Workers Vanguard No. 887

2 March 2007


From Women and Revolution Archives

International Women's Day: A Proletarian Holiday

This year for International Women’s Day, March 8, we are reprinting an article from the Spartacist League’s journal Women and Revolution on the working-class origins of this holiday. W&R began in 1971 as the publication of women’s circles, which included men, that were initiated by the Spartacist League to intervene with a revolutionary socialist program into the New Left radical women’s movement. In 1973 W&R became the journal of the Spartacist League Central Committee’s Commission for Work Among Women, expressing our understanding that the struggle for the liberation of women is the work of the revolutionary vanguard as a whole. Based particularly on our appreciation of the work of Lenin and Trotsky’s Communist International, we uphold the need to build a women’s section of the vanguard party of the proletariat in order to extend its influence to broad layers of working-class and minority women and draw them into the revolutionary movement.

The contents of Women and Revolution reflected the Marxist materialist understanding that women’s oppression is rooted in class society. W&R dealt with a broad range of social questions, from human sexuality and culture to the acute degradation of women in countries of belated capitalist development, where the fight for women’s rights is a motor force of revolutionary struggle. While Women and Revolution was suspended as an independent publication in 1997 as a necessary measure to consolidate scarce party resources, Women and Revolution pages are published today in Spartacist, journal of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist), as well as in the ICL’s sectional press.

The following article is reprinted from W&R No. 8 (Spring 1975).

* * *

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.

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

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 (see “How the Bolsheviks Organized Working Women: History of 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 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’,”
Zhenshchina 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 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.”

Today the Bolshevik program for the full emancipation 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!