Two Interviews

Aleksandra Kollontai

I

The New Morals
(1930)*

Redactor:

Will you tell us something about the new morals in Soviet Russia and what about the family in future. Will it always exist, or do you believe that a new social and economic basis of society will change fundamentally the present form of family life?

Kollontai:

What is there still left of the family? The family was strong and needed by humanity at a time when the family unit was itself a producer (the farmer family even now, for instance under the capitalistic system), when the parents were the sole educators of the young generation, when private household in towns was an economical necessity, in short, when the community had not yet overtaken the functions which in former days represented the family functions.

All countries are at present going through an era, when the family in the old conception of the world is getting more and more unnecessary, more useless. Society, the state, the municipalities overtake the burden of children’s education and instruction. The municipalities or cooperatives build houses that suit the modern needs of a very restricted or even not private household at all. Women go more and more into business, into salaried work and employments of all kinds.

If the diminishment of family bounds is an undeniable tendency even in capitalistic states, the more this tendency exists in the Soviet Union with its thoroughly different economic and social construction. Divorces have become very common all over the world. Yet fingers are pointed at Soviet Russia only because this country has laws that permit to all married couples, not only those who have sufficient money, to end the hypocrisy which in other countries is suffered to exist because of the outworn laws and church prejudices. We work to develop a new psychology. The relations between the sexes have to be built up on real and true comradeship. We stand for free relations between the sexes, relations based not on economic speculations, but on real comradeship and love. But that does not diminish the duties that a mother or a father has towards his child. Soviet Union laws are very strict and clear about this, there is no difference between a couple that has not registered its marriage and those who live in an unregistered union. But the law demands from the father to pay alimony for his child. The man cannot forsake the woman and the child. He is bound to pay alimony. And not only the law, but the community where he lives, his own comrades will insist to make him fulfil his duty towards the child and the women. It is a moral pressure that sustains the legal pressure. The state renders social and economical help to mother and child, the community bears the chief responsibility for the children’s education. A whole system of social and pedagogical institutions have the charge to guide the entire cultural development of the youth. The physical and moral health of the children in Soviet Union is under social control and the whole community bears in an organised way the moral charge for the growing up generation. ‘Be mother not only to your own children but to all the children of the labouring community’ was our motto from the very beginning of the revolution.

But as long as the social community cannot provide the financial resources to overtake the whole burden of bringing up the generation, it remains the duty of the parents to take part in the supporting of the children. It is a bad joke to speak of ‘equality’ in a case when the man forsakes the woman, his comrade, and leaves all the economical burden for their children on her shoulders. We are not for ‘equality’ in this sense. We are for real good comradeship, where the partner in love and in marriage bears his part of responsibility.

Redactor:

But does not the feverish tempo in Soviet Union make women more irresponsible to life and its obligations?

Kollontai:

What do you mean by ‘irresponsible’? If you mean their household duties and home, then women are just trying to eliminate the many unnecessary factors of life that keep them back and hold up inequality. Freedom does not mean laxness, nor detachment, nor irresponsibility. Freedom from the useless drudgeries of domesticity, freedom from abject devotion, but above all, freedom for development. Our new social system gives freedom to millions of women, but until they are practically free from domestic shackles the freedom of a woman will never be on the level of a man's. But we work to educate both men and women and to organise their lives after the socialistic principles that are the foundation of our Soviet state.

The Soviet woman does not regard her private home as the centre of her life. If she has to choose between her obligations to the state and community or her private household, she will certainly neglect the last and not the first. But that is not the purpose to neglect either, as long as one has it, a private home. The aim in our socialistic world is to organise life in a way, so as to avoid such collisions, by restricting the household and home duties and by developing all sorts of social ways to liberate the women from the tiresome toil of housework and to help mothers to bring up their children. That is the problem.

But if you think that Soviet Union is educating its population in the moods of irresponsibility, then you are very mistaken. It is absolutely the reverse. In no country of the world is responsibility so highly cherished. Take one of the latest brilliant speeches of Stalin. Responsibility to the state and community first of all, and at the same time responsibility to those to with whom you are connected personally -- the woman you love and the man you love.

I should say people in Soviet Union have a much greater consciousness than before. They think more about their relation to society than ever before. And their social responsibility has not diminished but grown. [Today women, even in the Eastern part of the Soviet Union and in the far-off villages do not marry at 14 or 15 and start bearing children from then on. To-day women rationalise more about the advent of children.] Under the tzarist regime the number of children deserted by their mothers was quite appalling. Was that ‘responsibility’ to life? Today both men and women although they know that the state will assume a great amount of responsibility towards the child are educated not to forget their personal obligations towards their children. Women are trying therefore not to assume motherhood obligations until they feel they can fulfil them. Is this attitude condemnable?

Redactor:

Does not the facility of divorce laws create a psychology in the woman wherein she does not adapt herself to married life in a serious effort?

Kollontai:

Marriage laws have never really kept up marriage if the union is not held together by other bonds - love and comradeship. Is it not so in all other countries that the majority of marriages exist on mere tolerance and continue out of habit or from mere practical and economic views? And still, you can see it from statistics, you can see it from the modern literature, - every country in the world is experiencing a divorce era. Even under the capitalistic regime. Yet fingers are pointed to Soviet Union as though she were the only country in the world which permitted divorce. But divorce, as I told you already, does not free a man or a woman from mutual obligations or economic and moral duties towards the child. If there is a country where moral duties towards not only the community in its whole, but duties to each other (parents to their children and children to old or sick parents) - are kept high, so that is the Soviet Union.

Redactor:

What is, or what should be - the prime interest of the Soviet woman: love for a man - or for the state, the community?

Kollontai:

Society must come first. Love? – ah, yes. It has its place in the life of woman, just as in the life of a man. But when a woman has diverse interests, when she has work she cherishes, then love does not control her life. And if love has disappointed her – and it often does - she can never break down if she has her work and her obligations to the community to which she. Therefore we women of the Soviet Union, we give our first and enduring love to the socialistic society, that we are building up with enthusiasm and energy and that gives us the opportunity to be a free soul and to do useful work that we cherish. That is the only way to outgrow the antique Eva of the past and to remodel the woman into a valuable and complete personality adapted to a better and progressive world of to-morrow.

*Vladimir Chechentsev writes ‘I quote two sentences of A. Kollontai to confirm the view that the interview was conducted in the first half of 1930.
1.’ Take one of the latest brilliant speeches of Stalin.’ – Such high appreciations of Stalin are typical since 1930.
2.’Therefore we women of the Soviet Union we give our first and enduring love to the socialist society, that we are building up with enthusiasm and energy and that gives us the opportunity to be a free soul and to do useful work that we cherish.’ – But only from 1936 the Soviet leadership proclaimed publicly the building of socialism in the Soviet Union. In Stalin's report On the Draft Constitution of the USSR of November 25, 1936: ‘... a socialism for the USSR is what has been achieved and won’.

RGASPI  F.134. Op.1. D.309. L 1-6.
Typewritten text in English. Orthographic corrections have been made

II

On the New Abortion Law
(July 17, 1936)


How do the women in the Soviet Union stand towards the new abortion law?

I would like to first point out the fact that it is an error to place the question of abortion in the foreground in the assessment of the June 27 law. The new law has another and very particular purpose: to give women an even greater possibility than before of combining motherhood with an occupation. Seven out of the eight articles of the law deal with the increased provisions for mother and child. With this law the Soviet state emphasises once again its principled position towards motherhood. Motherhood is not a private affair but a natural social function of women. From the first day of the existence of the Soviet state, Soviet legislation always emphasised the view that women have two primary tasks in the new society: to be active citizens of the state and at the same time not to neglect motherhood. But so that women can fulfill their occupation and citizen’s duty without disadvantage to motherhood, the state must make sure that motherhood is made easier in all possible ways, on the one hand by a broad network of social institutions for children‘s welfare (nurseries, kindergartens, children‘s colonies, homes for mothers, etc.), on the other hand by state material support for the mother, and finally by detailed legislation that governs the question of child support. The new law of June 17 is really a logical extension of this principle.

With this law the Soviet government takes on a huge material obligation in its budget, in order to accomplish the expansion of the institutions for the well-being of mothers and children and make accommodations for women, so that they can fulfill their two tasks without disadvantage to the one by the other.

But what does article 1) of the law mean, which abolishes the former law for the permissibility of abortions and forbids abortions?

The law about the permissibility of abortions was approved in 1920 in the Soviet Union under the pressure of specific unfavourable conditions that prevailed in the country at that time. The Civil War was not yet over. Severe economic living conditions prevailed and the main task for the country fighting for its freedom consisted in

using all forces for the building of a new social order. Women as active citizens of the state had to take part, even if their maternal duties were thus left behind.

Although the government legally recognised motherhood as a function of women of equal value as their work for the state, the state could not yet sufficiently guarantee women as mothers. Thus, under these conditions the law permitting abortions was approved.

Now the population of the Soviet Union is living under completely different, more favourable and more fortunate conditions. The well-being of people in the city and particularly in the countryside has been greatly improved over the last years. The position of women as a work group has been strengthened. The time has come for the state and society to do all they can and must to give women the opportunity of not only having an occupation but also of being mothers.

But the old law on abortions did not prevent women from becoming mothers. There was no compulsion for abortions?

Yes, of course there was no compulsion. But there is a psychological factor here, against which the new law will fight strenuously. That is the psychology of men. As I already said, in the family law of the Soviet Union there is a provision about the payment of child support. But it must be said that much too often men have tried to avoid fulfilling their obligations. In many cases it was particularly the man who urged the woman to get an abortion, so that he would not have to pay child support. I would like to particularly point out that the first article of the law contains a very strong provision against anyone who influences a woman to have an abortion. Such an action is considered criminal.

The fight against abortion in the law of June 27 has a very particular purpose: to educate men to a greater responsibility towards their comrades, the women. In article 8 of the new law the question of child support is heavily stressed. Also the non-payment of child support is considered criminal. The law establishes a series of measures to lighten the economic load of motherhood for the woman, while on the other hand the law imposes a much greater obligation than before on the man towards his children,

How does the new law make life easier for women?

First of all we increased the amount of state support for the mother. Second it is punishable to refuse employment to a woman due to her pregnancy. Also the legal pregnancy leave is increased by law to 56 days, also for office workers. Every family that has more than 6 children gets an annual state contribution. The number of nurseries is being greatly increased, as well as the number of kindergartens and other institutions. And finally the financial support by the state for all these institutions will almost double.

I would also like to emphasise that the law logically carries through the social policy of the Soviet Union regarding the family and marriage relations. The law leaves only a certain part of the economic burden to the parents. The state takes on more and more of the moral and economic duties towards the children. The law of June 27 is an indication of the broader development of social institutions for provisions for small children.

Women in the Soviet Union are in the first place independent and equal citizens who participate actively in the building of the new society. And if at the same time they fulfill their maternal duties, then the state stands on their side with all available assistance.

Don’t you believe that the abolition of the old law, which freely provided for abortions in the Soviet Union, will lead to an unfavourable reaction in the other countries, where the radical women are leading a courageous fight for the right to abortion?

I believe that if one judges the law in the correct light, then it can have no negative influence on this courageous fight and will give the opponents of abortion no new weapons.

One cannot compare the conditions under which women in the Soviet Union live and work with the conditions in other countries. As long as the state in the Soviet Union was not able to provide complete, broad and effective assistance for motherhood, and as long as economic prosperity for the broad masses of the population in the Soviet Union was not assured, abortions in the Soviet Union were permitted by law.

In no other country are there such guarantees as those in the Soviet Union that make motherhood easier for women. As long as women or men live under the pressure of unemployment, as long as the level of wages is not sufficient for a family, as long as housing conditions are unfavourable, and as long as the state does not make motherhood easier for every woman in various ways and does not provide social services for mother and child, it is clear that the women must stand up for free abortions.

In what cases and under what criteria is abortion permitted in the the Soviet Union?

Under point 1 of article 1) of the new law, the performance of abortions is permitted in cases where pregnancy is a threat to the life of the woman or causes severe consequences to the health of the pregnant woman. Abortions are also permitted if the diseases of the parents could be transmitted to the children. Thus, eugenic principles were taken into account in the new law.

You have not yet given me a direct answer to my first question: how do women in the Soviet Union stand towards the new law?

The law of June 27 in the Soviet Union was approved after an extremely democratic action of the Soviet government. The draft of this law was freely discussed for a whole month in the factories, offices, in the countryside, etc. Thousands of letters were sent in from the women themselves and also from men. The press had discussions for and against the law and many of the proposals for the draft were taken into account in the approval of the law. The majority of the women spoke out in favour of the new law, principally because the law would have a certain effect on the psychology of the men; it should increase the feeling of responsibility of the men for children and women. The women are warm supporters of this law. But it seems to me that the men were somewhat more reserved. This particularly shows the usefulness of the law, that men should be trained to more comradely relations towards women.

RGASPI.  F. 134. Op. 1. D.257. LL. 1-6.

Translated from the German by George Gruenthal

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