The Soviet Darwinian Body : Physical Culture, Socialist Morality and Eugenic Self-evolution
Darwin’s evolutionary theory was viewed by the Bolsheviks as the epitome of modern materialistic science and became central to constructs of post-revolutionary society and culture after the Revolution of 1917. A significant utopian aim of the new Soviet state was to renovate the population, and to generate the so-called ‘New Person’ – literally a new genus of humanity that would combine supreme physical healthiness and strength, with the perceived ideal moral characteristics of socialist ideological correctness, sexual continence, and an infinite capacity for productive labour. Informed by the crypto-Lamarckian heritage of Russian Darwinism, the Bolsheviks supported projects likely to generate this ideal being, including eugenics research and the enforcement of large-scale popular engagement with physical culture. This paper explores how images of women in some of Aleksandr Rodchenko’s photographs of Soviet sports parades from the mid- to late1930s, related to the above mentioned mesh of discourses. I argue that the images, in context, represented confirmations of an ongoing evolutionary process, operating as alluring, aspirational exhortations for Soviet women to self-evolutionise into maternally focused versions of the prophesised ‘New Person’. Viewed in retrospect this was a fantasy, but at the time, I suggest, it appears to have been scientifically justifiable.