Sergei Chakhotin

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Sergei Stepanovich Chakhotin (13 September 1883, Istanbul, Ottoman Empire - 24 December 1973, Moscow, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union) was a Russian biologist, sociologist and social activist of Russian origin. He was one of the first thinkers to describe the effect of propaganda on the psychology of masses and warned against the techniques used by the Nazi Party. He was friends with Einstein and discussed his fears concerning the rise of Nazism with him.[1]

Early life[edit]

Chakhotin was born in Istanbul, the son of Stepan Ivanovich Chakhotin.[1] His father had previously been a private secretary to Ivan Turgenev, before pursuing a diplomatic career which led to him becoming a consular interpreter in Istanbul.[1] His mother, Alexandra Motzo, was Greek and in 1893 he moved with her to Odessa.[1]

Chakhotin enrolled at the Moscow State University and participated in the occupation staged there in 1902.[1] This led to his arrest, imprisonment and a period of exile in Germany. He studied medicine at the University of Heidelberg, going on to getting a doctorate in zoology.[1] He developed the micropuncture microscope which enabled the ultraviolet examination of cells.[1] This helped enable him to return to Russia in 1912.[1] Here he worked at the Institute of Experimental Medicine under Ivan Pavlov in St Petersburg. In 1915 Chakhotin was involved with the Committee for Military-Technical Assistance (Komitet Voenno-Technicheskoi Pomoschi), which liaised with technical, industrial and scientific experts in order to mobilise them for the war effort.[1] His role here was general secretary of the Bureau for Organizing Morale, a section dedicated to propaganda.[1]

Involvement in the Russian Revolution and Civil War[edit]

Chakhotin was a lifelong socialist. He claimed to have been, on the eve of the February Revolution of 1917, a member of the “Defencist” group of Social Democrats around G.B. Plekhanov. He worked briefly for the Provisional Government and, following the October Revolution, in the propaganda departments of the Volunteer Army under General A.I. Denikin and the Don Cossack Army under General P.N. Krasnov. He left the service of Krasnov when the latter entered into negotiations with the Germans in the Ukraine. He left Russia in 1919.

Working for the German Social Democrats[edit]

In Germany in 1932, putting his theories of political propaganda into practice, he campaigned with the Iron Front (Eiserne Front) against the National Socialists, alongside the German Social Democrat, Carlo Mierendorff. Chakhotin designed the Three Arrows, the symbol of the Iron Front.

Key Work[edit]

Serge Tchakhotine, Le viol des foules par la propagande politique [Paris, Gallimard, 1939; 2nd revised edition, 1952]. The first edition was translated into English by E. W. Dickes and published as Serge Chakotin (sic), The rape of the masses; the psychology of totalitarian political propaganda [London, George Routledge, 1940]; and in New York by the Alliance Book Corporation [1940]. The term “totalitarian” does not figure in the title of the French editions of 1939 or 1952 but was added in the English language edition of 1940. Translations have been published in Esperanto, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese and Romanian. The English translation of 1940 has been re-printed by Routledge [London, 2017]. A translation into Russian of the first French edition was published by the State University of Yaroslavl in 2017.

References[edit]