On the eve of March 8, the international day of struggle of working women, Rosa International Socialist Feminists and International Socialist Alternative call for working class women all around the world to stand up against war, exploitation, oppression and the system behind it: capitalism!
As if working class women didn’t already have enough reasons to fight the hardships that are put on their shoulders, the ‘Cold War’ between the US and China for world domination turning into a “hot” military conflict, as is happening at the moment with the aggressive intervention and horrific war carried out by the Russian regime against Ukraine, adds another existential threat.
War is the continuation of politics with other means, the result of increasing imperialist tensions, played out brutally at the expense of the people in Ukraine. But war is also the midwife of revolution. And while this seems far away at the moment, we must remember the numerous examples of working class women standing up and organising against war.
Not because women are more peaceful by nature, as numerous pro-capitalist women politicians in warmongering imperialist nations show, but because working class women are brutally affected by war. While they face the prospect of having to mourn their partners and sons, who are drafted to fight on the front, they are tasked with keeping society running while faced with hunger and hardship for themselves and their children. And as women in areas of military conflict know by hard experience, they are also faced with the threat of sexual violence as a weapon of war in order to demoralise the enemy camp.
In the current war, the count of civilian deaths has already started. Waking up to the sound of rockets and shooting in the streets on the early morning of February 24, the Ukrainian people are caught between imperialist forces that battle for world domination. This comes after weeks of warmongering from Russia as well as from Nato and the USA. Already suffering economic hardship and corruption from their own ruling elite, they had no say in the conflict that led up to this war — they’ll only suffer the consequences, with food and energy prices soaring even higher, mourning their casualties.
The cry for peace is loud all over the region: immediate protests against the war have begin, also importantly in Russia. It should be no surprise that the reactionary Putin regime responded to these protests with severe repression. In the last weeks it became clear that there is no hope for peace by counting on the ruling elites of capitalist nations or international organisations like the UN and Nato. The struggle for peace can only come from working class people themselves.
This is not the first time in history that socialist women had to fight an imperialist war. In 1915 they organised the first international socialist conference against World War I, uniting socialists from Russia, Poland, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands, France, and Britain across the battle lines. By that time, protests and riots led by women against inflation and war had already started to develop in a number of belligerent countries. Their manifesto said:
“What is the purpose of this war, which inflicts on you such dreadful suffering? You are told it is for the good of the country, the defense of the fatherland. What is the good of the fatherland? Doesn’t it mean the well-being of the many millions that the war converts into corpses, cripples, jobless, beggars, widows, and orphans?
What has placed the fatherland in danger? Is it the men in other uniforms on the other side of the border? But they wanted war just as little as your husbands. They are just as ignorant of why they should murder their brothers who wear different uniforms. No! The fatherland is endangered by all those who grow rich from the suffering of the broad masses and base their rule on oppression.
Who benefits from the war? Only a small minority in every nation. First of all, manufacturers of rifles and cannon, of armor plate and submarines; the owners of docks and suppliers to the army. To increase their profits, they fomented hate between different peoples and so contributed to the outbreak of war.
The war serves the interests of the capitalists as a whole. The labor of disinherited and exploited masses produced heaps of goods that cannot be consumed by their creators. They are too poor; they cannot pay! The workers’ sweat produced these goods; workers’ blood is now shed to win them new markets abroad.”
In 1917, the women behind this call started the Russian Revolution, the event that led to the end of World War I. Denying the ruling elites of the warmongering imperialist nations the right to decide their fate, they started the fight that overthrew their own warmongering ruling elite. Standing against the massive propaganda, today we must start to build a massive movement against war and imperialism, calling on the worker’s movement and the women’s movement to work for peace, understanding that the continued existence of capitalism and imperialism will always lead to war.
It is working class women in the Ukraine, in Russia, in Belarus, in Romania and other countries in the region; it is working class women in the “west”, in Europe and the USA; it is working class women in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan that suffer most from the imperialist tensions. Just as it is working class and poor women in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan whose lives have been shattered most by brutal imperialist bombing and occupations. And it is working class women united that have the power to stand up against it.
If workers, youth and women in Russia develop their protests and strikes against the Russian invasion into a long overdue fight to overthrow the authoritarian, corrupt and misogynistic regime of Putin and his cronies, that would be the most powerful weapon to pull back all Russian troops from Ukraine.
We stand in solidarity with our comrades in Russia who, as this text is being written, courageously participate in building up the antiwar movement inside Russia itself — in the same way, we have protested outside Russian embassies when our comrades were arrested after organising protests against other wars or against gender based violence and in favour of LGBTQ+ rights.
If workers in Ukraine protest and strike to take power into their own hands, kick out the corrupt elites and organise their own defence across communities, in their own interests, and link up with the struggle for the full rights of minorities including the right of self-determination, this would be met with solidarity and support from working class people and youth all over the world
Before you say “that’s impossible”, let’s remember the role of women and working class people in the struggles of the last years, including in Belarus and Kazakhstan, the millions of youth on the street protesting for “system change not climate change”, the millions of health and education workers organising and fighting for their own conditions and essential quality public services accessible for all — this is the mighty force from which an anti-war movement can be built!
Calling for anti-war protests this International Women’s Day, we know this is just another added burden, another risk to the living conditions of working class women. This comes on top of the hardship we have faced during the pandemic, which saw the incomes of 99% of humanity fall and forced an additional 160 million people into poverty. All while the 10 richest men in the world doubled their fortunes.
Women were among the hardest hit victims, with long lasting consequences: according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021, the gap has grown by 36 years in just 1 year. The 2020 report’s prediction indicated it would take 99.5 years for women to reach some parameters of equality, today the prediction has risen to 135.6 years!
But the pandemic also showed women workers to be really essential to the running of society: women made up the majority of workers in the services that stood on the frontlines in the struggle against this life threatening virus. It was not bankers or politicians, not the weapons industry or big business, but working class women who took up this struggle, risking their own health and lives. It gave them the confidence to fight even harder than before, with more support in society, for their rightful place in society, against their low wages and an unbearable workload after decades of neoliberal austerity, against sexism and gender based violence, for a caring society that can never be built upon the foundations of capitalism.
As well as building a powerful women’s movement, our job is also to build strong, combative and democratic trade unions, pushing trade union leaderships to break their links with parties that undermine worker’s and women’s rights, and to take up the fight to unionise the most oppressed layers of the working class, including women and black and immigrant workers.
It is increasingly clear that there is no end to war, misery and oppression within the capitalist system. We don’t fight for equality of impoverishment, or equality based on driving the (comparatively) better average wages and conditions of male workers down. We don’t believe that having more female politicians or managers will change anything in our lives. We will not be content with this or that tiny improvement. We fight to change the way society and economy is run and in whose interests.
Only a planned economy, based on public ownership of the big monopolies that dominate the lives of millions, under the democratic control of the working class and oppressed masses can save lives from being lost to poverty, war and disease, and protect the natural world and all its inhabitants.
The planet can no longer bear so much devastation. The effects of the climate crisis have had an immediate impact on the poorest, but are already starting to affect everyone. That is why socialist feminists advocate the expropriation of the great fortunes accumulated from the sweat of our underpaid or unpaid work, and the expropriation of the rich to use the wealth, created by us working class people, for our benefit. This is necessary in order to repair the destruction created by the capitalist system and lay the basis for a world of peace, security and dignity. It is abominable that 252 men own more than the 1 billion girls and women of Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean combined, but it is we working class and poor women who foot the bill for the capitalist crisis.
Working-class, poor and young women all over the world have risen up to question their terrible living conditions and all the oppression they are subjected to. From the struggle for access to work and education in Afghanistan, for sexual and reproductive rights in Ireland, Mexico, Argentina, Columbia, and South Korea, for employment under decent conditions in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, for the right to land and a healthy environment in Brazil, against structural racism in the US and several other countries. Against the explosion of domestic and family violence revealed during the pandemic which has exposed the reality of femicide. In the struggle for democratic rights in Sudan, China, Lebanon, Myanmar, and Belarus, the struggles of health workers, teachers and many others specially affected by working under covid in which women were often in the forefront. All these examples show that we are not passive.
Increasingly, women and young people across the globe have questioned capitalism which can only be patriarchal. This has included challenging the restrictive and backward gender roles imposed on people of all genders for the sake of class society, and the multiple forms of violence we suffer, intensified by the various forms of systematic gender, sexuality and race based oppressions that are integral elements of the capitalist system. Increasingly, this new and radicalised generation is coming to the conclusion that it doesn’t have to be this way.
The mass feminist movements that have developed internationally are feared by the establishment when they move forward in struggle and most especially when they take up and use the methods of working class struggle such as the strike, and question capitalism itself. This is why sections of the capitalist establishment seek to consciously co-opt, claim the leadership of, and demobilise the movement. For us working women, a “feminism” that only aims to put women from the elite in governments and managerial positions in capitalist companies, does not serve our needs and provides no way to fight women’s oppression as such. The individual “empowerment” of the liberal feminists, is incapable of achieving qualitative change in our lives and the lives of the countless hundreds of millions of working class and poor women.
Liberal feminism tries to make us believe in the possibility of a humane capitalism. Its proponents are often happy with their own cushy positions, while we have to content ourselves with the prospect of gender parity… in more than a century’s time! We don’t have that much time, but even if we did, under capitalism the gender pay gap will never fully disappear, as women have to combine their work outside the home with unpaid work inside. Gender equality at the top of society, while continuing the exploitation of the working class, including the unpaid and low paid labour of women, would change nothing fundamental to the system’s inhumanity and brutality toward women and the whole working class and poor masses of the world, a reality we face every minute of every day.
Today thousands of women all over the world are suffering some kind of violence and deprivation. Socialist feminism fights for the liberation of all. For the emancipation of all, we need to build a new society in which working class people take over the economy and run it democratically based on need, not profit. This struggle for a new, socialist society is in itself a step in overcoming women’s oppression and lays the basis for its total elimination as it is based on a new and elevated solidarity and sibling-hood with working men where there is no room for oppression of any kind.
We make a call not only to women, but to working class men, trade unions, social movements, left parties: march and go on strike with us on the 8th of March, but take up the banners of socialist feminism every day of the year! Many conquests of recent years have been possible because women have used the best methods of the working class’s tradition of struggle. The increasing calls for an international strike driven by women in recent years on the occasion of March 8th are practical examples of this. We cannot forget that March 8th has in its DNA strikes and demands of working women for bread, land and peace that led to the Russian Revolution of 1917. We can repeat this, organised internationally, with a common programme to be built in struggles in every corner of this world — including the support of our working class sisters and brothers in the Ukraine and Russia standing up against imperialist war and those who back it and profit from it.
We are in solidarity with working class women — and men — in all their struggles for peace and dignity, against exploitation and oppression. For us in ROSA and ISA it is imperative that we remain active beyond March 8th. We will fill the streets in a Covid-secure way to spread our message, we will organise strikes and walkouts wherever we can and we call you to join our ranks, and to build with us a socialist feminist movement that puts forward the urgency of a new way for society, without oppression and without exploitation.For an International Socialist and anti-racist Feminism!
- For an international struggle against war — working class women of Ukraine, Russia and the world unite against war and imperialism!
- For the expropriation of large fortunes — run the economy under the democratic control of the working class!
- For the end of social inequalities — only if we own the economy can we stop exploitation!
- For the breaking of patents and nationalisation of the pharmaceutical industries — as a way out of the pandemic and other health problems linked to poverty!
- For full sexual and reproductive rights — sufficient resources for sex education, contraception and access to free and safe abortions as well as the possibility to raise children without a life in poverty!
- For the end of violence against women and for the end of all forms of lgbtphobia — for an immediate increase in public spending and the development of policies to fight violence against women, including shelters and sexual violence services assessable to all. There should be a living wage and a guaranteed job for everyone to make an independent life possible.
- For a dignified life without violence and with full rights — while fighting for every grain of improvement in today’s capitalist world we are aware that to achieve this, we need the overthrow of capitalism!