We are now approaching a social revolution in which the economic foundations of monogamy as they have existed hitherto will disappear just as surely as those of its complement-prostitution. Monogamy arose from the concentration of considerable wealth in the hands of a single individuals man-and from the need to bequeath this wealth to the children of that man and of no other. For this purpose, the monogamy of the woman was required, not that of the man, so this monogamy of the woman did not in any way interfere with open or concealed polygamy on the part of the man. But by transforming by far the greater portion, at any rate, of permanent, heritable wealth – the means of production – into social property, the coming social revolution will reduce to a minimum all this anxiety about bequeathing and inheriting. Having arisen from economic causes, will monogamy then disappear when these causes disappear?
One might answer, not without reason: far from disappearing, it will, on the contrary, be realized completely. For with the transformation of the means of production into social property there will disappear also wage-labor, the proletariat, and therefore the necessity for a certain – statistically calculable- number of women to surrender themselves for money. Prostitution disappears; monogamy, instead of collapsing, at last becomes a reality – also for men. ( [Engels and Hunt, 2010])
Societies have characteristic family ideologies and family laws structured by their economies. This was a basic thesis of [Engels and Hunt, 2010], who used this premise to try to predict how the family would change in a post capitalist society. The nice point is that this theory of the history of the family then itself became part of the ideological foundation of socialist family relations.
The professed aim of the Communists was to reform the relations between the sexes along the lines advocated by Engels. The universal participation of women in public industry would have as a consequence the abolition of the monogamous family as the basic economic unit of society. Private household work would be transformed into a social industry and society as a whole would take responsibility for the care and education of all children whether born in or out of marriage.
With considerations of property removed, marriage would be based on mutual love alone. Arranged marriage would vanish. We tend to think of arranged marriages as something oriental, but the underlying principle, of the marriage being a matter of passing down and accumulating property was widespread. Even in the 19th century England, marriages among the upper class centered on the property motive:
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. ([Austen, 1994] )
Only the poor, Engels maintained, could afford to marry for love. But in the socialist future, love would become the sole basis for marriage.
Under the influence of radical legal theorists[Pashukanis, 1989], the Soviets at first envisaged that marriage law, like other contractual law would be phased out in socialist society. The only interest the state would have in people’s cohabitation was to register it for statistical purposes along with births and deaths[Berman, 1946]; so the RSFSR 1926 Family Code treated sex, marriage and divorce as a private matter in which the state did not interfere. This liberal attitude extended to not prohibiting incest, bigamy, homosexuality or or marriage with post puberty minors. Bigamy or polygamy though not prohibited in marriage law, insofar as they involved economic exploitation of women could be criminally prosecuted under the heading of exploitation. Whilst contemporary Western commentators largely approve of the liberal attitude of the early Soviet state to homosexuality, they are more silent on its liberalism towards incest, bigamy etc.
In 1920 free abortion had been introduced, which produced a rapid decline in the birth rate in urban areas. Over the 1920s the Moscow birth rate fell from 30.6/1000 to 21.7/1000, while abortions rose from 5.7/1000 to 35.2/1000[Berman, 1946]. Given that the overall death rate in the mid 1920s for the RSFSR was 21/1000 this appeared to represent a potential fall to below replacement birth rates[Engelman, 1932]. The birth rate in Moscow was unrepresentative. In rural areas where state hospitals providing abortion did not exist, ie, for the majority of Russia, the birth rate was much higher 44/1000 for the Great Russian population. Clearly there was no general threat to reproduction in the 20s, but projecting forward for a rapidly urban population in the mid 30s or a population vastly depleted by war in the mid 40s the outlook may have seemed different. That failed to take into account the fall in the death rate that could be anticipated to follow rising living standards. On the other hand given the international environment, a sharp rise in deaths due to enemy action may have been anticipated. The subsequent 1936 Law severely restricted abortion to cases of danger maternal health or genetic disorder, and at the same time very introduced substantial subsidies to women with large families. For the 6th and each subsequent child a stipend of 2000 rubles a year, equivalent at the official exchange rate to $2300 was introduced. Given that the average annual wage at that time was 2,700 rubles[Petroff, Feb 1938] this was a large benefit. Paid maternity leave of 112 days was introduced along with birth benefits. One could either see these measures as natalist, or alternatively as measures to protect mothers and children. They introduced, albeit very partially, the principle Engels had advocated: that the cost of raising children should be born by society as a whole. Partial because even as late as 1960 the regular child benefit was paid only to unmarried mothers or mothers with large families[Lantsev, 1962]. The principle that children were to be supported by the joint earnings of the parents for smaller families was thus not questioned, and marriage continued, to have an economic role even before the division of domestic labour between husband and wife was taken into account.
The German Soviet war of 1941 to 1945 caused a huge demographic shortfall – initially of the order of 40 million, rising to around 70 million by the end of the Soviet period (Figure 0.2). But throughout the Soviet period the population continued to grow.
Figure 1: Evolution of Russian birth and death rates in Soviet and post-Glasnost periods. Bezier plot.Shaded area post-Glasnost. Source [Pockney, 1991] and UN Demographic Yearbooks.
The USSR underwent its primary demographic transition between the late 30s and late 50s. The main component of this was a shift from the high infant mortality rate of around 200 per 1000 live births at the end of the 30s to around 50 in the late 1950s and down to 25 in the mid 1960s[Shkolnikov and Meslé, 1996]. The decline was largely due to reductions in infectious diseases, particularly food and water born infections. As a result life expectancy at birth rose by 24 years in males and 27 years in females between the end of the 30s and the mid 1960s. Overall birthrates and deathrates declined sharply during the transition, reaching a minimum for death-rate in the mid 1960s, and for birth-rate around 1970 ( Figure 0.1). After that both rates increased. [Allen, 2003] argues that the fall in the birthrate was critical to ensuring that food production per head rose, and that the growth in population was actually significantly slower than would normally have been expected in an industrialising country.
The increase in death rate from the 1970s was most marked in men. It was largely due to a rise in heart disease, accidents, suicide and interpersonal violence. A factor producing the minimum in male death rate in the late 60s was that during the 50s and 60s the age structure of the population was skewed towards younger men. So many who reached maturity in the 30s and early 40s had been war casualties that the number reaching the age when heart diseases strike was unusually low.
The birth rate remained well in excess of deaths throughout the first demographic transition giving a steady increase in population.
Figure 2: Soviet population suffered a huge demographic setback due to the German Soviet war of 1941-45. Source [Pockney, 1991].
Figure 3: The whole socialist area of Europe experienced steady population growth until the transition to capitalism, after which population declined sharply. Calculated from the UN World Population Spreadsheet 2015 edition.
The transition from socialism to capitalism in the USSR in the late 80s early 90s induced a second far more drastic demographic transition. The birth rate fell sharply into the range typical for developed capitalist countries. But while in many capitalist countries the birth rate falls below the death rate, both are normally on a downward trend. In Russia the death rate rose sharply: Figure 0.1 . A rise of this scale in peace was at the time unprecedented in a developed country. Those without university education[Shkolnikov et al., 2006]: that is to say the manual workers and farmers, suffered increased mortality. The intelligentsia experienced no decline in mortality. Subsequently [Case and Deaton, 2015] have pointed out that a similar thing has been happening to white working class men in the USA, with similar causes: mass unemployment and de-industrialisation[Stuckler et al., 2009]. As Figure 0.3 this demographic crisis was a general phenomenon affecting the ex socialist countries. The onset of capitalism and the deterioration of social conditions that followed, meant that the region as a whole went into demographic decline.
The contrast between capitalist and socialist family policy is best illustrated by a comparison of East and West Germany. Both Germanies experienced declines in fertility following the availablity of modern contraceptive technology in the 1960s. By the early 70s it had fallen below replacement levels in both East and West (Figure 0.4). But the birthrate in East Germany recovered to around replacement level by the late 1970s following the 1976 introduction of policies to socialise a considerable part of the burden of child raising[Salles, 2006]. Single mothers had priority access to kindergarten places. If no place was available they could go on sick leave at half pay, with the return of their job guaranteed as soon as a place became available. One year of paid parental leave was available for single women on birth of their first child. For married women this was available only for subsequent children. Along with free nursery schools, birth bonuses, workplace childcare and workplace canteens all helped parents.
The overall effect of these policies was to increase the birthrate in the East above the contemporary rate in the West. The availability of maternal benefits to single mothers increased the proportion of babies born to them, and led to greater social acceptance of their situation. Rents were low, but waiting lists for flats gave priority to single mothers and married couples. A common family pattern emerged of women having their first child before marrying and a second one after marriage[Salles, 2006].
Figure 4: German total fertility in children per woman. Federal statistical office.
With the union with West Germany, this benefit system was withdrawn and the consequent demographic shock led to East German fertility rates falling as low as 0.7 before converging on the all German average of 1.4. This of course is still well below replacement level.
The combination of capitalist and domestic economies is antagonistic. Capitalist mass production replaces one economic function of the household after another: spinning, weaving, growing food, sewing clothes, baking, etc. The demand for skilled and educated adult workers converted children from being part of the domestic labour force to economic dependents, creating an incentive to limit family size. The development, by the chemical industry, of contraceptive technology then made this possible. The continuing demand for more labour then drew an increasing fraction of women into capitalist employment, which for a few decades allowed the workforce to go on growing. It then became necessary for both parents to work. The cost of private childcare then becomes more of a disincentive to have large families or even have families at all. Socialist states have had the aim of improving the status of women through their participation in the social economy. As such they could have been faced with the same tendency towards sub-replacement fertility. They avoided this because women’s participation in the socialist sector went alongside a deliberate policy of socialization on childcare.
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