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Nationalising Women on the Volga March 8, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback

  Beachcombing has been remiss in picking on the Soviet Union recently, his last efforts came in October of last year. However, yesterday’s post on Women Service sparked a memory within a memory and sent Beachcombing running to his book shelves. The work in question was Frederick Bailey’s brilliant Mission to Tashkent. Bailey – a British spy working in Tashkent in 1918 - proved to be the perfect commentator on the early Russian revolution having a natural British dislike for the illusion of change and the comic distance and bourgeois decency to go with it. Consider this following passage.

Mrs Stephanovitch was wearing a scarf over her head and carrying a straw hat in her hand. Curiously enough the police never even looked at this hat, and it was fortunate for her that they did not. The Soviet of Syzran, a town on the Volga, had issued a proclamation nationalising women. All the best and most beautiful women, the proclamation stated, belonged to the bourgeoisie, while the peasants and workers had to put up with the second best. Therefore all women were to be public property. This was too much for Lenin and the Bolsheviks at the centre, and the order was withdrawn and possession of even a copy was forbidden. It would have been dangerous propaganda against the Bolsheviks, especially abroad. Mrs Stephanovitch had a copy of the order in her hat…

Now Mrs Stephanovitch’s perfidious literature is not, the reader will be glad to know, noticed. And the gentlemanly Bailey vows never to put a woman’s life in danger again. But Beachcombing doesn’t care. He’s fixating on the Soviet of Syzran and their extraordinary decision, back in 1917 or 1918 [1919? see YL's comments below], to make Mrs Stephanovitch and her ilk public property. World history is made up of messianic beliefs that have been misinterpreted or that have morphed around the periphery. So go to Rome in the early seventh century and you would have been fed azymes as communion bread and you would have listened to a chanting priest. If you had gone, instead, though to the Pennines in north England you may have seen a bull sacrificed as the bread and wine transubstantiated… (Bede and some dodgy archaeology from Yeavering). The edges of the world, it is fair to say, do things differently. Ditto Desert Islam versus Nigerian Islam, Classical Buddhism versus Tibetan or Mongolian Buddhism. Surely the nationalizing of women is a twentieth-century equivalent? In Moscow they were collectivising corner shops, down on the Volga it was the fairer sex’s turn to become a state monopoly. But did it really happen? And if so what were the consequences? Beachcombing has been able to find no evidence other than this brief record in the work of a British imperialist. Modern web searches in the major western European languages keep bringing up the privatisation of women, Russian bride sites and the like. In fact, Beachcombing has spent most of the last half hour trying to clean his cookie cache to avoid any misunderstandings with Mrs B. Any further information or myth-busting would be gladly received: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

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8 March 2011: YL writes in, just a couple of hours after publication, with some useful Volga links: most are naturally in Russian. However, naval-history.net includes the actual text in English. It’s a cracker! YL writes: ‘Apparently, it was originally published by a local newspaper in Saratov, some way downstream from Syzran, and then spread around. Presumably, the Soviets have made enquiries into isolated reports of this ‘nationalisation’, which proved false – officially, in Lenin’s published works. There might be some publications in English (so-called proceedings of Denikin’s commission). In addition, there might be a reference in 1919 publications of US Senate, because an American citizen claimed this rumour to be true.’ Now the text itself: Beachcombing particularly enjoyed ‘Former husbands may retain the right of using their wives’ and  ‘[e]very man wishing to use a piece of public property should be bearer of certificate from Authoritative Committee of Workmen Soldiers and Peasants Council certifying that he belongs to a working class family’. Bolshevik Press Message – 30 Aug 1919, A decree is proclaimed by the association of Anarchists of the town of Savator in compliance with decisions of the Soviet of Peasants Soldiers and Workers deputies of Kronstadt. The private possession of women is abolished and social inequalities and legitimate marriage having been an instrument in the hands of the Bourgeoisie thanks to which all the best species of beautiful women have been the property of the Bourgeoisie. The proper continuation of human race has been presented and such arguments have induced the organization to issue the present decree. From March the 1st the right to possess women of the ages from 17 to 32 is abolished. The age of women shall be determined by birth certificates and passport. Failing to produce documents the age shall be determined by Committee which shall judge according to appearance. Former husbands may retain the right of using their wives. In case of resistance of husband he shall forfeit his right under former paragraph. All women according to this decree are exempted from private ownership and are proclaimed to be the property of the whole nation. The distribution and management of appropriated women in compliance with the decision of aforesaid organization are transferred to the Savator Anarchists Club from the date of publication of this decree. All women given by it to the use of the whole nation are obliged to represent themselves to a given representative and to supply the required information. A Special Committee is formed for realization of these decrees. Any citizen noticing any women not submitting herself to the address under the decree must make the fact known to the Anarchist Club giving name of woman. Men citizens have right to use one woman 3 times a week for 3 hours observing rules specified below. Every man wishing to use a piece of public property should be bearer of certificate from Authoritative Committee of Workmen Soldiers and Peasants Council certifying that he belongs to a working class family. Every working member is obliged to discount 2% of his earnings to the funds of the Public General Action. This Committee in charge will put these discount funds into state banks and other concerns handing down the funds to the population. Women when they become pregnant are released for three months before and one month after child birth. Children borne are given to a constitution for training after they are one month old, when they are to be trained and educated until they are 17 at the cost of the Public Funds. In case of birth of twins a mother is to receive a prize of £20. All citizens are obliged to watch themselves carefully and those who are guilty of spreading venereal disease will be held responsible and severely punished. Women having lost their health may apply to the Soviet for a pension. The Chief of the Anarchists will be in charge of the temporary measure relating to the decree. All refusing to recognise and support this decree will be proclaimed enemies of the people and country and will be held strictly responsible. Signed Councillor City of Savator. Huge thanks to YL and happy international woman’s day to all those ‘public pieces of property’ who happen to read this blog! Again though: is it true?