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Historical informatics

Participation of Women in Local and Regional Soviets in Eastern Siberia from 1921 to 1936: Statistical Sources Analysis

Karchaeva Tat'yana Gennad'evna

PhD in History

Associate professor, the Department of Russian History, Siberian Federal University

660041, Russia, Krasnoyarskii krai, g. Krasnoyarsk, pr. Svobodnyi, 79

Kizhner Inna Aleksandrovna

Senior lecturer, the Department of Information Technologies in Creative and Culture Industries, Siberian Federal University

660041, Russia, Krasnoyarskii krai, g. Krasnoyarsk, Svobodnyi, 79

Gergilev Denis Nikolaevich

PhD in History

Associate professor, the Department of Russian History, Siberian Federal University

660041, Russia, Krasnoyarskii krai, g. Krasnoyarsk, Svobodnyi, 79




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Abstract: The article studies how women were becoming participants of the social and political life in the first soviet decades thus proving the socialistic policy to eliminate the class and sex inequality widely spread at the beginning of the 20th century. The article explores the dynamics of Eastern Siberian women’s participation in local Soviets in Russia from 1921 to 1936, their social composition, professionalism and work ethics. To analyze raw data the authors use database technology and statistical methods. Computer technologies provided for processing mass historical sources: party censuses, service records and inquiry forms of civil servants. The authors conclude that the number of women fluctuated between 25% and 33% of the deputies and delegates to the local and regional Soviets (public councils), they lacked proper professional experience and education (about 80% had only primary school education), had peasant or labor class background and could not boast high level of work ethics. Moreover, many women were passive deputies without any visible demonstration of the service. Statistical analysis has demonstrated that women with middle professional education and higher education had higher positions in executive committees of Soviets. They were few in number but they contributed a lot to the developing new administration and government.

Keywords: women's suffrage, female citizenship, public participation, public service, Soviet woman, statistics, concrete historical research, database, Siberia, Soviet Union


With improved accessibility to participation in public policy, large numbers of women have influenced political activities through activism and a variety of professional tools. Past political transformations allowed any woman to become an active participant in the political conversation in the twenty-first century worldwide. The twentieth century Russia was not an exception. Citizen participation in Soviet local government enabled women to become equal players in politics. Russian communists’ belief that women were a part of the Soviet grassroots power influenced the content of electoral politics [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9]. They expected that voting and council meetings would benefit from women’s special talents. This position supported the view that an increase in women’s political participation in the USSR (the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) would be accompanied by greater feelings of political efficacy, which in turn would bring about greater support for the political system.

Although significant literature exists on public participation, public policy and everyday life of women in the Soviet Union, generally and Siberia, in particular, to the best of our knowledge, no studies exist that cover female participation in public policy in Siberia.

This article considers Siberian grassroots (local Soviets) and their gender composition as Siberian public participation may reflect the processes taking place in Central Russia. What happened in remote parts of the country demonstrated the principles of the structures of public participation, in general [10, 11, 12, 13]. Siberian grassroots and their gender composition may reflect the processes taking place in Central Russia.

The aim of this article is to look at the dynamics of Eastern Siberian women’s participation in Congresses of Soviets (The Congress had different names at various stages of its existence: Yenisei provincial Congress of Soviets from 1920 to 1925, Krasnoyarsk provincial Congress of Soviets from 1925 to 1934, Krasnoyarsk regional Congress of Soviets from 1935), the Soviets of Deputies (Krasnoyarsk city, towns and villages of Yenisei region), and their executive committees in Russia from 1921 to the 1936 to understand the scope and impact of female participation in the period. The geography of the article includes Yenisei region (see Figure 1). The region had various names in different periods in history: Yenisei Province (gubernia) from 1822 to 1925; Eastern-Siberian Region (Krai) from 1925 to 1930, Siberian Region (Krai) from 1930 to 1934, Krasnoyarsk Region (Krai) since 1934.

Figure 1. Yenisei region of Eastern Siberia (RSFSR of the USSR).

The data on women in East Siberian politics came from archival research, literature review and several case studies involving women from Eastern Siberia working in Congresses of Soviets across Yenisei region, the Soviets of Deputies in Krasnoyarsk city, towns and villages of Yenisei region and their executive committees from 1921 to the 1936. Gender composition, women’s education, working experience and social origin were considered to identify a group of women prevailing in local and regional government structures. To establish the demography and work experience of the women participating in local and regional Soviets, we prepared a spreadsheet tabulating women's age, their work experience and educational level, and involvement in the Communist Party. We used quantitative analysis to find the change in the structural composition of local and regional Soviets across time. We compared the rates of women participation in local and regional Soviets at a national level with that at a regional level for Siberia.


In the 1990s and 2000s, a significant number of important English and American studies on Russian gender issues were published [14]. In these books, authors explored the diversity of women’s experience, showed how this changed over time and in response to broader political, economic, social, cultural developments in the early Soviet period. Women lived in families and communities, these studies explored their social and personal world.

The history of gender constitutes an important part of the Russian history. The social constructions of masculinity and femininity, that is, what it means to be a woman, and what it means to be a politician, reflect and contribute to the structure of participation in public policy. Gender shapes how people define themselves and others, and it affects how women imagine change [15].

The traditional society expected Russian women to be teachers or nurses (traditional female jobs). Professional occupations such as law and jobs in the government were considered men’s jobs in the pre-Soviet period. The proportion of female public participation had been significantly lower than during the Soviet period or the levels of female representation in the West [16]. Women’s representation in post-revolutionary Russia after the collapse of the Russian Empire followed a familiar trajectory. Cultural, social and political factors influenced the supply and demand for women candidates in the state service. Russia, established by the Bolsheviks through the Russian Revolution of 1917, was ruled by the government. Its utopian beliefs on how the nation should be run and what values were more important completely deviated from the traditional beliefs held by most nations in Europe. A part of these radical communists’ visions was related to women. Vladimir Lenin asserted that «the success of a revolution depends on the participation of women» [17]. He truly valued the support of women and strove to achieve their emancipation and equality. Although his ideologies failed to penetrate into the society, he did succeed in pursuing several policies to improve the living conditions and positions of women activists in Russia.

Suffrage movement preceding the revolution of 1917, its influence on citizenship, participation and intersectional problems of class and gender are discussed in detail in Rochelle Goldberg Ruthchild's review article showing that «issues such as political consciousness, class, citizenship and suffrage, all of which became especially significant in the revolutionary outbreaks and the unfurling events in 1917, cannot be understood without reference to the role of women and gender» [18, p. 4].

Choi Chatterjee analyzed Bolshevik attitudes towards women and discussed political rituals surrounding women in Russia and the early Soviet Union to demonstrate the ways in which new public celebrations and organizations were a strategic form of cultural practice that marked the distinctiveness of Soviet civilization, legitimized the Soviet mission for women, and articulated the Soviet construction of gender [19]. Unlike previous scholars who criticized the Bolsheviks for the rejection of their initial commitment to Marxist feminism, Chatterjee found a significant continuity in how they imagined an ideal woman and her role in a Communist society [14, 19].

Wood demonstrates that social support of new roles came through the government and its approval of public participation using Soviet plays (agitation trials) from the 1920s. The author shows that women’s numerous faults and weaknesses as outlined in plays required additional attention from the government.

Much has been written on women of the political elites of the Russia. Four important bolshevichki – Inessa Armand, Evgeniia Bosh, Konkordia Samoilova and Elena Stasova-Clements – inspired short biographical sketches and important historical books [20].

Alexandra Kollontai and Inessa Armand extensively contributed to involving women in politics. They discussed the organizational forms and methods of communication with working women in their articles and speeches [21, 22, 23].

Hayden and her colleagues completed thorough studies of Zhenotdels [24, p. 163]. They found that these regional government departments became a bridge between the All-Russian General Executive Committee of Bolshevik Party from 1919 to 1924, Central Executive Committee of the Soviets (from 1924), and Soviet grassrootsto contribute to recruiting women to volunteer services from cities and villages. Zhenotdels were important government bodies and their top leaders included such famous women as Inessa Armand (1919–1920), Alexandra M. Kollontai (1920–1921), Klavdiya I. Nikolaeva (1924–1925), and Alexandra V. Artyukhina (1925–1930).

«Zhenotdels were attached to the Congresses of Soviets at all levels of the hierarchy, staffed by volunteers recruited among Party women, and charged with spreading the message of the Party to the unorganized women in factories and villages and drawing them into public affairs» [6, p. 63].

Alexandra Kollontai noted that Zhenotdels attracted numerous women to establishing the Russian Republic from 1919 to 1921. However, the majority of women, especially those in remote villages expressed a passive attitude to the Soviet power and they did not even know of the existence of women’s departments. According to Kollontai, the number of women communists amounted to 3842 in twelve central provinces of the RSFSR. Very few of them were farmers(2406 workers, 1 010 office workers, doctors, and teachers, 462 farmers). The total number of female Soviets’ delegates to the Congresses of Soviets in twelve provinces reached 12 910 women in 1921 [23, p. 326].

Women were elected to the Soviets from the first days of the Communist regime. However, these elections were not supported by the government. For example, the total number of female representatives of local Soviets in twelve provinces of Central Russia amounted to 635 women in 1921, the average number was 52 women for one province. However, the ratio of women varied in different regions (territories). The percentage of female delegates of the local Soviet government in the Moscow province was 6–10 per cent. The Petrograd City Soviet included 250 female deputies among its 1000 deputies (25 per cent), the Samara City Soviet included 30 women among 500 deputies (6 per cent), the Kharkov City Soviet attracted 40 women (8 per cent), the Odessa City Soviet included10 women (2 per cent), etc. [23, p. 327].

A Communist woman activist was a carrier of Bolshevik propaganda, she was useful in transmitting the formal ideology, building a New Soviet Identity and a pantheon of new heroes, symbols and rituals for the Soviet regime [25, p. 726–731].

One of the most influential studies in the field of Russian gender and politics and related literature introduce the «New Woman», a Soviet woman who lost her socially passive role and sought to participate in public administration before and after the Socialist Revolution in 1917 [5, p. 524].

An interesting discussion of images of Russian women in politics was presented by Anna N. Eremeeva who showed that «(e)arly in the Revolution different political forces used images of women symbolizing freedom and revolution» [25, p. 732].

Women in Siberia

A number of scholars have discussed Siberian women’s national composition in XVI–XIX centuries, particularly the historical evolution of Siberian ethnic groups [26]. Soviet Evenk women have been studied through the interpretations of their life in the post-Soviet present [27, 27, 28].

Siberian archives were also used to show that party officials did not enjoy material prosperity in the 1920s and hardly received any wages at that time [29, p. 191].

We could only locate a handful of historical studies which looked at gender roles in Siberia in a pre-revolutionary period. Collins came to the conclusion that women were a target of exploitation in Siberia and «the state exploited both their bodies and labor, forcing them to be sexual pacifiers and producers of babies and also the “border” domesticators in general» [10, p. 3–20]. In addition, Collins found that the Russian government, similar to other governments strengthening their colonies, attempted «to provide women for male settlers and rapid natural increase» [30, p. 162].

Little attention has been given in literature to public participation of Siberian women from 1921 to the 1937. Although Russian historians discussed everyday life of Siberian women in towns and villages, to the best of our knowledge no studies exist that discuss the gender composition of Soviet government structures and agencies [31, 32, 33].

The Soviet government was formed under the difficult conditions of the post-revolutionary time. The Civil War in Siberia which ended in 1921 was the initial point on the timeline of this study. The ending point was the period of 1937 which is explained by the fact that Stalin’s bureaucracy was completely established and women’s citizen participation became a bureaucratic tool, not an innovative policy.


The focus of the article is female citizen participation in Siberian grassroots as a detailed account of the phenomenon is impossible for the whole territory of the USSR, an enormous country. Nevertheless, we hope that discussing the archival data and case studies will help to fill the gap of knowledge on the transformation of women’s participation in Soviet Russia in the 1920s and 1930s. Particular attention was paid to the elections to Congresses of Soviets (regional, provincial soviets), the Soviet of Deputies (cities, towns, villages), their executive committees and the number and social origin of women as related to the number of men was discussed. To give some idea of the changes of the public authorities over time, this study relied on quantitative data, particularly statistical and archival materials. There were only a few written sources that were of direct information about the social structure, including gender, of the governments in the first years of the Soviets [7, p. 17–19].

State papers including personal and group records, government documents, newspaper reports, and existing statistical reports were used to inform data collecting and analysis.

The archive used for the field research was the Krasnoyarsk State Provincial Archive (Siberia, Russian Federation). Documentation on this subject is stored in collection R-631, Executive Committee of the Krasnoyarsk city’s Soviet Deputies, from 1925 until 1991, and R-49, Executive Committee of the Yenisei Provincial Council of Workers and Peasants, and Red-army Deputies. All records and lists of Activists Women are stored in collection -1, Yenisei Gubcom of Russian Communists Party (Bolsheviks), fond 241, Materials (Mandates and Questionnaires) of Profiles of Members of the Working and Peasant Inspection, fond 1205, Executive Committee of the Krasnoyarsk Regional Soviets, from 1925 to 1991, which contains some four hundred items apparently put together from 1922 to the end of 1930s. Only a small portion of the individual dela are complete volumes for a single agency and therefore useful for this study. The author is deeply grateful to the staff of the Krasnoyarsk State Provincial Archive for their help in locating the material needed, a difficult task in the absence of a detailed inventory. The volumes of personal and group records of employees (men and women) were originally produced in response to legislation requiring each government agency to send the lists of its employees to capital cities. The amount of information required on each person increased over the years.

The library sources were working women’s newspapers: the «Woman Worker» from 1924 to 1928 («Rabotnitsa»), «Agricultural Female Worker» from 1924 to 1933 («Krestyanka»), and «Red Siberian» from 1922 to 1936 («Krasnaya sibiryachka»). The archival documents on the role of Soviet women deputies included, in addition to the previously mentioned materials, descriptions of the meetings of local Soviets or the work of individual women deputies with constituents; published reports by firsthand observers on the behavior of a woman deputy at a meeting in her electoral district.

The gender composition of Siberian Soviet grassroots was analyzed using statistical data of the Russian Communist Party Census from 1926 to 1927 and data from the General Census [34]. The documents were stored in the State Research Libraries in Moscow and Krasnoyarsk. It was an important source of empirical data on the work of the Soviets that was not available elsewhere.

The archival and statistical data were processed in four spreadsheets. Data cleansing was used to remove obvious duplicates, and items with missing data. After understanding the gender composition of Soviet grassroots, the data on women was sorted on age, party affiliation, education, profession, and work experience.

The terminology used in the paper is interchangeable. We use «a delegate», «a representative» to describe a woman participating in Congresses of Soviets (regional, provincial soviets); «a deputy» for a representative participating in the Soviet of Deputies (cities, towns and villages); «a member» for those co-opted in executive committees of these Soviets; «an activist» for somebody who was recommended for public participation and/or working for the government from their factory or institution in the 1920s and 1930s. In the same way, we use «Congresses of Soviets», and the «Soviets of Deputies» to refer to Local Soviets (local parliamentary structures).

Structures of the Soviet Power at the Early Stages of the Communist Regime

Traditionally, the secondary female role was implied in the public consciousness and explicitly stated in Russian laws in the early twentieth-century. Russian women had never been represented at the state council meetings and local governments before 1917. They could exercise their voting rights only indirectly through their male relatives in the Russian Empire.

The changes introduced after the October Revolution were supported through Bolshevist ideology.

«Bolsheviks wanted to destroy everything that oppresses and harasses the working woman, the wife of the working man, the peasant woman, the wife of the little man, and even in many respects the women from the wealthy classes. But socialist organizations from the beginning rejected the feminist reform strategy and insisted that full sexual equality could not be achieved short of a socialist society. Far from leading them to abandon special work among women under capitalism, however, this position encouraged them to pursue it more ardently in the knowledge that the success of the revolution depends upon how many women take part in it» [35, p. 4].

The October (November) Revolution of 1917, which is also called the Bolshevik Revolution, ushered in a new governmental system built on the principles of Communism [36].

After «the last days of Kolchak regime» Bolsheviks were able to recruit many working women to participation in the Communist local government in Siberia. In addition, in March 1918 the Bolsheviks became the Russian Communist party (RCP), in 1925, their organization was renamed the All-Union Communist Party (A-UCP), and in 1952, it became the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), which was dissolved in 1991 only because the Soviet Union ceased to exist.

The Constitution of the USSR of 1924 did not change the organizational structure of all parts of Local Soviets (Congress of Soviets, the Soviet of Deputies and their executive committees) including local public councils in Siberia when it was introduced by the Constitution of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) in 1918. Public authorities in the territories, regions, autonomous regions, counties (region, province or gubernia , county or volost before 1924) were Congresses of Soviets, and public authorities in the cities, villages, smaller places were the Soviets of Deputies from 1918 to 1936. Every regional or provincial Congress of Soviets and urban or rural Soviets of Deputies elected their executive committees. The executive committee reported to the Soviet which elected its representatives, delegates and deputies. Delegates and deputies of local Soviets exercised their powers without stopping their professional activity. Voters elected their representatives who were obliged to report on the work done to the whole staff of electing institutions. The local Soviets were authorized to manage the subordinate governments, ensure public order, observe compliance with laws and protect citizens’ rights, manage local economy and cultural development, and establish local budgets. There was a clear emphasis on the hierarchy of the state power [37, p. 4–8]. Centralization of local governments can be proved by the following quote from the Constitution of 1918.

«In the boundaries of the respective territories the congress is the supreme power; during intervals between the convocations of the congress, the executive committee is the supreme power» [38, art. 53, 55].

Deputy meetings of women workers, female agricultural workers, and housewives were established on the request of the All-Russian General Executive Committee in 1923. Their main objective was recruiting a larger female community. The deputies were elected at the General Meetings of workers and employees or community meetings. Elections demonstrated clearly the discrimination along class lines.

«Laborers and employees of all classes who are employed in industry, trade, agriculture, etc., and peasants and Cossack agricultural laborers who employ no help for the purpose of making profits, and soldiers of the army and navy of the soviets have the right to vote. The following persons enjoy neither the right to vote nor the right to be voted for, even though they belong to one of the categories enumerated above, namely: persons who employ hired labor in order to obtain from it an increase in profits; persons who have an income without doing any work, such as interest from capital, receipts from property, etc.; private merchants, trade and commercial brokers; monks and clergy of all denominations; employees and agents of the former police, the gendarme corps, and the Okhrana (Czar’s secret service), also members of the former reigning dynasty; persons who have been deprived by a soviet of their rights of citizenship because of selfish or dishonorable offenses for the period fixed by the sentence» [38, art. 56].

Methods and Tools to Involve Women in Participation

The involvement of women in urban and rural Soviets of Deputies was implemented via volunteering (praktikanstvo), promotion (vydvyzhenchestsvo ) and publications in female periodicals (newspapers and magazines).

The government attempted to implement the system of volunteering (praktikanstvo) in the Soviets starting from 1923. Women volunteering to participate in politics were required to demonstrate the experience of public governance. They were the activists of trade unions, bureaus of local party committees, school committees, etc. They had a busy schedule. Their duties included regular meetings, inspections and auditing services at various institutions. Real implementation of this volunteering project was, in fact, quite complicated. Archival data demonstrate that heads of institutions were inclined to get rid of women activists or gave them minor, routine duties [39, p. 18, 19].

Similar problems were related to the promotion of women to fill management and office positions. They were co-opted to the executive committees of local Soviets(vydvizhenchestvo) . Party directives stressed particularly a need to meet certain requirements to be co-opted. They included practical experience in local and regional governments. However, the percentage of female executive committee members was no more than 8–10 per cent of co-opted members.

Another instrument of attracting women to public participation was an emphasis on the intersection of class and gender in national and local newspapers and magazines. Women’s periodicals from the Soviet period challenged the traditions of pre-revolutionary periodicals for women. Periodicals developed their own typological models of publications for the totalitarian society [40, p. 91].

Women’s Question was covered in analytical articles, feature stories, feature articles in popular periodical publications. It was the form most accessible to the population.

Political columns appeared in the working women’s newspapers. Their titles were, among others, «Work and Promotion», «Re-election in the Rural Public Soviets», «Manufacturing and Life», «Conversations with Delegates», «Readers’ Letters», «Autobiographies», etc..

Newspapers and magazines discussed pre-revolutionary women. These publications were about Siberian peasant women who had grown old from overwork and male abuse. Even when elementary education was available to girls, the tradition was to stay at home to look after younger children until they were old enough to work in the fields. Husbands were generally chosen by fathers who sold their daughters to the highest bidder. The tradition was that the father of the bride gave a whip to the bridegroom, a symbol of the groom’s authority over his new wife. Those agricultural female workers who sought to escape to cities found that they were paid lower wages than their male coworkers and that all skilled trades were closed to them. The only options of leaving rural environment were marriage, domestic service and being employed in textile industry.

Newspapers and magazines published articles about women’s life in the Soviet society. Life quality was higher for the Communist women who joined public service. Educational opportunities were more accessible and the society provided a wide scope of work experience.

For example, the reasons for female unhappiness were unequivocally explained in the «Red Siberian» article. Their misery involved «family, washing, mending, trough, yarn, pots, calves, chickens, etc., which keep her in captivity and make her sacrifice her life. We must try to free the woman from these chores, give her a wide road in the society» [41, p. 8]. The news stories compared the lives of different families living according to the old and ‘new’ traditions. Readers could make conclusions regarding the advantages of a new social order and benefits of community participation.

Gender and Public Participation in Russia and Eastern Siberia

«Russian Communist Party census in 1927. The main results of the census» shows the disproportionate ratio of the male Communist party’s members of the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic (Russian SFSR). The total number of members of the All-Union Communist Party (A-UCP) represented 7,1 per cent of all the population of the Russian SFSR in the mid 1920s. Men represented 85,9 per cent, and women represented 14,1 per cent of total communist enrollment in the Russian SFSR. Interestingly, the share of male communists was 138 communists per 10,000 people, while the share of female communists was 21 per 10,000 in the Russian SFSR. The share of female communists as related to male communists was 1 to 6. This trend was present in Siberia as a region within the RSFSR. However, the total number of members of the A-UCP represented 0,7 per cent of all the population of the Soviet Union, which was lower than in the Russian SFSR. However, the share of female communists as related to male communists was 1 to 7 in the USSR (see Figure 2).

*Sources and explanations: Russian Communist Party census in 1927. The main results of the census. Moscow; n.p, 1927. P. 10, 11.

Note: Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic (RSFSR), the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR), the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR), the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic (ZSFSR – Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia), the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic (Uzbek SSR), the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic (Turkmen SSR).

The ratio of women for the party structures of Yenisei Region, Eastern Siberia, is shown in Figure 3.

* Sources and explanations : Krasnoyarsk State Provincial Archive – KSPA. FundP-1, reg. 1, file 68 «Data on the composition of the Russian Communist Party including senior management and executive committees, regional membership and other lists», sheet. 12, 19; Fund P-1, reg. 3 «Nomenclature of the members’ files (cases)».

Figure 2 and Figure 3 shows a higher percentage of men and lower percentage of women among the Communist Party members in Eastern Siberia (6% vs 14.1% across Russia).

Gender composition for the Communist Party Executive Committees demonstrates even lower figures (see Figure 3). The Yenisei District Executive Committee included thirty one people, two of them were women (6.5%) [42, p. 19].

The ratio of women differed for the local Soviets in the cities, towns and villages of Eastern Siberia (see Figure 4).

* Sources and explanations: Krasnoyarsk State Provincial Archive – KSPA. Fund R-631, reg. 1, file 156 «Report on the procedures and results of the election campaign for the soviets in the city of Krasnoyarsk and neighboring districts in 1930–1931», sheet. 19, 21; Fund R-631, reg. 1, file 67 «Report of the Siberian Regional Executive Committee on the re-election of soviets in Siberian Region in 1928–1929», sheet. 1, 2; Fund R-631, reg. 1, file 382 «Composition of urban soviets and rural soviets in 1935», sheet. 1, 2; Berdnikov L.P. Vsya krasnoyarskaya vlast: ocherki istorii mestnogo upravleniya i samoupravleniya (1822–1916): faktyi, sobyitiya, lyudi. Krasnoyarsk power structures: historical sketches of the local administration and self-government (1822–1916): facts, events, people. Krasnoyarsk, 1995. 320 p.

Note: * Urban soviets involved deputies and candidates of the soviets in the city of Krasnoyarsk. Local soviets included deputies and candidates of the soviets of towns and villages of Yenisei region in 1927/1928, and 1928/1929 , 1931, 1935.

Figure 4 shows a higher number of women deputies in the soviets of city of about 20% for urban areas vs. 10% for rural areas. The number of women in rural public councils (rural Soviets) was significantly lower in the second half of the 1920s. The number of women and men in the composition of city and rural public councils (Soviets) was equal in the 1930s. Further increase with the percentage of women in urban soviets of 30% in the 1930s was a visible improvement compared to the 1920s (Figure 2). Reports submitted to the national government demonstrated that

«A major feature of the newly elected Urban Soviet composition in 1935 is an increase in the relative number of women (31%). This is an important improvement compared to 24% in 1934 when women’s promotion was not strong enough» [43, p. 19.].

The structures of the Soviet power involved rural women. The USSR’s laws proclaimed this in July, 1925. Communist party began to implement the law in Siberia. In their reports to central governments, officials informed that women’s meetings and women’s conferences were held every 3–4 months. Occasionally, provincial executive committees sent reports to Moscow on how things moved ahead in Siberian provinces. For example, the Secretariat of the Executive Committee of the Communist party in the Siberian region reported that ‘the results of attracting peasants to participation in the Soviet regime were insufficient because working in the agricultural industry was an obstacle to electing women to the Steering Committee’ [44, p. 8]. In addition, female workers and agricultural female workers could not participate actively in administrative work because of the lack of kindergartens for half of the children in Siberian villages.

Women leaders reported to Moscow about the lack of up to 1,000 nurseries in Siberia in 1931. Nurseries in the villages of the North-East of the Siberian region were provided for 5 per cent of the total amount of children (Siberian cities suffered from the lack of nurseries less than villages, with 80 per cent parents having an opportunity to send their children to kindergartens) [32, p. 46]. This prevented recruiting women to industry, agriculture and management.

Statistical reports showed that female management personnel represented 5 per cent of the senior management of the Soviets of Krasnoyarsk city in 1929 (members of the city Soviet’s Presidium and heads of municipal departments: Department of Education, Finance Department, Utilities Department, Architectural Department, the Office of the Soviet). Interestingly, female managers had little practical experience, it ranged from one to three years. Female managers were, as a rule, Communist party members, their ratio was 75 per cent [45, p. 3].

Most women worked in health care, culture, and education. As a rule, these industries were not the priorities in the structure of the Soviet authorities.

The protocols of female meetings at working places showed that the main issues of the meetings included the problems that could be called Women’s Question (Female Issues) . This was the work of kindergartens, nurseries, and the provision of households with goods in short supply, financing of social programs in urban and rural areas. Archival materials provide the names of the women delegates who were actively involved in the management of Siberian regions in the 1920s and 1930s. They were comrades Sosnowskaya, Suvorova, Melnikova, Pakhomova, Sakharova, Andreyeva, Laletina, Zyuzina, Connuh, Gorshkova, Gudimova, etc. [46, p. 1–9].

A female manager biography is provided in an archival record from the State Archives of the Krasnoyarsk Region. Anna Gudimova was born in a poor urban family in the 1900s in Poltavskay province (Russian Empire, Ukraine). She studied in a female school at the Teachers’ Institute. After the revolution, Anna completed a two month program in Social Studies at the Soviet Party School and Evening Communist University in Siberia. Anna became a Trade Union member when she was 21 and she moved to Siberia where she worked in senior management at educational institutions in Eastern Siberia. At the age of 31, Anna became a member of the CSPU, received numerous awards, and was on the boardof a local Communist Party organization [47, p. 1].

Gender and Class in the Soviets of Deputies in Eastern Siberia

Despite women’s ambitions to move to higher roles, the local Soviets forced women into unskilled work (cleaning, couriers, office secretaries, etc). We demonstrate this using an example of Anna Voronova’s career in senior management. Anna was an agricultural workers activist in 1927, with her reference from the Human Resources Department at her local Communist Party organization reporting she was uneducated but disciplined and easily managed. She presented her impressions of working in the Soviets of Krasnoyarsk city at the meeting of the representatives of industrial and agricultural workers with the senior management of Krasnoyarsk industrial companies on 23 January 1928. Her impressions were quite unfavorable as she was offered to clean the rooms and the surrounding territory instead of getting the experience of management work [48, p. 1].

Female participation was restricted by traditional attitudes, values, fear to look assertive and non-feminine.

Stenographers recorded that women deputies were often passive, rarely asked questions, «and never proposed an improvement» [49, p. 2].

«What can we see when we look at deputies’ reports? Our impressions are not at all favorable (efficient female deputies may exist in Siberian region but we have little evidence of their work). Mrs Kolpakova, a female deputy, reported that she had no conversations or meetings with the electors. She wrote the following: «The electors did not choose to meet me, neither did they ask me any questions, I never asked for their advice, either. It happened because the Party Committee and its head at the soap factory where I work never tried to teach me how to be a deputy, and I never did this work before. They never asked if I attended the meetings of the Urban Soviet. Early career deputies should be trained in their work, explained their duties, responsibilities, and the aims of elections» [50, p. 19].

It was clear that illiterate rural women could not strongly participate in public work. Teachers and medical staff did not want to be involved in public participation, either. Local authorities admitted that traditional values of the old way of life and the lack of trained management personnel were the reasons for political illiteracy even among educated women [51, p. 9].

Illiteracy was a major obstacle for the involvement of women in political and social activity. Table 3 shows that the majority of women deputies of Siberian local Soviets did not have any education beyond primary schools (Figure 5).

* Sources and explanations: Krasnoyarsk State Provincial Archive – KSPA. Fund R-631, reg. 1, file 156 «Report on the procedures and results of the election campaign for the soviets in the city of Krasnoyarsk and neighboring districts in 1930–1931», sheet. 1, 4; file 39 ‘Report on the composition of the executive committee of the Urban Soviets ‘, sheet. 1, 2, 3.

Note: *Information included the level of education for the women in Soviets of Krasnoyarsk city and Krasnoyarsk districts. The information wasn’t complete but it showed a trend in the qualitative gender composition.

Between 1924 and 1931, the proportion of women with primary education rose from 78.3 per cent to 88.2 per cent. Dominance of women with primary education, absence of women with higher education and quite an insignificant number of women with secondary education confirm the idea that involving women in public participation was complicated by their educational level.

For example, the second Vice-Chair of Soviets of Krasnoyarsk city Evdokiya Bornovolocova was illiterate. This forty-eight year old industrial worker was promoted to civil service two years before she became Vice-Chair, her illiteracy was not an obstacle. Of course, lack of professional training and work experience in management could have a negative impact on the results of her administrative activity [52, p. 3].

Russian media of the time depicted the lives of the illiterate as poor and unhappy. Many posters portrayed women with primers and other educational books. Men were also encouraged to learn to read. However, Russian traditional society was not willing to change the views it held for hundreds of years.

Fighting female illiteracy was illustrated in the newspaper of the time using an example of Paraskovia Gorbacheva who could not get any education because her mother did not let her go to school. Paraskovia helped her parents with housework babysitting her four brothers and sisters. The newspaper eloquently describes her tears shed over the spinning wheel when her brothers went to school, and she had to stay at home (Minusinsk city, Yenisei Province, Eastern Siberia) [53, p. 1].

However, literacy rate significantly increased in Siberia and in the Soviet Union in the first decades of the Soviets. Active readers increased from 32 per cent to 60.9 per cent from 1917 and 1926. People who could read and write at the age of 9–49 represented 89.7 per cent in 1939 (96 per cent for male population; 83.9 per cent for females). The percentage of literate city-dwellers was 94.9 per cent, while that for rural inhabitants was 86.7 per cent. These facts proved some success of the educational policy which contributed to the involvement of women in politics [54].

Siberian women’s first attempts to attend evening schools, borrow library books and read newspapers are related to the1920s. They found the answers to the Women’s Question (Female Issues) very attractive. Siberian women read the works of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Vladimir Lenin at the meetings of political clubs. Women believed that true equality and true women’s freedom could be only obtained under socialism and communism. In their opinion, enrollment in the Communist party was the most reliable way for women’s liberation [55, 56, p. 5–10].

Social origin and educational levels were important characteristics of female management staff. Archival documents showed changing dynamics of gender composition in Siberian Soviet authorities from 1924 to 1931 (Table 1).

Table 1. Social composition of female deputies of local Soviets in Eastern Siberia from 1924 until 1931

level of education

Membership in the Communist party, per cent

Experience of post-revolutionary work, per cent

Work period in this post, per cent

Occupation, employment, job, per cent

Party’s members



Up to 2 years

From 2 to 5 years

Over 5 years

Up to 1 year

1–2 years

Over 2 years



Unemployed and Housewives

Fiscal officer


































Sources and explanations: Krasnoyarsk State Provincial Archive – KSPA. FundR-631, reg. 1, file 156 «Report on the procedures and results of the election campaign for the soviets in the city of Krasnoyarsk and neighboring districts in 1930/1931», sheet. 1, 4; file 39 «Report on the composition of the executive committee of the Urban Soviets», sheet. 1, 2, 3.

Note: *Information included the level education of women in Soviets of Krasnoyarsk city and Krasnoyarsk districts. The did not cover all the regions in Eastern Siberia, but it showed the general trend in gender composition.

As shown in Table 1, almost every woman in the Soviet government was a member of the Communist Party. Independent delegates did not have access to the public administration.

Post-revolutionary work experience from 2 to 5 years gave access to power to skilled and professional workers. Consequently, the structures of public participation involved more experienced workers by the end of the 1920s compared to the early 1920s. However, the field of public management experienced a high turnover of workers, with the average term of office being 3-6 months. As a result, female workers could move up the career ladder from the lowest positions to senior management posts.

Female workers constituted a minority in the Soviets. Lenin’s famous phrase about housewives who would be able run the country turned out to be difficult to achieve. Agricultural female workers were represented in much smaller numbers. Of course, there was no representatives for the bourgeoisie, rich farmers , clergy, pre-revolutionary civil servants, nobility, and others. Class equality was a sham slogan in the Soviet society.

Urban and Rural Soviets of Deputies did include a substantial number of women. This number was much lower than the number of male deputies. The women were mostly young Communist Party members and they did not have any education beyond primary schooling in the majority of cases. This, however, was also true for male deputies.

Attendance of meetings of the Soviets was very low for female and male deputies. Measures were taken to increase the attendance but the issue was relevant in the 1920s and 1930s. According to archival materials, each deputy attended 2–3 meetings out of 10 in 1936. Insufficient quorums evidently interfered with the efficiency of local Soviets [57, p. 1–7].

Image of Siberian Women as Policy Makers in Female Periodical Publications

Ideological beliefs, work ethics and the ability to actively follow political directions of the party were decisive criteria for all Communist party personnel during the party’s existence. Every delegate and deputy had to demonstrate specific personal qualities. They were ideological resilience, political culture and competence, ability to work in teams, to inspire people by example, integrity, strong morale, a constant need to communicate with the population, an ability to sympathize with people’s interests and needs. Senior communist managers who were entrusted with heading the party organization were required to demonstrate these qualities to a greater degree [58, p. 333].

Advantages and disadvantages of becoming a public officer, power abuse by female delegates intensified the degree of trust of the audience to the publications. Incompetent female representatives of agricultural worker’s committees were discussed in satirical articles.

The «Red Siberian» newspaper demonstrated how a female deputy understood her new position in the following article: «Deputy Maria Mostovaya arranged an outdoor party and got drunk. Maria’s husband brought a rope and nudged her to go home. Maria was rolling on the floor and shouting: “Do not you dare to limit the freedom of a free woman. My duty is to go and speak at a political meeting” » [59, p. 14].


Available sources give little information on the numbers of women involved in local politics in the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s. Even fewer sources cover female public participation in Siberia. This article provides novel understanding of the female public service in remote parts of the country (Eastern Siberia) and presents the first view on the dynamics of involving women in government service in Siberia and the Soviet Union.

Starting from 1917, women were admitted to local Soviets and their executive committees. Women deputies (delegates), women members of executive committees did not have the training and experience in the relevant posts of the Soviet grassroots. Almost every woman in public service did not have any education beyond primary schooling. Our article demonstrates that the Communist state encouraged working class women to enter the public governance, which is consistent with the literature suggesting that the Soviet government facilitated the participation of women in politics. Yet, social norms and traditions prevented female citizenship and public participation. A factory director, a lady secretary, a rich peasant, a priest, and a traditional family woman could not put up with a new political role of Soviet women [5, p. 524]. Bolsheviks proved unable and ultimately unwilling to realize their ideology of a gender-neutral society.

Siberian women participation in public life was established through the systematic work of the local branch of Zhenotdel (female governments’ departments), volunteering (praktikanstvo), promotion (vydvyzhenetsvo) and periodical publications for working class women (newspapers and magazines). By the 1930s, the ratio of women in the government and public participation was 36% (more than a third of all public servants).

Starting from 1917, women were admitted to local Soviets and their executive committees. Women deputies (delegates), women members of executive committees did not have the training and experience in the relevant posts of the Soviet grassroots. Almost every woman in public service did not have any education beyond primary schooling. However, the Communist state encouraged working class women to enter the public governance.

A complete revolution in Siberian government structures was brought about by the Soviet government in the first years of its existence. Local Soviets did not leave a stone unturned of the traditions which held women in an inferior position. Formally, Communist Russia had an advanced and progressive political structure where women were admitted to public participation. Women did not experience the humiliation and pressure if they wanted to be a part of public governance. This was one of first and most important tasks at the early stages of the communist regime.

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