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Soviet Union

The Soviet Family

The Soviet view of the family as the basic social unit in society has evolved from revolutionary to conservative; the government first attempted to weaken the family and then to strengthen it. According to the 1968 law Principles of Legislation on Marriage and the Family of the USSR and the Union Republics, parents are "to raise their children in the spirit of the moral code of a builder of communism, to attend to their physical development and their instruction in and preparation for socially useful activity."

Evolution of the Soviet Family

The early Soviet state sought to remake the family, believing that although the economic emancipation of workers would deprive families of their economic function, it would not destroy them but rather base them exclusively on mutual affection. Religious marriage was replaced by civil marriage, divorce became easy to obtain, and unwed mothers received special protection. All children, whether legitimate or illegitimate, were given equal rights before the law, women were granted sexual equality under matrimonial law, inheritance of property was abolished, and abortion was legalized.

In the early 1920s, however, the weakening of family ties, combined with the devastation and dislocation caused by the Civil War (1918-21), produced a wave of nearly 7 million homeless children. This situation prompted senior party officials to conclude that a more stable family life was required to rebuild the country's economy and shattered social structure. By 1922 the government allowed some forms of inheritance, and after 1926 full inheritance rights were restored. By the late 1920s, adults had been made more responsible for the care of their children, and common-law marriage had been given equal legal status with civil marriage.

During Stalin's rule, the trend toward strengthening the family continued. In 1936 the government began to award payments to women with large families and made abortions and divorces more difficult to obtain. In 1942 it subjected single persons and childless married persons to additional taxes. In 1944 only registered marriages were recognized to be legal, and divorce became subject to the court's discretion. In the same year, the government began to award medals to women who gave birth to five or more children and took upon itself the support of illegitimate children.

After Stalin's death in 1953, the government rescinded some of its more restrictive social legislation. In 1955 it declared abortions for medical reasons legal, and in 1968 it declared all abortions legal. The state also liberalized divorce procedures in the mid-1960s but in 1968 introduced new limitations.

In 1974 the government began to subsidize poorer families whose average per capita income did not exceed 50 rubles per month (later raised to 75 rubles per month in some northern and eastern regions). The subsidy amounted to 12 rubles per month for each child below eight years of age. It was estimated that in 1974 about 3.5 million families (14 million people, or about 5 percent of the entire population) received this subsidy. With the increase in per capita income, however, the number of children requiring such assistance decreased. In 1985 the government raised the age limit for assistance to twelve years and under. In 1981 the subsidy to an unwed mother with a child increased to 20 rubles per month; in early 1987 an estimated 1.5 million unwed mothers were receiving such assistance, or twice as many as during the late 1970s.

Data as of May 1989