Communism and Gender: Historical and Global Perspectives

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This is an introductory course in the developing field of studies on communism, women and gender, in which we will explore historical, theoretical and global perspectives on the topic.
We will discuss the complex question of what communism was (or is), emphasizing the need to distinguish between communism as an ideology, a political movement, or a regime, and, regardless, the need to carefully historicize and contextualize the phenomena in question. The dominant anti-communist discourse homogenizes “communism” and tends to conflate it with the dictatorships of Stalin and Mao. Such a view leaves out large parts of the history of communism worldwide.
For many decades of the twentieth century, millions of women and men around the world were active in communist or communist-inspired or supported political movements for social justice and national independence, and many gave their lives in struggles to establish or defend socialist or communist states. As well, for millions of people around the world, the Soviet Union, the first socialist state, was a land of hope. The Soviet Union had achieved impressive economic growth by the 1950s, it promoted women’s emancipation, anti-racism and anti-colonialism, and supported progressive movements worldwide. An understanding of either the Soviet Union or China as one-dimensional totalitarian and patriarchal states cannot explain their achievements in promulgating and implementing women’s rights, nor where their “women-friendly” legislation and policies came from. The history of communism cannot be understood either without taking into account the various forms of anticommunism, including the military and economic campaigns the USA waged against (alleged) communist movements and countries worldwide.
This course will explore what we can learn about the history of communism if we move beyond the still common totalitarian, Eurocentric, androcentric, and gender-blind approaches and include questions about women and women’s organizations, and about gender and “race” in these histories; if we explore the role of communists in European and global struggles against fascism, racism, colonialism and imperialism; and if we consider the attempts to undermine communism. This will allow us to begin to rethink the meaning of “communism” for women and men around the world in more complex and encompassing ways.