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Romance in Russia

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A Most interesting news item has come out of Russia. It deals not with war or revolution, not with harvest or steel output, but with marriage and the home. The Soviet government has decided to strengthen the family. This was foreshadowed by a well-photographed walk that Comrade Stalin took through the park a few weeks ago, patting children on their heads and permitting them to cluster about him and call him "Uncle." Obviously something was wrong.

And something was wrong! The Soviet press was about to begin a concerted attack on the evils of divorce. New laws, tightening the institution of marriage, were about to be issued, and with good reason. In the month of May, forty-four out of every hundred marriages contracted in Moscow had ended in divorce. Even these figures, disturbing though they were, did not tell the whole story. For most of the couples who live together in Moscow are not registered. I think it not unreasonable to conjecture that three-quarters of the unions consummated in the Soviet capital are sundered in a fairly short time.

Theoretically this should not trouble the Communists. They believe that love should be free and that love should be free and that sex relations are the concern only of the persons involved. Therefore, they deliberately set out to destroy the traditional safeguards of marriage—religion, private property, and all the mores that both sheltered woman and gave her an inferior position.

The results were what everyone anticipated but the Communists themselves. Perhaps they weren’t quite as bad as Panteleimon Romanov suggests in the story "Without Flowers": "There is no longer any love among us. There is only sex relationship. Girls easily unite with Comrades for a week, for a month, or casually for one night…. Those who seek in love something more than physiology are viewed with ridicule like mere halfwits."

But they were bad enough. One day, as I sat in the Zags office in Moscow, a young man came in alone to get a divorce. He was dressed in white pants and a gym shirt, and was carrying a tennis racket. He was still perspiring from the game he had just played and was impatient for the proceeding to end so that he might return for the next match.

By actual timing, the divorce was granted in four minutes. The questions the clerk asked were strictly factual and had nothing to do with the reasons for the divorce or its consequences. I learned that the couple had been married only two weeks. I may never know the reason for this hurried, perspiring, casual divorce, but I will always nurse the suspicion that his wife had just beaten him at tennis and he couldn’t "take it." Anyway, he was given a divorce card and was told that his wife would be informed of the divorce by mail the next morning.

Multiply this sort of thing by the millions and you can realize what has been happening in Russia. Even this situation did not produce its worst consequences until the peasants were collectivized, for it was limited almost exclusively to the urban centers. And Russia is very largely a country of peasants. The Muzhiks did not discard their wives so readily. Not only were they conservative by temperament, not only were they still under the influence of the Church, but these infernal Commissars had made a law, decreeing that in the event of a divorce, all property must be divided between husband and wife. The peasant decided it would be better to put up with a shrewish wife than to lose half his land. But when agriculture was collectivized, the peasant lost not only his religion and his individualism, but also his property. Now that these bulwarks of marriage were removed, he began to carry on like the "city feller."

The consequences have been so disastrous in the disruption of home, family, marriage, and normal childhood that the Communists have finally begun to realize the truth of what Bernard Shaw, himself something of a Bolshevik, pointed out long ago, viz., that sexual intercourse is not a private matter, but is profoundly social in its implications and consequences. They have discovered that even a Communist society requires a reasonable amount of stability and fidelity in sex relations.

And they have learned that the proper rearing of children demands some of the conventional bourgeois virtues and safeguards which they thought were unnecessary. Not that Soviet Russia has deliberately neglected its children. They have been given the best treatment that conditions made possible. Stern obligations were imposed on parents to support their children and the law was severe with those who did not give them adequate care. Nevertheless, it was found that children brought up in an atmosphere of free love and easy divorce somehow did not make the best kind of citizens.

Even their exposure to Communist ideology was seen to be no adequate substitute for mother love and a stable home life. Perhaps that accounted for the decision in a trial that I attended on the occasion of my last visit to Moscow. An important Communist official and his wife had agreed to separate. But they disagreed as to the custody of their 10-year-old son. The father claimed the child on the ground that he was the better Communist and would give the boy the proper ideological background. The mother, who admitted she was more bourgeois in outlook, maintained that the child needed her. The court in a decision which reversed all Soviet procedure gave the boy to the mother on the basis that mother love was even more important than Communist ideology in rearing a good citizen. The decision at first shocked Moscow, but was eventually accepted as a turning point on the road to a sane middle ground in Soviet morality.

Without question, the Russians have eliminated many of the evils that are inherent in marriage in our Western capitalist society. The number of women in America who give themselves to men in marriage not out of love but for economic security, is legion. The unhappily married couples who are forced to live together by medieval religious customs or obsolete divorce laws, are tragically numerous.

The suffering and the inhibitions which economic inability to marry imposes on young people who are biologically ready for mating, is both pathetic and serious in its social consequences. The double standard of morals is unfair and in many ways vicious.

At these evils the first Communist commonwealth in history has delivered lusty and well deserved blows. But it has learned, somewhat to its sorrow, that the Ten Commandments are not outmoded by-products of capitalism, but still epitomize the accumulated wisdom of mankind.

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