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New International, August 1935


Florence Becker

Woman’s Place

From New International, Vol. II No. 5, August 1935, pp. 175–176.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Factory, Family and Woman in the Soviet Union
by Susan M. Kingsbury and Mildred Fairchild
334+xxv pp. New York. G.P. Putnam’s Sons. $3.50.

“Every cook must learn to rule the State.” – Lenin.

“The woman who scrubs our floors must he enabled to pursue the highest education if she so desires and if she had capacity.” – Krupskaya.

“The Soviet order has established a position for women as human beings, as workers, as mothers, as citizens, such as exists in no other country. The women in the Soviet Union are not only free, not only do they enjoy culture in the fullest meaning of the word – no! The institutions established show us that the women themselves have become a force creating freedom, creating culture. If the men are sometimes weak, if they should hesitate and falter, let us women drive them forward into the struggle – and show them by our resolute action that we prefer death to slavery.” – Klara Zetkin.

The Russian revolution started on International Woman’s Day, and from its very inception tackled one of the worst contradictions of capitalism – that between the wretched useless doll-woman on the one hand and the purposeless drudge on the other. The “free” women of the bourgeois feminist movement who achieved a career, or a “free” love-life, or both, found that there was still an unanswered question – freedom – for what? The Russian revolution gave the answer – freedom to build a world fit for children to live and grow and work in – in short, freedom to build.

Under Lenin, one of the first tasks the revolution set itself was the solution of the woman question, and it has been one of the most consistently and satisfactorily carried out, so that a book like the present one, primarily on woman’s world, has a better chance of being objectively and accurately presented to foreign students, and by them to the rest of the world, than other phases of Russian life that have one off the Leninist track.

As planned economy comes to replace the profit motive, and to the extent that it does, the laboratory from which a good deal of social psychology has been drawn will have to be re-written. In the words of the Communist Manifesto:

“The bourgeois claptrap about the family and education, about the hallowed co-relation of parent and child, becomes all the more disgusting, the more, by the action of modern industry, all family ties among the proletarians are torn asunder, and their children transformed into simple articles of commerce and instruments of labor.”

In fact, it is only in the Soviet Union that there is adequate protection of motherhood – such as enforced paid absences from work for several weeks before and after childbirth, factory laws supplying time and place for nursing of infants, creches connected with the place of work, limitations on the weights women may carry, and so forth.

To carry on the subject of the family, again from the Communist Manifesto:

“The bourgeois family will vanish as a matter of course when its complement (the practical absence of the family among the proletarians) vanishes, and both will vanish with the vanishing of capital.”

How is this prophecy being fulfilled in the Soviet Union? As we might have expected – this book, like its predecessors, by Alice Withrow Field, Jessica Smith, Fannina Halle, and others, shows that: divorce is no more frequent in the Soviet Union than elsewhere; abortions are less, and ill-health following them is greatly reduced; the birth rate has risen (how that must rile Mussolini!), child health is excellent (every writer on the Soviet Union, even liberal and conservative writers – comments on the happy, well-fed, busy children.) After some years of experimentation with other forms, monogamy is being officially approved by the encouragement to license all marriages, and the literature of the times shows an increasing trend toward the biologic family – father, mother and child – as the most economical arrangement for everyone’s emotions. Of course, the other forms exist, and there is no direct pressure of any sort except insistence that the children be provided for by the father if he is employed, otherwise by the mother with assistance from the state. There are plenty of women who find self-expression in having numerous children by different fathers, there are women who change their lovers frequently, women who despise love or still carry on under the discredited “glass-of-water” theory so violently attacked by Lenin (the idea that sex is a simple biological function like drinking when thirsty, and to be treated in the same casual way). There is, in short, every type of relationship known to western civilization – but the ideal partnership of which every woman dreams and which can exist under capitalism only in the most exceptional circumstances, is in the Soviet Union an every-day affair, with both partners working for the same goal, together, and where each is not only allowed but encouraged to contribute his or her maximum to social work.

Clearly under these changed conditions so-called feminine psychology has to be studied anew, including the Nietzschean dictum about the “slave nature of woman”. In the USSR, where women suffer few economic handicaps and only certain hangovers due to “cultural lag” in the emotional field, there is an opportunity to see what they are good for. And they are good for plenty, though to date they have produced no major composers and only one major scientist.

The corollary to Lenin’s statement about every cook learning to rule the state is this, also from Lenin:

“Very few men, even among proletarians, think how much labor and weariness they could lighten for women, in fact save them altogether, if they would lend a hand in ‘woman’s work’. No, that is incompatible with man’s rights and dignity, which require that he should enjoy his peace and comfort ... our communist labors among the masses of women ... involve a considerable effort to educate the men. We must root out the ancient outlook of the lord and master to the last fibre.”

And that patently is being done, as this book and all the others show. Women are being released from the “little prison”, the kitchen, without altogether sacrificing the home life of the family. After a certain initial distrust was overcome, communal laundries have made their way; there are innumerable communal kitchens and infirmaries in connection with the factories, on the farms and in residential districts – and of course everywhere the crèches – day crèches, night crèches, and even summer crèches. Of course, the housing shortage still prevents anything like an ideal situation, or even a tolerable one, from the western standpoint. Dr. Fairchild notes that the greatest hardship from which the intelligentsia suffer is inadequate privacy, and the greatest privilege that can be granted them is extra space.

The book is a careful objective study, from the liberal position. The first part, Industrial Life, is done by Dr. Mildred Fairchild, the second part, Social Life, by Dr. Susan M. Kingsbury. The whole is full of tables and statistics, with an explanatory note limiting the reliability of certain of the statistics, with bibliography and an index. The authors of course suffer under the disability of any outsiders – they did not see everything, and it is hard for us to evaluate what they did not see. Undoubtedly the picture errs on the side of optimism, but even so it is a heartening thought that, however faultily, with however many limitations, somewhere in the world human nature is having half a chance.

On the whole, there seems reason to believe that the authors were allowed to see enough to make their conclusions valuable, but at one point inevitably they were fed with dishes of stale poison – the so-called four positions on the trade union question. The authors were told that Trotsky’s position was not feasible and the position of Lenin was that of Stalin. The old myth of Trotsky wishing to militarize the trade unions and subject them to the party apparatus is amply dealt with in My Life:

“If industry rests on the state’s insuring the supply of all the necessary products to the workers, the trade unions must be included in the system of the state’s administration of industry and distribution of products. This was the real substance of the question of making the trade unions part of the state organizations, a measure which flowed inexorably from the system of war communism, and it was in this sense that I defended it.”

The other canard about “Lenin’s trade union system versus Trotsky’s” is also dealt with both in My Life and in The Real Situation in Russia, and need not be gone into here. Dr. Fairchild may be excused for not having found the answers to these questions – it may be supposed that she was not exactly escorted to the source material – and she does record differing points of view, which after all is the function of a liberal professor.

The book as a whole is a text book, and reads like one. It is a full and careful reference work, but for anyone who is not actually preparing a report and needing statistics, the same facts are much more vividly presented, for instance, in Fannina Halle’s Women in Soviet Russia. Nothing in Dr. Kingsbury’s long and careful study of the status of education in Russia compares with Frau Halle’s vivid portrait of the woman ticket collector, aged fifty, who has just learned to read and who says

“Now I know what Darwinism is! Till I was forty-nine I thought God had created man. Now I’d like to learn everything and know everything.”

Since we are pushing on toward a new world anyway, there is no good reason why the writing of textbooks should not be revolutionized also, until each one is as readable as, for example, Middletown.

But with all criticisms and limitations, and there are plenty, this book and many more like it should be circulated. If it were possible for a couple of liberal professors, male or female, to make a similar study of the lot of woman under Fascism – assuming that a liberal would have access to facts in a Fascist country – it would make it easier to mobilize an international woman’s army for the defense of the Soviet Union.

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