10 October, 2013
The emergence of the Bolsheviks and liberation of citizens in terms of divorce, abortion, and other cultural values met opposition in the 1930s. The “new Soviet” with values and morals altered by the government were now being curtailed, specifically for women when “[o]n May 26, 1936 the draft of a law ‘On the Protection of Motherhood and Childhood’ was published in Soviet newspapers” (Seventeen Moments). Freedom to divorce and have abortions was seen as a threat to the family unit, so the government took action to reinforce the family values it had originally aided in debilitating (at least in the minds of the leaders).
The 1930s evidence of “a declining birth rate” raised worry over the future of the Soviet Union, ushering in a law against abortion and supporting growth of the family. In Seventeen Moments, according “[t]o Stalin, giving birth was ‘a great and honorable duty’ which was ‘not a private affair but one of great social importance'” (Seventeen Moments). In other words, motherhood was for the state and for society, not a light decision that could jeopardize the future of the Soviet Union.
The greatest opposition came from young women in cities whose concerns were the “strains that bearing and raising children would impose on their pursuit of a career, on available living space, and other quotidian concerns” (Seventeen Moments). For example, a mother wrote, from the Discussion in Izvestiia, May 29, 1936, stating, “[f]or eighteen years I went out to work and was a member of a Trade Union for fourteen years (1918-32). Then I had a daughter. After the girl had… frequently fallen ill, the doctors advised me to take her home and look after her personally. I was working at the Soyuz factory where I was released after procuring a certificate stating the reason for my absence. But after a while the Group organizer refused to mark my Trade Union card and thus annulled my standing as a worker…I think this was wrong” (Seventeen Moments). Contemporary controversy over a woman’s rights over her body were not within the debate.
The “On the Protection of Motherhood and Childhood” law was passed in 1936 and “[t]he number of officially recorded abortions dropped sharply from 1.9 million in 1935 to 570,000 in 1937, but thereafter began to climb, reaching 755,000 in 1939. Despite criminal liability for performing illegal abortions, the actual number was probably a good deal higher” (Seventeen Moments).
As stated in Freeze, Stalin proclaimed, “‘[l]ife has become more joyous’…the myth of a joyful people achieving great feats and adoring their genial leader – was woven into the fabric of Soviet Life” (Freeze 362). The government pushed the “happy life” of a family, pushing to continue population growth and family growth, rather than push independence and individuality. Like so many things, the Bolsheviks and Stalin were pulling back on past promises and tightening their grip on power. The peasants were systematically put under government control, working for the collective. Politically, the de-kulakization pushed the disbursement of the peasantry, removing the “richer” peasants from the stratified peasantry. Further, the “mir” was dissolved and an internal passport system was implemented. The economy of the peasants was seen as “backward” and “capitalist” leading to collectivized farms more in line with the Soviet way of life. State farms, collective farms and machine tractor stations established an economy based on collectivized farming. This allowed for political control and modernization. The MTS provided a mode be make make use of costly/vital materials.
The Soviet Union had to be sustained at all costs. Promoting the family led to a collectivized society, rather than promoting independence and individuality. The political motivations to dissolve the peasantry to a singular level, the economics of collectivized farming, and the cultural shift would lead the Soviet Union into the 1940s and World War II, with Stalin at the helm.
Seventeen Moments: http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1936abortion&Year=1936&navi=byYear
Seventeen Moments: http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=article&ArticleID=1936izabort1&SubjectID=1936abortion&Year=1936
Gregory L. Freeze, Russia: A History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 362.