It is a truism which is not disputed even by our enemies that the Soviet woman enjoys full equality, and that she is a full-fledged citizen of the state. In terms of recognition of all rights of the woman in the sense of attracting women in the active construction of state the Soviet Union is the most advanced in the world. The Soviet Union occupies a unique position in this field.
By its political and social structure the USSR managed to solve the most difficult basic problem for woman: having recognized her an equivalent and equal citizen of the state and using a woman in all areas of its creative work and activities, our state took simultaneously and takes all measures to enable a woman to fulfil her natural duty – namely, motherhood
From the first steps of its legislation and in Stalin Constitution of 1935 the USSR recognises that motherhood is not a private matter, but a social active duty of the equal citizen of the state. It is within this approach the USSR solved the important and complex problem that is the combination of women’s active labour in all fields without compromising motherhood. Soviet women managed to earn the trust of the state, not only by having shown heroism during the war, struggle and victory over the Nazi invaders, but also in peaceful creative work before the war and now fulfilling and surpassing Stalin’s Five-Year Plans. It is significant that in many industries where females’ labour is dominating over-fulfilment of the plan is more likely. Collective farms show the same.
How and why could it happen? And also, how did the Soviet women achieve full equality? Such questions are asked involuntarily in many other countries. It is especially striking when one recalls that there has never been the so-called women’s movement in Russia, and that the Russian woman has not gone through feminism and the struggle of the suffragettes for women’s equality.
The Russian woman never separated the struggle for equality from the main problems: the liberation of her country from the tsarist yoke, and she knew that women’s equality was an inseparable part of the basic social and political problems.
However, it does not mean that Russia cannot be proud of major female names on the arenas of political struggle, scientific and artistic creativity. Names of the Russian heroic women are known far abroad.
Russia almost did not know any separate women’s organisations with special women’s demands and requirements of rights for women as a mass phenomenon as women’s organisations abroad. However, female bourgeois organisations of the feminist type began to protrude after the first outbreak of the revolution in 1905 together with an attempt to organise the bourgeoisie. They even convened the Russian Women’s Congress in 1908, but these attempts crumbled and had no success. Advanced workers and peasants and progressive intellectuals joined the revolutionary party and walked along with the comrades to fight not for the narrow women’s rights, but for the overthrow of the autocracy. Women workers fought selflessly and courageously defended the workers’ cause in mass strikes. Students joined secret revolutionary activities and died in the dungeons of the tsar and the Siberian penal servitude (katorga).
On March 8, 1917 in Petrograd women boldly went out and raised the first voice against the imperialist war. Their demonstrations were so impressive and formidable that even the tsarist police were taken aback and the soldiers did not dare to shoot hungry women, wives and mothers of their comrades, who demanded: Down with the imperialist war! Give us our husbands out of the trenches! Bread for our children! This day marked the beginning of the Great Russian revolution in 1917, which ended in November of that year with the victory of the Soviets.
It is the fact that the Russian woman fought heroically and selflessly to overthrow the old regime and for the victory of the Soviet power and communism, she actually proved to be a worthy citizen of the new political system.
It was natural only that the Bolshevik Party implemented also the paragraph of its programme on the complete equation of women in equal rights with men in the first actions of the Soviet government.
But legal and political recognition of the equality of women of the Soviet working republic did not mean that the multi-million female population of backward Russia was able to exercise these rights in the interest of the liberated people and of their own one. We had to teach her how to use those rights for the common good, to strengthen the construction of the Soviet state and for the better future of her children.
This idea of how to involve women in the creative work to consolidate the gains of the revolution occupied Lenin even before the victory. I remember my conversation with Lenin in April 1917, he then advised us – a small active group of Bolshevik women – to work closely with the masses of soldiers’ wives and other groups of the female population of Petrograd. Much depends on their mood, said Lenin. Their support was crucial for the revolution.
The Bureau on work among women was formed with the Party Central Committee in autumn 1917. I had to carry out a broad mass work among the soldiers’ wives and women under the direct supervision of Sverdlov and in cooperation with him. But even then there was no trace of talk on any independent and separate women’s organisation. Woman’s place was among the ranks of those who fought for the realisation of the great ideals of humanity, which include the full emancipation and equality for women.
The victory of the Soviet Women in November 1917 did not mean the defeat of the counter-revolution. On the contrary, 1918 became the year of flaring civil war and fight against the invaders from the bourgeois- capitalist countries. The country was devastated by the four years of war, ruins of the economy reached the limit, people suffered, but fought heroically for the gained rights and for their young state. At this moment, more than ever, the Soviet power needed conscious assistance and cooperation of the broad mass of the female population in towns and villages. In autumn 1918 the Party Central Committee sent several female propagandists and organisers popular among masses of women to different regions of Russia to educate women’s toiling masses what their tasks should be. Comrade Sverdlov sent me to the textile areas to the north of Moscow, that is, to Ivanovo, Orekhovo, Kineshma and so on. I firmly remember Lenin’s words: if the most persistent and courageous fighter of the civil war returning home each time will hear grumbling and complaints of his wife and meet the enemy to further struggle in her face due to her lack of political consciousness, the will of even the most seasoned fighter can weaken. We need to forge a solid bulwark of the mass of laborious females against the counter-revolution and for the consolidation of the Soviet power. Every woman should understand that in fighting for the Soviet power she fights for her rights and for her children.
We tried to explain and implement these thoughts among broad masses of women. It was not always easy, but, nevertheless, we succeeded.
Already finishing my propaganda trip to the textile areas I met Anuchkina who was an interesting weaver-worker. Over a cup of tea in her modest small room in Kineshma, Comrade Rosa Kovnator and I listened to a proposal, or better to say an idea, of a plain faithful worker Anuchkina that it was time to convene the All-Russian Congress of female workers and peasants in Moscow, and under the Party leadership to develop methods and techniques of work among wide women’s masses and to teach a Soviet woman, even the most modest and marginal one, to benefit her own dear Soviet state .
With this idea in mind I returned to Moscow and fled straight to the Central Committee.
Vladimir Ilyich fully endorsed this idea and supported it. No separate women’s organisations, of course, were necessary to organise, but it was necessary to have the appropriate unit in the party that would bear responsibility for the work on raising consciousness of broad masses of women and would teach women to build the Soviet state. Women were to be involved in the activities of local councils in towns and countryside, it was necessary to give them the appropriate practical knowledge and pay special attention to the development of institutions that facilitate combination of women’s active participation in the councils with their motherhood.
These thoughts and tasks of Vladimir Ilyich formed the basis of the work that had been done at the convening of the First Congress of Women’s Workers and Peasants in Moscow in 1918.
In all countries women fought for their rights finding strong resistance on the part of the bourgeois governments. Women fought for their rights sometimes heroically, yet nowhere in the world have they achieved the fruitful results that every female citizen of the Soviet Union of any of the Soviet republics naturally enjoys. The peculiarity of the Soviet Union is that the state itself, the government itself attracts women to work, opening wide the doors to them in all fields. Women require the right to work, to education, to maternal health.
Naturally, in the USSR there is no need and no reason to organise any special women’s organisations for the protection of women’s interests like those existing in bourgeois countries.
During the invasion of the Nazi aggressors women were firsthand convinced of the need to maintain the unrelenting struggle against fascism and after the victory of the total eradication of all its residues. That is why now an organisation of women emerged that set itself the goal not of protecting women’s rights, but fighting against fascism in any form worldwide. The International Anti-Fascist Federation of Democratic Women believes that full emancipation and equality of women are possible only under the consistent democracy.
Therefore, women in all countries should support that line of policies of the United Nations, which would eliminate the threat of war and fight against fascist tendencies in whatever form they may be seen in their own country.
The Anti-Fascist Women’s Federation sees no reason to disperse its forces joining any of the existing women’s organisations that pursue purely feminine goals and marginalise women from the common struggle and common democratic objectives, which can only weaken this fundamental goal of modern humanity. The struggle against fascism is the basic and main pivot and it is much more logical and correct for women’s organisations of feminist type to join the international anti-fascist Democratic Women’s Federation and thus to strengthen the fight of the UNO against the threat of new war and for the victory of democracy worldwide.
29. 08. 1946
Sovetskaya zhenshchina No. 5, September-October, 1946, pp. 3-4. An abbreviated version of this article was published in Alexandra Kollontai, ‘Articles and Speeches’, International Publishers, New York, 1984.
RGASPI. F. 134. Op.1. D. 290. LL. 1-7.
Translated from the Russian by Dr. Elena Lavrina.