The world’s first affirmative action constitution

It was of course the constitution of the USSR. The constitution of 1924 contains this crucial declaration, indicating that one of the key factors involved ethnic diversity (or what it likes to call the ‘national question’):

The will of the peoples of the Soviet republics, who recently assembled at their Congresses of Soviets and unanimously resolved to form a “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics,” is a reliable guarantee that this Union is a voluntary association of peoples enjoying equal rights, that each republic is guaranteed the right of freely seceding from the Union, that admission to the Union is open to all Socialist Soviet Republics, whether now existing or hereafter to arise, that the new union state will prove to be a worthy crown to the foundation for the peaceful co-existence and fraternal co-operation of the peoples that was laid in October 1917, and that i t will serve as a sure bulwark against world capitalism and as a new and decisive step towards the union of the working people of all countries into a World Socialist Soviet Republic (Stalin, Works 5, p. 404).

A constitution is always a work in progress, so the 1936 version (sponsored by Stalin) extended affirmative action to women, religion, education and so on:

Article 122. Women in the U.S.S.R. are accorded equal rights with men in all spheres of economic, state, cultural, social and political life. The possibility of exercising these rights is ensured to women by granting them an equal right with men to work, payment for work, rest and leisure, social insurance and education, and by state protection of the interests of mother and child, prematernity and maternity leave with full pay, and the provision of a wide network of maternity homes, nurseries and kindergartens.

Article 123. Equality of rights of citizens of the U.S.S.R., irrespective of their nationality or race, in all spheres of economic, state, cultural, social and political life, is an indefeasible law. Any direct or indirect restriction of the rights of, or, conversely, any establishment of direct or indirect privileges for, citizens on account of their race or nationality, as well as any advocacy of racial or national exclusiveness or hatred and contempt, is punishable by law.

Article 124. In order to ensure to citizens freedom of conscience, the church in the U.S.S.R. is separated from the state, and the school from the church. Freedom of religious worship and freedom of anti-religious propaganda is recognized for all citizens.

Incidentally, article 124, which Stalin included in the face of stiff opposition, eventually led to the rapprochement between Stalin and the church during and after the Second World War. The church petitioned for churches to be re-opened, religious personnel to be admitted to jobs, and religious candidates ran in the 1937 legislative elections.

By 1977, the revised constitution summed up the affirmative action position as follows:

Article 34. Citizens of the USSR are equal before the law, without distinction of origin, social or property status, race or nationality, sex, education, language, attitude to religion, type and nature of occupation, domicile, or other status.

The equal rights of citizens of the USSR are guaranteed in all fields of economic, political, social, and cultural life.

Article 35. Women and men have equal rights in the USSR.

Exercise of these rights is ensured by according women equal access with men to education and vocational and professional training, equal opportunities in employment, remuneration, and promotion, and in social and political, and cultural activity, and by special labour and health protection measures for women; by providing conditions enabling mothers to work; by legal protection, and material and moral support for mothers and children, including paid leaves and other benefits for expectant mothers and mothers, and gradual reduction of working time for mothers with small children.

Article 36. Citizens of the USSR of different races and nationalities have equal rights.

Exercise of these rights is ensured by a policy of all-round development and drawing together of all the nations and nationalities of the USSR, by educating citizens in the spirit of Soviet patriotism and socialist internationalism, and by the possibility to use their native language and the languages of other peoples in the USSR.

Any direct or indirect limitation of the rights of citizens or establishment of direct or indirect privileges on grounds of race or nationality, and any advocacy of racial or national exclusiveness, hostility, or contempt, are punishable by law.

Needless to say, constitutions express certain ideals that are not are always practised in reality, but in its initial articulation it was the first affirmative action constitution in the world.


Hegel: on women, barbarians and planets

As part of my research concerning the alienated nature of the public sphere (which is normally assumed to be the domain of ‘democratic freedom’), I have been reading Hegel’s The Philosophy of Right. As I do so, I keep coming across all manner of other enlightened observations. For instance, on women:

Man therefore has his actual substantial life in the state, in learning, etc., and otherwise in work and struggle with the external world and with himself, so that it is only through his division that he fights his way to self-sufficient unity with himself … Woman, however, has her substantial vocation in the family, and her ethical disposition consists in this piety (§ 166).

In other words:

Women may well be educated, but they are not made for the higher sciences, for philosophy and certain artistic productions which require a universal element. Women may have insights, taste, and delicacy, but they do not possess the ideal … When women are in charge of government, the state is in danger, for their actions are based not on the demands of universality but on contingent inclination and opinion (§ 166).

As for barbarians:

The barbarian is lazy and differs from the educated man in his dull and solitary brooding, for practical education consists precisely in the need and habit of being occupied (§ 198).

Barbarians are governed by drives, customs and feelings, but they have no consciousness of these (§ 211).

That is, ‘uncivilised’ people simply cannot act rationally. I hear that still today in some parts, concerning Greenlanders or Australian Aborigines.

For the enlightened Hegel, barbarians and indeed women are much like the planets:

The sun and the planets also have their laws, but they are unaware of them (§ 211).

Secret men’s business? Women in the Russian communist movement

The usual accusation is that communism tended to be secret men’s business until Juliet Mitchell saved the day with her ‘Women: The Longest Revolution‘ article in New Left Review of 1966. However, apart from my earlier post about key socialist feminists and activists such as Alexandra Kollontai, Rosa Luxemburg and Clara Zetkin, a whole bunch of others were central to the Russian communists and took part in the 1905 and 1917 revolutions:

Yelena Stasova (codenames: Absolute, Delta, Heron and Varvara Ivanovna)

Vera Zasulich (codenames: Auntie, Elder Sister, Karelin, Kiroff, Velika, V.I. and V.Iv.)

Alexandra Kalmykova (codename: Auntie)

Maria Ulyanova (codename: Bear)

Maria Essen (codenames: Beast, Beastie, Falcon, Nira Lvovna, Zernova, Zverev)

Olga Vinogradova (codename: Beggar)

Rozalia Zemlyachka (codenames: Demon, Osipov)

Zinaida Krzhizhanovskaya (codename: Doe)

Lydia Knipovich (codenames: Dyadin, Uncle, X)

Yekatarina Alexandrova (codename: Jacques)

Natalia Bogdanova (codename: Rachmetova)

Sofia Afanasieva (codename: Serafima)

Anna Yelizarova (codename: James)

And the codenames for Kollontai and Luxemburg were A.M. and Junius.

All of this comes from Lenin’s letters, full of code that you need to decipher. But the overall impression, even from the names, is that the Russian communist movement was a very sexy outfit.

Engels and women

I am preparing a couple of chapters for a book to be called Intimate Life. One chapter will be called The Good Life’; another ‘Engels and Women’. I mean not the usual Engels of Origin of the Family, a founding if flawed text of feminism, especially Marxist feminism. I mean the fact that Friedrich could charm the pants, and every thing else, off the other sex. Preferring not to marry (unlike his seven brothers and sisters), he kept his options open.

For example, in one of his weeks-long walks, this time from Paris to Berne (Switzerland) via a meandering route in 1848, he encounters hills, valleys, rivers of wine, and women. All of which leads him to reflect:

No French townswoman dreams of singing

If I were as pretty

As the girls who’re country-bred,

I’d wear a yellow straw hat

With a rose-red ribbon tied.

On the contrary she knows only too well that it is to the town, to the absence of arduous labour, to civilisation and its hundred aids to cleanliness and arts of toiletry that she owes the perfecting of her charms; she knows that even if country girls have not already inherited that coarse-boned build from their parents which the Frenchwoman so abhors and which is the pride of the Germanic race, country girls – as a result of exacting farm labour in the most burning sunshine and the heaviest rain alike, the difficulties in the way of keeping clean, the absence of aids to physical culture, and their admittedly venerable but no less ungainly attire – will mostly end up as ungainly, waddling scarecrows, comically dolled up in garish colours.

Tastes vary: our German compatriots mostly prefer the farmer’s daughter, and they are perhaps right to do so: all due respect for the kicks – similar to those of a trooper – and especially the fists of a strapping dairymaid; all honour to the grass-green and fiery-red check gown that embraces her mighty waist; hats off to that impeccably flat expanse that reaches from the back of her neck down to her heels and gives her from behind the appearance of a board covered with brightly coloured calico! But tastes vary, and so that portion of my fellow citizens which differs from me, though being no less worthy of respect for that, must forgive me if the cleanly-washed, smoothly-combed, slimly-built Burgundian women from Saint-Bris and Vermenton made a pleasanter impression on me than those earthily dirty, tousled, young Molossian buffaloes between the Seine and the Loire who gape at one as though struck dumb if one rolls a cigarette, and take to their heels screaming if one asks them the way in good French.

It will therefore readily be believed that I spent more time lying in the grass with the vintners and their girls, eating grapes, drinking wine, chatting and laughing … (MECW, vol 7, pp. 528-9).