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The Utopianism of the Zhenotdel

  • Barbara Evans Clements (a1)

Much attention has been given lately to the utopianism that flourished in Soviet Russia during the civil war and NEP. Scholars have noted that the idea of women's emancipation figured as an important element in this utopianism, affecting diverse aspects of it—fictional portrayals of the communist society of the future, urban architectural plans, the character of public pageants, even clothing design. The names of the women who participated with men in creating these Utopian projects have been recorded. As yet, however, scholars have not asked whether the female Utopians of NEP shared the utopianism of their male comrades or whether women entertained a vision of their own, distinguishable from men's. If there are discernable differences, how do they compare to those which scholars have found between male and female Utopians elsewhere in Europe and in North America? Why did such diversity arise? What were its consequences?

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1. Stites, Richard, Revolutionary Dreams: Utopian Vision and Experimental Life in the Russian Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989 ; Mally, Lynn, Culture of the Future: The Proletkult Movement in Revolutionary Russia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990 ; Rosenberg, William G., ed., Bolshevik Visions: First Phase of the Cultural Revolution in Soviet Russia (Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1984); Gleason, Abbott, Kenez, Peter and Stites, Richard, eds., Bolshevik Culture: Experiment and Order in the Russian Revolution (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985); Hudson, Hugh D. Jr., ‘ “The Social Condenser of Our Epoch': The Association of Contemporary Architects and the Creation of a New Way of Life in Revolutionary Russia,” Jahrbiicher fur Geschichte Osteuropas 34 (1986): 562–74.

2. Mally argues that women were a negligible voice in the Proletkul't (Culture of the Future, 178-80). Stites notes that women's emancipation was an element in the utopianism of many males during the NEP years but he discusses in detail the ideas of only one female Utopian, Kollontai (Stites, Revolutionary Dreams, 116-17).

3. Albinski, Nan Bowman, Women's Utopias in British and American Fiction (London and New York: Routledge, 1988), 12 .

4. Inessa was the daughter of a governess, Kollontai and Smidovich were dvoriane, Samoilova was a kursistka from a priestly family and Nikolaeva was a textile worker.

5. Barbara Evans Clements, “Baba and Bolshevik: Russian Women and Revolutionary Change,” Soviet Union 12, part 2 (1985): 175-84.

6. Artiukhina was a textile worker from St. Petersburg who joined the Party in 1910.

7. Morozova, “Pervyi raz v sektsii rabotnits,” Petrogradskaia pravda, 8 February 1920. The word chelovek is often used to describe the new woman.

8. Stal, L, “Novye zhenshchiny,” Kommunistka, no. 6 (1920): 19 .

9. Chalaia, Zinaida, “Bortsy i stroiteli,” Kommunistka, no. 10-11 (1922): 28 ; Argustinskaia, L, “Neizvestnye,” Kommunistka, no. 10-11 (1921): 26 .

10. Petrogradskaia pravda, 31 December 1918.

11. This presupposed a thoroughgoing transformation of her relationship to the family, that is, the transfer of housekeeping and childcare to public institutions and the re-education of men to treat women as equals. The 1918 Conference of Working and Peasant Women, a high point of Utopian enthusiasm among Zhenotdel women, passed a series of resolutions forecasting the imminent transition to communalized living. See Kommunisticheskaia partiia i organizatsiia rabotnits (Moscow-Petrograd: Kommunist, 1920), 118–20, 120-26.

12. Petrogradskaia pravda, 8 February 1920.

13. Bukharin, N. and Preobrazhensky, E., The ABC of Communism, trans. Fden, and Paul, Cedar (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1966), 74 .

14. Stites, Revolutionary Dreams, 164. According to Stites, Bellamy's book was (he most popular Utopian novel in pre-revolutionary Russia. (Ibid., 32.) It is also notable for its lack of attention to issues of women's emancipation and its emphasis on hierarchy and discipline ( Bellamy, Edward, Looking Backward 2000-1887 [Boston: Houghton Mifflin, (1931)]). August Bebel's Woman Under Socialism was widely translated and became one of the textbooks of marxist socialism throughout Europe. References to the organizing of socialist society occur throughout, but see especially 278-79, 285-88, 298-300 in Woman under Socialism, trans, from the 33d ed. by Daniel DeEeon (New York: New York Labor News Co., 1904).

15. For a discussion of this perspective among female Utopians in the United States see Albinski, Women's Utopias in British and American Fiction, esp. 44-69, 159-61; and Kessler, Carol Farley, ed., Daring to Dream: Utopian Stories by United States Women, 1836-1919 (Boston: Pandora, 1984), 68 . See also Oilman, Charlotte Perkins, Herland, first published in 1916 and recently reprinted (New York: Pantheon, 1979 .

16. Lenin, V. I., The Emancipation of Women (New York: International, 1975), 69 . See the same point in Trotsky, Leon, Problems of Everyday Life and Other Writings on Culture and Science (New York: Monad Press, 1973), 2930 ; Engels, Frederick, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the. State (New York: International, 1972), 137–39; and Bebel, , Woman Under Socialism, 348–49.

17. Armand, Inessa, “Zadachi rabotnits v Sovetskoi Rossii,” Kommunisticheskaia partiia i organizalsiia rabotnits, 41 .

18. Kor discussions of the abolition of the family in Zhenotdel publications, see Kommunisticheskaia partiia i organizalsiia rabotnits, 14-15, 35-41, 110-11, 120; A. M. Kollontai, “Sem'ia i kommunizm,” Kommunistka, no. 7 (1920): 16-19; Putilovskaia, “Kommunisticheskaia partiia, brak i sem'ia,” Petrogradskaia pravda, 8 February 1920; R. Kovnator, “Novaia zhenshchina v revoliutsionnoi literature,” Kommunistka, no. 5 (1920): 32-35; A. Kollontai, “Tezisy o kommunisticheskoi morali,” Ibid., no. 12-13 (May-June 1921): 28-34. See also the outlines for Zhenotdel training courses in Vsesoiuznaia kommunisticheskaia partiia (bol'shevikov), Tsentral'nyi kommunisticheskii otdel po rabote sredi zhenshchin, Sbornik instruktsii otdela TsK RKP po rabote sredi zhenshchin (Moscow, 1920), 37, 47-48.

19. See the discussions of the complexity of social reconstruction under NEP in Fitzpatrick, Sheila, Rabinowitch, Alexander and Stites, Richard, eds., Russia in the Era of NEP; Explorations in Soviet Society and Culture (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991), especially William G. Rosenberg, “Introduction: NEP Russia as a ‘Transitional’ Society,” 1-11.

20. For reports on Komsomol debates on sexuality see “V Vol'no-diskussionnom klube; Problema liubvi,” Molodaia gvardiia, no. 1 (1924): 94-111; O. Bogoiavlenskii, “O novom byte,” Ibid., no. 6 (1924): 207; B. Fridman, “V boi—za novyi byt,” Ibid., no. 19 (1929): 55-61. See also Lenin's attack on the hedonistic excesses of the young in his 1920 interview with Klara Zetkin in The Emancipation of Women, 104-8. For an examination of the sexual attitudes of young Soviets in the early 1920s see Fitzpatrick, Sheila, “Sex and Revolution: An Examination of Literary and Statistical Data on the Mores of Soviet Students in the 1920s,” Journal of Modern History 50 (June 1978): 252–78.

21. Kollontai, “Pis'ma k trudiashcheisia molodezhi; Pis'ma pervoe: Kakim dolzhenbyt’ kommunist?” Molodaia guardiia, no. 1-2 (1922): 136-44; “Pis'ma vtoroe: Moral', kak orudie klassovogo gospodstva i klassovoi bor'by,” Ibid., no. 6-7 (1922): 128-36; “Pis'mo tretee: O ‘drakone’ i ‘beloi ptitse',” Ibid., no. 2 (February-March 1923): 162-74; “Dorogu krylatomu Erosu!” Ibid., no. 3 (May 1923): 111-24; Kollontai, A., Liubov’ pchel trudovykh(Petrograd: Gosizdat, 1923 ); Kollontai, A., Zhenshchina na perelome (Moscow and Petrograd: Gosizdat, 1923 ; Kollontai, A, “Sestry,” Kommunistka, no. 3-4 (March-April 1923): 2326 .

22. For a fuller discussion see Clements, Barbara Evans, Bolshevik Feminist: The Life of A.M. Kollontai (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1979), 232–35.

23. Utopians from Fourier to Engels used sexuality as an index of liberation, arguing that heterosexual relations freed of all societal regulation were essential to a truly free existence. The great dystopian novelists of the twentieth century—F'vgenii Zamiatin, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell and Margaret Atwood—shared this view and thus made an illicit heterosexual romance the primary act of rebellion against the regimented society of the future. For a discussion of the sexual dynamics of Utopian fiction see Rabkin, Eric S., “Atavism and Utopia,” No Place Else: Explorations in Utopian and Dystopian Fiction, ed. Rabkin, Eric S., Greenberg, Martin H. and Olander, Joseph D. (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1983), 110.

24. The authoritative, middle-aged, male voice defining the sexual morality of the young is heard in all the discussions of sexuality in the Komsomol press. See “V Vol'nodiskussionnom klube; Problema liubvi,” Molodaia gvardiia, no. 1 (1924): 94-111; N. Semashko, “Nuzhna li zhenstvennost'? “Ibid., no. 6 (1924): 205-6; Dr. A.L. Verkovich, “Polevoi vopros,” Ibid., no. 9 (1924): 181-86; Iaroslavskii, E., Voprosy zhizni i bor'by (Moscow: Molodaia gvardiia, 1924); Iaroslavskii, , “Moral’ proletariata v perekhodnyi period,” Molodaia gvardiia, no. 3 (1926): 138–53; Fridman, B., “V boi—za novyi byt,” Ibid., no. 19 (1929): 5561.

25. Smidovich, S, “Znachenie ‘Kommunistki’ dlia raboty sredi zhenshchin,” Kommunistka, no. 7 (1923): 79 . For Engels’ and Bebel's discussions of sexual and family life under communism see Fingels, , The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State 135–45; Bebel, , Woman Under Socialism, 343–47. For criticism of the Zhenotdel see the following articles in Pravda in the fall of 1923: I, . Genkin, “Zhenotdely i byt,” 2 September; V. Shelomovich, “Byt i zhenotdely,” 14 September; M. Khutoretskii, “Ob apparate zhenotdelov,” 4 October; Moirova, “Ob apparatakh zhenotdelov,” 14 October.

26. Kommunisticheskaia partiia i organizatsiia rabotnits, 120.

27. Mezhdunarodnyi den’ rabotnits: Sbornik materialov dlia klubov (Moscow: Oosizdat, 1925), 44.

28. See discussions of the importance of samodeiatel'nost’ in the following: A. Kollontai, “'Krest materinstva’ i Sovetskaia respublika,” Pravda, 1 October 1918; Ekaterina Arbore-Ralli, , Mat’ i ditia v Sovetskoi Rossii (Moscow, Gos.izdatel'stvo 1920); Kheifets, L., “Novye zhenskie obrazy,” Kommunistka, no. 12-13 (1921): 3436 ; Mezhdunarodnyi den’ rabotnitsy: Sbornik materialov dlia klubov, 44-45; Il'ina, “Staryi byt nado bit'!” Rabotnitsa, no. 4 (1930): 12; T. Baranova, “K perevyboram sovetov,” Ibid., no. 47 (1930): 3-4.

29. S. Smidovich, “Reorganizatsiia byta za 10 let proletarskoi revoliutsii,” Kommunistka, no. 10 (1927): 73. Rakhil Kovnator specifically links the theme of samodeiatel'nost’ and the call for the Zhenotdel to stay out of politics in her article “Voprosy byta i zhenotdely,” Kommunistka, no. 10 (1923): 4-6.

30. Their journals, however, are full of fiction and non-fiction that condemn male abuse of women and enjoin men to behave better. For examples see Alekseeva, “Pesnia devushki,” Krest'ianka, no. 5 (1922): 6; N. Kaptel'tseva, “Byt rabotnits po ikh pis'mam— ocherk,” Rabotnitsa, no. 1 (1926): 15-17; S. Radieva, “Zhenshchina i zhilishchnoe stroitel'stvo,” 9-10; K., “O chem nam pishut: nabolevskie voprosy,” Rabotnitsa, no. 21 (1926): 19; Il'ina, “Staryi byt nado bit'!” 12.

31. For articles that make precisely this argument, see Kaptel'tseva, “Byt rabotnits po ikh pis'mam,” 15-17; “Babii prazdnik,” Delegatka, no. 2-3 (1924): 10-12.

32. S. Smidovich, “Reorganizatsiia byta za 10 let proletarskoi revoliutsii,” 73.

33. “Za sotsialisticheskuiu peredelku byta,” Rabotnitsa, no. 4 (1930): 3.

34. Italics in the original. “Chto dolzhny delat’ delegatki v konferentsii na mestakh,” Rabotnitsa, no. 13 (January 1918): 8-9; Ibid., no. 14 (January 1918): 8.

35. Carol Eubanks Hayden, “The Zhenotdel and the Bolshevik Party,” Russian History 3, part 2 (1976): 150-73; Clements, Bolshevik Feminist, 210-14.

36. For discussions of the zhenskii aktiv see Elena Rabinovich', “Istoricheskii etap,” Rabotnitsa, no. 21 (1930): 3–4; “Perestroit'sia i rabotat’ po-novomu,” Ibid., no. 25 (1930): 3-4.

37. For articles arguing for a continuation of Zhenotdel work see “Rabotu sredi zhenshchin—na vyshuiu stupen',” Ibid., no. 5 (1930): 4-6; M. Dmitrieva, “Na smotr rabotu sredi zhenshchin,” Ibid., no. 19 (1930): 4-5; A. Artiukhina, “Vypolnim reshenie partii,” Ibid., no. 22 (1930): 3-4; “Rabota sredi zhenshchin—delo vsei partii,” Ibid., no. 25 (1930): 10-11; A. Artiukhina, “Obiazuemsia i vypolnim,” Ibid., no. 35 (1930): 3-4; Lesovik, “Perevybory delegatok v Leningrade,” Ibid., no. 43 (1930): 5.

38. Ancharova, “900 tysiach zhenshchin—na proizvodstvo,” Ibid., no. 36 (1930): 14

39. K. Bykova, “V strane nuzhny rabochie ruki,” Ibid., 4. For Bykova's poems, “Docheri Oktiabria” and “K prazdniku rabotnits,” see Kollontai, , Mezhdunarodnyi den’ rabotnits, 89, 85 . For another discussion of the importance of samodeiatel'nost', see Baranova, T, “K perevyboram sovetov,” Rabotnitsa, no. 47 (1930): 34 .

40. Baczko, Bronislaw, Utopian Lights: The Evolution of the Idea of Social Progress, trans. Greenberg, Judith L. (New York: Paragon, 1989), 324 .

41. Nikolaeva, K., Karaseva, L., Zhenshchina v boiakh za hommunizm (Moscow: Politizdat, 1940), 7 .

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