Motherhood and Reproduction in the Fascist, Soviet, and Nazi Regimes

In Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Soviet Union, and Mussolini’s Italy, all three regimes emphasized the national importance of genetics and increased birth rates as a state resource. In Hoffman and Timm’s chapter on Utopian Biopolitics, Nazi eugenics that promoted selective racial hygiene and purity is contrasted with Soviet non-selective pronatalism.1 Wilson analyzes the woman’s role in Fascism in his article separately.2

Each regime attempted to characterize the woman’s role as a prolific mother in different ways. The common thread running between each dictatorship was the notion that women should actively participate in the creation of the future Utopian state by literally producing as many offspring as possible. As the Nazi state was repressive in many ways, ironically, it was not repressive of heterosexual sexual freedoms. Himmler himself sanctioned premarital and even extramarital sex, considering intercourse productive if between two Aryan individuals.3 In this way, sexual relationships, a highly, personal interaction, were characterized by practical, statist goals. In contrast, in both Nazi and Soviet policy, homosexuality was viewed as a waste of “genetic stock” and was therefore prosecuted as a crime against the state. In these illiberal nations that denounced capitalism, children were seen as a valuable and priceless commodity that should be produced and protected at all costs. Through incentivization and coercion, each regime found a way to influence reproductive decisions but ultimately did not increase birth rates as desired. In this way, fertility and virility took on new meanings in totalitarian states; no longer was having an individual family decision, each family was a “germ cell” with a collectivist responsibility.

As motherhood was glorified in all three countries, maternalist welfare was developed through government intervention and propaganda was produced that provided support and motivation for women to raise more children. The major standout difference was how the Soviet Union approached the role of women as mothers and labors, encouraging dual earning households. In Germany and Italy, the mother’s ideal domain was to forever remain the domestic home while the father’s world was either the workforce or battlefield. However, regardless of the portrayed ideal norm, women worked outside the home in both Germany and Italy.

It is notable that trying to raise birth rates during a period of world war seems counterproductive, when many men are away from home fighting and some may never return. Wilson concludes that “despite the enormous amount of attention paid to gender roles in Fascist rhetoric, it seems that the particular patterns of industrialization, commercialization, and urbanization had more power to shape female experiences in this period than the crude tools of Fascist ideology and policy.”4 I agree with Wilson and argue that not just Fascist policy failed to control gender and family roles, so too did Nazi and Soviet policy. Is it ever advisable for a state to define and encourage gender roles and family structure? In addition, is it possible for reproductive policies to be used in a democratic, non-dictatorial way to influence a country’s population?

  1. Hoffmann, David L., and Annette F. Timm. “Utopian Biopolitics: Reproductive Policies, Gender Roles, and Sexuality in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.” In Beyond Totalitarianism – Stalinism and Nazism Compared, edited by Michael Geyer and Sheila Fitzpatrick, 87-129. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2009. []
  2. Wilson, Perry R. “Women in Fascist Italy.” In Facist Italy and Nazi Germany – Comparisons and Contrasts, edited by Richard Bessel, 78-93. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996. []
  3. Hoffmann and Timm, Utopian Biopolitics, p. 106 []
  4. Wilson, Women in Fascist Italy, p. 93 []

4 thoughts on “Motherhood and Reproduction in the Fascist, Soviet, and Nazi Regimes

  1. I think that in many cases it is acceptable for the state to define and encourage gender roles. Today their are government missions to broaden gender roles and encourage individuality. These are examples of the state encouraging a certain lifestyle but in a much more agreeable and liberal sense. The distinguishing factor between the policies of totalitarian states, like the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, and today’s programs is that today such gender roles are not encouraged so to help fulfill a higher, collective state purpose (racial and ideological superiority being the goal of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union respectively).

  2. I believe that if a countries population is falling and there is no positive outcome to that in sight, it is acceptable for the state to encourage reproduction, but thats about it. Becoming an enemy of the state through lack of governmental obedience seems unethical when it tresspasses human rights.

  3. I would disagree with Gibson on the assertion that reproductive policies are not encouraged to fulfill a “collective state purpose”. Look at China, for example. While their policies might be essentially the opposite of the Nazi and Soviet initiatives, the One-Child Law is still a government-instituted mandate that controls the lives of the people in a similar way. However, this policy could be argued as not only being for a collective state purpose, but also for a greater global purpose, unlike the aims of the two totalitarian states.

  4. I don’t think that it is ever advisable for a state to define and encourage gender roles and family structure in an effort to enhance reproduction within the population. As seen in both readings, such measures failed in all three regimes. This is especially the case now, due to mass industrialization, and urbanization, as well as the rise of advanced technology. According to S.G. Strumilin, one of the Soviet Union’s leading statisticians during the interwar period, “the drop in fertility correlated with urbanization and the entrance of women into the industrial workforce – trends that had to continue if industrialization were to move ahead” (“Utopian Biopolitics”, 93). Strumilin’s study on the Soviet Union demonstrates how ineffective it is for the state to define and encourage gender roles and family structure when women were encouraged to work as part of the collective to help with the industrialization and urbanization of the state. Although, women were encouraged to work within domestic fields and stay in the home, especially in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, due to the circumstances (major public projects being put into place and living in an interwar/ wartime period) these measures were not placed entirely since women were still working and being involved outside of the home.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *