Click on the headline to link to the "Leon Trotsky Internet Archive' online copy of his 1923 article, "From The Old Family To The New".Markin comment:
The following is an article from the Spring 1988 issue of "Women and Revolution" that may have some historical interest for old "new leftists", perhaps, and well as for younger militants interested in various cultural and social questions that intersect the class struggle. Or for those just interested in a Marxist position on a series of social questions that are thrust upon us by the vagaries of bourgeois society. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of "Women and Revolution" during Women's History Month and periodically throughout the year.
**********Return to the Road of Lenin and Trotsky
How the Bolsheviks Fought fo Women's Emancipation
On the second anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, Lenin announced, "In the course of two years of Soviet power in one of the most backward countries of Europe more has been done to emancipate women, to make her the equal of the 'strong' sex, than has been done during the past 130 years by all the advanced, enlightened, 'democratic' republics of the world taken together" ("Soviet Power and the Status of Women," Collected Works). This truth has a fundamental materialist basis. Only a socialist revolution, breaking the bonds of private property, can create the conditions necessary for the emancipation of women. It's more than ever true today: amidst the barbarous social decay of the imperialist "democracies" like the United States, where reactionary bigots target women's rights, even a mere statement of formal equality like the ERA can't make it into law.
Women and Revolution here reprints three early Soviet decrees addressed to the emancipation of women. Codifying the hard-fought gains of the Bolshevik Revolution, these decrees laid out a perspective for the introduction of new social forms to replace the institution of the family and to draw women into the socialist construction of society. As Lenin said in November 1918, "The experience of all liberation movements has shown that the success of a revolution depends on how much the women take part in it. The Soviet government is doing everything in its power to enable women to carry on independent proletarian socialist work" ("Speech at the First All-Russia Congress of Working Women," Collected Works).Women in the Russian Revolution
The Russian Revolution was sparked by the working women of St. Petersburg, when, 71 years ago, they celebrated International Women's Day with a spontaneous strike and march through the streets. Thousands of women standing in bread lines joined them; hastily improvised red banners rose above the crowd, demanding bread, peace and higher wages. Years of imperialist war had brought the mammoth social tensions of tsarist Russia, where modern capitalism existed superimposed upon entrenched medievalism, to the breaking point.
The Bolsheviks had long been active in organizing Russian proletarian women. The journal Rabotnitsa (The Working Woman), founded in 1914, was only one means by which the Bolsheviks sought to win the ranks of working women over to revolutionary socialism. Social backwardness and poverty in Russia before the revolution fell doubly hard on its women: even mai the minimal gains which capitalism had made possible in the more advanced industrialized countries Europe did not exist in semi-feudal Russia, where serfdom had been abolished a mere 56 years earlier, life lay in the grip of the Orthodox church an priests; religious prejudices were deeply rooted in poverty and ignorance. Peasant women in particular lived under indescribably primitive conditions, cultural impoverished that in 1897 the illiteracy rate was as as 92 percent.
The Bolsheviks understood that the oppression of women could not be legislated out of existence family as the capitalist economic institution for bearing the next generation could not simply be swept away by decree. It had to be replaced with socialized child and housework to remove the burden of doing chores from women, enabling them to participate fully in social and political life. Such a revolutionary restructuring of society could occur only with large-scale industrialization, necessarily years in the future. While fully committed to this revolutionary program, the Bolsheviks were handicapped by terrible objective conditions. For the first few years of Soviet rule their meager resources were absorbed by the Red Army's drive to defeat the imperialists and White Guards who launched a counterrevolutionary war against the young workers republic.Sweeping Away the Filth of Tsardom
Once in power, the Bolsheviks moved immediately to end all the old legal impediments to women's equality. Women were given the vote, at a time when only Norway and Denmark had legalized women's suffrage. Marriage and divorce were made a simple matter of civil registration, while all distinctions between "legitimate" and "illegitimate" children were annulled. In 1919 the Communist Party created the Department of Working Women and Peasant Women, Zhenotdel, for special work among women, which included organizing over 25,000 literacy schools.
In 1920 the Soviet government legalized abortion and made it free. The People's Commissariat of Health pressed for development of and education about birth control methods, which barely existed in Russia at that time, while discouraging abortion as a threat to health in this age before antibiotics. Even more crucial was the workers government's commitment to eliminating the poverty which drove many women to abortion for sheer lack of ability to provide for their children. The Bolsheviks' aim was to build childcare centers and socialized dining halls to enable women to work knowing their children would be well cared for and fed; single mothers were to receive special help. Despite the severe objective limits facing Soviet society, the birth rate went steadily up and the infant mortality rate steadily down.
The workers revolution in Russia, in sweeping away the rotten filth of tsardom, also abolished in December 1917 all the old laws against homosexual acts. As Dr. Grigorii Batkis, the director of the Moscow Institute of Social Hygiene, pointed out in "The Sexual Revolution in Russia," published in the Soviet Union in 1923:
"Soviet legislation bases itself on the following principle:
'It declares the absolute non-interference of the state and society into sexual matters so long as nobody is injured and no one's interests are encroached upon.... "Concerning homosexuality, sodomy, and various other forms of sexual gratification, which are set down in European legislation as offenses against public morality—Soviet legislation treats these exactly the same as so-called 'natural' intercourse. All forms of sexual intercourse are private matters." [emphasis in original]The Fight for Women's Rights in Soviet Central Asia
Nowhere was the condition of women more downtrodden than in the primitive Muslim areas of Soviet Central Asia. The Bolsheviks believed that women, having the most to gain, would be the link that broke the feudal chain in the Soviet East, but they could not with one blow abolish oppressive Muslim institutions. The Bolshevik approach was based on ma¬terialism, not moralism. The Muslim bride price, for example, was not some sinister plot against womankind, but had arisen as an institution central to distrib¬uting land and water rights among different clans (see "Early Bolshevik Work Among Women of the Soviet East," W&R No. 12, Summer 1976, for a fuller discussion).
Systematic Bolshevik work among Muslim women was only possible in 1921, after the end of the bitter Civil War. Dedicated and heroic members of the Zhenotdel donned veils in order to meet Muslim women and explain the laws and goals of the new Soviet republic. Special meeting places, sometimes "Red Yertas" or tents in nomadic areas or clubs in cities, were a key way for the Communist Party to begin to win the trust of these women. Such clubs followed Lenin's policy of using Soviet state power to carefully and systematically undermine native tribalism by demonstrating the superiority of Soviet institutions. The tremendous pro¬ductive capacity of the Soviet planned economy provided the services, education and jobs that finally decisively undercut the ancient order and liberated women from their stifling subjugation.
Today the condition of women in Soviet Central Asia is centuries removed from the oppression their sisters across the border in Afghanistan still face. We said "Hail Red Army in Afghanistan!" because the 1979 Soviet Army intervention against murderous Islamic counterrevolution (whose rallying cry is keeping women under the veil) posed the possibility of a revolutionary transformation of this hideously backward country. Under the protection of the Red Army, the women of Afghanistan have been taught to read and write, and a major¬ity of university students are now women and girls; many hold jobs outside the home; and there are 15,000 women in the Afghan army, defending their new freedoms.Return to the Road of Lenin and Trotsky!
Many of the gains made by Soviet women under the Bolsheviks were subsequently reversed by the Stalinist political counterrevolution. In 1936, abortion was made illegal. (It was again legalized in 1955.) Divorce becar difficult to obtain, co-education was abolished, horr sexuality was again outlawed. As Trotsky said, "The actual liberation of women is unrealizable on a basis 'generalized want.' Experience soon proved this ai tere truth which Marx had formulated eighty years before." The cruel Civil War decimated the proletariat in the young workers state. Most fundamentally, failure to extend the Revolution internationally strengthened the Stalinist bureaucratic caste in the isola Soviet Union. Workers democracy was smashed." Leninist internationalist program was abandoned favor of the search for "peaceful coexistence" versus imperialism, while domestically the Stalinists sou social props and ideological justifications for bure cratic rule. Exploiting social backwardness to strenghten their grip over society, the Stalinists rehabilitated family as a useful institution of social conservatism control.
Trotsky denounced the Stalinist bureaucracy "Thermidor in the Family" (The Revolution Betray "These gentlemen have, it seems, completely fogooten that socialism was to remove the cause which impels woman to abortion, and not force her into the 'joys of motherhood' with the help of a foul police interference in what is to every woman the most mate sphere of life....
"Instead of openly saying, 'We have proven still poor and ignorant for trie creation of socialist tions among men, our children and grandchildren realize this aim,' the leaders are forcing people together against the shell of the broken family, and not only that, but to consider it, under threat of extreme penalties, the sacred nucleus of triumphant socialism. It is hard to measure with the eye the scope of the retreat."
Despite these counterrevolutionary measures, capitalist private property has not been restored in the Soviet Union. The tremendous productive capac the Soviet planned economy has opened opportunities for women—in education, jobs, social service—which capitalism can never provide. We defend the USSR today unconditionally against imperialism because the fundamental gains of the October lution remain; it is a society based on production for social needs, not capitalist profit. At the same time call for political revolution to re-establish workers democracy and to return the Soviet Union to the liberating goals and program of Lenin and Trotsky.
Today there is great interest in the Soviet Union, in part because of the visible difficulties of American imperialism, but also because of Gorbachev's promises of glasnost (openness). Yet this "enlightened bureaucrat" will never tell the truth about the revolutionary work of the Bolshevik Party. Between that tradition and today's bureaucracy lies the gulf of the bloody political counterrevolution carried out by Stalin.
To appease the nuclear nuts in the White House, Gorbachev appears willing to pull out of Afghanistan. The Kremlin bureaucracy's willingness to abandon Afghan women to illiteracy, the veil and chattel slavery starkly exposes the gulf separating them from the Bolsheviks, who understood that the question of women's liberation,was key, above all in such backward, feudal areas.
In imperialist countries like the United States, only the abolition of private property will make women's emancipation a historical reality. It will take a socialist revolution in the U.S. to win the basic rights and social institutions the Bolsheviks fought for in the early years of the USSR. Given the tremendous productive capacity of U.S. industry and a far higher level of culture than that which the Bolsheviks inherited from the tsar, we have no doubt that the American workers government will be able to quickly implement such far-reaching social programs. For women's liberation through socialist revolution!Soviet Measures to Liberate Women
Decree of the People's Commissariat of Health and Social Welfare and the People's Commissariat of Justice in Soviet Russia
During recent decades the number of women interrupting pregnancy by abortion has risen both in the West and in our country.
The legislation of all countries combats this evil by severe punishment of the women undergoing abortions as well as of the doctors performing them. To date this method has succeeded only in making the operation illegal, performed in secrecy, and in making women the victims of ignorant quacks or unscrupu¬lous doctors who turn a profit from abortion. As a result, 50 percent of these women become seriously ill and 4 percent of these die from the consequences of the operation.
The Workers and Peasants Government regards this phenomenon as a terrible evil for the entire society. The Workers and Peasants Government sees the consolidation of the socialist order and agitation against abortion among the broad masses of the female working-class population as the way to successfully combat it. It combats this evil in practice with the most far-reaching protection of mothers and children, hoping that it will gradually disappear. However, as long as the remnants of the past and the difficult economic conditions of the present compel some women to undergo an abortion, the People's Commissariat of Health and Social Welfare and the People's Commissariat of Justice regard the use of penal measures as inappropriate and therefore, to preserve women's health and protect the race against ignorant or self-seeking profiteers, it is resolved:
I. Free abortion, interrupting pregnancy by artificial
means, shall be performed in state hospitals, where
women are assured maximum safety in the operation.
II. It is absolutely prohibited to perform this operation without a doctor.
III. Midwives or "wise women" who break this law
shall forfeit their license to practice and be handed over to the People's Court.
IV. Doctors performing this operation in their private offices for personal gain shall also be brought before the People's Court.Women's Work in the Economy
Women as Participants in the Construction of Soviet Russia
Resolution of the Eighth Congress of Soviets
Considering that the primary task of the hour is raising the level of industry, transportation and agriculture; that women comprise more than half of the population of Soviet Russia—women workers and peasants; that implementing the proposed unified economic plan is only possible by involving all the female labor power: the Eighth
Congress of Soviets resolves that:
a) Women workers and peasants are to be
involved in all economic organizations which are
working out and realizing the unified economic
plan; likewise in factory administrations, in fac¬
tory committees and in the administration of the
b) For the purpose of reducing the unproduc¬
tive work of women in the household and in child-
care, the Eighth Congress of Soviets requires that
the local Soviets encourage women workers to
support, with their initiative and activity, the
reforms of social institutions, the beginnings of
communist construction, such as organizing com¬
munal dwellings and workshops for washing and
mending laundry in city and village, organizing
squads of cleaning women, creating foster care
centers, communal laundries and dining halls.
The Eighth Congress of Soviets charges the newly constituted Central Executive Committee of the Soviets to immediately begin working out measures aimed at reducing the unproductive work of women in the household and family, thereby increasing the supply of free labor power to raise the people's standard of living and augment the productivity of the Workers Republic.
Social Institutions for the Relief of the Housewife Communal Kitchens in Moscow
The Russian Soviet bodies are committed to the opinion that the traditional housework performed by the mothers of families in individual households must pass over to socialized institutions. This is both in the interest of women, who squander their time and energy in arduous, grinding, unproductive tasks, and in the interest of society, which can make full use of women's talents and accomplishments in the economy and culture. In Moscow there are at present no fewer than 559 communal kitchens in which hot midday and evening meals are prepared daily for 606,100 adults. The children take their meals in the childcare and educa¬tional centers where they have found places or which they attend during the day.
Compare the blessings of "orderly conditions" in the states that are still capitalist with this result of "Bolshevik chaos"! Part and parcel of these "orderly conditions" is the fact that in all major cities, in all industrial centers, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands go without a warm midday meal every day and in the evening in an uncomfortable home they choke down a meal their harried wives have prepared hurriedly and with insufficient means. Increasingly, women in the proletariat and also in the petty bourgeoisie must con¬tribute to the family's income. The double burden of working for a living and running the household rests on her. Meals in common—insofar as they occur at all— unite an overtired mother, a husband who is often grouchy because he does not find at home what he seeks, and children whose eyes and clothing bespeal their lack of care and attention.
'In Russia the working woman can throw off the burden of household obligations. She knows not only she herself, but, more importantly, her husband and children are better cared for than she could manage a home even with great energy and devotion. The home can now be a home in the most noble sense for husband and wife, for parents and children, a place to be together, for thinking and striving together, for enjoyment. Women have the time and leisure to learn, to educate themselves, to participate in all areas of social life, both giving and receiving. Oh, these Bolshevik "wreckers" and "destroyers"! Is that no what the philistines of all the capitalist countrie are still prattling?Note on the documents
: The three pieces reprinted here are our own translations from the April 1921 issue of Die Kommunistische Fraueninfernationat (Communist Women's International), the official German-language journal of the Women's Secretariat of the Communist International. In W&R No. 9 (Summer 1975) we reprinted another version of the abortion legislation, which included at the end the signature "N. Semashko, People's Commissar of Health; Kursk) People's Commissar of Justice." That was taken fron the book Health Protection in the U.S.S.R. by N./A Semashko, published in London by Gollancz in 1934 The date given for the decree on abortion in Semashki is 18 November 1920. Regarding "Women's Work in the Economy": the Eighth Congress of Soviets was held in Moscow from 22 to 29 December 1920. We were unable to find a date for the third piece; the Comintern women's journal did not give a source."
Labels: leon trotsky, russian revolution