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For Women’s Liberation through Socialist Revolution!

by Steven Argue
International Women’s Day was started in New York in 1908 when women garment workers struck and 15,000 people marched through the streets demanding “For an eight hour day!”, “For the end of child labor!” and “For equal suffrage for women!” In subsequent years, the Socialist Party of America and the Socialist International started International Women’s Day in commemoration of the strike and demanding women’s liberation. By 1913, despite heavy tsarist repression, the Bolsheviks began organizing yearly celebrations of International Women’s Day in Russia. By 1917, Russia saw the most important celebration of International Women’s Day ever, with 90,000 garment workers striking, starting an uprising that brought down the 300 year Ramanov dynasty.
[Photo, International Women’s Day in Russia.]

International Women’s Day is a Day of Strikes, Insurrection, and Revolution!

For Women’s Liberation through Socialist Revolution!

Happy International Women’s Day! (March 8)

By Steven Argue

Proletarian struggle gave birth to International Women’s Day. It started in 1908 with women who were working in the needle trades in Manhattan’s Lower East side who went out on strike. Fifteen thousand garment workers marched through the streets of New York City under the slogans:

“For an eight hour day!”

“For the end of child labor!”

“For equal suffrage for women!”

The next year, the Socialist Party of America (still a revolutionary Marxist party at that time) designated the day in commemoration of the 1908 strike.

In 1910, a meeting of the still revolutionary Socialist International in Copenhagen designated International Women’s Day as a day of struggle for women’s liberation, including the right to vote.

In 1911, socialist parties in Germany, Denmark, Switzerland and Austria organized protests in those countries that brought out over a million people demanding equal rights for women on the job, the right of women to vocational training, the right of women to vote, and the right of women to hold public office.

In 1913, despite heavy Tsarist repression, the Bolsheviks began organizing yearly celebrations of International Women’s Day in Russia. By 1917, Russia saw the most important celebration of International Women’s Day ever, with 90,000 garment workers striking, starting an uprising that brought down the 300 year Ramanov dynasty. The following week, Pravda commented on the events:

“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.”

Russia's proletarian celebration of International Women’s day, in February by the Gregorian calendar, brought with it the February Revolution and created a provisional government led by the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries.

Almost none of demands of the women, workers, peasants, and soldiers for bread, peace, and land were met by the Menshevik government which started the war back up with Germany, reinstated the shooting of deserters at the front, and, among other things, opposed a needed sweeping land reform for the poor peasantry and a socialization of industry needed for the working class and society as a whole. The Mensheviks, through a program that claimed it was too early for a socialist revolution in Russia, carried out backward pro-capitalist policies.

In opposition to the capitalist and pro-war policies of the Mensheviks, the Bolsheviks, under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky, won the majority of the working class to their side, arming them in self defense against the far right and preparing them politically to seize power for a workers’ and peasants’ government. This happened in a second revolution, the October 1917 Russian Revolution which overthrew the capitalist Menshevik government.

Unlike the February Revolution, the October Revolution was one that fulfilled its promises. The revolution ended Russia's involvement in the inter-imperialist war between capitalist governments of World War I (which had murdered 17 million people), brought about a sweeping land reform for the peasants, abolished capitalism and created a socialist economy that was capable of turning one of the poorest countries in the world into an industrial powerhouse capable of smashing Nazi Germany and rebuilding after two major imperialist invasions to provide everyone with a guaranteed job, housing, education, and health care, brought national rights to oppressed minorities forming republics of ethnic regions, legalizing their languages and providing education in those languages while also giving their economies special help through the planned economy, brought about big advances in women's rights and rights of homosexuals, made education and health care priorities, and ended government backed pogroms against Jews.

Among women’s rights gained, the October 1917 Russian Revolution, under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky, legalized abortion. This made the communist USSR, in 1920, the first country in the world to legalize the procedure. The right to legal abortion was seen as fundamental for women’s health and a women’s right to control her life. Before abortion was legal, illegal abortions were common place. Legalizing the procedure was seen as a way to regulate its safety. Abortion became available through the socialized health care system.

The right to abortion was combined with women’s access to health care, education, and employment, the right to vote, and the outlawing of practices like forced marriage and bride price.

After Lenin’s death, Stalin’s conservative bureaucratic leadership overturned some of these gains, outlawing abortion and homosexuality once again. Abortion was outlawed by Stalin in 1936. Of this betrayal of women’s rights, Leon Trotsky commented:

“These gentlemen have, it seems, completely forgotten that socialism was to remove the cause which impels woman to abortion, and not force her into the “joys of motherhood” with the help of a foul police interference in what is to every woman the most intimate sphere of life.”

Leon Trotsky (1936), “Thermidor in the Family”, from “Revolution Betrayed”

Stalin drove Leon Trotsky out of leadership in the USSR and into exile in Mexico, where Stalin had Trotsky murdered in 1940. In fact, Stalin overthrew all of the original leadership of the Russian Revolution, murdering every one of the original leaders except Alexandra Kolantai.

Stalin also corrupted International Women’s Day within the USSR, turning it into a celebration of motherhood rather than its original intended purpose of promoting the liberation of working class women.

Stalin represented a brutal and conservative wing of the bureaucracy that built up privilege for itself and opposed any form of workers democracy that could challenge its power. This was a wing of the bureaucracy that consolidated its power out of the hardships and death caused by imperialist invasions (including by the United States), imperialist economic blockade, and massive civil war. Many of the best communists were killed in the fighting while the working class base of the revolution was fragmented by hardship. For many individuals in the ruling bureaucracy who joined after the October Revolution, joining the government of the revolution was not so much about liberation, but about securing personal privileges. For that wing, Stalin was their man. Yet, among the people, beliefs in the original goals of the revolution were so strong that Stalin had to commit mass murder in order to secure his power and Stalin could never fully overturn all of the gains of the Russian Revolution. Yet, while women continued to be much better off in the USSR than they were before the October 1917 Revolution, especially in Soviet Central Asia, and better off than many women around the world, Stalin’s rule dealt some vicious blows against women in the USSR, including banning abortion.

Abortion was only once again made legal in the USSR two years after Stalin’s death, in 1955.

Abortion was finally legalized in the United States in 1973. The legalization of abortion came about as a result of a mass women’s movement in the streets, a movement buoyed by the movement against the U.S. war in Vietnam.

The U.S. slaughtered three million Vietnamese men, women, and children because the Vietnamese people didn't want to live under a U.S. imposed dictatorship. Young people in the United States also didn't care for that U.S. war, partly because they were being drafted to fight a war that didn't represent anyone’s interests except the wealthy class who own America. This ignited a mass struggle against the war with the Trotskyist influenced Socialist Workers Party playing the biggest role in organizing that movement. By the early 1970s, the mass movement against the war had impacted young people enough that the majority of those drafted were already against the war before they got to Vietnam. Resistance broke out among the troops with soldiers refusing to fight and commanders who tried to force them to fight were often being killed. This resistance helped stop the U.S. slaughter of the Vietnamese people. Nixon couldn't continue a war with soldiers who refused to fight.

General resistance against the other injustices of capitalism also broke out in the United States. New movements emerged, buoyed by the rebellion against the U.S. War in Vietnam. These included organized resistance for women’s liberation, Gay and Lesbian rights, and the environment. Powerful movements also fought for Black, Chicano, and Native American liberation.

Earlier in U.S. history, it was the embarrassing example of the Russian Revolution winning women's suffrage which, in combination with protests and agitation in the United States, finally forced America's capitalist rulers to grant women the right to vote in 1920 with the passage of the 19th Amendment. That victory was so sweeping that few representatives of capitalist reaction in the United States today, except the most far right wing extremists of the Tea Party, dare to openly question the right of women to vote.

It took until the 1960s for Blacks to finally win near universal suffrage in the United States. Like the right of women to vote, the Black vote was won through mass protests against America’s racist and sexist capitalist government. And, like the Russian Revolution’s influence on women’s suffrage, the anti-colonial revolutions of Africa, Latin America, and Asia played a major role in winning the Black vote. After all, how could the U.S. claim it was fighting for democracy in the world while denying Blacks the right to vote in the United States? The U.S. government needed to at least pretend it was democratic to perpetrate the myth that the U.S. was fighting for democracy in places like South Vietnam. In reality, in Vietnam and elsewhere, the U.S. was propping up murderous capitalist dictatorships friendly to U.S. control and economic exploitation.

The victory of Black suffrage in the United States was marked by the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Yet, there have been major violations, including in the 2000 election when many Blacks were removed from Florida’s voting rolls without cause. Al Gore failed to put up an effective fight against that violation of democracy because he has more in common with the Republicans than the working class he would have needed to mobilize to defeat George W's coup d'etate. The entire electoral system in the United States is one set-up to assure that only candidates with massive capitalist backing are capable of getting the funding needed to win. Within that framework, the corporate owned media exaggerates the differences between the Democrats and Republicans in order to convince people that there may be some benefit to supporting one or the other capitalist owned party.

Just as Barack Obama wages war in many countries around the world, Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson pulverized the Vietnamese people for not accepting the U.S. imposed dictatorships in South Vietnam.

In Vietnam abortion was legalized in 1945 when Ho Chi Minh first came to power. In the 1980s, after driving out the U.S. occupation of southern Vietnam, the Vietnamese Communist government made abortion available as a free service. Due to the Hyde Amendment, passed by both the Democrats and Republicans, not even poor women in the United States are provided government assistance to obtain an abortion. The Hyde Amendment was first passed in 1976, but it needs to be regularly renewed. Obama did so in 2010 by issuing an executive order.

Six months paid maternal leave is also a legal right for women in Vietnam. Out of 178 nations, the United States is one of 3 that does not provide a single week of paid maternal leave. The Vietnamese state, by providing income security and safeguarding employment with maternal leave is contributing to gender equality and the empowerment of women. Allowing women a better opportunity to exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first half a year of life improves their immunity, reduces infant mortality, reduces risk of auto-immune diseases and diabetes, reduces risks of certain cancers later in life, and improves school performance later in life.

In addition, equal rights in all spheres, including not allowing discrimination favoring sons over daughters, was written into the Vietnamese constitution. In comparison, the United States has not yet passed an Equal Rights Amendment.

While Vietnam has many problems with a ruling Stalinist bureaucracy that does not allow workers democracy and has allowed dangerous capitalist inroads into Vietnam’s socialist economy, it is interesting how far the United States government lags behind a government that the U.S. saw fit to murder three million Vietnamese people in an attempt to prevent it from coming to power in an independent and unified Vietnam. Trotskyists defend the gains of the Vietnamese Revolution from imperialist attack and internal capitalist counter revolution while advocating a need for political revolution in Vietnam that brings workers democracy, does its best to limit and turn back capitalist inroads into the Vietnamese economy, and looks to international socialist revolution, rather than foreign imperialist capitalist investment, as the means to bring investment and trade to the remaining deformed workers states of Vietnam, China, North Korea, and Cuba.

The deformed workers states that made major gains for women’s liberation are often in the cross hairs of U.S. imperialism. Likewise, the U.S. government remains the biggest supporter of misogynistic governments and forces like the Saudi Arabian government and the Islamists of the so-called “Free Syria Army”.

In addition, in the United States, the struggle for legal abortion, free abortion on demand, socialized medicine, equal pay for equal work, free quality day care, maternal leave, and the Equal Rights Amendment, continues.

Abortion remains in the cross hairs of right wing extremists. On Jan. 22, 2013 Virginia State Senator Dick Black likened legalized abortion to the suffering in the death camps of Nazi Germany.

Actually, the Nazis increased the penalty for abortion when they first came to power in 1933. In 1943, the Nazis took this a step further, making the performance of an abortion on an "Aryan" woman punishable by execution.

Dick Black’s “abortionists are Nazis” speech has a parallel to what Bill O’Reilly did to abortion Doctor George Tiller, denouncing him 28 times on national TV for performing abortions. Like Black, O’Reilly likened Dr. George Tiller to the Nazis. On May 31st, 2009, Dr. Tiller was gunned down by an anti-abortion fanatic as he was attending church.

In the name of Jesus, religious fanatics have been regularly carrying out terrorist attacks on doctors and abortion clinics in the United States. This is a one sided holy war against women’s rights. The murder of doctors and the fear it has produced has made abortion unavailable in many places, causing some women to need to travel out of state to receive an abortion. Meanwhile, some state governments have passed laws making it illegal to travel to receive abortions in other states.

The FBI and local police are looking the other way as the God nuts carry out their terror. One example was Scott Roades, the killer of abortion Doctor George Tiller. Scott Roades twice carried out a federal crime by gluing the doors shut at the abortion clinic where George Tiller worked. The FBI was informed of these activities, but they refused to act, claiming that a Grand Jury had to convene in order to take action. The cops and FBI have no such restrictions when carrying out their “zero tolerance” policies against the general public, especially the left. Yet, they simply sat and watched as Scott Roades escalated his illegal activities from vandalism to murder.

Likewise, Bill O’Reilly and his ilk help create this murderous atmosphere through the hate they are paid to spew. Who is the employer of these shock jocks of misogyny? It is the capitalist class who own America’s mass media.

Nazi policy of putting abortion doctors to death has much in common with far right religious extremists in the United States who are restricting access to abortion by murdering abortion doctors, blowing up abortion clinics, and committing other acts of terrorism.

In Germany, before the Nazis took power, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) held power in coalition governments from 1918-1921, in 1923, and from 1928-1930. In power, the SPD reduced penalties for abortion, but never legalized it. In Germany, Communists denounced the SPD as spineless and called for the legalization of abortion.

The SPD were Germany’s version of Russia’s Mensheviks, supporting capitalism and the German ruling class in WW I. The SPD are often wrongly referred to as “democratic socialists”. This is false. The SPD was strongly opposed workers democracy. In fact, the SPD had two leading communists, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebnecht murdered in 1919. In reality, it was Luxemburg and Liebnecht who were advocating a democratic and communist society, while the SPD was committing crimes against democracy in defense of the capitalist system.

The SPD’s murder of Luxemburg and Liebnecht helped pave the way to Hiddenburg’s dictatorship in 1930. Hiddenburg, in turn, handed power over to Hitler’s fascism in 1933.

Once in power, Hitler murdered the communists first and then went after the SPD and the anarchists. Later, homosexuals, the disabled, Jews, Gypsies, Serbs and others were slaughtered in death camps. Death camps combined with Hitler’s wars murdered tens of millions people including 30 million citizens of the USSR.

Despite the insane statements of Dick Black and his ilk, obviously, allowing women to control their own bodies has nothing in common with fascists forcing the bodies of millions of living human beings, -men, women, and children, into poison gas showers. The Nazis brought mass murder to a level of industrial production never seen before or since in the world. Modern day religious fanatics claim that it is murder to kill any cells formed after an egg and sperm unite in the uterus. These same religious fanatics attack access to contraceptives, making clear that their real problem is not with supposed “murder”, but instead with the right of women to control their own bodies. What they are waging is a war on women’s rights, not against fascism.

After the defeat of Nazi Germany by the USSR, East Germany (the DDR) passed a number of exceptions where abortion was allowed in 1950. In 1972, the DDR made abortion free and legal on demand.

West Germany kept sweeping restrictions against abortion on the books until 1976 when West Germany caught-up with the DDR's 1950 laws. Abortion remained outlawed, but was allowed in cases of rape, medical necessity, and emotional distress if the woman could get the permission of two doctors, would submit to counseling, and experienced a three day waiting period.

With the capitalist counter revolution in East Germany and West Germany’s annexation of the DDR, East German women became subjected to anti-abortion laws of West Germany. This created pressure to legalize abortion throughout Germany. Parties with power that advocated the right to choose abortion as a basic women’s right were the PDS (successor of the East German Communist Party) and the Green Party. As a result, in 1995 Germany passed an abortion law that allows abortion in the first trimester, provided the woman undergoes anti-abortion counseling and goes through a three day waiting period. Abortion is not covered by Germany’s national insurance.

Like in East Germany, abortion was free on demand in Poland under its Communist government before the CIA and Pope backed Solidarnosc movement came to power. That capitalist counter revolution outlawed abortion, created massive unemployment where there was none, and made promoting communism punishable by up to two years in prison, with the law applying to anyone who “produces, perpetuates, or imports, stores, possesses, presents, carries or sends a printout, a recording or other object” with communist “symbolism” for anything other than “artistic” or “research” purposes.

Some of the starkest attacks on women have been carried out by U.S. imperialism in the under-developed world. This includes CIA operations in Afghanistan which started in 1978, before Soviet troops were sent in to support Afghanistan’s pro-woman PDPA government. The U.S. sent $8 billion dollars in military aid which after a long war leaving a million Afghanis dead, enslaved the women of Afghanistan under the successive governments of mujahideen warlords, the Taliban, and the corrupt puppet government of Hamid Karzai.

Obviously, there were big problems under the Stalinist governments of East Germany, Poland, Afghanistan, and the USSR, most especially Stalinist oppression and the lack of workers democracy, but the capitalist counter revolutions have made most matters worse. This is why Trotskyists opposed capitalist and imperialist counter-revolution and instead called for the defense of the socialist gains of those revolutions while calling for political revolution that would bring workers democracy while defending socialist gains.

Rape in India

In 2013, heinous rapes and murders in India sparked mass protests against the second class status of women in capitalist India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Protesters in Delhi courageously stood up to police repression that included attacks with water cannons, bamboo sticks, and tear gas.

Most of the people of India live in extreme poverty and brutal caste oppression. The dalit (untouchables) are routinely raped by men of higher caste, often with police backing. A 2006 study of the rape of 500 dalit women found “dominant caste landlords emerged as the most prominent group” of perpetrators. Twenty three percent of the rapes studied were gang rapes.

The police of India’s capitalist state also routinely rape and murder as part of their oppression of poor rural regions like Chhattisgarh and Kashmir. For instance, in 1991, the Indian Army gang raped 100 women in Kunan Poshpora, raping girls as young as 13 and as old as 80 years-old. In 2012 in Tamil Nadu, the Indian police assisted a mob of over 2,000 people that burned 148 dalit houses and raped the women.

In many ways, China and India are equivalent countries with similar histories of imperialist control and exploitation. A key difference is that women are much better off in China. This is because China had a social revolution and India did not.

The social revolution in China brought many gains for women. One of these is women's literacy, a good indicator of how women are treated. In China, women’s literacy is just below 100% for both women and men and has been for quite some time since the 1949 revolution, while in capitalist India in 2011 literacy rates were 82% for men and 65% for women. Life expectancy of a woman in India is 66 years while in China it is currently 74 years. So the current gap between the two countries equals an average life 8 years longer for a woman in China than a woman in India. Doing the math, this is equals millions of people being killed by capitalism in India every year. These facts reflect the social revolution took place in China that outlawed and eliminated many of the abuses that women still face in India while also dramatically increasing the standard of living of China’s poor. Capitalist inroads into China have eroded some, but not all, of these gains of the revolution. Despite some backward movement, women in China are still in a much better situation due to the social revolution that took place.

India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan, and Bangladesh all need a social revolution to sweep away capitalist and imperialist control of their countries to bring women's liberation.

China needs a political revolution to sweep away the repressive Stalinist bureaucracy, defend the gains of the 1949 revolution from capitalist inroads, promote labor’s right to collective bargaining, establish workers democracy, and establish an internationalist proletarian program for world socialist revolution. There is much potential and Stalinist government of China is currently unable to keep a lid on workers’ strikes. An anti-Stalinist political revolution in China could be a major inspiration to the poor and oppressed masses of Asia and the rest of the world.

International Women’s Day was not founded as a day for bourgeois women to complain about glass ceilings preventing women from being bigger exploiters of the working class from within corporate America, nor is it to celebrate pro-imperialist women like Hilary Clinton and Margaret Thatcher who have helped maintain an imperialist status quo that is violently anti-woman and anti-worker. As opposed to the 1908 demands of garment workers for the 8 hour day and an end to child labor, Hilary Clinton is part of an administration that props-up and supports governments in underdeveloped countries that are opposed to basic labor rights and women’s rights.

Countries that cross the line in protecting labor rights, like the government of President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras that increased the minimum wage of workers in sweat shops owned by U.S. corporations, get overthrown with the help of U.S. imperialism. This was the case in June 2009 when Obama’s coup against the elected government of President Manuel Zelaya installed a U.S. backed death squad government that kidnaps, tortures, and murders journalists and trade union leaders. Hilary Clinton was quick to voice her support for that coup government and the Obama administration continued to send it military aid.

Likewise, Obama’s regime backs the most anti-women governments in the world, including Saudi Arabia where women are denied many basic rights including the right of women to drive, walk in public without a male escort, or control her own funds. The U.S. sells Saudi Arabia billions of dollars in weapons which are used to smash pro-democracy movements in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, as well as to arm the Islamists of the so-called “Free Syria Army” (FSA) which has brutally tortured Kurdish women and massacred religious minorities. U.S. and Saudi Arabian support for the FSA mirrors the U.S. partnership with Saudi Arabia to bring the mujahideen and Taliban to power in Afghanistan.

Within the United States itself, the ruling capitalist class uses divide and rule tactics to pay women 19% less than men on average. Ideologies of misogyny and religious extremism are used to prop up this inequality. Far from male workers benefiting from this arrangement, the capitalist exploiters use this super-exploitation of female workers to drive down the standard of living of the entire working class. For the capitalist class, divide and rule is the name of the game. The working class, on the other hand, has nothing to gain from sexist inequality and exploitation.

As Nadezhda Krupskaya wrote in the first issue of Rabotnitsa (the Woman Worker), a publication of women in the Bolshevik Party that was first published on International Women’s Day in 1914:

“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.”

The Revolutionary Tendency is proud to claim as our own the revolutionary socialist traditions of International Women’s Day. These include the 1908 garment workers strike, the protests organized by the Socialist International for women’s rights in 1911, the Bolshevik struggle for women’s emancipation from capitalism and tsarism, and the Trotskyist struggle against the betrayals of Stalin and Stalinism while defending the deformed workers states from imperialist attack and internal capitalist counter revolution. It is on these firm foundations that the Revolutionary Tendency organizes for a revolutionary workers party that fights for women’s liberation through socialist revolution. Join us.

For related articles by this authors see:

Kurdish Culture, Repression, Women’s Rights, and Resistance

Why The Russian Revolution is Still Important

Afghanistan: Misogynistic Hell Hole Made in the U.S.A.

One Hundred Million Workers Set to Strike in India

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