Elise Boulding (WILPF activist), 1990

Elise Boulding, October 6, 1990
Interviewer — Metta Spencer
Ae was then a sociology professor at Dartmouth College.

Couple of things stand out. The setting in which I was working, not my having influenced events personally.

  • My first contact with Soviet women was 1961. WILPF had its first US/Soviet dialog at Thanksgiving time (Call Philly). So early. I learned that the WILPF had felt close to the women’s peace movement at the war, the Cold War was a crisis for them, they felt things had come to an abrupt halt. Soviet women had their own hopes and ideas about the future world order. Another: we were so moved because every one of the Soviet women spoke of having a baby die or a husband. There was an experience gulf here that overwhelmed us. When it came to discussing positions to be taking on US Soviet relations, we came up against a strong, hard line on limitations. I don’t remember the details. There wasn’t much possibility of creative diplomacy among women because they were staying very carefully within their government’s positions. They were not independent. There was one breakthrough in the discussions that excited us at the time. It had to do that they acknowledged that the U.N. might evolve and change. WILPF Philadelphia files would show that.
  • There was acknowledgment that there was a future, not present, possibility of flexibility and change.
  • The return visit (I didn’t participate in that, I went to Poland). I must have been part of the return visit delegation, but I don’t remember.
  • When World Congress of Women (Women’s International Democratic Federation) its headquarters was in E. Germany, was formed as a parallel organization to WILPF but with Soviet style. I suppose they still publish their magazine. Parallel org to Soviet Women’s Peace Cttee, but it represented itself as a genuine NGO. It sought NGO status and was refused it for not being independent, but finally got it. Elise protested their being denied it. They didn’t just take money from their governments. Stuff was not interesting in the magazine, so it was a matter of establishing contacts and trying to look for some breakthrough in actual dialog that would look for creative redefinitions of situations. That didn’t happen much.
  • At this conference I went, this is the first that that WILPF had sent a formal representation to the WIDF, and there was real hesitation about doing this. Elise was looked on by some suspicion by colleagues who feared she would be carried away and used. I went over our statement with Dorothy Hutchinson and others. At the congress it was my challenge to get on the agenda. To get the floor is not a simple matter. The Russian women helped to take her through steps, but Elise persisted. Finally gave her 3 minutes, and the statement took longer so she had to whittle it down. It was an appeal for criticising all govts and looking for new and creative initiatives. It is in the WILPF file in Philadelphia. Response was tremendous. Official secretariat was not enthusiastic about her doing it, but the audience clapped and clapped. The women were there from many countries.
  • I was in the Polish women’s committee, Dorothy Hutchinson and she went and spent a week. This was a different experience. The solidarity people didn’t exactly sneer at the Liga Kobieg (League of Polish women) saying that they didn’t think for themselves but they did.
  • A project that Elise began at about this time began with discussions with Soviet educators was a joint textbook project for Jr. Hi age children, where there would be on facing pages, US and Russian, stories and working up to more complex discussion of political and social organization. Support by Norman Cousins, spoke with Alexei Markouchevitz, deputy minister of education was very keen on this, fully understood it. She met with russian educators who would work on the textbook. All before Elise went back to school. But he was replaced and died for lack of response.
  • Went to Brussels in the same period for a conference which was organized, not by WIDF, but a women’s labor organization that was leftist. Its secretary was Amelia Brunfaut, an experienced woman and good organizer. Elise wrote a paper on communication and empathy. These mtgs were on education for peace. They had strong membership from USSR, and the left of Europe. The old timers, e.g. the former headmistress of the International School at Geneva, she taught them between the two wars and every one of the boys she taught was killed in WW II. The younger Madame Curie was a strong leftist, quite old, feeble, but spoke passionately about the need for peace. Old fashioned left labour movement. Another person who was in the WILPF, a Swiss, quite elderly by then, was a key person for Elise because she knew everybody. She entered a network of leftist peace women who were committed. Different from WILPF which is liberal, and by left-wing standards a very conservative liberal org.
  • Lydia ___ who turned up at all mtgs, was tagged as Komsomol [I don’t think she means Komsomol, but KGB] and the Soviet women were never sent out of the country without her being along, and she was suspected of being sent along to keep the others in order. She had a steely edge.
  • Elise was chair in 68-70, international chair of WILPF. The contact with Soviet women was no longer thrilling. I never had dealings with SPC, but AFSC did a lot. Russell Johnson, who was AFSC Secretary for New England office was considered too uncritical of Russians. The sense of commitment to dialogue while retaining independent judgment and being friendly without being swept away continued through the years but people divided in to those who thought that issue was silly and those who thought it was a real issue. That was true in all organizations.
  • I dropped out of that line of activity in the fall of 1963 we went to Japan for a year. The activity I had been doing up to then shifted. That Msocow Women’s Congress must have been just before I went to Japan. The Japanese call us the founders of the Japanese Peace Association. I did the study of Japanese women and discovered the same pro-Communist and more conservative elements in the women’s peace movements and some mistrust between the two. I think of the WILPF women as conservative, but the Japanese women had been through a lot. Some of them were working on opening up relations with China. I tried to go to China but it was not possible. The hostility to USSR continues to this day.
  • By the time I came back from Japan I had done this study of Japanese women’s peace movement so I had to get a Ph.D. to get money for research. From Jan 65 I was full time student for two years. I was WILPF chair 67-70 was a crisis, there simply was no person available and I took it because it was such a crisis. By 67 when I became chair I had begun teaching. I was writing the dissertation, teaching, and chairing WiLPF. By 1973 I had to have a year of solitude.
  • EP Thompson was at Dartmouth for a while and some of the people in the states have been involved with Trust Group. I had contacts with peace researchers in each of the E. European countries. I was very aware of the independent voice in each of the countries, but I sensed that the people divided into those who thought that it was important to work with the SPC and educated them, and I belong in that category, and those who thought it was selling out the Trust people. Some did one and some the other but it seemed to me that the European and N. American peace activists had a chance to say things that the SPC didn’t want to hear. They never came to a meeting where they didnt’t get a barrage of stuff. Most people who worked with the official group also worked with the Trust. For all the rhetoric about how awful the committee was, shenanigans, I heard so many horror stories, yet it continued and sometimes I would read transcripts of the meetings because they got more and more on the defensive as time went by. The peace research side, these people at IMEMO, for example, were very bright people. I served on council of the U.N. University in Tokyo and Primakov was my colleague. He is a very smart man. I liked him so much. Kislov, his successor, isn’t quite as dramatic and forceful a character. Maybe a little more inclined to go along with things. They have a peace research institute inside IMEMO. These people have been asking the kind of questions we ask for years. See the IPRA thing in our kits and there were a lot of Russians at the founding conference of IPRA, read who was there on the first IPRA council. That has been true right along, There had always been a recognition that there were limits on what they could do, or publicly talk about, but there was no question that these were smart people operating within the limits that were set for them.
  • It was Peace Research Institute Moscow PRIM, Yury Andreev, who was on one of the plenary panels, is the Academic Secretary of PRIM.

The Russian Quest for Peace and Democracy, by Metta Spencer, published by Lexington Books