Soviet Family Code of 1918 – Divorce

When the Central Executive Committee ratified the code on Marriage, the Family and Guardianship in October of 1918, it was under the banner of liberation, women’s equality and the inevitable belief that the family unit would ultimately wither away as a socialist society became firmly planted and took root.[1]  Under Soviet idealism, the family unit as well as the law itself would find itself no longer necessary as socialism grew, and the family code reflected those ideals that looked towards the future.  Socialism would make the confines of marriage obsolete by transferring household chores that normally tied women to the home to the public sphere, freeing women to enter public life fully and with equality to their male counterparts.[2]  Instead of formal, church-sanctioned marriage, free love would replace it, allowing men and women both to choose their partners on a healthier basis of respect and love, and were free to leave these unions should they become unfulfilling.[3]  While these ideologies seemed incredibly liberal and progressive when compared to the moral underpinnings of most of the rest of Europe, in practice they proved disastrous for society, and for women in particular.

For the Bolsheviks, one of the ultimate indicators of individual freedom was the freedom to divorce should a union find that it is no longer based upon love and the partners do not share a mutual respect.[4]  They viewed the right to divorce as liberating for women, who would no longer find themselves confined to the bonds of marriage to the detriment of their own feelings and development.[5]  Unfortunately for women and ultimately for the state itself, this practice put women in a precarious and dangerous position rather than liberating them.  While to socialists advocated a free society, the economic reality of every day life under the NEP forced women into greater dependence on the family due to wage inequality, lack of available child care and increasing female unemployment.[6]  As divorce rates began to skyrocket throughout the USSR, the position of female economic dependence upon men and the family system became clearer.[7]  Despite the attempts by the Party to legislate an end to gender discrimination, employers failed to comply, leaving thousands of women unemployed and able to support themselves and their children independently.[8]  With few other viable alternatives, many women found themselves turning to prostitution in order to feed and house themselves and their families, demonstrating the opposite of the liberation that the family code sought to implement.[9]  Desperation led many women to turn to the courts for relief, but while the family code of 1918 allowed for liberal child support regardless of legitimacy, alimony was only granted to those who were disabled for a period of six months.[10]  Able-bodied women, even if they could not find work, were not entitled to alimony benefits from their ex-husbands.[11]

When the family code was revised in both 1925 and 1926, women did not find much improvement in their desperate economic dependency.  Female voices in the many meetings on the proposed drafts opposed easy divorce on the basis of their woeful economic condition.[12]  These continuing factors contributed to sexual conservatism on the part of women, who demanded more responsibility from men in regards to both sexuality and child-rearing.[13]  Ultimately, however, although joint property was recognized as well as de-facto marriage, simplified divorce was also included in the ratified draft of the code of 1927.[14]  Ironically, the fight against the restrictions of bourgeois marriage led to further difficulty for women under the code, leaving them more vulnerable economically to their male counterparts.[15]  As the state reversed its position in 1936, focusing on the strengthening rather than the withering away of the family, women and peasants alike realized that, until the state was in a position to accept greater responsibility for social well-being, the consequences economically for greater social freedom was too much to bear.[16]

[1] Wendy Z Goldman, Women, The State and Revolution, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 1.

[2] Goldman, Women, The State and Revolution, 3.

[3] Goldman, Women, The State and Revolution, 3.

[4] Goldman, Women, The State and Revolution, 101.

[5] Goldman, Women, The State and Revolution, 101.

[6] Goldman, Women, The State and Revolution, 103.

[7] Goldman, Women, The State and Revolution, 109.

[8] Goldman, Women, The State and Revolution, 117.

[9] Goldman, Women, The State and Revolution, 118.

[10] Goldman, Women, The State and Revolution, 133.

[11] Goldman, Women, The State and Revolution, 133.

[12][12] Goldman, Women, The State and Revolution, 244.

[13] Goldman, Women, The State and Revolution, 133.

[14] Goldman, Women, The State and Revolution, 248.

[15] Goldman, Women, The State and Revolution, 250.

[16] Goldman, Women, The State and Revolution, 252.

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