The February Russian Revolution began on March 8, according to the New Style calendar, and ironically coincided with International Women’s Day. Russia Direct features eight revolutionary women who made history.
Pictured: Inessa Armand, feminist and communist, figure of the revolutionary movement, Moscow, 1904. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The start of the Russian Revolution a hundred years ago coincided with International Women’s Day, March 8, according to New Style. Women played an important role in many revolutionary events. Here is a brief overview of some of the most famous figures of the revolutionary period.
1. Nadezhda Krupskaya was a committed Marxist and politician, best known as the wife of revolutionary Vladimir Lenin. She was born in a noble family to a military officer in St. Petersburg. During her studies at the Women’s Gymnasium, she joined several discussion clubs, where she later met Lenin. Impressed by his ideas, she decided to join him in his exile in Siberia in 1896.
Lenin and Krupskaya were married soon after arriving in Siberia, remaining lifelong professional partners rather than wife and husband in its traditional understanding. After their release, the couple moved to Geneva, where Krupskaya participated in the publication of a revolutionary newspaper iskraas an editor.
In April 1917, she and Lenin returned to Russia. After the Bolsheviks took control of the country, she was appointed to work under Anatoly Lunacharsky, the first Soviet People’s Commissar for Education, responsible for the campaign against adult illiteracy. She served as Soviet UnionDeputy Minister of Education for over ten years.
2. Inessa Armand was a feminist and communist, an important figure in the revolutionary movement and love of Lenin’s life. Inessa Armand was born into a family of artists in Paris. She was brought up in Moscow by her aunt and grandmother. At the age of nineteen, she married the son of a wealthy textile manufacturer. Armand and her husband shared revolutionary ideas and opened a school for peasant children in Moscow.
After being arrested for her political activity in 1907, she spent a year in exile in northern Russia. She managed to escape from exile in 1908 and flee to Paris, where she met Lenin. Charming, gifted in music, speaking several languages and truly passionate about Bolshevism, she quickly became his right arm.
It was Armand whom Lenin sent to organize the Bolsheviks campaign to elect his supporters to the Duma. After the October Revolution, Armand was director of Jenotdel, an organization that fought for equality for women in the Communist Party and trade unions. She also chaired the First International Conference of Communist Women. In 1920, Armand died of cholera at the age of forty-six.
3. Natalia Sedova was a revolutionary, best known for being the second wife of Leon Trotskya Marxist revolutionary and Soviet politician who led the transfer of all political power to the Soviets with the October Revolution of 1917, and the founding leader of the Red Army.
She comes from a wealthy merchant family and was educated in Russia. She met Trotsky in her early twenties in Paris at an art exhibition. She was a supporter of iskra newspaper and Trotsky was iskra‘s representative in London. Both took part in the Revolution of 1905.
During World War I, the Trotsky family traveled across Europe from Vienna to Paris and Zurich. Sedova and Trotsky returned to Russia in May 1917.
After the October Revolution, she obtained a post at the Commissariat for Education and was in charge of museums and ancient monuments. In 1929, Trotsky and his family were expelled from the Soviet Union and fled to Mexico City.
After her husband’s death in 1940, Sedova moved to Paris and maintained contact with many exiled revolutionaries. His best-known work in recent years is a biography of Trotsky.
4. Alexandra Kollontai was a Russian revolutionary, statesman and diplomat, and the first woman to hold the post of minister in the country’s history. Thanks to her political activity, women in Russia acquired rights de jure.
She was born in Ukraine, but grew up in St. Petersburg. After an early marriage and separation from her husband, she worked for a number of educational associations. She acquired a historical education in Zurich and lived for several years in Finland. In 1915, Kollontai joined the Bolsheviks and returned to Russia, where she was quickly appointed Commissar for Social Affairs.
She has conducted major studies on the state of women’s rights in Russia and initiated reforms promoting equality between men and women. During Stalin’s time, Kollantai was a Soviet diplomat in Norway, Mexico and Sweden.
5. Larissa Reisner was described by some contemporaries as the “Valkyrie of the Russian Revolution“. She served as the prototype for the typical image of the revolutionary woman in art.
Born in Poland, she comes from a family of law professors. After graduating from St. Petersburg, Reisner began his literary career. She was published in an anti-war literary journal “Rudin”, and after the February Revolution worked for the journal of Russian writer Maxim Gorky. Novaya Jizn.
In 1917, while working at the Smolny Institute as Lunacharsky’s secretary, she took part in the preservation of artistic monuments. After joining the Bolshevik Party, Reisner had a career unlike any other for a woman – she became a military politician. In 1919 he served as a commissar at the headquarters of the Naval Staff in Moscow.
In October 1923, she went to Germany to be a direct witness of the Revolution and to write collections of articles, which were then published under the names “Berlin, October 1923” and “Hamburg at the barricades”. While in Germany, she had become an international revolutionary Karl Radeckis the mistress. Three years later, Reisner died in Moscow in 1926. She was only 30 years old.
6. Sofia Panina was the daughter of a wealthy industrialist and one of Russia’s first feminists. She was the first woman to serve in the Cabinet of Ministers when she became Deputy Minister of State Charity in the Provisional Government, then Deputy Minister of Public Education. She is famous for her participation in the liberal movement and for her charitable initiatives.
Panina was born and educated in Moscow. In her early twenties, she set up a free canteen for poor schoolchildren from a working-class district of Saint Petersburg. Panina also established the Ligovsky People’s House for working-class residents.
It was only after the Revolution that she began her political career in the Duma of Saint Petersburg. She did not admire autocracy and even called herself the “Red Countess”. As a member of the Provisional Government, she refused to pass on the heritage of the Ministry of Cultural Education to the Bolsheviks.
Panina was tried by the Revolutionary Tribunal of Petrograd Sovietbut received a merciful retribution – just public censure. In 1918, she joined General Anton Denikin in southern Russia, but after several years she had to flee to America, where she played a leading role in organizing the foundation of Russian classical writer Leo Tolstoy.
7. Vera Zasulich was a Russian Menshevik writer and revolutionary. Zasulich was born near Smolensk in a family of an impoverished nobleman. After graduating from high school, she moved to St. Petersburg, where she began literacy classes for factory workers.
In the 1870s, she joined Bakunin and his anarchist movement. This was the time when Zasulich and a group of anarchists were planning the assassination of Colonel Fedor Trepov, governor of Saint Petersburg. Zasulich seriously injured Trepov and managed to escape to Europe before being arrested. She returned to Russia after the Revolution of 1905 to join Russian revolutionary Georgy Plekhanov and his Yedinstvo movement.
Zasulich took part in the October Revolution of 1917, but supported the side opposed to Lenin, whom she knew from her time with iskra newspaper. Zasulich died shortly after the Revolution, in 1919.
8. Rosalia Zemlyashka was a Russian revolutionary of Jewish descent, a Soviet politician and stateswoman. Some called him the “Demon” and the “Red Terror Fury”. She was also the first woman to be awarded the Order of the Red Banner.
Born into a family of wealthy merchants, she spent her early years in kyiv, where she acquired an excellent medical education. During her studies, she became involved in revolutionary activities.
She was also involved in the organization of the First Russian Revolution and the February Revolution. In 1917, Zemlyachka even commanded an armed demonstration of workers in Moscow.
After the Revolution, she served as secretary of the Crimean Regional Committee. Together with Bela Kun, Zemlyachka became famous as one of the organizers of the Red Terror in Crimea against former White Army soldiers in 1920-1921. She died in 1947 and was buried in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis in Red Square.
Alina Safronova is the editor-in-chief of foreign literature at the Centrepolygraph publishers, a book translator and a contributor to the Moscow Times. She holds a degree in journalism from Lomonosov Moscow State University. Alina currently lives in Moscow.