Women on the edge of time: representations of revolutionary motherhood in the NEP-era Soviet Union

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Following the October revolution of 1917 the fledgling Soviet government legalized divorce and abortion, secularized marriage, and decriminalized homosexuality. Utopians dreamed of the withering away of the family and the transformation of women's roles in the home and the workplace. But at least for the time being, only some bodies were capable of bearing children. Women's bodies became contested territory, a site of paradox. On the one hand the image of woman was re-imagined as a de-libidinalized fellow comrade, but this was combined with a continued emphasis on women's biological role as the privileged carriers of the future generation. Rather than circumventing this seeming contradiction, Soviet artworks of the 1920s confronted it, depicting motherhood as an emancipatory and revolutionary act. And this crucially does not only relate to bodies but to emotions. Revolutionary maternal love has a positive, affective dimension that provides an alternative to sexual love. The figure of the revolutionary mother prefigures the still hazily defined qualitative richness of the communist future. This article examines the figure of the revolutionary mother through a discussion of key artworks from the NEP era (1921-1928) concluding by considering how the representation of motherhood shifted in the Stalin era. The article asks what these historical ideas might still teach us today.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalStudies in the Maternal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015


  • women
  • motherhood
  • revolution
  • revolutionary politics
  • Soviet Union
  • NEP-era


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