Women in Soviet society were strongly affected by the social consequences of modernization in the Leninist and Stalinist systems. The more radical ideas of social restructuring, which proposed the withering away of the family and the household were shelved in the early 1920s, when the New Economic Policy was introduced. Often, the joys of motherhood were linked to the benefits of Soviet power (Lapidus 11). Individual reproduction was redefined as a social service. Alexandra Kollontai, known for her radical views on women and the family, described the state support of motherhood as a social obligation:
Motherhood must be safeguarded not only in the interest of women, but even more so to meet the difficulties of the national economy in its transformation into a workers’ system: it is necessary to save women's strength from being wasted on the family in order to employ it more reasonably for the benefit of the collective; it is necessary to preserve their health in order to guarantee a steady stream of fit workers for the Workers’ Republic in the future (Lapidus 61).
The Bolshevik views
of the national economy adopted by Lenin
in the 1920’s expected women to reproduce and produce for the Soviet economy's
convenience, regardless of any cost to the women. The cost to maternal
and infant health, to the psychological and social well being of the mother
and child, during the 1930’s was very high indeed. As more and more women
were forced to work for wages with the advent of industrialization, the
conflict between the demands of production and reproduction resulted in
high infant mortality, broken homes, neglected children, and chronic health
problems. The conflict between social production and individual reproduction
is one that arises only under communism.
Motherhood was a social rather than a private matter, and childcare was promoted as being communal rather than domestic. Alexandra Kollontai was confident that the revolution would provide the most favorable conditions for the combination of work and motherhood (Waters 128). Women would have the opportunity to combine motherhood and work without worrying about the welfare of their children. One poster, issued in 1920s, proclaimed the message: “By strengthening the protection of motherhood and childhood, we help the working woman to be an active constructor of socialism,” and illustrated it with a large red woman in factory clothes, a kerchief round her head and a hammer in her hand, against a distant background of crèche buildings (Waters 130). The provision of childcare would increase the number of women working in the economy and their productivity in factory and field. According to Kollontai, a woman would give birth and then return “to the work she does for the large family-society.” Eventually all children would be cared for by the state in public nurseries, childcare centers, and schools. “Society will feed, bring up, and educate the child,” Kollontai predicted. Some theorists argued that parents, referring to women, were not fit to bring up children. Parental ignorance and family egoism stunted children’s development and narrowed their outlook. The state could do a far better job of rearing healthy citizens (Goldman 9). Mothers, according to Bolshevik theory during the early 1920’s, did children more harm than good. Diushen, an educator, sought to create a plan for children’s settlements and towns, populated by 8 to 1,000 children, aged 3 to 18. In his view, state upbringing would “ provide vastly better results than the private, individual, unscientific, and irrational approach for individually ‘loving’ but ignorant parents (Goldman 9). Whatever the reasons were, these services would simply help women to combine work with child rearing.