||Zetkin: The Women's Question, 1920||Its Relation to a Culture of Peace for the 21st Century|
Clara Zetkin carried out a series of interviews in 1920 with Vladimir Lenin on the role of women in the revolution, and her notes remain one of the most important statements on this question.
Lenin begins by citing details of the valiant work done by women in the Russian Revolution. "Many of them work day and night in the Party or among the masses of the proletariat, the peasants, the Red Army. That is of very great value to us. It is also important for women all over the world. It shows the capacity of women, the great value their work has in society.
He gives credit to the organizing by women in German, including Rosa Luxemburg, around the issue of prostitution: "I was told that a talented woman communist in Hamburg is publishing a paper for prostitutes and that she wants to organise them for the revolutionary fight. Rosa acted and felt as a communist when in an article she championed the cause of the prostitutes who were imprisoned for any transgression of police regulations in carrying on their dreary trade. They are, unfortunately, doubly sacrificed by bourgeois society. First, by its accursed property system, and, secondly, by its accursed moral hypocrisy."
While Lenin argues that a focus on sexuality and marriage could serve as a diversion from revolutionary action, Zetkin reminds him that "the questions of sex and marriage, in a bourgeois [capitalist] society of private property, involve many problems, conflicts and much suffering for women of all social classes and ranks. The war and its consequences had greatly accentuated the conflicts and sufferings of women in sexual matters, had brought to light problems which were formerly hidden from them."
Lenin emphasizes the revolutionary consciousness of women: "The women must be made conscious of the political connection between our demands and their own suffering, needs, and wishes. They must realise what the proletarian dictatorship means for them: complete equality with man in law and practice, in the family, in the state, in society; an end to the power of the bourgeoisie."
The men, also, need to be educated. "So few men--even among the proletariat--realise how much effort and trouble they could save women, even quite do away with, if they were to lend a hand in 'women's work'. But no, that is contrary to the 'rights and dignity of a man'. They want their peace and comfort. The home life of the woman is a daily sacrifice to a thousand unimportant trivialities ... Our communist work among the women, our political work, embraces a great deal of educational work among men."
Lenin agrees with Zetkin that revolutionary programs must address directly the special needs and demands of women, and he describes the many practical actions being taken by the Russian Revolution. "The Government of the proletarian dictatorship, together with the Communist Party and trade unions, is of course leaving no stone unturned in the effort to overcome the backward ideas of men and women, to destroy the old un-communist psychology. In law there is naturally complete equality of rights for men and women. And everywhere there is evidence of a sincere wish to put this equality into practice. We are bringing the women into the social economy, into legislation and government. All educational institutions are open to them, so that they can increase their professional and social capacities. We are establishing communal kitchens and public eating-houses, laundries and repairing shops, nurseries, kindergartens, children's homes, educational institutes of all kinds."
"In short, we are seriously carrying out the demand in our programme for the transference of the economic and educational functions of the separate household to society. That will mean freedom for the woman from the old household drudgery and dependence on man. That enables her to exercise to the full her talents and her inclinations. The children are brought up under more favourable conditions than at home. We have the most advanced protective laws for women workers in the world, and the officials of the organised workers carry them out. We are establishing maternity hospitals, homes for mothers and children, mothercraft clinics, organising lecture courses on child care, exhibitions teaching mothers how to look after themselves and their children, and similar things. We are making the most serious efforts to maintain women who are unemployed and unprovided for."
"We realise clearly that that is not very much, in comparison with the needs of the working women, that it is far from being all that is required for their real freedom. But still it is tremendous progress, as against conditions in tsarist-capitalist Russia. It is even a great deal compared with conditions in countries where capitalism still has a free hand. It is a good beginning in the right direction, and we shall develop it further. With all our energy, you may believe that. For every day of the existence of the Soviet State proves more clearly that we cannot go forward without the women."
In an address to women workers in 1920, Lenin emphasized the need for democratic participation of women in administration and government: "We want women workers to achieve equality with men workers not only in law, but in life as well. For this, it is essential that women workers take an ever increasing part in the administration of public enterprises and in the administration of the state. By engaging in the work of administration women will learn quickly and they will catch up with the men. Therefore, elect more women workers, both Communist and non-Party, to the Soviet."
Anyone who has lived in socialist countries, including the former Soviet Union, can testify that the reforms listed by Lenin have been taken to heart by the socialist countries, although the destruction of socialism in Eastern Europe and Russia has rolled back many of the gains that were made. Addressing the equality of women remains a shared priority for revolution and a culture of peace.