Communist International, August 1936

The Care of the Socialist State for the Mother and Child

By Friedrich Wolf*

* Fredrich Wolf, German revolutionary writer and doctor, is well known in Europe for his struggle in Weimar Germany against Paragraph 218, which prohibits abortions. In connection with this struggle he was prosecuted. He also raised the question of abortion in his drama Cyancali, which was very successful among workers in various countries. At the present time he lives in the Soviet Union.

The draft of the new law, dated May 25, 1936, drawn up by the Central Executive Committee of the U.S.S.R. which has called forth a lively discussion, contains four main ideas:

1. Prohibition of abortions, except in cases where there is medical necessity for same.

2. Increased and unusually wide material aid by the government to the mother and child; the provision of government aid to large families.

3. A series of important measures designed to strengthen the rights of the mother (increased alimony payments, punishment of the husband who urges his wife to resort to an abortion, higher divorce fees with a view to render divorce more difficult to obtain, etc.).

4. The call of the government to the toilers of the U.S.S.R. to engage in the broadest possible discussion of the draft through criticism, corrections and addenda, prior to its adoption.

For those in the capitalist world who, like myself, have for many years passionately fought against the "bloody paragraph", Paragraph 218 of the German criminal code, and have always used as a weapon the example of the Soviet Union which, through its law of November 18, 1920, made it possible for the women of the Soviet Union to prevent the birth of unwanted children – for us this draft law was at first unexpected. What impelled the General Executive Committee to replace the law of November, 1920, by a new law? What changes have taken place during this time? What does this "draft" mean? Is not this law again a typical "male" law? How will the women react? Will they be asked to state their opinion? And if so, will they have courage enough openly to state their opinion of this law?

The very day this draft was published a gigantic wave of discussion, criticism and suggestions spread over the entire land. Millions of working men and women from the factories, from the collective farms and Soviet farms, teachers, women aviators, sportswomen, wives of Red Army men, doctors, wives of engineers, cotton pickers from the collective farms of Turkmenistan, women from the fishery collectives of Arctic Siberia – all reacted immediately, expressed their personal opinions, agreed, rejected, proposed additions and corrections. Yes, the family of 170,000,000 people participated in drawing up the new, vitally important law by making countless individual proposals. Absolutely the only case of its kind in history! A shining example of the real rule of the people of Soviet democracy. Of course, "popular votes, referendums", like "ostracism" in the ancient Greek democracy, have occurred under other systems as well. But this vote always amounted to a mere "Yes" or "No". Was there ever any legislation or state which, when bringing forward the draft of a law, turned to all the people, to all the citizens, and. proposed that they introduce their own corrections, that they give detailed criticism?

Let us place this draft law alongside the German Paragraph 218, which has been cynically carried over in un unchanged and fixed form from the situation of the Gruenderjahre following 1871, to the Germany which has 5,000,000 unemployed. Even the report of the reactionary 15th Congress of Doctors in Eisenach, which took place in 1928, calculated that the annual number of illegal abortions, punishable by law, was 800,000! In my drama Cyancali the following words are stated: "A law which annually transforms 800,000 mothers into criminals is not a law!" All jurists and doctors were well aware of this state of affairs and made official declarations in this regard, but our attempts in the "democratic" German republic to bring about a change in the law or to secure a referendum were answered by prison sentences, by a long series of trials, and the application of all methods of police abuse, the methods of the pre-fascist dictatorship. That which is now taking place in the U.S.S.R. where the government's draft bill is transformed into the law of the people, is a clear example of genuine rule by the people.

Many working women, who in the main agree with the draft bill, point out that it is necessary to permit abortions in some exceptional cases, that is, if the health of the as yet unborn child is endangered by a hereditary disease of one or the other of the parents; if the family has many children living in bad conditions; and if the profession of the woman does not permit having many children (aviatrix, sportswomen, artists, working women or collective farm women attending evening university, etc.). In addition some doctors have pointed out that "medical proof" for an abortion must be established with great scientific accuracy. And finally, in the discussion regarding the prohibition of abortions it has been repeatedly pointed out how urgent is the need for developing contraceptive methods and educational work in this sphere. Although a network of free consultation centers exists in the U.S.S.R., where any woman can receive the necessary information, it was nevertheless pointed out in the discussion the number of these centers must be increased, especially in the collective farms.

I consider that it is precisely the full utilization of the criticisms and additions brought forward by the wide range of public opinion in the enterprises, the collective farms, institutions, etc., and in the press, that basically justify the law. And I have not come to this conclusion only yesterday! I have not in the Soviet Union changed the point of view for which I fought in Germany – namely, my negative attitude to Paragraph 218. I will permit myself to cite here the following words pronounced by me at the preliminary investigation before the Stuttgart trial and published in the pamphlet Storming Paragraph 218, which appeared in 1931:

“In conclusion I must make the following statement in the name of my colleague, Doctor Frau Kinle and myself. We are opposed to the cessation of pregnancy and support the regulation of childbirth. In the cessation of pregnancy we see only the ‘last resort', the last means in those cases where contraceptive methods have proven inefficient. We consider it an act of irresponsibility to create new people to suffer from hunger in Germany where hunger and poverty have assumed a chronic character. For myself personally, I would like to add: the problem of Paragraph 218 is only a partial problem of the entire capitalist system. It cannot be solved in a negative fashion! We know that in the Soviet Union the positive solution of this problem, the protection of pregnancy, and of the mother and child is the most important weapon against the epidemic of abortions. We know that our women in Germany as well will again gladly give life to children but not in the Germany of hunger, poverty and slavery, but in free Socialist Soviet Germany.”

I would like once more to state that time and again I defended this point of view in court and at hundreds of meetings in 1931 and 1932. I defended it also in my drama Cyancali where the young working woman, Hete, and the fireman named Paul yield themselves to their natural feelings and are filled with joy at the coming of their child; only a lockout, unemployment and eviction from their apartment force them to resort to an abortion. So my point of view as a passionate fighter against Paragraph 218 was and is that each and every genuine proletarian woman will rejoice in a child which she can bring up under happy conditions. I have always rejected, as a malicious slander against our German working women, the statement made by some Thunselda from the “League of Queen Louise” that: “the wives of German workers only want pleasure, but not children.”

Is it possible, even from the most far-fetched point of view, to compare the Soviet Union of 1936 with capitalist, fascist Germany? Have not the happy conditions, under which one can take on oneself the responsibility for a child, already been created to the highest degree in the Soviet Union? In the Soviet Union, are there unemployment, hunger, economic crises, wage cuts, the cutting down of the network of schools, of social insurance, and of the protection of mother and child? We recall how, even in 1928, the last five million for the feeding of children was erased from the German budget. The state of affairs in the Soviet Union of 1936 is entirely different.

By January 1, 1939, the number of places in maternity hospitals both in the newly built ones in the towns (4,000 beds) and in the villages has to be increased by 43,000; a corresponding increase will likewise take place in the number of nurses and the staffs of maternity hospitals. Regular creches in city and town will receive 900,000 additional places in addition to four million additional places in seasonal creches in the village. The number of places in kindergartens will be brought up to 3,100,000. This year’s budget for the protection of mother and child – 1,481,000,000 rubles – will immediately be increased by an additional appropriation of 692,800,000 rubles this year. This means that for this year the budget for the protection of mother and child amounts to 2,173,800,000 rubles as against 875,000,000 in 1935. The working woman has the right to 56 days' vacation with full pay before and after childbirth. Non-manual working women, who have hitherto received 42 days of vacation before and after birth, will now receive the same as the woman working at the point of production. It is self-understood that women will not lose their jobs in connection with this, but that, on the contrary, according to the draft law, every mother has the right to lighter work at the same enterprise, and at her former pay. Furthermore, the allowance for the feeding of infants is considerably increased.

What country can boast of even approximately equal achievements in the sphere of maternity and childhood, in the sphere of care for the human beings?

But in the process of the discussion numerous corrections have been introduced to this section of the draft law. Working mothers are making the following demands: that the creches stay open for a longer period during the day, so that each mother can utilize her evenings for study; the production of more and cheaper children's clothing, etc.; an increase in the number of special rest homes for pregnant women, and the establishment of children's sections in general rest homes and sanatoria so that each mother can take her child with her on vacation; the building of creches and kindergartens closer to the place of work or residence of the parents. These and many other corrections and additions have been proposed.

The draft law was placed for open discussion "from below" before the entire country. Already tens of thousands have expressed their wishes and additions and these proposals will, without doubt, be taken into account.

On reading daily the Soviet press, and listening to the lively, passionate arguments at enterprises, in the villages, at the clubs, one comes to the conclusion that it is precisely these countless critical comments and proposals which show that the basic idea, the kernel of the project has been understood and approved by the entire country. Everywhere one major note is heard: yes, in our Soviet state the conditions exist which make it possible joyfully to give life to children, to bring up children in happy surroundings. In some things we still need help from the state, as, for example, in the question of living quarters, birth-control appliances and methods, but if we take the problem in its perspective – within five to ten years, the present speed of socialist construction, with the growing productivity of labor – these difficulties will, without question, be overcome. For this new world, the first socialist state of workers and peasants, will give a happy life to our children.

[This article by Comrade Friedrich Wolf was written prior to the adoption of the new law of June 27, 1936. Thirty-two days after the people had widely discussed the draft bill, the definite decision was taken by the government to prohibit abortions, to increase material aid to women giving birth to children, to establish state aid for families where there are many children, to extend the network of maternity homes, creches and kindergartens, and to increase the penalty for the non-payment of alimony. Certain alterations in divorce legislation are also made.

The text of the new law was only adopted after a thorough study and examination had been made of many tens of thousands of addenda and amendments proposed by the people of the U.S.S.R. The discussion of the bill, which touches on the vital interests of the millions of the citizens of the U.S.S.R., coincided with the discussion of the draft of the new Constitution.

In the new law regarding the prohibition of abortions, as distinct from the draft, an extension is made of the conditions for the permission of abortions, in case of the existence of serious disease which can be passed on by the parents by heredity. Alterations have been introduced into the article dealing with state aid for families where there are many children. Thus, a family which now has six children (in the draft the figure mentioned was seven) receives an annual payment from the state of 2,000 rubles, for a period of five years from the date of birth of every succeeding child. A point has been introduced to extend the operation of the law to families which already have many children. According to the new law, in accordance with the numerous proposals made by the people, a two-shift system is established in the creches which shall be open “for 16 hours per day, including rest days". Certain changes have been introduced into the figures referring to the exaction of the payment of alimony.

In the new law of June 27 there is reflected the care of the socialist state for women and the future citizens of the U.S.S.R. Mothers in the U.S.S.R., as in no country in the world, are surrounded by the love of the entire people. In the capitalist countries, as is well known, abortions are also prohibited. But what is there in common between the hypocrisy and the lying "care” for women in the capitalist countries where unemployment, hunger, poverty, prostitution, and the deprivation of rights exist, and the real day-to-day care by the socialist state of workers and peasants, for the mothers of the U.S.S.R., who have equal rights and are free and happy?

Editorial Board]

Click here to return to the index of archival material.