Alexandra Kollontai

V.I. Lenin and the First Congress of Women Workers

Source: Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. Reminiscences. 1900-1922, Moscow, 1963, pp. 221-223.

Vladimir Ilyich was the one who initiated the involvement of broad masses of women from the cities and villages in the building of a socialist state.

The Soviet Union occupies a unique position in the world in this respect. No comparable phenomenon can be found in any other state.

In every country of the world women waged and are waging their own struggle for their rights, and face powerful resistance and curt rejection on the part of their own bourgeois governments. In many countries women fought heroically for their rights, but they were nonetheless unable to achieve anywhere else those rights enjoyed by every woman in every Soviet republic.

The uniqueness of the Soviet Union lies in the fact that it is not the women themselves who demand from the government the right to work, to education, and to the protection of motherhood, but the government which itself draws the women into every sphere of labour, including those to which they have absolutely no access in the majority of bourgeois countries, and simultaneously protects the interests of women as mothers. All of this is written into the Soviet Constitution, and it is without parallel anywhere in the world.

...The first congress of women workers began the great work conducted by the party among the millions of women of the USSR. Vladimir Ilyich was present at this congress...

From the very first days of the October Revolution, Soviet power accorded women full rights; however, not all women were as yet able to avail themselves of them. Among the women there were those who, as a result of their lack of class consciousness, were deceived by the opponents of Soviet power.

Vladimir Ilyich (once) said (and I clearly remember his words):

'If even the most resolute and courageous fighter on the civil war front returns home and has to listen day after day to the grumbles and complaints of his wife and face in her, as a result of her lack of political consciousness, an opponent to the continuing struggle for Soviet power, the will of even a valiant warrior hardened in battle may weaken, and he who did not surrender to counter-revolution may surrender to his wife and come under her harmful influence.

'Therefore,' said Vladimir Ilyich,'we must mould the female working masses into a solid bulwark of Soviet power against counter-revolution. Each woman must understand that, in fighting for Soviet power, she is fighting for her own rights and for those of her children.

In the autumn of 1918, the party sent a group of active Bolsheviks to various parts of the country in order to conduct work among the women. I was sent by Sverdlov to Orekhovo-Zuyevo, Kineshma, Ivanovo and other places. i remember how one woman textile worker called Anuchkina invited me home. She offered me a cup of tea; there was no bread, no sugar, but a great deal of enthusiasm. During our conversation, comrade Anuchkina expressed the opinion that it was now time to convene a congress of working and peasant women. I liked the idea, and put it before the party Central Committee when I returned to Moscow.

Vladimir Ilyich fully approved of this idea and gave it his support.

'Of course,' he said, 'there should be no separate women's organisations, but the appropriate apparatus should be set up within the party which would assume responsibility for raising the level of consciousness among the female population, and which would teach women how to use their rights in order to build the Soviet state, that is, in order to build a better future. Women must be drawn into local Soviets in both the towns and the villages, they must be given practical tasks and knowledge. Particular attention must also be given to the development of those institutions which lighten the burden of motherhood for women actively engaged in working for the state in the Soviets and factories.

These ideas and tasks set forth by Vladimir Ilyich formed the basis of the work done at the first congress of women workers, held on 16-21 November, 1918.

The lead group of women Bolsheviks, which included Nadezhda Konstantinovna Krupskaya, Inessa Armand, myself and some others - altogether the group had 2(r25 members-drew up reports and resolutions on various issues.

I was given the job of preparing a report and resolution on methods of work among women and on the organisation of the appropriate apparatus within the party, that is, the creation of women's sections. This resolution was approved at our congress, and formed the basis of a decade of work by these women's sections in the party. It was also adopted at the Second International Conference of Women Communists in 1921 50 as a guideline for all the parties that are members of the Comintern.

At the time the congress was convened, not everyone appreciated its importance and significance. I remember that there was opposition from Rykov, Zinoviev and others. However, Vladimir Ilyich declared that the congress was necessary. He always inquired how we were progressing and whether women were responding to our call.

The preparatory work for our first congress was not easy. The postal service was operating badly and we received no reply from party committees to our appeal to send women delegates. On the basis of rough calculations, we estimated that about 300 would come. In fact the number was 1,147. By that time we had been given premises in the 3rd House of Soviets (Sadovo-Karetnaya St. in Moscow). However, we had laid on food for only three-five hundred people. That night I received telephone calls from Podchufarova and Baranova, who told me:'The delegates have arrived, but discontent is growing-there is no bread, no sugar, no tea.'

There is a report on the congress in the magazine Kommunistka, No. 11, 1923 ('How We Convened the First All-Russia Congress of Working and Peasant Women').

Vladimir Ilyich followed events and Nadezhda Konstantinovna, who was a member of the presidium, gave him an account of its work each day. She told Lenin that the delegates included a number of poor peasant women in sheepskin jackets who spoke against the kulaks, and that there were many good speakers. Vladimir Ilyich told her he would go and see them.

Vladimir Ilyich arrived unexpectedly during a speech given by comrade Soboleva. We wanted to interrupt her, but Vladimir Ilyich insisted that she finish her speech. However, everyone had, of course, stopped listening to her.

On 19 November, Vladimir Ilyich made his historic speech that became the basis of our work. The congress adopted proposals on methods of work, on the protection of mothers and young children, and many others.

Vladimir Ilyich believed that women should be given the possibility of working in the state apparatus while simultaneously being able to be mothers. Women are a valuable creative force, but they also have the right and duty to be mothers. Motherhood is a major social obligation. Our Soviet state is implementing to the full these basic propositions put forward by Vladimir Ilyich.

Not only the women of the Soviet Union, but women throughout the world should know that Vladimir Ilyich laid the foundations of female emancipation. To attain legal rights is insufficient; women must be emancipated in practice. The emancipation of women means giving them the opportunity to bring up their children, combining motherhood with work for society.

Nowhere in the world, nowhere in history is there such a thinker and statesman who has done so much for the emancipation of women as Vladimir Ilyich.