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Vol. 73/No. 49      December 21, 2009

The Bolshevik Revolution
and women’s emancipation
(Books of the Month column)
Printed below is an excerpt from Women and the Family by Leon Trotsky, one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for December. In this collection of writings and speeches Trotsky explains how the victorious Russian Revolution in October 1917 transformed the fight for women’s rights. He describes the steps taken by the Bolshevik-led government to establish equality in economic and political life, set up child-care centers, and guarantee the right to abortion and divorce. The piece below, titled “To build socialism means to emancipate women and protect mothers,” is from an article written by Trotsky that appeared in Za Novyi Byt in December 1925. Copyright © 1970 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

Just as it was impossible to approach the construction of the Soviet state without freeing the peasantry from the tangles of serfdom, so it is impossible to move to socialism without freeing the peasant woman and the woman worker from the bondage of family and household. And if we used to determine the maturity of a revolutionary worker not only by his attitude to the capitalist but also by his attitude to the peasant, i.e., by his understanding of the necessity of freeing the peasant from bondage—so now we can and must measure the socialist maturity of the worker and the progressive peasant by their attitude to woman and child, by their understanding of the necessity of freeing from bondage the mother in penal servitude, of giving her the possibility of straightening her back and involving herself as she should in social and cultural life.

Motherhood is the hub of all problems. That is why each new measure, each law, each practical step in economic and social construction must also be checked against the question of how it will affect the family, whether it worsens or lightens the fate of the mother, whether it improves the position of the child.

The great number of homeless children in our towns bears most terrible witness to the fact that we are still caught up on all sides in the tangles of the old society, which manifests itself in the most vicious way in the epoch of its downfall. The position of mother and child was never so difficult as in the years of the transition from the old to the new, especially in the years of the civil war… .

The general growth of the economy is creating the conditions for a gradual reconstruction of family and domestic life. All questions connected with this must be posed in their full magnitude. We are approaching from various directions the renewal of the basic capital of the country; we are acquiring new machines to replace the old ones; we are building new factories; we are renewing our railways; the peasant is acquiring plows, seeders, tractors.

But the most basic “capital” is the people, i. e., its strength, its health, its cultural level. This capital requires renewal even more than the equipment of the factories or the peasant implements. It must not be thought that the ages of slavery, hunger, and bondage, the years of war and epidemics, have passed without a trace. No, they have left behind in the living organism of the people both wounds and scars. Tuberculosis, syphilis, neurasthenia, alcoholism—all these diseases and many others are spread widely among the masses of the population. The nation must be made healthy. Without that, socialism is unthinkable.

We must reach the roots, the sources. And where is the source of the nation if not in the mother? The struggle against the neglect of mothers must be given first place! Housing construction, the construction of child-care facilities, kindergartens, communal dining rooms and laundries must be put in the center of attention, and that attention must be vigilant and well organized. Here questions of quality decide all. Childcare, eating and laundry facilities must be set up so that by the advantages they provide they can deal a deathblow to the old closed-in, isolated family unit, completely supported on the bent shoulders of the housewife and mother. Improvement of the environment inevitably calls forth a surge of demand, and then a surge of means. Caring for children in public facilities, as well as feeding of adults in communal canteens, is cheaper than in the family. But the transfer of material means from the family to the child-care centers and canteens will take place only if the social organization learns to satisfy the most primary demands better than the family. Special attention must now be paid to the questions of quality. Vigilant social control and constant urging on all the organs and institutions which serve the family and domestic needs of the toiling masses is essential.

The initiators in the great struggle for the liberation of mothers must of course be the advanced women workers. At all costs this movement must be directed against the village. In our city life too, there is still much of the petty-bourgeois peasant character. The view of women held by many working men is still not socialist, but conservative, peasant, essentially medieval. Thus the peasant mother oppressed by the yoke of the family pulls the worker mother down with her. The peasant woman must be raised up. She must desire to raise herself, i. e., she must be awakened and shown the way.

It is impossible to move forward while leaving the woman far in the rear. Woman is the mother of the nation. From the enslavement of women grow prejudices and superstitions which shroud the children of the new generation and penetrate deeply into all the pores of the national consciousness. The best and most profound path of struggle against the superstition of religion is the path of all-sided concern for the mother. She must be raised up and enlightened. Freeing the mother means cutting the last umbilical cord linking the people with the dark and superstitious past.  
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