“The Liberation of Women Workers is the affair of the Women themselves!” – N. Lenin
In the years after the 1917 Revolution, the Bolsheviks began a new war, one that targeted the old society which had been based on oppression, not only on workers, but also on other groups, chief among them women. In the old society, women were confined to traditional roles, which included staying in the home and taking care of children. They could not work in factories or hold other jobs. Their rights were also limited by marriage. Once a woman was married, they lost the ability to own property and had to take their husband’s surname.
The main reason that the Bolsheviks wanted to change this was to gain more workers, both in the field and the factory. Their ideology also stressed that the only social barrier was class, which meant that no other markers held importance. Because of this, they tried to create a society based on equality. One of the first legal changes they made, the Family Code of 1918, gave women more freedom than anywhere else in the world.
Some interesting points in the code are the naming rights for women, which still required a marriage name for a couple, but expanded the options to the husband’s name, the wife’s name or their combined surnames. The law also states in section 105 that property is not communal in a marriage, which is interesting given that a basic tenant of communism is the communalization of land and property. But giving women their own property not only encouraged them to get jobs, it also gave them a degree of independence that they had never had before. Women did not have to get jobs however, because while a marriage did not mean that the husband and wife shared resources, the law still required unemployed spouses to be taken care of by the employed spouse.
Divorce was also made legally acceptable in this set of laws, and it only required one member of the marriage to be carried out, which meant women could successfully leave their husbands if they wanted to. And even after a divorce, a husband was still legally bound to take care of his wife, or vice versa, if they were unemployed, which meant that getting a divorce would not leave you destitute. Children would also be taken care of financially under the laws, with half of the money coming from each parent. To ensure that fathers would pay, the laws made mothers register the father of their child within three months of birth. The named father of the child could then appeal within a certain period of time, and if he did not, it was admission of his having fathered the child. This prevented (financial) single parenthood.
The laws did not only affect women. They also undermined the authority of the church by granting legal marriages to all members of the clergy (if they wanted them), even if they had taken a vow of celibacy. The laws also, interestingly, gave children born out of wedlock the same rights as children of a marriage, which defied old prejudices.
Women workers also began sending delegates to the Soviet to represent their issues with society, which helped he women’s cause greatly. Maria Fedotovna Filipenko’s story of her awakening to the joys of communism is an interesting piece of propaganda in which a loyal member of the party recounts her conversion. She was “afraid what would happen next, how the children would live”. She forbid her husband from joining the Party or participating in social works because she did not believe it would come to anything good. Then she discovers the benefits of socialism, like nurseries for the children (she was locking them in a windowless room before; true story). Maria later becomes very involved in the Party and is voted by her co-workers to represent the women in the factory in the Soviet.
While these laws did not mean the immediate acceptance of the “new woman” by society, it did give the younger generation a chance to change.
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. Print
International Conciliation (1919), pp. 35-37.
William G. Rosenberg, ed., Bolshevik Visions: First Phase of the Cultural Revolution in Soviet Russia (Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1984), pp. 139-141.
Soviet Russia. Vol. III, No. 5 (31 July 1920), pp. 109-110.
*This post is also won the Students’ Choice Award for Week 3 on the Motherblog.