18 AUGUST 1939, Page 9



TEN years ago, when I was first in Soviet Russia, the home was in a bad way. Even in the villages, where family ties are more cohesive, disruption had set in and throughout the cities the process went much further. The Divorce Law, which at that time allowed wives or husbands to shed their partners without notification by the mere process of registra- tion, sent more and more children to the Youth Hostels or to join the wandering bands that still roamed the country—the interchange of fathers not making for domestic comfort. The new Divorce Act requires the attendance of both parties at the Court or, if the couple have already separated, the one cited must inform the Registrar of his or her whereabouts and that notice of the application has been received. It is sufficient that the complainant does not wish the marriage to continue. No other reason is required.

Divorce is an expensive business compared with marriage, which only costs 2 rubles. A first divorce entails a fee of 5o, a second 15o and a third 300 rubles, when the percentage of applications considerably lessens. Soviet opinion holds that at this point men and women should try to take themselves more seriously, and that a continuous change of partners means you do not know your job. At the Court I visited 4,000 marriages had been registered for the first six months of this present year, as against 300 divorces. There are 23 District Courts in Moscow, and at all of them the figures show a similar proportion. In every case the mother has the custody of the children. The father is bound to con- tribute to their support up to a quarter of his earnings for one child, one-third if there be two and a half if there be more. The Court collects the money and transmits it to the mother. A wife is not entitled to alimony, unless she be ill at the time of the suit, in which case the husband pays her an allowance for luxuries until she has recovered. The wife also is called upon for contribution in her turn should the husband be disabled.

The new Divorce Law has restored a feeling of security. In the old days you might have a wife or a husband in the morning and return in the evening to find you had none. Added to this, it often took time and trouble to prove a father's liability and then to trace him. This was a con- tributory cause of the high percentage of abortion. The question of the social slur did not enter in, there being no illegitimacy in Soviet Russia. A child is registered under the woman's or the man's family name, whichever the mother prefers, and no one knows if the baby were born in or out of wedlock. Abortion—except for reasons of health—was mad:. illegal in 1936, since when the birthrate has increased amazingly. In Moscow, 1935, 2,600 beds were available in Maternity Hospitals and some 7o,000 confinements took place. At the present moment there are just on 5,000 beds, and during the first six months of this year 140,00o women were delivered.

Family life is safeguarded in all possible ways. The greatest care is taken of the expectant mother. Every district has two or three pre-natal clinics, where a woman is periodically examined and advised as to diet, &c. Her psychological reactions are observed with a view to the elimination of that fear of child-bed which is responsible for so much mental anguish. No confinements take place in the home. Every woman goes to a maternity hospital, admirably organised and fitted with the most modern sanitary equip- ment. The medical campaign for the elimination of fear has led in many cases to the substitution of " suggestion " for anaesthetics. I have myself witnessed the extraordinary effects of suggestion. The women in the labour ward I visited showed no symptoms of pain or apprehension; they all wore an expression of quiet serenity, and I saw a child brought into the world without the mother uttering the faintest cry.

The Moscow Soviet which, like the L.C.C., controls the housing, schooling, health and entertainment of the city, holds the parents responsible for their children up to sixteen years of age. If a child plays truant the father or mother is brought before the Peoples' Court to explain why the boy or girl is irregular in attendance. Not until the third complaint is the culprit directly tackled, when a Court official calls at his (or her) home and holds an inquiry. It is thought that this has an important psychological effect, inasmuch as the children of the neighbourhood crowd in and listen to the proceedings, thus creating a juvenile public opinion against the offence.

School age starts at eight, but beginners study in the morn- ing only, from nine a.m. to two p.m. Most children go home to dinner, though a meal can be had at school for a small charge. For children under eight there are creches, kindergartens and playgrounds. Every factory has its own crèche, where working mothers park their infants under the care of trained nurses. The time spent in feeding the baby is not deducted from the mother's wages, and this also holds good when a city instead of a factory creche is used. The time taken for the journey to and fro is allowed by law. Creches are available at all hours to suit the workers ; some of them are open all day and night, thus enabling a mother to have an occasional evening out without anxiety.

All schools and kindergartens are closed during the months of July and August, the children being transferred to camps outside the cities. These camps consist of wooden houses— canvas is held as undesirable—modern of design and very airy, and the children spend their time swimming, dancing and generally enjoying themselves. This is not compulsory migration, but the majority of parents gladly take advantage of the opportunity, for which they pay. The system operates throughout the U.S.S.R. No child is admitted to an evening performance at the theatre or cinema ; medical opinion holds that sleep is a main essential, and young people under sixteen are expected to be at home by nine. Playgrounds close at seven, and the parents have to answer for any boy or girl found in the streets late in the evening. Sixteen is the legal age for supplying alcoholic drinks, but there is no law against adults taking young people into beer halls or cafés.

Fifteen is school-leaving age. Those who go straight to factory or farm work six hours a day, of which four are spent in technical instruction and two in manual labour, until after a year they go on full time. While a trade is being learnt the State grants a living subsidy of 120 rubles a month. The vast majority of young people remain at home during their training, and in these circumstances the allowance is sufficient not only for their upkeep, but for clothes and pocket money. Boys and girls deciding to adopt a profession or artistic career enter a university or special training-school, and while qualifying receive the subsidy for eight or ten years, accord- ing to the period of training. All education is free and in every primary school a foreign language is compulsory. At the moment English is the most popular. You find it spokea in most unexpected places.

The actual home conditions lag behind the educational standard. Moscow is being rebuilt at a prodigious rate and some of the worst slums have been torn down. Those remaining are on a par with the fetid quarters of Southwark and Soho—low ceilings, bad sanitation, insufficient water. The newest flats have every modern convenience—gas-stove, geyser, even a refrigerator. These, however, are at a pre- mium and generally fall to the star workers of the big plants. Rent averages 4.3 per cent. of the united income of the family, with an additional 25 per cent. for the latest amenities. It will be, I should say, ten years before the housing demand in Moscow alone is in any sense satisfied. The leeway to be made up is prodigious.

The standard of comfort domestically speaking is not h:gh. The food problem, it is true, no longer exists. There are lavish supplies of every kind of provisions ; I have never seen a people eat so much or so often. But there is a scarcity of utensils and materials. Linen and cotton goods fall very short of the demand, and every second building screams for paint inside and out.

The reason for this lack of commodities is an actual shortage of labour. There is a gigantic demand for man and woman power which leaves unsatisfied all but the major requisites of transport, food, hospitals, schools, juvenile camps and Government building. The housing problem for the present has had to go owing to the rearmament pro- gramme and the increase in military demands.