What was the Detski Dom, and what role did it play in the history of psychoanalysis?
“Deski Dom” means “children’s home,” or, more specifically, “orphanage,” in Russian. The Deski 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 Deski Dom (also known a the ”Solidarity International Experimental Home”) opened in Moscow August of 1921. The Deski Dom shared space with the Psychoanalytic Institute in the luxurious former home of Stepan Ryabushinsky. (Ryabushinsky had been a wealthy merchant and a chair of the stock exchange. He 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 the 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 ideals, another kind of shackles. It was a brand new kind of pedagogy.
Schmidt, the hands-on manager, ran the Deski Dom practically as well a 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 and there were fifty-one staff member. The children lived there all the time; their parent were allowed only periodic visits. Stalin’s youngest son, Vassili, was a resident, as was Schmidt’s own son, Voilk (erroneous identified as “Alik” in some publications.) 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 dressed well, 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, the Union of Manual and Intellectual Workers of Germany. Additionally, a great deal of money was donated by Schmidt’s husband, Otto Schmidt, who gave a percentage of his profits from his publishing house (The Library of Psychology and Psycoanalysis) 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 the development of each child’s evolution. A typical day for a Deski Dom child might include arts and crafts as well as educational games. As the children played, staff member 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) 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 Demski Dom. Schmidt requested but was denied more training. The staff began to fight amongst themselves. By late 1923, the staff, dwindled to just eighteen members (formerly, there had been fifty-one). The children, too, began to leave. Only half of the record number of 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 argument about the future of Demski 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 be gone but the structure itself is not forgotten. During the 1930s, the house became the residence of political activist Maxim Gorky, which became the Gorky Museum.
Source: International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, ©2005 Gale Cengage. All Rights Reserved.
The Detski Dom, opened in August 1921, was an experimental laboratory whose aim was the creation of the individuals that would build a successful communist society. This laboratory was managed by Vera Schmidt, wife to Otto Schmidt, the publisher of the work "The Library of Psychology and Psychoanalysis". Being a storng admirer of Freud's, Vera's belief was that the formation of the new individual needs to start in early childhood. Hence, Detski Dom allowed the entrance only of children between the ages of 2 and 4 years old. The children that were sheltered by Detski Dom came from various cultural and social environments. The Detski Dom was the boarding school of Stalin's youngest son, Vassili, Schmidt's son, Volik and children of other important officials.
The evolution of each child was closely observed and it was carefully registered in detailed reports and graphs. Some of the activities conducted by the staff included artistic projects (drawing, modelling) and educational games. The methods used by the staff in the experimental activities developed in Detski Dom were published and translated into German by Vera Schmidt. After the trip to Vienna, in 1923, the International Psychoanalytic Association incorporated a new member, the Russian Psychoanalytic Society.
After the financial assistance from Germany was stopped, Detski Dom began to have serious problems and in August 1925, the Ministry of Public Education gave the order of closing Detski Dom.
Hence, Detski Dom remains in the history of Russian Psychoanalysis as the pioneering school that successfully experimented the non-abusive pedagogy method.