Women: Powerful or just Domestic?

women in 1924
“The Delegate” 

This image, entitled “The Delegate” from the visual essay, “Models & Counter-models of Gender” within the subject of Revolutionary Manliness reminded me of Liuda in the silent film, “Bed and Sofa.” This image depicting women in the communist 1920’s is grouped with four others, each different from the next. Below are two starkly contrasting photographs, one depicting femininity and the other depicting ‘manliness’ and power in the holding of a gun.

woman feminine
“A Young Pioneer”
woman with a gun
“Woman with a Gun”

The lack of consistency with these photographs of women represents the complexity of gender roles after the Russian Revolution. In the Bolsheviks attempt to move from socialism and onto communism, they recognized the need to change society in many ways as to better their collective self and experience (Freeze 329). They also knew that they needed vast state power, education campaigns and party organizations, among other things.

Two of these party organizations included the “Zhenotdel (Women’s Department) and the Komsomol (Young Communist League).” The Zhenotdel became very effective in organizing women at the local level which threatened Soviet leader’s hopes of “class solidarity,” thus the Women’s Department was shut down in 1930 (Wikipedia). The Komsomol, on the other hand, were not known to be as successful or productive; rather, they were known for their “atheism, hooliganism, and sexual depravity.” (Guillory) Further, the Komsomol was known for disregarding and harassing women. The gender roles in this instance, however, are not merely about men not respecting women but rather about how communism was characteristically masculine and thus women could not be a part of it. Now you can see how the pictures above show the complex gender roles of the time in that women saw themselves as powerful (Woman with a Gun) whereas men and the communist party viewed women as subservient and domestic (A Young Pioneer).

In the silent film, “Bed and Sofa”, Liuda plays the characteristic role of women in the eyes of men in that time. However, Volodya, a Mensehvik, saw Liuda as she wanted to be seen, someone capable of more than just tending to the household. His gift to her of newspapers and a radio showed his belief in women’s ability to be involved and aware of their government’s actions. Thus, there was some progress on the front of the perceptions of women’s newly gained rights of civil marriages, readily available divorce, legal equality, full rights to children born out of wedlock, and abortion. These newly given rights were an attempt by the new government to change the tsarist ways that were patriarchal, religiously sanctioned families (Freeze 331).

The Revolution, despite bringing about new women’s rights, created complex gender roles and altered the dynamics of family towards revolutionary values of relative freedom and away from tsarist societal values and norms.


Works Cited

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. 3rd ed., New York, Oxford UP, 2009.

Guillory, Sean. “Revolutionary Manliness.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, soviethistory.msu.edu/1924-2/revolutionary-manliness/. Accessed 24 Feb. 2018.

Wikipedia contributors. “Zhenotdel.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 11 Nov. 2017. Web. 24 Feb. 2018.


I Want You for Red Army

Uncle Sam Poster
Uncle Sam Posters at AllPosters.com

This poster has hung on my brother’s wall for as long as I can remember. Every time I see it I think: America, Army, and Service to Nation; Never have I thought of Russia, until today.

Red Guard Recuitment Poster
Dmitrri Moor: Have You Volunteered? (1920) Source: Kuptsov I. I.: Idushchie vperedi. Moscow: Sovetskii khudozhnik. 1987.

My first thought when I saw this poster was Uncle Sam and I was perplexed at Russia’s use of western, capitalist countries’ posters. However, a fellow classmate enlightened me about the deeper meaning behind this poster. The Russian government did not just simply copy and paste the Uncle Sam format with intentions of mimicking the poster but rather they saw the success in the universality of the poster. This format and verbiage, calls on the common man to be apart of something bigger than himself or his land, to be apart of a bigger goal for his country.  Clearly the propaganda and recruitment tactics worked for the United States and Britain, so why couldn’t the Russian Red Army give it a whirl? But before I get to the Red Army’s recruitment tactics, I have to go back to how the Red Guard dissolved and left room for the Red Army to form.

Lenin did not believe that a standing army was appropriate to preside over the Workers’ and Peasants’ Republic and thus dissolved the Russia Imperial Army, including units of the Red Guard, before the negotiations of the Treaty at Brest Litovsk had even concluded. On January 15th, 1918, Sovnarkom ordered that an army be formed of hard-working, “class-conscious” volunteers. Trotsky carried out the order of forming a Red Army but did not follow all of the decree. With the assistance of General M.D. Bonch-Bruevich, he recruited former tsarist officers because of his and the Military Council’s belief in having an Army of “politically reliable military commissars in April 1918 helped both to ensure the loyalty of the military commanders and to overcome resistance from rank-and-file soldiers to their commands.” Universal Military training was also implemented in April 1918.

Trotsky and the Military Council did not follow through entirely in line with the hopes of the Sovnarkom, and certainly not with Lenin’s belief that a standing army was inappropriate. However, despite their seeming disregard for orders, they believed in their actions and believed in their possible future success. They believed that the loyalty and reliability of recruiting former tsarist officers would create order within the army that could withstand opposition and be successful. The below poster as well as the motivational and upbeat tone and rhythm of the Army’s theme song portrays their belief in the probability of Russian victory, with the new loyal and reliable army.


Vision of Victory Poster
Long Live the Three-million Man Red Army! (1919) Source: Paret, Peter, Beth Irwin Lewis, Paul Paret: Persuasive Images: Posters of War and Revolution from the Hoover Institution Archives. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1992.

Theme Song.


The Red Army continued to grow despite draft evasions and defections, and even reached a standing army size of three million in 1919.  The most significant benefit to being a soldier in the Red Army was that the Russian government provided rations and farm work assistance to their families. Their being paid was second to the stability and comfort that rations and farm work assistance provided in their lives. It was a comfort that many of these men had never in their lives felt, considering their peasant status. The climbing of the social ladder for these soldiers as well as the formation of a standing army left a lasting impact on Russian history. Not all Russian leaders had such faith in the Red Army but ultimately it was able to implement long-term social development in the lives of the soldiers and their families as well as political development in the power that comes with having a standing army.



Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. 3rd ed., New York, Oxford UP, 2009.

“Red Guard into Army.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, Michigan State University, soviethistory.msu.edu/1917-2/red-guard-into-army/. Accessed 11 Feb. 2018.


Russia’s Great Divide

Blog Post 1 Image

This photograph was taken by Russian photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii in the town of Zlatoust in approximately 1909. At first glance, it appears to be a beautiful photograph with the delightful contrast of city and countryside. However, upon closer observation and research this photograph looks to me like a visual representation of the great divide in the Russian Empire’s social class structure. 

Serfdom was an integral part of Russian societal history, until the mid to late 19th century when the Emancipation Statutes of 1861 abolished (using this word lightly) serfdom. Alexander II stated five years prior to the Emancipation Statutes that, “It is better to begin abolishing serfdom from above than to wait for it to begin to abolish itself from below.” (Freeze 203) By this Alexander II meant that to avoid revolution, the government would have to start what the people (serfs) wanted and deserved. However, despite his statements of belief and desire for abolition, it was not an easy task and it certainly was not quick or without challenges.

In many ways former serfs, then called peasants, were still second-class citizens (Freeze 206). This class system within Russian society emphasizes what I am calling the ‘great divide’ in that the peasants had practically nothing compared to squires and nobles, among others.  Former serfs were allowed the rights of marriage, property acquisition, and trade conducting; However, the emancipation statutes still limited and disadvantaged these peasants in that for two years after their emancipation they were forced to continue their work, they were bound together in their own separate society under the principle of collective responsibility for taxes, etc., they lost land access and were forced to pay redemption payments (Freeze 206-207). This emancipation was not the freedom that the serfs deserved or were looking for. This emancipation furthered the sharp divide between the have’s and the have-not’s, something that I believe Russian photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii was able to capture in this image of the Ai River valley.   



Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. 3rd ed., New York, Oxford UP, 2009.

Prokudin-Gorskii, Sergei Mikhailovich. View of Zlatoust from the West. 1910. World Digital Library, http://www.wdl.org/en/item/5271/#q=Prokudin-Gorskii&page=4. Accessed 20 Jan. 2018.