Since the early 1920s, following the Bolshevik Revolution, Clara Zetkin, the renowned German socialist, politician, and fighter for women's rights, argued that only communism provided complete emancipation for women because it brought equality both in theory and in practice. Zetkin used her periodical Die Kommunistische Fraueninternationale (The communist women's international) (1921-1925) to convince women of the virtues of joining Soviet Russia (later the Soviet Union) in worldwide revolution rather than succumbing to the empty promises of feminist movements in capitalist nations. From reports of International Women's Day celebrations to statistical reviews of the institutions established to aid working women, Die Kommunistische Fraueninternationale used the example of Soviet Russia to illustrate what life for women entailed in a country that had experienced a successful communist revolution. The Soviet model portrayed in Die Kommunistische Fraueninternationale was optimistic and illustrated what Zetkin anticipated her female readers dreamed for themselves. The periodical, thus, became a tool of communist propaganda to convince women that supporting international communism was the most effective path for obtaining equal economic and social rights with men.
Reflections of a
Marilyn J. Boxer
Today, to a historian of the relationship of European socialism to feminism, Mihaela Miroiu’s assertion that, despite the existence of ‘islands of feminism’ in communist regimes, there was no ‘communist feminism’ comes as no surprise. But in the heyday of the 1970s women’s liberation movement, very many feminists would have argued otherwise! Although the term ‘communist feminism’ itself was (and is) rarely heard, ‘socialist feminism’ exercised a powerful, formative influence in ‘the West’, as evidenced by the widespread admiration of testimony drawn from Mao’s China, Castro’s Cuba, and the USSR of Lenin and his successors.
From Biography to History
This article is an attempt to shed more light on the topic of state socialist feminism in Eastern Europe by focusing on part of the biography of one of the most visible women’s activists and political functionaries in Bulgaria and Eastern Europe after 1944, Tsola Dragoicheva. It should be considered as a contribution to the ongoing debate regarding the character of state socialist measures toward women and the “gender contract” in the countries of Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe between 1944 and 1989. It does not pretend, however, to cover and evaluate Dragoicheva’s entire life (or to agree with everything she did) or to create an exhaustive picture of state socialist measures toward women in Bulgaria (nor does it underestimate the significance of structured gender inequalities, which often remain unnoticed); rather, it discusses some facts and procedures dealing with “women’s issues” that researchers have only vaguely covered so far. The study is based on various archival materials from Bulgarian and international archives, and on the periodical press from the period under consideration, oral history interviews, and scholarly publications relevant to this topic. It is part of an ongoing project on Gendering Balkan Nation-States.