"But the spell is broken. In the book of life
We will write the story of your victory.
March boldly, woman worker. Let your path
Be light with the torch of liberty."
School and college days
Concordia Nikolayevna Gromova-Samoilova, professional revolutionary Bolshevik, joined our Party at the time when the basic cadres of old Bolsheviks were being forged under Lenin's leadership. Her name will go down into the history of Communism as that of one who brilliantly put the Leninist theory, that it is necessary to attract the backward strata of the proletariat into the ranks of the fighters, to bring the proletarian women into the active struggle, into practice.
The social origin of Comrade Samoilova - she was the daughter of a priest - although antagonistic to the international and anti-religious ideas of the proletariat, did not prevent her from being influenced by the glaring contradictions of Russian life at Irkutsk, in Siberia, where she was born in 1876.
While still at high school, Comrade Samoilova came into contact with a circle of young revolutionaries. After finishing her studies at the high school, she went to St. Petersburg to complete her education. She immediately became one of those "seditious" students, against whom the tsarist monarchy fought with such violence.
She arrived in St. Petersburg at a time of revolutionary upsurge, when the working class had appeared for the first time with more than usual energy, on the arena of revolutionary struggle (the St. Petersburg strikes of 1896), when the tsarist government suddenly discovered a new enemy, in the Marxist spirit of the revolutionary students.
Comrade Samoilova did not stand aloof from the general youth movement. Gifted as she was, with an inquiring mind and a bold and decisive character, she promptly joined the ranks of the fighters.
In 1897 all the students were roused to intense indignation by a horrifying event which occurred in the Fortress of Peter and Paul. A political prisoner, M. F. Vetrova had soaked her clothes with kerosene from an oil lamp and set fire to herself, dying in agony from terrible burns. Such, at all events, was the story of the gendarmes, but there were rumours abroad that Vetrova had been burned alive, after being violated. This horror made a deep impression on Samoilova. The girl students resolved to organise a protest demonstration and rouse all the students in all the universities. A meeting was held in one of the lecture rooms One "prudent" student girl spoke against organising the demonstration. Immediately another student, who was known to few and had not made herself prominent hitherto, stepped quickly up to the rostrum. In loud and excited tones she began to speak, urging that the demonstration be held. It was Samoilova. Her fiery agitational speech roused the whole audience. All voted in favour of the demonstration.
Samoilova's fighting spirit had asserted itself. For the first time in her life she had spoken in public, unexpectedly even for herself.
That first speech decided her future career. She threw up the "serious study" of the capitalist science which the professors of the tsarist universities had turned into something dead, and completely divorced from life.
In 1901 the government issued regulations to the effect that students involved in disorders were to be immediately conscripted into the army. In a tremendous country, where educated people were as drops in the ocean of ignorance and illiteracy, this government measure evoked an outburst of indignation among the students. Samoilova was among those who protested.
As a result: a police raid on her room, arrest, imprisonment and expulsion from the University.
"On February 16th, 1901, Samoilova was arrested in the rooms of the student Fokina at a delegate meeting which had been called to discuss the question of continuing the student agitation in St. Petersburg. During the search of Samoilova's rooms, Kravchinsky's prohibited novel Andrey Kuzhukhov, Chernyshevsky's novel What is to be Done?, and a revolver were found."
Samoilova admitted when charged that she had come to Fokina's room, not because she was acquainted with her, but because she knew that students gathered there. At this meeting they discussed the question of the absence of sufficient support for the students' movement from the public and the press. She had received the books from a student, and she had brought the revolver with her from Siberia, where she had kept it for protection. The charges against her were dismissed after three months, during which time Samoilova was kept on remand; but she had to leave the University.
These three months of preliminary confinement enabled Samoilova to see what monarchy was for herself, and there is no doubt that this experience confirmed her still more strongly in the course which she had taken of devoting her life to the revolution. She decided to go abroad and there, under other and freer circumstances, to continue her studies which had been so brutally interrupted.
She left for Paris on October 11th, 1902. In Paris there was a school which was known as the Free Russian School of Social Sciences. It was conducted by a group of bourgeois liberal professors who had been forbidden to lecture in Russian universities because of their liberalism. Young people who were thirsting for knowledge after the stagnation of the Russian university flocked to this school.
At that time Lenin's paper, the Iskra ("The Spark"), was published in Paris, and Lenin and his colleagues on the paper were anxious to draw the best of the young people who had already experienced tsarist oppression, and come to Paris to escape it, away from the influence of these liberal professors. Accordingly, they too delivered lectures at the school, and utilised it to organise short courses for the training of propagandists for work in the revolutionary Social-Democratic worker's circles in Russia.
Samoilova joined these courses and became an enthusiastic student. Thus, she had the good fortune to pass through the school of Marxist study and to become theoretically trained under the direct guidance of Lenin himself.
Practical work during the period of the first Russian Revolution (Tver, Ekaterinoslav, Odessa, Baku, Moscow and other towns)
Samoilova's first experience in practical work was obtained at Tver, to which town she came directly from Paris in the summer of 1903, shortly before the Second Congress of the RSDLP (Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party).
Not long before Samoilova came to Tver, the Tver Committee of the RSDLP had been raided by the police and most of its members arrested. Thus Samoilova's arrival was a time]y one: she came to strengthen the weakened Social-Democratic organisation, which was fighting under the directions sent it from abroad by Iskra.
She received a warm welcome from the comrades who had managed to escape arrest, and was soon elected a member of the Committee.
Comrade Kudelli, a member of the Tver Committee, describes the impression Samoilova made upon her at their first meeting:
"She was a young girl," she says, "tall, with brilliant, small, brown eyes and a glowing, sun-brown complexion. Her features were irregular and the slight slant of her eyebrows gave her something of a Mongolian or Chinese appearance. The general impression was that of a pleasant and likeable person. It was a pleasure to look at her. She looked as if she were always ready to be of service, to plunge into her work heart and soul."
As was the custom among revolutionaries who worked underground in tsarist Russia, Comrade Samoilova adopted an assumed name to hide her identity. The Comrades dubbed her "Natasha" - and so she was known throughout the whole period of her secret revolutionary work. (When speaking of the underground period we shall continue to refer to Samoilova as "Natasha".)
She undertook propagandist work because she had been trained for it in the Social-Democratic classes in Paris, and because propaganda was the weakest section in the Tver Committee's work.
As a member of the Tver Committee she participated in working out the tactical and organisational line of the Committee, which had to be readjusted after the arrests. Here she at once showed that she had mastered the organisational plan of the Iskra, that she was capable of consistently pursuing the tactics which she considered correct without fearing to "offend friends".
Although she had no experience and was doing practical work for the first time, she discerned the shortcomings in the activities of the Tver organisation - its scattered character, the absence of continuity, and the other defects which Lenin's Iskra had pointed out.
At the Second Congress, which was held abroad in 1903, soon after Natasha came to Tver, the RSDLP split into two camps - the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. When news was received of the split, the Tver Committee of the RSDLP and the whole organisation joined the wing of revolutionary Marxists who followed Lenin's leadership, and henceforth began to call themselves the Bolsheviks. Natasha, too, joined the Bolsheviks.
But she was soon to leave Tver. She had hardly developed her propagandist work when autumn arrived; the coming of the cold weather prevented the holding of meetings in the woods as had been the practice in the summer, and she came up against the question of where to hold her circles. As there were few contacts with the workers, she had to accept rooms from anyone who would give them. A traitor who had crept into her circle betrayed her to the gendarmes and Natasha had to go into hiding. Incidentally, the workers killed the traitor.
The next scene of her underground work was Ekaterinoslav (now Dniepropetrovsk). Conditions here were quite different from those in Tver. Tver lay in the northern textile region of Russia, where the workers were subjected to a far greater degree of exploitation than in the mining and metallurgical South, of which Ekaterinoslav was the centre. In the northern textile region, wages were of the lowest while the working day extended to a length of fourteen to sixteen hours. And the whole of the Northern Workers' Union, including the Tver organisation, adhered to the policy laid down by Lenin and the Iskra.
In the South, on the other hand, capitalist development was more advanced owing to the influx of foreign capital, the iron and steel industry was highly developed, the position of the workers was better than in the northern textile region. The situation was more complicated, the Menshevik influence was stronger. Especially during the industrial boom of the 'nineties, when large orders for rails were being fulfilled owing to the accelerated construction of railways, the proletariat of the South enjoyed better conditions than the textile workers of the North - higher wages, shorter hours, etc.
But Natasha arrived in Ekaterinoslav very shortly after the workers of this district had written a brilliant page in the history of the Russian workers' movement. They had carried on a series of strikes and demonstrations with red flags under such slogans as "Down with the monarchy", "The eight-hour day", and so on. Clashes with the police and troops had taken place, resulting in killed and wounded, and the jails were full of prisoners who were brutally ill-treated.
Generally, the conditions were difficult and, although the workers of the big plants had Bolshevik sympathies, the urban districts swarmed with Mensheviks. Under these difficult circumstances Natasha proved herself an indomitable Bolshevik; and so she remained up to the end of her days. Comrade Egorov, a member of the Ekaterinoslav Party Committee at the time Natasha was there, gives the following description of her activities:
"I did the organisational work, while Natasha attended to propaganda and the contacts in the town. It was a difficult time. We spent the evening in organisational and propaganda work, while at night, tired as we were, we frequently sat drawing up leaflets. Natasha would urge me on. Frequently I sat nodding with fatigue, and unable to force a single idea out of my head. Then I threw my overcoat on the floor, lay down on it and slept. In the morning Natasha woke me up and again set me to work. In addition to these labours we had to struggle against the Mensheviks who were trying to get the organisation into their hands. It was a hard and stubborn fight, because there were some wavering elements on the Committee, who had contact with the Mensheviks. Their tactics were to put any Mensheviks who arrived in Ekaterinoslav into the workers' organisations. Natasha and I had to repulse these attacks and preserve our influence in the workers organisations. It needed all our efforts to maintain our influence in the factory districts, but we succeeded. Natasha applied all her energy and all her strength to activities in the workers' circles. Every evening was devoted to this work. Besides this, we had to organise a print-shop and the technical machinery for the distribution of literature. I recall our bitter disappointment when the first consignment of literature was lost, owing to the inexperience of the comrades. True, it was not all we had, but it was several thousand copies. But what was our triumph when, the same day, to the discomfiture of the gendarmes, large numbers of the remaining leaflets were distributed in the factories. The loss of this consignment was caused accidentally by a police observer who, seeing the leaflets being brought in, suspected that it was stolen property and raided the house.
"In Ekaterinoslav, Natasha lived on her own passport. The gendarmes were soon on her track, knowing of her from the circular of the Police Department on the Tver case. I urged her to get an illegal passport and had almost convinced her, but it was too late. She was arrested and taken to Tver, where she was brought up on charges concerning Tver and Ekaterinoslav. Her arrest was a great blow to the organisation, although she was the only comrade to be arrested. I was experienced in the tactics of the political police and had noticed that they were shadowing her. But for a long time she thought that I was being too suspicious. When she became convinced herself, it was already too late to escape.
"I last saw her in Ekaterinoslav behind the bars of the police station. The window looked out upon the street and someone told me I should be ask to see her. I thought I would take advantage of this and go to say goodbye, but as soon as she saw me she waved her hand and head so sternly that I realised that danger was threatening me and that I should get away from Ekaterinoslav. I soon did so, handing over all my affairs to a Bolshevik comrade."
Natasha was in prison in Tver for fourteen months. After long and insistent applications by her sister, she was liberated on bail of one thousand rubles in March, 1905, on the order of the Moscow Public Prosecutor, who permitted her to choose what town she would live in under police observation.
Natasha resolved to return to the South to continue her revolutionary work. At first she went to Nikolayev, a big port and naval shipbuilding centre; but as she was under surveillance and had to inform the police wherever she went, she could not carry on underground work. She soon left Nikolayev secretly and went to Odessa.
During the fourteen months she was in jail, Russia had become transformed. The country was in the melting pot of revolution. Events, as Lenin said, were developing with astounding rapidity. But the South was somewhat behind the rest of the country, and the proletariat of Odessa did not follow the heroic example of the St. Petersburg proletariat, save in the single instance of the June strike (June 13-25th, 1905).
The Social-Democratic organisation of Odessa, as Natasha soon saw, was not following the road pointed out by Lenin.
The Bolsheviks on the Odessa Committee, who gathered to discuss and study the resolutions of the Third Congress of the Party, were all arrested and imprisoned. Just before that the secret printing plant had been discovered and confiscated. All that was left was a number of isolated militant Bolsheviks, who had just come to Odessa, and had not had time to get properly into contact with the masses of the Party organisation. Among these Bolsheviks was Natasha.
Thus the leadership of revolutionary Social-Democracy was very weak. All that was left was the Menshevik committee, the Bund (Jewish Labour League (Menshevik) - was an organisation which placed Jewish cultural autonomy, and the separate organisation of the Jewish workers, in the forefront of its programme), the few scattered Bolsheviks and the conciliators. Natasha had not time to get to work when historic days commenced. From the 1st May, strikes began and continued almost throughout the whole month. The feelings of the workers rose to such a pitch that only the slightest impulse was needed to produce a big and determined movement.
When the elected delegates of the workers were arrested at the beginning of June, the masses demanded their release and, under the pressure of the crowds. the authorities were compelled to free them. The workers carried their released comrades home, singing the Marseillaise.
An insignificant event, like a spark in a barrel of powder, released the pent-up energies of the masses, and, from that instant, the famous "June Days" of Odessa commenced. On June 13th, the Cossacks attacked a crowd of peaceful and unarmed workers at the Hahn Factory; they opened fire on them, killing two workers and wounding several others. The surrounding district began a strike and then the whole town joined in. There were clashes with the police and the troops. The workers put up barricades and there was bloody street fighting. The workers appealed to the Social-Democrats to get them arms. Troops arrived. They were followed by curses, the factory whistles blew, a tremendous crowd moved in the direction of Nassyp, to the railway embankment, where the workers had stopped a train, made the passengers get out and blew off the steam of the engine. Cossacks appeared, but when they saw the enormous crowd, determined and defiant, they waved and galloped off. A meeting such as had never been seen in Russia before was held near the railway bridge. The fiery words of the Social-Democratic orators roused the feelings of the workers still further, awakening their class consciousness and solidarity.
Next day, June 14th, all the workers of Odessa were on strike. The town presented an unusual appearance. The stores, workshops and offices were all closed. Not a single factory, not a workshop was opened. The street cars were stopped. Many were overturned and used as barricades, together with carts and other material. Even youngsters took part in this, and spoke as agitators.
Clashes with the soldiers and the police took place everywhere. The blood of the workers was shed by the swords of the Cossacks and the bullets of the police. The enraged workers clamoured for arms, but arms there were none…It seemed as if there were no way out…Then suddenly, at ten o'clock in the evening of June 14th, they were astounded to see, sailing into the port of Odessa, the first revolutionary battleship, carrying the red flag of revolution.
The tables were turned. The port was at once deserted by the police. A crowd, joyful and excited, rushed down to the port to greet the coming of the Potemkin.
The revolt on the battleship Potemkin had arisen in exactly the same way as that among the Odessa workers. Social-Democratic work had been carried on previously among the sailors, but the outbreak took place unexpectedly.
A revolutionary committee of thirty sailors was set up onboard the battleship to take control of the ship. The Committee lost no time in getting into contact with the representatives of the workers' organisations in the town. A joint session was held, but here the influence of Menshevism, indecision and wavering began to make itself felt and the propitious moment was let slip. Instead of taking the offensive - the only course, as revolutionary Marxism teaches us - it was decided to wait for the coming of other ships in the Black Sea squadron. This delay proved fatal to the armed uprising.
At four o'clock, after the meeting on the battleship, the representatives of the Social-Democratic organisations returned to shore and announced to the workers, who were waiting for arms and leadership, that the sailors would not come ashore and that they could disperse to their homes.
Night fell. And with it came revenge, provocation and crime.
In the town, the police began a pogrom. They broke open the wine cellars, the "Black Hundreds" drank their fill, set fire to the storehouses, plundered and set fire to the houses. The town was delivered up to fire, massacre and destruction.
Natasha, who was in Odessa, felt it all very deeply. She had only just come out of prison. She remembered the ferocity of tsarism, the rigid restrictions of life when, in her student years in St. Petersburg, the appearance of a group of demonstrating students was accompanied by the swish of Cossack whips and the sharp crack of rifle fire.
At this moment Natasha realised acutely the meaning of the struggle of the Leninist Iskra for a party of rock-like unity without which the victory of the proletariat is impossible. Lenin's slogan "first separate and then unite", that is to say first let the Bolsheviks definitely separate from the Mensheviks, and then discuss the question of united action with them, became the guiding star of her activity.
Natasha continued her propaganda work in Odessa, placing the greatest emphasis on the explanation of the two tactical lines - the Menshevik and the Bolshevik. But, notwithstanding the reinforcement of the Bolshevik organisation and certain organisational successes, the events which followed - the events of October, 1905, when the new revolutionary wave spread over the whole of Russia, showed that the leaders were lagging behind the development of the revolution. The Mensheviks and Bundists were more strongly organised and the Bolsheviks were consequently infected with tendencies towards conciliation and unification.
The "indomitable Bolshevik", as Natasha was called in Odessa, could not contain herself; she went to Moscow in order to be at the centre of things and school herself in correct Bolshevik tactics. She arrived in Moscow at the very height of the armed uprising; she stayed there until it was crushed and then returned to Odessa.
All these dramatic and historic events left a deep impression on her. Natasha felt that she could not stay in Odessa merely to carry on propagandist work. Of her own accord she decided to go to Rostov-on-Don, where an armed revolt had also taken place. She knew that new work faced her now, that among the Rostov proletariat it was necessary to carry on work for learning and mastering the experience of the latest forms of struggle, the work of preparing and organising forces, so that the new outburst would be armed and properly organised.
Natasha's decision to leave Odessa tormented her. So that her departure would not be misunderstood by the workers of Odessa, she made a plain and outspoken statement of her opinion of the incorrect tactics of the Social-Democratic Party organisation of Odessa. Here is her letter:
"I state to the members of the Odessa Committee (the majority [the Bolsheviks]) that I do not consider it possible to remain any longer in the local joint organisation for the following reasons:
"First of all, I find that the disagreements between the majority and the minority [the Mensheviks] on tactical questions are still so important that fusion at the present moment is a step on the path of compromise and is equivalent to the abandonment of the only true revolutionary tactics which have been pursued up to the present by the majority and which have made them the Left, and truly revolutionary wing of the RSDLP.
"Fusion when there are important disagreements can only be mechanical and must in practice in view of local conditions, lead to the majority being overwhelmed by the minority, while, under present conditions an ideological struggle for influence will inevitably be fruitless, and can only cause fresh friction, conflicts and a new split. This fusion will only cause more disorganisation in the work and will not help matters. I also consider that the fusion which has taken place here is an act which fundamentally violates all notions of Party discipline, which has always been energetically defended by the majority in its struggle against the anti-Party and disorganising tendencies of the minority.
"Without sharing the point of view of one of those who spoke at a meeting of the outside districts and who declared that 'we need not pay any attention to the paper resolution of the Third Congress,' I find that the local organisation had no right to decide such an important question as fusion with the minority without the agreement of the whole Party (i.e., the majority), and the only proper and reliable course to take in this matter is to convene the Fourth Congress of all Party workers.
"The Odessa organisation which is rushing with inexplicable haste along the path of fusion, did not think it necessary to inform either the Central Committee or the other committees of the majority. It absolutely ignored the example of such organisations as the St. Petersburg and Moscow committees which found unity possible only on federative lines.
"Having thus put the local organisation outside established centres and Party boundaries, fusion has brought still greater chaos into Party relations, especially if we suppose that the Fourth Congress decided only on the federative form of union between the two parts of the Party. Then the Odessa organisation, as one which has fusion, will be outside any Party.
"In conclusion, I will say that the very people under whose leadership I have worked for several months, whom I considered till then to be reliable leaders with sound political principles, have turned out to be incapable of coping with the situation. At a critical moment, when the less reliable part of the outside districts were showing a tendency towards fusion, instead of speaking out with a view to influencing these wavering comrades, they drifted with the stream and by their inconsistency helped to undermine those principles which I had previously thought they advocated.
"The 'stalwarts' who a week previously did not wish to hear of fusion, suddenly, by some miracle, began to vote for fusion, justifying it by saying that it was awkward to insist on federation when the outside districts were inclined towards fusion. It is true that some of them claimed that in principle they were for federation, but at the meetings of the outside districts the question of fusion did not meet with any opposition from them, and our leaders only replied by shameful and criminal silence to the demagogic phrases about the late split in the Party being 'incited only by the leaders', about a 'handful' of intellectuals wanting to interfere with fusion.
"Cases of such instability of principles have destroyed all my belief in the local leadership and this, in connection with the above-mentioned causes, prompts me to leave the Odessa organisation."
But this protest of "propagandist Natasha" did not achieve its purpose. She was arrested at the moment when she was about to drop the letter into the post box. She was locked up in Rostov jail and her letter fell into the hands of the tsarist agents. (The 1917 Revolution brought it to light from the dusty archives of the Okhrana.[the political police])
Once again she spent months in prison and was exiled, this time without choice, to Vologda, in North Russia, under police supervision.
But the revolution was not over. Natasha was burning to get to work again, and she soon contrived to escape the vigilance of the Vologda police.
She went to live in Moscow illegally, with all the material and legal consequences arising from it.
This is how Comrade Bobrovskaya describes the activity of Natasha at this period:
"One of the members of the Regional Committee was Concordia Samoilova, 'Natasha' as we called her. She died not long ago. A passionate revolutionary, Natasha one day delivers militant speeches at a mass meeting in the Mitishchi Woods, next she calls an organisational meeting in Golutvino, the day after she sits in conference with the representatives of the Koloman Works, from there she goes to Shchelkovo, Kuntsevo, Pushkino; everywhere she is expected with impatience, everywhere she rouses dormant thoughts, stirs a wearied will, binds the scattered suburban Moscow proletarian masses who are gradually recovering from the defeat of 1905, with strong organisational ties. Having made her rounds, hungry and tired Natasha returns to Moscow, and her reports at the meetings breathe of the life, of the very heart, of the working masses…As a measure of safety Natasha and I arranged to keep away from each other, although this was not easy, for we were most intimate friends right until she died.
"At twelve o'clock one night, however, she came to my lodgings and said that she was forced to break our agreement, because, having visited the homes of three sympathisers to ask to be allowed to stay she had met with a polite refusal at all of them and found herself on the street. That night both of us slept very little, but we jested a great deal at the expense of the sympathisers and ourselves. There was nothing else to do, for it was impossible for both of us to sleep on that narrow, broken cot."
This was in 1906, when Natasha was working in the Moscow District Party organisation. However, she was not able to work there long as the police spies began to shadow her very closely. She realised that it was the end of her Party work in Moscow, and that to avoid arrest and imprisonment she must leave for another place.
She chose the town of Lugansk in the Donets Basin.
The concluding months of 1906 was a period of intense factional struggle in the midst of the united Party (the Unity Congress of the RSDLP took place in Stockholm in 1906).
Lugansk was then a small Bolshevik island in the "Menshevik sea" of the Donets Basin. The elections to the Second Duma were approaching and it was necessary to strengthen the Bolshevik ranks, not only to keep Lugansk and carry on a proper election campaign there, but to extend our influence. Professor Pinkevich, who worked in Lugansk at the time, describes that period as follows:
"We arrived at Lugansk in the middle of December and went to the appointed place, at Comrade Roslovsky's (the editor of a small local paper Donetsky Kolokol ("The Donet's Bell"), and a few hours later we were talking to two professional revolutionaries, Comrades Anton and Natasha.
"I remember the humble little apartment of two small rooms. I remember the vivid, rosy and happy face of Natasha, the big black curly head of Anton (A. A. Samoilov). I remember them both, happy and lively, bombarding us with questions on Party tactics and asking us about the fate of one or another Party comrade. There were many questions - the election campaign for the Duma, the question of election agreements, the Party Congress in London, the slogans to be issued, the factional struggle in St. Petersburg, etc.
"The work was performed with wonderful gaiety and animation, with the energetic participation of the Bolshevik workers. Unfortunately, I do not remember all their names. The committee displayed great activity. Several times meetings were held in the Hartmann factory itself or at its gates, in the railroad shops, at the cartridge works. But the chief base was, of course, the Hartmann factory, where all the comrades had strong contacts and were very popular, especially Voroshilov and Fridkin.
"In this work, also, Natasha was irreplaceable. She did not speak at big meetings at that time - this was the duty of Yurin and I, but she was the life and soul of the committee. A fine organiser, thoroughly loyal to the cause of the revolution, open and direct, a rare, lofty-minded and noble person. She was loved by all who met her. She looked after Anton, who always seemed to us to be a big baby who did not altogether belong to this world. She looked after us, held a circle and directed the technical work, rushed about the whole day on organisational activity and never complained. She burned with a mighty faith in the ultimate victory of the proletariat. She had a great capacity for work and was energetic to a rare degree, and at the same time distinguished by an unusual modesty.
"When the question of elections to the Party Congress arose (in February, 1907) and when her name was first put forward as candidate, she absolutely refused, stating that 'Maxim or Yurin or one of the workers, for example Volodya, should go.' The tsarist gendarmes solved the question by arresting Yurin and me, and the Lugansk group sent Natasha to the Congress with Volodya (Voroshilov)."
At the Congress in London, she saw Lenin again for the first time since her stay in Paris in 1902-03. He was now leader of the Bolsheviks. She heard his wonderful speeches, in which he gave a devastating criticism of the political line of the Menshevik CC which had fallen so low as to proclaim the slogan that the workers should support the Cadet (Constitutional-Democrat - the Party of the Liberal Bourgeoisie) ministry and was even trying to repudiate the demand for the expropriation of the landlords without compensation. She heard the speech of Lenin in which he developed the principle that the revolution in Russia would be victorious as the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasants, and that the proletariat is the leader of the revolution. As we know, Natasha was neither a great theoretician nor tactician in our Party. She was devoted to practice, and without doubt the Fifth Congress had a tremendous influence on her, deepening her understanding of Bolshevism, and making her for the rest of her life an unswerving Leninist fighter.
The Bolsheviks were victorious at the Congress and it is easy to imagine the joyful feelings with which Natasha returned to Russia. She was eager to get back to Lugansk to the workers of the Hartmann factory. She was eager to give them her report as a delegate and to take up again, with even greater enthusiasm, the revolutionary work to which she had devoted her life. The police department meanwhile was carefully watching the Congress. Its foreign agents shadowed the delegates, exerting every effort to discover their real names to arrest them at the frontier when they returned to Russia. Natasha, however, got through safely and, to cover her tracks, stayed for a time in Kharkov.
While living there, she corresponded with the Lugansk Party organisation, using another name, of course, and having the letters sent to the addresses of friends. Voroshilov (Volodya), who had returned to Lugansk immediately, sent a letter to Natasha, which the Okhrana intercepted and photographed (a copy being kept in the records of the police department). In the letter he wrote:
"In my opinion, it will be very dangerous for you to come here, as there has been a raid on Akim Ivanovich's house. He said the books which were found came from you. The police have not forgotten about you, as I can prove. Our house is being watched all the time; we are under suspicion, so you would be caught at once."
Natasha was bitterly disappointed at being unable to return to Lugansk. She had to find another working-class centre where she could carry on her work. She went for a time to Moscow then to Baku, that tremendous centre of the oil industry. In Baku, as in the metal industry of the Donbas and Ekaterinoslav, capitalism had reached a higher form of development. But here, in this centre of the oil industry, which represented the vital nerve of tsarist imperialism and gave tremendous proRts to the owners, the proletariat who produced those riches lived in the most terrible conditions. And this in spite of the fact that revolutionary activity was not new to Baku, and that the proletariat of Baku had already inscribed many heroic pages in the revolutionary history of the working-class.
A peculiarity of Baku was that the workers consisted of seventeen nationalities, all speaking different languages. Besides Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, there were a number of national parties. The betrayal of the interests of the working-class by the Mensheviks made the struggle between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks unusually intense.
The conditions of Party work and life were very complicated and difficult. The oilfields were scattered at great distances from each other and from Baku. The evening's walk to hold workers' circles was a risky undertaking. The oil derricks had guards against incendiarism. All was dark and deserted. It was not unlikely that a passer-by might receive a bullet or a stab from a knife.
Natasha sometimes had very painful experiences. On her way to a workers' circle as Cherny Gorodok in the railwaymen's district some women accosted her with curses: "You…you want to take our husbands away from us! We'll show you…!"
At that time Natasha, and the Party in general, frequently encountered the obstructing influence of women. Some comrades have expressed the opinion that probably it was this and similar foolish acts an the part of the uneducated women which induced her to take up work among women, in which field she became a great political figure. Her name ranks among the first of the organisers - leaders of the millions of working women and peasant women, who reinforced the ranks of the working-class in the struggle for power and the building of socialism.
Natasha and International Women's Day
The years of dark reaction set in. In 1909, on March 1st, Natasha was again arrested and kept in prison for about a year. But the case against her was so clumsily drawn up by the tsarist officials that even the tsarist court acquitted her. In those difficult years Natasha knew neither doubts nor hesitation. Life in St. Petersburg soon confirmed her unshaken faith in the rapid rebirth of the Russian revolutionary movement.
In December, 1912, Natasha occupied a responsible position on the fighting staff of the Bolsheviks. After the arrest of V. M. Molotov she took his place as secretary on the editorial board of the Pravda. The comrades working on the Pravda describe her activity at this post as follows:
"Comrade Samoilova joined our editorial staff in 1913. She was secretary of the editorial board and a tireless, energetic worker. She wrote many articles herself, many of them unsigned and others signed with a nom-de-plume. Although her style was somewhat monotonous, her articles were always written in a manner easily understood by the rank and file reader and answered the very questions which proletarian life and struggle brought forward."
But the writing of articles and participation in the work of the editorial board was not the most important part of Comrade Samoilova's work on the Pravda. Much more important was her secretarial work. The workers' paper, at that time, was almost the only means by which the voices and feelings of the workers in the factories could find expression. Hundreds of workers sent letters to the paper and came themselves to the editorial office. The humble editorial office was like a beehive. The workers came in streams: representatives from factories on strike, representatives of trade unions, benefit societies and workers' clubs also came to relate the conditions of their life and work. Meetings of workers in factories collected money in small sums for "our beloved Pravda".
Worker-poets waited with impatience for a review of their verses, and the reply as to whether they would be published. Workers often came as if to a complaints bureau, to tell of a bullying foreman, director or manager, or to ask advice on how to defend the rights of the workers against the bosses. They brought their family troubles and the disputes of their native villages.
They knew it was to their own paper that they were coming, where they would be welcomed, listened to and given satisfaction in some way or other. That is why a throng of people came crowding into the office every day. Often there were as many as three or four hundred visitors in one day.
They came in the lunch interval, they came after work, in the evening, or they slipped out of the factory during working hours - tatters, turners, blacksmiths, mechanics, carpenters, bricklayers, decorators, workers in oily clothes, smelling of paint, oil, tobacco, the sweat of toil. All came to the editorial offices of the workers' paper and all received a word of encouragement. The articles which were published, uncouthly written in strong but direct workers' language on the subject of the system in some workshop or other, would sound like an alarm bell to the whole factory, bringing new visitors and helpers to the editorial office.
Often a washerwoman or cook, a blacksmith or an unskilled worker came simply to "tell the paper" of their troubles. Then the workers of the paper and the secretary herself sat down beside them and wrote what they said, trying to get the actual words of the speaker.
Natasha was especially glad when women came. Every woman worker who came with correspondence or the story of her life interested her tremendously.
It was a tremendous, never ending narrative of workers' woes and workers' anger in the capitalist world, and the paper could only reproduce a small part of it all.
Others, came, strike-breakers, who had betrayed their brothers in the struggle and gone over to the side of capital, whose names had been held up to scorn in the Pravda.
At that time the organised workers mercilessly boycotted such traitors, and adopted a rule that strike-breakers who wished to repent must ask forgiveness publicly in the columns of the Pravda, the workers' newspaper.
Eavesdroppers and tale-tellers, toadies and boot-lickers of the bosses, all those to whom the Pravda gave no mercy, called at the editorial office to request the publication of a refutation, a letter of repentance, or a request to "admit them into the worker's family and let bygones be bygones." Sometimes the refusal to publish such a letter virtually prevented them from working in any of the factories, making them indeed lepers and outcasts.
The pages of the paper were small, the material - manuscripts on the living and working conditions and the struggle of the workers - was tremendous, and only the smallest space in the paper could be given to letters of repentance. But the pile of such letters grew. And more than once a strike-breaker, tired of waiting until his letter was printed, came to the secretary with tears in his eyes and begged her to publish his letter quicker, promising in future to be honest and march shoulder to shoulder with his comrades. Natasha used to go into the editors' "den" and insist that the letter of this "scab" be taken out of turn from its nail on the wall and printed. "To-morrow for certain," she would say in the doorway as she left to go into her room: "I promised the man it would go in. Her colleagues on the paper used to jokingly call her "the scabs' mammy" and her secretarial office the "house of repentance".
The whole of this great stream of people passed through Natasha's tiny room. She listened to every visitor with the greatest attentiveness, sympathy and warmth. She spoke to each worker caressingly and as a friend, striving to win his sympathy for the Pravda and towards our Party.
Sometimes a worker's article on his factory was held up in the editorial office. Such delays were inevitable owing to lack of space and the great mass of material. But when the author, fearing perhaps that his article was being held up through carelessness, called to enquire, Natasha showed the greatest sympathy, went to the editors and insisted that the printing of the article be speeded up.
Among her duties, there was one that was a very difficult and unpleasant one. At that time every article which offended tsarism was followed by the Pravda being fined, by the arrest of the editor, and finally by the suppression of the paper.
There were no funds to pay fines. Failure to pay meant three months' imprisonment for the editor. If the Party comrade who really edited the paper went to jail every time, the Party would not have had sufficient editors. Moreover our best writers were compelled to live abroad.
To prevent the paper being closed down and to protect the real editors, workers offered their services as substitutes. They gave their names to the paper, while others did the editing. A bold article in defence of the working-class would cause them to be sent to jail.
Natasha often dealt with these fictitious editors. Not all of them were fully class-conscious or thoroughly understood the reason why they were going to prison. Some of them came because they were unemployed and had nowhere to go, for we paid them twenty-five to thirty rubles a month, and somewhat more while they were in jail.
Naturally, these men sometimes wavered. Natasha used frequently to talk with them and explain the significance of a workers' paper. Of course, it was not very pleasant to say to anyone: "We will write the article, and you will oblige us by going to jail for it." They had to be inspired with great sympathy for the cause of the workers' paper. It was necessary to exert a moral influence over them, so that they might undertake the unpleasant business of going to prison. Some of them even had to serve long sentences. Natasha worked several months at this arduous job.
At that time the Pravda had tremendous influence on the minds of the working masses. It trained a whole generation of Bolshevik readers who, at the beginning of the revolution of 1917, formed a solid mass, were imbued with one spirit and were welded together by an iron discipline. Many comrades took part in the work of the Pravda. But it was Natasha who occupied the post at the very heart of things. Working among the very masses of toilers and revolutionary workers, she keenly observed the groups of workers who were coming into the movement for the first time, and her position on the paper gave her many opportunities for making direct contact with them and directing their minds in Bolshevik channels.
It was particularly with the women workers that Natasha displayed her excellent qualities as an organiser. She played a leading part in organising the first International Women's Day in Russia. It is an interesting fact that women began to come more frequently to the Pravda office when Natasha began to work there. And it was in her little room in the office that she conceived the plan for drawing the working women into the general movement of the working-class.
It was only in 1913 that the working women of Russia learned of International Women's Day, and it was from this date that their more or less regular organisation begins. The working women began to realise their solidarity with all other comrades like themselves all over the world; they began to understand that emancipation from poverty and want could only be achieved for the working women when the proletariat had carried its class struggle with the capitalist class to a victorious conclusion. However, we had to fight the Mensheviks to keep possession of the movement, as they tried to bring it under the domination of the capitalist parties.
Samoilova played a leading part in this tremendous work of the Party in organising the first International Women's Day, which the women workers were to recognise as their own day, set apart for arousing their class consciousness and widening their horizon to the point of understanding international solidarity. She devoted her creative efforts particularly to this branch of the construction of our Party.
As a stalwart Bolshevik with many years of experience of revolutionary work, she organised this work in a Bolshevik way. She approached the matter cautiously, thinking over the plan for organising the work, frequently asking advice from the comrades on the Pravda on this question, and directing the work so that it served to strengthen the main stream of the revolutionary class struggle.
Samoilova frequently discussed the question of publishing a women's magazine with her comrades. The general revival of the labour movement in Russia at this time was also reflected in the growing interest the working women displayed in the movement. They formed unions, participated in the strike movement, in the insurance movement, wrote to the paper, went to May Day demonstrations and so on. It was impossible for the Pravda to deal with the women's movement to an adequate extent. Samoilova's most cherished dream was to publish a magazine, The Woman Worker. Later, this dream came true, and it may be said that Samoilova discovered her real sphere of work; she concentrated her efforts upon the women's movement. And it was in this work that the perfect organiser and agitator of women, which Samoilova showed herself to be after the revolution, grew up and developed.
That this was her true calling, her natural element, was very evident to those who saw her in the period of illegal Pravda work and at the women's conferences after the revolution.
After the Party had come to a decision on the question of women workers, Natasha, with her usual enthusiasm, together with a group of women workers who had already come into the Party and a number of Bolshevik comrades (S. M. Pozner, P. F. Kudelli and others) began to make preparations for International Women's Day.
In January, 1913, a congress on women's education called by a capitalist group of liberal intellectuals was held, to which only selected women workers were admitted. The main theme discussed at this Congress was "masculine predominance". Pravda, in this connection, wrote that big results would be attained and the real voice of the women masses be heard, not at this congress, but at the International Women's Day organised by Pravda.
This first article in Pravda addressed to women workers was a passionate appeal to Russian women to join the ranks of the militant working-class, to become part of the mighty torrent of the international revolutionary workers' movement.
After this article, the Pravda carried on systematic agitation in its columns. A series of articles appeared on the tasks of International Women's Day, and how it should be organised so that the Russian women workers would feel it as their day. But the first International Women's Day was also conceived as an occasion for reviewing our forces.
With this aim, Pravda set aside a column on "Women's Work". A list of publications appeared under the heading: "A Scientific Social Library. Women's Labour and the Woman's Question". A questionnaire was drawn up by the Pravda on the conditions of women workers in various factories and branches of industry. Pravda likewise urged a number of societies and trade unions (needle trades workers, textile workers, etc.) to investigate and study the conditions of the women workers and send data to the Pravda. All attention was centred on the class position of women, on their position in industry, etc. As material began to arrive, the "Women's Work" column, and the new section "For International Women's Day", began to appear more and more frequently in the Pravda.
The class struggle which was developing against the capitalist offensive, which in this period of reaction was very successfully adapted to the "constitutional" conditions of the so-called June Third Duma, provided plenty of clear and concrete material for the women's column. Lockouts began to extend to the textile mills. The approaching crisis led to the reduction of wages, and the women were cynically told to "make up the extra money on the streets." Eight hundred women workers of the Laferme Factory came out on strike.
Samoilova gathered all this material, and, in addition, to the "women's column", she wrote many articles which focused attention on the question in such a way that it deeply interested the women - the results of strikes and their role in the struggle against the rise in the cost of living, the government's flirtation with the women's question, and its intention to introduce a Bill in the Duma providing for women factory inspectors.
The attempts of the employers to draw the women workers into their organisation provoked a fiery article from Natasha, in which she called upon the women workers to join their class organisations - the trade unions.
At the same time, steady preparatory work was secretly being carried on by the underground women workers of the Party. A large number of women, Bolshevik Party workers used the material collected by the Pravda from meetings, trade-unions, clubs and various workers' societies to prepare reports and speakers from among the active women workers who had already become prominent (Alexeyeva, a weaver, Pavlova, etc.). Natasha took an active part in this work. Thus on the first International Women's Day, women workers made clear and eloquent speeches full of concrete material taken direct from factory life, they exposed the depth of the exploitation of the women workers and explained how they were doubly oppressed and deprived even of those meagre rights which the men workers possessed.
February 23rd (March 8th, new style) approached. The agitation carried on by the Pravda forced the enemies of the working-class to move. A group of liberals who published the Women's Herald began a campaign of abuse against the Pravda and announced that the People's University was also holding a women's day.
Samoilova answered these feminists with great passion and confidently stated on behalf of the women workers that they had definitely decided to participate in International Women's Day. The attack of the Women's Herald showed that the tactical line which had been followed by the Bolsheviks in organising the masses of women workers was conceived strictly according to the principles and spirit of revolutionary Marxism.
February 23rd, 1913 - the date fixed for the first International Women's Day - was a Sunday. In order to get police permission to hold meetings on this day (according to the provisional regulations of March 4th, 1906), it was decided to call the meetings "scientific matinees".
It is instructive to examine the pages of the Pravda for the year 1913 and to see the mounting interest with which the men and women workers viewed this day as it approached. At first a worker (or maybe it is a working woman, who is afraid to give her name) writes of the hard conditions of the women workers, of the low wages, of the annoyance to which good-looking working girls are subjected by the foreman, etc. A few days later it is a woman worker of the same factory who writes (apparently she had paid a visit to Natasha's office). First we read the words of protest, and then comes the notice of a strike.
New strata of women workers were always being drawn in; at first the textile workers, then the needle trades workers, laundry-women, milliners, etc.
For a long time the women workers in the rubber industry remained outside the movement. In 1914 however, numerous cases of mass poisoning at the Triangle Rubber Factory and other factories of the rubber industry aroused the indignation of the proletariat, not only in St. Petersburg, but throughout all Russia.
At first, an attempt was made to induce the women to insure against accidents under the Workers' Insurance Act; as this was one of the means of getting them organised; but the women refused to do this and tore up the insurance forms. They behaved in this way, not because their conditions were better than those of women in other industries, but because, by working overtime, in the fume-laden atmosphere of the factory, they could earn from eighty kopeks to one ruble a day, whereas the textile workers, for example earned sixty kopeks at the most, the average wage being twelve rubles a month. But their attitude changed after the success of International Women's Day; even these slaves of capital ceased to obey their masters: they began to protest and threatened to strike, to the great astonishment and disgust of the management.
Samoilova observed with emotion and deep and growing enthusiasm how, thanks to the care and solicitude of the Pravda, a new revolutionary army was growing up, that the women workers, oppressed and enslaved for ages, were rising.
By happiness and life itself deserted,
Long you wore the chains of slavery,
Long you bowed your heads, defeated,
Long you lived in the darkness of ignorance,
Long the tyrannous master mocked you,
Confident of your weakness…
But the spell is broken. In the book of life
We will write the story of your victory.
March boldly, woman worker. Let your path
Be light with the torch of liberty.
Know that the working man will aid you
In this hard and noble struggle.
[A proletarian poem devoted to International Women's Day in 1913-14. The journal Woman Worker was confiscated for printing this poem (No. 3, 1914)]
The success of the work done by the Pravda and by Samoilova exceeded all expectations. On February 23rd, to the great astonishment of the police, the "scientific matinee" was attended by a tremendous crowd of women workers of all professions and from all industries - a regular army of revolutionary women workers.
"Too late again!" The police looked anxious. And the crowd, despite the police cordon, continually grew, happy and full of enthusiasm. The hall of the Kalashnikov Exchange could not hold them all.
The Pravda published a special edition for the day, the contents of which were highly revolutionary.
It greeted the women workers on International Women's Day and congratulated them upon entering the ranks of the fighting proletariat. It signalised this day as marking a stage when the movement of the women workers had risen to the level of the general movement of the whole working class. It declared that the women workers had responded warmly to the call. The new speakers at this memorable meeting had justified the work spent on them and the hopes reposed in them.
The Pravda wrote:
"The audience was presented with an arresting picture of the hard lot of woman, who is deprived of all rights in modern society. At the same time the speakers definitely stressed the sharp distinction between the working-class women's movement and the capitalist women's organisations, the close contact of the working-class women's movement with the interests and tasks of the working-class as a whole, emphasising that this movement must not bring a split in the general proletarian front, but on the contrary must reinforce it. If the workers' movement is a mighty flowing river, the women's movement is a tributary stream increasing and enriching it with new forces."
Besides the meeting at the Kalashnikov Exchange, "scientific matinees" were also held in the clubs and other societies controlled by the Bolshevik organisations.
In issue after issue the Pravda gave details of the manner in which the first International Women's Day had been celebrated. The gist of the speeches and the names of the speakers were given, so that all the working women would know them, for these were the new cadres which first announced to the world that the Russian women workers were stretching out their hands to those who fought against oppression and against the oppressors.
The call was heard. International Women's Day evoked a tremendous response from the toiling women. The Pravda published correspondence from telephone operators, domestic servants, hospital workers, laundry women, etc. It also published many messages of greeting to the first International Women's Day sent from various towns.
One of the biggest tasks for rallying the working-class and organising it in the upsurge of revolutionary forces was the struggle for the Leninist theory in opposition to the watering down and vulgarisation of the revolutionary demands of the proletariat.
Samoilova wrote a series of articles for the Pravda on the most varied questions; she took part in controversies, but her arrows were directed above all against the Menshevik paper Luch, which declared that it, and not the Pravda was the organ of nine-tenths of the class-conscious women workers, and that the Pravda only appealed to the backward sections. The force and accuracy of her attack was such that Lenin made special mention of an article of hers, which appeared in the Pravda of March 12th.
The development of the women's movement went steadily forward and in December, 1913, Lenin sent a special letter to his sister, Anna Elizarova, in which he referred to the women-workers rising for the struggle and indicated the necessity of organising new forces of the revolution by publishing a special women's paper to be called the Woman Worker. He suggested that she should organise this. Lenin always followed the development of the women workers' movement, to which he attached great importance, with the greatest attention.
In her book The Epoch of Zvesda and Pravda, Comrade Elizarova describes how she carried out the task which her brother had entrusted to her, in the following way:
"In December, 1913, I received a letter from Vladimir Ilyich, written in English, in which he suggested that I ought to organise the publication of a journal for the women workers, advising me to select suitable people for the editorial board, but for the time being, to keen it secret. Later, the idea of the journal began to be developed with considerable success by Rozmirovich who had recently arrived from abroad, and by Samoilova.
"At that time Samoilova was secretary to the Pravda, and was greatly overloaded with work. She had often spoken of this to me and I thought that she would not agree to take on new work, but she did so with the greatest enthusiasm. As the fifth editor we invited Menzhinskaya, and quickly set about collecting articles for the first issue of the journal, the Woman Worker, which was to appear by February 23rd - International Women's Day. We decided to make it a popular journal. The chief difficulty was shortage of funds. We opened a subscription list in the Pravda and began to collect money. The workers sent in their money in kopeks, literally in kopeks. For a long time we could not find room for the editorial office."
Finally, the first meeting of the editorial board took place in Samoilova's apartment (February 6th, 1914) and went off successfully, but at the second meeting (February 18th), the police appeared and arrested the editorial board - Rozmirovich, Drapkina, Samoilova, Nikolayeva and, later in the evening, Menzhinskaya. Only Elizarova was left. Nevertheless, it was possible, with great difficulty to issue the first number of the journal. It produced a tremendous impression and was the sole topic of conversation in the factories. The complete break up of the editorial board and the mass arrests among the women workers in the factories put the newly-born journal in a difficult position. And, in truth, the position was difficult enough - no money, no contacts, no people left to do the work. And all this time Samoilova, who was passionately anxious to be doing this work, was in prison.
But the work went on in spite of the police. Comrade Elizarova, continuing her story writes: "When I arrived at Yamskaya Street, where the editorial office of the Woman Worker was located, I found a heap of correspondence and greetings to the new journal, breathing such a spirit of courage and joy that my mood sharply changed. Such touching gladness, such an invincible faith in the success of the new cause, such a readiness for sacrifice, breathed from those simple, naive letters which had been sent us from the most distant parts of Russia. There was also a growing pile of subscriptions sent collectively, the sums having been collected kopek by kopek. I could feel that the idea of having an organ of their own had taken deep root among the masses. I could feel the spirit and will of these masses.
"Then women workers began to call at the office, timidly at first; they also began to visit the office of the Pravda. I remember particularly my most energetic assistant, Emilya Solnin from the Aivas factory. From all of them I heard the same warm enthusiasm for their journal, the same invincible belief that, in spite of every obstacle, it would get on its feet, must get on its feet.
"The women workers began to re-establish contacts in the factories, began to feel confidence in distributing the paper. A print-shop was found and I began to make up the second issue. Instead of a leading article, there was an appeal to the women workers of the Aivas Factory stating: 'Comrades, women workers. With many sacrifices and efforts we have started our own journal, the Woman Worker. The first issue has appeared. Women workers, it will be our duty to help the journal. Call on the women workers to distribute the journal widely. Gather constant subscribers. Collect money, and above all, write to it.'"
Thus Samoilova's dream came true.
The inspirers and organisers of International Women's Day were removed from their posts by the police, by the agents of the tsar; but the powerful wave which was rising could not be stopped.
In the Pravda of February 23rd, 1914, Samoilova dealt with the tasks of International Women's Day in that simple, clear and concise language of hers which roused millions of toiling women. She wrote:
"Day by day, the wide development of capitalism is drawing into the whirlpool of industrial life not only the man worker but his wife, sister and daughter. There are thousands, tens of thousands of women workers in all branches of industry, including the metal industry. Capital has levelled them all and thrown them upon the labour market. It ignores youth, the physical weakness of women and the ardours of motherhood. It only recognises cheap and submissive labour. When women went into the factories and worked at the same machines as men, they discovered a new world, new relations of people in the process of industry. They saw the struggle of the workers for the improvement of their conditions. And every day, the women workers became more and more convinced that the conditions of work united them with the men workers of the factories, that they have all one common interest, and the women workers began to feel that they were part of one industrial family, that their interests were linked up with those of the whole working class.
"It is true that, owing to historic and family conditions, etc., the development of their class consciousness proceeds more slowly, nevertheless, the awakening of the consciousness of the women workers is a fact which cannot be doubted. The women workers are more and more frequently taking part in strikes, the trade union movement and in the insurance campaign. They take an interest in the lives of the women workers of other countries and have an international outlook. International Women's Day is of great organisational importance."
She further went on to compare the role of International Women's Day with that of May First. The first International Women's Day in Russia in 1913 was an agitational campaign which put before the masses the causes of the two-fold enslavement of the women workers and methods for their liberation; but it did not create the organisational foundation for the work of women proletarians. Therefore in 1914, the CC of the RSDLP (Bolsheviks) decided to carry on activities on a wider and more intensive scale. At the beginning of the year, a special committee was set up under the auspices of the CC for the purpose of organising Women's Day meetings in a number of halls in proletarian districts. They were instructed to enlist representatives of the factories and workshops in the work of organising the meetings and also for work on the editorial board of the Woman Worker.
The work went with a swing. Permission was received to arrange lectures, halls were found, the chairmen of the meetings were appointed and speakers were chosen from among the women workers to supplement the main speeches by detailed descriptions of life in the factories, which would illustrate and bear out the main ideas expressed in the lectures. The subjects of the speeches were discussed not only on the Committee, but in a number of Bolshevik cells in the factories, which frequently sent their representatives to the meetings of the Committee. Women representatives came with particular frequency from the Aivas Factory (Nikolayeva, Emilya Solnin), which at that time was in the forefront in this work.
But the scope and intensity of the work, also had its reverse side in that it drew the attention of the police to February 23rd long beforehand. One day the police suddenly raided the office to the astonishment of all present. The meeting of the board had been quite legal, since the journal was on the "permitted" list; but this permission was a mere scrap of paper for the police. The editorial board was shown the official order, which included the ominous words: "Search the premises, and arrest all those present irrespective of the result of the search." In all, thirty persons were arrested, comprising the group of active women workers which had been formed.
In 1921 the magazine The Communist Woman published an article by Samoilova in which she gives a lively description of how those who had been arrested celebrated International Women's Day in prison. The noise alarmed the whole administration of the jail and could even be heard outside in the street.
But it was not only in prison that International Women's Day was celebrated. It is true that all meetings in St. Petersburg were forbidden. Only one took place the Feodorova Hall on Bolshaya Grebetskaya Street. But large numbers of men and women workers came to the halls where the meetings were to have been held, and thronged the streets. So many people came to Feodorova Hall that half of them could not get inside (the hall held five hundred people). The speakers were Menzhinskaya and Pavlova, a woman worker. The other meetings could not be held owing to the arrest of the speakers. The police interfered with the meeting in Feodorova Hall. The indignant crowd of men and women workers came out into the street and sang the Marseillaise. The police dispersed the crowd. However, a big procession of men and women workers marched through a number of streets to the Nevsky Prospect singing the Marseillaise and other revolutionary songs. The Second International Women's Day showed the growing class consciousness of the women and their higher degree of organisation.
International Women's Day was celebrated not only in St. Petersburg, but also in Moscow and a number of other towns. All the Russian women workers knew of it. In spite of repression, the Women Worker was sold out very rapidly, was passed from hand to hand, read and re-read through and through, rousing ever fresh forces to the struggle.
The journal played a big role in connection with the tragic events which occurred in the rubber industry, when large numbers of men and women workers were poisoned owing to the greed of manufacturers and the negligence of the tsarist factory inspectors. Elizarova wrote a brilliant article entitled "They Are Angry", for which No. 3 of the Women Worker was confiscated.
The journal Women Worker became a Bolshevik journal, founded and supported by the kopeks of the women workers.
Natasha, The Women Workers and the October Revolution
"The present grave-like stillness in Europe must not deceive us," said Lenin. "Europe is charged with revolution. The monstrous horrors of the imperialist war, the suffering caused by the high cost of living, engender everywhere a revolutionary spirit; and the ruling classes, the bourgeoisie with its servitors, the governments, are more and more moving into a blind alley from which they can never extricate themselves without tremendous upheavals.
"Just as in Russia in 1905 a popular uprising against the tsarist government commenced under the leadership of the proletariat with the aim of achieving a democratic republic, so the coming years, precisely because of this predatory war, will, in Europe, lead to popular uprisings under the leadership of the proletariat against the power of finance capital, against the big banks, against the capitalists; and these upheavals cannot end otherwise than with the expropriation of the bourgeoisie, with the victory of socialism." (Lenin, Lecture on the 1905 Revolution, Collected Works, vol. 19)
These words were uttered by Lenin in January, 1917. On February 23rd of that year a movement of the working masses began - a movement which had been arrested by international imperialism in July, 1914. The War only delayed matters, and this delay drew the chain tighter. The movement began at a higher stage, on a broader basis. On March 12th, when Lenin was still in Geneva he gave the following estimate of events:
"The forecast of those Socialists who remained faithful to socialism without succumbing to the poison of the savage and beastly war spirit, has proven to be correct. The first revolution, caused by the world-wide predatory war among the capitalists of various countries, has broken out. The imperialist war, i.e. the war for the division of spoils among the capitalists, for the crushing of weak peoples, has begun to change into civil war, i.e., a war of the workers against the capitalists, a war of the toilers and the oppressed against their oppressors, against tsars and kings, landowners and capitalists, a war for the complete liberation of humanity from wars, from poverty of the masses, from oppression of man by man.
"The honour and the good fortune of being the initiators of the revolution, i.e., of the great, the only legitimate and just war, the war of the oppressed against the oppressors, has fallen to the lot of the Russian workers.
"The Petrograd workers have vanquished the tsarist monarchy. In their heroic struggle against the police and the tsar's armies, the workers, having started the uprising unarmed in face of machine-guns, have won over to their side the majority of the soldiers of the Petrograd garrison. The same thing occurred in Moscow and in other cities. Abandoned by his armies, the tsar had to capitulate: he signed an abdication for himself and his son. He proposed that the throne be transferred to his brother Michael.
"Owing to the great rapidity of the overturn, owing to the direct help of Anglo-French capitalists, owing to insufficient class consciousness among the workers and the masses of the people in Petrograd, owing to the organisation and preparedness of the Russian land-owners and capitalists, the latter have succeeded in seizing the state power." (Lenin, The Revolution in Russia and the Tasks of the Workers of All Countries, Collected Works, vol. 20, p. 64)
Such was Lenin's definition of the Provisional Government of Kerensky which came to power in 1917 after the overthrow of tsarism.
Of course, the workers could not trust such a government. The workers had overthrown the monarchy, fighting for peace, for food, for freedom. And the workers of Petrograd, having beaten the tsarist monarchy, immediately formed their own organisation - the Soviet of Workers' Deputies - and at once began to consolidate and extend it, and to form independent Soviets of Soldiers' and Peasants' Deputies.
The first day of the February Revolution coincided with International Women's Day. The War had brought tremendous masses of women workers and peasants face to face with the realities of Russian life. The home life of the Russian women had been ruthlessly broken up and the women were drawn into the vortex of the economic life of the country. Women worked at the machines in place of their husbands who had gone to the War, while peasant women took their places at the plough (often both husband and horse had been conscripted for the War).
The winter of 1916-17, was a hard one. Food prices soared rapidly. There was a shortage of food and long queues stood waiting at the stores.
At the end of February 1917, under the slogans "Down with War", "Down with the Monarchy", strikes broke out one after another in the big factories of Petrograd and Moscow, this movement being guided by the Bolsheviks. The women workers, whose numbers had greatly increased in the factories and on whose shoulders rested the burden of maintaining their families, took a most active part in this movement. The movement of the women began spontaneously. International Women's Day introduced some elements of organisation, and the women came into the streets under the slogans "Peace and Bread", "Our Husbands Must Return from the Front".
It was no accident that the first day of the February Revolution coincided with Women's Day. The organisational and educational significance of this day had been revealed even before the War. Even before the War, women workers had come to understand that they would only achieve their emancipation if they took part in the movement of the working-class as a whole. During the War, with the increased role women played in the economic life of the country the women's movement developed to a higher stage.
On February, 23rd, in Petrograd, the old government tried to prevent the women from celebrating International Women's Day. This caused a conflict at the Putilov Factory, which grew into a demonstration and into the revolution. Thus a spontaneous movement, called forth by the terrible conditions of life, found its organising basis in International Women's Day - one of the links in the chain of Bolshevik Party work.
Lenin arrived in April and the work of rallying Bolshevik forces, organising and distributing them, training them for the approaching battles, went on at giant strides. Samoilova, who was living in Petrograd at that time, began to work in the ranks of the Leninist Bolsheviks with all her natural energy and enthusiasm. She herself describes the movement among the women workers as follows: "At first we had a small group of advanced women workers, a circle which gathered around the Woman Worker on its first appearance in the 1913-14 period."
And then she goes on to the revolutionising significance of the War for the political education of the women workers, the spontaneous action of February 23rd, 1917, which found a warm response in the hearts of the soldiers, so that instead of shooting at the people, who had risen in revolt, they turned their bayonets against the tsarist monarchy and in three days destroyed the rotting tsarist throne to its foundations. The February Revolution imbued the women workers with a tremendous urge towards organisation. They came to the Party organisations anxious to become members of the Party, and many of them joined the trade unions.
When Lenin defined the action of April 21st, 1917, as "reconnoitring the enemy's position," he considered that the main slogan, the task of the day for the period of transition from the first stage of the revolution to the second, was "prepare for victory in the second stage of the revolution."
And suddenly the free country was astonished by the outburst of an economic strike of laundry women - this most backward section even in the ranks of the working-class women. But astonishment grew still further when it was found that in the demands which they put forward, the nationalisation of the laundries and their transfer to the local Dumas [municipalities] stood first. This demand was handed in at the Taurida Palace [the headquarters of the Provisional Government] to the Social-Democrat Gvozdev, Minister of Labour, the "representative" of the interests of the working-class in the capitalist government.
But this "defender" of the interests of the working-class described these demands as "premature".
The laundry strike was attended by a growth of revolutionary sentiment among the Petrograd women workers who "were keeping a close watch on the Taurida Palace" and who did not share the views expressed by their "defenders" who sat there. "April 21st ended unsatisfactorily," wrote the working women," but it opened our eyes. Pent-up hatred towards the capitalists increased, faith in the Mensheviks and the Socialist-Revolutionaries died."
The growing revolutionary feeling among the working women was not hidden from the great organiser of the mighty October Revolution; in accordance with a decision of the Bolshevik Central Committee, the publication of the Woman Worker was renewed (May 10th), and the journal at once united around itself the best forces of the Petrograd women workers.
The editorial board consisted of Krupskaya, Ines Armand, Stahl, Kollontai, Elizarova, Kudelli, Samoilova, Nikolayeva and a number of Petrograd working women.
The editors of the Woman Worker rallied the working women around themselves, carried on extensive agitational work by meetings, issued leaflets against the War, against the high cost of living.
A particularly great role was played by the meeting against the War which was held in June, in the Chinizelli Circus. It was an international meeting against the War at the height of the advance at the front, around which Kerensky and the whole capitalist press carried on a tremendous agitation. The meeting attracted so many workers that the building could not accommodate all the men and women who came. An overthrow meeting had to be arranged, at which Samoilova spoke. This meeting evoked great indignation in the capitalist press.
The editors of the Woman Worker also carried on much organisational work in the factories. Samoilova and Nikolayeva playing a particularly important part in this work. Each factory appointed its representative to the editorial board of the Woman Worker. Every week, this singular "Soviet" gathered together and discussed reports from the various localities. Thus the editorial board knew of everything which was going on in the factories, and could sense the revolutionary wave which was rising among the proletariat of Petrograd.
Revolution creates its own revolutionary forms, and these women delegates of the factories were the prototype of the future women organisers, who were appointed by the factory cells for work among the working women.
In the "July days", of 1917, when the Pravda offices were sacked, the Woman Worker, in its July number, published articles by members of the Bolshevik Central Committee, explaining the meaning of the "July days" to the masses of workers and pointing out the path to be followed in the future. Then the government decided to suppress the Woman Worker also. When Kerensky's police came to the editorial office the day after the issue, there was no-one there. The working women had taken the journal to the factories during the night.
It is true that the frantic agitation which was set on foot against the Bolsheviks after the suppression of the Bolshevik press, caused some hesitation in the movement of the women workers; some of them even appeared to have been influenced by the scurrilous campaign waged by the anti-Bolshevik press to the effect that Lenin was a German spy.
In one of her pamphlets, Samoilova wrote with bitterness (at the same time, however, emphasising that we must never be afraid of criticism and the showing-up of mistakes) that after the "July days" some of the women workers who had already entered the Bolshevik Party began to waver; one or two of them came to the editorial office of the Woman Worker and threw down their Party cards, saying: "We don't want to be in a party of German spies."
But these vacillations only served as a spur to Samoilova and Nikolayeva to intensify their organisational, agitational and propagandist work.
On the initiative of Samoilova they organised short study courses for women workers and the majority of our organisers from the factories passed through these courses. Samoilova directed these courses and taught in them. Then a new form of work among working women was devised, viz., the convening of women workers' conferences.
It cannot be said with certainty whether this form of work was prompted by Samoilova's indisputable organising talent, or whether it was spontaneously conceived in the minds of all the comrades working in this sphere in their energetic preparations for the October Revolution. Be that as it may, the preparations for this new creative form of mass organisation were soon in full swing. Elections were held in all the factories, which helped to rouse the backward women workers, and bring them up to the level of the heroic vanguard of those who created Red October. These elections were a call to active work, to active revolutionary struggle.
The meetings at which the representatives of the women workers conferred with their fighting staff - Samoilova and Nikolayeva - took place on Saturdays in the "Unity" club in Kherson street. Reports were given to the rank and file workers and there were also reports on the results of the elections to the conference. These reports served as an exact barometer of the general state of feeling among the Petrograd proletariat.
Samoilova was well aware that the barometer was pointing to "storm". The conference was called at the end of October. It opened and began its work, but this work coincided with the "ten days that shook the world". It was then decided to adjourn the conference to a future date in order to enable the delegates, who were organisers of the masses in their particular factories, to be at their posts in these decisive days and fulfil their duty in the struggle for the October Revolution. The Conference resumed on November, after the October Revolution had been successfully achieved. Nikolayeva was chairman and Samoilova was a member of the presidium. At the conference were all the active women workers of Petrograd - Emilya Solnin from the Aivas plant, Vinogradova from the Bassily Island Pipe Factory, the spinner Vasina from the "Nitka" Factory at Vyborg, Miash from the Ericsson factory (afterwards killed on the Yudenich front), etc.
From the very beginning, the conference revealed the high level of class consciousness among all those present. The conference felt itself to be an organ of power of the working-class. Notes showered on the presidium asking why Zinoviev and Kamenev had left the Central Committee of the Party, why Rykov and Lunacharsky had resigned from the Council of People's Commissars. [Zinoviev and Kamenev disagreed with the decision to start the October Revolution. Rykov and Lunacharsky disagreed with the firm position taken up by the Party towards the so-called democratic parties.] What had the Central Committee done to call them to order? The conference did not want to remain inactive at a moment when inaction might impair the power of the working-class.
Immediately after Samoilova had delivered her speech, the following resolution was adopted:
"This meeting of women workers demands that members submit to Party discipline and that, to preserve the integrity and unity of the party of the revolutionary proletariat - which now represents the vanguard of the revolutionary movement of the international proletariat - a way out of the present situation be found. Only by pursuing a definite revolutionary class line can the Russian proletariat support the revolutionary movement of the international proletariat for socialism."
A delegation was sent to the Smolny, the General Headquarters of the revolutionary workers' struggle in Petrograd, to make the vacillating comrades aware of the fighting sentiments of the women workers who severely condemned their conduct.
The decision was adopted late in the evening. No time was to be lost. At night the delegation went to Smolny.
The working women left the meeting with the full conviction that, as representatives of the women workers, they would be able to influence the comrades who had infringed Party discipline. The women were indignant that at such a moment, when the gaze of the workers of the whole world was fixed on Russia, there should have been a split in our ranks, causing our enemies to gloat over the peril that threatened us. On reaching the Smolny they first went to see Lenin, who calmed them, saying that the comrades who still believed in the possibility of coming to an agreement with the so-called democratic organisations, would soon be undeceived.
"Take power, Comrade Lenin; that is all we working-women want," said the delegation. To this Lenin replied: "It is not I, but you, the workers who must take power. Return to your factories and tell the workers this."
The women workers of Petrograd were equal to the occasion; they marched shoulder to shoulder with the whole of the Petrograd proletariat, who followed Lenin as one man. Thanks to the correct leadership and the great work of the Communist Party (Samoilova was one of the first in this work), the women workers fought side by side with all the revolutionary workers of Petrograd, who at that time held the fate of the October Revolution in their hands.
The conference adopted a number of resolutions on the question of the protection of female labour and the protection of mothers and infants, which later formed the basis of the laws passed by the Soviet government in this sphere. It also decided to send a deputation headed by Comrade Nikolayeva to the Congress of Soviets of Peasant Deputies, which was in session at the time, to inform it of the decision of the women workers of Petrograd to support the Council of People's Commissars which had been newly organised by the Bolsheviks as the organ of government of the working-class.
Samoilova identified all her revolutionary activity in the October Revolution with this mighty creative upsurge of the working women, participators in the winning of the Revolution. Later, she took an active part in the work of the Party and the Soviets in the sphere of the press, but she also showed her creative talents as an active political worker and directed her efforts towards bringing the women workers, and later the peasant women, into the ranks of the Communist Party, into the ranks of the fighters for the Soviet power, into the ranks of the builders of the Soviet power. She introduced new forms of agitation, organisation and propaganda among the masses. Not all these new forms, perhaps, were suggested by her, but she always worked them out in detail and presented them to the masses as a guide to action. The result was always the same: the masses were roused, organised and fired for the struggle and for creative revolutionary work.
1918. Lenin sounds the alarm: "International imperialism is invading Russia. It is plundering our land."
It was the beginning of intervention, the beginning of civil war. New problems arose, viz., how to inspire, organise and rouse the women workers to resist the enemy. These problems were solved. The organisers of the Petrograd Women's conference at the time of the October Revolution still had this conference fresh in their memory. They decided to call a non-Party conference of women workers from the whole of the young Soviet Republic. Later, the scope of the conference was enlarged to include not only women workers but peasant women as well. Among the initiators, of course, was Samoilova.
The Central Committee of the Communist Party, in the person of its secretary, Sverdlov, supported this proposal. He not only supported it but gave tremendous help; he suggested a number of concrete steps to be taken in this new and difficult undertaking. He called on the Party committees in the localities to lend their aid. An organising group was formed to prepare for this congress. Its members went off to carry on agitation for the congress, to arrange the election of delegates to the congress from all parts of the boundless near revolutionary country, which was fighting for its very existence against international imperialism. Everywhere there were battlefronts, districts torn away, bloodshed.
Samoilova worked out the organisational problems and prepared a report on "The Communist Party and the Woman Worker". In the history of the struggle for the Soviet power, for the building up of this power, this congress occupies a prominent place. Lenin, who spoke at the congress, had good reason to emphasise its significance.
An examination of the credentials of the delegates to this congress, which are preserved in the archives, shows the extent of the work which had been done to convene it and what great masses of women workers it brought in. The whole Party, all the factories responded to the call and understood its significance. In a country where civil war was raging, where the agents of the international bourgeoisie were endeavouring to strangle the young workers' republic at its birth, the men and women workers of the factories everywhere responded to the call of the Central Committee of the Communist Party to provide new forces for the struggle.
Turning over the faded pages of the credentials, we see, for example, how the workers of the textile industry responded. There is a majority of women textile workers. Alongside the old names of factories, familiar from the former struggle against the capitalists, new ones appear. Thus, the Morozov Factory in Orekhovo Zuevo with 16,214 women workers sends its delegates to the congress; after them come the women of the Razoronov, Vakhromeyev, Dedov and Razkazov Factories in the Tambov Gubernia; many delegates are sent from Perm and Samara. Along with the old factory names there are new revolutionary ones - The Russian Republic Factory, the Fifth People's Tobacco Works. The credentials have been issued by the Party organisations, the factory committees, the trade unions, the district executive committees. All are working women, with the exception of one school teacher and one peasant woman, Pelageya Perfilyeva, from the village of Kosilovo, representing a committee of poor peasants. Later the peasant women came in of their own accord, when they heard that a congress of women was being held in Moscow.
This congress, which, in a short space of time, had drawn eleven hundred women delegates from various districts in spite of the terrible conditions of travel, performed a great and militant task of organisation and education. It led to an interchange of revolutionary experience. The workers of the outlying regions learned how the women workers of Petrograd were beginning a new manner of life. This encouraged them in the struggle and the work of construction. "This congress," writes Samoilova, "brought forward many cadres of active working women."
Lenin, who was still suffering from the effects of his wound, spoke at the congress, laying down the fundamental principles in this sphere of work. He arrived at the moment when a woman farm hand was describing the hardships of kulak [rich peasant] exploitation. This farm labourer already realised that it was only possible to get rid of the burdens of life by uniting in a single organisation with all the toilers for the struggle against the oppressors. She declared that in spite of her illiteracy she understood quite well what was going on around her and, if necessary, she would take a rifle and go to the front. "Those who are faint-hearted," she said, "and cannot take a rifle, let them go as nurses and encourage the comrades with their words."
Lenin gave a sign not to interrupt her. He stood listening until she had finished. And he built up his speech of greeting to the congress as a reply to this woman peasant. He said that previous revolutions had been defeated because the villages did not support the towns. But once the village poor go with the city workers and organise themselves against the kulaks, we enter a new epoch of real socialist revolution. The struggle against the kulaks will also draw in the women peasants.
"Comrades," he said, "in some respects a congress of the woman's part of the proletarian army is of particularly great importance, because women in all countries move into action with the greatest difficulty. The experience of all liberation movements has shown that the success of the revolution depends on the extent to which women take part in it. The Soviet power is doing everything to see that women may independently carry on their proletarian socialist work.
"There cannot be a socialist revolution if a large section of the toiling women do not take a considerable part in it.
"Up to now, no republic has been able to liberate woman. The Soviet power will help her. Our cause is invincible, because an invincible working-class is rising up in all countries. This movement means the rise of the invincible socialist revolution.
"We must remember," he continued, "that the revolution depends on the extent to which the women take part in it. Since the women have begun to struggle not only for their freedom, but for socialism (socialised economy), we may consider the cause of the social revolution to be assured."
In conclusion he said:
"The women are rising, the victory of socialism is assured."
Later, Lenin's ideas were developed in the press and at other women's conferences such as that held in Moscow in 1919; they were carried into all parts of the country in the form of slogans, inspiring the new women who had been called upon by Lenin to take their part in revolutionary work and political life.
Samoilova repeatedly referred to this congress in her writings. She wrote a special booklet on it; and it was at her instance that the resolutions of this congress were republished in Kharkov in 1920. Later, when the question of work among the peasant women arose, she recalled the vivid figure of that peasant woman who, having lost her husband in the War and hearing that the men and women workers were going to help the poor in the villages, declared that she would leave her children, take a gun and go to fight against all these "landgrabbers".
The influence of this congress extended not only over the eleven hundred delegates who attended it, but over the hundreds the thousands and sometimes the tens of thousands of workers who had sent them.
At the congress Samoilova dealt with organisational questions. She had numerous talks with the delegates, and explained to them how the women workers and peasants must take part in construction work. Out of the abundant material collected at this congress, she began to create those many-sided forms of work among women which strengthened our Party, and developed its methods of mass work. After the congress was over, the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party decided to form special machinery for work among women, both under the auspices of the Central Committee and in all the local Party organisations.
What were the results of the congress? These are shown by the history of the Soviet power, the all-round growth of its construction work despite the civil war, despite all the fronts which had to be defended - in the East, the North, the South, in Siberia, the Urals, the Ukraine and the Caucasus, with Yudenich at the very gates of Petrograd and Denikin at Orel. Everywhere the women workers and the peasant women fought for the Soviet power, throwing themselves into the tasks of construction, participating in the great work of organisation that was going on.
Courses were organised to train Red nurses to help the Red Army (how many Red Army men owed their lives to the devotion of these women); to give help in supplying the Red Army and the workers, women served on the supply detachments which were sent to gather the quotas of grain and other products. But above all it was the women workers who were sent to look after the children - to organise nurseries, children's homes, hot meals in the schools, sewing shops, etc. The young generation which is now building socialism in the second Five-Year Plan owe their lives and strength to the active women of the first women's congress.
Not only in the rear, not only by ambulance work did women help the Red Army. Summing up the three first years of the Soviet power, the journal Kommunistka ("Woman Communist") mentions those heroic moments in the defence of the country when the working women played a big part in the fighting: Lugansk in 1919, Tula in 1919 - when the working women swore that if Denikin was to reach Moscow through Tula, he would do so only over their dead bodies - and finally the Leningrad women workers who defended their revolutionary centre side by side with the men.
The non-Party women's conference in Petrograd in 1917 and the non-Party congress of women workers and peasants from the whole Soviet Republic, proved that these forms of organisation are calculated to stir up a mass movement of working women. Samoilova did her best to see that the non-Party conference was adopted as a method of Party work among the great masses of backward people. At all these conferences Comrade Samoilova impressed everyone with her incomparable ability. She was a firm, authoritative and at the same time a sympathetic chairman. It was at these conferences that Samoilova's organisational and agitational talent were employed to the full. It was at them that she forged cadres of women workers. She regarded the non-Party conferences as a form of agitational and organisational work to be used when it was necessary to arouse and direct the masses for immediate action. The Moscow non-Party conference in 1919 is one example. At Moscow there was cold and hunger. A non-Party conference of women workers and peasants had been convened, but work among them had hardly begun. And out of these difficult circumstances the forceful greeting of the non-Party woman worker, Zavyalova, rings out: "We women workers are like a steel wall which no-one can break." The peasant women, instead of complaining of privations, protested that the kulaks did not give them a chance to work. "Send us comrades who will stand up for the poor people, and we shall welcome the Soviet power," they said. Or take the non-Party congress of women workers and peasants in the Ukraine, where the victory of the workers had been several times followed by the merciless vengeance of counter-revolution led by international imperialism. What sufferings the women had lived through there - surrounded by savage bands hunting Communists, torturing women, sparing neither age nor sex. Here is a picture of the Ukraine of those days depicted by Comrade Hopner, a prominent Party organiser in the Ukraine:
"When we returned to the Ukraine with the Red Army," writes Comrade Hopner, "we found a scene which horrified the most hardened people. Streams of destitute Communist women, in rags, barefoot in the winter, the sisters and daughters of Communists or simply working women and peasant women - all making their way to the Soviet and Party organisations.
"One would have expected that their sufferings would prove a hindrance to political work, that we ought simply to supply them with clothing, food, shelter, etc., that other questions could not interest them any more…"
She goes on to state that six weeks after her arrival at Kharkov, Comrade Samoilova came to Kharkov and called a non-Party women's conference. There were doubters who feared to be met with by a wall of misunderstanding and hostility.
"But the first session," continues Comrade Hopner," showed us how mistaken we were. The greetings and the first speeches showed the complete faith of the non-Party women in the Soviet power and the Communist Party. Further, during the work of the conference, when they began to tell the story of the sufferings they had endured, it became clear that this class consciousness was the result of bitter lessons, that the nightmare years of suffering had burned this consciousness into the mind of every proletarian. Without complaints, but all with the same air of determination, they spoke of the White terror - the brother of one had been hanged, the husband of another had been shot, the son of a third had been cut down before her eyes. Families suspected of being related to Communists were flogged with knouts and ramrods. Many of the delegates still had the marks of beatings, with bruises on their heads, hands and feet."
After the conference, intensive work was begun among the masses. Hundreds of non-Party women workers entered the Workers' and Peasants' Inspection, the Educational Departments, the Health Departments: meetings, lectures, Party schools, were thronged with women."At the Soviet elections," writes Comrade Hopner, "when the Mensheviks and chauvinists were hoping that the famine would cause the downfall of the Soviet government and who in their propaganda were blaming the Communists for the famine, the women workers, the Red Army women who were suffering most of all from our economic collapse, proved to be a strong bulwark of the Communist Party, and it is thanks to them that our Soviets are Communist."
Finally, take the Volga non-Party conference, where the most burning and vital question was that of the grain quotas in 1920. A period of drought was approaching and the kulaks were hiding their grain. Samoilova called a non-Party worker's conference in Saratov in 1920, and by her able guidance at this conference she succeeded in getting the women workers themselves to vote for sending three hundred and fifty women workers to the supply detachments to go into the villages and check up the harvest, "because the kulaks want to strangle the young Soviet power with the bony hand of famine." One hundred women workers went to do permanent work in the countryside. Samoilova wrote of tints in the newspapers, informed the Central Committee and the Women's Department of the CPSU and wrote of it in her pamphlet. She wanted to give wider publicity to this initiative shown by the Saratov women, so that the women workers of other towns might follow their example.
After the Saratov conference, Samoilova gathered together all the active Party workers and discussed in detail with them how to carry the conference decisions into effect, for she fully realised that a class struggle would develop around the work of the women delegates whom the conference was sending to help in supply work.
After holding a series of non-Party conferences, Samoilova came to the conclusion that they were the best method of carrying on Party work among women. She wrote:
"Non-Party conferences are a mass school of communism and a reserve from which we can draw forces for the construction of the new life. The delegates of the conferences take into the backward districts the experience of their advanced comrades."
She made a special study of every conference, with a view to developing such organisational forms as would draw the backward masses into political life for the cause of communism. At the same time these conferences enabled her to observe the manner in which her speeches, her pamphlets, her articles in papers and magazines were received by the masses. Without fearing criticism, she insistently explained the points where the masses had not understood her meaning correctly. Another form of work to which Samoilova attached great importance was the "woman worker's page" in the newspapers. Such pages owe their origin entirely to her. She was the first to get space set aside for the "woman worker's page" in the Leningrad Pravda in 1918 and was able to organise matters in such a way that the "page" served as a model for other Party papers. But this was not the only valuable idea which Samoilova contributed to this work. She looked on the "page" as a special method to be used among the backward strata of women workers, as a method of forming an active group of women workers.
The "women's page" like the former journal the Woman Worker, was above all a place where the working women could express themselves, review their forces and realise their tasks. She understood the press of the Women's Department not as an organ of the press "for working and peasant women" but as a paper of the toiling masses themselves. "This is your own paper, here you can state your own opinions," she constantly told the women workers.
Comrade Samoilova also attached very great importance to women's delegate meetings. The delegate meetings are known to the whole Soviet Union as the most noteworthy form of women's work. At the Thirteenth Congress of the CPSU Comrade Stalin, the leader of the Party, spoke of their significance as a "transmission belt" between the Party and the women masses. In this form of work Samoilova introduced many innovations. She studied and revealed the whole depth of its organisational and educational possibilities.
Samoilova worked particularly hard on the organisation of delegate meetings in the villages, the delegate meetings of peasant women. At that time this work had only just come into its own and was only beginning to get into a good state of organisation, but all its organisational forms - its tasks, rules, instructions - were worked out by Samoilova and explained to the Third Conference of the Heads of Provincial Women's Departments - a conference which was a sort of legislative body to which the Party assigned the responsible task of work among the female section of the working class.
It was always Samoilova who prepared and worked out the reports on organisational questions. Whenever it was necessary to raise a matter concerning the Women's Department through the organising bureau of the Central Committee of the Party, it was always Comrade Samoilova who was entrusted with this task. Frequently her presence alone was enough to make the settlement of the disputed question easier.
On the initiative of Comrade Samoilova, a resolution was adopted at the Ninth Party Congress which once more confirmed the need for women's departments and the necessity of intensifying work among women.
Samoilova did a great deal to train the leading workers of the women's departments, especially the organisers of district women's sections. She displayed remarkable ability in discovering young talent in the heart of the working masses, in inspiring women workers and peasant women with confidence in their own powers, in teaching them how to work, in training them as fighters and builders of the new society. This is a talent possessed by few. Samoilova possessed it to a high degree. There are many of Samoilova's pupils (both women and men) scattered throughout the length and breadth of Russia, doing valuable work.
Samoilova had another gift, viz., the ability to write wonderfully simple, clear and plain popular pamphlets. These pamphlets for women workers and peasants, like her articles in the "women's pages", the Communist Woman and the Woman Worker, are classic examples of how to write for the masses. She knew how to combine simplicity with a sound communist approach, to take simple happenings, close to the life of the masses, and from them to draw conclusions as to the mighty tasks which were confronting the working-class in its struggle. She did not like flowery and ornate phrases. Her style was simple, suited to her readers. She always spoke to the point honestly and warmly. From her pamphlets the novices taught by Samoilova learned to make reports and to hold talks in the difficult situations in which these village-organisers found themselves. Sent to all corners of the tremendous Soviet Union, in most cases receiving no wages, having no living quarters, compelled to travel fifteen or twenty miles on foot and to eat where they could, in their constant travelling deprived of systematic Party leadership, they fell back upon Samoilova's pamphlets for agitational material.
The civil war came to an end. The Party called for a swift change of front - from war against the Whites to the struggle against economic ruin. The period of the transition was rendered more complicated by waverings and vacillations in the Party ranks and in the work of the women's departments. But Samoilova - always the same indomitable Bolshevik Natasha - knew no vacillation; she clearly saw the path that lay before her and strongly resisted any attempt to dissolve the women's departments. In this she was supported by the Central Committee of the Party.
Now that the workers had returned to the factories, and the peasants to the village, the work among women had to proceed along two lines: first, to provide the women with facilities for study by increasing the educational work of the delegate meetings, by organising study circles and short term courses, by recruiting the best cadres for the workers' colleges, etc.; secondly, to help the women workers who remained in the factories to cope with their new tasks, to improve production and not to let themselves be excelled by their comrades, the men.
Samoilova quickly found ways of solving these problems - production conferences of the various branches of industry - the textile industry, needle industry and so on production circles - to familiarise the women workers of a given industry with the process of production, with factory technique, etc. The question arose of linking up this work more closely with the trade unions, and trade union women's organisers were appointed.
Samoilova herself carried on tremendous agitational work to draw the millions of women - working and peasant women and all the toilers - into the struggle against economic ruin. She wrote a series of pamphlets, delivered speeches, organised non-Party conferences, made voyages on the agitational steamer Red Star along the Volga and the Kama, sounding the alarm, rousing the masses to fight against the ruin of the national economy. In her agitation she never failed to use precise data, studied all questions thoroughly and drew into this work the Soviet institutions which regulated the economic life of the country. She displayed tremendous economic and administrative ability in her work.
The women workers answered her call: "Forward to the industrial front! Study, raise your qualifications."
The personal side of Natasha's life and her death at her post
Samoilova was married to a Bolshevik revolutionary, Arkady Alexandrovich Samoilov. They were an unusually well-matched couple, working together and learning from their work. They first met in Odessa, and worked together at Rostov-on-Don as propagandists in the workers' circles. They lived together in Moscow where, at one time, Samoilov was editor of The Struggle, the underground paper of the Moscow District Party organisation. Samoilova also played an important part in this work conducting the "Worker's Chronicle" section, for which she gathered a great amount of material during her journeys. Together they went to Lugansk. He worked under the name of "Anton" and she always retained the name of "Natasha". They were united not only by their love, but by their common views and efforts. Later, in 1913 and 1914, they worked together in the editorial offices of the Pravda, her husband writing under the pen-name of "A. Yuriev".
As a lawyer, Samoilov undertook the defence of comrades in a series of political trials and was the legal advisor of the trade unions.
The majority of the comrades who knew Samoilova by her work always had a great respect, for her, speaking of her as "stern Natasha", "the stalwart Bolshevik", " the stoic of communism" and so forth. She was always restrained. But if a cause stirred her profoundly she would work on it with all the intensity she was capable of. She was of a sensitive disposition but not sentimental. She was often deeply stirred, and her face would be all aglow with vigour, and her flashing eyes brimming with tears.
That was a peculiar feature of her character - to be deeply moved, to be shaken by social events, and this distinguished her from a number of other comrades. These emotions were sometimes so deep that their traces remained for the rest of her life. Thus in 1897 she was stirred by the fate of the student Vetrova, and her first speech decided her future - to become a revolutionary.
The second event which deeply moved her was the Odessa uprising. The events at Odessa and her own hard experiences opened her eyes to the fact that the Mensheviks were agents of the bosses in the workers' patty, that they were enemies of the workers. This realisation determined her tactics towards the Mensheviks and the conciliators. She never wavered and was always convinced of the correctness of the Leninist tactics. As a humble and still unschooled newspaper worker, she received the approval of Lenin for her polemics against the liquidators.
We must now speak of her work in Astrakhan in 1921, the work which ended in her death.
The Astrakhan fisheries were of enormous importance, since they represented an inexhaustible source of food supply for the workers and the Red Army at a time when the class resistance of the kulaks was holding up the meat supply of the country; at this time of extreme economic distress - under shadow of the approaching famine of 1921 - the vital importance of these fisheries was specially recognised by the Central Committee of our Party and the agitational steamer, the Red Star, with Samoilova as head of the ship's political department, was sent to Astrakhan.
The steamer sailed early in spring (April, 1921) so as to be in time for the spring fishing which began as soon as the Volga was navigable, after the breaking of the ice and the spring floods. Before her departure, Samoilova studied all the available data relating to the economic capacity of the district. Still earlier, in 1918, when the struggle for the Soviet power was being fought out all over Russia, she had received some very exact information regarding these fisheries from her comrade and husband who had gone there to work in the autumn fishing season of 1918, and had died there.
His death deeply affected her. It was the untold drama of the death of a fighter for Communism, who had witnessed the victory of the greatest revolution in the world, to which he had devoted his whole life. Alone among strangers, among secretly hostile or indifferent people, he first fell sick of dysentery, and then, while lying in the hospital caught typhoid from which he died.
And now, hiding this sorrow in her heart, Samoilova was setting out for the same front.
In his letters before his death, Samoilov had written that the fishing port swarmed with people hostile to us and our construction work, all of them armed with "credentials" as directors of various "Special Food Organisations", "Supply Committees", etc.
As soon as the steamer left, Samoilova busied herself with organisational work. On her initiative, a general meeting of all the Communists on board was called, a Party cell was formed and a committee elected; a general meeting of the crew was also held to elect a trade union committee. She proposed that the Party cell, with the help of the trade union committee, should also carry on political educational work on a broad scale among the ship's crew and all those on board.
The Red Star began its agitational work on May First. It was decided to stop at the Simbirsk Cartridge Factory and take part in the celebrations which were being organised by the regional and district Party committees, and in the evening to hold a meeting and concert on the Red Star. A play, The New Front, was specially written for the entertainment.
About three hundred men and women workers gathered near the cartridge factory, on a square covered with fresh green grass and illuminated with electric lamps.
A speaker addressed them from a platform specially built for the occasion. Many of the workers, dressed in their holiday clothes, stood around indifferent and uninterested. Suddenly, however, they crowded in, their faces lit up with friendly interest; applause rang out. It was Samoilova making her first speech on the struggle against economic devastation, a speech which she repeated many times in the course of the journey, but always with new facts, with new energy, enthusiasm and strength. In the evening she spoke on the ship, where she appealed to the women workers of the cartridge factory. She put her faith in them, she wanted to rouse them for the struggle against economic ruin.
From Simbirsk the steamer sailed on without stopping to Tsaritsyn (now Stalingrad). This stop was of particular significance, in that the Tsaritsyn region supplied Astrakhan with much of its labour power - chiefly skilled female labour. Samoilova therefore planned to hold a non-Party women's conference there and the Tsaritsyn comrades were informed beforehand by wire. The Tsaritsyn women workers knew her from her previous visit and gathered at the conference with impatience to hear her again. Her speech, "The Women Workers in National Economy", thrilled and inspired the whole audience, and many women workers came to the platform and declared with great enthusiasm that they were ready to help in the struggle.
At Astrakhan, representatives came from the women workers in the fisheries, from the "Forepost" (a working-class suburb of Astrakhan). They told of the difficult conditions in which they lived and the impossibility of doing anything because they did not receive the slightest support from the regional Party committee. In high indignation, Samoilova sought out Comrade Eremeyev, the leader of administrative work; she urged him to "make it hot" for those guilty of such laxity, and to insist on help being given to the women's department in organising its work in the fisheries. There were from fifty to sixty percent of women workers employed in the fisheries, which were scattered among the islands of the Volga delta.
The steamer made a round of the fisheries.
In Astrakhan, or rather in the Astrakhan fisheries, Samoilova combined agitation with another task - that of investigating into the conditions of the men and women workers, of whom there were a large number employed in the fisheries at that time (about forty thousand). This task claimed all her vigour and enthusiasm. Although she had been forewarned in Moscow of the bad situation of the women workers, of their hard conditions of work, she was astounded by what she saw here. The past epoch, when capitalist rapacity had reigned supreme on these distant islands, had left a sorry heritage behind it.
She repeatedly attacked the management of the fisheries and their committees, together with the organs of the supply workers' trade union, for their laxity in effecting improvements in the working and living conditions of the men and women workers.
Her words were all the more compelling at the evening meetings when she called upon the men and women workers to organise, urging them to struggle together with the Soviet power, with the Communist Party, against economic ruin.
She was specially concerned with the situation of the children living in the terribly unsanitary conditions of the barracks. She was always ready to set aside a few hours for a children's concert or holiday. Sometimes a thousand or more children gathered. She told them stories, talked to them, revealing great patience and solicitude towards them. She was indignant about the plight of the children and spoke with insistence at the meetings of the local workers and the management. In the matter of the children and the protection of the motherhood, she showed no patience with red tape and demanded real steps. Wherever there were Party cells in the fisheries, attempts were made to organise nurseries and children's colonies. The Red Star helped to organise them in several places.
But the absence of premises and equipment, and above all of the necessary staff, created a situation of terrible difficulty for everyone who struggled for these things. The Regional Fisheries Board remained deaf to her demands. The influence of the centre had not reached this outlying place. The Party cells, the fisheries committees, deprived of contacts with the leading organs, found themselves in a subordinate position to the Regional Fisheries Board.
Samoilova expressed her indignation both at the meetings of the Red Star political department with the responsible workers of the fisheries and also in her articles for the paper published on the Red Star. The further the ship went in the Volga delta, the more vivid these articles became.
On May 15th, they arrived at the "Orangery Fishery", In her article "The Women Workers have Done Their Duty", Samoilova wrote:
"The white guard bandits ruined our national economy, brought it to a state of decline, ruined agriculture and industry, disorganised proper work in the fisheries. It is hard for us to work in the fisheries, in the water and dirt. But neither did the Red Army find it easy to stay in the trenches, cut off from their families. Nevertheless, the soldiers of the Red Army fulfilled their duty to the socialist fatherland and defeated our enemies. We will follow their example."
On May 20th, while at the Nikitina Fishety she wrote an article entitled "Our Strength and the Pledge of our Victory is in Knowledge". She wrote as follows:
"For the men and women workers to be able to organise national economy on new socialist lines, they must not only be literate but they must have professional technical education, for which purpose the Soviet government is organising technical courses and schools. We must uproot illiteracy - this cursed heritage from the old order…Only by knowledge can we conquer all our enemies and put national economy on its feet."
Her last article was on May 31st on the Feodorov Fishery. "Where Education is Needed (Political Educational Department Release Note)" - such was the title of this article, in which she writes:
"The many fisheries of Astrakhan form a veritable desert in the sense of cultural and educational work. Scattered about the Volga delta, separated from the city educational sections, they receive no help either from the educational sections or from the political education departments. But the thirst for education can be felt at every step among the working population. Schools to teach adults reading and writing are springing up all over the fisheries, on the initiative of the workers themselves. Local clubs are being formed. But they are dragging out a miserable existence because they have no books; the clubs have no newspapers and the workers of the fisheries do not know what is happening in the world. It is true that the shortage of school books is explained by the general economic ruin through which we are passing, but this is not the whole explanation. The Political Education Department possesses a certain number of school books and school supplies. More than ever before the forty thousand men and women workers need extensive cultural and educational work, especially now that the fisheries are becoming of such great importance in the national economy of the Republic.
"The most serious attention of the Party, trade union and educational organisations must be devoted to the education of this mass of toilers."
This was her last article.
On May 31st, Samoilova made her last speech. She visited the Feodorov Fishery and spoke to the women workers about the role which they played in the national economy. In the evening she fell sick, and two days later she died.
In Astrakhan, Samoilova suffered another heartbreaking experience. Among the notes sent up to her at a conference of women workers was one from a certain Comrade Shpakova, asking for an interview. Shpakova was one of the active woman workers at Petrograd when Samoilova had organised the women there in the first days of the struggle. Samoilova at once invited her on board the Red Star where Shpakova told her story.
She had been mobilised with others by the Central Organ of Women Workers attached to the Central Committee of the CPSU and sent to work in the Astrakhan fisheries. Together with the other comrades she fell into unaccustomed circumstances. They were isolated from the regional Party committee of Astrakhan, for some reason not being under its jurisdiction. They were scattered about among the desolate islands of the Volga delta, which were desolate indeed as far as Party work was concerned, and surrounded by hostile elements; they soon lost all leadership inside their own group. The solidarity in their own ranks weakened. They lost their bearings and dispersed for lack of contacts. Warmed by the solicitude and comradely attention of Samoilova, Shpakova did not restrain herself. She wanted to pour out everything, to tell her whole story; she wept as she described her material situation. She had literally nothing. Samoilova was stunned. She decided to take Shpakova on to the Red Star, but the steamer came too late for Shpakova. She died the day after her visit to Samoilova, the first victim of the cholera in Astrakhan. Samoilova was greatly distressed over her death. But Samoilova herself caught cholera and died on June 2nd.
The implacable enemy, engendered by the three scourges on which the tsarist monarchy was founded - poverty, ignorance and oppression - had thus carried off the young, healthy and buoyant Shpakova, the woman worker of Petrograd. This same enemy cut down the indomitable fighter Samoilova, young at heart and full of revolutionary energy.
The Communist Party continued the stubborn struggle for the Sovietisation of the Astrakhan fisheries.
The class instinct of the Bolsheviks, Samoilova and her husband, had correctly determined that a "hostile element" had penetrated into the work of the Astrakhan fisheries, which had previously yielded tremendous profits to their owners. Faithful servants of the old masters, taking advantage of their great distance from the centre, of the weakness of the local workers, they had dug themselves in at the fisheries and deliberately wrecked the construction work of the Soviet government.
It was only in 1926, when, under the leadership of the Communist Party, the Soviet government was able to come to grips with the problem of restoring and then reconstructing national economy as a whole, that the gang of wreckers were rooted out of Astrakhan and work started for complete economic and social reconstruction.
The case of the wreckers in the Astrakhan fisheries resounded throughout the USSR; but the ultimate source of this wrecking was not to be sought in Astrakhan.
It was only in the big international trials, the trials of the Industrial Party and the Mensheviks, that it became clear that the threads of the wrecking at the Astrakhan fisheries stretched abroad to the Russian bourgeoisie, to whom the international bourgeoisie give shelter.
But the working-class, the men and women workers who are victoriously building socialism, are sweeping away all that is old, all that has outlived its day. They have built in this rich region a workers' city comparable to that of Dnieprostroy and the Kuzbas, they are mechanising the fisheries, and this is the best memorial to the comrade who perished in the struggle, the best monument to the indomitable Bolshevik fighter, Natasha.