Abolition of Zhenotdel

A. Artiukhina, To the Highest Level. January 18, 1930

 

Translated by Ward McKee

This article, written by a founder of the Zhenotdel movement at the apogee of the Cultural Revolution, demonstrates a determination to liberate women from the confines of the home in a way that would soon run aground on an increasing Party traditionalism.

Original Source: Pravda, 18 January 1930, p. 4

The latest resolution of the Central Committee on the reorganization of work among working-class and peasant women has great importance. It states:

Given that work among women workers and peasants is of great importance presently, all departments of the Central Committee must be involved. Agitation work among women must especially be continued within the framework of the successful mass campaigns that the party is organizing in the city and countryside.

For the purpose of these campaigns, a special women’s division will be established within the agitation and mass campaign department of the Central Committee. All other work among women workers and peasants must be done by the entire Central Committee.

This decision raises the women’s issue to a higher level.

At the present moment when the party is launching a decisive offensive on all fronts of socialist construction, a breakthrough in work among women is vital. It should be structured in such a way that the entire party–soviets, trade unions, cooperatives, etc.–is involved. Only this approach will speed up the urgently needed emancipation of women’s everyday life.

By no means does this change indicate a lessening of women’s own participation in their own emancipation about which comrade Lenin spoke at the conference of women workers in November 1919:

Just as we say that the emancipation of workers should be led by workers themselves; the liberation of women must be the concern of women themselves. Women workers must nurture those institutions which will result in the full overturn of their previous condition that existed under capitalism.

And now, peasant and working-class women must take charge of the party’s current transformation of work among women. It is just these groups which must bear the burden of the unequal status of women that exists in nearly all aspects of life. Therefore, the many peasant and working-class women who have started to participate in public life must involve themselves in the party, soviets and other institutions which deal with the questions of work, everyday life, and the promotion of women. I mention this because of the widespread talk currently being bandied about. For example: “it’s a good thing that the Zhenotdel has been liquidated, now nobody will hit on us.” Some women Communists even sigh with relief: “Now when we go about our public work we won’t have to pay any attention to women.”

We must strongly insist that the decision of the Central Committee to reorganize the Zhenotdel does not free even one communist women from work among women. All women loyal to the party, no matter in which sphere of socialist construction they are involved, must advance all the issues connected with the emancipation of the broad mass of working women.

The structure of the apparat must be streamlined. Work among women remains; the party will implement it; and, women activists are obliged to give it all-possible help.

We should also consider the following talk baseless: “the Zhenotdel was liquidated because it caused harm.” Such notions in no way correspond to the party line. There was a time when a separate department for work among women was necessary. As a result of this division of work the party was able to create a large group of women activists over the course of eleven years. Now the party can bring these activists into the general fold of the party.

During recent years, a large group of activists has grown in the city and countryside. In soviets alone 300,000 women are working. This army of activists has not developed spontaneously. Every woman in the soviets passed though the preparatory school of delegates’ meetings, through the school of special work among peasant and working-class women. We now have in excess of 200,000 women in the party; i.e., nearly 13 1/2% of the party as a whole. These women, in the majority, were also involved in the Zhenotdel and delegates’ meetings. This can also be said of women activists in the trade-union and cooperative movements. Thus, any notion that the Zhenotdel somehow interfered in “serious” work must be nipped in the bud.

Now, when the party is taking such an important step as reorganizing work among women, it is especially important that all women activists be mobilized around the practical issues of emancipation. It is necessary to remember that 300,000 women in soviets did not occur spontaneously. This success is the result of a great effort exerted by the party in general and the Zhenotdel in particular. Rural and urban women activists, leaders of the Zhenotdel–all worked night and day among women in order to draw them to soviet elections.

All of these achievements were the result of hard work. No one, however, should think that since we have strengthened ourselves and taken such a decisive step by reorganizing the party’s structures, our work among women will be as smooth as butter. Nor should they think that specific methods of work among women are not needed. The party must pay serious attention to work among women especially now that the class struggle is sharpening and kulaks are relying on women to conduct their anti-kolkhoz propaganda. In women’s work we have not even reached the pre-war level. At the present time 29% of industrial workers are women whereas this figure was 30.4% in 1913.

In terms of everyday life, women’s affairs are terrible. All women workers, especially those in the Zhenotdel, say this is so. What can we now do to find practical solutions to this problem? We need to insist that Peoples’ Commissariats, trade unions, and cooperatives turn their attention to the questions foremost in women’s everyday life. These organizations must not only talk about these issues but back up their words with real money in order to re-build women’s everyday life on new socialist foundations. Communist and non-party working women need to be appointed to planning and economic institutions, trusts as well as heath care and educational establishments. Working within these institutions, Communist and non-party working women will be able to defend budget items close to their hearts not only when they have already been decided upon but as they are being determined. By no means can we be satisfied with the present state of affairs. When implementing the changes in women’s everyday life, the party’s main task is to hold fast to Lenin’s principles.

Recently newspapers have been full of stories addressing the question of women’s everyday life. It’s good that the Central Control Committee has joined the discussion. This is great help for working-class and peasant women. The party faces the task of drawing women from their self-contained, individualistic lives into the public arena. In newspapers their can be heard calls for special branches of industry to build labor-saving technologies in order to lessen women’s housekeeping responsibilities as has been done in the West. This is misguided. Our task is to build new collective, public lives rather than ease the burdens of their old isolated, individualistic ones.

The process of building socialism is growing by leaps and bounds. Do we need to copy the West? With all their fancy sponges and frying pans, the bourgeoisie further enslaves women and ties them ever-more-tightly to the kitchen. Lenin has taught us this:

The real emancipation of women and real communism begin only with the mass struggle (led by the proletariat controlling the state) against petty individual households or, more precisely, with their widespread transformation into large socialist ones.

Do we pay enough practical attention to this issue when it is so clear in theory to every communist? Of course not. Do we pay enough attention to the achievements of communism in this sphere? Again and again, No! Cafeterias, daycare centers, kindergartens–here are the examples of this work. These simple, everyday, humble, grand creations do not demand much funding yet, they are, in fact, helping to emancipate women. (Lenin, vol. XVI, p. 256)

This was said nearly ten years ago. Now these young shoots of communism have grown. Still impossible to say that enough concern has been shown. The work, to this point, has been done mainly by women’s departments. Now that the party restructuring is underway, the entire party must undertake the practical work of organizing child care facilities, cafeterias, kindergartens, laundries and other every-day institutions which we need immediately.

Women’s education is another vitally important yet weak aspect of our work. Only in the last two years has the party fully addressed this work. Real advances can now been seen. Yet, so that the work doesn’t slow down but, indeed, reaches the necessary tempo, the party must devote special attention to this issue. We must always keep in mind that the preparation of cadres from working-class and peasant women remains in its embryonic stages. It is true that the percent of women in workers’ institutes (rabfaky) has grown very strongly. Thirty percent of women workers have been enrolled this year. To round up so many students is difficult and does not happen spontaneously. We must push for schooling and carefully select the students. Working-class and peasant women will not knock on the school doors without our meticulously recruiting them.

Soviet institutions have also taken upon themselves a great task. These institutions must set the example for how soviets should approach the emancipation of women. Women should be involved in the work of soviets, educated and promoted to responsible positions. Commissions on the improvement of everyday life have already been organized within Soviets. They are now facing huge tasks. High-ranking officials–i.e., members of soviet presidiums–must lead the commissions in order to assure their success.

The People’s Commissariats of Food and Education as well as cooperatives concern themselves with improving women’s everyday life. The party must supervise and direct all these organizations. Special divisions within the Workers-Control Inspectorate and Central Control Commission should be set up to provide necessary leadership and supervision.

The advancement of women was also the responsibility of the department of working-women. The new party institutions taking their place should, from the very beginning, work on promoting fresh women comrades into the public arena.

The entire party, soviets, trade unions, cooperatives, mass media and communist women themselves must focus their efforts on practically implementing women’s emancipation. Only then will we see the anticipated fruits of the current restructuring. We cannot delay. We must quickly restructure and keep our shoulders to the wheel.

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