Workers Hammer No. 223

Summer 2013


Quote of the issue

Women of the East: Proletarian revolution or slavery

In the predominantly Muslim countries of the East, the fight for women’s liberation is literally a life-and-death struggle and a great motor force for proletarian revolution. In extending the 1917 workers revolution in Russia, the Bolsheviks found a key point of support among Muslim women in Central Asia in the 1920s. Subjugated, secluded and enslaved by Islamic law, the women of Central Asia had the most to gain from the October Revolution. The Bolsheviks understood that these women could be the key to breaking the prefeudal and tribal chains in the region. This was expressed by Najiye, a representative of the Communist women, in a speech at the First Congress of the Peoples of the East, held in September 1920 in Baku, capital of Soviet Azerbaijan.

The women’s movement beginning in the East must be looked at not from the standpoint of those frivolous feminists who are content to see woman’s place in social life as that of a delicate plant or an elegant doll. This movement must be seen as a vital and necessary consequence of the revolutionary movement taking place throughout the world. The women of the East are not fighting merely for the right to walk in the street without wearing the chador, as many people suppose. For the women of the East, with their high moral ideals, the question of the chador, it can be said, comes last in priority. If the women, who form half of every community, are set up against the men and do not enjoy the same rights, obviously it is impossible for society to progress; the backwardness of Eastern societies is irrefutable proof of this.…

In order to deliver us from all calamities, the Communists consider it necessary to create a classless society, and to this end they declare relentless war against all the bourgeois and privileged layers. The women Communists of the East have an even harder battle to wage because, in addition, they have to fight against the despotism of their menfolk. If you, men of the East, continue now as in the past to be indifferent to the fate of women, you can be sure that our countries will perish, and you and we together with them. The alternative is for us, together with all the oppressed, to begin a bloody life-and-death struggle to win our rights by force.

I will briefly set forth the women’s demands. If you want to bring about your own emancipation, listen to our demands and render us real help and cooperation.

1. Complete equality of rights.

2. Ensuring to women unconditional access to educational and vocational institutions established for men.

3. Equality of rights of both parties to marriage. Unconditional abolition of polygamy.

4. Unconditional admission of women to employment in legislative and administrative institutions.

5. Establishment of committees for the rights and protection of women everywhere, in cities, towns, and villages.

There is no doubt that we are entitled to raise these demands. In recognizing that we have equal rights, the Communists have reached out their hand to us, and we women will prove their most loyal comrades. True, we may stumble in pathless darkness, we may stand on the brink of yawning chasms, but we are not afraid, because we know that in order to see the dawn one has to pass through the dark night.

—“Report by Najiye” (1920), printed in To See the Dawn (Pathfinder, 1993)