Editorial from the August 1944 issue of the Socialist Standard
A few years ago a campaign for the relaxation of the British divorce laws resulted in some changes which made divorce easier. Mr. A. P. Herbert, M.P., who led the campaign, coined the phrase “Holy Deadlock” to describe the position of those who wanted to dissolve their unsuccessful marriage, but were prevented by the existing law. The modifications of the law would have been greater but for the opposition of the Churches. The attitude of the Orthodox Church in Russia is not different from that of the Church of England and the Roman Catholics, and it is interesting to observe that the official recognition of the Orthodox Church by Stalin’s Government has been quickly followed by a tightening up of the divorce laws in Russia. Divorce in Russia used to be easy and costless, and Communist and other admirers of all things done by the Bolshevists made much of that fact. Mr. Pat Sloan, in his “Soviet Democracy” (Victor Gollancz, 1937, p. 124), wrote that “the holding of people unwillingly together, by force of law or by economic compulsion, has always been opposed. Divorce has been made easy . . ."
The Webbs, in their “Soviet Communism," describing the earliest official attitude, said that on the “principle of freedom in personal relations, divorce, at the option of either party, was as optional as a registered marriage. . . .” (p. 1054).
The Dean of Canterbury, Dr Hewlett Johnson, writing of the recent position, likewise states that “a woman is free to divorce her husband, though strongly discouraged from doing so. Divorce is granted readily at the request of either party. . . .” (“Socialist Sixth of the World,” Gollancz, 1944, p. 268).
Now all this is changed, at least for the low-paid masses. Divorce is to be both difficult and costly. Miss Marion Sinclair, Moscow correspondent of the Daily Mirror (July 13, 1944), gives interesting details. “By the new laws, divorce has been made a long, complicated and expensive process.” She continues: —
One must apply to the People’s Court, paying 100 roubles, giving reasons and particulars about the partner, who is then called to court. This means that no one who is at the front, or doing war work in distant parts, of the Soviet Union, can be divorced. An announcement of the forthcoming action must be inserted in the local newspaper, the fee payable by the person seeking the divorce. The hearing must be public unless the court, for good reasons, rules otherwise, and so unpleasant publicity is now added to the troubles of the divorce-seeker. The duty of the People’s Court is to reconcile parties. If it fails, witnesses will be produced and the Court will decide whether there are sufficient grounds for divorce. It cannot, however, grant the divorce, but passes on the parties to the District Court, where the whole proceedings are gone through again. The costs are from 500 to 2,000 roubles, not including the fees of the lawyers who—for the first time—will be engaged in divorce actions, if the petitioner does not succeed with the District Court, he works his way up through the Regional, Provincial and City Courts to the Supreme Court of the Republic—a process which may take years, and which will certainly cost a great deal of money.
The Economist (July 15, 1944) points out what this means : “ . . . the fees to be paid on obtaining a divorce have been fixed so high as to be entirely prohibitive for the working classes. Divorce has become a privilege open only to the high income classes.”
One obvious reason for the change is to be found in the Russian Government's policy of increasing the population to make up for war deaths, which is being energetically fostered by the recently announced increase of children’s allowances and the institution of medals for mothers of large numbers of children. The mother of ten children is entitled to be called a “Mother Heroine,” and is awarded a large medal.
In spite of statements that the change is approved, it needs no special insight to know that the low-paid Russian workers who are barred from divorce will resent the new arrangement, which make divorce a privilege confined to the wealthier sections of the population.
Doubtless the British Communists who praised the former easy divorce will be just as slavishly enthusiastic about the reversal of policy, which puts State capitalist Russia well behind capitalist Britain. It would, however, be interesting to know what Communists have to say about Lenin's statement, quoted in The Economist (July J5, 1944):
The example of divorce shows that it is impossible to be a Democrat and a Socialist without at once demanding the full freedom of divorce, because the absence of that freedom is an additional vexation to the oppressed sex, to the women.