‘Russian Women in the Red Army’ from Soviet Russia (New York). Vol. 3 No. 9. August 28, 1920.

‘Russian Women in the Red Army’ from Soviet Russia (New York). Vol. 3 No. 9. August 28, 1920.

THE Russian women — peasant, working-class A and bourgeois — have played an important part in all revolutionary movements which have swept through Russia. Amfiteatrov, the Russian writer, acknowledges the importance of the Russian women’s efforts, looking towards the emancipation of the working and bourgeois classes in Russia, in the following words: “The women have taught the Russian people to read and write, they have established new teaching methods and have borne the whole martyrdom imposed by the work of enlightening the proletariat.” As a matter of fact, the Russian women are entitled to a large share of the credit for the liberation of Russia’s working classes. Their solicitousness, their devotion and spirit of self-sacrifice, intensified to the point of fanaticism, enabled them to bear quietly and with patience all these tortures which were a consequence of illegal activity — the only possible method of agitation and propaganda in czarist Russia. For many decades the woman revolutionist stood watch at her quiet, hidden, and often most dangerous post. She organized secret printing shops, manufactured bombs, planned assassinations, (fighting methods brought about by the peculiar conditions existing in Russia), carried on the propaganda in the army, fought on the barricades — everywhere, at all dangerous posts, we meet the Russian woman revolutionist, whose self-sacrifice and revolutionary energy served as an example for others.

Red Army hospital guards in Ukraine, 1920.

After the fall of czarism the energetic revolutionary activity of the women continued. Unfortunately it was put to a base use by the bourgeois democracy. The so-called “Battalions of Death”, composed of inspired women of the bourgeois democracy, were used chiefly in the fight against the revolution of the proletariat. And in these fights against the revolutionary laboring class the famous women’s “Battalions of Death”, defending the bourgeois democracy with tenacious energy, were almost completely destroyed.

The successors of the bourgeois women in the bourgeois-democratic era were the women of the proletariat, whose readiness to fight and determination in all things revolutionary were the means of lighting the spark of the revolution of the proletariat. For it was the strike of the women textile workers in the large factories on the Vyborg side of Petrograd which gave the impetus to the Bolshevik uprising in October, 1917. These very women, leaving their places in the textile works in a body and pouring in a seething mass into the inner city, gave the signal for the beginning of the proletarian revolution in Petrograd.

It is sufficient to cite these incidents to explain why Russian women of the proletariat are to be found in the Red Army. But here there are no separate battalions of women. The women volunteers (during the general mobilization they swarmed in great numbers) are attached to various units and sent to the front. Side by side with their men comrades the women soldiers of the proletarian army fight their battles, fight them with the same degree of fearlessness and heroism as the men. And all this is done quietly — modestly. No one in Russia thinks it necessary to make special mention of the fighting spirit and the fearlessness of the women — or to praise them: it is all taken for granted.

The women soldiers are chiefly active in the auxiliary service. Thousands of women were attached to the sanitary branch of the service. They were first thoroughly trained and then sent to the front or to field hospitals as hospital troops and to hospitals in the interior as nurses. These female sanitary troops perform their duties at the front with marvelous fearlessness. They do not wait until the front is moved forward — while still under fire they rescue the wounded from the line of battle and thus save the lives of many of their comrades in arms.

Women soldiers are also utilized in the auxiliary service behind the lines — at the supply stations, in the transportation service, as couriers, at the army offices and post-offices — everywhere women are to be found, everywhere they offer their strength and their labor in the defense of the Soviet Power. The women spare no efforts and no sacrifices and willingly submit to the rigid war discipline, for well they know that their services constitute a strong support for the defensive system of the proletarian state.

Red Army nurses captured by the Czechs in 1919.

But in all other agencies, too, that serve educational purposes, women are used almost exclusively. For the troops of the Red Army have their libraries, reading rooms, etc., besides which they are treated to lectures, meetings and debates for the purpose of socialistic enlightenment and education. All this affords the women a further field for their activity. How much the efforts of these women at the front have accomplished is shown by the marked self-discipline and fitness of the men composing the Red Guard. Above all the troops are taught self-respect, and they are thoroughly imbued with the realization of the honor, the privilege that is theirs in defending the cause of the revolution and of Socialism; but it is not forgotten to also impress them with the obligations which this honor places upon them.

The women inhabitants of large cities like Petrograd, Odessa, Samara, and others were given the opportunity to take a hand in the defense of these cities. They were mobilized for the auxiliary service and it was chiefly their task to replace the men, who were leaving for the front, in factories, offices, and other places of employment. Many women even volunteered for the actual defensive service under arms, were equipped and drilled, and by the side of their male comrades of the proletariat, awaited the approach of the White Guard, ready to defend their proletarian homes to the last drop of their blood.

Officers in training.

According to their ability the women are being trained for military service. In fact, military service is just as obligatory for all organized women Communists as it is for their men comrades. Once or twice a week armed detachments, composed of both men and women, may be seen marching to the district training posts, where they are drilled in the use of firearms, and where a general military training is imparted to them. The labor organization, “General Military Training”, the “Voevobuch” as it is called, counts among its members many hundreds of women proletarians. On May 1, when the volunteer labor battalions paraded, there could be seen in their ranks splendidly drilled detachments of women soldiers. Women members of the “Voevobuch” do garrison and guard duty in the cities, and women soldiers are today a familiar part of the daily life of these cities. Women are also trained for officers in the proletarian officers training schools. It was in the fall of 1919 that the first woman officer left for the front — one of those women from the ranks of the youthful working women who form so large a contingent of all volunteers.

Volunteers for the front.

The Russian working woman performs her duty with enthusiasm, limitless devotion and quiet modesty. Hunger, privation, and cold are forgotten, family cares and affairs are pushed aside when danger threatens the Proletarian State. They are not willing to give up without a struggle the fruits of their heroic fight with their former oppressors, their deliverance from capitalistic exploitation, their complete economic and political equality. The very thought of a return to the old slavery of the working woman, to the yoke put upon woman by a tyrannical state, appears unbearable to them. It is for this reason that they fight with such passionate enthusiasm at the front of the Russian Proletarian State, why they so willingly bear all the burdens and hardships of the auxiliary military service. Not for the defense of capitalism do they wage their fight, as was the case during the war in the west and middle-European states: their fight is for the preservation of the fruits of the proletarian revolution.

And the women of the Austrian proletariat? Do they realize that the shells, which, in the munition factories, are loaded by women workers, will also tear the bodies of daring, self-sacrificing proletarian women fighters? Do they realize that the heroic Russian women workers willingly sacrifice their lives under the fire of shells and machine guns, in order that the women proletarians of other countries, too, may be free?

Soviet Russia began in the summer of 1919, published by the Bureau of Information of Soviet Russia and replaced The Weekly Bulletin of the Bureau of Information of Soviet Russia. In lieu of an Embassy the Russian Soviet Government Bureau was the official voice of the Soviets in the US. Soviet Russia was published as the official organ of the RSGB until February 1922 when Soviet Russia became to the official organ of The Friends of Soviet Russia, becoming Soviet Russia Pictorial in 1923. There is no better US-published source for information on the Soviet state at this time, and includes official statements, articles by prominent Bolsheviks, data on the Soviet economy, weekly reports on the wars for survival the Soviets were engaged in, as well as efforts to in the US to lift the blockade and begin trade with the emerging Soviet Union.

PDF of full issue: (large file): https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/srp/v3n09-aug-28-1920-soviet-russia.pdf

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