Protection of Women and Children in Soviet Russia


There are various types of creches according to the needs of the parents and children who use them. Most of these are day nurseries, however, connected with factories and are open only during working hours. Since women are not employed to do factory work at night, such nurseries take care of the children only during the day, usually between the hours of 7:30 A. M. and 10:00 P. M. The creches take care of children until they are three years old, after which the children are sent to kindergarten. All of the larger factories in the U. S. S. R. have creches, and the smaller ones are beginning to organise them. However, factory labourers are not the only workers who enjoy this convenience, for there are creches connected with offices of all types, especially those belonging to the Government. Furthermore, there are creches connected with the university dormitories, for the Soviet Government does not think that student life should keep healthy young men and women from having children if they want them. During the summer and harvest times, there are creches in the co-operative villages and farms so that such institutions can make use of all the adults who work on them. Now there is a movement on the part of the women of the U. S. S. R., especially those who live in the cities, to organise creches which will care for children during the evenings, so that the mothers will be able to go to meetings, etc., with their husbands and enjoy all the cultural advantages which can be had by those persons who are not forced to stay at home in order to care for house and family. There are a few already and it is hoped that there will be more such nurseries in apartment houses and other living communities in the future. There are also special creches for crippled and defective children as well as for those who inherit any physical disabilities such as venereal disease, weak heart or lungs, etc., or a possible tendency towards drinking or dope addiction. Such creches are usually in the form of permanent institutions which means that the children live in them and not with their parents and thus may constantly be under the care of doctors and nurses. Aside from these special forms of creches, there is always an experimental nursery for normal children in each district as it is felt that knowledge concerning the care and education of very young children is not as yet sufficiently advanced and that it is the duty of the Government to maintain experimental institutions where new ideas and methods may be worked out under the guidance of the best child experts of the U. S. S. R.

In spite of the fact that so much money and energy are being spent on this form of education, there are still comparatively few creches, considering the population and area of the U. S. S. R., but the number is constantly increasing. In 1918 there were four creches in Moscow which number was raised to 104 in 1928 and 120 in 1931, a number which is considerably lower than the control figures of the Five Year Plan. In these creches there are places for about 7,000 children but as the turnover is rapid, a minimum of 13,023 children passed through the Moscow creches each year. Considering the facts that there are approximately 47,613 children who survive infancy every year in Moscow, and that the nurseries care for children through their third year, it means that there are about 142,839 children under the age of four years, 129,816 of which never come in contact with a creche. In other words, less than 10% of the Moscow children receive the benefits of these State-run nurseries, and it has been estimated that only about 15% have had any connection with any type of Soviet educational or social institution outside of medical consultation points before they reach kindergarten age, though this state of affairs is being greatly modified by the Five Year Plan.

The above figures clearly show that even in Moscow where the creche system is most highly developed, it is still in the experimental stage and has done very little, so far at least, in supplanting the home. Whether it will do so in the future depends almost entirely on the efficiency of women in industry and agriculture, and the practical results in twenty years of creche training as judged by the lives of those children who are now attending them. It is not surprising, however, to read in the newspapers that the creche is already extremely important in Russian life. No other social institution attracts as much attention as does the creche, for it is prominent wherever Communism exists. Soviet child care is very effectively advertised which means that the Russians, as well as all visitors are continually aware of the day nursery experiments. There is no question but that the creche is having a profound influence on home life, because mothers have found that by following the technique of child care as observed in the creches, it is considerably easier to manage their homes and children. There are special museums for women who do not have their children in a nursery, which show exactly how much an institution is managed and how many of its methods can be used in the home. (See Section on Museums of Mother and Child).


(a) to rear an active fighter for the socialist structure

(b) To bring up a materialist, activist, and collectivist

The purpose of education is to turn the child into a social being in such a way that he will not only profit by his training, but will benefit the group in which he lives. This is the motive behind all education and the reason why, "We are spending money and energy on the children of today so as to train them to be good citizens in the future." The Soviets believe this exactly as we do which is the reason why they are very much concerned with the education of the children in their care. There are, of course, several differences between the training of a child in Russia and the training of one in this Western country, and they are mainly in the ideas underlying a Socialistic regime as compared with those underlying a capitalistic one. We are all more or less familiar with the principles underlying the training of citizens in the Western World, and so it seems necessary only to note the similarities and the differences of the principles on which Communistic education is based. The fact that the Russians feel that education begins at birth and that it is therefore the business of the State to stare training at a very early age, only shows that they are taking better advantage of present-day psychological knowledge than do the educators in most countries.

All Soviet educators maintain that there are two purposes in education, first to bring up an active worker in the Socialist structure; and second, to make that worker a materialist, activist, and collectivist. I think that there is little distinction between those two purposes for, according to Communist reasoning, in order to be a worker for the Socialistic society one must begin by being a materialist, activist, and collectivist. All three of these terms must be defined as the Russians use them, for they might not seem, at first sight, very desirable personal attributes.

According to Communist reasoning, a materialist is a person who understands reality, i.e., material environment outside of and unconnected with man. The closer a man is to reality, the better able he is to cope with his environment and overcome the physical barriers which are a part of his everyday experiences. A young child, they say, is a realist by nature because he is interested mainly in the things he can see and feel. Therefore, to bring up a child as a materialist is to give that child a practical connection with the real world in order to give him the opportunity of studying material things and to feel their influence on himself. With the proper type of materialistic training, a child should be able to take full advantage of his environment and use it to gain his own ends instead of running the risk of having his environment control him because he does not understand it. Training a child to understand his physical surroundings is a part of every educational programme, wherever education is taken seriously, but few educators ever stress it as they do in the U. S. S. R., even though it is undeniably important that such training should be considered as an elementary necessity in the life of every child. Because of the low standard of living which prevails today in Russia, due to poverty and lack of education, it takes more than a common knowledge of how to cope with the physical environment in order to make oneself even comfortable. In a social regime which has as its basis the principle that all people should share the hardships of life and have an equal chance at the luxuries, it is important that children be educated to understand the nature of physical difficulties and the best ways of overcoming them. The fact that all people in the U. S. S. R. live on more or less the same financial level, materialism does not imply an interest in money as it does in capitalistic countries.

Man is an activist in that he reacts by means of physical motions to his understanding of his environment. He moves, talks, and forms habits and reflexes according to his needs in a given environment, which means that he uses his nervous system and his organs, and their functions, to adjust himself to his surroundings and to organise and overcome the difficulties in his way. The most highly developed activist is he who modifies his environment by introducing new elements into it, thereby arranging it in a new order which will tend to increase his own efficiency. According to this reasoning, the Communists claim that the child is by nature an activist because he is constantly moving, talking and training his functions. The normal child uses his energy to good purpose, for he tries continually to adjust himself. However, to make a child of creche age modify and organise his environment by original methods, is almost impossible, of course, for he lacks experience. Consequently the duty of those who care for children of that age is to see to it that they acquire the kind of habits which will enable them to function to their advantage, both in their immediate environment and in any future surroundings in which they may be placed. There is a slogan hanging in the reception room of every creche I visited which expresses the Russian conception of how to train a child to take advantage of his surroundings; "Do Not Do Anything For A Child Which He Can Do For Himself."

In training a child to act for himself it is necessary that he be able to use those material things which are around him. For that reason it is useless to expect a child to eat properly at a table if the table is too high for him and he cannot reach it. All furniture, wash basins, and other sanitary facilities should be appropriate to his size. Clothes should not be intricate, and should unfasten in front so that the child can dress and undress himself as soon as the muscles in his fingers and arms have the necessary co-ordination. In other words, nothing that the child uses should be out of his reach or too big or too small for him to handle. If a child is unable to give vent to his mental and physical energy by caring for himself because his environment is out of proportion to his size, he will use his energy in useless play, will learn little, and will be hampered in acquiring efficient living habits. Because children learn from subtleties as well as from actual teaching, too much attention cannot be paid to the making of a child's environment simple, aesthetically pleasing, and suited to his mental and physical scope.

But Soviet psychologists do not think that training a child to live effectively in his environment stops with giving him surroundings appropriate to his size; his motions must be effective, both in his work and play. "But why," asked a Russian educator of me, "should recreation be purposeless? Why can't the children amuse themselves with games which will fit them to live in the world with others, and with toys which will increase the co-ordination of their muscles so that they will be self-sufficient as young as possible? As long as a child is not fatigued by too continuous and monotonous occupation, work and play are the same to him. For example, children like to use hatchets and hammers at a very early age. Why should they not be taught to direct such likings to some avail?"

As the result of such theories of work and play it is not uncommon to see children in the creches trying to chop wood, iron clothes, lay tables, etc., all such occupations being classified as organised play. There is unorganised play, too, where the children are allowed to do as they like, but in view of the fact that they are taught certain useful recreations during their organised play, they usually choose much the same things for the periods when they are not directly supervised. The Russians, in spite of all their materialism and activism, are the last to ignore the value of developing the imagination, which to some seems very odd in view of the way they glorify routine labour and, to a certain extent, look down on the artisan. They are too wise to lose sight of the value of recreation which is in no way connected with work. With older children and adults the problem of recreation is easily solved by the unions, clubs, parades, Soviet propaganda, music, art, literature, athletics, etc., but with smaller children it is more difficult. With a child under four years of age, who is scarcely able to do any creative work of his own, what is to take the place of adult recreation? In capitalistic countries the problem is solved by telling them fairy tales which are amusing, teach lessons, and develop the imagination. But the Communist sees no occasion for such incredulities in life, and classes such stories with religion, which caters to Ignorance and suppression of facts in spite of the good it attempts to encourage. For that reason, no matter how valuable from a literary point of view even the best fairy story may be, it is forbidden to the children in the creche. And why should such stories be encouraged? Are there not plenty of exciting and unusual facts to be known about earth without resorting to mental hallucinations in order to provide food for the imagination? And also when a young child is given such fanciful tales, does it not tend to curb the development of his own imagination by crowding his mind with unreal ideas which he otherwise might have developed for himself from his own experiences? And so instead of telling children fairy stories, the Russians advocate the telling of stories regarding the lives of animals and children of all races, including their own. Such stories can be every bit as exciting to the imagination as are the fairy stories used in other countries, and they are also fanciful and can teach moral lessons. Their value, therefore, is double that of the stories commonly used in other parts of the world. With the Soviet knack and zeal for effective advertising, they have developed some very lovely narratives from life which appeal to young children. They have, with their new enthusiasm for posters and pictures as a means of education, created really good illustrations for such stories. Mere babies are shown large and brightly coloured pictures; and whether the complete meaning is understood or not, each of these pictures tells a story from life and is not only interesting but constructive. After reading a well-illustrated Russian story for small children it is easy to understand why their psychologist considered a story like "Little Red Riding Hood" of little value, for it tells nothing of the habits of either wolves or little girls. Would it not be better, they argue, to tell a story about wolves which would show the living habits of such animals, or a possible story from the life of a child?

The various types of recreations used in the Russian creches must come in a later chapter and will give the reason each is advocated in child training. Suffice it to say here, that the Russians hold that training in activism is essential to all persons who must live with others, especially when they live on the same social and financial level as the rest of their group, and that such training cannot start too soon.

Communism is built upon collectivism; there must be complete co-operation and collective action between all members of a society before Communism in its fullest sense can be a reality. If a child is allowed during infancy to live as an individual apart from his fellow-beings, it will be very hard for him to learn to co-operate with them when he is older and has to function in a world with others. Is it not better, therefore, that he be trained from the beginning to know what society and co-operation mean? Such training, the Communists call Collectivism.

It is agreed by everyone that a child is always happier and better able to care for himself if he has enjoyed the companionship of other children the same age as himself. But the Russians do not stop with this; they believe that simply associating with others is not sufficient training for collective living, for companionship even at its best allows too much leeway for selfish individualism. They hold that co-operation can be stimulated even in infancy by giving children games and tasks which require combined action for their execution. Both materialism and activism, as understood in Russia, aid in collective training which is, after all, the outstanding motive of Communist education. Such training begins before the end of a child's first year if he is in a creche, and it is predominant in every phase of his daily life. One example of how collectivism is fostered among young children is in the type of blocks that are given them. One seldom sees little Russian children in nurseries playing with blocks which are small enough for them to manipulate alone. Instead, they are so large that two or three children have to play together in order to build anything. One child will help place a block which two others have lifted to the desired place, and by so doing all three children have learned the value of co-operation in gaining their ends. Another example is the fact that children are encouraged from the very beginning to help each other dress and undress, and they learn that even though they may be unable to attire themselves alone, they can do so by helping each other.

Impressive as this type of education is and logical as it sounds, the question immediately arises as to whether the children influenced by such training could be really spontaneous, free, and happy, and whether it did not tend to sacrifice personality for mass efficiency. Introspection, if indulged too often, is bad, but a little of it is necessary if a person is to be a thinking being and not merely an animal with only regular and healthy habits to make him of use to society. Even the most gregarious of humans enjoys and needs a little solitude now and then, and he can satisfy that need without being unsocial. Scholars have long claimed that one of the faults of popular education is that it prepares people to live with others at the expense of training the individual to live with himself. Education must fulfill both functions or its social value is limited: and what society can afford to invest in a training which does not tend towards its best advantage? It is impossible at the moment to tell whether the Russians have overdone the collective side of education -- a mistake which would be natural enough in view of the fact that they are attempting life according to a theory of collectivism which so far has only been worked out on paper. In the meantime it is interesting enough, and I think sufficiently valuable to justify the attention of educators. Without a doubt the Soviet teachers and psychologists have been well trained in their own as well as other countries and are using their knowledge as a scaffolding on which to build their own educational system which is being developed according to their special needs. The fact that their educational methods are to a great extent different from the ones we know, is not due solely to a difference between the Russian and Western peoples, but rather to the fact that the Russians are not faced with hampering social inhibitions and traditions of the type which have such a detrimental influence on progressive education in capitalistic countries.

The previous paragraph is not meant to imply that development of the child as an individual is completely left out of Communist pedology, but it is decidedly secondary to training in collectivism -- a method of education which is natural enough in a society which had its great prophets and leaders before it came into existence and for only a short while afterwards -- especially when that society seeks class dictatorship without even the help of individual champions of the proletarian cause. In present-day Russia, in spite of the stress laid on collective action, craftsmanship is encouraged, especially in the artistic fields. Everyone knows that the Soviets are proud of, and are taking great pains to develop their art, literature, and music, all of which are the results of individualistic thinking and action. They argue that because they place the common labourer on a social level above that held by the artisan, more sincere art is bound to develop because no one but a real artist would be tempted to take up any of the arts or crafts as a profession. I have seen even in the creches an effort towards developing individuality and personal talents. For example, during play hours no child is forced to play with or to be in contact with other children unless he so desires. There is always an empty room or a screened enclosure where any child who wishes may pass his play time alone. It is not unusual to find a child amusing himself in a tiny house which has been especially constructed in one corner of the playroom, so that he can see and be seen by none of the others in the room. Creche children, in spite of the facts that they are mere babies, are supplied with musical instruments, paints, crayons, pencils, or pictures which they can use as they like during their hours of undirected play.

Dr. R---, a Moscow child specialist, expressed the Russian attitude on collectivism as follows: Persons reared individually are social burdens until they become accustomed to living on an equal basis with others and lose any egotism or selfishness which they might have acquired because of secluded upbringing. We aim to rear children who will be socially useful even before they can talk, and for that reason we have attempted to apply collectivism not only to our children's daily chores, but also to their recreation. Toys for individuals exist in our creches because there are individual differences in children, but most of our toys require at least a certain amount of collective effort in order to be enjoyed. Building blocks, puzzle games, etc., are purposely exaggerated in size, partly because children like big and heavy things to play with, and partly because the size and weight of these toys require co-operative effort on their part. Our creche children eat, play, sleep, and perform their physical functions in groups. Painting, drawing and singing are never taught to individual children, but always to groups of them, for they not only enjoy such lessons better when they are with other children but they also learn many valuable lessons in co-operation from each other. Creating a herd is not the object of our training in collectivism because we try to encourage originality by allowing the children free rein with their intellect, which means that we not only allow, but persuade them to use their hours of free play in creative drawing without models, in making up their own stories (if they are old enough to talk), and in inventing any games which may be necessary for their recreation and happiness. During the hours of free recreation every child plays as he likes, but they all play in the same room unless, of course, a child goes off into one of the little houses or behind one of the screens which are provided for those who desire to be absolutely alone. Whenever a child sulks or tries to hide, he is shown how to get away by himself. Our children may express their own personalities as they wish, but they must not be selfish. A child may play with one toy as long as he likes but when he is finished with it he must give it to another child. We do not wish to stress collective thinking too much, for Soviet Russia needs individual thinking and collective action to carry her into a successful future. What we are trying to do is to instill into the character of every Russian child that he must not own anything at the expense of the fellows, and that his society and therefore he, will find it advantageous to co-operate in all activities.

Pedology in the U. S. S. R. has ceased to be merely child study for it has been reduced almost to a science, every phase of which is undergoing experimental research. In spite of the fact that the October Revolution completely renounced Capitalism and its functions, the Russians have not been backward in their study of the educational methods of other countries. They have not followed the methods of any one group of educators; instead, they have gone over all the material which might be of use to them and then have retained only those portions which they feel have a definite value in the fulfillment of Communistic education. They have published so many books of all types on their methods of researches that any Russian can be, and many of them are, well informed as to their actions and theories. It is not difficult to discover what they are trying to do and how they are trying to do it, but in this, as in every phase of Russian life, it is necessary to have a good understanding of the principles underlying the October Revolution, or certain of their practices would be very nearly unintelligible. Basically, education in the U. S. S. R. aims at the same thing as does education in any other system; namely, to bring up a new generation which will tend to realize the ideals of the society in which they live. The difference between Russian education and education in the Western World is fundamentally due to the differences in the ideals of the societies they try to serve. For this reason it seems advisable in studying the Russian methods of child training, to examine the creche regime closely: and Communistic theories of pedology will explain themselves.