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Journal of Women's History 13.2 (2001) 190-200

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Women Agitating Internationally for Change

Margaret Strobel

Barbara Evans Clements. Bolshevik Women. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. xiv + 338 pp.; ill. ISBN 0-521-45403-4 (cl); 0-521-59920-2 (pb).

Cheryl Johnson-Odim and Nina Mba. For Women and the Nation: Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti of Nigeria. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997. xvi + 198 pp.; ill. ISBN 0-252-02313-7 (cl); 0-252-06613-8 (pb).

Temma Kaplan. Crazy for Democracy: Women in Grassroots Movements. New York: Routledge, 1997. x + 243 pp. ISBN 0-415-91662-3 (cl); 0-415-91663-1 (pb).

Vera Mackie. Creating Socialist Women in Japan: Gender, Labour, and Activism, 1900-1937. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. ix + 252 pp.; ill. ISBN 0-521-55137-4 (cl).

Although these four books range over four continents and more than one hundred years, they address similar issues: the possibilities and problems of cross-class organizing among women, the relationships of women's issues and organizing to movements that are not gender specific (e.g., class struggle, nationalism, environmentalism, and human rights), the importance of grassroots organizing, the existence of international linkages, and the reality of state repression. Each book anchors the analysis of political theory, strategy, and tactics in the lives and struggles of individual women. In the process, we not only learn about the unique complexity of particular historical periods, places, and forces, but we also encounter remarkable women making history.

Barbara Evans Clements focuses on Bolshevichki, women who joined the Russian Communist Party before 1921 and made up about 10 percent of its pre-1921 ranks. This is an impressive group; in the early twentieth century, Russia had more radical women than anywhere in Europe. Drawing upon both biographical and statistical information, Clements examines the ideas, activities, political careers, and motivations of individuals, while drawing conclusions about the fate of women and women's issues through the beginning of Stalin's regime. She is interested in the different experiences of women who came of age in the 1890s and those who joined the party after the 1917 Revolution, which ousted the tsar and established [End Page 190] the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Clements has biographical information on 318 women, over 10 percent of the total 2,500 women in the party before 1917; she also has such information on 227 (out of 30,000) women who joined the party during the Civil War period between 1918 and 1921 when the Bolsheviks fought to consolidate the revolution and their party's control of the government.

Using materials from biographies and documents on seven individual women, Clements traces their fates and activities to illuminate the opportunities and obstacles facing Bolshevik women; most of these individuals are unlikely to be known to nonspecialists. Inessa Armand organized women workers and then served as the first head of the Zhenotdel (Department for Work among Women) in 1919. She was the lover of Lenin, architect of the revolution, and leader of the Bolsheviks until his death in 1924. Evgeniia Bosh, a political and military leader in the Ukraine, resisted Lenin's centralizing tendencies and disagreed with his ideas about the potentially progressive aspects of nationalism. Konkordiia Samoilova published the newspaper Woman Worker, drawing upon her knowledge from organizing the growing number of women in factories. Elena Stasova, from a prominent intellectual family, served as administrative secretary, doubting her qualifications for the more important policy work that men took on; she was not rewarded for her loyalty to the party in the postrevolutionary jostling for position and influence that characterized the 1920s. In contrast, Rozalia Zemliachka was both loyal to Lenin and sufficiently ruthless; she was the only woman appointed by Stalin to the Council of the People's Commissars. Alexandra Artiukhina and Klavdiia Nokolaeva headed the Zhenotdel in the 1920s following Armand's death and Alexandra Kollantai's dismissal as its head; they occupied a more rank-and-file position and exerted less leadership than the other five women. Anchoring her narrative in these women's lives, Clements successfully personalizes...


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