Angelica Balabanoff

Russian-Jewish-Italian dissident writer, social activist, politician, editor

Angelica Balabanoff (or Balabanov, Balabanova; Russian: Анжелика Балабанова – Anzhelika Balabanova; 4 August 1878 – 25 November 1965) was a Russian-Italian communist and social democratic activist of Jewish origin. She served as secretary of the Comintern from 1919 to 1920, and later became a political party leader in Italy.

Angelica Balabanoff in 1962

Quotes edit

My Life As a Rebel (1938) edit

  • My first realization of inequality and injustice grew out of these experiences in my early childhood. I saw that there were those who commanded and those who obeyed, and probably because of my own rebellion against my mother, who ruled my life and who for me personified all despotism, I instinctively sided with the latter. Why, I asked myself, should mother be able to rise when she pleased, while the servants had to rise at an early hour to carry out her orders? After she had raged at them for some mistake, I would implore them not to endure such treatment, not realizing that necessity held them as tightly to our home as it had held the peasants to the feudal landlords. (page 4)
  • Our conference [Women's Congress in Bern] had two tasks to perform: to publicize the fact that in spite of the vetoes of their governments and the opposition of the labour leaders, women had met and worked together for peace and for Socialism; our second task was to formulate slogans for this struggle and to publish a leaflet for women to whom the reaction to the war marked a first approach to social problems, to explain the causes and consequences of the war and the manner in which they could be abolished. Our appeal to them began: "Where are your husbands, your brothers, your sons? Why must they destroy one another and all that they have created? Who benefits by this bloody nightmare? Only a minority of war profiteers...Since the men cannot speak, you must. Workingwomen of the warring countries, unite!" (page 131)
  • The path of least resistance can very easily become a trap and the price one pays for taking it may ultimately come too high. This has certainly been the case with Russia. The trials and executions of the past two years which have dishonoured not only Russia but the entire revolutionary movement, may cancel in the memory of mankind the gigantic social and technical achievements of the Revolution. These crimes did not begin with Stalin. They are links in a chain that had been forged by 1920. They were implicit in the development of the Bolshevik method-a method which Stalin has merely amplified to incredible proportions and used for his own non-revolutionary ends. (page 185)
  • After reading this chronicle of my collaboration with the international labour movement in its periods of victory and defeat, the reader is entitled to ask where I stand now. At sixty I am drawing conclusions from those experiences. My belief in the necessity for the social changes advocated by that movement and for the realization of its ideals has never been more complete than it is now when victory seems so remote. I am more than ever persuaded that a militant international labour movement must be the instrument of those changes. The experience of over forty years has only intensified my Socialist convictions, and if I had my life to live over again, I would dedicate it to the same objective. This does not mean that I do not recognize my own mistakes or those of the groups in which I have worked. (page 314)
  • It is this that kills the spirit of the labour movement-not only in Russia, but throughout the world: that an Idea which has inspired whole generations to matchless heroism and enthusiasm has become identified with the methods of a régime based upon corruption, extortion and betrayal; and last, but not least, that the sycophants and assassins of this régime have infected the world labour movement. In this, Bolshevism identifies itself more and more with the methods of Fascism. I am among the few people who have not been surprised at the various abrupt changes in the tactics of the Communist International. I knew that its tactics were always imposed, rather than accepted, and as they never corresponded to conviction, there has been no need of any psychological adaptation. These changes have been the result of bargains, or the failure of bargains, between Stalin and the military and diplomatic authorities of other countries. (page 319)
  • If a new world war-which can no more make the world safe for democracy than did the last-does not plunge us into a new nightmare within the next few years, I believe that the international labour movement can be built again, and that in this movement and its courage and solidarity lies the only hope for humanity. Such a movement will have learnt from its past defeats at the hands of Fascism and from the mistakes and the betrayals of the Russian experiment. A new world war, with the inevitable rise of totalitarianism of various sorts within the democratic countries, can very well kill the possibility of such international action for decades to come. I am proud to have lived and worked with the artisans of a new social order. Many of them are now dead or defeated-in exile or in their own countries. But a new generation will take their place-to build more wisely and more successfully on the foundations we have laid. (page 319)

Quotes about Angelica Balabanoff edit

  • Alix Kates Shulman's narrator quotes the real memoir of revolutionary socialist Angelica Balabanoff: "the experience of the individual in relation to historic events does not belong to oneself alone."
    • Joyce Antler Jewish Radical Feminism: Voices from the Women’s Liberation Movement (2020)
  • The two leading Communist women of Russia proved the greatest contrast. Angelica Balabanoff lacked what Kollontay possessed in abundance: the latter's fine figure, good looks, and youthful litheness, as well as her worldly polish and sophistication. But Angelica had something that far outweighed the external attributes of her handsome comrade. In her large sad eyes there shone profundity, compassion, and tenderness. The tribulations of her people, the birth-pangs of her native land, the suffering of the downtrodden she had served her whole life were deeply graven on her pallid face…I left the dear little woman with mixed feelings. Soothed and comforted by her rich fount of love, I at the same time disapproved of her acquiescence in the evils and abuses about her. I had known of her as a fighter, always firm and unflinching in her stand. What had made her so passive now, I wondered. Communists enjoyed the right of criticism, as I had learned from the Bolshevik press. Why, then, did Angelica not use her pen and voice in and out of the party? It kept worrying me and I sought an opportunity to speak to her woman comrade who had served us tea. From her I learned that Angelica had been secretary of the Third International. In that capacity she had fought determinedly against the growing bureaucracy of the clique led by Zinoviev, Radek, and Bukharin. As a result she was most unceremoniously kicked out and denied all responsible work. [...] Her mental state was due to the methods employed by her party, including the wide-spread suffering, the terror, and the cheapness of human life. Angelica could not face them…she suffered more than most of her comrades from the latest somersault of her idol Ilich. To see constantly the hungry crowds around the bakeries and pastry-shops was torture to one who, like Angelica, felt guilty to accept the gift of even a few biscuits from her Swedish friends. It was a purgatory which only we, who knew her well, could appreciate.
  • Angelica Balabanoff paid us a visit last week, and brought us personal greetings from [[Emma|Emma Goldman. The poor soul changed a lot since I have seen her in Berlin last: she looks so old! But not only physical (sic) she has changed, she seems to be so pessimistic and depressed. Her lectures are not very successful we are told, and if not for the Italians it would be worse still. She is envying Emma that she can be active in England, just the country where she would love to be. And Emma enrages her that she is in the states: that how it is, nobody can have ones choice, even not in the most elementary and simplest things these days, it is a miserable state of things.

Robert F. Byrnes, Forward to My Life As a Rebel (1938) edit

  • Angelica Balabanoff was the last great representative of the nineteenth century revolutionary tradition in Russia. Her emphasis upon ethical values, her thrust for liberty and equality, and her deep concern for the poor of all countries put her squarely in the sentimental socialist movement which appeared first in the 1830's and 1840's in Western Europe. She was a romantic idealist, in many ways an anarchist, and a true European and internationalist. Thus, she was one of the first of the old socialists to recognize that Lenin and his Bolshevik colleagues, who were riding the storm of the Russian Revolution and creating the new Soviet State, were cynical, ruthless, and self-interested. She therefore left Moscow and the Third International in 1921 and was expelled from the Communist Party a few years later for placing her ideals and integrity above the demands of the Party, even of Lenin.
  • most readers will note that Miss Balabanoff resembles not only some of the early romantic socialists but also some of those active in women's liberation movements today, especially those whose parents represent the affluent society. Above all, Balabanoff provides insights concerning the international socialist movement during the first two decades of the twentieth century. She is especially informative concerning socialism among the poor Italian textile workers in northern Italy and in Switzerland, but she also attended the crucial 1907 congress of the Russian Social Democratic Party. Before the war, her extraordinary talents as a speaker and as an interpreter-she spoke six languages fluently-brought her into close contact and often friendship with all of the socialist leaders, Auguste Bebel, Clara Zetkin, Rosa Luxemburg, Jules Guesde, Jean Joures, and all of the Italian leaders. Mussolini received her greatest attention and her deepest contempt, not only for his betrayal of socialism in 1914 for French money, but also because of his servility and his gross interest in the things of this world, rather than in helping the poor.

Jane Slaughter, “Humanism versus Feminism in the Socialist Movement: The Life of Angelica Balabanoff” in European Women on the Left (1981) edit

  • When Angelica Balabanoff died in Rome on November 25, 1965, at the age of eighty-seven, an obituary referred to her as "one of the most striking personalities of the International Socialist Movement." Her life since 1878 was marked by activism in a wide range of radical causes. As a leader of the Italian Socialist party (PSI) and later of the Italian Social Democrats as well as an intransigent antifascist and a dedicated humanist, Balabanoff was a key figure in the history of European radical politics.
  • The guideline for her own life was clear; "there has never been any conflict between my heart and my brain."
  • At the time that Balabanoff joined the PSI, concern for the emancipation of women was already a stated party goal largely through the work of Anna Kuliscioff's
  • As her old friend Bertram Wolfe observed, "she is too honest with herself not to realize that her dream has failed to come true."
  • Balabanoff's position was characteristic of the general movement and in keeping with her previous view that women's rights issues were secondary to the question of the workers' struggle. She sought to make proletarian women and men aware of capitalistic society as their common enemy, but she was most sympathetic to women, since they often bore the burdens of class oppression as well as the brunt of fascism and war. Balabanoff became highly emotional when describing their suffering and hoped to rouse women from their passivity.
  • She had not wavered in what she believed to be the true work of socialists; that is, the education of the masses toward a consciousness of their human and social rights resulting in a spontaneous mass movement that would inevitably lead to an egalitarian society.
  • Living in New York, she discovered support for Mussolini in some Italian-American and conservative circles before the United States entered World War II, and so she edited and wrote a small periodical, Il Traditore, which between January, 1942, and May, 1943, contained a series of articles describing Mussolini's early years, his persecution of socialists, and the fascist record of assassinations and brutality in Italy."
  • One writer noted that "her single most remarkable trait [is] her total integrity, which is why she fail[ed] in the game of power politics"; while another wrote that "to listen to her soft, compassionate voice, telling of the suffering of the people of Italy and all over Europe. . is to understand that revolutionary faith can be synonymous with humanitarianism."
  • Like many other Social Democratic women, she did not examine specifically how Marxist theory related to women, and her approach still remained quite reductionist or economistic when it came to the "woman question." Nevertheless, she showed increasing interest in the crucial role women could play in creating a socialist society and clearly seemed aware of specific problems women faced in the postwar world.
  • Throughout her life, in letters and other personal expressions, Balabanoff consistently emphasized her sense of duty to alleviate the sufferings of others. While she recognized that society and nature contained no perfect justice, she believed that self-denial and moral humility provided the only real guidelines for the realization of her ideal "to share the sufferings and deprivations of the poorest among the poor." In the sense that the party had remained her family and the workers her children, the obituary in the Corriere della sera correctly pointed out "the only monogamy to which she felt morally pledged was to that of her own ideology." Peace, equality, social welfare, and justice were her values.
  • Balabanoff supported the organizing of working-class women and wrote several pamphlets on women's liberation-among them a denunciation of the Baryshnyas, "young ladies from petty-bourgeois families accustomed to idleness and being kept by men of wealth and position." She also maintained that when asked to assume leadership responsibilities in the Women's Union, she refused because she claimed to have neither the interest nor the talent for such work.
  • Victor Serge describes her as secretary: "Perpetually active, she hoped for an International that was unconfined, open-hearted and rather romantic."
  • The issue of dissent from established doctrine was clearly in her mind when she wrote: "You have to choose between what you conceive to be your duty, between your personal dignity and honesty, and your collaboration with this institution.... You can't expect a revolutionist to remain indifferent when methods he considers damaging are applied to the movement he is supposed to serve."
  • Balabanoff, the revolutionary humanist.

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