One interesting aspect of Understanding Russia: A Cultural History (course by Lynne Ann Hartnett, a professor at Villanova) is how modern and familiar the ideas of the Bolsheviks are. After the October Revolution, for example, Prof. Hartnett talks about women gaining the rights to on-demand abortion and on-demand divorce (what today is called “unilateral” or “no-fault” divorce). The rate of abortion quickly grew to exceed the rate of live births. The divorce rate in the Soviet Union became the highest in Europe. Unlike in the U.S., no-fault divorce did not come with the need to hire a lawyer and litigate in a courtroom (see Real World Divorce). The wife could go to City Hall, fill out a form, and her now-ex-husband would be informed of the divorce via mail (“postcard divorce”). [Unlike in the U.S., though, there was no possibility of an alimony revenue stream following a no-fault divorce; women in the early Soviet system were considered capable of working to support themselves and if they wanted extra spending power from a man’s income they had to get it through a voluntary arrangement.]
The professor also cites paid maternity leave and state-run day care as early Soviet programs.
Radical thinkers today like to talk about reconceiving state-run education as a lifelong process rather than merely K-12. The Soviets were there 100 years ago! Prof. Hartnett talks about how lifelong education was an explicit goal and the Soviets quickly organized programs for both peasants and factory workers.
I wonder what percent of the positions taken by a modern American politician might have been anticipated 100 years ago by the Bolsheviks. It would be an interesting exercise to line up what our current leaders say and promise to what the Bolsheviks were saying and promising.
Separately, the lecture series adds a data point to how present-day academics think about capitalism and the market. Prof. Hartnett does not seem to be a fan of Marxism-Leninism due to its reliance on violence to keep the population in line. However, when talking about pre-revolutionary Russia, with its 7 percent annual economic growth (like China today), she describes factory workers as “underpaid.” There does not seem to be any evidence of collusion among employers and state intervention in the economy was minimal compared to modern welfare states. Thus, it seems likely that the workers were earning a market wage. Due to the ample supply of labor this might have resulted in “low paid” workers, but to the modern American academic “low paid” seems necessarily to imply “underpaid” (unfairly low wage).