My study is about two Georgian feminists active in the 1910s. They were involved with leftist parties which dominated Georgia and Russia in those years. However, they had to face patriarchal barriers and their relations with male political and revolutionary figures were uneasy. Then, after the Sovietisation of Georgia, in the 1920s they gained new unlikely identities of writers or poetesses and became marginalized as political subjects. In my presentation I will try: 1. to sum up the problems these women faced and how their agency was acted out; 2. to talk about their fate in the history and reasons of their marginalization.
Introduction and Methodology
My study isn’t about the Russian Revolution, but I would say that it is constructed around the Russian Revolution. The Revolution and the pre-revolutionary period is the context, in which I study the activities of two Georgian feminists - Kato Mikeladze (1877-1943) and Nino Tkeshelashvili (1874-1956). These women were politically active in the 1910s. The questions I try to answer in this research are the following: How did these Georgian women/feminist try to realize themselves as political subjects? how did their efforts play out in their contemporary political context? What was the development of these women’s fates and identities after the Russian Revolution, in the Soviet Union?
For this study I used interdisciplinary methodology combining: the theoretical meaning and elements of gender as a category of historical analysis (according to Joan Scott); the approach of the dual systems theory (theory of Heidi Hartmann); the method of qualitative content analysis; the theory, method and practice of archive work.
I will also briefly tell you about the Georgian context in the beginning of the 20th century and why I chose this particular women for my study. In that period Georgia was part of the Russian empire. Then the Georgian society became actively involved in the revolutionary movement in the Russian Empire in 1905-1907. The activities came from various strata of society such as workers, teachers and students. However, the special part was played by the peasant revolts and their organizing of autonomous self-governance (this was particularly prominent in the region of Guria). At the same time, Georgian left-wing parties, including the Social-Democratic Party, Socialist-Federalist Party and others were engaged in active public work. Then the February Revolution created the need of autonomous governance in Georgia. This endeavor was led by the most influential political party of the time, the Social-Democrats. The October Revolution was denounced by the political parties of the South Caucasus and they decided to continue independent governance. This was followed by the declaration of independence of Georgia on 26 May, 1918. The Georgian government was struggling for its own national policies till the February 1921 while Georgia was invaded and occupied by the Soviet army (A. Surguladze and P. Surguladze 1991).
In general this period was determined by domination of leftist ideas, revolutionary activism and antagonism between revolutionary and reactionary or conservative actors. Political activities of Georgian feminists and women’s organizations should be viewed as part of this general leftist and revolutionary context.
Consequently, by theoretical sampling I chose these two women, who were involved in leftist and revolutionary movements. I analyze the archival materials (texts) of Kato Mikeladze published in the book edited by Tamta Melashvili (2013) - these are Mikeladze’s articles in the newspaper Voice of Georgian Woman (1917-1918); besides I analyze the autobiography of Nino Tkeshelashvili and her memories from the archive.
Now we can talk about what these women actually did. First, I will tell you about their activities and ideas and then about the obstacles that they faced. Both women received education abroad - Mikeladze studied in Moscow and later in Europe, Tkeshelashvili studied in Moscow as well. When they returned to Georgia, they were motivated to get involved in public life, in political activities. For example, Mikeladze established Kutaisi Women’s Club in 1916 and in February 1917 founded and published the first Georgian feminist newspaper Voice of Georgian Woman. Women’s Club aimed at uniting women of various classes and political parties and facilitating their political activities. Voice of Georgian Woman was published by the Club and edited by Kato Mikeladze herself. Overall the newspaper had 50 issues from April 1917 to September 1918. Mikeladze and other authors wrote about women’s conditions, demanded political and civil rights for women and reflected on significant political events (Melashvili 2013). On the other hand, Tkeshelashvili became active in Georgia earlier, in 1905 when the freedom of association had been declared in the Russian empire. Women started organizing and they established women’s organization - The Union of Georgian Women for Equal Rights. They wrote the charter for the organization, however, this first organization wasn’t politically successful. the more important event in women’s organizing was the establishment of the Caucasian Women’s Society (CWS) in 1909. The CWS was demanding political (electoral) rights for women, also was interested by prostitution and in fighting this ‘social evil’. In addition, the CWS also established the worker women’s club and the cooperative dining in Tbilisi. The worker women’s club was very important part of the Society’s activities.
Mikeladze used the newspaper, Voice of Georgian Woman, to voice and disseminate her ideas. She hoped that the February Revolution would bring opportunities for women’s liberation, however, women have to work and fight for it themselves. She addressed Georgian women and urged them to fight for their rights: ‘The rule of violence has ended! Today, when the new kind of state is being founded, at this great historic moment, we are obliged to demand such conditions of political life that will enable future generation to freely develop their personalities.’ (1917, 26). For turning women into political subjects, Mikeladze had the following strategy: it was necessary for women, that is people oppressed because of their gender, to unite in solidarity regardless of their class position and party affiliation; further, it was required for women to become members of political clubs and participate in women’s movement. So, Mikeladze urged both bourgeois and proletarian women to unite for the common cause - rights that all of them are denied. She also urged women not to trust men in their parties: ‘… Today, because of the state needs, men got us involved in some unimportant business. The time will come when they won’t need our help and then they will declare that cooking is women’s only business.’ (Mikeladze 1917, 33). According to Mikeladze, in order to create strong women’s movement, it was necessary to establish women’s local networks across the country, which would be united by the women’s political clubs in the Governorate centres. These clubs, on their part, would join the national organization of women. Mikeladze seems to be influenced by the then popular women’s suffrage movement in the West: in her opinion, women had to fight for civil and political rights, for passive and active voting rights, for women’s political participation and for ‘…women’s equal rights in governance.’ (1917, 46). She also regarded as particularly important women’s involvement in local self-government.
However, Mikeladze and Tkeshelashvili acted in the context of patriarchal barriers. This is also evident in their texts. For example, in her newspaper pieces, Mikeladze relentlessly criticizes the Georgian Mensheviks for ‘sex egoism’ which was expressed in two ways: a) restriction of women’s political participation; and b) resistance to women’s independent networks and organizations. In the publications of Mikeladze one of the distinguished pieces is We and the National Assembly which reacts to the first National Assembly of Georgia of November 19-23 in 1917. The Assembly was held in order to decide the political fate of the country. Mikeladze writes that this very important moment of the country’s political life was closed for women. ‘Essentially, this wasn’t the national assembly, but it was the men’s assembly where the sons of Georgia’s different regions had gathered and there hadn’t been more than five women among them. The men had reconciled with each other and they were congratulating each other because of this reconciliation. Georgian woman didn’t take any part in this meeting and she wasn’t even allowed to express her joy.’ (Mikeladze 1917, 96). Mikeladze tells us that she was the only woman who put her name in the list of guest speakers as the representative of Kutaisi women’s inter-party organization. However, she wasn’t allowed to speak. She went to the chair of the Assembly, Akaki Chkhenkeli , to make her request once again. Mikeladze conveys to her readers the dialogue between her and Chkhenkeli: …’We don’t allow Georgian organizations to speak.
- By this we understand that you didn’t let Georgian woman express her joy on your first National Assembly!
- You can’t take it like this!
- We can’t take it in any other way, – I told to him and left.’ (Mikeladze 1917, 97).
Tkeshelashvili’s complaints are basically the same as Mikeladze’s. In one of her texts she also highlights various points: it was difficult for a woman to speak at a public/political meeting; women’s political participation was limited, very few women made it in the lists of the party candidates; women’s revolutionary and political activities weren’t given the value and recognition that they deserved; the Mensheviks’ argument was that they didn’t have ‘prepared women’; women didn’t have influence on the decisions made by the party.
These complaints tell us that women who were feminists and who were politically active, had expectations that the Revolution would bring women’s emancipation and equality, but they were dissapointed.
Women’s fate in the Soviet Union and their marginalization
However, in the 1920s these women’s identities and activities changed. Instead of political figures they became writers. In the later biography (1990) Mikeladze is remembered as a writer and poetess, while Tkeshelashvili’s biography (1990) also mentions her as a writer and ‘figure of Georgian national culture’. Their political activities and feminist ideas were forgotten or became secondary for the historians. Mikeladze wrote herself in her autobiography ‘Since 1921 I have been artificially muted’(Melashvili 2013, 15).
Why did this happen? Georgian male political figures and big political actors, such as parties used to ignore or/and devalue women’s labor or tried to hinder women’s activities. However, I think that the disappearance of Georgian feminists as political subjects and their consequent marginalization seems to be the logical ending of the Bolsheviks’ undemocratic policies. The Communist Party which seized power during the Russian Revolution, was always hostile to citizens’ independent initiatives. Despite the fact that the Party began implementing its policies of women’s emancipation from 1918 and the Zhenotdel - women’s department of the Communist Party - was founded in 1919, aforementioned policies were enacted in an authoritative manner - from top to down. The line set by the Party didn’t include the goal of realizing women as political subjects and besides, it often ignored the interests and needs of the real women.
Stalin abolished the Zhenotdel in 1930. From this period, the state policy of women’s emancipation was connected to women’s ‘social’, waged work. However, women had to combine this with the role that capitalism had determined for them in private sphere - women had to work as housewives and perform reproductive labour. Motherhood and domestic work was once again declared as woman’s prime obligation. This policy and the double role of women is reflected in the fate of Georgian feminists in the Soviet state. On the one hand, writing is productive and public activity. On the other hand, the feminist political figures’ transformation into writers meant that they were removed from public sphere. Writing and especially, writing children’s fiction was activity which was in agreement with Stalin’s policy and how it determined the sphere of woman’s activities. In this context, the work of women writers was some kind of ‘public reproduction’, as they united in their selves worker (production function) and mother (reproduction, childcare function). I think this explains how women political subjects were neutralized, marginalized and finally forgotten.