Women in Stalinist Russia sample essay
After the Bolsheviks came into power, they under the leadership of Lenin started a movement of social reform which was meant to break down the existing tsarist social system and to abolish all ‘bourgeois’ aspects of the system . It was at this time that Lenin attacked the institution of marriage which was considered bourgeois by the Marxist regime. Lenin firmly believed in women’s equality and therefore made efforts to liberate them from the bondage of children and family by making divorce easier.
Little realising that such extremely reforms and such extreme communist ideology would not be accepted by the common people easily and quickly. This is what Stalin inherited by adhering to Lenin’s legacy. Stalin who had become the vozhd of Soviet Russia by 1930’s was convinced that the earlier social experiment had failed. Discipline is considered the back bone of a communist society; without a disciplined population an efficient workforce cannot be build up; and presence of an efficient work force is indispensible to a communist Marxist system.
Stalin realised that the policies of his predecessor had constructed an undisciplined population. While the Party was rapidly coming to the conclusion that the traditional family structure, based as it was on unpaid female labour, provided the cheapest way to raise Soviet children, the lack of institutional support forced proletarian and peasant women to rely on the contributions of husbands and fathers. The material reality of the 1920s led to a revision of the Bolshevik policy of liberating women from the patriarchal family.
To rectify Lenin’s mistake Stalin took a ‘U Turn’ in the policies regarding family and women. This U turn which has been called ‘the great retreat’ in Shelia Fitzpatrick book The Russian Revolution led to instituting of wide-ranging affirmative action policies to solve the problem. His new policies re-established the family values and stressed the value of a family as a stabilising influence in the society. As a result of his new policies soviet women were highly educated, fully employed, and enjoyed unprecedented professional success in every field of human endeavour.
But there are some historians who disagree with this they believe that when the Bolsheviks abolished the Zhenotdel in 1930, it signalled the repudiation of all feminism whether of the Marxist or liberal variety. While women were employed in industry and agriculture in unprecedented numbers, they were relegated to inferior positions, and rarely advanced to positions of power in either the Soviet government or the Party. At the same time retrograde social policies were instituted such as the ban on abortions, and the valorisation of the role of woman as the mainstay of the nuclear family.
They were responsible for both the professional success and the socialist upbringing of the children. Soviet women were yoked to a double shift that spelled the end to all feminist dreams and utopias. This was in contradiction to the Nazi Germany were women were expected to stay in their homes and raise children. During the NEP era, as demobilized soldiers returned from the war front, they replaced women workers in various trades and industries.
Female joblessness was further exacerbated by the fact that factories and state agencies radically decreased spending on childcare institutions and communal dining halls thus making it harder for women to obtain gainful employment. Women workers were concentrated in the lowest paid jobs requiring the least skills, and these were usually clustered in the textile and other light industry. Labour exchanges routinely discriminated against them, and women were paid less than men for fulfilling the same labour quotas.
While trade unions explained the wage differential by referring to women’s lack of skills and training, they were rarely sent for advanced training or even hired as apprentices. Unions sought to protect the existing unequal gender status quo on the factory floor. Despite the entreaties of the Zhenotdel, the Party refused to champion the women’s cause in industry, as it struggled to maintain the purity of an all-male urban proletarian base. With the onset of the First Five-Year Plan, the Party continued to underestimate the value of female labour.
Goldman explains that the Party policy of excluding women and non-proletarian workers from the work force slowed the rapid mobilization of labour required for the successful fulfilment of the First Five-Year Plan. In January of 1930, in the face of bitter protests from female activists, the Party eliminated the Zhenotdel, arguing that the rapid improvement of women’s status under communism eliminated the need for special attention. While the Party sought to channel women’s activism to fulfilling the new goals of rapid industrialization, it destroyed the very organization that might have facilitated its production goals.
During this period, soviets, trade unions and factory management proved incapable of mobilizing and utilizing women in a planned and effective manner. But in 1928 women held 28. 6 percent of industrial jobs, with the onset of First Five-Year Plan women workers flooded Soviet industry in unprecedented numbers and by 1935, women constituted 42 percent of all industrial workers. By 1932-33, during the inception of the Second Five-Year Plan, women comprised almost 100 percent of the incoming workers and by 1936, 75 percent of the new workers were women.
During this period the authorities were able to institute a draconian system of labour legislation because of the availability of women workers. The Party was able to create the punitive passport system, slow down rural migration to the cities, and purge the working class of undesirable non-proletarian elements, because it could rely on the existing reserves of female labour. As a result, urban women were recruited in increasingly larger numbers, both in traditionally female-dominated industries such as textiles, as well as in heavy industry such as lumber, metal and machine production.
While women were over-represented in poorly paid and unskilled positions, they were also to be found in well-paid skilled positions in various branches of industry. For a brief period, the Party’s campaign to involve women, the growing need for skilled labour, and the feminism of the women’s activists came together to create new and vast opportunities for hundreds and thousands of women workers. The Party made efforts to enrol women in technical training programs, and institutes of higher education.
The Party replaced men with blocs of skilled women workers, and even facilitated women’s entry into management position. Finally, in an effort to control and revitalize factory management, women workers were encouraged to speak publicly about problems in the workplace. The Party’s efforts were neither sustained, nor were they disinterested, but nonetheless, they resulted in the creation of affirmative action policies that helped publicly renegotiate the status of a hitherto disadvantaged minority.
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