On this day, International Women’s Day protests in St Petersburg marked the beginning of the February Revolution 1917.
A period of intense struggle against the Tsarist regime, on the 8th of March thousands joined demonstrations coinciding with International Women’s Day, striking to demand bread and peace with calls of ‘Bread for our children’ and ‘the return of our husbands from the trenches’. This day marked the start of the February Revolution (23rd February on the Julian calendar), the result of which was the abdication of the Tsar, the close of the Romanov dynasty and the Russian empire.
Such revolutionary actions had considerable impact not just on the structure of governance adopted in Russia, but in the pursuit of greater equality;the provisional government implemented a policy of universal suffrage and began to recognise women as equals in a legal sense. Furthermore, the ascendancy of the Bolsheviks saw such legislation extended, affording women equal rights in the workplace and encouraging their right to be active participants both socially and politically, allowing women greater independence from men.
Goldman, author of ‘Women, the State and Revolution’ asserts
In a patriarchal culture, fathers exercise tremendous control over mothers and children. They make decisions about marriage, education, and work. The Bolsheviks wanted to abolish this control in favour of individual, human rights.
Thus at an ideological level, there was an alignment with the female liberation movement and the intentions of the Bolshevik government in its pursuit of eradicating hierarchical structure (e.g. the family), even if this was not fully realised practically. The Bolsheviks saw women as crucial, taking deliberate steps to mobilise this element of their support base and pursue a policy making agenda conducive to reform in gender equality.
Following the October Revolution, Lenin praised the efforts of women:
Proletarian women have stood the test magnificently in the revolution. Without them we should not have won, or just barely won. That is my view. How brave they were, how brave they still are! Just imagine all the sufferings and privations that they bear. And they hold out because they want freedom, communism. Yes, indeed, our proletarian women are magnificent class warriors. They deserve admiration and love….
Such a position can be further realised within Marxist writings; indeed Engels’ seminal piece ‘The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State’ (1884) highlighted parallels between family structure and class structure, identifying the existing position of women in society as a form of private property, belonging to their husbands or fathers. The communist manifesto itself considers such a concept:
The bourgeois sees his wife a mere instrument of production. He hears that the instruments of production are to be exploited in common, and, naturally, can come to no other conclusion that the lot of being common to all will likewise fall to the women.
He has not even a suspicion that the real point aimed at is to do away with the status of women as mere instruments of production.
Thus the link between female liberation movements and communist ideology is not an obscure one; with such alignment appearing rather suitable in the role realised on this day in 1917.
For further reading on Marxism/ Marxist-Feminism:
https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/index.htm (The Communist Manifesto)
https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1884/origin-family/ (The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State)
Eisenstein, Z. (1979), Capitalist Patriarchy and the case for Social Feminism
Vogel, L. (1983), Marxism and the Oppression of Women: Toward a Unitary Theory, Rutgers University Press
Bebel, A. (1879), Woman and Socialism- https://www.marxists.org/archive/bebel/1879/woman-socialism/index.htm?utm_source=lasindias.info
Lenin, V. (1991), the Emancipation of Women (a collection regarding Lenin’s position towards women)- https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/subject/women/