Socialism: Ideals, Ideologies, and Local Practice

By C. M. Hann | Go to book overview

Chapter 15

'The cows and pigs are his, the eggs are mine'

Women's domestic economy and entrepreneurial activity in rural Poland

Frances Pine

Complete equality between men and women before the law and in social life; a radical reform of marriage and family laws; recognition of maternity as a social function; protection of mothers and infants. Initiation of social care and upbringing of infants and children (creches, kindergarten, children's homes, etc.). The establishment of institutions that will gradually relieve the burden of household drudgery (public kitchens and laundries) and systematic cultural struggle against the ideology and traditions of female bondage.

(From the programme of the International Women's Secretariat of the
Comintern, under Clara Zetkin, Moscow, 1924)

The best thing is to keep your land and your women; if you must lose one, better to lose the women and keep the land.

(Polish peasant man, highland village, 1979)

Poland, with its awkward and recalcitrant peasantry who stubbornly refused collectivization and its flourishing, indeed almost dominant 'second economy', 1 was in many ways the maverick state of socialist Eastern Europe. The profligate Gierek years saw the creation of a massive national debt. Hungry for hard currency, the Government allowed and even encouraged the growth of a black market which extended to every possible commodity and service. Throughout the 1970s in Poland, the vast discrepancy between official policy and actual practice was openly acknowledged in all but the highest official circles. As I was often told by the villagers in the highlands where I did research, 'Tutaj nic nie jest wolno, ale wszystko jest możliwe' ('here nothing is allowed but everything is possible').

This chapter is concerned with the position of Polish peasant women in the south-western highlands during the later years of the socialist regime, when nothing was permitted but everything was possible. Specifically, it focuses on the complex strategies devised by women in their pursuit of economic security, and the ways in which these often entailed delicate balancing acts between obligations, time, and labour in the domestic economy, the state sector, and the ubiquitous 'second economy'.

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