Workers Vanguard No. 1063
6 March 2015
From the Archives of Marxism
In Honor of International Womens Day
The Russian Revolution of October 1917 was a beacon of liberation for the working and impoverished masses worldwide. At a time when women in the most democratic capitalist countries were denied even the right to vote, the young Soviet workers state undertook pioneering efforts toward the liberation of women.
Although many of the advances of the Revolution were reversed under the rule of the Stalinist bureaucracy, which usurped political power from the proletariat in 1923-24, the central gains of the revolution, embodied in the overthrow of capitalist property relations and the establishment of a planned economy, remained. Before capitalist counterrevolution in 1991-92, women in the Soviet Union enjoyed many advantages, such as state-supported childcare institutions, full abortion rights, access to a wide range of trades and professions and a large degree of economic equality with their male co-workers—in short, a status in some ways far in advance of capitalist societies.
To this day, millions of women in the advanced capitalist countries endure lives of misery and drudgery. In the U.S., despite formal legal equality, abortion rights are under sustained attack and quality childcare is scarce and costly. To end women’s oppression, which is rooted in the institution of the family, will require building a socialist society of material abundance, in which child rearing and other functions now performed by the family will be the responsibility of society as a whole. The struggle for women’s liberation is inseparable from the fight for international workers revolution.
We reprint below a 1921 address given by Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin to mark the March 8 workers holiday, International Women’s Day.
Working Women’s Day”
4 March 1921
The gist of Bolshevism and the Russian October Revolution is getting into politics the very people who were most oppressed under capitalism. They were downtrodden, cheated and robbed by the capitalists, both under the monarchy and in the bourgeois-democratic republics. So long as the land and the factories were privately owned this oppression and deceit and the plunder of the people’s labour by the capitalists were inevitable.
The essence of Bolshevism and the Soviet power is to expose the falsehood and mummery of bourgeois democracy, to abolish the private ownership of land and the factories and concentrate all state power in the hands of the working and exploited masses. They, these masses, get hold of politics, that is, of the business of building the new society. This is no easy task: the masses are downtrodden and oppressed by capitalism, but there is no other way—and there can be no other way—out of the wage-slavery and bondage of capitalism.
But you cannot draw the masses into politics without drawing in the women as well. For under capitalism the female half of the human race is doubly oppressed. The working woman and the peasant woman are oppressed by capital, but over and above that, even in the most democratic of the bourgeois republics, they remain, firstly, deprived of some rights because the law does not give them equality with men; and secondly—and this is the main thing—they remain in “household bondage,” they continue to be “household slaves,” for they are overburdened with the drudgery of the most squalid, backbreaking and stultifying toil in the kitchen and the family household.
No party or revolution in the world has ever dreamed of striking so deep at the roots of the oppression and inequality of women as the Soviet, Bolshevik revolution is doing. Over here, in Soviet Russia, no trace is left of any inequality between men and women under the law. The Soviet power has eliminated all there was of the especially disgusting, base and hypocritical inequality in the laws on marriage and the family and inequality in respect of children.
This is only the first step in the liberation of woman. But none of the bourgeois republics, including the most democratic, has dared to take even this first step. The reason is awe of “sacrosanct private property.”
The second and most important step is the abolition of the private ownership of land and the factories. This and this alone opens up the way towards a complete and actual emancipation of woman, her liberation from “household bondage” through transition from petty individual housekeeping to large-scale socialised domestic services.
This transition is a difficult one, because it involves the remoulding of the most deep-rooted, inveterate, hidebound and rigid “order” (indecency and barbarity would be nearer the truth). But the transition has been started, the thing has been set in motion, we have taken the new path.
And so on this international working women’s day countless meetings of working women in all countries of the world will send greetings to Soviet Russia, which has been the first to tackle this unparalleled and incredibly hard but great task, a task that is universally great and truly liberatory. There will be bracing calls not to lose heart in face of the fierce and frequently savage bourgeois reaction. The “freer” or “more democratic” a bourgeois country is, the wilder the rampage of its gang of capitalists against the workers’ revolution, an example of this being the democratic republic of the United States of North America. But the mass of workers have already awakened. The dormant, somnolent and inert masses in America, Europe and even in backward Asia were finally roused by the imperialist war.
The ice has been broken in every corner of the world.
Nothing can stop the tide of the peoples’ liberation from the imperialist yoke and the liberation of working men and women from the yoke of capital. This cause is being carried forward by tens and hundreds of millions of working men and women in town and countryside. That is why this cause of labour’s freedom from the yoke of capital will triumph all over the world.