Alexandra Kollontai

'Women could feel their power'

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The Russian Revolution brought huge transformations for some of the most oppressed. Socialist Review spoke to Emma Davis about how women began to take control of their lives and lead in the struggle.

What was life like for women in Russia before the revolution?

Peasant women and women workers had virtually no rights in Tsarist Russia. They couldn’t get divorced; they had extremely limited property rights. It was only middle class women who could even consider leaving their husbands.

The beating of women by their husbands and fathers was actively encouraged — the more your husband beat you the more he was said to love you. It was customary for the father of the husband to have sex with his daughter in law.

Z is for Zhenotdel

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When thousands of women workers went on strike on International Women's Day in Petrograd, Russia, in 1917 they had ignored advice from Bolshevik party leaders to "keep cool".

Once they were on the streets the Bolsheviks went all out to build their struggle. Leon Trotsky would later write, "Women's Day passed successfully, with enthusiasm and without victims. But what it concealed in itself no one had guessed even by nightfall." For that day's action was the trigger for the Russian revolution that was to transform the lives of millions.

K is for Kollontai

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The success of the Russian Revolution of 1917 enabled the radical ideas on women's liberation that had been germinating in pre-revolutionary times to develop, and be widely discussed and materially embodied in the real world.

A revolution turns all preconceived notions upside down. When profit held sway in the old society, it suppressed the needs and desires of the masses from whom it was extracted. These very needs and desires were to become the motive force of production in the new socialist society, both satisfying material requirements and, even more fundamentally, nourishing the human personality.

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