Margaret Sanger, "Russia's Rublebabies," 2 Sept 1944.
Source: " New Leader, Sept. 2, 1944, p. 4 Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Smith College Collections S72:451."
For draft version see Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Smith College Collections, S72: 418, 420, 422, 428, and 438. For page proofs, see Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Smith College Collections S72:446.
Russia, alarmed at her tremendous military and civilian losses, has fallen prey to one of the greatest fallacies in attempting to rebuild her population--she is going to pay her women to have babies. She is going to pay her gallant, courageous, uncomplaining women to give up their new found freedom and become breeders for the state. Women who have stood shoulder to shoulder with their men through the greatest crisis of Russian history, who have helped design bridges and run dynamos, who have assumed leadership of communes and been responsible for the food supplies for thousands, women who have faced the enemy in hand-to-hand battle, are now being asked to breed babies as fast as possible in return for cash, gifts and a medal to pin on their coats.
Almost every nation, particularly the warrior nations, have tried the artificial stimulation of their birthrates at one time or another and in every case their population has shown little or no increase. Italy’s birthrate showed little response to Mussolini’s baby bonuses, and while Hitler was able to jack up the production of infant Nazis, the peak which he achieved briefly in 1939 has quickly declined to below the 1933 level. In neither case was it possible to achieve anything like the steady increase, which has characterized the Swedish and Dutch birthrates where the emphasis has long been placed upon intelligent, responsible parenthood.
Sweden, whose birthrate has been rising since 1933, has used planned parenthood as the foundation of its program for expansion. Swedish mothers are given every encouragement in the form of preferred housing accommodations for larger families, tax exemptions and other benefits, but they are also provided with the best medical advice on contraception and family planning. Sweden’s birthrate has responded because her women knew that while the State was eager for more babies, it made it possible for its women to choose the best time to bear them. Unlike Russia, Sweden never subscribed to a program of wholesale abortion, recognizing that adequate knowledge of contraception is by far the better, wiser and happier course.
In Russia I pleaded for the adoption of contraception to take the place of abortion as a more humane and less dangerous method of birth control. But the Russian doctors showed little interest. They said that so long as the women had to depend upon them for abortions the population of Russia could be controlled. Once adequate knowledge of contraception was made available, the women themselves would be helpless to enforce its edicts. Apparently the time for such enforcement has come, for the new edict specifically outlaws abortion and makes no mention of providing other means by which women may plan their families by choice instead of by chance.
The mass production of babies should never be an assembly line operation. The intelligent women of today are willing to lend their bodies and their emotions to such a project even for the most lavish remuneration, and certainly the women of modern Russia cannot be expected to respond to the paltry $4 or so a month that the State proposes to contribute to the support of each child in families numbering more than three.
The edict, a complete English translation of which appears in the July 25, 1944, edition of the Information Bulletin published by the Embassy of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in Washington, D. C., is divided into five parts: the first provides an increase in State aid to mothers of large families beginning with the third child; the second increases the privileges of expectant and nursing mothers and offers expanded institutional facilities for the care of children whose parents are unable to raise them; the third introduces a system of medals and honorary titles to mothers of five or more living children; the fourth imposes a tax on single men and women and those with one or two children over 20 years of age; and the fifth makes radical changes in the marriage and divorce laws and prohibits abortion.
Much of the edict, namely the provisions for better maternal health care for working mothers, the granting of leaves of absence before and immediately after the birth of a baby and the increase in nursery facilities to care for the children of employed mothers, is sound and someone in the Russian Government is to be congratulated on its far-sightedness. But the main provisions of the edict represent the relocking of the chains of slavery which the women of Russia have so recently shaken loose.
When I was in Russia in 1934 with my son Grant, then a young medical student, we talked to leading doctors and women of all ages and occupations. It was one of their greatest boasts and sources of pride that Russia was the only country in the world where a woman could fully and completely control her own biological destiny by choosing the time of her pregnancy or by refusing to become a mother until she really wanted to have children.
Childbearing in Russia was placed upon the highest and truest basis; the desire of a woman to have a baby because she wanted to create a new life and was prepared to love and care for it. The love of children has and always will be the finest, the most noble, and certainly the most civilized, reason for having them.
The new edict, while ignoring this basic reason for childbearing, ironically provides for the prosecution of anyone found guilty of “humiliating the dignity of mothers.” What greater humiliation of motherhood is possible than to ask women to have babies for the State, to have babies for medals, to have babies for money; and of course for a dictatorship and for future wars?
For the Russian government, overlooking the fact that the desire and love of child is in itself one of life’s greatest glories, has set about to “glorify the role of motherhood.” A woman with five living children is entitled to a Motherhood Medal, Second Class. Six children makes her eligible for a First Class Medal and with the birth of her seventh, eight and ninth babies she progresses through the three classes of the Order of the Glory of Motherhood, arriving upon the birth of her tenth as a Mother Heroine, with a scroll duly inscribed by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. (This edict has scored one on the Vatican.)
To reinforce this offer of greater glory the State is to make an outright gift of 400 rubles (approximately $80) upon the birth of the third child and increase this to 1,300 rubles upon the birth of the fourth child together with an allowance of $4 a month for each of the four children.
From this point the gifts and monthly allowances increase up to $1,000 outright and $60 a month for the eleventh child, until the youngest reaches its fifth birthday. After that they are all on their own. A little mathematics will dispel the assumption that this is a generous and humane award. The offer of rubles for babies is one of the most degrading ways of increasing the birth rate for it appeals only to mothers who are already ground down by poverty and poor living conditions and who will seize upon any device to augment the family income.
Intelligent parents will doubtless prefer to pay the relatively small tax (6 per cent of their income if they have no children, 1 per cent if they have one child and 1/2 per cent if they have two children) rather than increase their family beyond their desires and ability to properly feed and house them.
For housing is and will continue to be a problem in Russia. Five families living in a five room apartment is not uncommon and a good deal more than an additional $4 a month, and a medal, will be needed if each family decides to heed the government’s edict. Actually in a family of five children the monthly allotment of 140 rubles amounts to about 15 cents a day for each child. The children, of necessity, will all be small and of an age that requires the greatest amount of shoes, winter clothing, nourishing food and other essentials for good health and proper development. One cannot but feel that fifteen additional cents a day will provide little above the slum standards in the way of food, clothing and shelter.
It seems absurdly shortsighted to advocate increasing numbers of babies without providing adequate space, room and light for that increase. Even the “bourgeois” Glasgow Municipality’s Housing Project of thirty years ago had built houses and apartments limiting the number of people in each place, so as to insure space and light and warmth for those dwelling therein. Our own housing project in U.S.A. has specified standards of the conditions of living space and the number who shall inhabit each room.
The gift of rubles is doubtless supposed to be the answer to increasing needs of the increasing family; but as the number of infants multiplies and men and women return from fields of battle, the demand for living quarters will far exceed the supply. The rubles given will be lessened in value as the scarcity of room increases. How many children can be crowded into an already overcrowded home? Are provisions being made for increasing living quarters as the family increases? Is there to be more space, more light, more room and comforts for the children or just more babies? Will rubles alone provide these necessities? The answer is NO.
But even if the government were prepared to lavish money upon the space for the children it wants to “buy” into the world, it cannot escape from the fact that it is rebuilding its postwar population from the bottom. It is rebuilding it with subsidies, which, even under the most generous condition, are at best an artificial and makeshift measure.
Moscow will reply that Russia’s population has been decimated by the war and the urgent need is to replace it as quickly as possible by any means at hand. Babies and more babies are needed and there is no time to split hairs over the quality of the parents who produce them. But is this not the very time to be most concerned with the quality of the world’s future citizens? Is this not the very time to start out with a clean slate and avoid the mistakes which have cost us so much human suffering and misery in the past?
During the early phases of the war when London’s disease and vermin infested slums were crumpled to dust, Britishers realized that the war which was robbing them of many of their magnificent churches and historical landmarks was also clearing away one of their never ending sources of infection and tragedy. On this cleared ground London’s slums will not be rebuilt as they were, but will rise as modern housing projects designed for healthier and better living.
So too, should it be with the population which this war has wiped out. Every country has lost a priceless heritage of vigorous young men who could have fathered fine healthy children. Every country has witnesses the loss of blood lines it will be impossible to replace. But many countries have also been relived of the pressure of over-population which existed before the war and which in itself is one of the economic causes for armed conflict. The rebuilding of these populations should be done slowly and with care lest a generation hence we find ourselves just where we were at the outset of this war and discover that in our haste to make up our losses we have bred from our morons and erected the same old human slums instead of the finer loftier structures we could have planned.
The day is past when a man must have many sons to till his soil and harvest his crops. The day is past when industry cries for an unlimited supply of cheap labor to be exhausted and cast aside and replaced from a bottomless human reservoir. No country today, unless it is consciously planning for military conquest, needs the quantity of population which was once considered necessary for national life.
What the future will need is men and women sound in body and mind endowed with vision, character, imagination and integrity, easily adaptable to the new scientifically propelled world which lies before us. This need will be more true twenty years from now when today’s babies, whether they are born for rubles or for love, are grown to man’s estate. The world needs a generation of babies born to healthy intelligent parents who recognize parenthood as one of the most important and gratifying of life’s responsibilities, not to the type who can be talked into the creation of a new life for the sake of adding a few rubles to the family income and wearing a Second Class motherhood medal on their chests.
May the Russian women arise and throw these rubles and medals into the faces of the male dictators who insult unborn generations as those whose claim to life is to the Russian ruble for a military, arrogant dictatorship.
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project