Reclaiming the Radical Roots of International Women’s Day

Did you know that International Women’s Day (IWD) was actually born out of the women led, anti-capitalist struggles against war and imperialism?

By Eva Martin

Did you know that International Women’s Day (IWD) was actually born out of the women led, anti-capitalist struggles against war and imperialism? However, rather than being an important day for organising in the broader fightback against sexism and oppression, IWD for too long was limited to celebrations, discounts and panel discussions with guest girl boss icons spilling their ‘secrets’ on how to achieve success.

But this is changing and many people are looking to the radical roots of IWD as a source of inspiration in our struggles. Since the explosion of the MeToo movement in 2017. A Feminist wave of struggle against gender violence (GV), sexism and femicide has spread internationally. The consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic including the worsening of GV has only deepened this process with explosive struggles taking place. The dire consequences of war, mass hunger, climate destruction and political crisis fall heaviest on working-class and impoverished women, and they are fighting back. 

This IWD is happening with the backdrop of an ongoing genocide in Gaza. A genocide which is being perpetrated by the Israeli State, with the backing of the U.S., UK and other western imperialist powers. We must fight to make sure that IWD is representative of the Socialist Feminist principles, methods and ideas which inspired its founding. Let it be a day which becomes a stepping stone to laying the foundations for the socialist feminist fightback that is so urgently needed. 

The hypocrisy of the system 

An estimated 30,000+ people, including 12,000+ children have been murdered since October 7. At the time of writing: 68,552+ civilians have been wounded. Thousands more are still lost under the rubble. There are around 2 million people who remain trapped in Gaza. 

The brutality of capitalism is on full display. Millions have moved onto the streets to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, and protest against the complicity of our governments in this genocide. Represenatives across the political spectrum have ignored our calls and some have even attempted to vilify the global Palestine solidarity movement, or defend the barbaric actions of the Israeli State. This includes self-described ‘intersectional Feminists’ such as Hillary Clinton and Kamala Harris. The hypocrisy of calling yourself a feminist while supporting genocide is not lost on those of us fighting for freedom from oppression. 

Working-class women at the forefront 

The idea of designating a day which would be marked as a political event focusing on women’s issues and struggles against sexist oppression came about as a result of a proposal by German Socialist Feminist Luise Zietz, with the backing of Clara Zetkin, at the second International Conference of Socialist Women in Copenhagen (1910). 

They argued that the day could act as a focal point for womens movements around the world to coordinate their demands for equality – and while the ‘Women’s Day’ resolution’s immediate objective was to win universal female suffrage, its aspirations were greater: the overthrow of capitalism and the triumph of socialism, abolishing both wage slavery of workers and the oppression of women through domestic slavery and care work – to end the exploitative ‘allhail-profit system’ at the heart of all forms of oppression. 

Socialist feminists against war and imperialism 

The Second International Conference of Communist Women in 1912 proclaimed that in the future, IWD would be celebrated around the world on March 8th. 

Four years after the original IWD, WWI erupted. While the so-called social democratic leaders of the workers movement succumbed to the nationalist propaganda and pressure of their respective ruling classes, lining up to support imperialist war, the fourth IWD turned into a mass action against the war. 

In early November 1914, Clara Zetkin appealed “To the Socialist Women of All Countries,” speaking out against the war and in favour of mass international solidarity and peace among the working class. As part of trying to organise opposition to imperialism, Zetkin convened the third and final Socialist Women’s Conference. As war waged around the world, the conference issued the battle cry “war on war.” 

The spark of a revolution

March 8th would go on to acquire a new significance three years later when the February revolution engulfed Russia – sparked by mass strike action led by women workers in protest over the working conditions and long hours they endured, only to then have to return home and carry out all of the domestic work. Leon Trotsky, a leading figure in the first ever successful revolution to achieve a socialist workers state, would go on to write “we knew that women’s day was important, but we didn’t realise it would… inaugurate the revolution.” 

We continue to take inspiration from the giants who have come before us, like Zetkin, but also the hundreds of thousands of working-class women who never made it into the history books, but continue to fight against oppression in all its forms: reminding us that the desire for a new world is in abundance – and can be fought for.

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