Stalin's Oxymorons: Social State, Law and Family[1]

Ideologies of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels
The Bolsheviks' Views on Family Structure
Stalin's Coming to Power/New Family Reforms
Mothers' Hardships in Raising Their Children
Housing Problems (Komunalkas)
List of Works Cited

                                     [The family] will be sent to a museum of antiquities
                                                                   so that it can rest next to the spinning wheel
                                                                            and the bronze axe, by the horsedrawn carriage,
                                                                                            the steam engine, and the wired telephone.
                                                                                           S.Ia.Vol’fson, 1929, Soviet sociologist[2]

                                        In 1928, afteryears of unrest, Russia embraced a new leader Iosef Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, better known as Joseph
                                                Stalin. His leadership brought numerous political, social and economic changes, and the reformation of a family structure was among
                                                them. Stalin aimed to strengthen Soviet families and give mothers more responsibilities in rearing their children. These views
                                                significantly differed from the views of the earlier Socialist ideologists, such as Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, two
                                                nineteenth-century German philosophers, who were the founders of the socialist movement. They had argued that the concept
                                                of family was obsolete and proposed a new family structure based on the state’s supervision and support. This ideology was
                                                widely accepted by the Bolsheviks, who took it even further, arguing that in the social state, families would "wither away,"
                                                freeing mothers from household work and allowing them to participate in the "building of socialism." Yet Stalin’s vision of a
                                                strong family was directed towards minimizing the state’s spending on social programs during the years of industrialization and
                                                World War II. And, although this goal was achieved, many families fell apart, and mothers faced great economic and social
                                                hardships raising their children.

                                        In order to understand the basic structure of the Soviet family and role of mothers in it, it is necessary to look into the
                                                origins of Soviet ideology, which found its roots in the works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. In The German Ideology,
                                                Marx and Engels introduced a utopian idea of a proletarian family as "a prototype of future social relations" (Goldman, 34).
                                                This idea promoted family unions based on mutual affection of the spouses towards each other, unlike nineteenth-century
                                                bourgeois marriages, which were allegedly based on property. This idea of a marriage based on love and affection between
                                                two proletarian individuals, who usually lacked any private property, appeared in many of Marx’s and Engels’ other works,
                                                such as Principles of Communism (1847), Draft of a Communist Confession of Faith (1847), Manifesto of the
                                                Communist Party (1848), and The Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884).

                                                           Furthermore, in their The German Ideology, Marx and Engels proposed the transfer of all domestic work done in individual
                                                households to the public or state sphere. They addressed the question of women’s household work, stating "that a communal
                                                domestic economy was a necessary prerequisite for women’s liberation" (Goldman, 33). This idea, although not clearly stated,
                                                assumed the ultimate "withering away" of individual families and presented a new image of a state as a big and happy family.

                                         The concept of the "withering away" of the individual family was eagerly adopted by future generations of Soviet activists,
                                                the Bolsheviks, and was promoted by Lenin. Yet the Bolsheviks took this idea much further, arguing that children would be
                                                taken care of in state public nurseries, schools and childcare centers. The state would assume the parental role completely. And
                                                mothers were even encouraged to abandon "their narrow and irrational love for their children" (Goldman, 9). V.Diuchen, an
                                                educator, argued that "mothers did children more harm than good, for even ‘mother-pedagogues’ were incapable of
                                                approaching ‘their children with sufficient objectivity’" (Goldman, 9). Furthermore, in October 1918 the Central Executive
                                                Committee of the Soviet (VtsIK) passed a complete Code on Marriage, the Family, and Guardianship. Alexander Goikhbarg,
                                                the idealistic author of the Code, intended this document to "[prepare] the way for a time when ‘the fetters of husband and
                                                wife’ would become ‘obsolete’" (Goldman, 1). Goikhbarg and his fellow revolutionaries believed that socialism would resolve
                                                all problems regarding family and outside-the-house work. They had a vision that "the tasks performed by millions of individual
                                                unpaid women in their homes would be taken over by paid workers in communal dining rooms, laundries, and childcare
                                                centers" (Goldman, 3). However, when the new government under Stalin’s leadership replaced the existing one, these utopian
                                                ideas were almost completely abandoned - mothers were encouraged to actively participate in the raising of their children,
                                                therefore minimizing the state’s expenses on childcare.

                                        With Stalin’s coming to power, the concept of family and motherhood became more stabilized. Parents were once again
                                                assigned the responsibility to care for their children. The state allocated resources to help mothers, especially those with
                                                numerous children. Bernice Madison, author of "Social Services for Women: Problems and Priorities," described the position of
                                                Russian mothers in 1935 in the following way: "To this end, it [the state] made modest family allowances available to mothers of
                                                large families; [and] expanded the network of socio-legal bureaus established in 1933 to assist mothers to deal with social
                                                problems" (Lapidus, 308). In addition, state programs included an increased number of preschools, improved care for
                                                handicapped and delinquent children, and some, although limited, foster care units. During the Second World War, these
                                                programs were not terminated, and in 1944, the government even introduced another Code of Family Law, which strengthened
                                                the importance of marriage and made divorces harder to obtain.

                                                            During Stalin’s leadership Russian families remained as entities supported by the state. However, Stalin’s plans,
                                                which included turning the family into a stable unit of society, were not only directed towards minimizing the governmental expenses:
                                                strong families now represented one of the many ways to control Soviet citizens politically. This meant that a strong family, in which
                                                members would be "more loyal to the state than to each other," would discourage people from any actions against the existing
                                                political order, therefore strengthening Stalin’s totalitarian regime (Shlapentokh, 25). Vladimir Shlapentokh, a professor of
                                                sociology at Michigan State University in East Lansing, wrote the following on Stalin’s views on a family: "Stalin, like other
                                                potentates, believed the stable family was an additional bond that weakened people’s inclination to opposition activity, made
                                                them seek material well-being, and so made them much more dependent on the state" (Shlapentokh, 25). Stalin’s idea of a
                                                family that was stable and dependent on the state was useful during the years of The Great Terror - mass purges that took
                                                place in the mid-thirties. As described in Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, the purges touched each household in the
                                                Soviet Union. The police used family members as informers and even as witnesses against their relatives. Pavel Morozov may
                                                serve as an example of how strong and successful the state’s propaganda was regarding family members as informers.
                                                Morozov renounced his stigmatized parents, who were declared "the enemies of the people" and exiled into one of the many
                                                labor camps (gulags) existing in the country. Pavlik Morozov’s "heroic deed" inspired many young komsomols, who canonized
                                                Morozov as the patron saint of the komsomol.

                                                                Nevertheless, despite Stalin’s efforts to strengthen the family, in the late 1930s, during the time of great upheavals in the
                                                Soviet Union, families began to fall apart. Family bonds proved to be too fragile to withstand harsh social and economic changes as
                                                Stalin’s drastic attempts to bring the country to the same level of industrialization as the Western world, and the introduction of
                                                collectivization and the five-year plans took place. Already in the early 1930’s, the divorce rate began to rise to epidemic rates.
                                                Sheila Fitzpatrick, author of Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s, wrote
                                                the following on the subject of divorce in the 1930s: "Millions of men left home during collectivization; some kept in touch with
                                                their families in the village, others did not. Divorce was easy "and in any case there was no pressure to register marriages"
                                                (Fitzpatrick, 139). Moreover, in the 1930’s many Russians viewed any type of serious relationship as marriage and were not
                                                eager to formally register their relationships. In fact, many "wives" complained to the authorities that their "husbands" were
                                                taking numerous "wives" in different cities, accusing their spouses of polygamy. Therefore, due to the fact that so many families
                                                were left without male breadwinners, women now had to fill the role of providers in the Soviet families.

                                        To add to the fact that under Stalin’s government family structure deteriorated, mothers,
                                                especially single ones, had a very hard time raising their children due to intolerable economic and social conditions. From the
                                                late 1920s through the 1940’s food and consumer goods shortages were severe and chronic. Under the First Five-Year Plan
                                                (1929-32), all of the country’s resources were concentrated on the industrialization of the Soviet Union - "the top priority and
                                                consumer goods took a poor second place" (Fitzpatrick, 42). Throughout the USSR, mothers (for it was the job of the mothers
                                                to acquire food for the family) stood for hours and hours in bread lines during the years of famine in 1932 until 1940. One
                                                mother from Penza wrote to her daughter: "’There is an awful panic with bread here. Thousands of peasants are sleeping
                                                outside the bread stores. ...It went below freezing and seven people froze to death taking bread home’" (Fitzpatrick, 43).
                                                Another woman wrote to her husband from a Iaroslavl kolkhoz (a collective farm): "’We stand in line for bread from 12
                                                o’clock at night, and they only give one kilogram, even if you are dying of hunger’" (Fitzpatrick, 43). Other consumer goods
                                                such as clothing, shoes and textiles were almost impossible to acquire as well.

                                        Furthermore, since all of the state’s resources were concentrated on the industrialization of the country during Stalin’s
                                                Five-Year Plans, no provision was made for residential housing construction. Yet the urban population of the Soviet Union in
                                                the 1930’s continued to grow, and soon the problem of overcrowding touched every Soviet family. In addition to that, most of
                                                the residential buildings were seized by the state, which allowed the authorities to manipulate the living conditions of every
                                                citizen. The statistics show that "in Moscow, average living space was 5.5 square meters per capita in 1930, dropping down to
                                                just over 4 square meters in 1940.... [In] Magnitogorsk and Irkutsk both had under 4 square meters, and in Krasnoiarsk the
                                                per capita norm in 1933 was a mere 3.4 square meters" (Fitzpatrick, 46). Under conditions such as these, mothers could not
                                                allocate enough time for their children, were often preoccupied with household work and sometimes worked outside the family.
                                                Moreover, the lack of housing was one of the key factors leading to child abandonment and neglect in the Soviet Union. Very
                                                often living in the overcrowded apartments, children would be abused by their parents as was in the case of Rosa Vasileva, a
                                                fourteen-year-old Moscow schoolgirl. In 1936 this child wrote to Stalin proposing a "child tax" paid by all Soviet citizens. The
                                                purpose of the tax was to protect children neglected and abused by their parents from the first days of their lives until their
                                                maturity at eighteen.

                                                                In addition, due to lack of proper housing conditions, the birth rate significantly declined during 1930’s and throughout the
                                                1940’s. And, although the law of 1936 prohibited abortions, many women were forced to seek unauthorized abortions in order
                                                to prevent having a child in such deplorable conditions. One woman told a reporter: "My family lives with another family in a
                                                room of 30 meters. Have I the right to allow myself the luxury of bringing a second child into this environment? I think not"
                                                (Fitzpatrick, 153). Stories told by these women certainly prove that Stalin’s efforts to minimize the state’s expenses were
                                                successful; however too many men, women and children were harmed in the process to consider the changes brought by these
                                                efforts beneficial.

                                                        The family is one of the most important units of society. However it would be a very weak, unstable unit if it were not for
                                                women - wives and mothers, who held it together from generation to generation. In Soviet families during Joseph Stalin’s
                                                regime, mothers were especially under a greater deal of pressure to keep their families together, along with raising, feeding and
                                                clothing their children. With Stalin’s coming to power, all the utopian ideas on the subject of families and motherhood, that
                                                emerged in the works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engles decades earlier simply disappeared. There was nothing left of the
                                                Bolsheviks’ vision of families dissolving with time. Stalin was determined to recreate strong families as one of the methods to
                                                minimize state’s expenses and to keep people tied down and unable to resist his totalitarian regime. However, despite the
                                                introduction of various programs that were aimed to attract mothers back into their homes and back to their children, families
                                                proved to be unable to withstand horrible economic conditions and various political and social prosecutions, which were
                                                associated with Stalin’s government.

                                                                                                                       Works Cited
                                                                     (Click Here to View the List of Works Cited for the Whole Site)

                                                Fitzpatrick, Sheila. Everyday Stalinism: Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times: Soviet Russia in the 1930s. New York:
                                                            Oxford University Press, 1999.

                                                Goldman, Wendy Z. Women, the State, and Revolution: Soviet Family Policy and Social Life, 1917 - 1936. New York,
                                                            USA: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

                                                Lapidus, Gail, Dorothy Atkinson, and Alexander Dallin. Women in Russia. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1977.

                                                Shlapentokh, Vladimir. Love, Marriage, and Friendship in the Soviet Union: Ideals and Practices. New York: Praeger,

                                [1]Goldman, Wendy Z. Women, the State, and Revolution: Soviet Family Policy and Social Life, 1917 - 1936. New York,
                                                            USA: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

                                [2]Vol’fson, S. Ia.Sotsiologiia Braka i Sem’i. Minsk, 1929.

                                                            [Sociology of Marriage and Family]

                                      To the Top

                                E-mail me your comments on this essay!