On the Path to a Great Emancipation

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On the Path to a Great Emancipation

Newpaper article

By: Anonymous

Date: March 8, 1929

Source: "On The Path To A Great Emancipation." Pravda (March 8, 1929).

About the Author: This article was published without a byline in Pravda ("The Truth"), a leading Russian newspaper and official publication of the Communist Party between the years of 1918 and 1991. The author is not known.


The 1920s are often dubbed as the "Roaring Twenties," and they are frequently celebrated as a decade of exuberance and decadence. Unfortunately, and as generally occurs, any decade, era, or event has many sides to its perception. The 1920s brought a decade of international labor strife, a new wave of feminism, and economic issues. The decade began with the 1919 Boston Police strike, the Red Scares of 1919–1920, and the Seattle General Strike.

The Boston Police Department strike saw about 1,100 officers momentarily leave their jobs to protest low wages, high uniform costs, vacation pay and leave, and sick pay. The Massachusetts National Guard was sent into Boston to restore order and the striking officers were replaced with new hires. This later decision was backed up with public statements saying that no one had the right to strike and put public safety in jeopardy. In contrast to the Boston walkout, the Seattle General Strike shut down the city for several days. Thousands of workers united to demand higher pay, leave time, and restricted workdays. This strike is the largest in United States history, and it also connects the plight of the worker to the social goals of the women's movement. The Seattle Strike saw the beginnings of a "buy union" campaign that urged women to only buy food, clothing, and other daily articles from union shops. This action mostly affected women because they were primarily responsible for the family's purchases. Aside from these significant strikes throughout the United States, other key events shaped the decade. One of these key events was the enactment of the Nineteenth amendment—also called the Susan B. Anthony Amendment.

The Nineteenth amendment granted women the right to vote, and Congress passed it in 1917. Three-fourths of the states ratified it in 1919, but the ratification of this amendment did not mean that a woman's traditional role in society changed. Rather, social expectations concerning a woman's place in the home and within the workforce stayed as it had been—she was considered a secondary worker with the primary role and job as that of mother and wife. Most unions did not allow women membership, and factory jobs that employed women were often segregated. In a segregated workplace, women and men were put in separate sections of the factory to work, and men often viewed women's labor as minimal. Women were viewed as temporary workers, even if they had been working at a plant for as long as or longer than men, because the social belief and hope reigned that a woman would stay home and take care of the family. Working class, working poor, and poor families could not always afford to have a woman stay home, but social precedent often prevailed over that truth of social reality.

"On the Path to Great Emancipation" captures these conflicting notions of a woman's role in society. It was first published in March 1929 in a Russian newspaper, but the message of the piece quickly spread throughout the world. Women in the United States have used this newspaper article as a key document to support their struggle for equal rights, equal pay, and equal treatment in labor unions and other avenues of life.


Today is international communist women's day, the international day for working women.

Our woman worker in the past … during the barbaric, savage, and blood stained tsarist regime. The heavy and hopeless fate of the woman worker—as mother, wife, and girl. All of the striving of the woman worker toward the light, toward freedom, and to a human existence were snuffed out by the criminal arm of the autocracy. The exploitation and debasement were tripled: in politics, in factory labor, and in daily life.

Working women in capitalist countries. Capitalist "democracy" has not and cannot give freedom to working and laboring women. Working women in all bourgeois countries are economically and politically enslaved. Middle class conventionality has a tenacious vice-grip on daily life. Advanced women workers and revolutionary women proletarians are persecuted. The most brutal blows of capitalist "rationalization," unemployment, and hunger in the midst of plenty descend upon the female half of the proletariat. Fascism, Catholicism, and reformism with increasingly thoroughness exploit the historical backwardness of women workers in order to split apart the proletarian ranks and strengthen the position of imperialism. The temples of "national government"—what a thing to talk about!—are protected by stone walls which prevent the participation of working women….

The maximum activism of all women proletarians and conscientious working peasant women is one of the indispensable guarantees of our further successes and our victorious socialist growth. The greatest possible and most inexhaustible activism, the unceasingly creative work of the woman proletarian on all large and "small" fronts of our life, their rigid and total solidarity with the Party—these are the obligatory conditions for our creativity.

The struggle for a new cultured life—is this possible without the creative initiative of the woman worker? The struggle with alcoholism and disgusting drunken debauchery and the struggle to expel the green hydra from the Soviet home—are these conceivable without the will and determination, without the intensive and constant force of the working woman? Could the struggle with such social ulcers as prostitution proceed successfully without arousing and involving hundreds of thousands of working women?

And the struggle to overcome difficulties, the struggle with our many-faceted class enemies, the struggle with anti-Semitism, with the priesthood, and with religious stupification—are these goals attainable if the campaign against these barbarisms does not include the millions of working women and if they are not advanced into the leading positions?


As striking and labor demands increased throughout the 1920s, women gradually became more domi-nant in the picture. In the late 1920s and through the 1930s, many workers began organizing sit-down strikes, and women are often considered key components to keeping these strikes alive and forceful. One example is the General Motors sit-down strike of 1936–1937. Here, women brought food, clothing, and other staples into the plant to relieve the workers, and in post-strike accounts many workers remarked that the presence of the female encouraged them in their struggle.

The United States has not seen the creation of a true labor party, and after World War II labor unions took a serious decline in politics and life. The Equal Rights Amendment expired unratified in 1982, but issues concerning a woman's continual role in society have not left the public spotlight.



Cohen, Lizabeth. Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919–1939. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Frank, Dana. Purchasing Power: Consumer Organizing, Gender, and the Seattle Labor Movement, 1919–1929. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Zinn, Howard, Dana Frank, and D.G. Kelley. Three Strikes: Miners, Musicians, Salesgirls, and the Fighting Spirit of Labor's Last Century. Boston: Beacon Press, 2001.

Web sites

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). "Women's Labor History." 〈http://www.afscme.org/otherlnk/whlinks.htm〉 (accessed April 1, 2006).

The Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives. "Sources in U.S. Women's Labor History." 〈http://www.nyu.edu/library/bobst/research/tam/women/cover.html〉 (accessed April 1, 2006).

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