Women in the Russian Revolution

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The Russian Revolutions of 1917, and the events that proceeded and followed it, brought about vast social change. Many Russian women actively participated in the revolution, and many more were affected by the events of that period and the new policies of the Soviet Union.

Russian Women and World War I[edit]

Millions of Russian men fought actively in World War I, causing some disruption in the patriarchal gender roles traditional to Russian society. 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.[1] Women fought directly in the war in small numbers on the front lines, often disguised as men, and thousands more served as nurses.[2] The social conditions of women during World War I affected the role they played in coming revolutions.

The February Revolution and its impact on the Bolshevik party[edit]

The February Revolution toppled the tsarist regime and established a provisional government. Women were highly visible in this revolution, gathering in a mass protest on 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."[3] 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.[4] 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." Before the revolution, feminism was condemned as "bourgeois" because it tended to come from the upper classes, and was considered counterrevolutionary in the way it divided the working class. 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.[5]

October Revolution and the Civil War[edit]

Main article: Zhenotdel

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.[6] 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, 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.[7]

The provisional government did not last, and in October the Bolshevik party led another revolution. While men were forcibly conscripted for service in the civil war following the October Revolution, women were not required to participate. Nevertheless, they did, in large numbers, suggesting the Bolsheviks had gained some women's support. An estimated 50,000 to 70,000 women had joined the Red Army by 1920 to make up 2% of the overall armed forces.[4]

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. 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.[8]

Fanni Kaplan attempted to kill Vladimir Lenin in 1918 and was later executed.

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.[9]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Engel, pp. 129–131.
  2. ^ Stoff, p. 30.
  3. ^ Engel, pp. 133–135.
  4. ^ a b Stoff, p. 66.
  5. ^ Borbroff, pp. 540–567.
  6. ^ Smith, p. 137.
  7. ^ Boxer & Quataert, p. 302.
  8. ^ Engel, pp. 140–145.
  9. ^ Clements, pp. 215–235.

References[edit]

  • Borbroff, Anne (1974). "The Bolsheviks and Working Women, 1905–20". Soviet Studies 26 (4). 
  • Boxer, Marilyn J.; Quataert, Jean H. (2000). "Chapter 14". Connecting Spheres: European women in a globalizing world, 1500 to the present (Second ed.). New York, New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-510950-4. 
  • Clements, Barbara Evans (Winter 1982). "Working-Class and Peasant Women in the Russia Revolution, 1917–1923". Signs 8 (2): 215–235. doi:10.1086/493960. JSTOR 3173897. 
  • Engel, Barbara Alpern (2004). Women in Russia, 1700–2000. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press. 
  • Smith, S. A. (2002). The Russian Revolution. United States: Oxford University Press. p. 137. ISBN 978-0-19-285395-0. 
  • Stoff, Laurie (2006). They fought for the Motherland: Russia's women soldiers in World War I and the Revolution. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Wade, Rex A. (2000). "Chapter 4". The Russian Revolution, 1917. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-41548-4. 
  • Walther Schmieding, Aufstand der Töchter, Russische Revolutionärinnen im 19. Jahrhundert, 1979, Kindler Verlag, München (in German)

External links[edit]