder.[2] Thus, deaf spaces negatively influenced hearing society's impressions of the deaf by challenging Soviet uniformity.[2]

Deafness in Theater

Theater represented a significant segment of Soviet culture.[2][3][4] Viewed as a natural atmosphere for the hard of hearing, theaters provided employment opportunities for Russia's deaf.[4][3] Founded in 1957 with VOG's support, the Theatre Studio of Sign and Gesture trained deaf actors in various theatrical crafts.[4] Renamed Theatre of Sign and Gesture following governmental support in 1963, the theater highlighted the deaf population's cultural refinement.[4][3] Through training, deaf actors proved skillfully equivalent to their hearing counterparts.[4] For example, deaf actors learned rhythm through musical vibrations.[4] Thus, through cultural advancements and showcasing their artistic capabilities, Russia's deaf population approached New Soviet idealisms.[4][2]


All-Russian Society of the Deaf (VOG)

Founded in 1926 by Ivan Savel'ev, VOG is a deaf-run organization initially backed by the Soviet state.[5][3][2] Originally centered around employment services, VOG established vocational training centers.[3][2] Additionally, VOG's social clubs strengthened internal deaf community relations.[2] Striving to achieve New Soviet transformation, VOG extended its focus to include cultural advancement.[2][3][4] With governmental funding, VOG hosted deaf-only sporting events and art exhibitions.[3] Additionally, VOG organized the construction of various deaf spaces and cultural centers.[2][3] Membership rates soared, reaching 96% among deaf Muscovites in 1949.[2] Valuing self-sufficiency, in 1954, VOG refused governmental funding after citing sufficient revenue.[5][2] Self-sufficiency remained a reoccurring theme among VOG's projects through deaf-funding, deaf-labor, and deaf-leadership.[2][4]

Furthermore, VOG worked closely with state officials to influence social politics on the deaf's behalf.[5][3] In 1926, the Soviet government sponsored a deaf-for-deaf newspaper called The Life of a Deaf-Mute.[3][5] The paper highlighted the deaf's political advancements by repeatedly criticizing the Soviet state without reprimand.[3] However, a lack of governmental pushback may represent a non-threatening perception of the deaf community.[3]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "The Status of the Deaf in Russia Before and After the October Revolution, 1917". American Annals of the Deaf 76 (5): 452–461. 1931. ISSN 0002-726X. 
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 2.18 2.19 2.20 2.21 2.22 2.23 2.24 2.25 2.26 2.27 2.28 2.29 2.30 2.31 2.32 2.33 2.34 2.35 2.36 2.37 2.38 2.39 2.40 2.41 2.42 2.43 2.44 2.45 2.46 2.47 2.48 2.49 Shaw, Claire (2015). ""We Have No Need to Lock Ourselves Away": Space, Marginality, and the Negotiation of Deaf Identity in Late Soviet Moscow". Slavic Review 74 (1): 57–78. doi:10.5612/slavicreview.74.1.57. ISSN 0037-6779. 
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 3.16 3.17 3.18 3.19 3.20 3.21 3.22 3.23 3.24 3.25 3.26 3.27 3.28 3.29 3.30 3.31 3.32 3.33 Burch, S. (2000-12-01). "Transcending Revolutions: The Tsars, the Soviets and Deaf Culture" (in en). Journal of Social History 34 (2): 393–401. doi:10.1353/jsh.2000.0130. ISSN 0022-4529. PMID 18360961. 
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 4.14 4.15 4.16 Claire Shaw (2013). "'Speaking in the Language of Art': Soviet Deaf Theatre and the Politics of Identity during Khrushchev's Thaw". The Slavonic and East European Review 91 (4): 759–786. doi:10.5699/slaveasteurorev2.91.4.0759. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 "О ВОГ" (in ru-RU).