Lunacharsky - A few thoughts on suicide

Marx-Engels |  Lenin  | Stalin |  Home Page

   Lunacharsky Articles and speeches on international politics

A few thoughts on suicide
I have no statistics on the number of suicides in the USSR, but one senses that public opinion is somewhat agitated by the increasing frequency of suicides of a rather high-profile nature. There are also rumors and even direct reports that the number of suicides is quite high and all among young people, that they notice a tendency to talk revolving around the topic of suicide, etc. Everyone knows that Yesenin's death had an amazing effect on many, caused imitation, or at least a heavy bias towards imitation, in the minds of a large number of people. The suicide of the writer Sobol, who made several attempts on his life from early youth, apparently caused mainly by circumstances of a personal nature, seems to add fuel to the fire. At the same time, today's news of the suicide of the leader of the petty-bourgeois revolution, Dr. Chkheidze, throws a peculiar light on all this.
Suicide is a social phenomenon. Statistics show that in every given country, in every given epoch, a certain number of suicides are committed, and even methods of committing suicide turn out to be in strictly exact numerical proportions.

Of course, each suicide comes to its decision in an individual way, but, nevertheless, the main factors of an individual decision are created by social causes. Ceteris paribus, biologically there is a certain percentage of people with a suicidal inclination for every thousand inhabitants, i.e. people with a relatively weak will, with an insufficient supply of energy, inclined to exaggerate the bad in surrounding circumstances, and sometimes in themselves, people of the melancholic, hypochondriacal type. To this it must be added that young people, experiencing a crisis of their consciousness in certain years (coinciding with puberty), tend to experience all life's unrest extremely painfully, resort to extreme solutions. This age, dangerous in terms of its impulsiveness, is a constant ground for attempted suicide. Almost everyone, remembering his youth, can recall a moment of acute crises, when with extraordinary ease he was ready to lay hands on himself.

Such, I repeat, is the biological material. It goes without saying that not everyone who is biologically prone to suicide eventually comes to it. If social life is unsettled, full of storms, or, on the contrary, is a deadly hopeless calm, given the extreme unsatisfactoriness of the existence of broad sections, then the number of victims, from among people prone to suicide, becomes much greater. The boundaries of this biological layer are expanding. More durable people also come to despair. Life crises break and sweep away quite healthy people. History plays on the keyboard of biological types that play, which is determined by its consistent and natural development. Biologically, humanity is always more or less the same, like the keyboard of a piano, but just as the same keyboard sounds first one key, then another, so does history; brings to the fore or, on the contrary, breaks and destroys certain types, more or less suitable or unsuitable for the social moment it has created.

The era that our Union is living through is extremely significant and deeply joyful.

The peoples of the USSR suffered colossal losses in blood during the civil war. It was the price of life paid for victory. But at the same time, during the years of high revolutionary upsurge, the number of suicides was negligible - at least they were not at all among the human column that went ahead. Enormous hopes lay ahead; it seemed that right now, right behind the next hill, conquered by storm, right around the next turn of history, a bright streak of creativity will open, when life will be straightened and beautiful.

But even among the active counter-revolutionaries or their like-minded people, there was still a bright hope. It also seemed to them that tomorrow would bring a change in the situation, would bring them the overcoming of the enemy. Suicides in the era of war communism occurred mainly on the basis of hunger and poverty and fought helpless, mismanaged people, from under whose feet the soil of a well-established life floated away.

With the introduction of the New Economic Policy, circumstances have changed. First, Soviet power gradually grew stronger. This has produced remarkably beneficial results. Recently, the newspaper Pravda published accurate statistical data for 1923, that is, for the first somewhat calm year of our social post-revolutionary existence. And what does it turn out? “It turns out that our mortality rate has decreased, it turns out that our birth rate has risen, that we have again taken one of the first places among states in terms of the strength of the wave of life that is pouring into the future. The author of the article is right when he says that within a few years these results achieved by our peaceful work will completely replenish the loss caused by the wars. With envy, other bourgeois countries can only look at us with a decreasing, stopped or ominously slow progression of population figures.

But individualistically inclined people can quote Nietzsche here: "What is a mass man? - Let the devil and statistics take him."

Not to mention the fact that we do not treat the masses in the same way, that we consider them the main bearers of the historical process, and their development and happiness the main conscious goal of all deeply and honestly thinking people, we will not even allow individualists to shield themselves from the great fact of numerical the growth of our peoples by considerations that "one great man is more important than many hundreds of ordinary people." The fact is that the number of talents of various kinds statistically also turns out to be in constant relation to the total mass of mankind. A talented person always turns out to be one of so many, and the more of these "so many", the more talents of all kinds will turn out: politicians, musicians, mathematicians, etc.

But besides quantity, there is another factor here, namely, a greater or lesser degree of education of the entire mass, a greater or lesser degree of opportunity for it to rise to knowledge and creativity. In this respect, the possibilities opened up by the Soviet government are colossal and unprecedented. That is why in our country the quantitative growth of the population, not only proportionally, but much more than proportionally, will lead to a quantitative growth of talents and geniuses. It goes without saying that against this radiant background, the presence of suicides is drawn as a very large dark spot.

What character do suicides assume in this period of our creative construction?

First of all, our enemies come to despair. Surrendered, Savinkov is thrown onto the pavement, seeing that his further career is destroyed in all respects. In various places, many and many little-looking, confused, exhausted, finally desperate White Guards and petty-bourgeois revolutionaries perish ingloriously; Chkheidze's suicide illuminates these ranks of dull, life-beaten types. Undoubtedly, one of the strong factors that determine the policy of suicide is the complete disappointment of people who are unable to understand Soviet reality, unable to stick to it, unable to participate in the replacement of the old order by the new one.

But our life is far from settled. The construction itself is taking place in turbulent forms, there is a vigorous work. We still do not see erected walls anywhere, much less roofed buildings. The population lives, so to speak, in bivouacs, among heaps of bricks and lime pits.

At a time when the country's resources are still small, when its consumer life is not in any way in line with the requirement of productivity imposed by building plans, many people are exhausted. It is necessary, firstly, to be able to get into the number of builders, and not everyone will be able to do this; secondly, we must live among these builders at the pace and rhythm of our fighting time. At every step there are people to whom construction seems too protracted, too fussy, too hopeless, who stumble over the disparate elements of this construction, who, having wandered in confusion over a vast country dug out by pits and cluttered with forests, hopelessly wave their hands and feel superfluous in battles. The troubles of the bivouac time beat a man. There are many to whom military enthusiasm came relatively easily, to whom it seemed that they will break through the last fence by storm and now they will see the sun of happiness. It is far from possible for everyone to transform this enthusiasm into systematic, sober building work.

But they may say: wait a minute, because suicides also seize the young, they also penetrate the ranks of the Komsomol, the spirit of suicide, with its black wing, sometimes touches the members of the Communist Party with its black wing; how can this be explained?

Of course, the same. Neither the youth, nor in particular the Komsomol, nor even the party are made of some completely different material, they are not fenced off by any impassable abyss from the entire population. And among the elect there are not a few relatively weak types, people who have placed exaggerated hopes in their organization and who are disappointed by the excessive difficulties of the path.

The liberal educator Natorp, even before me, pointed out the extremely frequent cases of suicide, alcoholism, prostitution, crime among the ranks of the urban male and female youth, recognizing that the best way to reduce the number of these gloomy facts is the organization of youth, and recognized that the social democratic organization has this is a particular advantage. But the dim social-democratic organization of the dim pre-war period cannot be compared with the organizing healing power of our pioneer movement, our Komsomol, and for adults, our party. But these healing powers are not absolute and, on the other hand, we must take into account the terrible overwork, the existence of which must be recognized even among the ranks of the pioneers. This overwork is caused by the intensity of our social life. Senior Komsomol members, party members accumulated it over all these years of titanic struggle. Meanwhile, the difficulties are enormous, the situation is complicated, all the basics of life have not yet been clarified. We thus have sufficient reason to account for a certain number of suicides even among the vanguard of humanity, which is our environment. But, of course, party, organizational immunity still works. Outside our ranks, life crises and their most acute form, suicide, rage much more strongly. For now, let us recall that this is only a relatively small black spot against the background of the blazing dawn of the growing communist day.

Agreat friend of mine, a man with a philosophical mind, somewhat abstract, but, by the way, very kind, said to me about suicides, like this: “In the end, this is a positive factor, even when it comes to suicides among young people. "We need iron people. Our time is a heavy hammer, it, of course, forges damask steel, crushing glass. The more glass this hammer knocks out of our ranks, the less whiners, gloomy neurasthenics, worthless pessimists, idle Hamletists we have, the better. And we will always have enough bright heads, warm hearts and steel hands." I answered my friend: “The Spartans also looked at life from this point of view, when they threw frail children from a cliff. But among these killed children there could be people of genius, in any case, talented and useful citizens, for childhood illnesses often disappear without a trace. And in general, a diseased organism can carry the amazing powers of the brain, being weak on the one hand, it can be stronger on the other.

“Of course,” I continued, “suicide is also a selection. With the help of suicide, life throws out the weak. But are they all weak, and are those who are thrown away by blind life always weak? does it destroy some of the strengths inherent in him too? Perhaps the passion for drunkenness, for gambling entangles a person in humiliating contradictions and leads him to the idea of ​​eliminating himself, and he eliminates not only a drunkard and a gambler, but, say, a gifted writer? should a society that does not dare to be blind like life help a person in these cases? Moreover, suicide is the result of crises of long or instantaneous. I call a long crisis such youthful and childhood illnesses, sometimes lasting until adulthood, which can pass ,which, under favorable circumstances, will certainly pass, so that a person later looks back with a smile at these difficulties, which seemed to him insurmountable.

More attention needs to be paid to instantaneous crises. People, especially those with an impulsive nature, sometimes find themselves suddenly seized with despair, everything around them is drawn in black light, everything that they valued and loved suddenly depreciates, some one, sometimes insignificant event turns into a mountain, obscuring the whole world with its nightmares . The man grabs the poison, the revolver, the rope. Meanwhile, if he lived another two or three days, the mountain would turn out to be just a cloud, which the wind of life begins to dispel in all directions, and the sun will appear from behind it. And maybe a little help, a little friendly support in a bitter moment of crisis would save a valuable person.

We need to introduce, so to speak, mutual insurance against suicide. Its only form is an attentive attitude towards others.

Since poverty is often the crudest factor in suicide, first of all, it would be necessary to strengthen the possibility of mutual assistance, as well as public and state assistance to those in dire need.

And then, of course, more subtle forms of social misfortune, seeking their victims among the most unbalanced, can also find a corresponding antidote in an atmosphere of genuine camaraderie.

The turmoil of life, every kind of grief, like a hammer breaking glass, a nasty, clumsy apparatus. Of course, sometimes, by means of suicide, this apparatus will throw out of life an absolutely worthless person who would only smoke the sky; but the foundations of selection are extremely one-sided, if life, which sentences to death by suicide, were replaced by any reasonable tribunal, even if very ruthless and devoid of any sentimentality. Is it really possible even for a moment to assume that this tribunal, if only on the basis of the principle of "hammer and glass", would sentence to death all those whom life pushes to commit suicide?"

Therefore, we must ascertain the existence of suicide, firstly, as a socially explainable phenomenon, natural under present conditions; secondly, as an undesirable phenomenon and should cause measures of public prevention on our part; and, thirdly, as a phenomenon, in any case, not able to overshadow our bright and cheerful morning.