The best books about women and socialism

Who am I?

As an ethnographer, I have been studying the lives of ordinary women in socialist and post-socialist countries in Eastern Europe for over twenty-five years. I have always been fascinated by the differences in women’s life options in the presence or absence of robust social safety nets. As a scholar, I’ve spent decades working in archives and interviewing people across the region, and I have written eight books about the various gendered experiences of everyday life in Eastern Europe. As a professor, I have taught a course called “Sex and Socialism,” almost every year for eighteen years and I am always reading widely in this field to look for new material for my syllabi.

I wrote...

Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism: And Other Arguments for Economic Independence

By Kristen R. Ghodsee,

Book cover of Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism: And Other Arguments for Economic Independence

What is my book about?

Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism explores the expansive empirical research showing that women living in socialist countries experienced certain forms of gender emancipation well before women living in the West. By examining women’s roles as mothers, workers, leaders, citizens, and yes, even lovers, this book synthesizes decades worth of studies to show that “lean in” or #girlboss feminism has not been enough to undermine the persistence of sexism embedded in competitive labor markets.

Instead of blaming themselves for not being able to “have it all,” women need to take a long hard look at our economic system and understand how the unpaid labor of caregivers in the home subsidizes the profits of the business leaders who rely on families to bear and raise the next generation of consumers and taxpayers for free. The problem is with capitalism, not with us.

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The books I picked & why

Woman Under Socialism

By August Bebel,

Book cover of Woman Under Socialism

Why did I love this book?

Written while August Bebel was serving a jail term under Germany’s anti-socialist laws, Woman and Socialism was published in over fifty editions and in more than twenty languages between 1879 and 1914. The first English edition was published in 1908 and became something of a sensation in the United Kingdom and the United States. Unlike other men in the labor movement at the time, Bebel believed that women were the full equals of men and should have the same economic, social, and political rights. More importantly, he argued that socialism would give women economic independence, and that this would allow them more freedom in their personal lives, including in their choice of a sexual partner. The book sometimes feels as radical today as it was 150 years ago.

By August Bebel,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Woman Under Socialism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This collection of literature attempts to compile many of the classic works that have stood the test of time and offer them at a reduced, affordable price, in an attractive volume so that everyone can enjoy them.

Book cover of The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State

Why did I love this book?

Engels provides the canonical theoretical framework for understanding how capitalism uniquely impacts women’s lives and how a more collectivized economy lays the foundation for women’s full emancipation. While many subsequent feminist and socialist scholars have disagreed with this book, The Origin of the Family is a classic that has inspired countless generations of theorists and activists. 

By Friedrich Engels,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State: in the Light of the Researches of Lewis H. Morgan (German: Der Ursprung der Familie, des Privateigenthums und des Staats) is an 1884 historical materialist treatise by Friedrich Engels. It is partially based on notes by Karl Marx to Lewis H. Morgan's book Ancient Society (1877). The book is an early anthropological work and is regarded as one of the first major works on family economics.

Following the death of his friend and co-thinker Karl Marx in 1883, Friedrich Engels served as his literary executor, actively organizing and preparing for…

Book cover of Women, the State and Revolution: Soviet Family Policy and Social Life, 1917 1936

Why did I love this book?

This deeply researched book explores the massive upheavals that followed the Bolshevik Revolution in the young Soviet Union. By mining a rich body of archival research, Goldman reveals just how radical Soviet policies to emancipate women really were in their historical context. More importantly, she uncovers the heated debates that characterized this early period of Soviet history before the rigidity and paranoia of Stalinism takes over and he reverses many of the early gains.

By Wendy Z. Goldman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Women, the State and Revolution as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When the Bolsheviks came to power in 1917, they believed that under socialism the family would 'wither away.' They envisioned a society in which communal dining halls, daycare centres, and public laundries would replace the unpaid labour of women in the home. Yet by 1936 legislation designed to liberate women from their legal and economic dependence had given way to increasingly conservative solutions aimed at strengthening traditional family ties and women's reproductive role. This book explains the reversal, focusing on how women, peasants, and orphans responded to Bolshevik attempts to remake the family, and how their opinions and experiences in…

Book cover of Love in the Time of Communism: Intimacy and Sexuality in the GDR

Why did I love this book?

McLellan’s book does a wonderful job of exploring the reconfiguration of romantic relationships that occurred in the former Eastern Germany. In addition to excellent sex education and access to birth control, the East German government radically expanded the availability of childcare and job-protected, paid maternity leaves to help women combine their work and family responsibilities. The socialist state also promoted a uniquely sex positive outlook on life that rejected the commodification of sexuality in favor of a more natural and free form of relations between citizens. A fascinating read with lots of rich historical details.

By Josie McLellan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Love in the Time of Communism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the aftermath of the reunification of Germany one former dissident recalled nostalgically that under the East German regime 'we had more sex and we had more to laugh about'. Love in the Time of Communism is a fascinating history of the GDR's forgotten sexual revolution and its limits. Josie McLellan shows that under communism divorce rates soared, abortion become commonplace and the rate of births outside marriage was amongst the highest in Europe. Nudism went from ban to state-sponsored boom, and erotica became common currency in both the official economy and the black market. Public discussion of sexuality was,…

Book cover of Sexual Liberation, Socialist Style: Communist Czechoslovakia and the Science of Desire, 1945-1989

Why did I love this book?

Katerina Liskova’s intriguing sociological and historical study provides a deep dive into the creation of “expert knowledge” by progressive sexologists in the former socialist state of Czechoslovakia. She argues convincingly that while American housewives pottered around their kitchens in the 1950s, Czechoslovak women experienced a sexual revolution after abortion was legalized, same sex love was decriminalized, and scientists focused on how to improve women’s sex lives. State efforts to promote the ideal of full gender equality within romantic relations gave women new opportunities for education and professional advancement that their mothers and grandmothers could scarcely have dreamed of.

By Kateřina Lisková,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sexual Liberation, Socialist Style as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is the first account of sexual liberation in Eastern Europe during the Cold War. Katerina Liskova reveals how, in the case of Czechoslovakia, important aspects of sexuality were already liberated during the 1950s - abortion was legalized, homosexuality decriminalized, the female orgasm came into experts' focus - and all that was underscored by an emphasis on gender equality. However, with the coming of Normalization, gender discourses reversed and women were to aspire to be caring mothers and docile wives. Good sex was to cement a lasting marriage and family. In contrast to the usual Western accounts highlighting the importance…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in socialism, East Germany, and the Soviet Union?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about socialism, East Germany, and the Soviet Union.

Socialism Explore 44 books about socialism
East Germany Explore 25 books about East Germany
The Soviet Union Explore 307 books about the Soviet Union