chapter  6
22 Pages

Women: false promises, dashed hopes, and the pretense of emancipation

The party initially showed almost complete indifference to women’s issues. Leading party figures resisted creating anything separate for women, or for anyone else, for that matter. Only after much soul-searching and delay did the Bolshevik CC agree to set up women’s departments.1 They were not created to promote women’s rights or a feminist agenda in Russia but “as a transmission belt downward only, a way of conveying the party’s objectives and instructions to a hitherto inaccessible constituency.”2 The Bolshevik leaders of women’s departments hoped that, in the end, women would benefit, and accepted the underlying principle of women’s subordination to the party, even though Aleksandra Kolontai, the first chair of the All-Russian Women’s Department, made some feeble attempts to turn it into an institution representing women’s interests.3 Nevertheless, women’s departments were conceived to be, and actually performed as, organizations of the party and for the party, auxiliary mobilization agencies recruiting women for the hospitals, factories, and other institutions. Women’s departments worked under the assumption that the female masses would be grateful to the party.