Women and the Russian Revolution
From the mid-19th century, Russian intellectuals, such as the anarchist Petr Kropotkin, began to take an interest in the ‘woman question’. These intellectuals, mostly men and a few noblewomen, debated in salons and the press on the issue of women’s legal and social status and their role in the family.
The campaign for women’s suffrage and equality in Russia gained momentum during and after the 1905 Revolution. More radical groups, such as the Russian Union for Women’s Equality, and journals dedicated to the ‘woman question’ were established.
Bolshevik revolutionaries were critical of what they saw as the ‘bourgeois’ women’s groups, which were mainly run by women from privileged backgrounds. They argued that these ‘bourgeois’ women could not understand the needs of workers and peasant women and that the women’s movement threatened working-class solidarity.
On the newly-established Women’s Day in 1914, a group of Bolshevik women, including Konkordiia Samoilova, Nadezhda Krupskaia and Inessa Armand, published the first Russian socialist women’s journal, Rabotnitsa (The Woman Worker). However, the journal was careful to distance itself from feminist issues. Rabotnitsa ceased publication after only seven issues but was revived in 1917 and became one of the main Bolshevik publications.
After the February Revolution, the fight for women’s suffrage increased, in line with the general call for the implementation of democratic reforms. Along with educated women of the intelligentsia, female workers and peasants also called for the right to vote.
In March 1917, the largest women’s demonstration in Russia’s history took place in Petrograd. Led by Poliksena Shishkina-Iavein, President of the League for Women’s Equal Rights and Russia’s first female gynecologist, and the revolutionary Vera Figner, the march was attended by up to 40,000 women.
In July 1917, women over 20 were given the right to vote and hold public office. The first opportunity to exercise their newly-won right was during elections for the Constituent Assembly in November 1917. In many areas, such as Yaroslavl, the female turnout exceeded that of men.