Civil Rights During and After the Russian Revolution
Anna, Alan, Daniel, Nina
Bleaching the Cloth (1917) – Alan
This painting is representative of the role of women who began the February Revolution. They are all surrounded by textiles which is in refernce to the women who sparked the movement. None of them are facing the audience, so that can show how they were not really acknowledged during this time, but they are facing the only woman who is bent over and in a defeated stance to try motivate her (“Factory committees”).
International Women’s Day Protests (1917) – Anna
On International Women’s Day in 1917, thousands of Russian women gathered in central Petrograd to protest the tsar and treatment of both working-class and peasant women within Russia. After a few hours of protesting, men began to join the women with total numbers of protesters eventually reaching close to 100,000 (Figes). The massive crowd called for general government reform. The large numbers of protesters also eventually prompted police involvement, for fear that protests could turn violent or overly disruptive. Some historians, like Sheila Fitzpatrick, credit these protests as being influential in the eventual removal of the tsar and in encouraging future public protests, like those during the October Revolution just a few months later.
Homosexuality Decriminalized (1917) – Nina
The October Revolution was an extension of the unrest present earlier in the year during the International Women’s Day protests. After this revolution, the Tsarist criminal code was thrown out, and the previous punishments for homosexuality nullified. Some historians believe that the decriminalization was due to the fact that the Bolsheviks had simply gotten rid of all of the Tsarist criminal code; this was not the case. The repeal of the law criminalizing homosexuality was a choice by the state government and not just a byproduct of overthrowing the Tsar (Greenberg). This conscious choice was reflective of the movement towards progressive policies during the time.
Passage of Code on Marriage and Family (1918) – Anna
Another example of increasing progressivism within the Bolsheviks came in the form of family codes. The 1918 Code was the first of three family codes to be published by the Soviets in the early 20th Century. A the time, it was considered one of the most progressive social codes passed by any government, in part due to the Code’s massive expansion of rights for women (“The Russian”). Russian leaders hoped to strip away the power of the traditional nuclear family with the code and instead encourage greater autonomy for women and children (“Family”). Specific policy changes included making divorce easier for women to access and restricting the legal obligation of marriage, meaning that divorce and separation was easier for families to achieve.
Zhenotdel Created (1919) – Anna
Progressive policies regarding women extended into the political realm. Following a few years of increased political participation by women, the Bolshevik party decided that a formal branch was needed to help organize and recruit more women. In 1919, the Zhenotdel was officially created as the female arm of the party (Hayden). In addition to directing political action, the Zhenotdel also created a monthly newspaper called the Komunistka which reported on issues and policy relevant to women (Orr). Russian women could either volunteer for the Zhenotdel, attend meetings or run for elected office; all granted women access to information about politics and Russian society that had been previously inaccessible for most women (Orr). However, following political restructuring by Stalin, the Zhenotdel was deemed too dangerous and was shut down in 1930 (Orr). This move towards conservatism affected other groups fighting for more rights, as shown later in the recriminalization of homosexuality and removal of abortion rights.
Abortion Legalized (1920) – Anna
In 1920, the Soviet government legalized abortion in response to a growing rate of complicated pregnancies and illegal abortions which were negatively affecting both the birth rate and the health of women. This was regarded as a huge step in advancing personal freedoms for women as they had the ability to regulate their family planning. However, the Soviet policy on legal abortion became more complicated as Stalin began to control the party’s political ideology. In 1936, a social shift towards more “traditional” gender and familial roles paired with government concern over a decreasing birth rate led Soviet officials to abolish legal abortion. The practice continued to remain illegal until 1955 when it was again legalized.
The Soviet Union’s Attack on Organized Religion (1921) – Daniel
The effect of the October Revolution on expanding rights was more complex for Russian Jews. The success of the October Revolution abolished the law that considered the Jews as outlaws. The Bolsheviks believed that Jews were important to the spread of socialism and enacted laws to bring about a more inclusive society. However, the communist regime in the Soviet Union was heavily against organized religion, as they believed that the teachings of religions went against their own values. As a way to combat this, leaders of the Soviet Union led a resistance against all forms of religion. While it is true that all religions received the same hostile treatment, one can say that the rejection of Jewish religions and customs can be considered anti-semitic. Beginning in 1919, many Jewish properties used for religious purposes were seized by the governemnt. As a result, many of the Jewsih commuitites dissolved as their religion was the factor that kept them together. Rabbis were violently ousted from their work and feared that they would be persecuted for their religious beliefs. This horrifc event continued on for much of the 1920s.
Construction of New Workshops (1926) – Alan
The painting asserts that women were more important than men during this time. Comparing the muscular, bold appearance of the woman to the man in the background who is is in black clothes and very tiny. With the unfinished factory the painting shows how women equality was not fully achieved under Lenin (“Emancipation of Women”).
Vladimir Lenin in Smoln (1930) – Alan
This is a very powerful painting of Lenin post mortem because of the portrayal of him as very humanized. This is supposed to show him in a form of purity since he is sitting in the “white seat” and not the black one behind him- but he is not because of how much damage he caused to Russian people during his time in power. The couch is opaque red so it shows that the Bolsheviks are way past their “prime time”- this is a good thing for the people of Russia since he was the proletariat leader.
Homosexuality Criminalized (1934) – Nina
After Lenin’s death, progressivism began to wane and conservative ideas grew in popularity. An example of this was Article 121.1, passed by Stalin on March 7, 1934. This recriminalized male homosexual behavior and made it punishable for up to five years of hard labor (“Russia”). This was enacted in part to punish fascists, since homosexuality was associated with that ideology, but led to around 800 – 1,000 men were imprisoned for this each year (States News Service). There was no criminal punishment for lesbianism; however, women suspected of being homosexuals could be confined to mental asylums. This turn towards conservative ideas became more and more extreme, culminating in events like the Great Purges.
The Great Purges (1936-1938) – Daniel
The most brutal time of Stalin’s reign was during the time of the Great Purges which happened in 1936-1938. The great Purges were responsible for the death of over 500,000 Soviets who were accused of treasonous acts against the government. In 1938, Yeronim Uborevich, Yona Yakir, Yakov Garmanik, and Boris Feldman were among the most famous generals that were killed during the Great Terror, all of whom were Jewish. This was marked by historians to be the third wave of Stalin’s Great Purge amongst the “elitist” class. These purges mostly targeted many of Stalin’s former rivals and others that were part of the Old Bolsheviks. Stalin also targeted leaders of the Red Army, and those who were in leadership positions of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. His political opponents, Lev Kamenev, Grigory Zinoviev, and other prominent Jewish leaders, were murdered by the thousands. Among those who were murdered, many Jewishh authors and artists were also targeted and killed. This even continued up until the 1952, when a group of Jewish artists were slaughtered by the government due to their cultural activism.
Nazi-Soviet Pact (1939) – Daniel
The Nazi-Soviet Pact was an agreement between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union to not engage in military action against each other. It was signed in Moscow in 1939. While this was seen as a way to avoid confrontation between two nuclear weapon-holding countries, others saw this as Stalin’s indifference towards his own Jewish citizens. Nazi Germany, a country that was slaughtering millions of Jewish people, was able to make a pact with the Soviet Union, a country that once championed the rights of the minority under Lenin. However, under Stalin, a deal with the Nazis was accomplished. Others would argue that both Hitler and Stalin were very similar in character, and their policies often resulted in the same casualties. The Soviet Union was guilty of murdering countless of people in Poland and using similar tactics that Hitler used to destroy a specific group of people. Timothy Snyder, a professor of history at Yale University, explains that while Hitler and Stalin were vastly different, many of their policies “met the standard of genocide.” Stalin’s indifference to equality and the policies in which he enacted further highlights his own prejudice against people who were Jewish.
Article 121.1 Repealed (1993) – Nina
Despite the general drift towards conservativism, pressure from LGBTQ groups produced positive results. After almost sixty years, President Boris Yeltsin proposed a new penal code that would nullify the previous criminalization of male homosexuality and free those imprisoned under the law (Simon). However, those released would have no right to compensation or rehabilitation (Chazan). After this new code was passed, many of those imprisoned under the law remained in prison. Still, the repeal was a major step forward in LGBTQ rights in Russia, and allowed many underground organizations to emerge into the public spotlight. This positive move towards civil rights is hopefully indicative of a larger shift in perception that will benefit all groups.
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