Monday, October 02, 2017

The100thAnniversaryYearOfTheBolshevik-LedOctoberRevolution-LessonsForToday- From The Archives Of The “Revolutionary History” Journal- Book Reviews-Inessa Armand

Markin comment:

This is an excellent documentary source for today’s militants to “discover” the work of our forbears, whether we agree with their programs or not. Mainly not, but that does not negate the value of such work done under the pressure of revolutionary times. Hopefully we will do better when our time comes.
BC Elwood, Inessa Armand: Revolutionary and Feminist, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1992, pp304, £29.95

THE CANADIAN historian Ralph Carter Elwood, already the author of the life of Roman Malinovsky, the worker-Bolshevik, Central Committee member and Duma deputy who turned out to be a police agent, now presents a study of another prominent Bolshevik who, although also ‘close to Lenin’, was of a quite different stamp. It is based on Tsarist police reports, its subject’s own letters to her family, and Lenin’s 118 published letters to her.

Since the only thing that all too many people known about Inessa Armand (1874-1920) is that she was rumoured to be Lenin’s mistress, let it be mentioned at once that Elwood, after careful examination of the evidence, finds this story not proven.

The orphaned niece of a French governess working in Russia, Inessa was brought up in the family of her aunt’s employer, and married one of his sons. The family were themselves of French extraction, hence the name Armand. Her husband was a rich textile manufacturer. Even after Inessa had left him, Alexander Armand continued to give her generous financial support, which enabled her to devote her time and energy to work for the causes she embraced - eventually Bolshevism. (Moneyed sympathisers like Armand, NA Shmidt and Savva Morozov supplemented ‘expropriations’ as a major source of funds for Lenin’s party.)

Inessa spent the first years of her marriage on an estate near Moscow in the early 1890s as a country lady doing good works among the local peasantry, while bringing up her children. She interested herself in a philanthropic Society for Improving the Lot of Women, which was active in ‘rehabilitating’ prostitutes in Moscow, and this helped her to gain know-ledge of the life of the urban poor, as well as the Tsar’s authorities’ suspicion and obstruction of any independent social reform activity. Through her brother-in-law (who became her second husband), a radically-minded university student, she was introduced to Marxism, and in her thirtieth year became a Bolshevik.

Being well off, she was able to help Lenin’s faction in many ways. When travelling around to organise illegal study groups, for instance, ‘a well dressed lady was less likely to arouse suspicions’. But her access to Alex-ander’s purse would have been far less important historically had it not meant giving Inessa greater opportunities to put into action her superior intelligence and dedication. Besides the ever-available money, there was also the internalised benefit of her privileged upbringing. Contemporaries who commented on her success as an organiser and propagandist often refer to her tact, good manners and easy way of dealing with all sorts of people. (She was also very good looking.)

Lenin appreciated Inessa’s qualities, and he made the most of them. She was given the task of organising the Bolsheviks’ party school at Lonumeau in 1911, and was the only woman lecturer there, fluent in French and English, she functioned often as interpreter and negotiator with non-Rus-sian Socialists. The Bolshevik leader came to rely on her help in many situations:

‘Even more than Trotsky during the Iskra period, she became Lenin’s “cudgel”—someone to beat wavering Bolsheviks back into line, to convey uncompromising messages to his political opponents, to carry out uncom-fortable missions which Lenin himself preferred to avoid.’

In July 1914 she read on Lenin’s behalf his address to the conference which the International Socialist Bureau arranged with a view to reuniting Russ-ia’s Social Democrats. Elwood describes her as having served for some years as ‘Lenin’s “Girl Friday”’.

As a well educated and independently minded woman, Inessa was, however, no stooge, and from time to time she would argue with the party leader on questions about which she felt strongly. A pamphlet she proposed to bring out on problems of marriage and the family provoked a sharp disagreement with him in 1915 on ‘free love’. In 1916 she sided with Bukharin and Piatakov against Lenin in the debate on the national question. It was wrong and dangerous, she considered, to say that ‘defence of the fatherland’ might be correct proletarian policy in certain circumstances, even under capitalism. If Engels was right in 1891 to say that the German workers ought to support their country’s war effort in a clash with Russia, why should that not apply in the 1914 war? (Lenin answered that in 1891 ‘there was no imperialism’, and the imperialist epoch began only in 1898-—by which year, of course, Engels was conveniently dead...)

Inessa’s independence showed itself again after the October Revolu-tion, when she took the ‘Left Communist’ line on Brest-Litovsk and other issues. But she accepted whatever tasks the party, now in power, assigned to her. Heading the Moscow Province Economic Council was not a job she would have chosen, but she did the work conscientiously and well. More to her taste was participation in the ‘Red Cross’ mission to France in 1919, nominally for the purpose of repatriating Russian soldiers who had served on the Western Front in the war, even though this attempt to make contact with revolutionary elements in the French labour movement came to nothing.

It was on her return home, though, that there began the year, her last, that Elwood describes as ‘the most productive and perhaps rewarding of her life’. Inessa had been specially interested from early on in the need for political activity among working women, and for the workers’ party to pay attention to ‘the woman question’ generally. Like others who held this view, she came up against not merely indifference but actual opposition from comrades who thought they spotted the cloven hoof of ‘bourgeois feminism’ in any particular concern with women’s problems distinct from the common problems of the working class. Inessa was largely responsible for getting the party to consent to the publication in 1914 of a newspaper, Rabotnitsa, devoted to the interests and demands of women workers. In Elwood’s opinion, ‘the loyalties won and the contacts made among women factory workers in 1914’, through this paper, ‘were to stand the Bolsheviks in good stead in 1917’.

After October she pressed for a national congress of working women, and, thanks to support from Sverdlov against opposition from Zinoviev, succeeded in getting such a congress held towards the end of 1918, with Lenin and Bukharin among the opening speakers. From this congress there emerged in 1919 the Zhenotdel, a special ‘women’s department’ of the party’s Central Committee (to be abolished in 1930). The need created by the Civil War for drawing women into factory work, to replace their mobilised menfolk (as well as for enlisting some of them for auxiliary tasks in the Red Army), made the party leadership more ready to back up Inessa’s agitation through the Zhenotdel for communal facilities—laundries, can-teens, creches, etc—to be provided that would release women for such roles by relieving them from household drudgery.

The spring of 1920 saw the appearance, again on Inessa’s initiative, of the journal Kommunistka, which dealt with ‘the broader aspects of female emancipation and the need to alter the relationship between the sexes if lasting change was to be effected’. But the fifth number of this journal carried its founder’s obituary. Worn out by overwork and weakened by lack of food and warmth, she had died of cholera.

—Brian Pearce

Can this be a "love letter?"-Markin
V. I. Lenin


Written: Written on January 17, 1915
Published: First published in 1939 in the magazine Bolshevik No. 13. Sent from Berne. Printed from the original.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1976], Moscow, Volume 35, pages 180-181.
Translated: Andrew Rothstein
Transcription\Markup: S. Ryan and B. Baggins
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive. 1999 You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work, as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
Other Formats: Text • README

Dear Friend,

I very much advise you to write the plan of the pamphlet in as much detail as possible.[2] Otherwise too much is unclear.

One opinion I must express here and now:

I advise you to throw out altogether § 3—the “demand (women’s) for freedom of love”.

That is not really a proletarian but a bourgeois demand.

After all, what do you understand by that phrase? What can be understood by it?

1. Freedom from material (financial) calculations in affairs of love? 

2. The same, from material worries?

3. From religious prejudices?

4. From prohibitions by Papa, etc.?

5. From the prejudices of “society”?

6. From the narrow circumstances of one’s environment (peasant or petty-bourgeois or bourgeois intellectual)?

7. From the fetters of the law, the courts and the police?

8. From the serious element in love?

9. From child-birth?

10. Freedom of adultery? Etc.

I have enumerated many shades (not all, of course). You have in mind, of course, not nos. 8–10, but either nos. 1–7 or something similar to nos. 1–7.

But then for nos. 1–7 you must choose a different wording, because freedom of love does not express this idea exactly.

And the public, the readers of the pamphlet, will inevitably understand by “freedom of love”, in general, some thing like nos. 8–10, even without your wishing it.

Just because in modern society the most talkative, noisy and “top-prominent” classes understand by “freedom of love” nos. 8–10, just for that very reason this is not a proletarian but a bourgeois demand.

For the proletariat nos. 1–2 are the most important, and then nos. 1–7, and those, in fact, are not “freedom of love”.

The thing is not what you subjectively “mean” by this. The thing is the objective logic of class relations in affairs of love.

Friendly shake hands![1]

W. I.

[1] These words, like “Dear Friend” at the beginning, were written by Lenin in English.—Ed.

[2] Reference is to the plan of a pamphlet for working-class women that Inessa Armand intended to write. The pamphlet did not appear in print.


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