11/30/2008

My tribute to Krupskaya


I have been reading this one book, called Midwives of the Revolution. Its a book about the roles that women played in the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the events leading up to it. I had been very hesitant about learning more of Russian revolutionary history for several reasons. Even though I know there are relevant lessons to be learned from it that are still important today, I associated it very much with the lives of men like Lenin and Trotsky, men who were seemingly obsessed with theory and big ideas, stern and martyred, abstract and distant. I realized in my interactions with many leftists that the ability to quote Lenin or spit the facts of the Russian Revolution became somehow a marker of how knowledgeable, how theoretical, how MACHO one is. I associated it with the division between mental and manual labor, somehow that those who could think of the big theories were always more integral and valuable to an organization than those who did the work of interacting with everyday people in mass organizations, who related with others, etc. It was a hierarchy of talents rather than an acknowledgment that experience and practice feed theory and vice versa. There is another word for it: macho ego-dripping intellectual masturbation disguised as revolutionary activity.

This impression of the Russian revolution, and what I would still say is an accurate depiction of the macho left had alienated me from people around me, as well as the important lessons of the Russian revolution. I am starting to overcome that. I am trying to make that history less irrelevant, less theoretical, less abstract to me. I want to study who mortal Lenin was, not demigod Lenin. I wanted to study how women were involved in the movement. It's not cos I can't study anything that doesnt involve women, but more so that learning for me is as much an emotional as it is an intellectual process. I needed to know that the Russian revolution was created by people who had raw emotions like me and everyone else I know, people who had to struggle between family and politics, people who had to counter the patriarchy of the political organizations and broader society that they belonged to, people who were accused of being irrational, excessively emotional, illogical, when they were actually trying to express indignation against oppression. I needed to see how revolution is a concrete phenomenon based out of everyday working womens' desires and struggles to live fully as human beings; and not simply imagined and debated out of some genius's isolated neurological activity...

It is with this impulse that I turned to this book, Midwives of the Revolution. I was particularly struck by how the authors describe the way Krupskaya has been remembered. It makes me wonder: how much must women do to have a place in history? How much more must women give up before they have a seat at the same table with the Lenins and the Trotskys of the world, in various political organizations?

Krupskaya was the wife of Lenin. She was also the secretary of the Central Committee of the Bolsheviks party. When they were in exile, Krupskaya was largely responsible for corresponding with the underground Bolsheviks, organizing the logistics for them to communicate with the party, reporting back about the activity of the workers, taking care of their emotional needs during the stresses of political organizing, so much so that both her and Lenin always had their ears to the ground about the labor movement in Russia, always knowing what their cadre members needed.

Krupskaya had also been politicized way before she met Lenin. She had been involved in doing educational work with workers and their families. She helped Lenin build connections with workers that she had built strong relationships with. She was a revolutionary, who married Lenin because she knew he would also play an important role in the revolution she was trying to build. Her marriage was in itself also a political act.

Yet, the written literature of Krupskaya, is that of a woman without her own mind. It is that of a woman who was the "bride of the revolution," a woman who was a shadow of Lenin, who was happy to let him take the lead. A woman whose only talents were doing administrative work, brainless, routine and uncreative.

Now, what makes me even more mad, is I could not find ANY POLITICAL BIOGRAPHY OF HER!! The only thing that seems to stand out about Krupskaya was: how was she able to stay with Lenin despite the fact that he was allegedy involved in an affair with Inessa Armand?
I mean, for real? That's all that these drippy phallus heads could say about Krupskaya? That's all she counted for? Her ability to keep her jealousy in check was all that counted? That makes me mad. Krupskaya gave her life to the revolution, all aspects of it. And all that these historians could say about her was that she was a brainless robot. It's reflective of many patriarchal writers and revolutionaries' own prejudice with the theoretical over the everyday. Its the separation of the mind and the body.

Knock that damn pedestal off. It's time someone made this woman their hero.

4 comments:

Krisna Best said...

Jomo,

Yeah, so much of Krupskaya's legacy is bound up with her marriage to Lenin. Of course, there is a very obvious reason for that, but the fact that Lenin is never discussed in his relation to Krupskaya (or very seldomly) and the fact that Krupskaya can never be mentioned independently of Lenin is due to the inability of both the left and bourgeois historians to see women as both integral and independent social forces. They are the wives, the mistresses, the secretaries who have no contributions of their own to make.

That's pretty disgusting that there are no political biographies of Krupskaya when they have political biographies on lesser known Bolshevik leaders. No doubt, this isn't a problem relegated to just Bolshevik history, but history in general. That's why I dig folks like Federici. They ain't trying to say, "Look, women have been leaders too," but instead are integrating women back in to living history as indispensable agents of social revolt.

Fuckin great post, J.

jomo said...

Hey Krisna,
Thanks for always checking in and showing so much love for the blog even when its been so sporadic!!
This is a time when I wish I could speak some Russian and translate some of the documents written around the time to know more about her contributions. Its complicated because it does seem that sometimes Krupskaya herself plays into the idea of her just being an auxillary to Lenin rather than an active player in the formation of the organization as it was. There seems to be some indication of her not acknowledging the very important contributions she made to the movement...
Anyway, the problem with having a book about Krupskaya called "Bride of the Revolution" is first, the problem of not seeing her as having independent validity, but also that Lenin is now somehow equated to the Revolution! How vanguardist and ridiculous is that!!!
No hate for the man, but lotsa hate for the patriarchal, vanguardist revisionism.

adamfreedom said...

Just stopped by to check yr blog and spread some revolutionary love.

"There is another word for it: macho ego-dripping intellectual masturbation disguised as revolutionary activity."

I loved this. Another comrade and I have a term for this: peacock politics.

Buster said...

Nice post. A bit of a sidenote on the sporadic nature of the blog: it would be easier to follow if you had a working RSS feed. I can't get the link you on your page to work in Google Reader. Until I checked in today, I was assuming that the blog had gone dormant.