Some fighting words for International Women’s Day

 

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The Russian Revolution began on International Women’s Day of February 23, 1917 (according to the Julian calendar, March 8 in the West). After the revolution and the winning of suffrage by women, Soviet Russia adopted ‘Working Women’s Day’ as an official holiday in 1917. The move was instigated by the world’s first woman to be a minister of state, Alexandra Kollontai, and by Lenin.

In 1920, Kollontai said:

‘The 8th of March is a historic and memorable day for the workers and peasants, for all the Russian workers and for the workers of the whole world. In 1917, on this day, the great February revolution broke out. It was the working women of Petersburg who began this revolution; it was they who first decided to raise the banner of opposition to the Tsar and his associates. And so, working women’s day is a double celebration for us’.

At the turn of the C20th, Lenin, as a Marxist, understood the progressive transformative aspects of developing capitalism, in the context of a largely feudal society:

‘Large-scale machine industry, which concentrates masses of workers who often come from various parts of the country, absolutely refuses to tolerate survivals of patriarchalism and personal dependence, and is marked by a truly contemptuous attitude to the past.

‘It is this break with obsolete tradition that is one of the substantial conditions which have created the possibility and evoked the necessity of regulating production and of public control over it. In particular, speaking of the transformation brought about by the factory in the conditions of life of the population, it must be stated that the drawing of women and juveniles into production is, at bottom, progressive. It is indisputable that the capitalist factory places these categories of the working population in particularly hard conditions, and that for them it is particularly necessary to regulate and shorten the working day, to guarantee hygienic conditions of labour, etc.; but endeavours completely to ban the work of women and juveniles in industry, or to maintain the patriarchal manner of life that ruled out such work, would be reactionary and utopian.

‘By destroying the patriarchal isolation of these categories of the population who formerly never emerged from the narrow circle of domestic, family relationships, by drawing them into direct participation in social production, large-scale machine industry stimulates their development and increases their independence, in other words, creates conditions of life that are incomparably superior to the patriarchal immobility of pre-capitalist relations.” (The Development of Capitalism in Russia – V.I. Lenin)

The earliest (unofficial) observance of the day, known as Working Woman’s Day, occurred in New York in 1909, under the auspices of the Socialist Party of America.

International Women’s Day became a global event in 1975, when it was adopted by the United Nations.

In March 1921, Lenin wrote that,

‘…under capitalism the female half of the human race is doubly oppressed. The working woman and the peasant woman are oppressed by capital, but over and above that, even in the most democratic of the bourgeois republics, they remain, firstly, deprived of some rights because the law does not give them equality with men; and secondly—and this is the main thing—they remain in household bondage”, they continue to be “household slaves”, for they are overburdened with the drudgery of the most squalid, backbreaking and stultifying toil in the kitchen and the family household’.

Much has been achieved by women since then, pretty much everywhere (save for societies that still have feudal and tribalist cultures and property relations), though the ‘survivals of patriarchalism’, as Lenin put it, also are to be found pretty much everywhere and still need to be exposed and defeated.

Helen Reddy’s song, ‘I am Woman’ (1971), became an anthem for the 1970s women’s liberation movement in many countries. It is defiant, stirring and confident – with no hint of victimhood ideology. It remains a great anthem, into the twenty-first century. The Bolsheviks would have approved.

I am woman, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore
And I know too much to go back an’ pretend
‘Cause I’ve heard it all before
And I’ve been down there on the floor
No one’s ever gonna keep me down again
Oh yes, I am wise
But it’s wisdom born of pain
Yes, I’ve paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to, I can do anything
I am strong
(Strong)
I am invincible
(Invincible)
I am woman
You can bend but never break me
‘Cause it only serves to make me
More determined to achieve my final goal
And I come back even stronger
Not a novice any longer
‘Cause you’ve deepened the conviction in my soul
Oh yes, I am wise
But it’s wisdom born of pain
Yes, I’ve paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to, I can do anything
I am strong
(Strong)
I am

 

 

One thought on “Some fighting words for International Women’s Day

  1. Them’s are indeed fighting words and allow, in expressing international solidarity, to raise the temperature with ‘I Am Not That Woman,’ by Pakistani poet Kishwar Naheed

    I am not that woman
    Selling you socks and shoes!
    Remember me, I am the one you hid
    In your walls of stone, while you roamed
    Free as the breeze, not knowing
    That my voice cannot be smothered by stones,

    I am the one you crushed
    With the weight of custom and tradition
    Not knowing
    That light cannot be hidden in darkness.
    Remember me,
    I am the one in whose lap
    You picked flowers
    And planted thorns and embers
    Not knowing
    That chains cannot smother my fragrance

    I am the woman
    Whom you bought and sold
    In the name of my own chastity
    Not knowing
    That I can walk on water
    When I am drowning.

    I am the one you married off
    To get rid of a burden
    Not knowing
    That a nation of captive minds
    Cannot be free.

    I am the commodity you traded in,
    My chastity, my motherhood, my loyalty.
    Now it is time for me to flower free.
    The woman on that poster, half-naked, selling socks and shoes-
    No, no, I am not that woman! me to

    Like

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