The left’s nostalgia for communism in general and the old Soviet Union in particular never ceases to amaze me. Oh, for the days of the gulag, the dead kulaks, and all those movies about those noble peasants on the collective farm who pooled their rubles to buy a new tractor!
And now we have sociologist Goran Therborn telling us that the Sovs were even more wonderful than we’d ever thought: They got rid of “patriarchy”! In the dictionary of the left, “patriarchy” means “marriage,” especially the sort of marriage in which the partners make a lifelong commitment to each other and the wife works in the home instead of outdoors sweeping the streets the way women did in the Golden Age of Joseph Stalin. So during the 1920s, the heyday of this avant-gard Soviet social experiment, it took just minutes to get a divorce, and children born inside and outside wedlock suddenly had the same legal status.
According to Therborn’s new 400-page book, Between Sex and Power: Family in the World 1900-200, this was the most wonderful thing that had ever happened in the world–no more oppression of women! Here is an excerpt from Perry Anderson’s gushing, turgid review of Therborn’s book for the Nation:
“[T]he October Revolution dismantled the whole juridical apparatus of patriarchy in Russia, with a much more overt emphasis on sexual equality as such. Conduct, of course, was never the same as codification. ‘The legal family revolution of the Bolsheviks was very much ahead of Russian societal time, and Soviet family practices did not immediately dance to political music, however loud and powerful.’ But the shock wave in the world generated by the Russian example was, Therborn rightly emphasizes, enormous.”
And of course, who but our friends the Soviet communists deserve credit for the radical feminism of the 1970s that pushed for easy divorce and a general sexual free-for-all as the ultimate liberation of women? Anderson writes:
“Here the inauguration by the United Nations of an international Decade for Women in 1975 (also the ultimate outcome of a Communist initiative, on the part of the Finnish daughter of one of Khrushchev’s Politburo veterans) is taken by Therborn as the turning point in a global discrediting of patriarchy, whose last legal redoubt in the United States–in Louisiana–was struck down by the Supreme Court as late as 1981.”
I don’t know what was so bad about Louisiana, but I always wonder how liberated those grim wives in their babushkas felt when, after a day of picking up trash on the icy Moscow streets, they had to wait in line for a flitch of gristled meat to cook up for their vodka-soaked husbands on the tiny stove they shared with three other families.
To find out what the Soviet Union’s dismantling of “patriarchy” was really like, I suggest that you forget about Therborn’s book and Anderson’s review and click to this article from the Atlantic Monthly from July 1926, when the great Soviet anti-patriarchal experiment was in full force:
“When the Bolsheviki came into power in 1917 they regarded the family, like every other ‘bourgeois’ institution, with fierce hatred, and set out with a will to destroy it. ‘To clear the family out of the accumulated dust of the ages we had to give it a good shakeup, and we did,’ declared Madame Smidovich, a leading Communist and active participant in the recent discussion. So one of the first decrees of the Soviet Government abolished the term ‘illegitimate children.’ This was done simply by equalizing the legal status of all children, whether born in wedlock or out of it, and now the Soviet Government boasts that Russia is the only country where there are no illegitimate children. The father of a child is forced to contribute to its support, usually paying the mother a third of his salary in the event of a separation, provided she has no other means of livelihood.
“At the same time a law was passed which made divorce a matter of a few minutes, to be obtained at the request of either partner in a marriage. Chaos was the result. Men took to changing wives with the same zest which they displayed in the consumption of the recently restored forty-per-cent vodka.
“‘Some men have twenty wives, living a week with one, a month with another,” asserted an indignant woman delegate during the sessions of the Tzik. ‘They have children with all of them, and these children are thrown on the street for lack of support!’ (There are three hundred thousand bezprizorni or shelterless children in Russia to-day, who are literally turned out on the streets. They are one of the greatest social dangers of the present time, because they are developing into professional criminals. More than half of them are drug addicts and sex perverts. It is claimed by many Communists that the break-up of the family is responsible for a large percentage of these children.)
“The peasant villages have perhaps suffered most from this revolution in sex relations. An epidemic of marriages and divorces broke out in the country districts. Peasants with a respectable married life of forty years and more behind them suddenly decided to leave their wives and remarry. Peasant boys looked upon marriage as an exciting game and changed wives with the change of seasons. It was not an unusual occurrence for a boy of twenty to have had three or four wives, or for a girl of the same age to have had three or four abortions. As the peasants of Borisovo-Pokrovskoie bitterly complained: ‘Abortions cover our villages with shame. Formerly we did not even hear of them.’ But the women, in self-defense, replied: ‘It’s easy for you to talk. But if you just tried to bear children yourselves you would sing a different song.’
“I was once discussing the subject of frequent divorces with the president of a village soviet. ‘What makes women get divorces?’ I asked him. Just then a girl about eighteen years old entered the room. ‘Here is our latest divorcee,’ said the president laughingly. ‘Ask her.’ I turned around, but the girl was no longer there, and from the window I saw her running away as fast as she could. I ran after her and finally caught up with her in the fields outside the village. We sat down on a haystack and I asked the girl to talk to me frankly, as woman to woman.
“Tears filled her eyes as she told me that she still loved her nineteen-year-old husband, but that he had forced her to ask for a divorce only two months after they had been married. He now thought he loved another girl in the village and threatened to kill his wife if she did not leave him voluntarily.”
Ah, yes, the main beneficiaries of the “global discrediting of patriarchy”: men.