“Detski Dom” means “children’s home,” or, more specifically, “orphanage,” in Russian. The Detski Dom was a combination laboratory and boarding school. Its mission was to mold the “new man.” This new...
Note: This information has been paraphrased from the International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, published in 2005 by Gale Cengage.
“Detski Dom” means “children’s home,” or, more specifically, “orphanage,” in Russian. The Detski Dom was a combination laboratory and boarding school. Its mission was to mold the “new man.” This new man would be charged with the task of building communism.
The Detski Dom (also known the ”Solidarity International Experimental Home”) opened in Moscow in August 1921. The Detski Dom shared space with the Psychoanalytic Institute in the luxurious former home of Stepan Ryabushinsky, a wealthy merchant and a chair of the stock exchange who had fled after the revolution. Vera Schmidt was the real manager of the home, although officially Ivan Ermakov was the president of the Psychoanalytic Institute and was responsible for the home. Schmidt, however, was intimately involved in the daily running of operations.
The goal of both institutions was to blend Freudianism and Marxism. Ermakov and his colleagues attempted to use psychoanalysis to accomplish this merger, which they called a "powerful method of liberating man from his old reductive shackles." Ironically, they were using psychoanalysis to mold individuals to conform to new ideal, another kind of shackles.
Schmidt, the hands-on manager, ran the Detski Dom practically as well as philosophically. Schmidt, like Freud, viewed early childhood as critically important in developing the thoughts and behaviors of future adults. Therefore, children at the Dom were admitted between the ages of two and four. There were a total of twenty-one children living there in the early years, along with fifty-one staff members. The children lived there all the time; their parents were allowed only periodic visits. Stalin’s youngest son, Vassili, was a resident, as was Schmidt’s own son Volik. The other children mostly hailed from relatively elite families, including children of government officials and party members.
By all accounts from visitors, the environment was a good one. The grounds were well-kept and the staff patient and accommodating. The children were clean and well-dressed, and appeared to be happy and healthy. Even though society outside the Dom’s walls was in turmoil, all inside ran smoothly and peacefully, helped in large part by the steady funding the home received. Donations came from a variety of sources, including from families of the children who resided there, the State Department of Finance, and the Union of Manual and Intellectual Workers of Germany. Additionally, a great deal of money was donated by Schmidt’s husband, Otto, who gave a percentage of his profits from his publishing house (the Library of Psychology and Psychoanalysis) to the home.
As to the operations of the home, Vera Schmidt oversaw meetings of teachers. During these meetings, she would peruse the daily logs the instructors maintained, in which close observations were mixed with personal reports, charts, and graphs, designed to track each child’s development. A typical day for a Detski Dom child might include arts and crafts as well as educational games. As the children played, staff members would record displays of impulsive behaviors as well as early signs of sexuality.
Psychotherapists, including Sabina Speilrein (one of the first female psychotherapists, who had been a pupil of Jung’s and a colleague of Freud’s), also watched and reported on the behavior of the young children. Schmidt herself had no formal training, but her methods were highly esteemed.
In 1923, Vera and Otto Schmidt traveled to Vienna. They met with Freud, Otto Rank, Karl Abraham, and other renowned psychotherapists. The trip was successful, but unfortunately, things were taking a turn for the worse at the Detski Dom. Schmidt requested but was denied more training. The staff began to fight among themselves. By late 1923, the staff had dwindled to just eighteen members. The children, too, began to leave; only half of the original twenty-four remained.
Financial difficulties also began to plague the home. Germany, a once reliable and generous supporter, ceased donations. The press did not help matters either, publishing critical stories on a fairly regular basis. Among the controversies was the work the home was conducting on childhood sexuality. These problems ignited arguments about the future of the Detski Dom.
The lack of funding, combined with external and internal turmoil, was too much for the home to overcome. For a time, the home became a nursery school for the progeny of the wealthy, but on August 14, 1925, the home closed entirely and for good.
The purpose of the home may have been lost, but the structure itself is not forgotten. During the 1930s, the house became the residence of political activist Maxim Gorky and was later turned into the Gorky Museum.