The Russian Revolution through the eyes of female revolutionaries

The life stories of Vera Figner (1852-1942) and Maria Spridonova (1884-1941)

Summary

Because one suffers for an ideal, and the ideal is so beautiful, that all personal feelings fade.
~ Maria Spiridonova

This essay approaches the topic of female involvement in the Russian Revolution by discussing the life stories of Vera Figner (1852-1942) and Maria Spiridonova (1884-1941). Both these women, at a young age, decided to forsake their privileges and family spheres, and instead devoted themselves to the revolutionary movement. They were women in an autocratic, patriarchal, and orthodox religious society who defied all social norms. They sought for themselves a role outside of the family sphere, opposed the sacred rule of the Romanovs, and turned to the traditionally male realm of politics, revolution, and violence in attempt to turn around not only their own lives, but those of the entire population. Although there might have been a thirty-year age gap separating them, these women did share several similarities – they came from similar backgrounds, they chose to distance themselves from these backgrounds to become revolutionaries, they embraced violent methods in the process, and they were, at least initially, hailed as revolutionary heroes in the wake of the 1917 revolution.

By tracing both their commonalities as well as their differences through a side-by-side approach, this essay ultimately argues that the different choices they made throughout their lives not only reflect their social backgrounds, the specific historical contexts they found themselves in and the distinct generations of revolutionaries to which they belonged. Rather, their choices also reflect their unique personalities. Vera Figner was very careful and cautious before she chose to devote her life to the revolution and seems to have been just as cautious in her decision making when she found herself disagreeing with the course of the revolution. Her personality also shines through in the fact that she was never able to fully distance herself from her social background and the material things and privileges it afforded her. Maria Spiridonova, on the other hand, was already from a young age far more rebellious and fierier. Her devotion to the revolutionary cause was intense and unconditional, reflected in both her willingness to kill as in her choice to actively oppose the Bolsheviks.

This essay thus reiterates that, if historians want to understand the making of the 1917 revolution, it is vital that they not only study the significant political events surrounding it. Analysing the intricacies that make up the lives of individual revolutionaries is just as important.

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Bron afbeeldingen header: ‘Vera Nikolaevna Figner’ (Wikimedia Commons) and ‘Maria Alexandrovna Spiridonova’ (Wikimedia Commons).


Ina-Maria Duynhouwer (1998) volgt de research master Politics, Culture, and National Identities, 1789 to the present aan de Universiteit Leiden en de master Holocaust and Genocide Studies aan de Universiteit van Amsterdam. Ze is met name geïnteresseerd in onderwerpen als geweld, trauma, memory studies en cultural history.

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  1. Heel interessant om vanuit een individualistisch standpunt te kijken naar hoe deze vrouwen betrokken waren – en wat hun bijdrage was – tijdens de Russische revolutie. Goed dat er niet alleen naar het grotere geheel wordt gekeken, maar naar de verhalen van de individuen. Fijn geschreven!

    – Jan

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