The Emancipation of Women in Communist Russia

Anita Malfatti, The Russian Schoolgirl, 1915. Photographic reproduction by Leonardo Crescenti.


The pioneering spirit of the USSR in gender issues must be read within the context and social tensions in which it was inserted

The left that, considering itself very orthodox, makes fun of militancy in defense of causes around gender issues, should take advantage of the recess of the pandemic to read something else and rethink itself. The world pioneer in this area fell to the USSR and none other than Lenin, who already in the early years of the revolution had approved a “decree on the decriminalization of homosexuality in Soviet Russia” (Netto, 2017).

This pioneering spirit shows how fallacious are the theses — generally of postmodern origin — that the terrain of civil rights was simply not considered in post-revolutionary Russia, which was limited only to economic and social problems directly linked to the world of production. . It was already, in a society that until then did not know the concept of individual, a simultaneous process of emancipation social and reconhecimento of civil rights.

That the great Russian revolutionary accepted an avant-garde view of the relationship between the state and individuals in sexual matters should be beyond doubt. But before “praising” or “demonizing” the individual Lenin, it is worth observing the context and social tensions in which he is inserted. Or, even better, the objective conditions in which subjectivity moves.

Shortly after the Revolution, some leaders of the Russian party understood that as the moment of a profound renewal of customs and sexual morals in general, which culminated in the theory of the “glass of water”, — that is, easy and uncomplicated sex , how to drink a glass of water — and the politics of free love (Carpinelli, 2017).

Thus, for example, at the threshold of the introduction of the second Russian revolutionary family code (1926), newspapers, avant-garde magazines and even the cinema took on quite daring positions with regard to sexual morality.

The film “Three in a basement”, by director Abram Room, is from that period, considered one of the most anti-conformist films of the time with regard to “female emancipation and sexual liberation”, having faced the issue of “love for three and a half”. , more generally, the liberation of customs” (Carpinelli, 2017).

An example of this anti-conformist morality — sexual and loving — can be seen in the lives of three who led Lília Brik, Óssip Brik and the poet Mayakovsky (Schnaiderman, 2017). To get an idea of ​​Soviet pioneering spirit, one can read the report — dated 1972 — that Lilia Brik wrote about it: “Now, in the West, there is a lot of talk about 'open marriage', 'free sex' etc. , but I doubt whether people have achieved the same detached attitude in this field” (Schnaiderman, 2017).

This certainly should not be a criterion for defining socialism, as if old family relationships — as well as money, commerce, law and the State — should be completely suppressed, according to the precepts of a palingenetic vision of the new world (Losurdo , 2004). Hence, Lenin's intervention in the face of enthusiasm for the theory of free love can be understood, warning that “our youth 'became agitated (if it is scatenata) with the theory of the glass of water'” (Carpinelli, 2017).

Even so, it is always the historical, objective conditions that explain the greater or lesser closure in this area of ​​social life. In 1934 Stalin abolished the legislation introduced by Lenin regarding homosexuality, starting to be considered a “medical problem and misdemeanor” (Netto, 2017). But just as the revolutionary context explains the great audacity of the first years, it is also the context that must be appealed to in order to better understand the Secretary General's decision.

The 30s saw a steady drop in birth rates, as well as a staggering number of abortions, given the legislation that allowed abortion. And it was this new demographic context that ended up imposing a “revision of family legislation”, emphasizing “a reinforcement of order, social stability and the family institution”, including the abolition of abortion — despite everything running in parallel with the legitimization and the guardianship of maternity in celibacy, determined by the same circumstances (Carpinelli, 2017).

The problem intensifies in 1944, given the large casualties caused by World War II. But don't think that the solution always had a regressive result. Having lost 15 million young people between the ages of 18 and 25 on the battlefronts, the USSR had to bring a massive number of women to the labor market (between 1914 and 1917 women were 1/3 of the workforce, reaching 38% in the 1930s and 56% in 1945), which led to a broad movement for female emancipation (Carpinelli, 2017).

An example of this emancipation can be measured by the legislation of 1938, which assured women “rights equal to those of men” in fields such as “economic, state, cultural, political and social life” — this in a society that, at the time of the tsarism, treated women as a “demoniac being, to whom the lower places were reserved in the church, to whom it was not allowed to approach the altar and whose marriage ring was of iron (and not of gold as for the man)” ( Carpinelli, 2017).

But one should not think that the changes had to wait for demographic pressure, which would be to lose sight of the very spirit of the revolution, as it manifested itself in the first years. Already in 1918 it was recognized what the “affirmative action” of Soviet style in favor of women, with “numerous interventions” that “abolished sexual discrimination in jobs and in society, protected the work of pregnant women and introduced compulsory maternity leave in factories” (Carpinelli, 2017).

In any case, changes in family law in the 30s and 40s took their toll. Only with the 1968 family legislation were the distortions introduced in 1936 and 1944 overcome, “largely inspired by familismo and the conception of women as the 'angel of the stove'” (Carpinelli, 2017).

* Marcos Aurélio da Silva He is a professor at the Department of Geosciences at UFSC.


Carpinelli, C. 'Donne e famiglia nella Russia bolscevica'. In: Gramsci Oggi, Nov. 2017.

Losurdo, d. Escape from History? The Russian Revolution and the Chinese Revolution as Seen Today. Rio de Janeiro: Revan, 2004.

Netto, JP 'Your greatness and your misery'. interview to Dear friends, no. 89, 2017.

Schnaiderman, B. Conversation with Lília Brik. In: Mayakovsky: poems. Trans. Schnaiderman, Boris; Fields, Harold; Fields, Augustus. São Paulo: Perspective, 2017.


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