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Bay Area Revolutionary Union

Red Papers 3: Women Fight for Liberation

Soviet women – Their victory and temporary defeat

Vladimir Lenin, leader of the first successful working class revolution, the October Soviet Revolution of 1947, once stated flatly that the freedom of women could not be separated from the freedom of the working class as a whole. It would have been impossible for the Russian working people to seize power from the big landlords, factory owners, and bankers, unless they waged a struggle to end the special forms of slavery that the old bloodsucking capitalist society forced on women. There could have been no revolution without the millions of Russian women, who were kicked around and stepped on in the old capitalist society. And it would have been impossible, Lenin said, for the Soviet working class to keep control of the land, factories, banks, and the machinery of the state if it did not continue to push forward the fight to free women from their former inferior position.

The Soviet Revolution not only ended the exploitation of workers in general, it also opened up industry and other areas of work to women and ended the brutal practice of driving women like animals in the factories, for wages far below the miserable earnings of the men.

The new Soviet Constitution gave women the right to marry by their own consent and to get a divorce if they were mistreated. It also put an end to the practice of paying women inferior wages and barring them from many kinds of work, especially skilled work.

So by 1926, less than ten years after the working class took power, more than one out of four workers were women. Trade Unions directly tackled the special problems still facing women workers: they set up training programs to develop women as skilled apprentices, production leaders, and organizers, (With the workers in control of the factories there were no foremen, since the workers were producing for themselves and did not have to be whipped into line to turn out more for a super-rich boss.) Child care for factory workers’ families was also expanded.

These measures were enthusiastically adopted by the Soviet workers government. The Soviet workers followed the teachings of Frederick Engels, who along with Karl Marx was the founder of communism. Engels pointed out more than forty years before the Russian revolution that “the emancipation of women will only be possible when women can take part in production on a large social scale and domestic work no longer claims anything but an insignificant amount of her time.” Along with the special training programs and child care centers for working women, the Soviet workers’ government set up large cafeterias, clothing centers, public laundries, and other cooperative institutions that enabled all the working people, men as well as women, to share the work that women were previously forced to do alone in the home. Women began to take their rightful place as true equals of men in every level and area of society.


World War II made the role of Soviet women even more important. With several million young men enlisted in the Soviet Army, even more women had to be brought into new areas of work—on the assembly lines, building roads and transportation systems, and as doctors, teachers, managers, planners, and political leaders. In capitalist societies, like the United States, women were brought into factories during the war, paid the same old inferior wages, and then, when the war was over were shoved back into the home as drudgeworkers. But in the Soviet Union after World War II, tens of millions of young men had been killed.

Women who had learned new skills and won new positions and a chance for a better life even while the war went on continued to advance in their long march toward total freedom. In 1945, Soviet women workers outnumbered men workers; in agriculture 6 out of 10 workers were women (and not stoop pickers, either); more than 8 out of 10 public health workers were women. Even in the large basic industries, just under half the workers were women, including skilled workers. More than 6 out of 10 of all teachers and scientists were women.


But within 10 years after the death of Joseph Stalin, leader of the Soviet working people for 30 years—tremendous gains made by women, and by the whole working class, began to crumble. Even though the old rulers—the landlords, the big factory owners, and the bankers—had been knocked out of power by the working people, they were still diehards who tried every trick to get back into power. The selfish ideas of their old capitalist society do not die easily. Slowly but surely, they were able to corrupt teachers, managers, and even some Communist Party members. They formed a small band of traitors who were able to take advantage of the difficulties of the new Soviet workers’ state (especially after World War II, when most of the railroads and the industry had been destroyed and had to be completely rebuilt) to worm their way back into power. By the early 1960’s they had succeeded in overturning the first and oldest workers’ government in the world. In place of the new, socialist society, based on cooperation to provide for everyone’s needs, they brought back the old, capitalist society, where the many work, but only a few prosper.

This was a great defeat for the Soviet working people. It was an especially bitter betrayal for Soviet women.

Today in Russia women share much the same miserable conditions as working class women in this country. Three out of four of them still have to do all the housework by themselves – in addition to working full time. Sure, many of them are teachers and even doctors. But the trick is that these “professions” have become low-grade women’s jobs, while the men have moved up to jobs with higher salaries and more phony “status”—have become medical specialists and “experts” in other fields.

The lower position of women in the Soviet Union today has been brought about as part of the “reforms of the economic System” – in other words, the return of the [exploitive system of capitalism, layoffs, and bonuses. The “Regulations Governing State–Run Manufacturing Enterprises” passed in the Soviet Union in 1966 say that managers of factories have the authority to own, use, and dispose of all property in the factory; to sell “surplus” equipment, raw materials, etc., to lease for private use equipment and premises that are “temporarily” not being used for public production. In addition, they can fix or change the wages and bonuses of the workers, recruit and dismiss workers, and mete out punishment to them. For instance, in order to gain more profit, the Red October Iron and Steel Works decided to close down two of its workshops and lay off 730 workers. To ensure capitalist restoration and the development of a new ruling class, bonuses are given as production incentives, most of which go to the managers of factories. For example, the manager of the Lipetsk Industrial Engineering Trust got bonuses 7 times in one month, amounting to more than what an average worker earns in two years. The profit orientation of managers has also resulted in increased discrimination in hiring women, for fear they’ll get pregnant and take long leaves. Soviet publications reflect the bourgeois thinking of the scab leadership by continually pushing “that when one has money, one has everything.” But also the new Soviet ruling class is encouraging divisions among the working class (between men and women) by reinforcing the ideas that women are inferior to men and should play a back-seat role. They do this by printing statements like these (published in “Family and School”):

“Yet motherhood and family are in their blood, without these things their lives are incomplete.” “If the great scientific discovery continues to elude him, she whispers: ’You’ll succeed in the end my dear.’ That’s femininity in my view!”

So in the Soviet Union the entire working class, women as well as men, have been forced to return to being wage slaves. Only now because of many reforms, like creches, nurserys, and public dining halls and better schooling, the Soviet women can be as completely exploited as men are. This situation clearly shows how the woman question is in essence a class question. The liberation of Soviet women lies only with the liberation of the entire working class and the smashing of the new Czars of Russia!!