Red Medicine: Socialized Health in Soviet Russia

Home Life, Recreation, Clubs, Education

AN OUTSTANDING feature of Soviet administration is the partial displacement of the home as the normal centre of family life and especially of life for the young. The factory in towns and, to a less extent, the State or collective farm in the country now form the axle of the wheel of life in Russia. The creches, common dining rooms, clubs and social circles, schools, and grounds for recreation and games are all of them closely interrelated with factory life. Even during his annual holiday of a fortnight with full pay, the factory worker is sent, in company with a multitude of other workers, to a rest home, a convalescent home, or to a sanatorium, if his needs call for this.

His wife, as a worker, has the same privileges as men, and she receives equal insurance benefits when sick. Creches are provided for the youngest children during working hours and also during holidays. They undertake a large share of the care of her children, and their work is followed up by that of kindergartens and schools.

The worker's home, whether in a large apartment house or in one or two rooms (seldom two rooms) of a smaller house, is usually crowded, and there is little privacy.

To quote Sidney Webb :

This overcrowding is quite natural when one considers the rapidity of industrialization and the enormous concentration of population in industrial cities. In spite of this great increase in population, however, there is slightly less overcrowding as compared with prewar days, based on the number of square feet of housing space per person.

It is not surprising, in view of housing conditions, that for the adult worker the shop and the club rather than the home become the centre of life. There must be many, however, who share the regret expressed to us by a distinguished Russian professor, that "aloneness" has become almost impossible in Russian life and that one must nearly always live in a crowd. He added that for real rest a greater "aloneness" was an important ideal.

The quality of home life must become modified and its scope diminished in this extension of "club" life to most ages and to all classes; and we do not feel competent to forecast whether the balance will be on the side of social betterment or not. But the magnitude of the change implied by the almost universal industrial life of men and women, married and unmarried, in cities can scarcely be exaggerated. Through clubs, rest houses, convalescent homes, summer camps for children, and a vast provision of creches and kindergartens, Russia now has provided for its proletariat what in western countries is on a limited scale, and in some respects limited to welltodo classes.

The effect of easy divorce on the average integrity of family life and on the welfare of children cannot as yet be accurately gauged.

Our opportunities for visiting dwellings in Russia were scanty, but certain facts are beyond dispute. In the Tsarist period the housing conditions of peasants and workers alike were extremely bad, and notwithstanding the efforts made in the last few years the ever increasing congestion of urban life caused by the rapid flocking of workers to the towns has not been relieved.

The vast majority of the city people cannot live in the new apartment houses, which were conspicuous in every city visited by us. These houses doubtless have done much to relieve crowding, but it is sad to see them so often near large factories where ample land is available for separate dwellings; although their erection has helped to diminish overcrowding more rapidly and at less expense than the building of small separate houses would have done.

Dwellings are rationed according to the size of the family; and the rent to be paid is graduated according to earnings as well as according to the industrial category of the occupant. (See page 14.) Rentals are one tenth of the income of workers in the first category,(e.g., manual workers) ; higher for all others. In the waiting list for housing accommodation, personal influence, we were informed in one city, was helpful in securing an early tenancy.

Professors and doctors have some additional room allowance for a laboratory and possibly also for a library.

Even the new apartment houses are terribly overcrowded. More than one room to a family appears to be exceptional, and the single room may be shared by subletting. In these conditions it is difficult to prevent rapid spread of infection and its intensification among children. Nevertheless infant mortality has greatly declined. (See page 203.)

"House pride" is said to be often regarded as a bourgeois characteristic; and the tendency in Russia appears to be to view the dwelling as little more than a place for sleeping and for storing personal belongings. Home life in the western sense of the phrase is under a process of profound change. Strenuous efforts are being made to increase the output of work and to industrialize both town and country, and thus realize with almost indecent haste an anticipated millennium. Whether intentionally or not family life must suffer in this gigantic and longcontinued effort; but the enthusiastic Bolshevik will deny the appropriateness of the word "suffer" and will substitute the words "be changed."

But it must be emphasized that the State is making strenuous efforts to compensate the children for the lack, or at least the intermittency, of parental care; and the satirical statement often heard that "a robot is replacing the mother" does injustice to the admirable work of the creches and of other aids to the welfare of childhood and youth, which is outlined in Chapter 12.

Physical Culture

The problem of the right use of leisure, which is now causing so much concern in capitalist countries, has to a notable extent been solved in Soviet Russia. On the physical side is the vast development of games and athletics, which cannot fail to impress the visitor. In Moscow alone there are 100 sports grounds. One of our earliest visits in that city was to the new Dynamo Sport Club Stadium. Here all sports are provided for, but in football only a modified soccer is played. The openair stadium has seating accommodation for 50,000 people, and 25,000 more can stand. All taking part in competitive sports are said to be medically examined. Special diplomas are awarded, and if a sportsman passes the tests in twentytwo varieties of sports, he is entitled to wear a badge of distinction.

Outside the entrance of the stadium is the inscriion in large red letters :

"Be ready for Labor and for Defense"

and within the entrance is the sentence:

Long live the leader of the great Communist Party, the friend of the sportsman, Comrade Stalin.

The stadium appears to be run on a self-supporting basis. It is intensely popular; and this nationwide popularity of sports and physical culture appears to be entirely a post-Revolution phenomenon.

Besides the sports organized to develop athletic prowess, there is physical culture in less strenuous form. In the Park of Culture and Rest, for example, we watched with great interest the communal dancing. This goes on during summer right from the cessation of the seven hours of daily work till midnight. In one group a girl of about seventeen, completely unselfconscious, was teaching special steps to a large group gathered in a circle. An accordion, here as elsewhere, was the chosen instrument for accompaniment. After each demonstration volunteers from the crowd joined in, and then the dancing became general. In a few minutes another girl came forward as leader, and similar action occurred. The movements were carried out with military precision as to time.

Similarly in group singing, one leader succeeded an other, and evidently all the time training of a large number of enthusiastic and competent leaders, mass education and recreation of an admirable character were in progress.

In every chief industry club life is largely developed, and in many of these clubs, as well as in the factories themselves, technical and other forms of education are actively pursued. The development of the guild spirit in industry may be illustrated by describing something of what we saw in a garden club for railway workers in Tiflis. The club consists in the main of a beautiful garden, with fountains and flowers, and arrangements for music, for an outdoor cinema, etc. It is used also as a playground for children, and just as we were leaving, at 8:30 p.m., we saw some two hundred Octobrist children, aged probably from six to ten, marching and singing as they left the park for their homes. They had been in the park since 6 a.m., their meals being supplied there. Several Pioneer girls about fifteen or sixteen years old were in charge of them. There could be no doubt about the enthusiasm of the children for their leaders. This "parking" of children is arranged each year for the school vacations.

This railway workers' park showed another side of the workers' organization. Close to the fountains and in the most prominent place was affixed a double list of names, so largely written that all could read. The names in one column were those of twenty specially good railway workers, and in the other column of sixteen specially bad railway workers. The quality of exceptional goodness or badness was not stated; but here was displayed a continuous eulogy and a continuous exposure to contumely of a number of workers. The list cannot be modified without the consent of the Committee of Railway Workers, by whose authority it is exhibited. Meanwhile the names of the best of the good workers and the worst of the bad are displayed on an average to 5,000 workers and their families who come daily to this garden!

Similar action is taken, we were informed, in other club gardens not visited by us; and it will be remembered that this action is supplementary to the posting of names in the factory itself.


There can be little doubt that the younger generation in Russia has been caured by Communism, and is intensely "keen" in assisting its development. Some details of the Russian Youth Movement, which is an essential organ for this purpose, are given in Chapter 12. In every relation of life, propaganda calculated to promote enthusiasm in Communism is being actively pursued; and this is being done continuously. It is indeed regarded as a point of honor with Communists to take part in this; illustrating what we have elsewhere suggested, that belief in Communism has some of the characteristics of religious zeal.

Cinema pictures seen by us exemplified Bolshevik doctrine, and this was true of theatrical plays. Even in the opera, by song or otherwise, the Communist philosophy was fostered. Every stadium, recreation ground, and park is beset by propagandist posters, cartoons, and models illustrating the "evils" of capitalism and throwing contem on religious belief; in the parks dancing parties alternate with communal singing of Communist hymns, a movable scroll giving the words to each member of the crowd, and an active member of the Party appearing to be always available to lead both dancing and singing. The juvenile associations are schools of Communism, political instruction forming a large part of their daily program. In the factory and its "Red Corner," in every social club, a similar policy is being pursued with a completeness and assiduity which call for wonder and some admiration. The embellishment of the flower gardens in the parks is also utilized, as we utilize national or municipal symbols; for beds of red flowers are planted in the shape of the Soviet device of the Hammer and the Sickle, to symbolize the union of the interests of the peasant and the workman.


Russian schools were on vacation at the time of our visit, but we give a few notes of information received from various sources. An official statement (Soviet Culture Review, Nos. 7-9, 1932) claims that for the first time in the history of humanity, in the place of the privileged social stratum which monopolized culture, millions of souls have come forward as the creators of new values intellectual as well as material.

From the time of the October Revolution public education has become the business of the masses, ranging from kindergartens to universities; and it is claimed in the same review that "at the present time every second person in the country is studying."

Preschool education, chiefly in the form of kindergartens, was rare in Tsarist Russia; at the beginning of the first Five Year Plan kindergartens had in them some 400,000 children. In 1932 ten million children were included in their activities.

In 1923 a beginning was made with general compulsory education. Great difficulties are still encountered in making this effective everywhere, owing to the shortage of teachers. Comsomols and trade union organizations, as well as cooperative societies, have helped in supplementing the teaching staff. The ideal, not yet achieved, is that each child shall remain a scholar from the age of seven until he is seventeen. At first the school course was only four years; now it is extended to seven years. The following official figures show the rapidity of growth of number of scholars

Year Total Town Village Total Town Village
1914 7,200,000 564,000
1927-28 10,503,000 2,139,000 8,364,000 1,399,000 1,048,000 351,000
1932 19,001,000 3,250,000 15,751,000 4,675,000 1,630,000 3,045,000

Before the Revolution scarcely a fourth of the proletarian children of school age attended school; it was anticipated that in 1933 the attendance would be 100 per cent.

In August, 1931, a decree was issued requiring the general compulsory education of illiterate adults; and in our visits last autumn we saw such educational work going on in factories, in rest homes, in sanatoria, and also in institutions for the reform of prostitutes. Russia in another decade appears likely to cease to be less literate than western countries. Already, it is officially reported, "more than 90 per cent of the entire population from eight to fifty years of age have received a primary education."

We were informed in Rostov that children do not begin daily work until they are sixteen years old. Then they become apprentices and work six hours a day, without any night shifts, and they must not be employed underground or in dangerous factories. At the age of eighteen they become full workers.

If a youth is recommended as a student, his student life may be prolonged, and he is given a monthly allowance by the Government for maintenance.

The statement that work does not begin till the age of sixteen needs to be modified for scholars who enter a factory school at the age of fourteen. Here the scholar continues his studies in all branches, and he works for four hours daily in a shop or factory. During the next year at the factory school the scholar works for six hours daily in the factory during two months; and after three years in the factory school he enters as a skilled worker in a special department of the factory. The studies in the factory school are largely technical.

A medical student is paid during his or her training, and in addition is paid for any work done which otherwise would have to be paid for.

Other technical students are treated similarly. These students often go at a relatively high age for their technical studies, and are therefore paid somewhat highly, as they may have families. Subsequent increases of remuneration during training are given on the basis of reports submitted to the Workers' Committee dealing with this problem.

The Press and Literature

The report from which official figures as to education are quoted gives also figures showing the vast amount of published matter now being issued in the U.S.S.R. In 1931 the "number of titles" in the U.S.S.R. was 56,500 as compared with 14,688 for England with a population about one fourth that of Russia. Pamphlets and books are being utilized as "a powerful means of diffusing the Marxist-Leninist theory and technical education among the masses," and of mobilizing workers "for the task of economic and cultural construction."

The number of copies of newspapers issued daily in the U.S.S.R. according to the same source was 32 millions as compared with nearly 39 millions in the U. S. A. Details of this aspect of Soviet advance are given in an article by Sidney Webb in Current History., March, 1933.

In these newspapers there appears much criticism of details of administration in various parts of Soviet life, subject to the limitation that this criticism must not be of a "counter-revolutionary" character.