International Women’s Day
Today is International Women’s Day (IWD), but what does that term mean? While a lot of us know that March 8 is commemorated as “Khawateen ka din,” not many are aware of how this tradition initially started.
In 1907, Clara Zetkin organized an International Conference of Socialist Working Women where participants, including Russian Bolshevik Alexandra Kollontai, discussed ways to publicly support a struggle for women’s equality and liberation.
The strength gained from this discussion fired the Socialist working women in New York City to act on this discussion in 1908 by holding a mass meeting on women’s suffrage on March 8.
Around 15,000 working women marched to ignite a long drawn out struggle for gender equality and an end to oppression on the working women of the planet both at work places and within the soul wrenching confines of their kitchens – dominated and suppressed by a steel hardy patriarchial family system which left them tottering in the confinment of their kitchens working
for the men within the family household.
The next year the American Socialist Party instituted an annual “woman’s day.”
In 1910, Zetkin proposed an International Women’s Day at the Second International Conference of Socialist Women in Copenhagen, and European socialists began to celebrate The International Working Women’s Day 1911.
What does IWD mean today?
A friend of mine, and a member of the CMKP, Comrade Ali Jan, wrote out an excellent piece on this. He called it “The Corporatisation of Women’s Day,” or “The ‘other’ Women’s Day”. I’m quoting it here:
In ‘The State and Revolution’ Lenin highlights the ability of the ruling class to vulgarize and empty revolutionary teachings of their revolutionary content. It must be said that this ability becomes even greater under capitalism which seeks to commodify entire histories and cultures of people for the purpose of obtaining a surplus. The International Women’s Day is one such event which signifies the extent to which capital blunts our ‘revolutionary memory’ in its thirst for a surplus. While the original inspiration of the women’s day was working women’s solidarity, the inevitable contradictions of capitalism have created two separate women’s days; The Women’s day of the bourgeoisie, and of the proletariat.
The women’s day of the bourgeoisie represents the very decadence of the bourgeoise order itself. The Bourgeoise women is only satisfied with consumption; freedom for her is equated with expensive gifts and objectifying love songs. The Corporatization of women’s day is the process by which the bourgeoise woman becomes the ideal for all women; it represents her hopes, desires and habits. The Bourgeoise woman is ‘free’ which is why Women’s day is celebrated as a feast involving conspicuous consumption.
The true history of Women’s day however, is that of the working class woman. The International Women’s day was actually a commemoration of the struggles of working women of the Capitalist West, as well as the Socialist East (to use crude binaries!) who sacrificed their lives for the cause of women’s liberation.
Liberation/ freedom for them did not constitute an acceptance of traditional gender roles; it did not mean freedom to enjoy luxuries of all kinds on the backs of the exploited masses. These women constituted the most oppressed section of society and they demanded, more vehemently than any one else, an end to the relations of explotation that had kept them subjugated. These women included such great revolutionaries as Rosa Luxemburg, Clara Zetkin, Sylvia Pankhurst and Alexandra Kollontai. The memory of these women has been suppressed by the Bourgeoise which is more than happy with the consumer housewife or ‘working woman’ (corporate Executive, manager etc) but NOT the peasant woman or the proletarian woman, who bears exploitation both at the workplace and inside the home.
The legacy of IWD therefore belongs not in what we’re led to believe — Women’s Day was meant to commemorate and pay tribute to the legacy of all revolutionary women who worked hard to stop the subjugation, as well as the objectification of women.
Happy International Women’s Day, everyone!