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You are here: Platypus /Gender and the new man: Emancipation and the Russian Revolution?

Gender and the new man: Emancipation and the Russian Revolution?

Bini Adamczak

Platypus Review 62 | December–January 2013

In 1968 the Socialist German Student League (SDS) of Stuttgart printed a poster that said: “Everyone talks about the weather. Not us.” This slogan was originally used by Deutsche Bahn, the national railway. Instead of the depiction of an electric locomotive of the original poster, the SDS printed portraits of Marx, Engels, and Lenin below the caption. This alone should have raised some concern. To this day, Deutsche Bahn is incapable of not talking about the weather, which so often disrupts their stereotypically German concern with strict punctuality. A leftist student group at the University of Frankfurt was therefore probably on to something when in 2002 it changed the slogan to: “Everyone talks about the weather. We’re doing something about it.” The text was illustrated with a blueprint for a utopian weather machine. Thus temperature, cloudiness, and precipitation do play a certain role in politics and its history; politics is not only all about shabby clothes but also about bad weather. This is true for revolutions, too. In his memoir Defying Hitler, the conservative anti-fascist Sebastian Haffner wrote about the German Revolution of 1918: “That the Great War broke out when the sun shone gloriously over Germany and the revolution in the fog of a cold and wet November day was a tremendous handicap for the latter”—and indeed it failed. Haffner noted: “The fate of the revolution seemed sealed when the workers and sailors dispersed after a successful street battle on December 24 to go home and celebrate Christmas Eve.”[1] The climate proved more advantageous to the Russian Revolution, on the other hand, which had begun in February of 1917. As historian Orlando Figes suspects, it probably erupted because so many people were on the streets enjoying the beautiful weather. After all it seemed like spring when the temperature in Petrograd had risen to 23° F.[2]

 russianrevolution-int-womens-day-1917-1024x666

International Working Women’s Day strike sparked the Russian Revolution on March 8, 1917. Banner reads: “Elections are a woman’s right.” Clara Zetkin at the second International Conference of Women Socialists in 1910 in Copenhagen suggested that March 8 become International Working Women’s Day and it was intended as a day to mobilize working women against capitalism.

 

Misunderstandings

The sunny day on which the Russian Revolution began was February 23, 1917, or March 8 after the Western calendar—International Women’s Day. While Women’s Day had been previously celebrated on different days, four years after the revolution began March 8 was determined as its definite date. Though the reason has since been obscured, the date was selected because of the event of the Russian Revolution. After all, it was members of the group of people to whose gender this day is dedicated who first demonstrated for equality, then struck for bread, only to finally march to the city’s center chanting “Down with the Tsar.” They wore pants, short hair, and often guns. A few days and confrontations later, the Tsar abdicated. A few weeks later the news had reached the villages, where the majority of Russians lived at the time. At first wailing peasants streamed to the churches, unsure of what would become of them with their beloved Tsar—nothing less than a human god—gone. Shortly afterward, when local authorities and the regional police had lost their power too, the same peasants thanked god for their peoples’ triumph and prayed for the new government. Then they seized church land, disposed of the priests, and refused to continue paying for church service.

Not only in the villages but across the country reactions to the revolution varied extremely. Some Russians thought it to be a “national rising” against the Tsar’s court, which had been suspected for some time to actually be dominated by the Germans; others greeted each other with a slight variation on the Easter greeting, “Russia is risen!” Some were even of firm belief that lying, gambling, theft, cursing, and above all drunkenness had been overcome at once. These misunderstandings cannot be overcome nor can they be put into a temporal or factional order; not only do the same people want different things at different times, but different people want different things at the same time, and the same people want different things at the same time. Next to other complications, a revolution consists of an ensemble of varied misunderstandings, only to be surpassed by the one true misunderstanding—that all understand one another. On the realization of their freedom the peasants put on their best clothes, kissed, and celebrated for three days straight.

After all the revolution is, among other things, the experience of mutual understanding, and at the same time a misunderstanding multiplied a million fold. The provisional government in Petrograd, which had attempted to govern Russia between February and October 1917, intended to let the Constituent Assembly make a decision about what was possibly the most important question of the revolution—land distribution. It was for this reason that the government prepared the first general elections. Until then, so the government said to the impatient peasants, it would consider the expropriation of the nobility’s land to be against the law. Driven by its thirst to learn how to practice democracy, the peasantry looked past the government’s hesitation and passed laws of its own legitimizing these expropriations. While bourgeois officers meant the entire nation when they spoke of “the people,” the peasants, on the other hand, did not see the officers as part of the people. They therefore wouldn’t understand it as contradictory to the peoples’ democracy to threaten to kill the gentlemen officers if they were to order a march. Similar misunderstandings also haunted the thought of the communists. A high-ranking officer, General Brusilov, described the “foxhole-Bolshevism” of common soldiers thus: “All they wanted was this: Peace to go home, rob the landholders and to live free, without paying taxes or accepting any authority. They neither understood who the parties involved were, nor did they understand anything about communism or the division into workers and peasants. Yet they dreamed of living without law or landholders. It was this anarchist freedom they termed Bolshevism.”[3]

Many soldiers seemed to believe that annexations, of which the slogan, “Peace without annexations” spoke, meant appropriations of land in the Balkans; some even mistook the International for yet another divinity. In the early twenties Henry Ford, the anti-Semitic and anti-communist industrialist, gained a similar reputation in Russia after the “socialist” rationalization and Taylorization of the productive process: many people thought of Ford as a god backing Lenin and Trotsky’s actions. Despite the arrogance of conservative historians and the aristocrats they represented, they were indeed right: The term “the people,” understood in a national sense, had always hardly been revolutionary, not to mention emancipatory. And Ford was indeed an idol of the Bolshevik fetishization of the productive apparatus. Most of all, gaining land by “wild” expropriations and peace by desertions did constitute the quintessence of the revolution of 1917, to which Bolshevism lent its political name during a brief historical moment. Yet it is less important to correct the misunderstanding in hindsight by taking sides and by bringing order into the chaos; rather, it is key to comprehend that this misunderstanding can, in fact, not be corrected. Or it may, but only at the cost of the revolution.

It is thus that we can understand the Bolshevik model of politics: namely, as an attempt to mute the polyphony of the revolution. After having barely called for all power to the Soviets, they outlawed all bourgeois parties, then the social-democratic ones, and finally the social revolutionary and anarchist ones. After this, the Bolsheviks suppressed all opposition within the party and prohibited all differing opinions. This effort to bring the entire polyphony of the revolution into line was revealed by Lenin already in 1918: “Large-scale machine industry … calls for absolute and strict unity of will . . . But how can strict unity of will be ensured? By thousands subordinating their will to the will of one. … The revolution has only just smashed the oldest, strongest and heaviest of fetters, to which the people submitted under duress. That was yesterday. Today, however, the same revolution demands—precisely in the interests of its development and consolidation, precisely in the interests of socialism—that the people unquestioningly obey the single will of the leaders of labour.”[4]

Karl Kautsky, Lenin’s former teacher, theorized that the position of the workers would be pressed below their level under capitalism. He was probably not the only one who must have felt misunderstood; the revolutionary Victor Serge, on his arrival in Russia in 1918, heard similar declarations by Grigori Zinoviev, leader of the Petrograd Soviet, and discovered in them a “theory of the suppression of all freedom.”[5] Most of all, all the workers who had risen against the authorities with the demand for “workers’ control” must have felt seriously fooled by such an outbreak of authoritarianism.

All kinds of affects blended during the revolution: hatred for all authority, a desire for freedom as well as for vengeance, and many more. The peasants arrested their priests, domestic servants moved into the biggest rooms of their masters’ mansions while banishing the latter into tiny chambers, so-called women shaved their heads and demanded equal pay, waiters demonstrated against tipping, sex-workers struck, and soldiers called for the eight-hour day at the front in solidarity with the striking workers; at the same time, nobles were raped, thieves lynched, and those looking foreign or rich beat up. It’s this that characterizes the event of revolution, and not the appointment of a provisional government—February—or its removal—October. Yet expropriations of big estates, which had been happening for months as “wild” expropriations, increased after a social revolutionary became minister of agriculture, and increased more so after the Bolshevik government had “legalized” them. The memory of the brutal vengeance the tsarist regime had taken out on the peasants after the attempted revolution of 1905 was still present. Hence they knew how difficult it would be to defend local revolutions against an organized counterrevolution. As it is desirable to leave the center of power empty in the first steps of revolution, precautions would need to be taken to ensure that this power would not be seized by anyone else. But a vacuum tends to collect all kinds of dirt. Too many revolutions (from France in 1848 to Spain in 1936 to Egypt in 2011) should be a warning to us not to underestimate the importance of continuing the struggle for and against state power. The molecular social processes and the larger event remain interdependent. This is so irrespective of the theater of representation—the abdication of the tsar, the storming of the Winter Palace—within both the propaganda spread by the revolutionary government as well as among hegemonic histories of the Russian Revolution, which had overshadowed those smaller social processes.

Yet even this great event, the seizure of state power—which is so often reduced to its historico-logical term—remains haunted by uncertainty, in spite of the precise military organization that it originally required. On the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution, Eisenstein memorably depicted it in his movie October as the collective rising of the masses. However a more nuanced view reveals to us that, in fact, it was more of a coup brought about by conspiracy and aided by a series of mishaps and misunderstandings. Lenin had ordered it, despite his party’s resistance, for October 25 at noon.[6] For that was when the collective soviet was to be in session, and it would have likely put into practice the old call for “all power to the soviets,” including the removal of the provisional government. But the conquest of the Winter Palace, which was intended to preempt the soviets and secure strategic advantage for the Bolsheviks, had to be postponed several times; at first to three in the afternoon, then to six, until no fixed time was ordered anymore. At the deciding moment, the revolutionaries realized that the red lamp that was supposed to give the signal to begin the assault was missing. The commissar that had been ordered to fetch the lamp had got lost in the darkness. When he returned, he brought a lamp that could neither be attached to the flag pole nor did it turn out to be red in the first place. Finally, Lenin, not wanting to let the opportunity for his party’s dictatorship pass, simply claimed the government had been overthrown, while nothing of the sort had occurred. Later that night, when the Mensheviks and the right social revolutionaries had left the council of soviets in protest against the violent removal of the provisional government, the assault on the Winter Palace was still not over. Barely had the ministers been arrested, however, when the Bolshevik workers discovered the enormous wine cellar. Upon this discovery they initiated a binge that no discipline could stop. Even the commissars, who had been ordered to protect this treasure, got drunk. After the wine was poured into the streets, workers sucked it out of curbstones. Hence, in hindsight this glorious conquest of the Winter Palace could appear as yet another big misunderstanding—namely, as the conquest of a poorly protected wine cellar.

Alexandra-Kollantai-705x1024

Alexandra Kollontai. At a meeting of social democrats on April 4, 1917, she was the only speaker other than Lenin to support the demand for “All Power to the Soviets.” For the rest of 1917, Kollontai was an agitator for revolution in Russia and worker on the Bolshevik women’s paper Rabotnitsa.

 

Necessities

In this context it is arguable that the most misunderstood theoretician of revolution, next to Marx, was probably Alexandra Kollontai. That is to say that her polemics against repressive sexual morals were interpreted in all kinds of ways. A case in point was the demand for free love, which, after all, was a demand for freedom from economic necessity, patriarchal violence, and intrusions by the clergy and by the state—the welfare office in Saratov interpreted these calls by publishing a “decree for the nationalization of women,” abolishing marriage and awarding so-called men the right to visit authorized brothels. In the town of Vladimir the “Bureau of Free Love” released a proclamation calling on all unmarried women between 18 and 50 to register so that it could select appropriate sexual partners for them.[7] Kollontai wanted to keep the state out of its subjects’ sex lives, and yet so-called men should receive the right to pick partners for procreation among those registered—all in the interest of the state. At the same time, the Marxist Kollontai, supposedly having replaced class struggle with the struggle of the sexes, was accused by a comrade from the communist women’s organization Zenotel of being a “communist polluted with a solid dose of feminist garbage.”[8] When in 1926 members of the communist youth organization Komsomol participated in a gang rape, this was explained by influences they had been set under by Kollontai’s theory of sexual liberation. The influential pedagogue and theoretician of sublimation Aron Zalkind had previously attacked Kollontai in his “Twelve Sexual Commandments.” Kollontai, Zalkind argued, had withheld some important information: namely that the female protagonist of her famous novella Loves of Three Generations, who had demanded equal sexual rights that were usually reserved for so-called boys, was indeed suffering from satyriasis, the male equivalent to nymphomania.[9] These soviet ideologues regarded permissive and active sexuality as an unhealthy waste of energy; especially thought of as an un-communist distraction from labor. Lenin may have added to this “anti-Kollontai” frenzy. In an interview with the German social democrat Clara Zetkin, he made a noteworthy comment on the “glass of water” theory, which is ascribed to Alexandra Kollontai. Lenin claimed that “this glass of water theory has made our young people mad, quite mad.” It stated that sexuality was just as much a basic need as was hunger or thirst, and that it could be satisfied without further romantic complications. Lenin responded: “Of course, thirst must be satisfied. But will the normal person in normal circumstances lie down in the gutter and drink out of a puddle, or out of a glass with a rim greasy from many lips? . . .  But in love two lives are concerned, and a third, a new life, arises, it is that which gives it its social interest, which gives rise to a duty towards the community.”[10] In this tracing back of sexuality to the reproduction of the species and its definition as a social duty Lenin concurred with his feminist adversaries, including the biopolitical and eugenic implications of such beliefs. By picturing non-monogamous or uninhibited sexuality as a glass whose edge was greasy with the traces of many lips, Lenin thus not only referenced the hygiene discourse that was popular in the early Soviet Union; much more so, he referenced the classic heterosexist figure of thought that linked (and still links) free female sexuality to the loss of a certain “honor” or “purity,” and thus to the loss of a respectable attractiveness.

 Rabotnista-Editorial-Board

Rabotnitsa editorial board in 1917. Clockwise from top left: Nikolaeva, Kudelli, Samoilova, Bonch-Bruevich, Kollontai and Elizarova.

 

Lenin had already revealed his understanding of sexual domination and liberation in The State and Revolution—his last text written before the revolution—which was, at the same time, his most critical of the state:

Only communism makes the state absolutely unnecessary, for there is nobody to be suppressed—“nobody” in the sense of a class, of a systematic struggle against a definite section of the population. We are not utopians, and do not in the least deny the possibility and inevitability of excesses on the part of individual persons, or the need to stop such excesses. In the first place, however, no special machine, no special apparatus of suppression, is needed for this: this will be done by the armed people themselves, as simply and as readily as any crowd of civilized people, even in modern society, interferes to put a stop to a scuffle or to prevent a woman from being assaulted.[11]

Communism, Lenin thus argued unintentionally, would be just as free of the state as capitalism is free of sexist violence. With this prognosis he came very close to the hardly-utopian truth of actually existing socialism, more so than with his more optimistic predictions. The rejection of utopia—a term only used pejoratively in Lenin’s discourse of “scientific Marxism”—occurred in two ways: On the one hand, a paradisiacal imago of communism is undermined by the claim that some violence was “inevitable” as was the necessity of its suppression. On the other hand, the possibility of this suppression is realized in the present society, which thus contains moments of the future one. But the hardly-innocent example of the ‘woman requiring protection by men’ points to the premise of the argument of a violence exerted by the few, as if it occurred without preconditions. The assumption that a specific group of people would always require protection—which means first that they won’t be able to defend themselves, and second that this group will always appear as an appropriate target for violent attacks—is regarded as ahistorical by Lenin, and its antithesis thus as utopian. This conceals the “systematic struggle against a definite section of the population” by which the gendered class is “kept down,” produced, and affirmed—not unlike the economic class. The politics of the Russian Revolution, even those of the Bolsheviks, transcended Lenin’s limited imagination; although it did not transcend his theory of the state, the applicability of which Lenin did not see in this case. For in the struggle against gendered classes—while this was not so called in the Marxist discourse of the Soviet Union—and against male domination, it was the state that would play a crucial role.

 

Possibilities

Sexual and gender emancipation, as conceived in socialist theory by Engels, Bebel, Zetkin, and Kollontai, was proposed in the context of a critique of the family, which was regarded as in the process of being overcome. This theory regards the pre- and petty-bourgeois family as a unit of production that provides the means of reproduction for its members, while dividing the labor necessary for this task along gendered lines. Once the (capitalist) industry is able to supply cheaper textiles, foodstuffs, and tools, the family loses key “productive” functions. Thus the family plunges into crisis, and with female labor this crisis is at the same time a crisis of the patriarchal, hierarchical division of labor. Socialism, in classically teleological manner, has the task of bringing the tendency that had been nascent under capitalism, namely the withering away of the family and of institutionalized sexism, to its logical conclusion through a process of socialization. In other words, the remaining functions of the family would be socialized, or, what is unfortunately more likely, nationalized. When children are raised and educated by large democratic and anti-authoritarian institutions, when food is distributed in public canteens rather than small kitchens, when the elderly and the sick are no longer cared for by so-called relatives, and when the cleaning of apartments is no longer privately organized, then the family has become superfluous and withers away. Consequently, the gendered division of labor would be superseded as well, which, after all, is the foundation of gender differences and the sexist exploitation of unpaid reproductive labor. Unlike Western feminism, which would strive for changes within the family, socialist feminism directly proclaims the family’s abolition: “Our task does not consist of striving for justice in the division of labor between the sexes. Our task is to free men and women from petty household labor.”[12]

The flaw in this conception of a nationalization of reproductive labor becomes obvious when there is an economic downturn: social programs like public kitchens, reform institutions, and child day care are seen as costs that the state, be it socialist or capitalist, usually cuts first. As this teleology of historical materialism and its focus on the development of the productive apparatus suggests, freedom can only be granted when—by (practical) insight into necessity—all preconditions for emancipation are prepared. Freedom can only exist in the soil of absolute abundance. Only when labor has become more productive can it be fun, only when the train has arrived at the station can one operate it, only when the state is capable of taking over all reproductive tasks can sexual exploitation be overcome. First comes wealth, then democracy. Hence the family model lends itself to be retained as a cheap alternative—as a transition, of course. By the 1980s, and despite an increase in productive capabilities, Soviet societies, however, still left any necessary labor that was not yet socialized or taken over by machines mainly to so-called women.

Kitchen_slavery
Soviet Poster from 1931 says: “Down with kitchen slavery! Hurrah for the new everyday life.”

 
According to Felicita Reuschling, this was caused by a depreciation of any necessary labor that was defined as “reproductive.”<[13] This kind of labor is deemed backward, menial, unproductively repetitive, and, the worst of all, petty-bourgeois. In Clara Zetkin’s interview with him, Lenin too ranted on against “how women grow worn out in the petty, monotonous household work, their strength and time dissipated and wasted, their minds growing narrow and stale, their hearts beating slowly, their will weakened.” While there is something to this critique of the “slavery of the kitchen sink” (Maria dalla Costa), it should strike us as odd that on the other hand factory work, disciplined and militarized as it is, is portrayed as a glorious undertaking. How odd as well is it that menial and backward tasks will either be rendered superfluous by the state or a group that has been traditionally reserved for such tasks (this group is called “women”) will have to take care of them. In this context, Lenin turned out to be the undogmatic, anti-economist thinker that he usually was when it came to practical revolutionary politics. He would primarily attack those male comrades who thought it “contrary to the `right and dignity of a man’” to do so-called “woman’s work.”[14] The Bolsheviks agreed with Lenin’s conclusion that socialist women’s politics would include to a great extent educational work among men, and that “men” should “help” “women” with home chores (!). In the socialist theory of emancipation, these politics acquire little significance, however. The idea was that emancipation would come through the state and through wage labor. It became a norm that determined in which way progress should occur.

 

Gender

In the spring of 1929, health commissar Nikolai Semaschko summoned a committee of “experts”—forensic gynecologists, clinical psychiatrists, and biologists—to help the commissariat of justice to determine whether the request by the citizen Kamenev for an operative and lawful sex change should be granted.[15] This had not been the first occurrence of such kind. Already in 1923, a trans-man had contacted officials with a similar request. Since soviet intellectuals experimented on themselves to find out whether the elderly could be rejuvenated with blood transfusions by the young, and since there were demands to resurrect the dead or to colonize Mars, the medical transformation of a material signifier of gender should have seemed like a mere trifle—especially because gender was soon to be overcome anyway.

During the debate on Kamenev’s request, the experts—exclusively consisting of so-called men—were able to name various examples of gender or sexual abnormalities. Here, however, the limitations of the sexual-reformist discourse on biology in the early Soviet Union became obvious: only perverts living either in the European regions or in the urban centers of Russia were granted the dubious right to be biological abnormalities, while in the Islamic regions of the central-Asian Soviet Union such “anomalies” were seen as yet another proof of the region’s economic and cultural backwardness. In contrast to discourse in the twenty-first century, yet in accordance to the European Orientalist discourse of the nineteenth and early–twentieth century, Islam was seen as unmodern and backwards precisely because it was too homo-friendly. This discourse predominated to such extents that the central-Asian regions not only retained the Tsarist laws against sodomy; indeed, the 1923 law against sexual harassment of women was extended to include adult males in Uzbekistan. This measure was supposed to protect boys from being forced into prostitution, while we can justly assume that some of the Russian male commissars intended to fend off the Uzbeki men that were making passes at them.

Another norm also proved relevant for Semaschko’s expert commission, which culminated in an obvious imbalance of how transgender movements would be assessed: While trans-femininity (i.e. gay effeminzation) was regarded as a sign of bourgeois decadence and hence a threat to the military, trans-masculinity, on the other hand, may have been criticized as an exaggerated form of gender-equality; those that did embrace such identities, however, were respected as revolutionary Bolsheviks, and useful members of the Red Army and socialist society. The discussion on the famous “case” of the trans-gendered person Evgeniia Fedorovna M / Evgenii Fedorovich was referenced several times in the committee: In 1922, Fedorovich married a female post-office worker, but the legitimacy of this marriage was soon challenged. Yet the accusation that involved parties were committing “acts against nature” was soon dropped amidst the liberal climate of the early Soviet Union. A Soviet court deemed the marriage between a cis-woman and trans-man/butch legal—regardless if it was a homosexual or transsexual marriage—pointing to the fact that both parties entered into the union amicably. Evgenii Fedorovich had not only gotten married, though: as a matter of fact, he was also member of the Cheka. This was no exception. There were scores of persons like her/him employed by the Red Army, in the factories, and in party organizations. Commissar Nikolai Semaschko himself had realized seven years prior in 1922 that the “masculinized” woman—with her disheveled, oily hair, a cigarette sticking out of the corner of her mouth, intentionally acting rude and speaking with a deep voice—proved to be a mass phenomenon in Soviet Russia.[16] The true enemies were those women of the class-antagonistic milieu that powdered their faces, applied rouge, and polished their nails. Bolshevik “women” that exhibited toughness, efficiency, cold rationality, and recklessness as central characteristics of their political subjectivity were not just a mass phenomenon; they also represented the ideal Soviet subject. The New Man was a drag king.

 

Limitations

In essence, this “communist” society was no society of men, but a male society—a society of masculinity. People in the early Soviet Union conceptualized genders as successive phases of human evolution; the former would be superseded by the latter. Once again, the old slogan of universal brotherhood became en vogue, while no one would dare to act on their brotherly love in a literal manner. Hence the socialist model of emancipation took over the liberal one. The latter, after all, had coined the rhetoric that invoked brotherhood. But the former liberated “brotherhood” of its particularistic limitations, which had defined brotherly equality literally as the equality of brothers. The hierarchy of gendered attributions, as it is reproduced during the revolution, would then serve a different purpose than it did in societies with heterosexist modes of production which constituted specific subjectivities along prescribed social divisions of labor. In the socialist model, gender opposition is transposed from the spatial sphere (private/public) into a temporal one (conservative/ progressive). Consequently, we would no longer be confronted with the opposition of home/outside world or work/family, but of future/past. The assumption is that women aren’t interested in neighborly gossip about the weather rather than public scientific discourse by nature, but rather due to their social backwardness. The gender movement of the 1917 revolution is universal. It is the movement of a universal masculinization—all humans become men. The Bolshevik movement that declares wealth to be the precondition for freedom at the same time restricts the wealth of social possibilities—it discards those subjectivities that had emerged in the sphere of reproduction, and declares the relations that create those subjectivities to be backward. Thus, femininities that arise historically would no longer prove to be resources of the revolution. Such an artificially scarce foundation also complicates raising the communist question, namely how the totality of necessary labor should be organized so that we’re able to satisfy those needs that we think are worth being satisfied. All genders and the social relations that produce them would have to be understood as social wealth: as affective, habitual, intellectual, and practical resources that a communist society could choose from during the process of its liberation. That, in short, is the element of freedom that the Russian Revolution had stopped short of by about half way.

The limited universalism of the revolutionary movement of emancipation can be even traced back to the names parents were giving their children after the revolution. The following list of some of the most beautiful new names shows that names indicating militancy were by no means only reserved for so-called boys (the “feminine a” at the end points to this fact): Marx, Engelina, Rosa, Vladlen, Iljina, Marlen (for Marx and Lenin), Pravda, Barrikada, Oktjabrina, Revoljuzija, Parischkomuna, Molot (hammer), Serpina (sickle), Dasmir (long live the world revolution), Diktatura, and Terrora. Here too the revolution articulated itself in misunderstandings, however. Some children were given names that had just sounded revolutionary: Embryo, Vinaigrette, and—as if future generations were also charged with changing the weather—Markisa, or awning.|P

Translated by Gregor Baszak


[1]. Sebastian Haffner, Geschichte eines Deutschen: Die Erinnerungen 1914–1933 (München: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 2002), 28.
[2]. Orlando Figes, Tragödie eines Volkes: Die Epoche der Russischen Revolution 1891 bis 1924 (Berlin: Berlin Verlag, 2008), 334.
[3]. Quoted in Figes, 404.
[4]. Vladimir Lenin, “The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government,” Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Vol. 27 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1972), 235-77. <http://marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1918/mar/x03.htm>.
[5]. Victor Serge, Erinnerungen eines Revolutionärs (Hamburg, 1991), 82.
[6]. See Alexander Rabinowitch, Die Sowjetmacht: Das erste Jahr, (Essen: Mehring Verlag), 2010.
[7]. See Barbara Clements, Bolshevik Women 1989), 105.
[8]. Arbeitsgruppe Marxismus (ed.), “Kommunismus und Frauenbefreiung,” Marxismus 28 (2006): 256.
[9]. Greg Carleton, “Writing-Reading the Sexual Revolution in the Early Soviet Union,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 8, no. 2 (Oct., 1997): 248.
[10]. Clara Zetkin, “Reminiscences of Lenin,” (International Publishers, 1934). <http://www.marxists.org/archive/zetkin/1924/reminiscences-of-lenin.htm>.
[11]. Vladimir Lenin, The State and Revolution. <http://marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/staterev/ch05.htm>.
[12]. Yevgeni Preobrazhensky, qtd. in Wendy Z. Goldman, Women, the State and Revolution (Cambridge, 1993), 6.
[13]. “Familie im Kommunismus,” Phase 2 36 (2010), 18.
[14]. Zetkin,“Reminiscences of Lenin,“ <http://www.marxists.org/archive/zetkin/1924/reminiscences-of-lenin.htm#h07>.
[15]. Dan Healey, Homosexual Desire in Soviet Russia. The Regulation of Sexual and Gender Dissent(University of Chicago Press, 2001), 167.
[16]. Ibid., 61.

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