Revolutionary Women Around the World
The Proletarian Revolution
The highest aspirations of the working class movement are reflected in the lives and work of communist women. Without the active participation of working women, there can be no socialist revolution; the socialist revolution is the only road for the complete emancipation of women.
Russia: Cecilia Bobrovskaya
Cecilia Bobrovskaya was born in 1873 in Russia. She was a rank-and-file member of the Bolshevik Party during the Russian Socialist Revolution of 1917 and during the years preceding it. Her work in the Bolshevik Party centered on getting revolutionary literature and information to the workers, who were terribly exploited under the rule of the Czar. This was a very difficult task as she was constantly shadowed by spies. In some instances she was forced to live an extremely meager existence, with very little food and inadequate clothing. However, she was committed to the work and sought factory workers, students, and peasants to organize and build a revolutionary party and to produce and circulate the revolutionary newspaper, the Southern Worker.
Cecilia was under constant pressure from the authorities and used a variety of creative techniques to escape police interference with her work. She described one such event:
"They watched my house", she said, "and consistently dogged my steps quite openly. When I had to attend to some urgent business I would have to start out early in the morning and pretend to go shopping. Sometimes I would go into various shops and try on a number of garments. This would take a long time and sometimes the spy would get tired of waiting and go away."
Cecilia helped to organize the workers general strike in Kharkov for the first of May, the International Workers' Day. The strike created a big stir. After that Cecilia's work and that of the party went at a feverish pace. The police were hunting down the revolutionaries. First a group of eighteen railroad workers was arrested and exiled on the charge of instigating the May first demonstrations. This resulted in the arrest of the entire revolutionary organization and most of the circles of workers who were in contact with them.
During this wave of arrests Cecilia was picked up by the Czarist police. She was taken to a well-known Kharkov prison. Prison conditions were harsh and the authorities did everything to try and break her spirit. The governor of the prison was a thorough-going reactionary who ruled the prison with an iron grip. Cecilia described the expression on his face as "murderous."
Her cell was located on a long dark corridor, with cells on either side. She was not allowed any contact with the outside or with the other prisoners. After months of this solitary confinement she suddenly felt the compulsion to hear the sound of her own voice and tried to strike up a conversation with the guard. But they had all been well-trained and wouldn't talk.
She could not lie down during the day because her bed was raised at 6 a.m. and lowered only at six in the evening. Likewise, the table and bench were raised and fastened to the wall. She was of short stature and it was hard even to raise herself to the high windowsill to catch a glimpse of the bluesky. She was permitted a fifteen to twenty minute daily walk in the yard each day.
After a period of time the police released many of those who had been arrested with Cecilia. For a long time Cecilia could not understand why the police kept her in jail longer than the members of the committee. She knew that they had obtained all the particulars of the organization. She was not a member of the committee. But at one of the examinations she was soon enlightened upon the matter.
"I was brought into the prison office and after a pleasant greeting, Norenberg (one of the prison officials) said, ‘The investigation into the Kharkov Committee case is finished. All of the district, including members of the committee, have been released, but are being kept under surveillance until the trial. We have decided to detain you for some time, however. Kharchenko, the editor of the Southern Worker (the Bolshevik paper) has been arrested. According to the evidence, you had close connections with him.’
"To my question, ‘Then what is the use of detaining me, you know that you won't learn anything from me anyway?’ Norenberg answered, rolling out every word, ‘Kharchenko is a strong man, arrested recently. You are a woman, your health has been undermined in prison. Your nerves are unstrung. That is why you are more likely to talk before Kharchenko talks.’
"It is difficult to describe my indignation at this insolent candor. I felt a burning desire to prove to him that I was not broken in spirit, that I still had the strength to protest. My only means of protesting was to declare a hunger strike. I decided to go on strike alone without Involving new comrades with whom I was personally unacquainted and who had been arrested recently. At that time the prison administration, the public prosecutor and the police were still very much afraid of hunger strikes. They feared that the other comrades would get wind of it and join me in the strike and the whole affair would become extremely serious.
"I kept the .strike up for three days. On the fourth day I almost collapsed and the turnkey, seeing my condition, did not put up my bed as usual. Soon I was called to the office where I was informed that I was to be released and that I must leave for my native town immediately under strict surveillance of the police and remain there until the trial. Thus I paid for a full year's work in Kharkov with less than a full year's imprisonment, which was considered a very cheap price at that time."
Cecilia went on to work In the revolutionary movement for many years, spending most of her time before the October Revolution of 1917 working underground and serving several periods in prison. Her memoirs offer a stirring history of the dedication and perseverance of this remarkable woman whose life was typical of that of thousands of other revolutionary women during that period.
Rosa Luxemburg stands at the forefront of the proletarian emancipatory heritage. She was born into a middle-class Jewish family in a small city in Poland in 1871. She became politically active in the socialist movement in high school and had to leave the city to avoid arrest when she was 16 years old. She fled to Zurich where she began her socialist apprenticeship in earnest.
Rosa knew that the crying contradictions and terrible misery and injustice which she saw were the result of a social system which was in fact a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. She resolved to do whatever was necessary to bring about a socialist revolution and became very active in the German revolutionary working class movement. She knew that the proletarian dictatorship is not only an absolutely legitimate means of overthrowing the exploiters and suppressing their resistance, but is also absolutely necessary to the entire mass of working class people. She knew that the rule of the working class was the only defense against the bourgeois dictatorship which led to imperialist war and is today, still preparing for new wars. Barely five feet tall, full of fire and dauntless, Rosa quickly emerged as a leader in the socialist cause.
When the first imperialist world war broke out (World War I) most of the leadership of the international communist movement betrayed the workers of their countries and lined up with their own ruling class against the workers of other countries. The Bolshevik party in Russia, led by V.I. Lenin, fiercely condemned this opportunism and betrayal. Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were among the few European socialist leaders who took a stand with the Bolsheviks and the international working class and called for the unity of the workers of all nations against the ruling class. Rosa called for the workers of Germany to turn their guns against their own government and fight for a socialist revolution.
In reprisal against her fiery agitation, the bourgeois government of Germany arrested Rosa in 1914 and sentenced her to prison for inciting the soldiers in the imperialist army to disobey orders. She spent most of the years between 1914 and 1918 in prison. In prison she suffered terribly from stomach problems and headaches. However, she never lost her commitment and dedication to the struggle; if anything, this persecution strengthened her resolve.
Upon her release she joined with other German revolutionaries and formed the Communist Party of Germany (Spartacus) on December 31, 1918. The name "Spartacus" came from a great leader who led a massive slave rebellion against the rulers of the Roman empire. It was this heritage of rebellion and dedication that Rosa Luxemburg and her comrades adopted when they formed the party.
In 1919 the workers of Germany rose up against the corrupt and brutal regime of the ruling class. Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht and the newly formed communist party were leading this revolution.
On January 15, 1919, Rosa and Karl were assassinated in a foul and vicious manner. They were arrested and were turned over to the military, which was- headquartered in the elegant Eden Hotel, a hotbed of diehard monarchists and reactionaries of all ranks and persuasions. Karl was hit in the back of the head with a rifle butt, knocking him semi-conscious. He was dragged and hustled into a waiting car. He was later taken out of the car and shot in the back. His cause of death was classified as "shot while trying to escape." His body was delivered to a mortuary as a "John Doe" found lying on the roadside.
Rosa was surrounded in the lobby of the hotel by the soldiers. They began to harass and beat her. Half-dead, she was dragged to a waiting car, clubbed in the back of the head, and the car speeded away. The attack was quickly brought to an end by a gun shot to the head. The assassins then .stopped on a bridge and threw her body in the murky .waters, where it remained until it was found over 5 months later. The soldiers covered up her murder by saying that a mob had stopped the car and carried her off.
The murder of Rosa and Karl signaled the beginning of systematic terror against the revolutionaries and communists of Germany which terror gave rise to the Nazi movement. The military corps that murdered Rosa and Karl later became part of Hitler's storm troopers.
The murder of Rosa Luxemburg demonstrated to the whole world that "freedom" in a capitalist country means only freedom for the ruling class to arrest and murder leaders of the working class.
Rosa Luxemburg made mistakes on several important issues in the course of her revolutionary work, such as the issue of Polish independence (she opposed it), but she remains respected today as a great revolutionary leader. Lenin once answered Rosa's critics by quoting an old Russian fable: an eagle can sometimes fly lower than a chicken, but a chicken can never rise to the same heights as an eagle. Despite her' mistakes, Rosa was an eagle and the memory of her life and dedication to the workers cause is held dear by revolutionaries all over the world.
Rosa wrote her last article while living underground in defense against the reprisals of the government troops. It was published the day before her assassination. In that article, she attacked and exposed the viciousness with which the German ruling class sought to suppress the proletarian revolution. She recognized that the defeat of the 1919 revolution was the seed of the future triumph. The closing line in that article sums up Rosa and her legacy to us today: "The revolution", she wrote, "will come back, any day, to announce, I was, I am, I shall be."
Albania is the only genuine socialist country in the world today. The role of women has been a critical factor in the liberation of the country and the establishment and construction of socialism. One of the great women leaders of the Albanian people is Nejhmije Xhuglini Hoxha.
Nejhmije once used the pen name "Flaka", or, "the Flame", which was symbolic of the fire that was dormant in the Albanian women. This fire was released during the course of the Great National liberation War and the struggle to build socialism.
Albania was a country that had been brutally oppressed for 400 years by the Turkish empire. After a short period of Independence in the 20th century, it was invaded by the Italian fascists in 1939 and then by the German Nazis.
Before liberation the position of women in Albania was that of virtual slaves. As a symbol of woman's position in society a young girl received a "lash rope" at the time of her marriage. The lash rope was used to carry large bundles of firewood and other heavy loads. It signified that she was a beast of burden. It also was an instrument of punishment and signified that she was under the subjugation of the absolute word of her husband or father.
The laws of the country recognized the right of the husband or father to punish a woman, even to kill his wife or daughter. Child marriage was the rule. Young girls were betrothed in childhood to men they had not met. Quite often a young girl was sent to her in-laws' home to work as a servant. The women, as with the vast majority of the population, were illiterate. The women of the Muslim religion were forced to wear veils. Quite often they were confined in the home. When they were allowed out, it was always with the strictest supervision. Before liberation, only about 600 women in the entire country actually worked outside of the home.
It was from this background that Nejhmije grew. She joined the call of the Communist Party of Albania* to rise up and fight against the oppressors, to fight not only the fascist invaders, but also the landowners and the capitalists who were crushing the people.
* Now the Party of Labor of Albania
When she was still a girl, Nejhmije became a partisan fighter. With arms in hand she went to the mountains and fought against the Nazis. She joined the Communist Party and became a theoretical and organizational leader in the Party. She was an organizer of the anti-fascist youth and one of the founders of the women's anti-fascist organization which is now the Albania Women's Union and one of the major mass organizations in the country. Through her dedication to the cause of the working people she rose to the position of a leader of the party and of the country. Today she is a member of the People's Assembly, the highest organ of government in the country, and a member of the Central Committee of the Party. She is the head of the Marxist-Leninist Study Institute, a center for theoretical study. But despite her heroism, hers is not an individual, isolated achievement. Her position has been raised up as the position of all of the women in Albania has been elevated.
Today in Albania over one third of all elected posts are held by women. Nearly half of the work force is women. In technical jobs, for example, doctors, pharmacists, geologists, etc., anywhere from one-third to three-fourths of these jobs are held by women. All the vestiges of women's oppression are being torn out from what was one of the most backward countries in the world. Today Albania stands as a country which is the foremost champion of freedom for women and all of the oppressed people. Truly, Albania stands as a great beacon for all those who seek the complete emancipation of women.
BeforeThe Dawn (excerpts) by Shevqet Musaraj
A vivid description of the close ties of the Communist Party with the oppressed women of Albania is presented in the Albanian novel, "Before the Dawn" by Shevqet Musaraj. This novel is set during the period of the National Liberation War in the 1940's. It shows how the Party was able to mobilize the people and why the people loved the Party and followed its leadership. In this excerpt, a young peasant woman has been asked to join the Party. The scene takes place at the meeting of the cell, which is one of the basic party organizations, where she is to be considered for membership. The term "bey" refers to a big landowner, very similar to plantation owners in the U.S. Before the revolution in Albania, the beys had servants and peasants working their land.
"This is the situation, comrades," concluded Arta. "Very unfavorable for our work. But we shall get over the difficulties, we have the people with us, the people who have trusted their lives and their fate to the Party which protects them and defends them in all circumstances regardless of the sacrifices. On the other hand, as you must have read in the last Party tract, which exposes the deals the Ballists and the Social Democrats make with the Germans, the day when the noose will tighten around the neck of the Germans, is getting even nearer. The day of the liberation of the people is coming!" Arta very often used phrases like those to the other members of the District committee whom she envied for their fine way of speaking. "Our duty, comrades, is to remain loyal fighters for the freedom and welfare of the people, as it becomes true communists, to the end of our lives," she ended.
When the discussions were well under way, Netka noticed that even the fellows who were poorly dressed spoke clearly and fluently: one of them, who had large patches on the knees of his trousers and wore boots much too big for his feet that weighed at least four kilos, spoke even better than the girl Arta. "And what must I do?" the woman began to ask herself. "That girl told the comrades that I also am expected to speak. What can I say to them? I will surely stutter, drown myself in perspiration, and say nothing sensible. I am not sure I did well to get myself mixed in this affair..."
Deko, who was the last to speak, mentioned the proposal that Netka should be accepted as a party member. "Our cell," he said, "considers it an honour to admit to its ranks a woman from the working class, a woman who has suffered much and who is courageously giving her help to our struggle. I have known her myself. Of her own free will she has put her home at our disposal as a base for illegal comrades. Then... to cut it short, isn’t our Party first and foremost a party of the workers?"
Arta nodded approvingly and, after waiting for Deko to finish, she began herself to speak:
"Comrade Deko is quite right. But the proposal must be put before the meeting for discussion. And since it seems we have finished with the first item, I think that the new comrade should say to us a few words about her past and present life, then we can discuss the proposal."
The woman lowered her eyes and began to play nervously with a button on the front of her carcaf, and though feeling she had so many things to tell them, she could not say a single word.
"You can take off your carcaf if you want to. Perhaps it is too hot here," said Arta as she reached to help her.
Netka raised her head, and she flushed scarlet as she stopped Arta's hand with a decisive "No, no!"
Arta thought it better to change the subject.
"Well, Netka, can't you tell us something about yourself? Maybe you do not feel at your ease since it is the first time. It is very natural and we have all passed through this experience. But little by little we have got over it and now, as you see, we can talk like lawyers. Did you suppose we came to the party learned? No, Netka, the most learned here are Deko and I, and do you know how much schooling we have had? I, who am the older, have finished two classes of the secondary school. Deko has five elementary grades. Bimi there, who speaks so nicely," she pointed at the boy with the big shoes, "has never been to school, but has had enough will and perseverance to learn to read and write... You must above all keep one thing in mind, that we are here at a party meeting where no discrimination is made between learned and not learned, between big and small, that we are all comrades and share the same rights."
Arta's words seemed to have lifted some of the woman's uneasiness. She began to see the comrades under a different light. She nodded with her head and smiled, implying that she understood what was said to her and it made herhappy, but that she found it too difficult to speak.
"Tell us, what has made you be so close to the Party?" asked Arta unexpectedly. "A little while ago you said that you were body and soul with the Party, why?"
The woman's expression changed. Two deep lines appeared on her clean forehead which, together with the finely arched black eyebrows and the melancholy look of her eyes increased Arta's curiosity.
"With the Party?" the woman raised her shoulder, as if surprised at Arta's question. "I think it must have been my sufferings that have made me want to be as near to the Party as possible, what else? ...My sufferings and... perhaps my need for support... You know how one feels when one is alone... when you need support and everybody drives you off throwing stones at you, and you don't know which way to go... I don't know... Perhaps I am wrong."
"No sister, on the contrary, you are quite right," said Arta.
The woman looked around at the others. The eyes of all of them were fixed at her and seemed to be prompting her to continue.
And she continued:
"I have had nobody in my life since a child, no mother, no father. I grew up to the age of eighteen as a servant at a bey's house. I have suffered much there. He was right, the comrade who spoke before. Everybody in that house raised his hand to strike me, the bey, and his wife, and his guests... and there was also that Safet Bey Backa who had nothing else to do but run after women. Then there was the old lady, Galip Bey's mother. She was a real dragon. I had to endure everything because I could do nothing else, I had nobody to rely upon. At last things came to a point when I could not stand it any longer and I ran away... I ran where my eyes led me... But it cost me dear. For the last fifteen years my husband and I have been out on the road and haven't been able to settle down anywhere for fear of the bey, who had got so mad when he heard that Ferik had also run away together with me..."
"Who is Ferik?" asked the boy with the big shoes, interrupting her.
"My husband. He also was a servant of the bey. When he saw in what a dangerous situation I was, he took pity on me, put his hand on my shoulder and said: "Come, we will run away together, come what may. The worst that can happen is death; we owe it and we have to pay it sooner or later." That very day we married and ran away.
The comrades were looking at each other, strangely moved by the simple story. Arta was trying to write down everything the woman had said. When she had finished Arta pushed aside with her pencil the lock of hair that had fallen over her eyes and turned to the others:
"So, comrades; what do you say?"
"We have nothing to say. We all agree that the comrade should be admitted to the Party as a candidate member," said Deko with authority, as if speaking on behalf of all the others.
"Then let us put it to the vote," proposed Arta. "Who is in favour?"
They all raised their hands, looking at the woman with a peculiar expression of kindness.
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