cover image Red Valkyries: Feminist Lessons from Five Revolutionary Women

Red Valkyries: Feminist Lessons from Five Revolutionary Women

Kristen Ghodsee. Verso, $24.95 (224p) ISBN 978-1-83976-660-2

In these informative if somewhat dry biographical sketches, Ghodsee (Taking Stock), a professor of Russian and East European Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, describes the careers of five socialist women who fought for revolutionary change in Russia and Bulgaria in the first half 20th century and influenced women’s movements abroad. Soviet diplomat Alexandra Kollontai, “enigmatic” Russian political activist Inessa Armand, education reformer Nadezhda Krupskaya (who also was Lenin’s wife), WWII sniper Lyudmila Pavlichenko, and Bulgarian scientist and politician Elena Lagadinova pushed for women’s equality while engineering a future socialist society. Some, including Kollontai and Pavlichenko, even toured in the West and became media sensations for their achievements. Ghodsee is careful to distinguish these women from many of their counterparts in the West, noting that “liberal feminism supports a worldview wherein everything is just fine as long as women have better access to wealth and power,” whereas her heroines “imagined a political project that challenged the exploitation of unpaid labor in the private sphere as part of a wider program to overcome the injustices perpetuated by a free market system that produces systemic forms of discrimination.” Though Ghodsee lucidly explains the era’s revolutionary politics, she struggles to convey these women’s lives beyond their résumés. Still, this is an eye-opening deep dive into an underexamined aspect of feminist history. (July)