Bukharin on the transformation of Soviet women (1920)


Writing in July 1920, Bolshevik leader Nikolai Bukharin tells of the development of ‘new individuals’ in Soviet society – particularly the transformation of Soviet women:


“We Communists in Russia live under such unusually hard conditions that we have neither energy nor time to record immediately all the important and interesting events created in the course of the revolution… Owing to the pressure of work and struggle we fail to pay sufficient attention to the fact that the new order created also a new and entirely different individual, who did not exist before, in fact. whose existence before was impossible.

The new social relations among the people create and educate new human beings. Everybody is ready to abuse and insult the Bolshevik. Most people do it without any particular reason, simply for the pleasure of passing judgment on Bolshevism; others have no idea about it and don’t know what it really means. Only a few realise what a tremendous rebuilding task Bolshevism is performing for the benefit of humanity…

It is especially interesting to observe the change which took place among the women of the plain proletarians and peasants. Those hitherto treated like cattle have at last realised that they are human beings entitled to equal rights. They take part in the general struggle against capitalism against exploitation and slavery in any form. The working women and the rural female population began to participate in the administration of husbandry [farming]. They sit in the Soviets and Executive Committees of various types and hold responsible positions, and are frequently seen armed, or nursing at the front.

The working women of the middle class and the peasant women are especially active in all situations that deal with the social care of women, mothers, children, aged people, sick, invalids, etc. They are to be found in institutions for pregnant women, women who have just been confined, for nursing women, in infant asylums, in children’s colonies, at vocational centres, in school kitchens, public dining rooms, tea houses, in hospitals, recreation centres, in aged and invalid homes, in public libraries, reading rooms, in propaganda centres for the spreading of communistic ideas and general knowledge…

Everywhere these simple women are active in bigger or smaller groups; they are, in fact, often the very soul of such establishments. In the performing of their duties they show as much brain as heart, they have an almost “ambitious, passionate enthusiasm” for the new creative abilities and possess common sense for practical things.

Women who hardly ever heard about Communism before the revolution, many of whom learned to read and write only in the schools of the party organisations, do distinguished work in order to realise communist theory. The talents and energy of the women after the revolution, owing to free activity, grow like plants in the sunshine after a shower has just passed. This new life awakens the women of the proletariat and peasants; it gives them tasks and duties, experience and training; it transforms them into revolutionary fighters and co-workers of the Communistic Society…

The Cossack Conference now being held in Moscow is very typical as an indication of the new individuality awakening in the women. Women are also taking part in this conference as delegates entitled to equal rights. The revolution opened their eyes, awakened them, transformed them into fighters for the cause of the working people. What a transformation! Before the revolution, these women sat in their Cossack villages, managed their cottages, gardens and fields, as their mothers and grandmothers had done before them. They did not care what took place beyond the boundaries of their little village. When one of these women happened to visit the seat of the county or province, this was an event which gave material for long gossip. Now they participate in the discussions and decisions of their Soviets and they do not hesitate to make the long journey to Moscow. They sit among strangers whom they have seen for the first time and they express their opinions, discuss and come to conclusions; they feel as if they were among brothers and sisters discussing the most important life-issues of great Russia…

During the regime of the Tsar, the women had no part in the political life of the country. The lady of the higher circle was wife and mistress, she did not care about the affairs of the state. The fate of the women of the masses was similar to this. After the March revolution of 1917, the women of the wealthy classes – namely, the liberals and the intellectual women – began to take part most energetically in public life. They also appeared as speakers at meetings. But only among the revolutionists could the Russian woman, who has always been so daring and full of self-sacrifice, take a full part in the political life.”