This thesis explores the lives of key female members of the Bolshevik elite from the
revolutionary movement’s beginnings to the time of Stalin’s death. Through analysing
the attitudes and contributions of Bolshevik elite women – most particularly the wives
of Lenin, Molotov, Voroshilov and Bukharin – it not only provides for a descriptive
account of these individual lives, their changing attitudes and activities, but also a
more broad-ranging, social handle on the evolution of elite society in the Soviet
Union and the changing nature of the Bolshevik elite both physically and ideationally.
Chapters one and two focus on the physical and ideological foundations of the
Bolshevik marriage. Chapter one traces the ideological approach of the Bolsheviks
towards marriage and the family, examining pre-revolutionary socialist positions in
relation to women and the family and establishing a benchmark for how the
Bolsheviks wished to approach the ‘woman question’. Chapter two examines the
nature of the Bolshevik elite marriage from its inception to the coming of the
revolution, dwelling particularly on the different pre-revolutionary experiences of
Yekaterina Voroshilova and Nadezhda Krupskaya.
Chapters three and four then analyse two key areas of wives’ everyday lives during
the interwar years. Chapter three looks at the work that Bolshevik wives undertook
and how the nature of their employment changed from the 1920s to the 1930s.
Chapter four, through examining the writings of wives such as Voroshilova, Larina
and Ordzhonikidze, focuses upon how wives viewed themselves, their responsibilities
as members of the Bolshevik elite and the position of women in Soviet society.
The final two chapters of this thesis explore the changing nature of elite society in this
period and its relationship to Soviet society at large. Chapter five investigates the changing composition of the elite and the specific and general effects of the purges
upon its nature. Directly, the chapter examines the lives of Zhemchuzhina, Larina and
Pyatnitskaya as wives that were repressed during this period, while more broadly it
considers the occupation of the House on the Embankment in the 1930s and the
changing structure of Bolshevik elite society. Chapter six focuses on the evolution of
Soviet society in the interwar period and how the experiences of Bolshevik elite wives
differed from those of ‘mainstream’ Russian women.
While previous studies of the Bolshevik elite have focussed upon men’s political lives
and investigations of Soviet women’s policy and its shifts under Stalin have mainly
concentrated upon describing changes in realist terms, this thesis demonstrates that
not only is an evaluation of wives’ lives crucial to a fuller understanding of the
Bolshevik elite, but that by comprehending the personal attitudes and values of
members of the Bolshevik elite society, particularly with regards to women and the
family, a more informed perspective on the reasons for changes in Soviet women’s
policy during the interwar period may be arrived at.