To: Detroit Workers' Voice mailing list
November 5, 2015
RE: Women's organizations in the struggle for socialism in Russia, 1917-1930

From Baba to Tovarishch (From hag to comrade)

The book From Baba to Tovarishch: The Bolshevik Revolution and Soviet Women's Struggle for Liberation was published by the Chicago Workers' Voice group in 1994. It's been hard to obtain for some time, and I am pleased to announce that it's now freely available for downloading in its entirety at www.communistvoice.org/CWV-WomensMovement.pdf. Based on research that was begun in 1990 by several comrades as part of the theoretical work of the Marxist-Leninist Party, USA (1980-1993), its overall author is the late comrade Barbara Ranes. After the dissolution of the MLP, the CWV group continued communist work for several years. The Communist Voice Organization, which also stems back to the MLP, continues anti-revisionist communist work to this day. Below are the Foreword, Table of Contents, and excerpts from the List of Terms for this major work about the relationship of the women's movement and the overall building of the revolutionary party and society.

Foreword to From Baba to Tovarishch

The articles in this book were prepared by members of a study group on women which was formed in 1990. This study group was organized by the Marxist-Leninist Party, and several of these articles originally appeared in the Workers' Advocate Supplement, a journal of the MLP. The articles have been edited and expanded for publication in this book.

The Marxist-Leninist Party has since dissolved -- in November, 1993. The MLP stood for Socialism, and for building an independent working class movement. One of the historic strengths of the Marxist-Leninist Party was its opposition to the betrayal of Marxism-Leninism that took place in the Soviet Union. In fact, the MLP and its predecessors saw themselves as anti-revisionist communists who opposed the bureaucratic state capitalist regime in the Soviet Union and its reactionary theories and tactics. The MLP worked to develop a critique of Soviet state capitalism and to rescue socialist theory and practice from years of distortion brought on by the Soviet-style "communist" parties, which had wide influence on the mass movements around the world. Today, the USSR doesn't exist. We were not surprised when economic and political crises brought down the Soviet system.

Developing this critique of Soviet revisionism was one of the issues which inspired our work on women.

The MLP came out of the mass struggles of the 1960s and '70s. It tried to break the reformist hold over the mass movements and to organize working people as a class for themselves. The MLP fought against the influence of the Democratic Party in the mass movement. It opposed the trade union bureaucrats for holding back the workers' struggles. It opposed the revisionist and Trotskyist politics which attempt to tie the mass struggles to reformism.

The members of the study group have had many years of experience working to build a revolutionary movement. At the time the study group was formed, the MLP was actively working to build the Pro-Choice and Clinic Defense movements. It tried to develop more militant tactics by exposing the role of bourgeois feminism in the movement, and by broadening the perspective to focus on the concerns of working class, poor, and minority women.

The MLP was very aware of the conditions of women in the capitalist world of the 1980s and '90s. In the US., women made on average only 67% of the wages of men, poverty among women and children is rising, and there is an epidemic of violence against women. In many countries such as Japan, for example, violence against women is still hardly talked about. There is the widespread practice of genital mutilation of young girls in many African and some Asian countries, the murder of women for their dowries in India, the infanticide of female children in many countries, and the rise of fundamentalist religious attacks on women in Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Bangladesh, and other countries. We could go on and on.

Our awareness of the condition of women throughout the world, and our (often frustrating) experience in the women's movement today was another current which led to our research on Soviet women under the Bolsheviks.

In our research, the study group reviewed the works of such major socialist theorists as Marx, Engels and Lenin, who wrote on the issues of women's oppression and how to end it. As well, we studied the works of other socialist leaders to whom the liberation of women was a major concern, such as August Bebel, Clara Zetkin and Alexandra Kollontai. We wanted to have a better grasp of the views and experiences of the socialist struggle to liberate women. We also investigated certain questions of anthropology in order to better understand the historical basis for women's oppression.

We are informed of the controversies surrounding Engels and his use of Morgan's work. In the end, we found these criticisms to be insignificant in regard to the basic conclusions of our book. We are also aware of the many feminist analyses of the Marxist position regarding women which have been written over the last twenty years. We found that most of these critiques were based on a false interpretation of Soviet history as "socialism", and not on a correct analysis of its history as a failed attempt to create socialism that resulted in a repressive state capitalism.

We make the assertion that there has been no better blueprint for women's emancipation than that of Marxism-Leninism. It is our contention that fighting for women's liberation is closely linked to fighting the economic system of capitalism which maintains the oppression of women and that, conversely, socialism cannot be achieved without emancipating women.

Our study and discussion focused on the history of the struggle for women's liberation prior to and after the October 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. The October Revolution brought to power the first proletarian regime to endure for more than a brief time. The fight of women against their oppression was a strong current of this Revolution, and the victory of 1917 opened up an even broader fight. The struggle for women's liberation was intimately connected with the advances, as well as the failures, of the Bolshevik Revolution.

It is our view that the revolutionary socialist movement in the Soviet Union was betrayed, that eventually the Communist Party and the Soviet state lost all of their revolutionary character and became an entrenched state capitalist bureaucracy. One of the factors revealing this betrayal was the abandonment of the struggle for the liberation of women.

In our opinion, activists committed to women's emancipation should seriously look into the Soviet Union, a story which provides valuable lessons for the struggles of today. Our study on women has given us a better grasp of the long-term issues involved in building a progressive women's movement in this country.

In this book, we examine the history of the struggle for women's liberation in the Soviet Union in detail, concentrating on the period from 1917 through the middle 1930's. We investigate the Bolshevik goals for the liberation fo women, the struggles of the women themselves, the policies of the Soviet government and the Communist Party, and the turn away from socialism, which undermined the progress of women's liberation and justified the exploitation of women anew. ...

Table of Contents

From the List of Terms

Baba: Diminutive of "grandmother" (babushka). A derogatory term applied to women, implying something like "ignorant old hag".

Delegatki: Working and peasant women delegated by their constituency to serve several months as apprentices in governmental agencies. Program run by Zhenotdel.

Kommunistka: "The Communist Woman". Theoretical journal of Zhenotdel.

Robotnitsa: Literally "The Woman Worker". Bolshevik women's magazine.

Tovarishch: "Comrade" (same form for male and female).

Zhenotdel: Women's Section of the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the CPSU(b), 1919-1930.

Zhensektor: Women's Sector; successors of local Zhenotdels.

Zhensoviety: Women's Councils established in rural areas in 1950s. <>


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Posted on November 6, 2015
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