Workers Vanguard No. 1107

10 March 2017


The Bolshevik Revolution and Women’s Liberation

(Quote of the Week)

On International Women’s Day in Petrograd in March 1917, a mass outpouring of working women sparked the revolutionary upheaval that culminated in the Russian October Revolution. The smashing of capitalist class rule brought unheard-of gains for women in all areas of public and private life. Despite economic backwardness and poverty, the young Soviet workers government sought to undermine the material foundations of women’s oppression, which is rooted in the institution of the family. The Bolsheviks understood that complete social equality could only be attained with the abolition of classes in a world socialist society. In a 1920 commemoration of International Working Women’s Day, Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin underscored the fact that the fight for women’s liberation is inseparable from the fight for international socialist revolution.

Capitalism combines formal equality with economic and, consequently, social inequality. That is one of the principal features of capitalism, one that is deliberately obscured by the supporters of the bourgeoisie, the liberals, and is not understood by petty-bourgeois democrats. This feature of capitalism, incidentally, renders it necessary for us in our resolute fight for economic equality openly to admit capitalist inequality, and even, under certain conditions, to make this open admission of inequality the basis of the proletarian statehood (the Soviet Constitution).

But even in the matter of formal equality (equality before the law, the “equality” of the well-fed and the hungry, of the man of property and the propertyless), capitalism cannot be consistent. And one of the most glaring manifestations of this inconsistency is the inequality of women. Complete equality has not been granted even by the most progressive republican, and democratic bourgeois states.

The Soviet Republic of Russia, on the other hand, at once swept away all legislative traces of the inequality of women without exception, and immediately ensured their complete equality before the law.

It is said that the best criterion of the cultural level is the legal status of women. This aphorism contains a grain of profound truth. From this standpoint only the dictatorship of the proletariat, only the socialist state could attain, as it has attained, the highest cultural level. The new, mighty and unparalleled stimulus given to the working women’s movement is therefore inevitably associated with the foundation (and consolidation) of the first Soviet Republic—and, in addition to and in connection with this, with the Communist International.

Since mention has been made of those who were oppressed by capitalism, directly or indirectly, in whole or in part, it must be said that the Soviet system, and only the Soviet system, guarantees democracy. This is clearly shown by the position of the working class and the poor peasants. It is clearly shown by the position of women.

But the Soviet system is the last decisive struggle for the abolition of classes, for economic and social equality. Democracy, even democracy for those who were oppressed by capitalism, including the oppressed sex, is not enough for us.

It is the chief task of the working women’s movement to fight for economic and social equality, and not only formal equality, for women. The chief thing is to get women to take part in socially productive labour, to liberate them from “domestic slavery,” to free them from their stupefying and humiliating subjugation to the eternal drudgery of the kitchen and the nursery.

This struggle will be a long one, and it demands a radical reconstruction both of social technique and of morals. But it will end in the complete triumph of communism.

—V.I. Lenin, “International Working Women’s Day” (4 March 1920)