People’s commisar of the health. Dr. Semashko is an important figure among the circle of the reformers of the everyday. He lived for a while in the Narkomfin but in 1932 he left his first wife there and moved with the new one in a stalinian building closer to the Cremlin.
Before the Revolution there had been no central health organization although several different departments like the army and the railroads, were doing unrelated health work. In general, doctors, like other professional men in Russia, were not sympathetic to the workers’ revolution, which deprived them of their property and private practice, and offered them in exchange hard work and low salaries as state officials. Out of this disaffected personnel and unorganized material setting Dr. Semashko has created an integrated Department of Health with a loyal group of men and women carrying out its complicated details over a wider area than that which any other state controls. He has been able to do this because everyone recognizes the sincerity of his interest in the health of Russian people, whether they be Slav or Semite, Communist or Cossack, peasant or professor. He is everywhere recognized as a party man of old standing, but in his appointments and his support of efficient fellow-workers he seems never to question anyone else’s politics. Therein is probably the secret of his having gained the respect and loyalty of so many of the medical profession in Russia to whom the theory of Communism is still abhorrent.
Anna Haines Health Work in Soviet Russia New York, Vanguard Press 1928
“This task,” Comrade Semashko recently wrote of the necessity of reconstructing our family life, “is best performed practically; decrees and moralizing alone will have little effect. But an example, an illustration of a new form, will do more than a thousand excellent pamphlets. This practical propaganda is best conducted on the method surgeons in their practice call transplantation. When a big surface is bare of skin either as the result of wound or burn, and there is no hope that the skin will grow sufficiently to cover it, pieces of skin are cut off from healthy places of the body and attached in islets on the bare surface; these islets adhere and grow until the whole surface is covered with skin.”
The same thing happens in practical propaganda. When one factory or works adopts communist forms, other factories will follow.
[N. Semashko, The Dead Holds on to the Living, Izvestia, no.81, April 14, 1923]
quoted in Leon Trotsky “From the Old Family to the New”