Red Youth salutes the revolutionary women of the world! Our young cadre will be publishing short pieces all this week to celebrate our revolutionary heroines in the run up to International Women’s Day. Today comrade Geoff, from Salford, discusses Valentina Tereshkova.
Come and celebrate International Women’s Day this Sunday in Birmingham with the CPGB-ML and Red Youth at 274 Moseley Rd, Highgate, B12 0BS.
The ideals of the party were close to me, and I have tried to adhere to those principles all my life.
– Valentina Tereshkova
On 16 June 1963, Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova of the Soviet Union became the first woman in space, propelling the achievements of women under socialism to the cosmos!
Valentina was born on 6 March 1937 in the village of Bolshoye Maslennikovo, Yaroslavl. After being left mostly in ruin following the first world war and subsequently the Great October Socialist Revolution, Yaroslavl had risen again, becoming a major beneficiary of the economic development and five-year plans of the Soviet Union under the Bolshevik party; a thriving industrial city – rich, efficient, with vast collectivised farmlands.
Valentina’s parents earned their livelihoods in the all-important nationalised sectors. Her father Vladimir was a tractor driver and mother Yelena worked at the Krasny Perekop cotton mill.
When Valentina was just 2, her father lost his life in combat serving as a sergeant and tank commander for the Red Army in the Winter War – an armed precursory conflict to the second world war between the USSR and the Nazi stooges then in charge of Finland.
When she was just 4, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Although Yaroslavl was heavily protected by Moscow in terms of ground combat, it was frequently targeted during air raids owing to its importance in providing armaments for the Red Army.
Throughout this time, Valentina’s mother continued to work hard, as well as raising Valentina and her two siblings Vladimir and Ludmilla. It was only with the determination displayed by Yelena and with the support of a loving socialist state that families like this survived to see the end of the war.
Thanks to the industrialisation and collectivisation of the 1930s, and the successful routing of the Trotskyite counter-revolutionary fifth column that was in the pay of Hitlerite fascism, Valentina and millions of soviet children like her were able to emerge from the horrors of the Great Fatherland Liberation War and go on to fulfil their potential.
After the war, her family moved to the city of Yaroslavl, where Valentina had her schooling. Having completed high school, she went on to work in the day whilst taking correspondence courses at night, and soon graduated from the Light Industry Technical School.
Starting out working in a tyre factory, she then moved to join the cotton mill her mother and sister were at, working as a loom operator. It was whilst at the cotton mill that Valentina first joined the Komsomol (Young Communist League) and shortly went on to become a member of the Communist Party.
It wasn’t until 1959 that Valentina took the first significant steps towards her eventual role of cosmonaut when she joined the Yaroslavl Air Sports Club and soon become a skilled amateur parachutist.
On 12 April 1961, the USSR’s Yuri Gagarin had become the first man in space, making a single orbit of the earth aboard the Vostok 1. A year later, it was decided that the Soviets should advance their long list of achievements by sending a female cosmonaut to space. Furthermore, the ambition was to send a civilian on the mission, thus proving that the potential to achieve greatness is not inherent in an individual’s class background but simply the result of opportunity.
Having been inspired like so many millions worldwide by the accomplishments of Gagarin and the Soviet Union, Valentina volunteered for the mission and was shortlisted for training along with four other applicants, only one of whom had any pilot experience previously.
Comrade Tereshkova did experience difficulties in her training – in most part owing to her background and a lack of technical understanding – but his didn’t phase her one bit. She worked as hard as anyone could, constantly studying and preparing in order to give herself the best chance of being the first woman in space.
Her effort ultimately paid off in March 1963, when Tereshkova, codenamed Chaika, was selected as the leading candidate. Her first mission was a joint mission between the Vostok 5, piloted by Valery Bykovsky, and the Vostok 6, piloted by Tereshkova.
After the Vostok 5 launched successfully on 14 June, Tereshkova began the final preparations for her own take-off. On approaching the rocket for launch, she said: “Hey, sky! Take off your hat, I’m coming!”
Comrade Chaika orbited the Earth 48 times before safely and successfully landing in the Altay region to the celebration of locals and the jubilation of millions of working women worldwide. The flight had not been entirely perfect, but after Valentina spotted an error in the navigation system early, she was able to redirect the shuttle before any serious problems occurred.
Following her successes, Comrade Valentina continued as an instructor and test pilot for the Soviet space programme, as well as obtaining her doctorate in technical sciences. She went on to marry another cosmonaut, Andriyan Nikolayev, and they had one child, a daughter, together.
In 1968, Comrade Tereshkova headed the Soviet Women’s Committee, always affirming that she was not a feminist but a communist. She remained in politics until the collapse of the USSR, and also became a well-published research scientist.
Comrade Valentina was awarded many honours for her achievements. She received the Hero of the Soviet Union and Order of Lenin in addition to a stockpile of other awards that were sent from around the world. She has also had a lunar crater and minor planet, 1671 Chaika, named after her for her outstanding achievements.
In Comrade Valentina, just as in Comrade Stalin, we see embodied the achievement and fulfilment of the lives of millions of soviet workers – their creativity and labour emancipated by socialism and set free to soar to the heavens!