Nadezhda K. Krupskaya

Preface to
The Emancipation of Women

From Writings of V.I. Lenin

Written: November 30, 1933;
Source: The Emancipation of Women: From Writings of V.I. Lenin;
Publisher: International Publishers;
Transcribed and HTML Markup: Sally Ryan.

In the course of his revolutionary activities Lenin often wrote and spoke about the emancipation of working women in general and peasant women in particular. To be sure, the emancipation of women is inseparably bound up with the entire struggle for the workers' cause, for socialism. We know Lenin as the leader of the working people, as the organiser of the Party and Soviet government, as a fighter and builder. Every working woman, every peasant woman must know about all that Lenin did, every aspect of his work, without limiting herself to what Lenin said about the position of working women and their emancipation. But because there exists the closest connection between the entire struggle of the working class and improving the position of women, Lenin often--on more than forty occasions, in fact--referred to this question in his speeches and articles, and every one of these references was inseparably bound up with all the other things that were of interest and concern to him at the time.

From the very start of his revolutionary career Comrade Lenin paid special attention to the position of women workers and peasants and to drawing them into the working-class movement. Lenin did his first practical revolutionary work in St. Petersburg (now Leningrad), where he organised a group of Social-Democrats which became extremely active among the St. Petersburg workers, publishing illegal leaflets and distributing them at factories. The leaflets were usually addressed to the workmen. At that time the class consciousness of the mass of the workers was still little developed, the most backward among them being working women. They received very low wages and their rights were flagrantly violated. So the leaflets were usually addressed to the men (the two leaflets addressed to the working women of the Laferm tobacco factory were an exception). Lenin also wrote a leaflet for the workers of the Tornton cloth mill (in 1895) and although the women working there were most backward, he entitled the leaflet: "To the Working Men and Women of the Tornton Mill." This is a detail, but a very important one.

When he was in exile in 1899, Lenin corresponded with the Party organisation (the First Party Congress was held in 1898) and mentioned the subjects he wanted to write about in the illegal press. These included a pamphlet called "Women and the Workers' Cause". In this pamphlet Lenin intended to describe the position of women factory workers and peasant women and to show that the only salvation for them was through their participation in the revolutionary movement, and that only the victory of the working class would bring emancipation to women workers and peasants.

Writing in 1901 about the women who took part in the Obukhov defence, about the speech delivered by a woman worker Marfa Yakovleva in court, Lenin said:

"The memory of our heroic comrades murdered and tortured to death in prison will increase tenfold the strength of the new fighters and will rouse thousands to rally to their aid, and like the eighteen-year-old Marfa Yakovleva, they will openly say:'We stand by our brothers!' In addition to reprisals by the police and the military against participants in demonstrations, the government intends to prosecute them for rebellion; we will retaliate by uniting our revolutionary forces and winning over to our side all who are oppressed by the tyranny of tsarism, and by systematically preparing for the uprising of the whole people!"[CW, Vol 5, p248-9] Lenin made a close study of the life and labour conditions of women factory workers, peasants and women employed in the handicrafts.

While in prison, Lenin studied the position of peasants as revealed by statistical reports; he studied the influence of the handicrafts, the drift of the peasants to the factories and the influence exerted by the factories on their culture and way of life. At the same time he studied all these questions from the viewpoint of women's labour. He pointed out that the peasant's proprietorial psychology places on women a burden of unnecessary and senseless drudgery (every peasant woman of a large family clearing only the small part of the table she eats on, cooking a separate meal for her own child and milking a cow to get only just enough milk for her own child).

In his book The Development of Capitalism in Russia Lenin describes how cattle farmers exploit peasant women, how the merchant-buyers exploit women lace-weavers; he shows that large-scale industry emancipates women and that the work at factories broadens their outlook, makes them more cultured and independent and helps them to break the shackles of patriarchal life. Lenin said that the development of large-scale industry would create the basis for complete emancipation of women. Characteristic in this respect is Lenin's article "A Great Technical Achievement" written in 1913.

Workers in the bourgeois countries must fight for equal rights for men and women.

In exile Lenin devoted much of his time to working out the Party programme. At that time the Party had no programme. There was only a draft programme compiled by the Emancipation of Labour group. Examining this programme in his article "A Draft Programme of Our Party" and commenting on #9 of the practical part of the programme, which demanded "the revision of our entire civil and criminal legislation, the abolition of social-estate divisions and of punishments incompatible with the dignity of man", Lenin wrote that it would be well to add here: "complete equality of rights for men and women." [CW Vol 4, p239] (My italics--N. K.)

In 1903, when the Party Programme was adopted, this clause was included in it.

In 1907, in his report on the International Congress in Stuttgart Lenin noted with satisfaction that the Congress condemned the opportunist practices of the Austrian Social-Democrats who, while conducting a campaign for electoral rights for men, put off the struggle for electoral rights for women to "a later date".

The Soviet government established full equality of rights for men and women.

"We in Russia no longer have the base, mean and infamous denial of rights to women or inequality of the sexes, that disgusting survival of feudalism and medievalism which is being renovated by the avaricious bourgeoisie ... in every other country in the world without exception."

In 1913, studying the forms of bourgeois democracy and exposing the hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie, Lenin also dealt with the problem of prostitution and showed how, while encouraging white slave traffic and raping girls in the colonies, representatives of the bourgeoisie at the same time hypocritically pretended to be campaigning against prostitution.

Lenin returned to this question in December 1919, when he wrote that "free, civilised" America was touting for women for bawdy houses in the vanquished countries.[CW Vol 30]

In close connection with this question Lenin examined the question of child-bearing and indignantly wrote of the appeal of some intellectuals to the workers to practise birth control on the grounds that their children were doomed to poverty and privation. This is a petty-bourgeois view, wrote Lenin. The workers take a different view. Children are our future. As for poverty and so on, this can be remedied. We are fighting against capitalism and when we win a victory we shall build a bright future for our children....

And finally, in 1916-17, when he could see the socialist revolution was drawing near and was considering what the essential elements of socialist construction would be, and how to draw the masses into this construction, he particularly stressed the need to draw working women into social work, the need to enable all women to work for the benefit of society. Eight of his articles written in this period deal with this question, which he links up with the need to organise social life under socialism along new lines. Lenin saw a direct connection between this and the drawing of the most backward groups of women into the work of ruling the country, the need for re-educating the masses in the actual process of social work.

Social work teaches the art of government. "We are not utopians," Lenin wrote before the October Revolution. "We know that an unskilled labourer or a cook cannot immediately get on with the job of state administration. In this we agree with the Cadets, with Breshkovskaya, and with Tsereteli. We differ, however. from these citizens in that we demand an immediate break with the prejudiced view that only the rich, or officials chosen from rich families, are capable of administering the state, of performing the ordinary, everyday work of administration. We demand that training in the work of state administration be conducted by class-conscious workers and soldiers and that this training be begun at once, i.e., that a beginning be made at once in training all the working people, all the poor, for this work."

We know that the Soviet government has done all it can to draw working women in the town and countryside into the work of administration. And we know what great successes have been achieved on this front.

Lenin warmly greeted the awakening of the women of the Soviet East. Since he attached particular importance to raising the level of the nationalities that had been oppressed by tsarism and capitalism, it is quite understandable why he so warmly greeted the conference of delegates of the Women's Departments of Soviet regions and republics in the East.

Speaking of the achievements of the Second Congress of the Communist International, Lenin pointed out that "the Congress will strengthen the ties with the communist movement of women, thanks to the international conference of working women called at the same time."[CW Vol 31]

In October 1932 we observed the fifteenth anniversary of Soviet power and summed up our achievements on all fronts, including the front of women's emancipation.

We know that women took a very active part in the Civil War, that many of them died in action but many others were steeled in battle. Some women were awarded the Order of the Red Banner for the active part they played in the struggle for Soviets during the Civil War. Many former women partisans now occupy important posts. Women have been persistent in learning to conduct social work.

Delegates' conferences are a school of social work. In 15 years almost 10 million women delegates have passed through this school.

At the time when we observed the fifteenth anniversary of the October Revolution 20 to 25 per cent of the deputies of the village Soviets, district executive committees and city Soviets were women. There were 186 women members of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee and the Central Executive Committee of the U.S.S.R. On this work they attain ever higher standards.

The number of women members of the Communist Party has also been steadily growing. In 1922 there were only 40,000 but by October 1932 the number exceeded 500,000.

Much progress has been made recently in fulfilling Lenin's behest concerning the complete emancipation of women.

In the last few years large-scale industry has been developing on a tremendous scale. It is being reorganised on the basis of modern technology and scientific organisation of labour. The socialist emulation and shock-workers' movement which have now been widely adopted stimulate a new, communist attitude towards labour. And it must be said that women are not lagging behind men in this. Every day we see more and more front-rank women workers who display great stamina and perseverance in labour. Labour is not something women have to get used to. Under the old regime the lives of women were full of continual, unending labour, but it was the kind of labour that was looked down upon and bore the imprint of bondage. And now this labour training and perseverance in labour place women in the front ranks of the builders of socialism and heroes of labour.

Collectivisation of agriculture was of the utmost importance for the emancipation of women. From the very start Lenin regarded the collectivisation of agriculture as a way of reorganising it along socialist lines. Back in 1894, in his book What the Friends of the People Are Lenin quoted Marx's words to the effect that after "the expropriation of the expropriators" is accomplished, that is, when the landowners are dispossessed of their landed estates and the capitalists of their factories, free workers will be united into co-operatives and the communal ("collective", as Lenin explained) ownership of the land and the means of production they create will be established.

Following the October Revolution, which marked the beginning of "the expropriation of the expropriators", the Soviet government raised the question of organising agricultural artels and communes. Particular attention was paid to this back in 1918 and 1919, but many years passed (as Lenin had predicted) before collectivisation became extensive and struck deep roots. The years of the Civil War, when the class struggle swept the country, the progress of Soviet power in the villages, the help, the cultural assistance rendered by the Soviet government to the countryside--all this prepared the ground for collectivisation, which is developing and growing stronger in the struggle against the kulaks.

Small-scale and middle peasant farming shackled women, tied them to the individual households, and narrowed their outlook; they were in fact slaves of their husbands, who often beat them cruelly. Small scale farming paved the way for religion. The peasants used to say: "Each man for himself and God for all." Lenin quoted this saying on many occasions, as it perfectly expressed the psychology of a small proprietor. Collectivisation transforms the peasant from a small proprietor into a collectivist, undermines the peasants' isolation and the hold of religion and emancipates women. Lenin said that socialism alone would bring emancipation for women. His words are now coming true. We can see how women's position has changed in the collective farms.

The Congress of front-rank collective farmers held in the middle of February is striking evidence of the headway made in the collective cultivation of the land. There are now 200,000 collective farms, as compared with the 6,000 we had before. The Congress discussed the question of the best way to organise work on the collective farms. There were many women among the delegates. Sopina, a collective farmer from the Central Black Earth Region, made a fine speech which evoked thunderous applause. When she takes a hand in collective-farm development, the peasant woman grows in stature, learns to govern and to fight resolutely against the kulaks, the class enemy....

Religion is losing Ground. Now collective-farm women come to the library and say: "You always give me books that simply say that there is no God. I know that without reading books. Give me a book that will tell me how and why religion arose and how and why it will die away." In the last few years there has been a tremendous growth of political consciousness of the masses. Political departments at the machine and tractor stations' (whose membership also includes women's organisers) will help not only to consolidate the collective farms, but will also help collective farmers, men and women, to get rid of surviving prejudices and cultural backwardness; lack of rights for women will become a thing of the past.

Ten years have passed since the day of Lenin's death. On that sad day we shall check the fulfilment of all of Lenin's behests. We shall sum up the results. Lenin's behest concerning the emancipation of women is being fulfilled under the guidance of the Party. We shall continue to advance along this path.

November 30, 1933
N. Krupskaya