Women in the Red Army

Rabotnitsa i krest'ianka v krasnoii armii [Women workers and farmers in the Red Army].

Moscow-Leningrad: Gosudarstvennoe izdatel'stvo, 1928. Octavo (16.5 × 11 cm). Original photo-illustrated wrappers; 100 pp. With four portraits of women fighters. Stamp dating to the 1920s of the National Publishing House Archive (Arkhiv gos. izd.) to title and p. 17, but no later library stamps. Light soil to bottom of front wrapper; chip to lower spine extremity; front wrapper loose. Still about very good.

First and only edition of a celebratory account of women fighting in the Red Army during the Russian Civil War, written by the cavalry commander Aleksandra Pavlovna Bogat (1898–1981). Bogat graduated from the Moscow Cavalry Academy in 1919 and was immediately appointed commander of the 19th Cavalry Regiment. She remained on active duty throughout the Civil War (1918–1922), fighting with the Red Army from Kharkov to the Black Sea. In 1924–1927 she studied at the Moscow Military Academy, subsequently entering the commander reserves, where she helped prepare women for military service. This book was her first written in this demobilized position. Bogat draws attention to a variety of roles occupied by women in the army, such as the all-female battalions fighting against the White General Yudenich near St. Petersburg, female partisan fighters in Siberia, as well as women who fought in Red General Budyonny’s Cavalry in the South of Russia. She also highlights the only female commander of an armored train, Liuda Makievskaia. Female machine gunners were especially common, and Bogat provides biographies of Pavlina Kuznetsova, Taisia Plotnikova, and Mariia Eremeeva, among others. Another machine gunner (Ivan) Pinkova, apparently entered the Red Army as part of a male battalion, pretending to be a man.

Published on the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution, the text includes an introduction and a brief biography of Bogat written by another prominent Russian Revolutionary, Liudmila Stal’, a personal friend and close political associate of Lenin. A list of twenty-nine female recipients of the Order of the Red Banner, the highest Soviet military decoration of the time, closes the volume.

Women in the Russian and Soviet armed forces have a mixed and ambiguous history, fighting in separate women’s battalions as well as clandestinely among men. The first all-female battalion (“1st Women’s Battalion of Death”) lead by Maria Bochkareva was deployed by the Provisional Government against the Bolsheviks in 1917, reportedly to shame men who no longer wanted to serve in the army after long years of WWI. In line with this outrage at women serving in the armed forces, Bochkareva’s battalion was satirically portrayed in Sergei Eisenstein’s film October (1925). Once in power, the Bolsheviks adopted a program of gender equality and at the 1919 party congress proclaimed that: “the party seeks to realize the real, not only the formal equality of women.” The officially proclaimed equality of men and women automatically assigned to the latter rights and obligations in relation to military service. To bring more women into the armed forces, the Bolshevik feminist Aleksandra Kollontai was appointed head of the political division of the Crimean armed forces in 1919. In this text Bogat states that in 1920 there were 73,881 women fighting in the Red Army, of which 18,542 were on the lists of the dead, with 53 women awarded the Order of the Red Banner. A simplified version of this book, titled “Zhenshchiny-boitsy Krasnoi armii” (Women fighters of the Red Army), was published in 1930.

Cultural attitudes toward women began to change again with Stalin’s rise to power and throughout the 1930s. Female military heroes were progressively erased from Soviet military history, with military heroes such as Bogat assigned more “traditional” roles, in her case working as the People’s Commissar of Health, in the department of Children’s Health. Accordingly, her later pamphlets had more traditional female subjects, such as her 1931 work “Protection of motherhood and childhood in the fight for October” and “The Nursery in the Kolkhoz and the Sovkhoz in the fight for completing the production plan”. One of 15000 copies. Publisher catalog to rear wrapper. Despite the large print run, the book is rare: as of July 2021, KVK, OCLC only locate a copy at Amsterdam.

Book ID: 51402