A society based on human exploitation needs a rigorous sexual order. The status of women in a society is a fundamental element of the analysis of the political context; and women’s status is inseparable from the weight which is given in the community to traditions and religions. This obviousness is often « forgotten » today. Indeed, even in circles that think themselves to be progressive, even in the libertarian milieu, which nonetheless pretends to be feminist and anti-patriarchal, the heaviest conservatisms have corrupted discourses and thoughts (1).Certainly, reactionnaries did it skillfully. They no longer express themselves according to the old rhetoric, « Work, family, homeland ». They camouflage themselves behind new clothes and take the disguises of « regionalism », of the defense « of the native peoples », of that of the concept of « customs » when it is not « respect » for « certain religious traditions » or even “decolonialization”… A detour through history will help us understand the issues. That of the Russian Revolution is particularly enlightening from this point of view. In his book « The Unknown Revolution « , a work of the greatest interest, russian anarchist Voline shows us how, during the Russian Revolution of 1917, more than three centuries of oppression have been suddenly swept away by the total break with the ideology of power and by the deconsecration of the tsar (the Russian emperor).
The ideological starting point of the tsarist regime can be found during the reign of Ivan the Forth “the Terrible” (1547-1584). It was he who introduced the crucial notion for tsarism regime, that which founds absolutism, the notion « of divine right ». To this purpose, Ivan the Forth was supported by the Orthodox religion and its clergymen. From this period, the Tsar, the emperor of all the Russias took on a sacred character and became the depositary of the divine word … So nobody could contest him, as it would had been contesting God himself … It would exposed you to death with no appeal.
The revolution of February 1917 will mark in a grandiose manner the end point of this belief. Between the two extreme dates (1547 / 1917), mentalitie are under the domination of the dogmas of the Orthodox church – pillar of autocratic power – and evolve slowly. Then, from 1825 everything accelerates. A marker of this historic development is the status of women in the Russian society. At the end of the 16th century, whether in the highest spheres of society or among the poor and also the Cossacks, women were subjected to unlimited domination. Religion, which is the pillar of the regime, makes women something like a demon; or to put it simply, an “filthy creature”. This anti-feminine delirium is such that masses of men voluntarily castrate themselves in order to protect themselves from any sexual temptation and live in communities made up entirely of eunuchs.
The consequence of this ideology is that the only alternative for woman is to be locked up or enslaved. In the Russian aristocracy, she lived as a recluse in rooms provided for this purpose. Everywhere else, she is exploited like an animal. The prejudices of the dominant ideology imply that women do not have human status. It should be noted that we find – including in the peasant and Cossack revolts – this lack of recognition which is correlated with the rooting of the legend of the divine origin of the tsar.
When they revolt, the masses are by no means revolutionary: there is basically no break with tradition. This paradox is very notable among the Cossacks. Cossacks define themselves as « free men »; they are at the forefront of many rebellions; they are organized in a kind of « general assembly meetings ». But these Cossack assemblies are made up entirely of men, and the decisions made about women are simply heinous. Such a woman suspected of adultery is dragged by the hair to the center of the assembly by the husband who feels ridiculed, and if no man wants her and defends her, she is sewn alive in a bag and thrown away in the Volga river. It is also in the Volga that Stenka Razine, another leader of the rebels, will get rid of his concubine in order to maintain the respect of the troops and to remain their Ataman, their leader.
The first notable creaks in this ideological construction occur at the top of the Power structure, in particular during the struggle of Princess Sophie for the conquest of the throne against her brother, the future Peter the Great. Sophie will end her life in a convent but this fight will have opened the way to a series of tsarines (women russian emperors), of which the most famous, Catherine, will be in the 18th century at the origin of the creation of the Smolny institute for the education of noble young girls.
But everything will accelerate in the middle of the 19th century, parallel to the penetration of revolutionary ideas in the country. We owe to the nihilist movement the appearance of a position of global ideological rupture which will consist in a total rejection of ancestral culture. This movement, which started out as purely intellectual, admitted absolutely nothing of the heritage of the past (« nihil » = nothing). It will be the origin of something radically new : individuals of both sexes will lead the fight for emancipation on an equal footing.
Consequently in the revolutionary groups which will take action against the regime – the populists first, then the socialists and anarchists – women will take their part in the terrible fight which will be waged against despotism. One of them, Sofia Perovskaïa, will take part in the attack of 1881 which will put an end to the life of the tsar Alexander the Second. She will be executed with four of her comrades. This political equality between men and women, which is concretely achieved thanks to this negation of traditions, is a crucial fact. It contains within itself the destruction of the old tsarist world which from that moment is doomed and will not take forty years to crumble.
Gender equality, resulting from an ideological breakthrough work, is an element which measures the penetration of revolutionary culture in a society. This culture has crossed the whole ethnic mosaic of populations who inhabit the vast Russian territory and in revolutionary groups, men and women but also believers and atheists, have have rejected their cultural differences, have rejected the division imposed by the Power: these facts foreshadowed the real unity of the working-class and peasant population, which would be a condition for its passage to direct and massive action from 1905 until the fall of the tsarist tyranny in February 1917.
In the historic moments of struggle against domination, as in Russia from 1880, figures of anonymous or famous women stand out, such as Maria Spiridonova, leader of the Russian revolutionary socialist party, who are only the visible face of a deep awareness. Conversely, the lack of involvement of women in the revolutionary movement, or their marginalization from the social struggle, is an indicator of the prevailing conservatism or of the progress of the reaction.
We find exactly the same symptoms in revolutionary Spain in 1936, with the appearance in the fighting of free and armed working-class women. It is no coincidence that the reactionary campaign for the militarization of the anarchist and revolutionary Militia Columns began with a formal attack on the militia women who fought there. This propaganda touched on a sensitive point of « Native Spanish culture », a point which had not yet been sufficiently annihilated, which is the place of women in society. “Native Spanish culture” is related to machism (which derives from the Spanish word, macho). Thus, in the various medias of the bourgeois, of the communists or of the socialist, one began to treat these militia women of being prostitutes and syphilitics. Then after that « Solidaridad obrera » – the Catalan CNT press organ – had been “recentered”, it could be read in this newspaper identical innuendos in favor of the return to traditional sexual order. And when, in » Mujeres Libres » (Free Women), the anarchosyndicalist women group, sprang the explicit slogan « Los hombre al frente, las mujeres al trabajo » (“Men at the front, women at work” ) and after which the last militia woman laid down her gun to go home, it can be said that the Spanish Revolution was also over.
The conclusion is simple: no freedom for women without rejection of oppressive traditions!
(1) These « ideas » – known as “post-modernism” did not come by themselves but were produced knowingly by US think-tanks to penetrate and destroy ideological adversaries such as anarchists (see the texts from Jordi Vidal for instance).