This is a repost of a commentary for International Women's Day 2007
MARCH IS WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH-MARCH 8TH IS INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY
MARCH 2007 (WESTERN DATES) MARKS THE 90TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE FEBRUARY 1917 REVOLUTION IN RUSSIA STARTED ON INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY BY WOMEN TEXTILE WORKERS AND OTHER WOMEN DEMANDING BREAD AND PEACE, AMONG OTHER ISSUES DURING THE HEIGHT OF WORLD WAR I.
This is an edited version of an article that appeared in the journal Women and Revolution in 1975
"Under the lead of the Third International, the day of the working women shall become a real fighting day; it shall take the form of practical measures which either solidify the conquests of Communism ...or prepare the way for the dictatorship of the working class."
Alexandra Kollontai (early Bolshevik leader)
Bourgeois feminists may celebrate it, but March 8 —International Women's Day—is a workers' holiday. Originating in 1908 among the female needle trades workers in Manhattan's Lower East Side, who marched under the slogans "for an eight hour day," "for the end of child labor" and "equal suffrage for women," it was officially adopted by the Second International in 1911.
International Women's Day was first celebrated in Russia in 1913 where it was widely publicized in the pages of the Bolshevik newspaper, Pravda, and popularized by speeches in numerous clubs and societies controlled by Bolshevik organizations which presented a Marxist analysis of women's oppression and the program for emancipation.
The following year the Bolsheviks not only agitated for International Women's Day in the pages of Pravda (then publishing under the name Put' Pravdy), but also made preparations to publish a special journal dealing with questions of women's liberation in Russia and internationally. It was called Rabotnitsa (The Working Woman), and its first issue was scheduled to appear on International Women's Day, 1914.
Preparations for the holiday were made under the most hazardous conditions. Shortly before the long-awaited day the entire editorial board of Rabotnitsa— with one exception—as well as other Bolsheviks who had agitated for International Women's Day in St. Petersburg factories, were arrested by the Tsarist police. Despite these arrests, however, the Bolsheviks pushed ahead with their preparations. Anna Elizarova —Lenin's sister and the one member of the editorial board to escape arrest—single-handedly brought out the first issue of Rabotnitsa on March 8 (or, according to the old Russian calendar, February 23) as scheduled. Clara Zetkin, a leading figure in the German Social Democratic Party and in the international working women's movement, wrote:
"Greetings to you on your courageous decision to organize Women's Day, congratulations to you for not losing courage and not wanting to sit by with your hands folded. We are with you, heart and soul. You and your movement will be remembered at numerous meetings organized for Women's Day in Germany, Austria, Hungary and America."
—Quoted in A. Artiukhina, "Proidennyi Put',"
Zhenshehina v revoliutsii
By far the most important celebration ever of International Women's Day took place in Petrograd on 8 March 1917 when the women textile workers of that city led a strike of over 90,000 workers—a strike which signaled the end of the 300-year-old Romanov dynasty and the beginning of the Russian Revolution. One week afterward, Pravda commented:
"The first day of the revolution—that is the Women's Day, the day of the Women Workers' International. All honor to the International! The women were the first to tread the streets of Petrograd on their day."
As the position of Soviet women degenerated under Stalin and his successors, as part of the degeneration of the entire Soviet workers state, International Women's Day was transformed from a day of international proletarian solidarity into an empty ritual which, like Mother's Day in the United States, glorifies the traditional role of women within the family.
But International Women's Day is a celebration neither of motherhood nor sisterhood; to ignore this fact is to ignore the most significant aspects of its history and purpose, which was to strengthen the ranks of the revolutionary proletariat. Unlike the pre-war Mensheviks who wanted to conciliate the feminists of their day by limiting the celebration of International Women's Day to women only, the Bolsheviks insisted that it be a holiday of working women and working men in struggle together. As Nadezhda Krupskaya (Lenin’s wife and life-long political companion) wrote in the lead article of the first issue of Rabotnitsa:
"That which unites working women with working men is stronger than that which divides them. They are united by their common lack of rights, their common needs, their common condition, which is struggle and their common goal.... Solidarity between working men and working women, common activity, a common goal, a common path to this goal—such is the solution of the 'woman' question among workers."
We look forward to celebrating future International Women's Days not only through the dissemination of propaganda, but also through the initiation of the full range of activities traditionally associated with this proletarian holiday—general strikes, insurrections, revolution!