Leon Trotsky

Family Relations Under the Soviets

Fourteen Questions Answered by Leon Trotsky


Written: 1932.
First Published: 1934.
Source: Class Struggle Official Organ Of The Communist League Of Struggle (Adhering to the International Left Opposition), Vol. 4 No. 6–7, June–July 1934.
Online Version: Vera Buch & Albert Weisbord Internet Archive.
Transcribed/HTML Markup: Albert Weisbord Internet Archive/David Walters.

1. “Does the Soviet State turn men into robots?”

Why? I ask. The ideologists of the patriarchal system like Tolstoy or Ruskin, object that machine civilization turns the free peasant and craftsman into joyless automatons. In the last decades this charge has mostly been leveled against the industrial system of America (Taylorism, Fordism).

Shall we now, perhaps, hear from Chicago and Detroit the outcry against the soul destroying machine? Why not return to stone hatchets and pile dwellings, why not go back to sheepskin coverings? No; we refuse to do that. In the field of mechanization the Soviet Republic is so far only a disciple of the United States and has no intention of stopping halfway.

But perhaps the question is aimed not at mechanical operation but at the distinctive features of the social order. Are not men becoming robots in the Soviet State because the machines are state property and not privately owned? It is enough to ask the question clearly to show that it has no foundation.

There remains, finally, the question of the political regime, the hard dictatorship, the highest tension of all forces, the low standard of living of the population. There would be no sense in denying these facts. But they are the expression not so much of the new regime as of the fearful inheritance of backwardness.

The dictatorship will have to become softer and milder as the economic welfare of the country is raised. The present method of commanding human beings will give way to one of disposing over things. The road leads not to the robot but to man of a higher order.

2. “Is the Soviet State completely dominated by a small group in the Kremlin who exercise oligarchical powers under the guise of a dictatorship of the proletariat?”

No, that is not so. The same class can rule with the help of different political systems and methods according to circumstances. So the bourgeoisie on its historical road carried through its rule under absolute monarchy, Bonapartism, parliamentary republic, and Fascist dictatorship. All these forms of rule retain a capitalist character in so far as the most important riches of the nation, the administration of the means of production, of the schools, and of the press, remain united in the hands of the bourgeoisie, and in so far as the laws, above all, protect bourgeois property.

The Soviet regime means the rule of the proletariat, irrespective of how broad the stratum in whose hands the power is immediately concentrated.

3. “Have the Soviets robbed childhood of joy and turned education into a system of Bolshevist propaganda?”

The education of children has always and everywhere been connected with propaganda. The propaganda begins by instilling the advantages of a handkerchief over the fingers, and rises to the advantages of the Republican platform over the Democratic, or vice versa. Education in the spirit of religion is propaganda; you will surely not refuse to admit that St. Paul was one of the greatest of propagandists.

The worldly education supplied by the French Republic is soaked with propaganda to the marrow. Its main idea is that all virtue is inherent in the French nation or, more accurately, in the ruling class of the French nation.

No one can possibly deny that the education of Soviet children, too, is propaganda. The only difference is that in bourgeois countries it is a question of injecting into the child respect for old institutions and ideas which are taken for granted. In the USSR it is a question of new ideas, and therefore the propaganda leaps to the eye. “Propaganda,” in the evil sense of the word, is the name that people usually give to the defense and spread of such ideas as do not please them.

In times of conservatism and stability the daily propaganda is not noticeable. In times of revolution, propaganda necessarily takes on a belligerent and aggressive character. When I returned to Moscow from Canada with my family early in May, 1917, my two boys studied at a “gymnasium” (roughly, high school) which was attended by the children of many politicians, including some ministers of the provisional government. In the whole gymnasium there were only two Bolsheviks, my sons, and a third sympathizer. In spite of the official rule, “the school must be free of politics,” my son barely twelve years old was unmercifully beaten up as a Bolshevik. After I was elected chairman of the Petrograd Soviet, my son was never called anything but Chairman and received a double beating. That was propaganda against Bolshevism.

Those parents and teachers who are devoted to the old society cry out against “propaganda.” If a state is to build a new society, can it do otherwise than begin with the school?

“Does the Soviet propaganda rob childhood of joy?” For what reason and in what manner? Soviet children play, sing, dance, and cry like all other children. The unusual care of the Soviet regime for the child is admitted even by malevolent observers. Compared with the old regime, infant mortality has declined by half. It is true, Soviet children are told nothing about original sin and Paradise. In this sense one may say that the children are robbed of the joys of life after death. Being no expert in these matters, I dare not judge the extent of the loss. Still, the pains of this life take a certain precedence over the joys of the life to come. If children absorb the necessary quantity of calories, the abundance of their living forces will find reasons enough for joy.

Two years ago my five year old grandson came to me from Moscow. Although he knew nothing whatever about God, I could find no particularly sinful inclinations in him, except for the time when, with the help of some newspapers, he succeeded in sealing up hermetically the washbasin drainpipe. In order to have him mingle with other children on Prinkipo, we had to send him to a kindergarten conducted by Catholic nuns. The worthy sisters have nothing but praise for the morals of my now nearly seven year old atheist.

Thanks to this same grandchild, I have been able in the past year to make a fairly close acquaintance with Russian children’s books, those of the Soviets as well as of the émigrés. There is propaganda in both. Yet the Soviet books are incomparably fresher, more active, more full of life. The little man reads and listens to these books with the greatest pleasure. No, Soviet propaganda does not rob childhood of joy.

4. “Is Bolshevism deliberately destroying the family?”
5. “Is Bolshevism subversive of all moral standards in sex?”
6. “Is it true that bigamy and polygamy are not punishable under the Soviet system?”

If one understands by “family” a compulsory union based on marriage contract, the blessing of the church, property rights, and the single passport, then Bolshevism has destroyed this policed family from the roots up.

If one understands by “family” the unbounded domination of parents over children, and absence of legal rights for the wife, then Bolshevism has, unfortunately, not yet completely destroyed this carry over of society’s old barbarism.

If one understands by “family” ideal monogamy, not in the legal but in the actual sense, then the Bolsheviks could not destroy what never was nor is on earth, barring fortunate exceptions.

There is absolutely no foundation for the statement that the Soviet law on marriage has been an incentive to polygamy and polyandry. Statistics of marriage relations, actual ones are not available, and cannot be. But even without columns of figures one can be sure that the Moscow index numbers of adulteries and shipwrecked marriages are not much different from the corresponding data for New York, London, or Paris—and who knows?—are perhaps even lower.

Against prostitution there has been a strenuous and fairly successful struggle. This proves that the Soviets have no intention of tolerating that unbridled promiscuity which finds its most destructive and poisonous expression in prostitution.

A long and permanent marriage, based on mutual love and cooperation—that is the ideal standard. To this the influences of the school, of literature, and of public opinion in the Soviets tend. Freed from the chains of police and clergy, later also from those of economic necessity, the tie between man and woman will find its own way, determined by physiology, psychology, and care for the welfare of the race. The Soviet regime is still far from the solution of this as of other basic problems, but it has created serious prerequisites for their solution. In any case the problem of marriage has ceased to be a matter of uncritical tradition and the blind force of circumstance; it has been posed as a task of collective reason.

Every year five and a half million children are born in the Soviet Union. The excess of births over deaths amounts to more than three million. Czarist Russia knew no such growth of population. This fact alone makes it impossible to speak of moral disintegration or of a lowering of the vital forces of the population of Russia.

7. “Is it true that incest is not regarded as a criminal offense?”

I must admit that I have never taken an interest in this question from the standpoint of criminal prosecution, so that I could not answer without obtaining information as to what the Soviet law says about incest, or if it says anything at all. Still, I think the whole question belongs rather to the domain of pathology on the one hand, and education on the other, rather than that of criminology. Incest lessens the desirable qualities and the ability to survive of the race. For that very reason it is regarded by the great majority of healthy human beings as a violation of normal standards.

The aim of socialism is to bring reason not only into economic relations but also as much as possible into the biological functions of man. Today already the Soviet schools are making many efforts to enlighten the children as to the real needs of the human body and the human spirit. I have no reason to believe that the pathological cases of incest are more numerous in Russia than in other countries. At the same time, I am inclined to hold that precisely in this field judicial intervention can do more harm than good. I question, for example, that humanity would have been the gainer if British justice had sent Byron to jail.

8. “Is it true that a divorce may be had for the asking?”

Of course it is true. It would have been more in place to ask another question: “Is it true that there are still countries where divorce cannot be obtained for the asking by either party to a marriage?”

9. “Is it true that the Soviets have no respect for chastity in men and women?

I think that in this field it is not respect but hypocrisy that has declined.

Is there any doubt, for example, that Ivar Kreuger, the match king, described as a dour ascetic in his lifetime, and as an irreconcilable enemy of the Soviet, more than once denounced the immorality of the Russian Komsomol boys and girls who did not seek the blessing of the church on their embraces? Had it not been for the financial wreck, Kreuger would have gone to his grave not only as a just man on the Stock Exchange but also as a pillar of morality. But now the press reports that the number of women kept by Kreuger in various continents was several times the number of the chimneys of his match factories.

French, English, and American novels describe double and triple families not as an exception but as the rule. A very well informed young German observer, Klaus Mehnert, who recently had a book published on the Soviet youth, writes:

“It is true the young Russians are no paragons of virtue ... but morally they are certainly no lower than Germans of the same age.”

I believe that this is true. In New York, in February 1917 I observed one evening in a subway car about two dozen students and their girl friends. Although there were a number of people in the car who were not in their party, the conduct of these most vivacious couples was such that one could say at once: even if these young people believe in monogamy in principle, in practice they come to it by devious paths.

The abolition of the American dry law would by no means signify that the new administration was striving to encourage drunkenness. In the same way, the Soviet Government’s abolition of a number of laws which were supposed to protect the domestic hearth, chastity, etc., has nothing to do with any effort to destroy the permanence of the family or encourage promiscuity. It is simply a question of attaining, by raising the material and cultural level, something that cannot be attained by formal prohibition or lifeless preaching.

10. “Is the ultimate object of Bolshevism to reproduce the beehive or the ant stage in human life?”
11. “In what respect does the ideal of Bolshevism differ from the state of civilization that would prevail on earth if insects had secured control?”

Both questions are unfair to the insect as well as to man. Neither ants nor bees have to answer for such monstrosities as fill human history. On the other hand, no matter how bad human beings may be, they have possibilities which no insect can reach. It would not be difficult to prove that the task of the Soviets is precisely this to destroy the ant characteristics of human society.

The fact is, bees as well as ants have classes: some work or fight, others specialize in reproduction. Can one see in such a specialization of social functions the ideal of Bolshevism? These are rather the characteristics of our present day civilization carried to the limit. Certain species of ants make slaves of brother ants of different color.

The Soviet system does not resemble this at all. The ants have not yet even produced their John Brown or Abraham Lincoln.

Benjamin Franklin described man as “the tool making animal.” This notable characterization is at the bottom of the Marxist interpretation of history. The artificial tool has released man from the animal kingdom and has given impetus to the work of the human intellect; it has caused the changes from slavery to feudalism, capitalism, and the Soviet system.

The meaning of the question is clearly that a universal all embracing control must kill individuality. The evil of the Soviet system would then consist in its excessive control, would it not? Yet a series of other questions, as we have seen, accuses the Soviets of refusal to bring under state control the most intimate fields of personal life, love, family, sex relations. The contradiction is perfectly evident.

The Soviets by no means make it their task to put under control the intellectual and the moral powers of man.

On the contrary, through control of economic life they want to free every human personality from the control of the market and its blind forces.

Ford organized automobile production on the conveyor system and thereby obtained an enormous output. The task of socialism, when one gets down to the principle of productive technique, is to organize the entire national and international economy on the conveyor system, on the basis of a plan and of an accurate proportionment of its parts. The conveyor principle, transferred from single factories to all factories and farms, must result in such an output performance that, compared with it, Ford’s achievement would look like a miserable handicraft shop alongside of Detroit. Once he has conquered nature, man will no longer have to earn his daily bread in the sweat of his brow. That is the prerequisite for the liberation of personality. As soon as three or four hours, let us say, of daily labor suffice to satisfy liberally all material wants, every man and woman will have twenty hours left over, free of all “control.” Questions of education, of perfecting the bodily and spiritual structure of man, will occupy the center of general attention. The philosophical and scientific schools, the opposing tendencies in literature, architecture, and art in general, will for the first time be of vital concern not merely to a top layer but to the whole mass of the population. Freed from the pressure of blind economic forces, the struggle of groups, tendencies, and schools will take on a profoundly ideal and unselfish character. In this atmosphere human personality will not dry up, but on the contrary for the first time will come to full bloom.

12. “Is it true that Sovietism teaches children not to respect their parents?”

No; in such a general form this assertion is a mere caricature. Still, it is true that rapid progress in the realms of technique, ideas, or manners generally diminishes the authority of the older generation, including that of parents. When professors lecture on the Darwinian theory, the authority of those parents who believe that Eve was made from Adam’s rib can only decline.

In the Soviet Union all conflicts are incomparably sharper and more painful. The mores of the Komsomols must inevitably collide with the authority of the parents who would still like to use their own good judgment in marrying off their sons and daughters. The Red Army man who has learned how to handle tractors and combines cannot acknowledge the technical authority of his father who works with a wooden plow.

To maintain his dignity, the father can no longer merely point with his hand to the icon and reinforce this gesture with a slap on the face. The parents must retort to spiritual weapons. The children who base themselves on the official authority of the school show themselves, however, to be the better armed. The injured amour propre of the parent often turns against the state. This usually happens in those families which are hostile to the new regime in its fundamental tasks. The majority of proletarian parents reconcile themselves to the loss of part of their parental authority the more readily as the state takes over the greater part of their parental cares. Still, there are conflicts of the generations even in these circles. Among the peasants they take on especial sharpness. Is this good or bad? I think it is good. Otherwise there would be no going forward.

Permit me to point to my own experience. At seventeen I had to break away from home. My father had attempted to determine the course of my life. He told me, “Even in three hundred years the things you are aiming for will not come to pass.” And, at that, it was only a question of the overthrowing of the monarchy. Later my father understood the limits of his influence and my relations with my family were restored. After the October revolution he saw his mistake. “Your truth was stronger,” he said. Such examples were counted by the thousand, later on, by hundreds of thousands and millions. They characterize the critical upheaval of a period when “the bond of ages” goes to pieces.

13. “Is it true that Bolshevisim penalizes religion and outlaws religious worship?”

This, deliberately deceptive assertion has been refuted a thousand times by completely indisputable facts, proofs, and testimony of witnesses. Why does it always come up anew? Because the church considers itself persecuted when it is not supported by the budget and the police force and when its opponents are not subject to the reprisals of persecution. In many states the scientific criticism of religious faiths is considered a crime; in others it is merely tolerated. The Soviet State acts otherwise. Far from considering religious worship a crime, it tolerates the existence of various religions, but at the same time openly supports materialist propaganda against religious belief. It is precisely this situation which the church interprets as religious persecution.

14. “Is it true that the Bolshevist State, while hostile to religion, nevertheless capitalizes the prejudices of the ignorant masses? For instance, the Russians do not consider any saint truly acceptable to Heaven unless his body defies decomposition. Is that the reason why the Bolshevists preserve artificially the mummy of Lenin?”

No; this is a wholly incorrect interpretation, dictated by prejudice and hostility. I can make this statement all the more freely because from the very beginning, I have been a determined opponent of the embalming, mausoleum, and the rest, as was also Lenin’s widow, N.K. Krupskaya. There is no doubt whatever that if Lenin on his sick bed had thought for a moment that they would treat his corpse like that of a Pharaoh, he would have appealed in advance, with indignation, to the Party. I brought this objection forward as my main argument. The body of Lenin must not be used against the spirit of Lenin.

I also pointed to the fact that the “incorruptibility” of the embalmed corpse of Lenin might nourish religious superstitions. Krassin, who defended and apparently initiated the idea of the embalmment, objected: “On the contrary, what was a matter of miracle with the priests will become a matter of technology in our hands. Millions of people will have an idea of how the man looked who brought such great changes into the life of our country. With the help of science, we will satisfy this justifiable interest of the masses and at the same time explain to them the mystery of incorruptibility.”

Undeniably the erection of the mausoleum pursued a political aim: to strengthen the authority of the disciples eternally through the authority of the teacher. Still, there is no ground to see in this a capitalization of religious superstition. The mausoleum visitors are told that the credit for the preservation of the body from decomposition is due to chemistry.

Our answers absolutely do not attempt to gloss over the present situation in the Soviet Union, to underestimate the economic and cultural achievements, nor still less to represent socialism as a stage which has already been reached. The Soviet regime is and will remain for a long time a transitional regime, full of contradiction and extreme difficulties. Still, we must take the facts in the light of their development. The Soviet Union took over the inheritance of the Romanoff empire. For fifteen years it has lived surrounded by a hostile world.

The situation of a besieged fortress has given the dictatorship particularly crude forms. The policies of Japan are least of all calculated to develop in Russia a feeling of security; but also the fact that the United States, which carried on war against the Soviets on Soviet territory, has not taken up diplomatic relations with Moscow to this very day, has had an enormous and, naturally, negative influence on the internal regime of the country. (Leon Trotsky wrote this article late in 1932, more than a year before US recognition of Russia. – Ed.)

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Last updated on: 23.12.2013