1920s >> 1928 >> no-281-january-1928
Sex Relations in Russia: Are they revolutionary?
A Bolshevik writer on literature and sex, well known in America, Mr. V. F. Calverton, waxes very enthusiastic on “Red Love in Soviet Russia,” in his magazine, The Modern Quarterly (Nov., 1927), an American journal cultivated by “Red intellectuals.”
The “Red” writer has just returned from Soviet Russia, and admires the “realistic candour” with which Russia is meeting the sex problem.
He quotes at the outset the usual rubbish of Capitalist distortion, such as the following from the “Yellow” morning paper, the New York American of June 12th, 1927, on “Marriage in Russia”:—
A Provincial Control Commission of the Communist Party in examining a member as to his conduct and life, something that is often done, asked him about his morals and sex relations. He replied that he was happily married, had a beautiful wife, loved her, and was faithful to her. The Commission expelled him from the Party on the ground of “holding to small bourgeois principles.”
This type of lie has almost died out here, but in America it still survives. On the other hand, the view is widespread that sex relations in Russia are changing in a Socialist direction, but the evidence advanced does not support that view.
The writer of the article claims to uphold the materialist view of history—but drops it when he deals with sex relations. What material environment is there in Russia upon which new sex relations can flourish? Small private property in the villages and a mixture of State-controlled and privately-owned businesses and industries in the towns! And withal a struggle to maintain pre-war standards of production and to find work for all the able-bodied.
Mr. Calverton deals with some of the changes in woman’s position in Russia, and argues that “woman has been emancipated from her subordination to man, which she still suffers in the ‘civilised’ Western world.”
Marriage in Russia is now a civil function, but the ecclesiastical aspects of it are destroyed. Thus argues Mr. Calverton, but he omits to mention that besides the civil contract, marriage may be celebrated in all the churches in Russia where religion is “reformed,” but still strong.
We are next told that when a woman marries in Russia “she is still a free woman.” This high-sounding phrase, when explained by him, means the domestic code “does not establish community of property between the married persons,” and that change of residence of one of the parties does not oblige the other to follow. Surnames of children may be that of husband or wife, as the couple may decide. The man cannot shirk responsibility for the children, and in case of divorce, we are told, a third of the man’s salary is requisite for the support of each child.
These changes are not revolutionary. “Property rights” of woman have become commonplace in capitalist countries with the entry of woman into business, etc.
Changes as to names and separate residences may be written into statute law, but, like many of the laws which Russia passed in its early Bolshevik days, they must remain dead letters if they conflict with economic conditions. The housing question in Russia is very acute, and to point to laws which allow separate residences for married people only brings up the question, when will even the married workers living together be able to get adequate accommodation in a country where rich and poor still have a real meaning and a real existence?
He quotes Madame Kollantay to the effect that what is revolutionary in Russia’s sex relations is “the creation of a collective responsibility,” “feelings of comradeship,” etc., but no facts are adduced to show its real existence, any more so than in any capitalist State. Engels’s book, The Origin of the Family, is quoted, but no deductions are drawn from the important point made by Engels, that once capitalism is overthrown, the new race growing up under new conditions will fashion their opinions and practice without any regard to what we to-day consider should be their course.
The fact that statute law cannot escape from the dominant influence of material conditions is admitted in the Russian Code quoted in the article :—
Only time and experience will show how many of the provisions of this code belong to the transitional category, features which are destined to vanish with the more perfect establishment of the Socialist order. In certain clauses, however, there is clearly to be discerned a conscious recognition of conditions and habits of life surviving from the old order. Such survivals are inevitable at this time when neither the economic nor the psychological transformation is complete. There are provisions respecting property and income which will inevitably be subject to obsolescence or amendment. The law of guardianship, essentially revolutionary as it is, is yet no more than a first tentative approach to the realisation of collective responsibility for the care of the young. The laws of marriage and divorce still bear traces of the passing order, frank and sensible acknowledgment of the existence of certain economic and psychological conditions only to be overcome when the complete change is accomplished.
All children in Russia are legal. Compared with Czarist Russia, this is an advance, where children were counted illegal where a church marriage had not been performed. And even in this country the interests of property are gradually legalising children born out of wedlock.
A great deal is made of the fact that in Russia divorce can be obtained upon mutual consent on the grounds of incompatibility. Again, if we compare this with Czarist days, it is an advance, as under Nicholas adultery was necessary to obtain divorce. But modern capitalist States are modifying divorce law, and in Puritan America divorces in many States are granted on the slightest pretext.
In Russia Birth Control literature is plentiful. So it is here and generally throughout Europe. With the difference that most people here can read it, but Russia still suffers a large amount of illiteracy. From the Rev. Mr. Malthus (Christian apologist for a ruthless war on the workers) down to Charles Bradlaugh (atheist defender of capital) and on to reformer Marie Stopes, we have had plenty of Birth Control propaganda, and mostly by individualists—clearly showing that it has little revolutionary interest.
Abortion in Russia is legal, but the high birth rate and the low economic development in Russia doubtless plays a large part in welcoming anything to reduce births.
Between 1922 and 1924 more than 55,000 legal abortions were performed in Russian State hospitals. The backward mental development of Russia’s peasantry—her most fruitful populace — necessitated scientifically performing what was generally done in a dangerous way by those who feared every new mouth to feed. The widespread practice of abortion in Russia still shows that birth control literature may be cheap, but the practice of birth control methods among a backward people still very slow.
These reforms may all be well carried out in every capitalist country without in any way weakening the fabric of capitalism. And where they are carried out in some degree as in U.S.A., the individualist and reactionary views of those who are in favour of them is notorious.
Prostitution in Soviet Russia is still strong as it must be in every country where the workers are poor and private property owners are prosperous. All the freedom of marriage laws on paper cannot override the effects of economic life.
The battle with the brothel keepers in Soviet Russia is dealt with by the official journal, Izvestia (November 11th, 1926), quoted by Mr. Calverton.
In 30 States in one year 715 houses of prostitution were opened, chiefly in Moscow, Leningrad, Samara, and Stalingrad. Unemployment of single women was found to be one of the greatest dangers. The Izvestia (November 11th, 1926) states that over 32 per cent. of the prostitutes are occupation house workers.
The Soviets decreed that single women should be laid off last in the event of unemployment. Houses for the Reformation of Prostitutes were opened, and the Commissar of Public Health says that prostitution is on the decline. No figures are quoted to show this, but in any case the causes are still there and the attempts at reforming are little in advance of the Salvation Army.
Summing up the general sex relations, it is obvious that there is nothing beyond the process of reform from the barbaric condition of Czarist laws to laws more suitable to capitalist development.
International Socialism, on the other hand, will not deal with effects of capitalist conditions, but lay the economic foundations upon which new sex relations will flourish, freed entirely from the trammels of property and economic insecurity.