Love, Marriage and Divorce In Russia
In the radical movement of the last hundred years or so the “woman question” has loomed large. In fact, amongst the self-styled “intellectuals” the enthusiasm for the emancipation of love from property fetters appeared to rival the enthusiasm for the emancipation of labour. Consequently, after the revolution in Russia had been accomplished and groups of “advanced” people abroad had swallowed the delusion that Socialism had been achieved in one country, it was accepted that woman in Russia had been freed from the shackles property had fastened upon her, and free relations between the sexes had at last become the social custom. Early reports gave some colour to this view. The Soviet Union was held up to admiring gaze as a model of sanity in sex relationship and we were regaled with stories of the love life of bright young women, married and unmarried, who had enjoyed the felicity of numerous husbands to the satisfaction and happiness of all concerned. Knowledge of birth control methods was widespread, abortion was permitted and, at the worst, the State cared for children, so that women were relieved of their worst burdens. It may be noted in passing that the benevolence of the State sprang from motives that had nothing to do with helping women to engage in untrammelled love affairs. Labour was urgently needed for industrial operations and women who were free from the burden of children provided a part of this labour.
Inspired by the false dawn in Russia an American biologist decided that the appropriate time had come to give the world at large views that he had long restricted to a privileged few, which contained his vision of humanity freed from evolutionary influences that were leading the human race to disaster. The book he wrote on the subject was entitled “Out of the Night” (published by Gollancz in 1936) and the biologist was H. J. Muller. He was professor of Zoology, University of Texas; Member, National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A.; and, finally, Foreign Member, Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R. In his preface to the book Professor Muller writes, in connection with the views on eugenics he is putting forward:—
“In the meantime, our airy imaginings concerning the future possibilities of co-operative activity on a grand scale are brought down to earth and given substance when we turn to the great and solid actualities of collective achievement which are becoming increasingly evident in that one section of the world—the Soviet Union—in which the fundamental changes in the economic basis have already been established. More intimate familiarity with these developments at the time of writing would have rendered available a mass of material pertinent to our subject. There the march of progress proceeds apace, while elsewhere discouragement and decadence admittedly deepen. This central fact of the present-day social world at once substantiates, and belittles our theorising. (P. 8.)
As we shall see, it is a pity that the learned professor did not leave his visions for a while and familiarise himself with the real foundations of Soviet Russia. However, let us first of all summarise the nature of his visions.
The professor advocates a form of eugenic procedure which, he claims, will ensure the improvement of the human race to such an extent that the next few centuries will concentrate within them biological improvement and terrestrial control equivalent to the progress achieved in the thousands of years between the amoeba and modern man. For example, he envisages a time when, on the basis of recent progress in biological investigation and experiment, the human egg-cell will be impregnated and germinate into the embryo and the child outside the human body; thus banishing from love relations the biological function of procreation. He looks forward to the time, now within the realms of possibility, when male cultures and female egg-cells will be stored and labelled, to be mixed later on principles that will ensure the procreation of only the best physical and mental types. This final fruition of biological genius he leaves, however, to the distant future. In the meantime he alleges that there are some things that can be done and he looks to Russia, the Mecca of his hopes, to initiate the first steps because, as he puts it, they can only be satisfactorily begun in a community from which private property has been banished. He argues that female insemination by artificial methods has now been advanced to a stage where woman can choose the father of her children without needing the intervention of sex relations. He argues that it is only a short biological step forward to be able to ensure the storage of male cultures for an indefinite period. The advantage of this would be that while it is impossible to determine during the lifetime of a prominent man whether or not he was of a superior type the lapse of, say, twenty-five years after his death should be sufficient to settle this problem and his culture would be available for insemination. Lest the reader has a vision of enormous storage spaces it is only fair to give the professor’s estimate of what it might amount to. He assures us that if all the heritable characteristics (all that grows into legs, bodies, heart, lungs, eyes, brains, and so forth) of the whole of the next generation of mankind were gathered into a heap it would be about the size of an aspirin tablet. So that solves that worry! In a wild burst of ecstacy he asks:
“How fortunate we should be had such a method been in existence in time to have enabled us to secure living cultures of some of our departed great! How many women, in an enlightened community devoid of superstitions, taboos and sex slavery, would be eager and proud to bear and rear a child of Lenin or Darwin! Is it not obvious that restraint, rather than compulsion, would be called for? ” (P. 152.)
Well! the writer can imagine a lot of women that would not be enamoured with the project. After all it is they, and not the professor, who would have to undergo the pains of childbirth after insemination.
Still, we are not at the moment concerned with a discussion of the professor’s visions of the future. What we are concerned with is the false estimate that he, in common with others of his type, has made of the present shape of things in Russia.
Since Professor Muller’s book appeared a drastic change has been apparent in the attitude of Russia’s rulers to sex relations. This change has been bound up with the growth of Russia into a first-class industrial and military power based upon the following of methods previously adopted by Western powers to secure dominance. The wealth of Russian privileged groups has reached such a pitch that an English communist has had to write a pamphlet in defence of Russian millionaires. In this pamphlet (“Soviet Millionaires” by R. Bishop) mention is made of the change in the Soviet law of inheritance in 1945 aimed at securing priority to the children of the testator in the distribution of his property (page 11). The inference from this is obvious and partly explains the recent tightening up of divorce regulations. But there are other reasons as well, and of equal importance.
In the general tightening up of regulations concerning marriage and divorce the use of birth control methods has been restricted, abortion has become a crime, and divorce has been so hedged around by restrictions that it is almost impossible for any but the wealthy to obtain release from the marriage tie. In 1944 decorations were offered to women for the bearing of large families, but the limitations on divorce and the other methods aimed at increasing the birth-rate suggest that the answer of women to this empty flattery has not produced the desired result. Why does Russia so urgently need an increase in the birth-rate? To increase the measure of happiness of the people? No! The reasons are as sordid as those that inpired the Nazi regime and all modern states.. Russia needs children as exploitable material for her industries and as cannon fodder in future wars. Hence the sex relations are controlled and directed for these purposes and to secure the inheritance of property within a certain circle. Thus, in this sphere of human relationships the Russian regime is back behind its starting point. The accumulation of wealth in the hands of individuals has necessitated decrees securing the right of inheritance and this., in turn, demands that the parentage of children shall be put beyond the bounds of reasonable doubt. In other words, the property development that brought into existence the monogamic family is exerting its influence with increasing force in Russia to-day.
Thus the delusion that Russia was the Mecca of freedom in sex relations has vanished along with the immediate hopes of Professor Muller. But the imposition of restrictions has not yet finished.
The Manchester Guardian for April 9th contains the report of a lecture to a large audience in Russia on “Love, Marriage and the Family in Socialist Society ” by Professor Kolbanovsky. The lecture shows how drastically the Russian attitude has changed. The report is from Moscow and is by Alexander Werth. The following extracts need little comment:—
“A special reason for this great interest in the lecture was that some drastic new marriage and family legislation is now being considered by a special Government committee . . . The Soviet divorce laws were greatly stiffened in 1944, but he indicated that they would be stiffened still further. Without ‘prophecying’ what the new laws would be, he spoke very harshly of the disastrous effect on a child’s mind of his parent’s divorce, adding that ‘for living parents to create semi-orphans is an act of criminal baseness.’ ”
“In Soviet society to-day there were still many deplorable survivals of the capitalist way of thinking and acting. Also, some vulgar and unworthy ideas on ‘free-love’ which flourished in the early days of the revolution—and which Lenin wholeheartedly condemned—had not yet been quite eradicated. Such revolting practices were unworthy of Soviet society.”
. . .
“It was true, he said, that some marriages broke up owing to monotony and boredom. ‘Variety’ should, therefore, be provided by the wife herself. It was important, for instance, that the wife should develop and grow intellectually, that man and wife should have new interests, that these interests should be closely linked with those of the country and community; that they should also take a common interest in the upbringing of their children. . . . As for the ‘free-love’ theories, the lecturer recalled that there were indeed some ‘Marxist’ theorists in the past who claimed that the family was a bourgeois institution, and that the State should take charge of the children. No! said the lecturer. Socialism rejected this ‘stud farm’ principle; nor was the family a ‘property unit,’ as in bourgeois society, but it was a vital ‘social unit,’ and, under Socialism, the monogamous family had a better chance than under any other system. Woman would be more and more freed of all drudgery and petty worries, her mental interest in her husband would increase, and that was a guarantee for a lasting association.”
. . .
“Another peculiarity of Soviet society was, he said, that all conditions were being, and would continue to be, created for having an unlimited number of children ; the economic reasons for birth control would be eliminated.”
It will be noticed that it is the women who are to have the pains and the responsibilities and the subjection. They are to keep their husbands interested and to have large families. In other words, they are to be the slaves of the monogamic family. One is tempted to echo the phrase of the dustman in one of Shaw’s plays: “Bourgeois morality. Pah!”