Families in Eastern Europe

ISBN: 978-0-76231-116-3, eISBN: 978-1-84950-279-5

ISSN: 1530-3535

Publication date: 30 December 2004


During the first two decades of the 20th century, the Russian family went through some institutional transformations. Peasant migrations (from European Russia to more distant destinations, and more importantly, from the countryside to the cities), World War I, the upheavals of the revolutionary period and the Civil War years all changed the country’s demographic situation. This led to more women (at least in the cities) being employed outside their households. Their sub-standard living conditions and legal vulnerability attracted the attention of intellectuals (Engel, 1991) and helped reformulate the women’s question, which had by then become one of the central issues of the political and intellectual life of the country. Alongside the quest for equality from upper and middle-class women, which was manifested in the burgeoning public and literary life of the Fin-de-Siécle Russia (Engelstein, 1992), emerged “Marxist feminism.” This movement assumed the task of promoting the rights of working women and the destruction of (bourgeois) gender inequality. It also played a decisive role in shaping scholarly discourse on the family and state policies towards it. Despite the dramatic social changes, they did not readily bring about alterations in popular mentality, particularly in popular attitudes towards the roles played by men and women within the family. Barbara Engel (1991, p. 147) has observed that: Revolutionary transformation did not end most women’s loyalty to the family and especially to their children. However, food shortages, poor housing, lack of job opportunities, and especially family instability made women’s traditional responsibilities considerably harder to fulfill. The deserting husbands and short-term unions that led some women to seek abortion prompted others to demand more conservative family policy to ensure their ability to provide for their children. Instead of unions easily contracted and dissolved they wanted strong and stable marriages.Meanwhile, during the first post-revolutionary decade, some representatives of the new elite regarded the family as holding the most strength within the ancien régime, which was doomed to collapse as new relations between the sexes and among generations were getting stronger.1 A great deal of writing produced in the 1920s by Communist theoreticians discussed questions related to the pace, social context and forms in which the withering away of the family might manifest itself (Preobrazhenskii, 1923; Trotsky, 1923). It also examined the problems of sexual ethics and the upbringing of genuinely collectivist-minded people (Kollontai, 2003a–c; Lunacharsky, 1927; Zalkind, 1923 (reprinted in 2001)). “There are reasons to believe,” argued Bukharin (1921, p. 170) “that in the Communist society, as the private property vanishes for good, the family and prostitution will follow suit.” He also stated his opposition to the family’s rearing of the younger generation: “The future lies with the communal upbringing. The communal upbringing will enable the Communist society to bring up the young in the way it deems appropriate, minimizing efforts and expenses” (Bukharin, 1920, p. 197).


Uspenskaya, V. and Borodin, D. (2004), "FAMILY RELATIONS IN 20TH CENTURY RUSSIA AS A PROJECTION OF POPULAR BELIEFS, SCHOLARLY DISCOURSE AND STATE POLICIES", Robila, M. (Ed.) Families in Eastern Europe (Contemporary Perspectives in Family Research, Vol. 5), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 237-248.

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