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Russia: The Revolution of 1917

4. Was the Bolshevik Revolution a feminist revolution?

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In this module, we think about the extent to which the Bolshevik Revolution was a feminist revolution, focusing in particular on: (i) the establishment of the Zhenotdel, or the Women’s Section of the Communist Party; (ii) the publication of women’s literature, such as Rabotnitsa; (iii) aspects of the Bolsheviks’ legislative programme that focused on women’s rights, such as the 1917 Decree on Civil Marriage, Children and Civil Registry Bookkeeping, and the 1920 Decree on Women’s Healthcare, which legalised abortion in all circumstances; (iv) Alexandra Kollontai’s arguments in favour of the liberalisation of sex and relationships; (v) the limits of feminism, in particular the lack of female representation at the very highest levels of government; (vi) Kollontai’s rejection of a ‘sisterhood’ with contemporary feminist movements in western Europe (e.g. suffragists in Britain), which she saw as essentially bourgeois movements; (vii) how attitudes towards the peasantry – and peasant women in particular – shaped the self-presentation of revolutionary women as logical, scientific and masculine; and (viii) the tensions that emerged when revolutionary men and women tried to put their feminist ideals into practice.


In this module, Dr Andy Willimott (Queen Mary, University of London) explores the Russian Revolution(s) of 1917. We begin in the first module by thinking about the events of 1917, from the final months of the First World War to the deposition of the Provisional Government by the Bolsheviks in November [O.S. October] 1917. After that, we think about the historiography of the Russian Revolution, focusing in particular on four different schools of thought among historians writing about the Revolution. In the third module, we look more closely at the role of the Bolsheviks in the Revolution – where they came from, what they believed in, and how they came to power – before turning in the fourth model to consider the extent to which the Russian Revolution was a feminist revolution. To what extent, in other words, did it concern itself with improving the lives of women? Finally, in the fifth module, we consider the cultural foundations and impact of the Russian Revolution, focusing in particular on the various cultural campaigns launched by the Bolsheviks, and the importance of culture in galvanising revolutionary energy in the 1920s.


Dr Andy Willimott is a Lecturer in Modern Russian History at Queen Mary, University of London. He has a particular interest in the formation and popular experience of revolution, radical discourse, and utopian models. His recent publications include Living the Revolution: Urban Communes and Soviet Socialism, 1917-1932 (2017) and (co-edited with M. Neumann) Rethinking the Russian Revolution as Historical Divide (2018).

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Willimott, A. (2019, October 15). Russia: The Revolution of 1917 - Was the Bolshevik Revolution a feminist revolution? [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Willimott, A. "Russia: The Revolution of 1917 – Was the Bolshevik Revolution a feminist revolution?." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Oct 2019,

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