From Rebel Youth and written by a YCL comrade and friend
This March, the Young Communist League and the Communist Party of Canada will celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD) by expressing solidarity with the ongoing and past struggles of women. While IWD is widely celebrated in civil society today, often little is known about the holiday’s socialist roots. IWD would not have been possible without the struggles of socialist women.
The political activism of Clara Zetkin (1857-1933) and Luise Zietz (1865-1922) was particularly influential. Zetkin and Zietz were committed communists dedicated to organizing working class women and educating their male comrades on the importance of women’s struggles. They understood that the success of socialism depended on proletariat women and men “fight[ing] hand in hand…against capitalist society.”1 In August 1910 at a general meeting of the Second International, Zietz suggested holding an International Women’s Day to bring attention to equal rights, the suffrage and the struggles of working class women. Zetkin seconded the motion and over a hundred women from seventeen different countries voted in support of creating IWD. The next year on March 18 (chosen to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the Paris Commune) the first IWD demonstrations were held in Europe. It was a tremendous success with an estimated 300 demonstrations being held across the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1922, with the help of Zetkin, Lenin would name International Women’s Day an official communist holiday.
Since its formation in 1911 IWD has been used as a platform to rally the masses around a number of issues including exploitation, poverty and war. It is useful to revisit a couple examples here. In 1915 in Berne, Switzerland, Zetkin led socialist women from both neutral and warring countries in a demonstration against the ongoing destruction of World War I. Demonstrators distributed manifestos arguing that the working class had little to gain from the bourgeois war and called on women to organize in its opposition. Zetkin argued:
Who profits from this war? Only a tiny minority in each nation: The manufacturers of rifles and cannons, of armor-plate and torpedo boats, the shipyard owners and the suppliers of the armed forces’ needs. In the interests of their profits, they have fanned the hatred among the people, thus contributing to the outbreak of the war. The workers have nothing to gain from this war, but they stand to lose everything that is dear to them.2
In 1917, Alexandra Kollontai led one of the most dramatic IWD demonstrations in protest of the deteriorating living conditions in Russia. Women marched from the factories to the breadlines in protest of high food and rent prices and along the way they persuaded a number of male workers to join in solidarity with the march. The Czar felt so threatened by the women’s rebellion that two days later he ordered it to be stopped by means of gunfire if necessary.3