Women in the Russian Revolution

The Russian Revolutions of 1917 saw the collapse of the Russian Empire, a short-lived provisional government, and the creation of the world's first socialist state under the Bolsheviks. They made explicit commitments to promote the equality of men and women. Many early Russian feminists and ordinary Russian working women actively participated in the Revolution, and all were affected by the events of that period and the new policies of the Soviet Union.

The provisional government that took power after the February 1917 overthrow of the tsar promoted liberalism and made Russia the first major country to give women the right to vote. As soon as the Bolsheviks took power in October 1917, they liberalized laws on divorce and abortion, decriminalized homosexuality, and proclaimed a new higher status for women. Inessa Armand (1874-1920), Alexandra Kollontai (1872-1952), Nadezhda Krupskaya (1869-1939) and Aleksandra Artyukhina (1889–1969) were prominent Bolsheviks. Outside the Bolsheviks, Maria Spiridonova emerged as one of the main leaders of the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries and generally of the peasant movement: she chaired the Extraordinary All-Russia Congress Of Soviets Of Peasants' Deputies in late November 1917, and was later appointed head of the Peasant Section of the Central Executive Committee of the All-Russian Soviet of Workers', Peasants', and Soldiers' Deputies (VTsIK) until July 1918.

Russian Women and World War I edit

The young Russian feminist movement was exhilarated by the uprising of 1905, which was followed by a liberalization of some of the tight restrictions on women, and the creation of a national parliament. However, by 1908, the forces of reaction were pushing back hard, and feminists were in retreat. Women were barred from universities, and there was a general sense of despair among liberal forces.[1]

The outbreak of war in August 1914 was a surprise; the Empire was poorly prepared. As men were hurriedly put into uniform by the millions women took on new roles. The number of women workers in industrial centers rose to over one million as 250,000 women joined the workforce between 1914 and 1917. Peasant women also took on new roles, taking over some of their husbands' farm work.[2] Women fought directly in the war in small numbers on the front lines, often disguised as men, and thousands more served as nurses.[3] The social conditions of women during World War I affected the role they played in coming revolutions.[4]

Under the Provisional Government edit

In the spring of 1917, the Russian Ministry of War authorized the creation of sixteen separate all-female military formations. Four were designated as infantry battalions, eleven slated as communications detachments and a singular naval unit.[5] Already some women had successfully petitioned to join regular military units, and with the planning of the Kerensky Offensive, a number began pressing the new Provisional Government to create special women's battalions.[5] These women, along with a number of high-ranking members of the Russian government and military administration, believed that female soldiers would have significant propaganda value, their example revitalizing the weary and demoralized men of the Russian army.[6] Simultaneously, they hoped the presence of women would shame hesitant male soldiers into resuming their combat duties.[7][6]

The February Revolution and its impact on the Bolshevik party edit

The 1917 International Women's Day March held in Petrograd

The February Revolution toppled the tsarist regime and established a provisional government. A few women were highly visible in this revolution, especially those who gathered in mass protest on the International Women's Day to call for political rights. They gained rights under the provisional government, including the right to vote, to serve as attorneys, and equal rights in civil service. Women advocating for these kinds of political rights generally came from upper and middle-class background, while poorer women protested for "bread and peace."[8] Record numbers of women joined the Russian army. All women's combat units were put into place, the first of these forming in May 1917.[9]

The Women Questions and Bolshevik politics edit

The Women Question, and the notion that women were locked into privater strict social rules and roles, was a popular topic among Russian intellectuals during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In sharp contrast to the West, however, the Russian discussions regarding the rights and roles of women did not form part of the basic struggle for human rights.[10] Barbara Engel has explored the ways the revolution was gendered. The weakness of the cult of domesticity in the Imperial era facilitated the introduction of innovative Bolshevik policies. On the other hand working class was gendered as male, which impeded innovations. Indeed, after 1905 radical elements increasingly conceptualized women as locked out of the public sphere where only men were legitimate participants, revolutionaries must prioritize men and often ridiculed housewives and peasant women.[11] as a consequence, reformers and revolutionaries generally viewed women as backward and superstitious, and not to be trusted politically. Some Marxists referred to women workers as the "most backward stratum of the proletariat" and accused them of being unable to develop a revolutionary consciousness without party guidance.[12][13] Many wrote and theorized on the issue, but many Russians associated the issue mainly with feminists. Before the revolution, feminism was condemned as "bourgeois" because it tended to come from the upper classes, and was considered counterrevolutionary because of the perception that it would have divided the working class. Engels' 1890 work on The Women Question influenced Lenin heavily. He believed that the oppression of women was a function of their exclusion from the public production sphere and the relegation to the domestic sphere. For women to have been considered true comrades, the bourgeois family had to be dismantled and women needed full autonomy and access to employment.[14] In light of the participation of women in the February Revolution, the Bolshevik Party began to rethink and restructure its approach to "the women question." Stalin reversed many of the Bolshevik wartime innovations, and he also set up a system that for some women was empowering.[11]

The Bolsheviks had opposed any division of the working class, including separating men and women to put some focus specifically on women's issues. They thought men and women needed to work together with no division, and because of this, in the party's early days, there was no literature printed specifically targeting women, and the Bolsheviks refused to create a bureau for women workers. In 1917, they acquiesced to the demands of the Russian feminist movement and created the Women's Bureau.[15]

October Revolution and the Civil War edit

Beginning in October 1918, the Soviet Union liberalized divorce and abortion laws, decriminalized homosexuality, permitted cohabitation, and ushered in a host of reforms that theoretically made women more equal to men.[16] The new system produced many broken marriages, as well as countless children born out of wedlock.[17] The epidemic of divorces and extramarital affairs created social hardships when Soviet leaders wanted people to concentrate their efforts on growing the economy. they gave a high priority to moving women into the urban industrial labor force. There was a precipitous decline in the birth rate, which the Kremlin perceived as a threat to Soviet military power. By 1936, Joseph Stalin reversed most of the liberal laws, ushering in a conservative, pronatalist era that lasted for decades to come.[18]

The Bolsheviks came to power with the idea of liberation of women and transformation of the family. They were able to equalize women's legal status with men's by reforming certain laws such as the Code on Marriage, the Family, and Guardianship ratified in October 1918 which allows both spouses were to retain the right to their own property and earnings, grant children born outside wedlock the same rights as those born within, and made divorce available upon request.[19] The Bolsheviks launched a movement for women's self-activity; the Zhenotdel, also known as women's section of the Communist Party (1919–1930). Under the leadership of Alexandra Kollontai, and with the support of women like Inessa Armand and Nadezhda Krupskaya, the Zhenotdel spread the news of the revolution, enforced its laws, set up political education and literacy classes for working-class and peasant women, and fought prostitution.[20]

What the October Revolution gave to the female worker and peasant. 1920 Soviet propaganda poster. The inscriptions on the buildings read "library", "kindergarten", "school for grown-ups", etc.

While men were forcibly conscripted for service in the civil war when multiple enemies tried to overthrow the Bolsheviks, women were not required to participate. Nevertheless, they did, in large numbers, suggesting the Bolsheviks had gained some women's support. About 50,000 to 70,000 women joined the Red Army by 1920 to make up 2% of the overall armed forces.[9]

During this time Bolshevik feminism really began to take form. Lenin spoke often of the importance of relieving women from housework so they could participate more fully in society, and an effort to pay workers for household chores began.[21] The principle "Equal pay for equal work" was officially legislated. Some changes to the traditional emphasis on family were implemented, including making divorce easily attainable and granting full rights to illegitimate children.[22]

One former revolutionary fighter, Fanni Kaplan, attempted to assassinate Vladimir Lenin in 1918, but was arrested and executed. Lenin never fully recovered his health.

Some women, like Anarchist Maria Nikiforova and Left Socialist-Revolutionary Irina Kakhovskaya, respectively conducted military operations and terrorist actions in Ukraine during the Civil War, the latter leading to the assassination of the German Military Governor, Field Marshal Hermann von Eichhorn.

Inessa Armand edit

Inessa Armand (1874-1920) was an active revolutionary who was very close to Lenin; she was given major roles after he assumed power.[23] She became head of the Moscow Economic Council[24] and served as an executive member of the Moscow Soviet. She became director of Zhenotdel, an organisation that fought for female equality in the Communist Party and the Soviet trade unions (Zhenotdel operated until 1930), with powers to make legislative decisions. She drove through reforms to allow women rights to divorce, abort, participate in government affairs and create the facilities like mass canteens and mother centers.[25] In 1918, with Sverdlov's assistance against opposition from Zinoviev and Radek, she succeeded in getting a national congress of working women held, with Lenin as a speaker. According to Elwood, the reason the party leadership agreed to back up Armand's agitation for communal facilities was that the Civil War required enlisting women into factory work and auxiliary tasks in the Red Army, which created the need to release women from traditional duties.[26] Armand also chaired the First International Conference of Communist Women in 1920. The spring of 1920 saw the appearance, again on Armand's initiative, of the journal Kommunistka, which dealt with "the broader aspects of female emancipation and the need to alter the relationship between the sexes if lasting change was to be effected".

Peasant Women and Women's Emancipation edit

Peasant women were largely uninvolved in both the "bourgeois" feminist movement, and the Bolshevik revolution. Patriarchal gender roles were way of life in villages, and the village was the only life peasant women knew. Historians have theorized that peasants saw revolution as a dangerous threat to their way of life, and that peasant women, already impoverished, feared the disruptions brought by war. Only a small minority of peasant women joined the Bolshevik cause. Peasant women's rejection of women's emancipation is most clearly demonstrated in their refusal to be involved with the Women's Bureau.[27]

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ Goldberg Ruthchild, 2010a, pp. 147.
  2. ^ Engel, 2004, pp. 129–131.
  3. ^ Stoff, p. 30.
  4. ^ Goldberg Ruthchild, 2010b.
  5. ^ a b Stoff 2006, p. 114.
  6. ^ a b Stoff 2006, p. 69.
  7. ^ Stockdale 2004, p. 91.
  8. ^ Engel, 2004, pp. 133–135.
  9. ^ a b Stoff, p. 66.
  10. ^ Pushkareva, Natalia (2017). "Soviet and Post-Soviet Scholarship of Women's Participation in Russia's Socio-Political Life from 1900 to 1917". Revolutionary Russia. 30 (2): 208–227. doi:10.1080/09546545.2017.1406292. S2CID 149322815.
  11. ^ a b Engel, 2017.
  12. ^ Koonz, Claudia (1977). Becoming Visible: Women in European History. Houghton Mifflin. p. 375. ISBN 0395244773.
  13. ^ McShane, Anne (4 December 2011). "Did the Russian Revolution Really Change Much for Women?". Retrieved 31 December 2014.
  14. ^ McAndrew, Maggie; Peers, Jo (1981). The New Soviet Woman - Model or Myth. London: North Star Press.
  15. ^ Borbroff, pp. 540–567.
  16. ^ Goldman, Wendy Z. (1993). Women, the State and Revolution: Soviet Family Policy and Social Life, 1917-1936. Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511665158. ISBN 9780511665158.
  17. ^ Stites, 1978.
  18. ^ Neary, Rebecca Balmas (July 1999). "Mothering Socialist Society: The Wife-Activists' Movement and the Soviet Culture of Daily Life, 1934-1941". Russian Review. 58 (3): 396–412. doi:10.1111/0036-0341.00081. PMID 22238809.
  19. ^ Smith, p. 137.
  20. ^ Boxer & Quataert, p. 302.
  21. ^ Holmgren & Goldberg Ruthchild.
  22. ^ Engel, 2004, pp. 140–145.
  23. ^ Pearson, Michael (2002). Lenin's Mistress: The Life of Inessa Armand.
  24. ^ Smith, Bonnie (2008). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Women in World History: 4 Volume Set. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195148909.
  25. ^ Montague, Brendan (2011). A Year on the Sauce. John Hunt. pp. 132–133. ISBN 9781846945298.
  26. ^ Elwood, Ralph Carter (4 July 2002). Inessa Armand: Revolutionary and Feminist. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521894210.
  27. ^ Clements, pp. 215–235.

Reference bibliography edit

Further reading edit

Historiography edit

External links edit