Protection of Women and Children in Soviet Russia


Communism holds, in common with democracy, that children represent the power of the future, and consequently they must be given the best possible care and education. Communism also maintains that a woman who is bearing and rearing children is a worker and is entitled to all the benefits accorded to any worker. In addition, Communism maintains that a woman, in performing her biological function, need not deprive herself of the social life which is the due of every working individual, i.e., she should not suffer, either economically or socially, any privations because she is a mother. She must be given every opportunity to support her family and herself, and she must have at her command -- no matter how poor she may be -- the best that society can give her because the workers of the future are in her care.

All socially enlightened thinkers for ages past have held this view, at least in part, but until now few have advocated such wholesale methods in regard to fulfilling it as those which the Soviets have put into practice; mainly because, heretofore, society has concentrated rather more upon the development Of leaders than upon the raising of the general educational level of the masses.

New "mores" were not automatically established in Russia simply because there was a Revolution; rather, the Revolution was the result of a definite economic metamorphosis which was taking place in Russia before the War in the forms of discontent with the capitalist regime and a gradual legalizing of the simple and intelligent social customs already deeply rooted in the consciousness of the people. The centuries of tradition behind the old reactionary government counted for little because it had always kept itself so aloof from the people. Consequently popular ideals and not those of the dying government finally influenced the evolution of the Soviet State. Among other things, the present system of protecting women and children was not a sudden innovation resulting exclusively from the October Revolution, but was rather a continuation and application of those ideas held by the first Labour Unions long before the Revolution. Those ideals because they were the natural outcome of existing social custom were prominent in the various phases of the history of the Russian proletariat, and were generally accepted at the time of the October Revolution.

The need for State protection of women and children had long been realised by the organisers of the Russian working classes, and had been one of their slogans. As early as sixty years ago, at the First Congress of the First International under the chairmanship of Karl Marx, this question was discussed. Marx insisted on the introduction of State Protection of Motherhood and Childhood in the programmes of all the Workers' Parties of the world. He pointed out that unless women were freed from the old economic bondages, the struggle of the working class against capitalism would be unsuccessful. The Russian workers very readily realised the soundness of his logic and as early as the end of the last century they had made some progress towards State Protection of the working woman.

In the project of the first programme of the Russian Workers' Party (then called Social Democrats) which was worked out by Lenin, we find the abolition of night work for women and miners. This project received the unanimous approval of the striking workers, and as a result of their strikes and the constant stressing of the ideal in all of their petitions and declarations, a law was passed by the Czarist regime prohibiting female labour at night. A few factories, especially those in Petrograd, went so far as to require the organisation of maternity homes, and insurance for working women; some even demanded factory nurseries. By 1905 the programmes of almost all working class organisations demanded vacations of varying length (according to the strength of their radical tendencies) for women both before and after confinement. Such vacations were in many cases to be accompanied by full pay, but demands on this scale were rare. Some unions went so far as to claim that all women workers with young children should be allowed one free half hour a day, with pay, to nurse their babies.

The Russian Workers' Movement again considered the question of working women's rights in 1911-12, but it was a long and hard fight before the Czarist Government passed the law allowing insurance to workers who were incapacitated by illness or accident, and also to pregnant women labourers. Under this law, women workers were entitled to receive full salary while they were on vacation for two weeks before and four weeks after giving birth. This law was a great advancement and a milestone in the achievements of the Russian Workers' Movement, but unfortunately, it did not go far enough, for it applied only to the largest factories (where the workers were more highly organised) and consequently only a small percentage of the working women were benefited.

In March, after the February Revolution of 1917, the First Congress of Working Women was held in Petrograd. After a lengthy and detailed discussion of the questions involved in the rights of the working women and the protection of mothers and children in general, they evolved a full programme which still serves as the basis of the Soviet System of Protection of Motherhood and Childhood. This programme, however, was not given any active consideration until after the October Revolution, at which time the Proletariat took over all power into its hands. The Kerensky Government, during its eight months' existence, did nothing important in this line, in spite of the fact that the basic programme was formulated by the Working Women's Congress which met in Petrograd in March, 1917; so in reality the present methods of woman and child protection are the result of activity by the Government formed at the October Revolution. Lenin, at the time his party took control, said:

A victory for Socialism is impossible until a whole half of toiling mankind, the working woman, enjoys equal rights with men, and until she no longer is kept a slave by her household and family.

At another time, he said:

Every intelligent woman must know how to cook as well as how to rule a Government.

by which Soviet social workers argue that he did not desire the destruction of domesticity but rather its improvement. On the way to the fulfillment of this ideal, enormous difficulties arose (for the ideal is far from being realised, and there are still -- and probably always will be -- new questions to be solved). This can best be illustrated by a discussion of Women's Rights which I heard at a Working Women's Meeting held in the Small Museum for the Protection of Women and Children in Moscow.

Chief Points in the Discussion

In the first place, a woman, socially, cannot be as free as a man owing to her physical make-up. She experiences regular, though short, periods of physical and psychic depression during her active life. She also suffers a general debility during pregnancy and is a real invalid while giving birth, and for a considerable period afterwards. In addition, in most cases, She is so held down by her household duties and care of her children that she has no time to learn in order to raise her cultural standard, nor is she able to maintain whatever cultural level she may have reached before marriage. Neither can she, in case of need, adequately support herself and her family, and at the same time take care of her home, her children, and herself She must, under these conditions, either be a subject for charity or neglect her family and home duties. It is almost impossible for a woman with a family to take part in the administrative and other work of her government and community, no matter how well suited she may be for such work. She is almost completely shut off from the social life of her husband, for she is unable to go to meetings with him or share his social relaxations, and she cannot travel much, all because her family ties keep her at home. Therefore, one of the first main tasks of the State is the setting free of woman as nearly as possible by providing her with help in the mechanics of her family and home and with medical care for herself and her children so that she may become socially and economically independent. The State must also fight against the large child mortality in the families of workers and peasants, for it needs new millions of workers and it cannot afford any waste of human life. A third task of the State is the upbringing of a new and healthy generation, one which has received the best social education available. The establishment of social equality is a very hard task and the strength of no older generation lies in itself but in the young people it can produce.

Because of these three important factors and also because of other lesser factors, the State has organised an "Institute for the Protection of Motherhood and Childhood." However, if women are to enjoy equal rights with men, they must be enabled to support themselves, for they cannot be equal to men and at the same time be dependent for their bread upon their husbands. For this reason, all intelligent people are glad to see women entering the factories and working side by side with men, and joining them in the struggle for better conditions in the working class. The Soviet Government, therefore, introduces woman into the factory and tries to make her labour more productive. However, on the way to economic independence, the woman meets with grave obstacles. She must combine her work in the factory or office with the work of her home and her motherhood. It happens very often that her duty as a wife and a mother conflicts with her duty as a wage earner. It is obvious that a woman working in a factory or office all day cannot give her children all the care and education they need. It is also obvious that while she is working she cannot be free from worry if her children are at home alone: and such worry reduces the efficiency of her work and her happiness.

To combat this difficulty one of the first actions of the Institute for the Protection of Motherhood and Childhood was to found factory nurseries for the prekindergarten child -- places where the mother could leave her children on the way to work in the morning and receive them back again in the evening. She could also go there to feed her child if it were not yet weaned. Such nurseries are known as 'creches' and they have not only enabled many women to work with their husbands, but they have given an opportunity to the children to profit by the most efficient methods of child care known today. The creche also helps to improve the material conditions of the family, for it is free to the children of workers and it supplies the child with food and clothing for the time it is in the creche each day, thereby decreasing the family's expenses.

Since the October Revolution, the number of creches has been rapidly increasing and today about ten million rubles a year of government appropriations are spent in Russia proper (not in the whole Union) and there are about one thousand creches for factories in that area, which means that each creche costs about ten thousand rubles a year ($5,000). In other and wealthier countries, there are fewer factory nurseries and even these are never subsidised by the Government and seldom by the factory owners. In spite of this, the number of Russian creches is in no sense adequate. In 1928, only 17% of the working women were served by them, and, since the number of women labourers is constantly increasing, the demand for creches is also continually growing. In fact, the demand today is so great that in some districts -- notably in the Ukraine -- any factory or business employing more than one hundred workers must maintain a creche. This, however, is far from being universally true in the U.S.S.R.

In spite of the increase in the number of creches since the October Revolution (there were only fourteen in the whole of Russia before then) on the tenth anniversary of the Revolution, very few women with families were taking part in any kind of Government work. This is not because the Soviet frowns on women in the service of the State but because the working woman, even when her children are in the creche all day, must care for them in the evenings, when her work is over. So in the evenings, when there are meetings, schools, and other social and educational opportunities for the worker, the working woman has to care for her children and home, and therefore she is unable to avail herself of the opportunities which are open to her husband. In order to ensure woman's equality and to solve this problem, it is the duty of the State, through the Institute for the Protection of Motherhood and Childhood, to organise evening creches, special supervision of children in working men's homes, special children's rooms in clubs and factory social halls, etc. There has indeed been an attempt made to do something in this direction, but as yet the State is too poor to go into such an enterprise on a large scale, necessary though it is in an ideal socialist state.

During the ten years after the October Revolution, which means since there has been any systematic care of women and children in Soviet Russia, only half of the State's efforts in this direction could be concentrated on the care of normal women and children -- the other half of their efforts have been exercised in caring for the needy in war, famine, and disease epidemics. During this period, all possible means for the care of the thousands of homeless children were used, with the result that there is a place for every homeless child today in the U.S.S.R. That work came first, and only recently has it been possible to spend money, time, and energy in the creating of other organisations for the protection of normal women and children. As can be seen by this chart [lecturer held up a large, brightly coloured chart, which could easily be read by all the women] in spite of the delay in starting other such organisations, there were, in 1927, nine hundred and ninety-five creches which served approximately thirty thousand working women, and that is only between 12% and 14% of the women who need creches.

There are one hundred and twenty-two Houses of Mother and Child where very poor women, often students, living in dormitories are taken care of for two months preceding and two months succeeding the giving of birth, two hundred and twenty-six homes for destitute and orphaned children; twenty-six homes for deserted and homeless mothers; four hundred and sixty-one Points of Medical Consultation for Children, to which, during the year 1927, there were 3,049,987 visits made by children under three years. In towns, 60% of creche age children (two months to three years old) were under the care of the local Points of Consultation; and in 1927, three hundred and three Points of Medical Consultation for Pregnant Women were in existence. Owing to these two types of medical centres, child mortality has decreased by 30% during the last ten years. This decrease was especially noticeable in the towns where medical clinics were most highly organised. In cities, there are also Maternity Hospitals, which in 1927, took care of about 7,887 women, a figure which represents 68% of all city women who had children during that year. The situation is very bad in the country, since there are only 3,000 beds in all the village and rural Maternity Hospitals in Russia proper, which means that only 11% of births in rural districts take place in a hospital. However, here again, a great improvement can be seen since the Revolution, for prior to 1917 there were only twenty-seven maternity hospitals in the entire Russian Empire. In addition, the Soviet attitude towards abortion has greatly reduced the number of deaths from miscarriage and illegal abortion. In 1927, there were also one hundred and thirty-eight Judicial Consulting Points where women could learn from qualified legal advisors what their position was and how best to obtain their rights. The total number of institutions designed to help mothers and their children has risen from twenty-seven in 1917 to two thousand five hundred and thirty-nine in 1927.

In spite of the decided increase in such protective organisations for women and children, there are still not enough of them to meet the demand, and therefore it is up to every one of you women who are benefited by the organisations founded by and under the auspices of the Soviet Institute for the Protection of Motherhood and Childhood, in every way to make the best of the opportunities offered you, and to cooperate to your fullest extent with the heads of these organisations so that they may correct their own errors as well as yours, and so that they can continue their work in the districts in which it is so needed.

Such is a typical propaganda lecture, and it serves not only to show us how the women concerned are approached, but it also gives a true picture of the Moscow working woman's conception of the functions and accomplishments of the Institute which she so heartily supports. I think, too, that the statistics and impressions given by the lecture were on the whole correct, since they correlate fairly well with the more detailed statistics I received from the Commissariat of Education and the Institute for the Protection of Motherhood and Childhood. I will go into the statistics and their meanings in a later chapter.

On the wall of the lecture room was a notice which read:

IN THE U. S. S. R.

Social insurance paid to pregnant women in 1927-------- 69,000,000 Roubles [Note: One rouble is worth approximately fifty cents, or two shillings English.]

Total Expenses of the Institute for the Protection of Motherhood and Childhood in 1927------------108,000,000 Roubles

State Expenses and money from Friendly Societies for the Protection of Women and Children in 1927--------110,000,000

This notice is an example of Soviet propaganda in its strongest form, for it states facts. The women everywhere were much impressed with and very proud of the accomplishments of their Institute and were full of questions on British and American policy regarding the working class women. Such propaganda, i.e., lectures, meetings, posters, and literature is one of the main elements of Soviet education, and their technique shown in such advertising certainly should have the educational value they expect from it. Propaganda of this sort can give only the general conceptions which are shared by all those who read the posters and attend the lectures. This is done by nearly everybody. I have not ignored this part of the Institute's programme but I have been careful not to pay too much attention to it for it contains (in common with all advertising) too many generalisations which need to be proved before they can be accepted. However, by keeping in touch with such propaganda, one keeps in touch with affairs of the Soviet State, as the average Russian in the cities and those villages under Soviet influence, knows them.

Women, even when living under a capitalist regime and enjoying the practical benefits of being wealthy and able to employ servants, are biological slaves, in that they are subject to approximately thirty years of monthly physical setbacks, and definite illness when pregnant and giving birth. Such women, however, because of the power given to them by their money, have been able to be almost as free as their husbands from having to care for their homes and families; for they can have all the routine work done for them by their servants, and so, in every capitalistic country, we find women who are wives and mothers actively participating in all phases of the social, political, and economic life of their society. We find them drawing large salaries in the business world; they are also frequently seen in politics. They are in our universities and schools in the capacity of professors and teachers, and they often achieve distinction in the fields of literature, arts, and sciences. We are not surprised when we hear that a married woman with children has gone into any of the more serious phases of our social life. Any woman whose husband earns, or has, enough money for her to keep a maid in the home and a nurse for the children, has ample leisure, which she uses according to her mentality and training. Hence the great number of women's social clubs, tea parties and reading circles; hence also the great feminine interests in distractions such as the theatre, motion pictures, churches, social climbing, shopping, and those sports which otherwise would be patronised only by men. In other words, the financially independent woman can, if she chooses, and she usually does, enjoy as much social liberty as a man, and she is seldom kept from the pursuits she likes except by her health which, of course, is on the average less reliable than that of her husband's.

On the other hand, the working class woman with a family has little social life, and does not really know what it means. No matter how natively brilliant she may be, in all probability she has not received any training to enable her to earn her living at a wage sufficient to keep herself and family, since she is fitted to do only unskilled labour. Her whole time is occupied in keeping her family together. Even though she may have only one room to manage, she must cook and sew for herself and for those dependent upon her; she must care for them when they are ill, and above all she must constantly be struggling to discover ways and means of making her husband's small wages cover the necessities of food, clothing and shelter. How, seeing that her work is not limited to an eight hour day and her time is never her own, can she find the time, money, or energy to participate in even the simplest social activities, most of which her husband can enjoy? It does not seem fair, even to the most ardent supporter of capitalism, that the working class woman should be such a social and economic slave; else why should capitalists subscribe to charities for the relief of working-class women? Household work is not necessarily a criterion of social slavery, since many women and some men prefer it to other forms of occupation, and these would be most miserable if they had to lead what we ordinarily call a social life. The slavery is not therefore contained in any given form of occupation, but rather in the forcing of individuals into work which is not suited to them, and in forcing them to do so much of that work that they cannot possibly be efficient. It seems only fair that the individual should be given the chance and the equipment to live the life he or she has chosen. If he wastes what is given to him and is merely indolent, that is his fault, but it is not right to suppose that even if the working class women were put into good apartments with adequate means for keeping them in good condition, they would go on living as they had been accustomed to live. Doubtless many of them would, at least until they had been educated into their new environment, but that is no excuse for not giving them the chance.

Such are the underlying principles of a social system which tries to give everyone an equal chance to possess the necessities and luxuries of life. Under Communism, the State is the most powerful social organ, which means that the State bears the greatest responsibilities to society. Therefore, it is logical that the State should see to it that all its members have the necessities of life and an equal chance at the luxuries. And so it is easy to see why the Russian Soviet, which is striving with all its power towards a complete fairness in human relations should be so much concerned with the social, economic, and educational equalising of its members. Giving the working class woman those advantages enjoyed by the women of the monied classes of other countries and the chance to be an individual as well as a hundred per cent efficient wife and mother, is the first step towards realising that equality which is a primary prerequisite for the existence of the ideal Communist State.

It is easy enough for anybody with those traditions which we all acquire from a capitalistic environment to imagine individual women raised from social slavery to social freedom. It can be done quite easily by insuring financial independence, and it happens all the time. There is a constant influx of "new rich"; and, in the United States, one of the main social policies is to make the diligent working man (usually the skilled labourer or his superior) into a kind of capitalist in a small way. In time, such persons become so bourgeois that they are identified with the middle classes. Entry into the middle classes is not due solely to financial independence, but certainly such independence is the first step towards maintaining that standard of living required by the bourgeoisie. But, to give such freedom suddenly to the working class is impossible under a capitalist system, for it would mean that there would be no more manual workers; for, freedom from manual labour and a degree of leisure are among the ideals of capitalism. Those who enjoy the benefits of the capitalist system are, therefore, of necessity free from the things it looks down upon. However, in a system which makes labour and efficiency in work the greatest ideal, no matter what kind of work it may be, mass social and economic freedom is not only possible but inevitable.

We must, therefore, first realise that the Russian Soviet is above all trying to live up to its ideals, which means in this instance to give every woman a chance to be first of all an efficient wife and mother, and then to allow her enough spare time and financial security so that if she has the talents and the inclination she may have a chance to follow whatever intellectual or artistic bent she wishes. When a wife and mother is efficient, she will do her best to give her children a profitable and good upbringing: but she cannot be relied upon to do this entirely herself, and no matter how well educated and intelligent she may be, she must trust to schools and teachers to educate her children. Therefore, the State which claims it will make woman free, will care for her children and give them every opportunity. This is one of the main arguments for State control of mass education, but it is not the only argument, for it is necessary for the State, which wishes to perpetuate itself, as does every State, to bring up the children in its care to understand and to sympathise with the motives and existence of that State so that they will support it when they reach their majority. Such has been the method of educational propaganda ever since the beginning of society. Educators and thinkers have always maintained that when a regime teaches its children philosophies which serve those children adequately throughout their lives, so that they do not have to search for theories in order to make life tolerable, then that regime does not need advertising and its education is not propaganda but rather a system of ethics which will best serve those people for whom it was intended. Whether a Communist education can stand such a test can only be proved by time. So far, we know all too little about the theory and practice of education in the Communist State. That it is different from general schooling as we know it in the Western World is about all we can say of it at the moment. Mrs. Lucy L. W. Wilson has treated elementary education in Soviet Russia very fully and has put in readable form much that they are doing and the main theories they are following in the development of their schools. But the final word today on Soviet Education is Albert P. Pinkevitch's interesting work, The New Education in the Soviet Republic. His comprehensive treatment of theory makes his book invaluable to sociologists studying the U.S.S.R., since to know the methods and means of education in a society is to know the highest ideals and achievements of that society.

The question is always asked both by the layman and by the sociologist interested in Russia, "Are the Communists trying to destroy the home and home life?" When we hear and read of the day nurseries, schools, and community living, and when we know that the Bolsheviki encourages women to work in the fields and factories with men, then the only answer seems to be that the home is at least a secondary consideration in communistic life. But before making such a broad statement, much more should be considered than the mere superficial aspects of institutional Russia. A functioning equality of mankind is the ideal of the true Marxist, and in order to realise that ideal, men and women must be as free as possible from those details of life which can be eliminated without damaging the individual's duties to himself and to his fellow-man. That simply means that the individual should be allowed complete freedom to follow that way of life for which he is best suited, unless he harms society by so doing. Being forced to attend to those phases of life which are required by environment, social heritage, and animal nature, such as gaining and maintaining food, clothing, and shelter, can cut down the individual's efficiency so that he may become totally unfit to exercise effectively those talents which are the most natural to him. For example, a man cannot be an artist unless he has a place in which to sleep, clothes to wear, food to eat, and tools wherewith to work; but, on the other hand, unless he is subsidised from the outside, in the beginning he cannot gain the above necessities without causing his art to suffer through neglect. All this is obvious to anyone, but what we so often forget is that the same applies to the working man or woman. The man or woman who is an expert at and has an innate adaptability for running a machine is not so efficient at his job if he has to make his own clothes, care for his room and cook his own food, for those are things which are drudgery to him and tire him so that he has not the energy to do the work he likes. The same applies to those persons who, above all, like to care for a home but cannot even have one unless they spend at least eight hours a day in a factory or office doing work for which they are unfit and which tires them so that after all they cannot enjoy their home, for which they are working so hard. In the Communist State, therefore, all types of employment, be they what they may, are considered of value and are classified only according to the amount of physical energy expended, which means that all manual workers belong in the first category while professors, clerks and government officials, etc., are in the second and as their work is less strenuous they need less insurance compensations than those in the first category. The woman working in her home is doing as important work as the one in the factory, and should be similarly insured and should receive the same benefits from her Government. That is taken for granted. The important thing is that there should be Government help for all workers, to aid them in obtaining those necessities of life which the efficient carrying out of their work causes them to neglect. It is necessary for the woman who works in a factory and is happy working there that she should have some appropriate place in which to leave her children. It is equally necessary for the woman who lives at home and manages that home, that she have reliable groups of people to mine the coal she burns, weave the cloth she wears and butcher the meat she cooks. I do not think that anyone can honestly say that the purpose of the State Institutions for the care of children is an attempt to undermine home life if home life is considered as a factor in individual social development and not as the degrading form of bondage which it is sometimes considered. These Institutions are rather an attempt towards making the individual efficient in whatever branch of employment he or she has chosen. If the home as we know it ceases to exist, it will be because the people themselves are not very interested in maintaining it and prefer other occupation, in which case it is doomed anyhow. No one could maintain that homes are unnecessary, that all we need is a place in which to eat and sleep, since even if we all had the same kind of rooms, with the same furniture to put in them, they would all be different because we would all arrange the furniture to suit our own special tastes and needs, and should we be forced to live for a short time in one of the other rooms arranged by another person, we should not be so comfortable as in our own, because the atmosphere of another man's room could not possibly be completely compatible with our personality. Fear that Communism will cut out home life seems to me to be quite futile and beside the point. The important thing is that people should have places in which to live that please them and make them happy. If they are better at working in a factory and in the fields than in a kitchen, then there should be public kitchens where they can get their food, so that they can have all of their spare time to enjoy that phase of their home which really gives them pleasure. That a person who dislikes cooking should be afflicted with a kitchen is as ridiculous and dangerous as making a person who dislikes machinery an automobile mechanic. But, the fact that a person dislikes to cook is no reason why he should bring up his children to be ignorant of the technique of cooking. It is the duty of the State which runs public kitchens to educate its youth to understand the technique and need for the efficient managing and maintaining of a kitchen, for some children may choose to cook and wash pots and pans in preference to screwing on nuts and bolts in a factory or teaching in a school or college.

In spite of all the popular talk about mass this and mass that, orthodox Communism strives for efficiency and individuality in the lives of all people. This applies to workers in the home as well as those who concern themselves with other occupations.