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Tuesday, April 09, 2013

The Russian family experiment

The Russian Revolution brought a grand experiment in restructuring the family. Encyclopedia.com reports:
The Russian Central Executive Committee of Soviets ratified the Code on Marriage, the Family, and Guardianship in October 1918, one year after the Bolsheviks took power. Alexander Goikhbarg, the young author of the Code, expected that family law would soon be outmoded and "the fetters of husband and wife" unnecessary. Goikhbarg and other revolutionary jurists believed children, the elderly, and the disabled would be supported under socialism by the state; housework would be socialized and waged; and women would no longer be economically dependent on men. The family, stripped of its social functions, would "wither away," replaced by "free unions" based on mutual love and respect. ...

The Code established no-grounds divorce at the request of either spouse. It abolished the juridical concept of "illegitimacy" and entitled all children to parental support. If a woman could not identify the father of her child, a judge assigned paternal obligations to all the men she had sexual relations with, thus creating a "collective of fathers." It forbade adoption of orphans by individual families in favor of state guardianship: ... The Code also sharply restricted the duties and obligations of the marital bond. ...

The 1918 Code was very advanced for its time. Comparable legislation on equal rights and divorce would not be passed in Europe or the United States until the end of the twentieth century. Yet many Soviet jurists believed that the Code was not "socialist" but "transitional" legislation. Goikhbarg, like many revolutionary jurists, expected that law, like marriage, the family, and the state, would soon "wither away."
These changes created more problems than they solved, and the family did not wither away. A few years later, the Soviets had to pass laws reversing some of these changes.

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