Samoilova, Konkordiya (1876–1921)

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Samoilova, Konkordiya (1876–1921)

Russian Social Democrat who was a leading Communist organizer of working women. Name variations: Konkordiia Samoilova; K.N. Samoilova-Gromova; (party pseudonyms) Natasha, Vera, and Bol'shevikova; (literary pseudonym) N. Sibirskii. Pronunciation: Sam-OY-lo-va. Born Konkordiya Nikolaevna Gromova in Irkutsk in 1876; died on June 2, 1921, near Astrakhan of cholera; daughter of Nikolai Gromov (a priest); attended gymnasium in Irkutsk, 1884–94, Bestuzhev-Riumin Courses (St. Petersburg), 1896–1901, and Free Russian School of Social Sciences (Paris), 1902–03; married Arkadii Aleksandrovich Samoilov, in 1906; no children.

Was active in the Russian student movement (1897–1901); joined the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (1903) and became a Bolshevik (1906); was an underground party propagandist (1903–12); was secretary of the editorial board of Pravda (1912–14) and member of the editorial board of Rabotnitsa (1914, 1917); was a party organizer among working women (1917–21); helped organize First Conference of Women Workers (November 1917) and First All-Russian Congress of Working Women (November 1918); head of Zhenotdel operations in Ukraine (1919–20); was a member of the editorial board of Kommunistka (1920–21); headed the political department on the agitational steamship Krasnaia Zvezda (1920–21). Publications: numerous articles and brochures in Russian on topics relating to working women.

On February 17, 1913 (o.s.), International Women's Day was celebrated for the first time in tsarist Russia. That day was also the turning point in the revolutionary career of Konkordiya Samoilova. For the past decade, she had been active as an underground propagandist for the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party. Like almost all Marxists, she had argued that the problems of female workers were the same as those of men and that it was separatism to appeal to or organize women in a different fashion than men. Even though the Second International Conference of Socialist Women had called in 1910 for the annual celebration of International Women's Day, Samoilova and her Russian colleagues saw this as a bourgeois feminist ruse of no relevance or interest to the supposedly backward female proletariat in Russia. Nothing was done to mark the day until 1913 when the State Duma or parliament designated February 17 as a holiday. To offset an anticipated feminist observance, Samoilova was told by the Bolsheviks' unenthusiastic Petersburg Committee to organize some kind of counter-demonstration. Under her direction, Prav da (Truth) devoted its first three pages to issues of concern to women, and she arranged for a "Scientific Meeting on the Woman Question" at the Kalash nikova Bourse. To mislead the authorities into thinking it was going to be an upper-class, high-brow affair, Samoilova printed five-kopeck tickets which then were distributed free of charge in working districts. Much to the surprise of the party as well as the police, hundreds of working women flocked to the meeting to hear speakers talk about economic and social issues from a female and class perspective. They enthusiastically voiced their approval of speeches which were far more socialistic than "scientific" in tone and content. This response convinced Samoilova that women workers were not as politically backwards as the party had thought, that their special needs had to be addressed, and that efforts should be made to organize them against their oppressors. She was to devote the remaining eight years of her life to this struggle.

Like most prominent women in the Russian Social Democratic movement, Konkordiya Samoilova did not come from a life of poverty and oppression. She was born in the eastern Siberian city of Irkutsk in 1876. Her father Nikolai Gromov was an Orthodox priest who could afford to send her to the local gymnasium for ten years. Like many of her educated contemporaries, both male and female, she realized the need for political change in Russia and explored in her youth the competing theories of the Marxists and the agrarian populists for bringing about reform. For awhile, she considered herself a Tolstoyan interested in educating the peasant masses of Russia. In 1896, after overcoming considerable parental opposition, she and her sister left for St. Petersburg to enroll in the Bestuzhev Courses which offered almost the only form of higher education then open to Russian women. For five years, Samoilova studied philosophy and became involved in the growing student movement. She gave her first public speech in 1897 in protest against the suicide in jail of a fellow female student. Four years later, she was arrested after another student demonstration, jailed for three months for possessing several banned books and a revolver, and expelled from the Bestuzhev Courses. Rather than returning to Irkutsk, she went to Paris where she completed her political education by listening to lectures given by various émigré Marxists at the Free Russian School of Social Sciences. In 1903, she joined the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party and for awhile helped out in the editorial offices of the party's newspaper Iskra (The Spark).

In that same year, Samoilova returned to Russia and began nearly a decade of work as an underground propagandist. She moved from city to city organizing propaganda circles in which advanced workers could increase their class consciousness by reading and discussing the classics of Russian and European Marxism. It was dangerous work. On three occasions she was arrested, once on suspicion of participating in the murder of a police agent who had infiltrated one of her circles, and she spent more than two years in tsarist prisons in Tver and St. Petersburg. In 1906, she joined with the Bolshevik wing of the Social Democratic Party and married Arkadii Aleksandrovich Samoilov, a fellow Bolshevik and a lawyer. Six years later, Samoilova was given the job of running the editorial office of the Bolsheviks' new legal newspaper Pravda in St. Petersburg. She was soon struck by the volume of letters which the paper received from female workers and by the frustration they revealed when their concerns were not addressed. The enthusiasm and militancy demonstrated several months later on International Women's Day convinced her that the party must devote more attention to organizing these women.

One approach which Samoilova discussed with Inessa Armand , an émigré Bolshevik with similar concerns, was to publish a special Marxist newspaper aimed specifically at working women. While Armand attempted to get the grudging approval of the male party leaders for the scheme and to raise the necessary money abroad, Samoilova coordinated arrangements for the publication of Rabotnitsa (The Woman Worker) in St. Petersburg. On the eve of publication in February 1914, however, she and two other editors were arrested by police seeking to forestall a second observance of International Women's Day. While banished from St. Petersburg, she nevertheless was able to contribute at least three articles to the first Marxist newspaper devoted to the interests of Russian working women. In 1917, after the overthrow of the tsar, she returned to editing Rabotnitsa, and shortly after the Bolsheviks came to power she organized the First Conference of Women Workers in Petrograd (formerly St. Petersburg).

For women like Samoilova, Armand and Alexandra Kollontai , the culmination of their efforts came in August 1919 when Zhenotdel, or the Women's Section of the Central Committee, was finally established to coordinate party work among Russian women. Samoilova had been instrumental in laying the groundwork for Zhenotdel. She was "a calm, organized, persuasive woman with a talent for compromise," writes Barbara Clements , who "possessed enough political realism to curb [Kollontai's] tendency to rush ahead oblivious of party opposition." She showed these talents when she convinced her reluctant male colleagues at the Ninth Party Congress to strengthen Zhenotdel's mandate. "When the chances of putting through some Zhenotdel question … were few, we brought up the heavy artillery—Comrade Samoilova," said Kollontai. Samoilova did not, however, consider herself to be a theoretician and much preferred to stay in the background carrying out the decisions of others. She was quite content to help edit Zhenotdel's theoretical journal Kommunistka (The Communist Woman) and to coordinate its activities in Ukraine, leaving the leadership of the body to Armand and Kollontai. As a result, she has never been accorded the attention given to her more famous colleagues. In 1920, still depressed over the death of her husband two years earlier, she temporarily returned to an earlier interest when she agreed to serve as a propagandist on the agitational steamship Krasnaia Zvezda (Red Star) as it plied the Volga River promoting the cause of the new Soviet state. On a second cruise in 1921 she, like her husband, contracted cholera, died and was buried in Astrakhan at the age of 45. The nearly concurrent loss of its three strong and independent leaders—Samoilova, Armand who had also died of cholera in 1920, and Kollontai who was sent into diplomatic exile in 1922—was a blow from which the embryonic Soviet women's movement never recovered.


Clements, Barbara Evans. "Samoilova, Konkordiia Nikolaevna," in Modern Encyclopedia of Russian and Soviet History. Vol. XXXIII, 1983, pp. 72–73.

Morozova, Vera. "Kompas u kazhdogo svoi," in Zhenshchiny russkoi revoliutsii (Women in the Russian Revolution). Moscow, 1982, pp. 101–114.

"Samoilova, Konkordiia Nikolaevna," in Deiateli SSSR i revoliutsionnogo dvizheniia Rossii (Personalities of the USSR and the Revolutionary Movement in Russia). Moscow, 1989 [1927], pp. 645–646.

suggested reading:

Kudelli, P. K.N. Samoilova-Gromova (Natasha), 1876–1921 gg. (biografiia). Leningrad, 1925.

R. C. Elwood , Professor of History, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada