By Mary McGregor
‘The inequality of the two before the law, which is a legacy of previous social conditions, is not the cause but the effect of the economic oppression of women.’ Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State.
Such was the significance of the October Revolution for women’s lives – most directly in Russia but also internationally (think, for example, of Sylvia Pankhurst – invited to Russia by Lenin in 1918 – and the inspiration the Bolshevik victory lent to her work with working class women in London’s east end, her involvement in the early Communist Party and in the anti-colonial struggle) that it cannot be entirely obliterated from officially permitted history. Hence an exhibition at the British Library records something of the role of women in Russian progressive politics and directly in the Bolshevik struggle. Most importantly, it hints at how women’s social, political and economic position improved or declined along with the arc of the revolutionary process itself.