Krasnaya Niva and the mysterious death of Dr. Bekhterev
In the course of researching these fascinating old magazines and journals, one sometimes comes across something which represents one of the pieces in a puzzle that has never been solved. On this occasion, I refer to the style and detail of the publication of the obituary of the famous Russian neurological specialist and psychiatrist, Vladimir Mihailovich Betkhterev, in the January 1929 issue of Krasnaya Niva. The treatment of the death is highly unusual, even given the mawkish local rituals surrounding such unhappy moments.
1 Why is the death of a doctor, albeit a famous one, on the frontispiece and constitutes the leading article of a popular weekly news magazine?
2 Why does it give the name and profession of the person in whose house the death occurred – that of a ‘famous gynecologist’ ?
3 Why is the article so careful to mention the course of an illness that started with a feeling of being ‘unwell’ one night, then progressed to being a ‘stomach ache’ and eventually led to death due to ‘paralysis of the heart’ the next day? I have only ever read such painstaking accounts of the final hours when the article is about the death of a Politburo member.
4 Why does the article not mention that an autopsy was not done? It mentions everything else about the death – even the donation of Berkhterev’s brain to his own institute in St. Petersburg.
5 Why is there so much attention in the text to say that Berkhterev had himself decided that he wanted to be cremated? His own son, who rushed down from Leningrad on hearing the news of his father’s death, was adamant that his father wanted to be buried. There is also a highly gruesome picture of the old doctor’s body, lying in an open coffin, next to the crematorium oven.
6 Why does the same article mention differeing days for the death – ‘Dying on 24th. December, Vladimir Mikhailovich Bechterev was a unique mixture of a scientific and social figure’ and then, on the same page…….’On the night of the 25th. of December,…..Bechterev died from paralysis of the heart’. Apparently ‘Izvestiya’ had originally reported the death as occurring on the 23rd, and now we are being led to believe it happened on the 25th? The event took place less than two weeks before the publication date of this magazine, and nobody knew when it happened – not even the doctors who attended him and pronounced him dead?
7 Why does the article not mention that either on the day of his death or perhaps the day before, he had visited I. V. Stalin in the Kremlin and diagnosed him as suffering from paranoia (and also probably schizophrenia, according to one account) ?
The story goes that Bekhterev was poisoned by Stalin’s henchmen after making the diagnosis of the General Secretary. All the evidence I can find appears to be circumstantial. However, there is so much of it that I incline towards those who suggest that the death was by no means an accident.
Bekhterev was in Moscow, chairing a conference on ‘Psycho-neurology’. He was in perfectly reasonable health for a man of nearly 71. There are various accounts of what happened: some say he spent the evening at the Bolshoi Theatre, was led to a side-room by some unknown officials and was seen eating and drinking with them there.
Later on, his son, an engineer, P. V. Bekhterev, came to collect the body to take it back to Leningrad to have it buried in the family plot, as was their tradition. He was told bluntly that his father had expressed a wish to be cremated and that he could have the ashes to take them back to Leningrad. P. V. Bekhterev protested against this and started to claim that his father’s death was deliberate. He was subsequently arrested and sentenced to 10 years’ hard labour ‘without the right of correspondence.’ In fact, he was shot.
Bekhterev’s daughter-in-law and mother of his three grandchildren was arrested. She died in the camps. The children were then placed in orphanages.
The learned journal, published by Bekhterev’s Institute in Leningrad, was shut down. It resumed publication in 1992.
It is indeed almost impossible to believe that all these catastrophic events which happened to the family are unconnected.
The Fight against Illiteracy
This photo-montage shows peasant-looking types in various stages of delight due to their participation in Nadezhda Krupskaya’s anti-illiteracy program. Krupskaya (Lenin’s widow) is pictured hereself, in the top left of the composition.
(translation of text);
Down with Illiteracy
One million illiterate people have been taught to read in the last four years due to the efforts of the ‘Down with Illiteracy’ Society.
In 5 years, from 1920 to 1926 – under Soviet rule, the literacy level of the population of Russia has gone up from 22.9% to 33.7%.
That’s still a little. It’s still not enough.
- All forces to the cultural front! The cultural revolution is knocking on the door. – That is what the XVth. Party Congress authoratatively declared.
And it’s not by chance that the latest -the third plenum – of the ‘Down with Illiteracy’ society took place immediately after the closing of the congress.
The questions of cultural construction now occupy the centre of attention of Soviet society.
‘The cultural revolution will become the grain we must nurture, in order to educate the whole entirety of socialism’ – wrote Pravda, on the Party Congress.
The ‘Down with Illiteracy’ society has the exclusive task of widening and strengthening cultural activity in the country, and leading the powerful movement of millions in the cities and villages in their battle for literacy and culture’.
To see more about the ‘Down with Illiteracy’ society in our collection, click here.
Aleksandr Deyneka was one of the ‘greats’ of Soviet painting and illustration. He painted some of the seminal works of socialist realism as well as producing many avant-garde sketches and illustrations.
This illustration, done as a commission for Krasnaya Niva, is full of feeling. As the boxer’s fist hits its target, the audience tenses, almost horrified at the force. Thus the pain of the moment is translated not by the recipient of the blow, but by those who witness it, making it doubly intense.
To get an idea of the diversity and mastery of Deyneka, we can look at Rodchenko’s diaries:
1938, April 2:
I saw three of Deyneka’s paintings yesterday: The Goalkeeper, Bathing Boys and Father and Son. It isn’t painting, it’s almost photography, painted photography. It’s decorative – poster-like. And the pieces are huge.