International Women’s Day:
A Proletarian Holiday
[Originally published in Women and Revolution #8, Spring 1976]
Bourgeois feminists may celebrate it, but March 8 — International Women’s Day — is a worker’s holiday. Originating in 1908 among 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 it’s first issue was scheduled to appear on International Women’s Day, 1914 (see “How the Bolsheviks Organized Working Women: History of the the Journal Rabotnitsa,” Women and Revolution No. 4, Fall 1973).
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 Democracy 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,” Zhenschina 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’s Workers International! All honor to the International! The women were the first to tread the streets of Petrograd on that day.”
As the positions 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 it’s history and purpose, which was to strengthen the ranks of 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 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 conditions, 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.”
Today the Bolshevik program for the full emnacipation of women is carried forward by the Spartacist League. We are proud to publicize the real history of International Women’s Day, a part of our revolutionary heritage, and we will celebrate it with public forums around the country presenting the Marxist analysis of women’s oppression and the program and strategy to smash it.
As we deepen our influence in the working class, 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!
Forward to a Women’s Section of the Reborn Fourth International!
For Women’s Liberation through International Proletarian Revolution!
Links to other International Women’s Day statements
Alexandra Kollontai’s statements
International Bolshevik Tendency’s 1998 statement