Workers Vanguard No. 1020

22 March 2013


Lenin on Women’s Emancipation

(Quote of the Week)

Writing nearly two years after the 1917 Bolshevik-led proletarian seizure of power in Russia, V.I. Lenin gave a critical progress report on the status of women in the fledgling workers state. Under conditions of extreme backwardness, civil war and imperialist invasion, the early Soviet government sought, insofar as it was able, to make women full participants in the workforce and all realms of life by taking steps to replace the family with collective institutions to perform household tasks. The Bolsheviks understood that the oppression of women would ultimately be rooted out only with the development of a socialist society based on material abundance, requiring the extension of proletarian revolution to the advanced capitalist countries.

Take the position of women. In this field, not a single democratic party in the world, not even in the most advanced bourgeois republic, has done in decades so much as a hundredth part of what we did in our very first year in power. We really razed to the ground the infamous laws placing women in a position of inequality, restricting divorce and surrounding it with disgusting formalities, denying recognition to children born out of wedlock, enforcing a search for their fathers, etc., laws numerous survivals of which, to the shame of the bourgeoisie and of capitalism, are to be found in all civilised countries. We have a thousand times the right to be proud of what we have done in this field. But the more thoroughly we have cleared the ground of the lumber of the old, bourgeois laws and institutions, the clearer it is to us that we have only cleared the ground to build on but are not yet building.

Notwithstanding all the laws emancipating woman, she continues to be a domestic slave, because petty housework crushes, strangles, stultifies and degrades her, chains her to the kitchen and the nursery, and she wastes her labour on barbarously unproductive, petty, nerve-racking, stultifying and crushing drudgery. The real emancipation of women, real communism, will begin only where and when an all-out struggle begins (led by the proletariat wielding the state power) against this petty housekeeping, or rather when its wholesale transformation into a large-scale socialist economy begins.

Do we in practice pay sufficient attention to this question, which in theory every Communist considers indisputable? Of course not. Do we take proper care of the shoots of communism which already exist in this sphere? Again the answer is no. Public catering establishments, nurseries, kindergartens—here we have examples of these shoots, here we have the simple, everyday means, involving nothing pompous, grandiloquent or ceremonial, which can really emancipate women, really lessen and abolish their inequality with men as regards their role in social production and public life.

—V. I. Lenin, “A Great Beginning” (28 June 1919)