Women Revolutionaries

By JAMES H. BILLINGTON

 

From: FIRE IN THE MINDS OF MEN ORIGINS OF THE REVOLUTIONARY FAITH

CHAPTER 17

The Role of Women

LENIN'S Revolution in November xgx7 was mounted against a rival revolutionary regime that had briefly and provisionally brought democracy to Russia in the revolution of March x9x7. Lenin's social revolution was doomed to confinement in one country after the final defeat of the attempt at revolution in Germany in January I919. Women were central to both the original victory in St. Petersburg and the final defeat in Berlin. Women had only slowly gained prominence within the revolutionary tradition; but they had assumed special importance within the German and especially the Russian movement. The March Revolution in St. Petersburg was triggered by a mass demonstration for International Women's Day. The January upheaval in Berlin was ended by the murder of the only revolutionary personality of the era to rival Lenin in stature: Rosa Luxemburg. As in Brussels in August x83o, so in St. Petersburg in March ~917 a festive popular event had unintended broader consequences. Just as an operatic performance had triggered a national revolution in x83o, so an essentially apolitical women's demonstration started the chain of events that led to social revolution in xgx7. There is a kind of inner logic in both cases. Romantic operatic melodrama was, as we have seen, a symbol of and stimulus to the visceral cause of national revolution. The women's cause, on the other hand, was equally linked to the more rationalistic, rival tradition of social revolution. For a final reprise on the story of revolutionaries without power, it might thus be appropriate to turn to the role of women, a largely powerless social group in nineteenth-century Europe. Their slow emergence to prominence in the broader revolutionary movement reflects the gradual rise of social over national revolution, the replacement of the Franco-Italian-Polish leadership by the German and Russian movements. Women brought special strengths to these latter movements in non-Catholic Europe--enabling each to become a total subculture ca-

The Role of Women 483

pable of surviving repression, co6ptation, and isolation by authoritarian governments and hostile societies. Women became particularly involved in revolutionary events during the aftermath of World War I, producing in Rosa Luxemburg perhaps the most authentically prophetic revolutionary of the early twentieth century. This discussion of the involvement of women in the revolutionary traditions can only scratch the surface of a complex problem. Necessarily excluded from our consistent focus on ideological innovators and leaders are the great bulk of rank-and-file revolutionaries who happened to be female, and of feminists who were more or less revolutionary. At almost any given point throughout the period under consideration, some women simply shared and echoed the political and economic demands being advanced by men. Others sought to change only the social role of women, who were still confined to fixed and subordinate roles in the patriarchal European family system. The former group more or less passively accepted the agenda set by male revolutionaries; the latter group only occasionally and episodically identified with the largely male revolutionary movement. Our discussion will focus on a third category: i~novative feminine revolutionaries, prophetic women who were both original and important within the revolutionary movement. Such women often brought to the broader movement a special aura of moral superiority, born in part out of their very exclusion from power. Their criticism of European society tended to be especially far-reaching, to point towards a social revolution beyond local perspectives. On occasion, they went even beyond the social dimension altogether to suggest new sexual, cultural, and psychological dimensions for revolutionary thought. Because these are subjects of renewed interest at present and of uncertain significance for the future, this final retrospective look at revolutionary origins will focus on women.

The French

As with so much else, the history of women revolutionaries begins in the turmoil of the French Revolution. Thinkers in the Enlightenment had concentrated largely on the limited question of how education would improve the lot of women. X The otherwise proto-revolutionary Rousseau was the first in a long line of convinced antifeminists within the French Left. Women played few leading roles in the American Revolution or in the initial stages of the French. A small group of revolutionary feminists soon appeared in France, however. Olympe de Gouges, "the high priestess of feminism," a drafted (and tried to obtain Marie Antoinette's sponsorship of) a Declaration of the Rights of Women

484 THE RISE OF THE SOCIAL REVOLUTIONARIES to supplement the Declaration of the Rights of Man. Mary Wollstonecraft rebuked Burke for rejecting the French Revolution, wrote a Vindication of the Rights of Women, and journeyed excitedly to republican Paris in x79z. As the wife of the libertarian anarchist William Godwin and mother of the wife of the romantic atheist poet Shelley, she was a kind of matriarch of the female revolutionary tradition despite her lack of influence in her native England or in Scandinavia, to which she repaired after leaving revolutionary France.a Bonneville's Social Circle was almost alone in seeking radical equality for women, largely through its remarkable feminist spokesperson, the Dutch Baroness Etta Palm d'Aelders.4 The only thinker to link a radical social vision with revolutionary ideas about the role of women (and speculation about the polymorphous possibilities of sexual experience) was, as we have seen, a man: the inventor of the word Communism, Restff de la Bretonne. The dominant spirit of the French revolutionary era was that of Les Rdvolutions de Paris, advising women to stay home and "knit trousers for our brave sans-cullotes." 5 "Politically, women at the close of the Revolution were worse off than at the beginning"; 6 and, in the settlement of x8x5, women gained no new rights except of inheritance and divorce--with the latter soon revoked by Louis XVIII. The temper and legacy of the Napoleonic era was aggressively masculine. There had been a kind of struggle within France between the feminine world of the salons and the masculine world of the grande armde. Napoleon's most tenacious internal foes had been women: first the iddologues gathered around the last of the salon mother figures, Mme. Helv6tins; and then the liberal romantics gathered around Mme. de Stall.7 The revolutionaries of the Restoration era in continental Europe were exclusively masculine: small bands of junior officers from the Napoleonic wars and male students who banded together in Masonic-type fraternal organizations. Buonarroti, the pioneer of social revolution, broke with this exclusively male recruitment pattern of the early national revolutionaries. In exile in Switzerland during the early Restoration, he sought to work through acquaintances who had taken temporary teaching jobs in girls' schools to recruit women for his trans-national revolutionary organization. He "always found among women greater disinterestedness, devotion and constancy than among men." s His principal aid claimed to have "created among young ladies a real army of republican blue stockings" 9 in Switzerland. But Buonarroti's inner revolutionary organization seems never to have admitted women--apparently because of two problems that he identified: the congenital insolence of men (who treat them as "pieces of domestic furniture") and the inability of women to get along with each other under stress? Prati added his own more venal complaint that women in radical meetings were so unattractive as to cause "the most ardent lover of womankind to make an eternal vow of celibacy." x~ In England feminism proved a reformist rather than a revolutionary

The Role of Women

cause. The movement for women's suffrage had begun as early as x8IS--x9. The original version of the People's Charter called for universal adult suffrage, which was only later revised to manhood suffrage,x2 English feminism, like American, moved in the bourgeois mainstream in pursuit of the vote and rarely attached itseft to socialism as an ideology or to the proletariat as a class? In France, however, a truly revolutionary feminism became a major force between the revolutions of x83o and x848. The realm of politics and power was still a man's world, but the advent of women into journalism brought more ranging moral concerns about society as a whole and a new strain of pacifistic internationalism. Women helped extend horizons beyond the often narrow political perspectives of earlier allmale conspiracies to broader visions of a transformed humanity. The ever-ingenious Saint-Simonians led the way by proclaiming that the coming social revolution would be led by a feminine messiah. Disillusioned with the purely political Revolution of x83o and with their own failure to establish a new society in Paris under "Father Enfantin" in x832 ("the year of the father"), a large group of Saint-Simonians proclaimed x833 "the year of the mother," named themselves les compagnons de la Femme/4 and set off to the East in search of a female saviour. Their leader, Barrault, proclaimed himself the "Saint Peter of the Feminine Messiah" and saw favorable omens in volcanic eruptions, the appearance of Halley's Comet, and the death of Napoleon II (presumably the last possible male messiah). Barrault addressed an appeal To Jewish Women, hailing them for rejecting the idea of a male messiah and producing instead the "bankers of kings" and "the industrial and political link among peoples." Against his belief that the Jews might produce the new feminine messiah, another Saint-Simonian argued that India produced more sensuous goddesses and a more truly "androgynous God" than Jewish "male authoritarianism." x5 There was a kernel of deep seriousness in all of this. The idea that androgyny (the state of Adam before the fall) was the only truly liberated human condition had, since Boehme, been a central concept within the occult tradition. The romantic preoccupation with overcornLng "alienation" led some beyond the social dimension into questions about the basic, biological alienation of one sex from another. Androgyny appeared both as the goal of humanity and the key to immortality in Enfantin's last work, La Vie Eternelle of x86i.~6 Fourier believed that social renovation required the harmonizing of i2 basic passions and 8io "principal characters" created by their interplay. Even many who did not entertain his kind of fantasies were intrigued by his concept of total liberation and of gratifying the passions in gourmet phalansteries. Emancipation of women from their limited, familial roles was a particularly pleasing aspect of his system; and the term "feminism" was apparently introduced by Fourier? The Saint-Simonians argued that a man and woman together (le couple pr~tre) should replace the individual as the basic unit of society to insure both equality between the sexes and sociability within so-

486 THE Rxsv. OF THE SOCIAL REVOLUTIONARIES

ciety? Building a new type of family was for them a prerequisite for renovating society. With the failure both of the political Revolution of x83o and of their own mass propaganda campaign of I83x, the radical Saint-Simonians thought that women no less than workers might provide new messages of liberation. Among the feminine converts for creating a new "family" was an orphaned proletarian girl, Suzanne Voilquin, who joined (together with her husband, sister, and brother-in-law) the journal of women workers, La Fernrne Libre. Because the title lent itself to ridicule, she soon changed it to La Fernrne de l'Avenir and then La Fernrne Nouvelle, ou Tribune Libre des Fernrnes. But these journals failed, as did the journey East in search of a feminine messiah? This voyage to the East may seem in retrospect either a comic fantasy or a pathetic reprise on Napoleon I's expedition to Egypt. It did, nevertheless, direct Saint-Simonians to the land that eventually built a monument to their belief in reshaping the water routes of the world: the Suez Canal. Moreover, their adventures did lead to a feminine messiah of sorts. For en route to the East, Barrault met and converted to the new Saint-Simonian doctrine a then-obscure twenty-five-year-old second mate on the ship, Giuseppe Garibaldi.a He was destined to become not only one of the most successful revolutionaries of the century--but one of the most deeply dependent on a woman. In x839, after many more ocean voyages and several years of revolutionary freebooting in Uruguay and Brazil, Garibaldi suddenly lost his Italian comrades in a shipwreck and drifted desolately off the coast of Brazil. According to his own testimony, he resolved to find a woman as his only hope, spied through his ship's telescope a magnificently athletic creole, went ashore to tell her "you must be mine," and brought her back on board,al Whatever the exact truth of the story, there is no doubt that Anita, his "Brazilian Amazon," saved him from ruin. Throughout the next decade she was inseparably at his side even during long horseback rides and hard fighting, until she died in I849 outside Rome amidst the collapse of the revolutionary republic they had briefly established there. The newly active women of France in the early nineteenth century were neither revolutionaries nor messiahs: no longer dames but not yet citoyennes. If men had celebrated their revolutionary opposition to the aristocracy sartorially by becoming sans-culottes, some women now also began to defy bourgeois convention by assuming male dress,aa Journals for women slowly moved from fashion and gossip to social satire and reform. Saint-Simonian feminists disrupted a speech by Robert Owen in Paris in x837 in a manner foreshadowing later internal protests within the Left against "male chauvinism." The young woman who denounced the absence of women from Owen's podium was challenging the identification of radical social reform with the arid rationalism and exclusively masculine organization of Owen's principal host, C6sar Moreau, founder of the Soci6t6 de Statistique Universelie and editor of L'Univers Maqonnique ?

The Role o[ Women 487 The most important new aspect of social ferment attributable largely to women was a passion for pacifism and nonviolence. Delphine Gay and George Sand collaborated in a campaign for the abolition "of all violent penalties, and the suppression of wars" in the moderate Christian Journal des Fernroes, which began appearing in x832. Eug6nie Niboyet, the editor of several journals for women and a leading feminist in Paris, founded in Lyon the first pacifist periodical: La Paix des Deux Mondes? The entrance of women into revolutionary activity was directly related to the emergence of a social revolutionary tradition as a rival to nationalism. However colorful the example of Anita Garibaldi, women played almost no role in the Italo-Polish national revolutionary movements. Of the 5,472 Polish 6migr6s registered in France in I839, almost all were revolutionary nationalists and less than two hundred were women? The most remarkable new prophet of pacifism and antinationalism in the pre-x848 period was another Latin American who came closer than Anita Garibaldi to filling the role of a female messiah: Flora Tristan y Moscozo. The daughter of a Peruvian aristocrat allegedly descended from Montezuma and the future grandmother of Gauguin, Tristan was the first to conceive of a truly denationalized class solidarity among the proletariat? At the conclusion of the physical and spiritual wanderings amply recited in her Peregrinations of a Pariah, Tristan joined together in the x84os the causes of women and workers, the two "pariahs" of the modern world.a? After leaving her husband, who had nearly murdered her, and reverting to her maiden name, Tristan went to London. Horrified by its poverty and inhumanity, she called it "the monster city" (La VilIe Monstre)? She went everywhere, from the House of Lords (whose allmale premises she entered disguised as a Turk) a9 to the famous lunatic asylum of Bedlam, on a visit to which she appears to have acquired her sense of a messianic calling. SO Tristan toured France seeking adherents for her projected Union Ouvri~re, gained the collaboration of George Sand, and corresponded with German journalists about her idea of a "universal union" of workers? She associated the term proletariat not only with the economic category of propertyless workers, but also with the moral mission of saving humanity from all its divisions--including those between the sexes. The hero of her truly fantastic socialist novel, Mdphis or the Proletarian, was a rich banker who simultaneously comes under the spell of a feminine messiah and declares himseft a proletarian.aa Tristan remained florid in fantasy tfil her death early in I844. She contended that Christ's second coming would be far more cheerful than his first, since he would no longer be single but accompanied by a femrae-guide,as She also argued that the three persons of the Trinity should in the coming socialist age be represented as Father, Mother, and Embryo? Her last book was written together with the occultist Abb6 Constant, as she immersed herself in a bizarre subculture of mystical feminists

488 Tim RiSE OF Tim SOCIAL REVOLUTIONARIES

under the influence of his The Assumption of the Woman? The most fantastic were the "fusionists," who proclaimed the Feast of the Assumption in the year I838 as the "first day of the year Evada. h," in which a new androgynous species (recombining Eve with Adam, as the name indicates) would begin transforming the Earth. Speaking as /e Mapah (the combination of mama and papa), the prolific author of this fanciful cult persisted in his beliefs, later proclaiming I845 as "the year one of the paraclete." :~6 The Saint-Simonian D'Eichtal argued that the doctrine of the trinity was in reality "une haute formule ZOOLOCIQUV? for harmonizing all earthly conflict. The "male" white race and the "female" black race were to generate "the new mulatto humanity.., still in the cradle." a7 Flora Tristan contributed to "the emancipation of women"--the subject of her first book and title of her last one.aa But her real importance-and that of the new women journalists of the I84os generally-lay in their infecting the broader socialist movement with distinctive concerns that properly reflect (in part at least) their sex: a commitment to nonviolence, an internationalist opposition to any purely national revolution, and a special sympathy for the forgotten, "invisible" sufferers of the new industrial society: prisoners, mental patients, and victims of religious and racial discrimination? In her last year, she gained ten thousand signatures for her petition to free the blacks? Having once been shot by her imperious and incestuous husband, Tristan felt that women had to play a central role in the coming social struggle to preserve nonviolence as "intellectual power succeeds brute force" 4x in human affairs. In America, the cause of women's rights was also often linked with that of Negro rights and of nonviolence? Oberlin College, which pioneered the admission of blacks on an equal basis with whites, also became in x84i the first to graduate women. The two causes were blended together in a remarkable American contemporary and counterpart of Flora Tristan: Frances Wright. She was the rarest of all phenomena: a dedicated revolutionary in a prosperous, post-revolutionary society. The daughter of a wealthy Scottish merchant, Frances (Fanny) Wright published in London in i82i, Views of Society and Manners in America, which inspired revolutionaries throughout Europe during the Restoration era and led to an intimate, lifelong contact with the sixty-sevenyear-old Marquis de Lafayette. On their first meeting, he paid tribute to her writings about the American Revolution:

You have made me live those days over again .... We were an army of brothers; we had all things in common, our pleasures, our pains, our money, and our poverty.4a

Her hopes mingled with his memories. She moved in for long periods into the room underneath his in his estate at La Grange. America was, in Wright's words, "our utopia"; 44 and their shared belief in the perfection of the New World formed the basis of a "friendship of no ordinary character" 45 between them. Repeatedly rumored to be his

The Role of Women 489

mistress, she tried in fact to become his adopted daughter. After returning to London, she corresponded with him incessantly (often in cypher) throughout the era of Carbonafl intrigues. She accompanied him to America in September x824, remained with him throughout most of his long, triumphal tour, and returned to France for five years of renewed association in the revolutionary summer of x83o. A handsome woman nearly six feet tall, Fanny Wright often appeared in white, toga-like attire. She gave her friends names from antiquity (Jeremy Bentham was "Socrates"), and became herself a kind of classical goddess for many young revolutionaries. She acted as companion and consoler to the Irish martyr Wolfe Tone in New York, the Italian General Pepe in London, and an unidentified lover known only in her correspondence by the revolutionary pseudonym of Eugene? In the second half of the x82os, Fanny Wright attempted to put into effect a grandiose plan to free the American slaves by integrating blacks into a new type of egalitarian community: new plantations that would be converted into productive OwenRe settlements. Working closely with the son of Robert Owen (and attempting to enlist the widow of Shelley), she set up a pilot multi-racial community first in Nashoba, Tennessee, and then in the main OwenRe settlement of New Harmony, Indiana. On July 4, I8~8, she became the first woman in the New World to deliver the main address in a large public celebration of this national holiday? She became an ardent Jacksonlan and moved to Philadelphia amidst the gathering labor turmoil which saw the establishment of the first labor paper in history, the Mechanics' Free Press, in x828. In New York City she founded a radical propaganda society, the Free Enquirers, that celebrated Thomas Paine's birthday as its major event and established branches in other cities, partly on the Carbonafl model? Still preoccupied with the racial question, she set off to Haiti with a group of blacks and a radical French printer and educator, Guillaume Sylvain Casimir Phiquepal D'Arusmont, whom she married in x83z after becoming pregnant. In I83o, first elated, then soon disillusioned by the July Revolution in France, she concluded that only in America could the final, universal revolution be realized. She Saw it as atheistic, egalitarian, and anarchistic. In the final seventeen years of her life after her return to America in x835, she bought the Cincinnati home of the anarchist Josiah Warren, and championed "the ridden people of the earth" against "the 'booted and spurred' riders." She became increasingly apocalyptical as the radical tide receded in post-Jacksonian America. On the eve of x848, she predicted that America was on the verge of a new "fourth age" of humanity. Christianity, "the religion of kings" had given way to feudalism, which was replaced in America first by "the Banking and Funding System" and now by a totally secular religion of the people? A radical conception of the role of women was central to her revolutionary teaching. She had taken Lafayette in I824 to hear the pioneer of women's education, Emma Willard, in Troy, New York; and she was so opposed to the use of the male term "brotherhood" that she changed

49

THE RiSE OF THE SOCIAL REVOLUTIONARIES

the classic revolutionary slogan of "liberty, equality, fraternity" into "liberty, equality and altruism." 5o But she made enemies by advocating that children be removed from their parents at the age of two and placed in publicly supported schools that would inculcate egalitarian ideas. Her opposition to the institution of the family and to all organized religion put her at odds even with the radical abolitionists; and her desire rapidly to mix the races into a new, uniformly mulatto population activated racist sentiment. She died largely forgotten in x852. The milestones in women's emancipation in the Anglo-American world had passed her by: the beginning of the women's suffrage movement at the Anti-Slavery Convention in London of June x84o, and the first convention on women's rights summoned by the Society of Friends in western New York in the summer of x848.~ It was in Europe, not America or Great Britain, that feminism became linked with revolution.~2 Fanny Wright had first been attracted to the revolutionary cause by reading a history of the American Revolution written by an Italian, who had projected onto the American experience his own hopes for Italian national liberation.53 The grande dame of radical feminism in New England, Margaret Fuller of Brook Farm, became a true revolutionary only in Italy, where she was swept into the Revolution of I848 after visiting France and George Sand in I847.54 The European upheaval of x848-49 produced a host of new feminist journals, many with revolutionary positions. The first women's daily in France, La Voix des Fernroes, appeared in March x848 as a "socialist and political journal"; and was followed by La Fernroe Libre, La R~publique des Fernroes (which published La Marseillaise des Fernroes in its first issue),55 and La Politique des Fernroes (a journal of workingclass women which soon changed its name to L'Opinion des Fernroes). A remarkable group of young women demonstrated under the banner V~suviennes in March, issued a Manifeste des V~suviennes in April, and proceeded to set up an egalitarian female commune in Belleville, where the original Communist Banquet had been held.56 But women's liberation was still far away. Ribald journals ridiculed women's demands,5~ and most revolutionaries remai~d patronizingly indifferent to the "lady Vesuviuses." Delphine Gay complained that the cry "long live the provisional government [" was equated with "long live the provisional ladies 1" 5s Women played a leading role throughout the i84os in glorifying the art forms of ordinary workers and peasants, proclaiming that, in the present era, "the creative role in poetry belongs to the proletariat, to the people." 59 This literary populism which swept through Europe in the x84os owes its deepest debt to the most influential woman of her age, one of the few who dared wear men's clothes and adopt a man's name, George Sand. Almost singlehandedly she turned the serialized novel into seductive socialist propaganda. Beginning with her Spiridon of x838, written under the influence of Lamennais, she flooded France with a new kind of fiction, which challenged both the historical novel of Stendahl and the realistic novel of Balzac. She purported to depict

The Role of Women

man not as he was or is, but "as I wish he were, as I believe he shall be"; 60 and she fired the revolutionary imagination of the x84os by identifying this ideal with peasant and proletarian in a romantic, almost sensuous manner. But Sand faded away as a revolutionary voice after the failures of x848. The Second Empire of Napoleon III proved even more aggressively masculine in spirit than the First Empire of Napoleon Bonaparte. Women played a major role in the Paris Commune. The forces of the Right, which attacked with special vehemence in their propaganda les p~troleuses, the "women incendiaries" who allegedly set fire to Paris, arraigned more than one thousand women in the repression that followed? A first sign that Russian women were to take away the leadership role of revolutionary womanhood from the French may be detected in the dominant role assumed by Russian 6migr6es in the two principal women's organizations in the Commune, the Union of Women and the Montmartre Women's Vigilance Committee? One final female leader of the French revolutionary tradition arose from the martyrdom of the Paris Commune: Louise Michel. She reasserted with new intensity the characteristic Sand-Tristan themes of internationalism and pacifism. Variously known as la Vierge rouge, la sainte la~que, and la tiarame rdvolutionnaire,6S she was as inflammatory in speech as she was demure in appearance. Perennially dressed in black with a high white collar, she defended herself eloquently at the trial of communards, endured prison in New Caledonia, and returned to become the uncompromising apostle of the anarcho-syndicalist dream of la grande grbve? Michel was one of those leaders who belonged to no party "but to the Revolution as a whole." 65 By the turn of the century she was perhaps the most passionate and outspoken foe of militarism in Europe. Denied a visa by the United States and expelled from Belgium, the very suggestion that she might venture abroad anywhere unleashed a flood of protests and appeals to the Quai flOrsay? She spoke eloquently on questions that revolutionaries usually avoided. After nearly dying early in I9o4, she outlined a revolutionary attitude towards death before a large audience in Paris. She lent beauty to revolutionary atheism, describing death as a mere "incorporation into the elements," a radiation outward from the body of aromas and colors, a return to the simplicity that she remembered in New Caledonia after a typhoon. The complexities of human language would simply disappear; and a simple song "composed by a nihilist" would fill the air and enable one to descend into "the hole of shadows . . . beating back with one's arms the walls of an abyss." 67 As if to parody the purity of such faith, the various revolutionary factions in France quarreled bitterly over the right to dispose of her body when she died in Marseilles on January 9, x9o5. Anarchists vied for her remains with Rochefort, the former revolutionary journalist who had supported her financially even after his turn to reactionary nationalism. Her funeral was the largest popular procession in France since the

THE RISE OF THE SOCIAL REVOLUTIONARIES

burial of Victor Hugo twenty years earlier? As her body was lowered into the grave, the cry rang out, "Long live the Russian revolutionl Long live anarchyI" 69 On the very day of her burial, the Russian Revolution of x9o5 had broken out. It was a revolution she had predicted just before her death? and was led by a movement in which women played a more central role than they ever had in France.

The Russians

The example of George Sand helped implant within Russia the revolutionary consciousness that prepared the way for I9o5 and x917. The two greatest writers who participated in the pioneering socialist circles of the I84os in Russia, Dostoevsky and Saltykov, both considered Sand a leading force in activating their social consciousness and one of the supreme personalities of the century.7~ Had she lived beyond her premature death in x842, Elena Hahn, a novelist and early advocate of women's rights, might have been the Russian George Sand? Had Konarski's revolutionary network in western Russia not been destroyed in x839, the organizer of its special women's circles, Ewa Felinska, might have become the Russian Flora Tristan? Had the Russia of Nicholas I not turned repressive in its later years, it might have imbibed the revolutionary feminism of Suzanne Voilquin and other SaintSimonians who moved from Egypt to Russia in the late x83os, bringing with them the vague idea that Nefertiti and Cleopatra provided models for the new feminism.TM Most influential of all in the x84os was Herzen's novel in imitation of George Sand about an illegitimate Russian girl in which the cause of female liberation was linked to that of liberating the serfs? Under the more liberal rule of Alexander II, the role of women and the women's question became centrally important to the Russian revolutionary tradition. The young seized on the issue of women's rights in part because of the unusually subordinate position historically assigned to women in Muscovite society. Here also was an issue that directly, emotionaUy affected university students themselves newly released from the social and doctrinal rigidities of a seminary-based secondary school and anxious to break with the matriarchal dominance and patriarchal discipline of the traditional Russian family. The greatly increased university population of the early x86os sought a new communal ethic and life-style that would provide both social justice and sexual satisfaction. Whatever their individual motives, the new generation as a whole adopted women's rights as perhaps its main social cause during the period between the emancipation of the serfs in x86x and the discovery

The Role o[ Women 493

of the urban proletariat about a decade later. Chernyshevsky provided an ascetic model of the "new woman" as well as the "new man" in his What is to be done ? ?a Mikhailov, who had preceded Chernyskevsky as a martyr in the sixties, made his radical reputation as an apostle of women's liberation. Influenced by Saint-Simonians whom he visited in Paris, Mikhallov terrified church officials even in distant Siberia with his proposals to "take away the bridle from women." 77 He exemplified the new ethics by living in a rainage ~ trois with Nicholas Shelgunov and his wife (who bore Mikhailov a child), and by accepting guilt as sole author of the proclamation To the Younger Generation--saving the principal author, Shelgunov, from imprisonment? Nicholas Mikhailovsky, the most influential populist journalist inside Russia throughout the final third of the nineteenth century, also cut his polemic teeth on this issue. From his first three published articles as a boy of seventeen in I86o to his laudatory preface of I869 to John Stuart Mill's Rights of Women, Mikhailovsky devoted much of his energies to the cause of women.79 Woman's Herald, printed in St. Petersburg during x86o-68, the last and most radical feminist journal of the ~86os, attracted contributions from influential writers like Lavrov and the novelist Gleb Uspensky, who were to dominate the populist era. Russia in I869-7o followed England by just a few months in pioneering the admission of women to advanced study in its major universities.so Female students proceeded to play a major role in the intensified radical agitation of the early seventies. In Ziirich, the major center of Russian study abroad, zo3 of the I53 students at the university were women? So central to the budding revolutionary movement were the new women's groups (from the women's club for logical speech to the Fritschi group, named for their baffled Swiss landlady) 82 that the alarmed Russian government in December I873, ordered all women students to return from Zfirich by the end of the year. The male minority demonstrated their solidarity with the women by returning also; and the women reciprocated by participating in both the movement to the people of ~874 and the subsequent turn to terrorism. Almost every dramatic moment of the ~87os produced the heroic example of a young woman. Vera Zasulich, a typesetter in St. Petersburg, opened the campaign of political terror by shooting the police chief of St. Petersburg in January z878. When she gained acquittal by her courtroom oratory, she provided a successful model for turning the criminal trial of a would-be assassin into the political trial of the intended victim. The final plans for the successful assassination of Tsar Alexander II on March i, i88~, were supervised by a frail twenty-six-year-old blonde, Sophia Perovskaya. Another female conspirator, Gesya Hellman, provided the major human interest of the trial (and gained the only reprieve from the gallows) when it became known that she was pregnant. A male revolutionary observed that "women are more cruel than we men"; ss and this tended to be true in fantasy as well as in fact. The

494 THE RISE OF THE SOCIAL REVOLUTIONARIES

women's choral cry of "Death] Death[" provided both the orgiastic musical climax and the murderous message of the mob in the final "revolutionary scene" in the Kromi forest of Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov. In the atmosphere of reaction under the new Tsar Alexander III, yet another woman named Faith (Russian Vera) kept alive the revolutionary faith. Vera Figncr played the leading role within Russia in preserving for much of the decade a vestige of the old People's Will organization, her memoirs providing one of the best human chronicles of the movement? Maria Oshanina, the third woman veteran (along with Perovskaya and Figncr) of the executive committee of the People's Will, was a leading Jacobin centralizer and major transmitter of conspiratorial ideas to the new revolutionary movements of the i89os,s5 Though often mistresses to the young revolutionaries, women were also often mother figures. Alexandra Weber, for instance, provided maternal care and companionship successively to each of the two rival leaders in the revolutionary emigration of the x87os: nursing Bakunin in his last years, then serving as the intimate confidante of Lavrov.s6 Inside Russia, the illegal press of the original Land and Liberty organization, which defied police detection for four years in the early x86os, was housed in the flat of an elderly woman nicknamed "Mother of God." Revolutionaries recalled entering her premises "with the sense of awe experienced by the faithful crossing the threshold of a temple." s? Such images were not simply a figure of speech; the revolutionary tradition was influenced here by Russian sectarian religion, often centered on a female leader known as a "Mother of God." Land and Liberty published a special journal for religious dissenters and gave itseft the coded designation Akulina, from a female saint whose name was used both by a famous sectarian prophetess and by the flagellant sect that went to the extreme of self-castration.SS Women tended to be more revolutionary than feminist in Russia. They unhesitatingly used femininity for revolutionary purposes--arranging a fictitious marriage to provide conspiratorial cover, hiding a revolver in a muff, stuffing a detonator in a corset? The distinctive role of women in the Russian movement was to purify and intensify terror, not to articulate ideas? Thus women took the lead in sustaining the terrorist tradition after the destruction of the People's Will organization (about half of the sentences to life at hard labor in the I88os were imposed on women)91 and in reviving that tradition in the early twentieth century. One third of the members of the "fighting organization" of x9o2-Io, which gave the Socialist Revolutionary party moral and numerical leadership among Russian revolutionaries, were women? These women viewed revived revoluionary violence not so much as a calculated political tactic, but rather as an expression of "the urge for moral wholeness." 9a They often displayed an "almost reverent" attitude towards the terroristic act? After the Revolution of I9o5, women played leading roles in both the Maximalist pursuit of terrorist raids and plans (often altogether outside the discipline of the Socialist Revolutionary party) and in the

The Role of Women

495

deepening self-criticism among terrorists in Siberian prison and exile? One key Maximalist, appropriately the great-granddaughter of a Decembrist, described this process of re-examination in Siberia as an intensiftcation of commitment rather than an examination of tactics. Everything the women had done "was again analyzed from the point of view of its purity." 96 This passion for purity fueled a growing desire among women revolutionaries to be the one to throw the bomb,97 to be sentenced to death? or even to immolate one's self in prison. As ff revertlng to the self-burning tradition of the Old Believers (where women, too, had played a leading role)?9 women terrorists in the populist-S.R. tradition used this awesome tactic to express the sincerity of their faith: Sofia Ginsburg in I89o, Maria Vetrova in x897, and Sofia Khrenkova, a village teacher and mother of three, in x9o8.1oo Fire was moving from the minds of men to the bodies of women. Their bodies like their faith were usually pure. Both forms of purity were sealed by the heroic act of martyrdom, which lent to the words of women an authority that they could not otherwise easily command in Russian society. Terrorist women were generally selective, restrained, and even selfsacrificial in their use of violence. Evstoliia Rogozinnikova, a twentyone-year-old scholarship student at the St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music, apparently used her beautiful figure--heavily perfumed in an elegant black dress--to gain entry into the main prison administration in St. Petersburg, where she shot the director. She was forcibly prevented from carrying out her original intention of blowing up the entire building by detonating the thirteen pounds of high explosives that she had packed into her bodice and used to enhance her bust.~o~ As she was executed three clays later in St. Petersburg, new Joans-ofArc began to appear in the provinces, lending compelling moral authority to the belief in social revolution during this darkest period of reaction. Sincere young girls repeatedly faced old male judges after assaulting their all-male targets. Yet they continued to win the battle for the hearts and minds of men as well as women not just by their courtroom testimony, but by gladly going to die "as one would to a holiday festivity." ~o2 A peasant girl terrorist was typical as well as prophetic, when she proclaimed in a Kiev courtroom in I9o8 just before killing herself that "our death, like a hot flame, will ignite many hearts." los

The Germans

Turning from martyrs to leaders, one moves from largely noble Russian women, who were in many ways the purified final embodiment of the Russian intelligentsia?4 to more hardheaded German women

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