The following is an article from the Spring 1986 issue of "Women and Revolution" that may have some historical interest for old "new leftists", perhaps, and well as for younger militants interested in various cultural and social questions that intersect the class struggle. Or for those just interested in a Marxist position on a series of social questions that are thrust upon us by the vagaries of bourgeois society. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of "Women and Revolution" during Women's History Month and periodically throughout the year.
Comintern Journal, 1921-1925:
Communist International's Work Among Women
Die Kommunistische Fraueninternationale, 1921-25
Edited by Klaus Aresti, Published by VTK Publishers
Frankfurt, West Germany, 1983
Women and Revolution welcomes the publication of four volumes containing the complete reprints of the journal of the Women's Secretariat of the Communist International, Die Kommunistische Fraueninternationale (Communist Women's International) in the original German. Published monthly from 1921 to 1925, the journal sought to provide revolutionary leadership to communist women cadres internationally. For several years, it was a high-grade propaganda organ, an organizing tool in the internationalist tradition of Lenin and Trotsky's Third International.
Articles appeared about a range of proletarian struggles—from the great British miners strike of 1921 to "The Harsh Life of Women Farmers in Nebraska and Wyoming and Their Demands." The journal dealt with a spectrum of social questions such as "Child Suicide: A Devastating Accusation Against the Bourgeois Order" and "Prostitution in Vienna," articles on infant mortality and women in politics. Systematic reports were made of events in the international communist movement, with detailed reports on conferences of international women's organizations and various bodies of the Third International. Historical articles, such as the intriguing "Women as the Vanguard of the Great Rice Insurrection in Japan in 1918" by communist leader Sen Katayama, and literary articles appeared in just about every issue. Pieces such as "The Fascist Women's Movement in Italy" and "French Imperialism’s Rapacious Attack on the Ruhr and the Danger of a New War" oriented the communist militants in a class-struggle approach to current urgent questions. There are many articles on the working women's struggles for unionization and equality.
Development of the Communist Women's Journal
The editor of the journal Kommunistische Fraueninternationale (KF) was German communist Clara Zetkin. As a leader of the German Social Democratic Party, Zetkin had played a vital role in the development of a revolutionary Marxist position on the woman question which later became a model for the Communist International. In 1891 she helped to found Die Gheichheit (Equality), the newspaper of the SPD devoted particularly to the question of women's emancipation. In the years before the outbreak of World War I, SPD left-wingers like Zetkin had fought persistently for special work among women on a high propagandistic level. They were also among those who defended their revolutionary proletarian outlook against all forms of narrowness and chauvinism, from trade unionism, parliamentarism and nationalism to male chauvinism and feminism. After the historic betrayal of the SPD, voting for war credits in the imperialist war, Die Gheichheit became known as a voice for internationalism, opposing the imperialist war in defiance of the SPD leadership. Many of the left wing joined Rosa Luxemburg in forming the Spartacist group in 1916, precursor of the German Communist Party formed in 1919 which affiliated with the Third International. Clara Zetkin was fired as editor of Die Gheichheit by the SPD leadership, which published it for a short time as a depoliticized and chauvinist magazine.
The founding of the journal KF continued the work of Die Gheichheit, broadening it and thus realizing one of the tasks set forth in the "Resolution on Work Among Women" adopted at the Third Congress of the Communist International in 1921. This congress took place three years after the conclusion of the devastating First World War and four years after the successful proletarian revolution in Russia which created the first workers state, the Soviet Union. The year 1921 marked the end of the four-year Civil War when the internal counterrevolution, in league with 14 capitalist armies, was defeated by the Soviet Red Army. But internationally, the working class had suffered important defeats in Italy and Germany. It was a time of retrenchment, a time of defensive struggle. In the words of the Theses adopted at the Congress, "On the International Situation and the Tasks of the Comintern":
"It is absolutely incontestable that on a world scale the open revolutionary struggle of the proletariat for power is at present passing through a stoppage, a slowing down in tempo. But in the very nature of things, it was impossible to expect that the revolutionary offensive after the war, insofar as it failed to result in an immediate victory, should go on developing uninterruptedly along an upward curve."
In this period of retrenchment, the International determined that it was imperative to draw into the Communist parties layers of the oppressed which had hitherto been outside of organized politics or part of the mass reformist parties. The Third Congress had adopted the "Theses on Tactics," a manual for splitting the centrist and reformist mass parties and winning over their proletarian base. Central to this task was winning the Communist parties of the world to the importance of mobilizing and organizing proletarian women and youth into the revolutionary struggle. Trotsky motivated this task in his presentation to the Third Congress:
"Millions of new workers, particularly women workers, drawn into industry during the war, have brought with them into the proletariat not only their petty-bourgeois prejudices but also their impatient aspirations for better
conditions of life
"All these layers of the proletariat, so diverse in origin and character, have been and are being drawn into the postwar movement neither simultaneously nor homogeneously. Hence the fluctuations, the flows and ebbs, the offensives and retreats in the revolutionary struggle.
But the overwhelming majority of the proletarian masses are being rapidly welded together by the shattering of old illusions, by the terrible uncertainty of existence, by the autocratic domination of the trusts, by the bandit methods of the militarized state. This multimillion-headed mass is seeking a firm and lucid leadership, a clear-cut program of action and thus creates the premises for the decisive role which the closely welded and centralized Communist Party is destined to play."
Special Work Among Women
The communists understood that winning working women to communism would require special tools. Clara Zetkin motivated the resolution which ordered all sections to establish women's commissions to undertake special work among women:
"We see clearly the residue of thousands of years of subjugation on the souls and psyches of women. This is why, despite the common organization, special organs and measures are necessary to reach the masses of women and to organize and educate them as communists.
"For such organs we propose to establish women'; agitational committees or commissions—whatever the parties wish to call them—on the leadership and administrative party levels. And these commission' should exist from the leading bodies of the local group up to the highest central leadership. We call these organ women's commissions because their task is to undertake work among women but not because we wish to stress that they consist only of women. Quite the contrary. We welcome the participation of men in the women' commissions, with their greater political experience am skill. To us, the crucial thing is that these commission work among the masses of women in a planned am permanent way; that they take a stand against all the misery, and on all subjects of interest to the lives c women; that they intervene in all spheres of social life of the welfare of the millions and millions of proletarian an semi-proletarian women with knowledge and energy.
It was to the task of guiding and strengthening these party bodies that the International Women's Secretariat of the Communist International devoted their journal
Die Kommunistische Fraueninternationale. The journal reflected the living struggle of the international communist movement, deriving its existence from the contributions of correspondents elected by the Communist party in each country. Through these contributions, the pages of KF became a treasure trove of direct political experience, recording the struggle of the Communist parties of the world on questions of particular interest to women. The richness of the political debates of the Third International reflected through the struggles in various countries make fascinating reading. Particular attention was devoted to polemics against the Social Democratic false leaders of the working class and the bourgeois feminist movement.
By publishing the actual decrees of the new Soviet state on the protection of mother and child, abortion, education and a myriad of other social questions, the journal showed concretely how the basis for the emancipation of women was being laid in the Soviet Union through the replacement of social responsibilities of the nuclear family. This was the future toward which the Communist International was looking. Throughout these volumes the urgent need for defense of the Soviet Union in light of these enormous social accomplishments is highlighted.
In 1925, the character of the journal changed radically. In the handful of issues published that year, the revolutionary edge was blunted and the pages were filled with empty tributes to Lenin, nationalistic declarations of allegiance to the Soviet Union and dull statistical tracts. Stalinism had destroyed the Communist International as a revolutionary force, substituting the false doctrine of "socialism in one country." Die Kommunistische Fraueninternationale was discontinued in 1925, one of the victims of Stalinism.
Women and Revolution is proud to introduce these important volumes to our readers. From time to time we hope to publish translations of selected pieces. In this issue, we publish excerpts from Clara Zetkin's Preface, printed in the first number of Die Kommunistische Fraueninternationale, April 1921.
Clara Zetkin's Introduction to the Communist Women's International
This is not the journal of a communist women's movement of a single country; it is the common international organ of the communist women's movement of all countries. And this imparts special significance to Die Kommunistische Fraueninternationale: presently it is the only international women's journal not to regard the problems of the so-called woman question from the shaky ground of the bourgeois view of society and from the perspective of the women's righters, but to base its viewpoint on the weather-hardened granite of the socialist, communist worldview, oriented unswervingly toward the liberation of humanity through communism. Thus it is a creation of the revolutionary workers movement itself, its most advanced, perceptive, confident and energetic component: the Communist International.
Certainly, the internationally oriented and distributed Die Gleichheit, the women's journal of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, sought to join the proletarian women's movement of the various countries on a common basis and to combine forces to achieve a common goal. But after all, for the most part the journal necessarily remained the paper of the German Social Democracy and could be an international publication only in its "secondary function," an "ersatz publication."
No thought was more remote from the Second International than establishing an international women’s publication, even on the most modest level. Despite its fundamental commitment to equal rights for the sexes it tolerated the proletarian women's movement more as unavoidable and secondary, if not as a necessary evil, rather than evaluating it according to its historical worth. Representatives of the Women's International were admitted to its conferences more or less sympathetically, but they had no statutory right to participate. The Women's International had no representation on the Secretariat of the Second International. It required world war, the destruction and shattering of the capitalist economy and bourgeois society to its very depths; it required world revolution beginning its mighty march of victory across the entire earth, crushing everything old and rotten under its iron heel and creating with bountiful hands new things demanding life; it required the power of Soviet Russia, the first state built by free and creative labor; it required a break from the chaos of betrayed principles and the new perception of the Communist International amidst these historic events, in fierce combat against its bourgeois mortal enemies and in passionate, painful struggles with those proletarians lacking insight, weak in perception and misled—all this was required for this revolutionary vanguard, nucleus of the working class, to fully value the proletarian women's movement.
As an organization of action the Communist International necessarily came to an enhanced appreciation of the participation of the masses of women in the revolutionary struggle, in revolutionary construction. As an organization of action it gleaned its insight and strength from the lessons of the past as well as from present experience, in particular in Soviet Russia where the revolution, embodied in flesh and blood, has set about overturning society. There the truth of the fact— to which Socialists of all countries and tendencies give mere lip service—was proven and continues to be completely proven in practice: without the informed, spirited and self-sacrificing participation of broad masses of women, capitalism cannot be conquered and eradicated, nor can communism be realized. Soviet Russia's rule by sword and soup ladle could reach an unprecedented level of sacrifice and heroism and thus its victorious affirmation only through the full participation of masses of women. Dire necessity called the Russian women to every battle station, into every field of economic and cultural activity. If they served the revolution in greater numbers and with more dedication, this was because they met much less prejudice than women of any other country. In Russia, the struggle for the full equality of women, as the revolution itself, has always been the great cause of men and women in common.
Under the historic leadership of the Communist Party of Soviet Russia, and with its great example, the Third International was bound to undertake that which the Second International had failed to do. On the basis of a unified and consistently executed plan the communist women were integrated into the Communist parties nationally and internationally into the world proletariat's great revolutionary fighting instrument.
Die Kommunistische FrauenInternationale must fulfill another important task. It is the publication for researching, exploring and clarifying the various questions and phenomena which particularly touch women's lives. This transitional period, in which an old, decaying society is wrestling with a new, emerging one, poses those questions and phenomena daily. Facts and perceptions storm by us. Social conditions which only yesterday still seemed to fetter the emergence of women are scattered today like dry tinder. In the masses of women, desires, wishes, will, needs arise great, naked and commanding, which were in the past small, timid, hidden, hardly breathing, subconscious. The revolutionary social situation is revolutionizing the psyche of women, and this demands social conditions which will provide them fertile soil, fresh air and warm sunshine to grow, to exist and to act according to their own capacity. In all fields women are beginning to pose their right to exist against the anachronistic, dead or dying social forms and conditions. Die Kommunistische Fraueninternationale must pursue and answer from the stable standpoint of historical materialism the questions which thus arise. It is the duty of the women comrades of all countries with clear perception and firm will to channel the small, weak springs of women's new, revolutionary will to life into the powerful stream of the proletarian world revolution."