Under the First Five-Year Plan (1929-32), heavy industry was the top priority, while consumer goods took a second place. Bread, meat, milk, butter, and vegetables, not to mention necessities like salt, soap, kerosene, and matches were in short supply. From Penza, a mother wrote to her daughter: “There is an awful panic with bread here. Thousands are sleeping outside the bread store. It went below freezing and seven people froze to death” (Fitzpatrick 72). People stood in lines for as long as five hours to get two kilograms of rye bread. A single mother wrote to her husband from Iaroslav: “We go hungry for two days… send us something, or we will die of hunger” (Fitzpatrick 43). A woman, who hearing her children cry for bread, “got up and went into the kitchen and ended her life” (Fitzpatrick 147). Clothing, shoes and all kinds of consumer goods were in even shorter supply than basic foodstuff. In Iaroslav as the new school year began in 1935, not one single pair of children’s shoes was in the stores (Fitzpatrick 45).
In May 1936, the government
put out a draft law to strengthen the family whose most notorious aspect
was the prohibition of abortion (Fitzpatrick
154). The draft law dealt with major topics:
abortion, child support, and rewards for mothers of many children.
It proposed to prohibit abortion except when the mother’s life was threatened.
Women themselves would be publicly censured for their first illegal abortion
and fined up to 300 rubles. It was strongly enforced, which produced
a noticeable effect on urban births, temporarily reversing their decline
and raising the birth rate from under 25 per thousand to almost 35 per
thousand in 1940 (Fitzpatrick 155).
Considering that there was no improvement in housing conditions and scarce
introduction of child care centers in this period, the associated suffering
must have been very great.
In the 1930’s, after the introduction of the Five-Year Plan, proposals emerged urging an expansion of the network of maternity homes, increased maternity benefits and the introduction of allowances for mothers of seven or more children. The assumption of state responsibility for the welfare of mothers and children was an investment in human capital. Vera Lebedeva, the head of the Department for the Protection of Maternity and Infancy, defended the view of maternity as a social contribution:
When a woman gives life to a child, she performs work every bit as important as that of an engineer who constructs roads for the children she bears may later become a civil engineer and build roads. The state needs children, and therefore it must make provisions for them. Do not, therefore, suppose that when the state takes thought for mothers in childbirth and for the newly born child, and when it combats infant mortality, it performs a charitable action. Oh no; in so doing the state takes thought of itself too and pays only a very small part of its debt to you” (Lapidus 61).
The payment of benefits to mothers of many children was an embodiment of Stalin’s great concern for the Soviet family, women and children, introducing a cult of motherhood. Mothers with seven children were to receive cash payments of 2000 rubles a year for five years, with additional payments for each child up to the eleventh (5000 rubles) (Fitzpatrick 152). V. Zimina, a working woman, for example, announced: “ I am overjoyed. I am ready to give birth every year” (Evans 763). Another article emphasized that “only in the USSR can the beautiful instinct of motherhood be freely followed.” Supposedly, no woman would feel fulfilled without children, and it was even asserted that only the caring for one’s own offspring could provide this satisfaction. (Evans 763-764). The mother of one child must be treasured as the future mother of eight. However, it seemed very unlikely that mothers with eleven to thirteen children would have the time to be engaged in activities outside the home.