Nikolai Chernyshevsky's What Is to be Done? And the Prehistory of International Marxist Feminism

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Abstract

Recently, feminist and queer theorists have looked to utopianism to revive debates on gender and sexuality under capitalism initiated by Marxist feminists in the 1960s. In this article we take up this discourse not by turning to Marx and Engels but instead to a novel by one of their contemporaries, Nikolai Chernyshevsky's What Is to Be Done? (1863). We contextualize this work, acclaimed as Russia's most consequential nineteenth- century novel, in international socialist thought to contribute to historical understandings of the entangled German and Russian left ist traditions as well as to contemporary queer and feminist theory. Th rough an analysis of the novel's representation of collective labor, "fictitious" marriage, and its utopian dream, we demonstrate that in What Is to Be Done? gender relations are not merely conceived of as a Nebenwiderspruch; rather, women emerge as the revolutionary subjects who create the conditions for the radical transformation of society through collectivity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)166-192
Number of pages27
JournalFeminist German Studies
Volume36
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020

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