The Emancipation of Women by Cindy Sheehan
This poster depicts a Russian woman holding the Soviet flag, with the caption: “Emancipated women – build up socialism”. The artist A. Strakhov-Bratislavskij created this poster in 1926 for the government of the Soviet Union (Global Fund for Women). After the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, men and women were proclaimed equal by the Soviet government. Women were greatly desired by the Soviet government, and not only for raising children. The Soviets saw women as an economic asset that they believed would make a great contribution to the nation. As a result, the numbers of women in the workforce doubled from 423,200 in 1923 to 885,000 in 1930 (Goldman).
For the past year, I have been doing my best to study about the Great October Socialist Revolution (GOSR) on the centennial anniversary of that groundbreaking and historic event.
As a child of the Cold War, the lies I was told, indeed we all were told, about the Soviet Union take my breath away. When so many of us are trying to celebrate the gains of the GOSR, I find it not so coincidental that Russiaphobia is regaining undeserved popularity in the US as the Russian president is being purposefully, unfairly, and incorrectly compared to Stalin—and this is by those on the “left.”
As part of my study, I recently read a compilation of writings and speeches about the emancipation of women by the Father of the Revolution, Vladimir Lenin.
Among many of his very advanced thinking (more below) about the role of women in a revolutionary society, the thing that struck me time and again was how the great revolutionary philosopher, Lenin, decried how working women and peasant women on farms were still responsible for most of the housework, farm work and childcare.
“You all know that even when women have full rights, they still remain downtrodden because all house work is left to them. In most cases housework is the most unproductive, the most savage and the most arduous work a woman can do. It is exceptionally petty and and does not include anything that would in anyway promote the development of woman.” Lenin, Pravda No 213 September 1919
As a mother/worker/revolutionary, I was touched by the Comrade’s perspective that women are “doubly oppressed under capitalism” (Lenin’s statement on International Working Women’s Day, 1921) and feel like this past year the burden of being a woman in a capitalist society has really affected me.
My dear sister Dede Miller who worked her entire life from the time she was 16 until she was diagnosed with cancer in March of 2015 passed away on January 22, 2017. Even with putting aside the terrible “Cancer Industrial Complex” that we had to struggle with the entire time and besides trying to deal with her disease, we were both thrust into very stressful socioeconomic situations.
In contrast to Lenin and the GOSR envisioning and implementing helpful things, such as childcare and catering kitchens, to ease the burden of women workers, here in the capitalist/imperialist state, there are very few social safety nets and the ones that there are, are filled with large holes and mostly insurmountable gaps.
For the last two years of Dede’s life, my life was consumed with taking care of her with the resources that we already had before Dede got sick. After she was diagnosed, for the over four decades that she worked, she received a measly Social Security check every month because of her inability to continue working. If not for the kindness of our peace/revolutionary communities and the strength of our family, we would not have survived. It’s wonderful that we did get help from friends and family and it’s wonderful so many wanted to help, but why is something like that even necessary? What about people who don’t have such a vast network of compassionate comrades? Even so-called charities failed us. At the local American Cancer Society we were told that, even though Dede could barely walk in the door and our resources were stretched thin, she could find a wig and makeup tips to make her “feel better about herself!” That’s all the “help” they could give us!
Anyway, back to this wonderful book The Emancipation of Women.
To me, at a time when women in the US didn’t even have the right to vote (and we still are not equal under the law, even if it is just bourgeois law), Lenin’s views were very far ahead of his time and I was thrilled that women were honored as very valuable fighters in the Civil War and recognized as necessary for an advanced socialist society. In February of 1920, he wrote in Pravda: “The proletariat cannot achieve complete liberty until it has won complete liberty for women.”
As Lenin struggled against the bourgeois (neo-Malthusian) idea of not bringing children into oppressive societies (“we must fight for a better future for our children”), he also argued in favor of reproductive freedom and divorce rights for women.
“Down with this foul lie! There is no ‘equality’, nor can there be, of oppressed and oppressor, exploited and exploiter. There is no real ‘freedom,’ nor can there be, so long as women are handicapped by men’s legal privileges, so long as there is no freedom of the worker from the yoke of capital.” Lenin, Pravda
#249, November 1919
Lenin was a radical feminist before the label was even invented. We radical feminists do not want “equality” with our oppressors, we want emancipation from our oppressors through the overthrow of capitalism, imperialism, chauvinism, and, for our sisters of color, deeply ingrained racism.
Revolution is an ongoing struggle and even though many of the wonderful programs that were envisioned weren’t fully realized, or whether counter-revolutionaries and/or US meddling undermined the real and positive gains of the GOSR, the struggle of emancipation for all oppressed peoples of the world is still a very worthy and, sadly still needed, cause that many people carry on to this day.
There is much “gold’ to be mined from the Soviet Socialist process and much inspiration to be found there, also.
This year of my personal struggle and continuing studies have inspired me to continue this profoundly necessary and principled fight.