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Russian Revolution began on February 23, 1917 with the women's strike for bread and suffrage.




In contrast, March 8 became "International Women's Day" in 1918 due to a change in the Russian calendar (it had been 13 days behind the European calendar), and February 23 became "Red Army Day" and "Day of the Defender of the Fatherland" in 2006.

The majority of accounts state that the women's strike for bread and suffrage on February 23, 1917, marked the beginning of the Russian Revolution. However, that revolutionary beginning was commemorated on March 12 for the next thirteen years (until 1930), after which it was completely removed from the revolutionary calendar. Due to a change in the Russian calendar in 1918, International Women's Day became March 8 (it had been 13 days behind the European calendar), and February 23 became "Red Army Day" and "Day of the Defender of the Fatherland" in 2006. The connection between the February Revolution and the women's strike on February 23 and March 8 was actively undermined in several ways in the early 1920s. First, the date of the February Revolution itself was March 12, or February 27, when the Temporary Committee of the State Duma, which would later become the Provisional Government, was established, not when women marched through the streets of Petrograd calling on men to strike. Second, the celebrations of Red Army Day on February 23 and International Women's Day on March 8 divided men and women and assigned them distinct spheres—the home for women and the army for men—in their celebrations. Finally, it appears that the selection of February 23 as the anniversary of the founding of the Red Army was done with the intention of undermining both the participation of women in the Revolution of 1917 and the overthrow of autocracy.

Aleksandra Kollontai, a Russian feminist, praised International Women's Day demonstrations on March 8, 1920, describing them as "an excellent method of agitation," a day to bring women into politics and raise their consciousness. March 8, 1917, will always be remembered by Kollontai. On that particular day, "Russian women set the world on fire by raising the torch of proletarian revolution." This day marks the beginning of the revolution in February.


Over the next one hundred years, March 8 would be celebrated in a variety of ways, but it would not be recognized as the beginning of the February Revolution. Naturally, one could argue that given that February 23 in Europe and March 8, 1917 in Russia differed by 13 days, one might have anticipated that February 23 would mark the beginning of the February Revolution. However that also was not the situation. Instead, Red Army Day was observed on February 23 during the Russian Civil War. It was still International Women's Day on March 8. Additionally, March 12 was designated as the "Day of the Overthrow of the Autocracy," which was the equivalent of February 27 in the Old Style.

The leading historians of the February Revolution agree that the women's strike for peace, bread, and suffrage on February 23 marked the beginning of the strike wave that led to the overthrow of the tsar (for more information on the latter, see Rochelle Ruthchild's article in this issue of Slavic Review). Why then wasn't February 23 or March 8 celebrated as the start of the February Revolution?

The straightforward response is that the Provisional Government designated February 27 as "The Day of the Great Russian Revolution" in the summer of 1917 to commemorate the formation of the Provisional Government from the Temporary Committee of the State Duma. The new Bolshevik government changed the name of that holiday from "The Day of the Overthrow of the Autocracy" to "On the Eight-Hour Day" on October 29, 1917. They moved it to March 12 on December 10, 1918, since the calendar had changed by then.

However, it appears as though March 12 was barely celebrated. Until Stalin reduced all holidays to January 1, May 1, and November 7 in 1930, it was listed as an official non-working holiday, but there do not appear to have been any large-scale celebrations. This is understandable on one level. The rulers of Soviet Russia after 1917 characterized February as a "bourgeois" revolution, the first stage of the Marxist revolution that would establish a Provisional Government, a bourgeois government, as a stepping stone toward a full-fledged socialist revolution. As a result, February was merely a foreshadowing of October's Great Socialist Revolution. On March 12, 1927, the date of the tenth anniversary, the headline of Izvestiia read "February—A Step Toward October," while the headline of Pravda read "How the Path from February to October was marked."




However, it also appears that the connection between the February Revolution and the women's demonstrations on February 23 and March 8 was actively undermined in the early 1920s. On that day, women's activism was consistently portrayed as "backward," "unskilled," and "spontaneous"; After all, Bolshevik V. N. Kaiurov had tried to get them to stay off the streets. However, Tsuyoshi Hasegawa has provided evidence that women textile workers were the only ones able to sustain a month-long strike in January–February 1917, so this cannot be the entire story. Gender politics and gender relations comprise the larger picture. Choi Chatterjee has argued that the two main parts of 1917's revolution, the February and October Revolutions, were cast as "feminine" and "masculine" from the beginning of Soviet history, with the second celebrated more than the first.

The new Soviet administration gradually began to observe two distinct holidays simultaneously with the February Revolution: the holidays of March 8 (International Women's Day) and February 23 (Red Army Day). In turn, the celebration of these two holidays helped people learn about activism's binary spheres. Red Army Day supposedly honored both male and female soldiers, but over time, it came to be known as "men's day." At least initially, International Women's Day (also known as Den rabotnits, or the Day of Women Workers) celebrated women's emancipation and admission to full Soviet citizenship. Men and women were supposedly equal. By the 1970s special times of year had advanced so on February 23 ladies gave presents to men, particularly those in the military and their dads, while on Walk 8 men gave blossoms and chocolates to ladies, particularly educators and moms. On the one hand, this seems to indicate a nice symmetry between two rather uninteresting holidays.

However, in point of fact, I would contend that the division of these two holidays backs up a gender binary that existed prior to the revolution and was in direct opposition to the stated objectives of gender equality. By creating two holidays for men and women, the creators of these two holidays were conveying a message of supposed gender parity that actually served to reify and naturalize gender differences rather than eliminate or undermine them. These two holidays would have been widely recognized as de facto the same day in the early decades due to the conversion of the calendar, which Russians still observe by celebrating New Year's Day on both January 1 and January 14. As a result, on two equivalent days, one holiday was created to honor men's (and, theoretically, women's) military service and another to honor women's domestic service.

Holidays generally serve as an important window into social values, both those that are officially promoted by central and local authorities and those that are actually accepted and promoted by the general population. Holidays help to organize the year and foster a sense of community and shared feelings. They show who is in charge of the holidays in the first place and who is not. They bring to light what should be remembered and what should be overlooked.

The fact that both the 23rd and 8th of February were celebrated as holidays with gifts seems significant. Jeffrey Brooks argues in his book "Thank You, Comrade Stalin" that a lot of Soviet propaganda was organized around what he calls the "economy of the gift." In this system, the authorities—especially Stalin but also the state—were seen to give gifts—material and structural, even metaphysical, like the possibility of happiness—while the people were expected to show their gratitude, which they did. Much of this changed in the 1930s, but as we'll see, the holiday of February 23 first became known as "the Day of the Red Present" in 1918. This needs more research.

Gender norms are also reinforced by holidays. Who gets gifts from whom; who is praised; Where is the celebration held? These are all social construction issues. The population then adopts gender not only through the official ideology, which in the Soviet case was an ideology of emancipation and public mobilization, but also through practice: the custom of presenting women with flowers and boys and men with tanks and vodka.

Creating a Women's Holiday The older of the two new holidays was March 8, which is International Women's Day. Since Clara Zetkin proposed the holiday at the International Women's Conference of the Second International in Copenhagen in 1910, it had a significant international and pre-revolutionary history. Since 1913, the Social Democrats had held marches on March 8 in major Russian cities. After studiously ignoring women workers for decades (with the exception of Nadezhda Krupskaia's The Woman Worker in 1899), various explanations have been offered for why the Bolsheviks began to pay attention to them in 1913. The Tsarist legislation of 1912, which finally granted women the right to vote and be elected to factory insurance committees, as well as women workers becoming increasingly involved in strikes, labor disruptions, and being drawn to feminist appeals for equal rights, seem to me to be the key dynamic.




Even though the connection between the March 8 holiday and the beginning of the Russian Revolution was still strong in 1917, it was quickly separated shortly after 1917. Pravda's banner headline on March 7 read, "A Great Day," and it rejoiced: On February 23, a week ago, the old authorities hampered the celebration of Women's Day in Petrograd. As a result, the Putilov Factory saw the first clashes, which led to demonstrations and the revolution. Women's Day, also known as Women's Workers' International Day, marks the beginning of the revolution. Praise be to the Woman! "Glory to the whole world!" However, on February 23, 1922, a leading Pravda article stated that the demonstrations that initiated the February to October Revolutions should have been the first step. The women's demonstrations were completely ignored on February 23. On March 8, 1922, there was only one brief article in Pravda that even mentioned "women's day," and it was primarily concerned with the difficulties that women printers faced.

Additionally, the March 8 holiday was domesticated. Since the Provisional Government granted women the right to vote, suffrage was obviously eliminated as soon as possible. At the same time, a crucial part of the larger Bolshevik mission was to have Zhenotdel, an arm of the Communist Party, take over any remaining "women's" organizations because they might be feminist and independent. This would bring them under official party control and make them the transmission belts for party orders. The "women's" holiday in the 1920s appears to have been used to encourage women to join party organizations and create more public services for women, such as laundries, childcare, and public cafeterias.

Most importantly, the paternalist Soviet state used March 8 as an opportunity to demonstrate its "care" (zabota) for women, a claim that was useful for both domestic and international propaganda. Women were saved first by Lenin in the 1920s, then by Stalin in the 1930s. Women said they would "fulfill the precepts of Lenin" on March 8. By the end of the 1930s, women were frequently depicted as shock workers who entered male fields as highly productive employees and were rewarded with silk blouses. As Chatterjee demonstrates, food and prizes were given to women (and some men) who attended the official celebrations as gifts to women from the beginning of this holiday.

Creating a Men's Holiday The reason why Red Army Day was first observed on February 23 from at least 1922 and possibly earlier has always been somewhat "difficult to discover," as E. H. Carr, an authority, pointed out.


Throughout the Soviet era, residents were informed that February 23 marked the day the Red Army was established. However, the Third Soviet Congress officially established the Red Army on January 15, 1918. Another common myth, especially propagated in the Soviet Union, was that the date of the Red Army's victory over Kaiser Wilhelm's German army, February 23, was chosen. According to Stalin's A Short History of the Communist Party, The Soviet Government provided the call: ' The socialist nation is in jeopardy! The working class quickly responded by forming the Red Army's regiments. The new army's young detachments... fought back against the German invaders with courage. The German invaders were decisively repulsed at Narva and Pskov. The day the forces of German imperialism were defeated on February 23 is known as the Red Army's birthday. However, the truth is that on that day, the young Soviet Army was defeated in a series of battles, allowing the Germans to occupy Narva and Pskov without being defeated. Worse, on the same day, the Germans gave Ukraine their ultimatum to become independent and hand over the two cities of Kars and Batumi to Turkey. In this context, Lenin threatened to resign in order to compel Germany's conditions to be accepted by the Party's Central Committee. He harshly criticized the Pravda young fighters on February 25. "The regiment refused to keep their positions, refused to defend even the Narva line, failed to fulfill the order to destroy everything and everyone in retreat, not counting the flight, chaos, incompetence, helplessness, and amateurishness," he wrote. He explained that defeating the Kerenskiis and Russian bourgeoisie in 1917 was one thing; It's another thing to defeat the German imperialist armies. In other words, the Red Army, which was still in its infancy, did not win on February 23, 1918.

Therefore, how did the date of February 23 become this holiday? A celebration of the Red Army was called for in January 1919 by Nikolai Podvoisky, who was a part of the Red Army's founding and now headed the Supreme Military Inspectorate. However, there was not enough time remaining in the month to have it fall on the same day as the actual anniversary (January 15 and 28) or even the Sunday closest to it. Lev Kamenev and the Moscow Soviet decided to combine "The Day of the Red Present" [Den krasnogo podarka]—a holiday established in 1918—with the founding of the Red Army at the end of that month (January). The purpose of that day was to encourage volunteers in the back to gather food and warm clothing for soldiers at the front. One well-known historian claims that Bolshevik circles had been discussing the concept of a Day of the Red Present since the fall of 1918; at first they had needed to interface it to the festival of the October Transformation. But because there were so many other holidays, this new combined holiday—now known as Red Army Day—was so insignificant that it was forgotten for three years (1920–22). The Central Executive Committee of the Communist Party didn't tell everyone to celebrate the Red Army's fifth anniversary on February 23 until 1923.

Is the Story Over? Until 1930, when Stalin reduced the calendar of holidays to just three—January 1, May 1, and November 7—the holiday of the February Revolution—the "Day of the Overthrow of the Autocracy"—continued to exist in minimal form. It was listed as a non-working holiday by trade unions and on so-called "Red Calendars." However, as was mentioned earlier, it does not appear to have been celebrated in any way, if at all.

In contrast, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet decided in May 1965 to make International Women's Day a day off from work. Up until that point, it had been a typical workday with celebrations in the evening. In some years, however, women were given two hours of vacation on that day. In the same period of time, in the 1970s, February 23 came to be increasingly referred to as a "men's holiday" to "balance" the "women's holiday." However, it was not until 2002 that it became a holiday without work. Day of the Defender of the Fatherland (den zashchitnika otechestva) was given its new name in 2006.

In the end, there is a lot that we do not know about these two holidays. At this point, it seems impossible to say for sure if the Soviet establishment of March 8 as International Women's Day and the selection of February 23 as Red Army Day were intended to replace the February Revolution. Nevertheless, it appears entirely possible that people were able to ignore the beginning of the February Revolution by celebrating the two holidays. We also don't know how February 23 was celebrated during World War II, when women played a significant role in the war effort. It may not have been the "men's day" that it has become since the 1970s. However, for all the early Marxist manner of speaking about activating ladies into similar spaces and exercises as men, in the early stages of the Nationwide conflict two huge occasions were fostered that centered around discrete spaces for the military and the home.

Today, Vladimir Putin has demonstrated a clear ambivalence regarding the February Revolution holiday, which commemorates the time when the Russian people overthrew the Tsar of All Russia, Nicholas II, as their national leader. Commentators have expressed surprise that the holiday has not been observed more frequently in this century. However, given how quickly the holiday was suppressed in the early years of the revolution, one might not be surprised.






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