Glory to the Mother

Once the Bolsheviks came to power they gave special attention to family institutions, as well as the individual, they perceived “the patriarchal, religiously sanctioned family as tsarist society in microcosm.” Because of these thoughts, the Bolsheviks quickly gave official recognition only to civil marriages, made divorce easier, gave women full equality, rights to children born out of wedlock, and legalized abortion (Freeze 331).

This legalization would later be repealed as Stalin would realize, what the Bolsheviks quickly did, that legalized abortion made it difficult to grow a population and create a new society. The Bolsheviks hoped that in time Soviet women would better understand socialist principles and recognize their role in child-rearing, but this did not actually occur until much later, around the time that Stalin made abortion illegal. In fact, registered abortions rose to 55 per 100 births in this time and throughout the 1920s (Freeze 333).

I found this concept very interesting because I do not think that we can fully understand abortion as a problem relating to population or the need for population growth because America is not struggling for more people in this country and hasn’t really in the past. Abortion is seen most solely as a women’s rights and religious issue, rather than a political one. Opposition to the prohibition of abortion in Russia also reflects this difference; the oppositions were not usually based on women wanting control over their bodies, but about the strains that child-bearing and rearing could put on career aspirations and living arrangements.

In order to combat these oppositions, there was an increase in established nurseries and kindergartens, so that women could still contribute to society by working. There was also an increase in dining rooms and ready to cook/serve food items in order to relieve some of the home-making burden off of women.

This is interesting timing because under both the Bolshevik rule and Stalin’s Rule, women received a lot more rights and equality, but under Stalin it seems like most of those rights geared towards women were an effort to increase the birth rate, which we also aided by prohibiting abortion because he viewed giving birth as an “great and honorable duty” that is not a private affair.

This is a very interesting webpage because it shows the abortion statistics in Russia from 1921-2015. In 1936, is when the draft of the law “On the Protection of Motherhood and Child” was published in the newspaper and the reported abortion numbers were still very high comparatively, but dropped significantly in the next year, but then climbed after. The numbers are also expected to be higher because abortion was illegal, meaning that many more went unreported.

This propaganda poster is actually from 1944, which is a little after the time frame we are talking about, but I think it illustrates the change that occurred within family institutions and abortion laws between 1918 and the 1930s.  It shows the mother as the heroine figure, displaying how important a role she plays in Russian society by having and raising children. This was an important ideal during both the Bolshevik and Stalin rules, but their expression of this importance was acted out in different manners.



Freeze Book: Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: a history. Oxford: Oxford U Press, 1997. Print.

Photo found here:

11 thoughts on “Glory to the Mother

  1. Hey Johanna, I think this is a very interesting post placed in both its time period and ours. The statistic you offer from Freeze about 55 out of 100 babies being aborted is astounding…imagine the outrage in America today if this were the case! Similarly, I think it is interesting to note China’s now lifted one-child policy and how they were having the opposite problem that Stalinist Russia was. Lastly, when I took Environmental Science in high school, scholars at the time believed that uncontrolled population growth would be the biggest threat to mankind within the next 100 years so it will be interesting to see if similar changes take place the world over as the human population continues to grow!


  2. I like that you analyze both sides of the Russian abortion issue here. I definitely think Stalin’s decision to outlaw abortion is interesting, given that his envisioned society needed a flourishing population. Additionally, the statistics you reference help show how reported and unreported abortions changed in light of laws during this cultural revolution period. Really nice work!


  3. I think the strongest part of your post was examining both arguments to abortion in Russia. Its is very interesting to see abortion as a political and population issue. Very interesting post, good job!


  4. You’ve dealt with both sides of a very divisive issue, but your sources are even more remarkable! Did you ever think you’d be using material from the Stalinist Society of North America alongside historical data about abortions in the Soviet Union for course work? Amazing. (Need to swap out the comma in the first sentence for a period ;-)).


  5. I thought the source on abortions in Russia was really interesting. The number of reported abortions during the 1960s is really astounding, with over 5 million most years. I think that the 1936 law was reversed in the 50s, but that is a really large number compared to the number of live births, but I wonder if living conditions could have played into this? This is probably a question that could be answered as we learn more about the Soviet Union, but it is interesting that the abortion rate appears so high after the 1936 laws were reversed.


  6. The first thing I was struck by in the post was the propaganda poster you used. It bears so much in similarity to those you would see in the earlier years of National Socialist Germany. The emphasis placed upon motherhood in the Soviet Union seems to be more clearly geared towards the need for population growth, with its increase in kindergartens and nurseries its clear they intended the new mothers to continue working after childbirth. The National Socialists seemed to place a higher premium on the child-rearing aspect of motherhood, with its focus on family units and homemaking, the Bolsheviks would have seen these aspects as you said as patriarchal. Whatever the ideological basis of the these state efforts towards childbirth, both nations seemed to have a clear understanding that positive growth in population was required for the creation of the states they envisioned. Here’s an example of National Socialist propaganda in Germany.


  7. I really enjoyed your post and thought you provided some really interesting topics! I like how you bring up the idea that it’s interesting to look at how abortion was viewed then versus how it is now in the US. It really shows how it’s an important topic, but in such vastly different ways. As you show, for Stalin it was all about needing to grow the new population, but we focus more on the aspect of the individual act itself rather then how it affects the population. Additionally, I really liked the image of the poster. It shows how they wanted women to feel important and almost as if they were doing their duty. Also, I like how Max brings up China taking away their one-child policy. While this is also going more in the direction of how Stalin wanted to build the population, in research that I did for another class it showed how China will have a decline in population between 2015-2050!


  8. I think you did a great job one the subject and I felt the poster perfectly summarized it. I also think how in the new society, people were to be given equal rights, but the Soviets felt that the needs of the state trumped all individual concerns. It is just amazing the statistics relating to abortion during this time and how Stalin felt he needed to act in the long term interests of the USSR.


  9. I really like that you compared the different motivations behind abortion opponents between the USSR and the US. 55 out of 100 aborted pregnancies sounds enormous, and at that point it must have been an issue of national interest. The expansion of kindergartens and dining rooms must have played a huge role in freeing women from their traditional roles as mothers. Your analysis of primary sources was great as well!


  10. All the social changes, to the institution of marriage, family life, etc., that the revolution brought about are really interesting (the problem of orphans all over the place, divorce by post card and subsequent legal issues that arise out of that situation). It’s all very disturbing. It’s somehow not surprising that the prohibition on abortions and increase in number of abortions coincides with the Great Purges. Thanks for analyzing this topic. It’s all the more interesting by the population crisis that I believe has only recently stabilized in Russia… I think that there was a monetary incentive introduced for having children.


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