Reading this pamphlet reminded me of the report written by Mary Quaile following the TUC Women’s Delegation to the Soviet Union in 1925. Commenting on the welcome they received Mary said; “Women were there in hundreds, many of them with bunches of wild flowers to give to their British sisters, all of them wanting to shake our hands, some with tears in their eyes, not of sorrow, but of joy at our meeting.”
We do not know for sure, but one of the women that Mary and her comrades may have met on their visit was Nadezhda Konstantinovna Krupskaya (1869-1939). She was an important revolutionary in her own right, but has often been marginalised because of her status as “Lenin’s wife”. But alongside Lenin she was arrested in 1896 and sentenced to three years internal exile. She then followed Lenin to Munich in 1901 and on to London in 1902.
She wrote The Woman Worker in 1899 using the pseudonym “Sablina”. It was published and distributed in 1905, but was banned after the suppression of the 1905 revolution, and it was not until 1925 that it was republished.
Nadezhda was a lifelong activist, taking part in the October socialist revolution of 1917, and playing a key role in the government as Minister for Education from 1929 until her death in 1939 .
In the celebrations of 100 years since the Russian Revolution it is great to see The Woman Worker” being reprinted. I particularly enjoyed reading Nadezhda’s introduction, and I cannot imagine many male writers confessing that; “As it was my first booklet I felt very nervous about whether I could manage it.”
Nadezhda wrote the booklet to expose the horrendous lives of women in Tsarist Russia and to show how a socialist system could deliver emancipation for women and men. Reading it you can understand why the Tsarist government wanted it banned. She believed that women needed their economic independence in order to lead free and equal lives with men in society.
She runs through what seem very familiar arguments, even today, about why men need to include women in political struggle. “Stopping women joining in the struggle is the same as leaving half of the workers’ army unorganised.”
Nadezhda et shows how even in the bad times of Tsarist Russia women went out on strike because of low pay and that women were being forced into prostitution.
In 1899 women workers from a jute mill struck and marched to the factory’s offices. They were stopped on the way and locked into a park until male workers from another factory forcibly freed the women. The governor responded by calling out the army who, for five days, fired on the workers who responded with stones, smashing windows and setting fire to buildings. Unfortunately, the workers then went on to to set fire to local brothels. The women were angered by the owners who cynically told them that if the pay was not enough they could get additional income working as prostitutes.
But as Nadezhda states; “Who can blame a poverty stricken woman for selling herself, for preferring the only readily available extra earnings to beggarly existence, hunger and sometimes a hungry death?”
Reading this pamphlet shows why a socialist revolution was inevitable in Russia. It was also the first Marxist analysis of the lives of women in Russia. In 2017, although some of the language sounds dated and there is little discussion of the role of men in the family under socialism, the message about the importance of women being independent people alongside being part of a trade union is still relevant. I love her statement; “Only when struggling arm in arm for the workers’ cause can women find the keys to “the joyful happiness of freedom.”
The pamphlet was produced by the Marx Memorial Library and Workers School and you can buy it here It’s a bargain at £3.50 plus postage.