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On March 11, 1972 a gathering of working people, students, and others met to celebrate the 62nd annual International Women’s Day. In the United States, this holiday has been shuffled out of the calendars. Hardly anyone knows about it anymore. There was a time before, and there will be a time again, when International Women’s Day brought thousands of workers marching from their factories, and housewives from their kitchens, to demand full rights for women.
March 8 is the traditional date of International Women’s Day for the following reasons:
– On March 8, 1857, women garment and textile workers marched in New York to protest their 12-hour workday and their low wages and terrible working conditions. As they moved from their poor Lower East Side neighborhood up to the wealthier section of town, the police attacked the march, arrested many of the women and trampled some of the women with their horses.
– 3 years later, in March, 1860, the women garment and textile workers formed their first union.
– 48 years later, on March 8, 1908 thousands of women from the needle trades industry marched again in New York. In 61 years their condition had not improved much: their demands were still the same, shorter hours, an end to child labor and the right to vote.
– In 1910 Clara Zetkin (a communist and leader of the women’s struggle in Germany) proposed the founding of International Working Women’s Day.
– In 1917, the women textile workers in Petrograd, Russia struck against the long bread lines and famine, poor living and working conditions. They were soon supported by other workers, resulting in a general strike. The date of that women’s demonstration, March 8, 1917, marked the first day of the Russian Revolution.
The audience at the celebration enthusiastically listened to an account of the advancing position of women in socialist China, and to add to the festivities, sections of the Chinese movie “Red Detachment of Women” were shown.
This movie depicts the struggle of a young slave girl who escaped from her master in pre-revolution China. She goes to the Peoples Liberation Army and eventually learns that her freedom as an individual laborer depends on liberating all of China from the yoke of feudalism, foreign imperialism and bureaucrat-capitalism. She is able to return to her native village with her Army unit and helps slay the landlord, freeing her fellow slaves. Her army unit is the Red Women’s Detachment, a unit made up of and led by women revolutionary combatants.
The gathering was marked by a spirit of unity between men and women workers who agreed that the entry of women into the political struggle was a welcome event.
The October League, Marxist-Leninist hopes that all who read this booklet will help us to improve it by sending us any comments, criticisms, or questions. We thank you.
On behalf of the October League, I would like to warmly welcome everyone to this International Women’s Day meeting which is being held to express our solidarity with the oppressed women of the world, who are heroically fighting against imperialism and its male supremacist policies and ideology.
International Women’s Day has become a great part of the revolutionary tradition of the working class around the world. This week in the Peoples Republics of China and Albania and other socialist countries, militant celebrations are taking place stressing the unity of men and women in the struggle against exploitation and oppression.
This workers’ holiday started back in 1908 when the socialist women of the Lower East Side of New York City organized a demonstration on March 8 demanding rights for women sweatshop workers. Their demonstration sparked a broad, militant struggle of women throughout the country, and inspired working people throughout the world.
In 1910, Clara Zetkin, one of the founders of the Socialist movement in Germany, and a close friend of V.I. Lenin, proposed at the Second International Conference of Women Socialists, that March 8 be officially instituted as International Working Women’s Day. This was adopted with the purpose in mind of mobilizing broad sections of women in the fight against the wage-slavery system which lies at the basis of women’s oppression.
Lenin, leader of the Russian Revolution, writing about International Women’s Day in 1921, pointed out the need to involve in the political struggle the very people who are the most oppressed under capitalism. While the working class as a whole has few basic rights, the working women are doubly oppressed under capitalism by the fact that they are exploited as workers and deprived of their full and equal rights as women.
In describing the plight of women workers, Lenin said, “Under capitalism women remain in household bondage,” and are burdened with the “drudgery of the most squalid and backbreaking and stultifying toil in the kitchen and the individual family household.”
In discussing International Women’s Day, Josef Stalin wrote that on of the basic tasks of the working class is to forge “an army of worker and peasant women out of the women’s labor reserves to operate shoulder to shoulder with the great army of the proletariat.”
The women, whom the ruling classes have sought to keep out of the mainstream of society, must be organized and drawn into the struggle of the working masses.
History has shown us that the emancipation of women is impossible unless the private ownership of the factories and other means of production is abolished. This can only be done by the broad masses of working people and their allies under the leadership of a genuine Marxist-Leninist party, and not by any politicians or liberal millionaires.
In the U.S. today, no such party exists. While the movement of working people is on the upsurge, while thousands of militant women have poured into the streets of this country in their struggle for equality; while the movement of the Afro-American, Chicano, Puerto Rican, Native American Indian and other oppressed minority peoples have shaken the very foundations of this system, without a vanguard party made up of the finest sons and daughters of the working class, these struggles will remain within the context of trying to reform the capitalist system. That’s like trying to put a band-aid on a terminal cancer patient!
The Communist Party U.S.A. (CPUSA), the one-time leader of the U.S. workers, has turned against them and has become a corrupt agent of the capitalist class within the workers’ movement. As these renegades went over to the other side, their abandonment of revolutionary principles on the woman question could be clearly traced.
International Women’s Day has been dropped by them as a time for militant solidarity and class unity.
In the Soviet Union, we are saddened to report, International Women’s Day has been reduced to giving flowers and perfume, a cheap substitute for emancipation. In other revisionist countries, such as Poland and Czechoslovakia, the papers report a return to prostitution, strip-tease houses and other forms of sexual exploitation and degradation of women.
Just as the U.S. capitalists started “Law Day”, a celebration of imperialist “justice” in opposition to May Day, the worker’s holiday; the U.S. government here also instituted and popularized Mothers’ Day in an attempts to replace the struggle for women’s rights with candy and flowers.
The October League came into existence a little more than a year ago with the view in mind that a new party would have to be built and in the hope that we could contribute something to this task. In line with this effort we have tried to take a step towards bringing back the great tradition that has been developed through the history of the revolutionary struggles of the people’s movements around the world, the tradition of Marxism-Leninism as it has been developed by Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao Tse-tung. It is for this reason that we have asked you all to take part in this celebration.
LONG LIVE INTERNATIONAL WOMENS DAY! LONG LIVE THE UNITY OF THE WORKING CLASS! LONG LIVE THE HEROIC STRUGGLE OF THE WOMEN!
Here in the United States, women have always been a part of the struggles of the working class and the oppressed nationalities. From the earliest days of capitalist development, women workers played a pioneer role in the fight for the right to unionize, for a decent wage and for better working conditions. Such women as Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth were leaders in the fight against slavery. Lucy Eldine Gonzales was the wife of Albert R. Parsons, a worker and organizer who was martyred at Haymarket Square in Chicago. After he fell, Lucy E. Gonzales continued the fight for the 8–hour day and other rights of the working class.
The history of the U.S. is filled with such women who led masses of people into combat against oppressive working conditions, white supremacy, and imperialist war. Only last year, the widows of 78 coal miners who were killed in a West Virginia mine explosion, told the government what it could do with its measly widows pensions. These women organized a mass demonstration demanding an immediate end to the deadly and inhuman conditions in the mines. The question of the position of woman has always been a major question facing the workers all over the world. This week, in celebrating International Women’s Day it is very appropriate for us to examine the question ourselves.
Especially with the development of machines and the expansion of capitalism, women around the world have been enslaved under the yoke of imperialist brutality.
In the oppressed nations of Latin America, Africa and Asia, where U.S. imperialism maintains economic, political and military domination, millions of women and children die each year, of starvation, overwork and disease. In Vietnam, the U.S. government is responsible for the merciless slaughter of Vietnamese people. The U.S. Armed Forces actively promotes the prostitution of Vietnamese women in order to maintain “troop morale” in Indochina. And 90 per cent of all political prisoners in the concentration camps of the South Vietnamese puppet regime are women national liberation fighters and political organizers as well as thousands of women accused of “sympathizing” with the national liberation forces.
In our country, where so-called, “democracy” exists, we are forced to ask ourselves, “democracy for whom?” The facts are that in spite of so-called “formal equality” the masses of women in the U.S. have never received their rights in the real world – economically, politically or socially. Equality for women under the imperialist system means just about the same as the equality the Afro-American people got after the Civil War in the U.S. – full equality on paper, but barely any rights in actuality.
And for Afro-American, Puerto Rican, Chicano and other national minority women, they must suffer the double burden of discrimination – both for their sex and their nationality.
We can look around and see this double burden of discrimination everywhere. What kind of conditions do the masses of working women face? What kind of rights do they enjoy? We can take one example right here in Los Angeles – the Work Incentive Program (“W.I.N.”) for people on general relief.
The program forces welfare recipients, mainly Afro-American women, to go to work for the County of Los Angeles. These women are informed that if they want to stay on welfare, they must work, usually at L.A. County General Hospital or at Martin Luther King, JR, Hospital. There they are paid state minimum wage, $1.65 per hour, which is roughly a dollar an hour less than the majority of the workers receive. At present over 1700 workers are forcibly subjected to this program.
This program, one of Reagan and company’s “welfare reform” programs, is an attack on poor minority women in particular and on the working class in general. Programs like this show how the capitalist class uses women as a surplus labor force, which it keeps barely alive on welfare payments and forces into work whenever cheap labor is needed. This program also illustrates the plight of minority women – forced to work for the lowest wages, the first to be fired when lay-offs come, and kept at the highest level of unemployment in the entire country – even the L.A. TIMES admits that unemployment among minority women is twice that of the rest of the population! The nature of the work to which welfare recipients are assigned in the hospital is not training for a skilled job in the future. It is the hardest, dirtiest and most hazardous work. Usually it involves cleaning rooms and laundry contaminated by sick people, exposing the welfare mother to TB, hepatitis and other serious illnesses she could transmit to her family.
We can see how the system sets out to divide the working class. For at L.A. County Hospital, the regular hospital workers are constantly threatened with the possibility of being replaced at any time with the general relief workers, who are forced to work for sub-standard wages. To pit worker against worker on the basis of sex or nationality – this has always been a profitable game for the capitalists. They figure it will keep the workers so busy fighting each other, that they can get off easy – with no strikes, low wages, et cetera.
What other purpose do women serve for the capitalist system? They provide unpaid labor in the home. The capitalists know that in jj order to keep their workers coming to the factory every day, there must be some people who feed the workers, keep house for them, and raise their children. We all know who gets this job. But now, especially with so many women working outside the home themselves, this household labor has become an added drudgery. By staying in the house, women become isolated and are unable to participate in many activities with other workers. Where I worked, in a major industrial plant, a multi-million dollar, international corporation, we women took home about 56 dollars a week. Quite a few women I knew were spending 15 dollars of that on baby-sitters. After transportation and lunch money were deducted, many of these same women workers would have been as well off on welfare! From my own experience, I know it is common for women to put in 8 hours at the plant and another 10 hours at home cooking, cleaning, mending and laundering for the family. Working these hours, it’s no wonder that many an over-worked, near-exhausted woman has said, “leave politics to the politicians!”
There are hundreds more examples which add up to this point: women’s rights under capitalism are not the rights of women at all, but the rights of the factory owners to super-exploit women on the job, use women to break the labor struggles of their fellow workers, use women as unpaid labor in the homes, and maintain the power of their own rich class.
These conditions are causing more and more working people in the U.S. to begin to realize that the main enemy of women and men in this country and all over the world is the system of U.S. imperialism and its fascist policies of war and aggression, exploitation and suppression.
Here in the U.S., the capitalist class is in bad shape, wracked by economic and political crisis and by military defeats in Indochina, and threatened by the working class that won’t put up with this rotten system much longer. The newspapers and t.v. are constantly bombarding us with the lies that communism is a system of enslavement, that socialism is the same as fascism, and so on. But we ask, what is imperialism if not enslavement?
With all this fine talk about democracy, why is it that Afro-American and other oppressed nationalities have not received their democratic rights after centuries of fighting for them? It all boils down to this – power in this country is not in the hands of the masses of working people, but rather in the hands of a small class of capitalists, who make untold amounts of wealth off the oppression and enslavement of women, and of the oppressed nations and the entire working class in general.
The failure of the present system to meet our basic needs has aroused many people’s curiosity about systems where things are run differently. Recently we’ve been able to catch a glimpse of something new – People’s China – a socialist country. Last Christmas I had the opportunity to visit China and investigate the conditions over there, and see the gains made by the Chinese Revolution.
After the Chinese people had defeated the foreign imperialists and their Chinese allies, the bureaucrat-capitalists and the big landlords in the countryside, a new revolutionary people’s government was set up under the leadership of the working class.
No longer could the factory owners and the landlords wantonly oppress and exploit the working people of China. No longer did they have the right to form their own armies and police forces to brutalize the Chinese people. The former rulers were given only the right to work, like everybody else, and to stay out of trouble!
But for the workers and peasants, the dictatorship of the working class or proletariat means wider and broader democracy than ever before – working-class democracy. For the first time, each individual plays a role in the political life of the country – this is only possible because the workers themselves hold political power.
To show an example of proletarian (worker’s) democracy, I would like to talk about the conditions of women in China, as I saw it.
Before the victory of the Revolution in 1949, Chinese women were considered of less value than animals. Not only were they actual slaves in their husband’s house, but they were bought and sold like merchandise. The poor and hired peasant women were traded with the land any time a landlord sold his property. Faced with failing crops, families were often forced to sell female infants and girls as concubines, child brides and servants to wealthy families in order for the rest of the family to survive the winter.
The oppression of the women of China provided a vast source of unpaid labor for the rich landlords and the capitalists in the cities. Gradually, as modern industry and factories sprang up in the Chinese cities, women were hired at tiny wages to run the silk looms and textile machinery. The textile industry of China was built with the labor of China’s earliest women industrial workers.
But for the most part, women were totally excluded from the economic and political life of their country. In the cities, women by the thousands were forced into begging and prostitution in order to survive and support their families, just as the U.S. government today forces the women of Saigon in large numbers into prostitution for the U.S. Army.
In addition to being bled white by the foreign imperialists, the women of China were oppressed by ancient feudal traditions such as forced child marriage and foot-binding. Foot-binding was a ritual which crippled the woman for the sake of keeping her feet tiny, a mark of great “beauty” in the olden days.
Furthermore, once Japan invaded China in 1937, the women of China were subjected to the rape and torture of foreign invaders seeking to keep down the whole Chinese people. Both the Japanese invaders, and later the counter-revolutionary forces of Chiang Kai-Shek, adopted the vicious policy of “Kill all, Loot all, Burn all”, throwing millions of Chinese women into the struggle to free their nation and put an end to this misery once and for all.
All in all, the burden of oppression carried by the women of pre-liberation China was among the heaviest of women anywhere in the world. So, as I travelled around China, I made a point of asking as many women as possible, “how has life changed for you since the Revolution?”
In Shanghai, we visited the shipyards on the Whampo River and we met a woman dock worker. I asked her how she had got her job, considering that women had certainly never done that type of work in the old days. She told me that from the very beginning of the Chinese Revolution, the Chinese Communist Party had encouraged women to take part in the struggle. In the areas which were controlled by the revolutionary forces, foot-binding and forced marriages were soon outlawed. Women were actively recruited into the Communist Party and the Red Army.
In the Liberated Areas, the rights of women were widely discussed, and debated. Men and women began to unite in ending the oppression of women.
After the victory of the Revolution in 1949, the old system’s “paper equality” was thrown out the window and the new Chinese people’s government set about creating real-life equality. The Communist Party actively involved the broad masses of women workers, peasants and intellectuals in writing a new code of laws, including property laws, marriage laws and labor laws.
Among the most important steps initially taken by the revolutionary government was to give the women peasants the equal right to own land. But the process did not stop there. The long process of re-educating everyone and overcoming the old attitudes of female inferiority and male superiority had to continue, if women were to attain their rightful position in the life of socialist China.
The Communist Party under the leadership of its Chairman, Mao Tsetung, raised the slogan, “Any job a man can do, a woman can do.” This marked the entrance of Chinese women into jobs that had formerly been forbidden to them – everything from crane operators to heart surgeons. The policies adopted by the people ensured equal pay for equal work. No longer do the Chinese women do the same jobs as men and get paid half the wages for it. For the first time, said the dock worker, we Chinese women can become economically independent. We no longer have to be slaves to anyone!
In addition to the advances on the labor front, Chinese women have begun to be freed from the age-old ties to household labor and the nursery of which we spoke earlier. I was in a residential area in Shanghai where a woman invited me into her house and introduced me to her family – her husband and two children.
I asked her what she did for a living and she told me that she works in a food-processing plant. When she isn’t working there she is a neighborhood organizer for the Communist Party. She sets up study circles on her block. In addition she is a member of a number of community organizations for health improvement, political education and women’s organizations. Amazed by her energy and enthusiasm, I asked her, how do you have the time to do all these things plus care for your family?
She told me that in China the new government set up a system of state-run day-care centers, where mothers and fathers can leave their children at no cost while they work or do other things. They can rest assured that the children are well taken care of. Also, in the factories and apartment complexes, there are communal dining halls where for ten cents you can get a good hot meal, if you don’t have the time or don’t feel like cooking.
Not only in the home, but especially in school, Chinese children are taught responsibility towards household work. I remember a woman factory worker who told me that all her housework was done by her children, two daughters and a son, because both parents worked. This is good education for the future generation when household work will no longer be considered “women’s department,” but will be shared more equally between men and women.
By freeing women in this way, the door is opened for the increased participation by women in all different areas of society. No paper declarations or equality amendments in the U.S. have ever done for women what these concrete measures have begun to do for the women in socialist China. In this respect, China can serve as a model for us to strive for here in the U.S.
As you know, many of our ideas are the result of the cultural media that we are exposed to. Millions of people watch TV shows like “Dating Game” and “All in the Family” (rated the most popular TV show this year). We are steadily bombarded with movies like “Valley of the Dolls” and James Bond, which are nothing more than thinly veiled pornographic films. Rarely, if ever, do we see a movie that depicts what the lives of women are really like – or what the true history of the U.S. working people really is. But that’s not surprising, when you consider who owns the movie companies.
One of the things that any revolutionary movement must develop is a revolutionary culture – art and music, literature and dance, that speak to the problems the people face, that show working people as the real makers of history, and that point out who the real enemy is.
In China, we had the opportunity to view an exciting ballet called “Red Detachment of Women”. (This is the same movie we will view tonight.) This is an example of revolutionary culture. In China, even though the workers and peasants have seized power, the revolution continues, partially in the form of educating people and criticizing the incorrect ideas like racism and male supremacy which are left-overs from the old society. The main message of this ballet is the role of women, how women were oppressed in the old society and how they fought in the revolution and how their freedom was won.
Brothers and sisters, our tasks are clear.
To make a revolution, we will need to activate the entire working class and all progressive people in this country. Women make up half the people and only with the active participation and support of the greatest number of women can our revolution win victory. We seek to build a powerful women’s movement now – to answer the crying needs of women and to combat the discrimination and degradation that all women suffer under the capitalist system.
Our movement will be significantly different from the women’s movement that the capitalist class is trying to create and control. Our movement will fight for the needs of and against the oppression of the masses of women – working women, housewives, students, and aged and poor women – not just the professional, upper class women. As things have been getting worse for the imperialist ruling class, they have begun to tighten their controls on the working class – in particular on the working woman.
Women swell the ranks of the unemployed. State legislatures are moving on welfare cutbacks, forced work programs and forced sterilization of welfare mothers. They are attempting to squeeze every last drop of profit from the labor of welfare recipients. In 1971 in Nevada, a program of forced work for welfare recipients was begun. In addition, fully one-third of all recipients were kicked off welfare. At the same time, the state legislature legalized prostitution in Nevada, in order to increase the state’s income. It is obvious that the “honorable” men of the Nevada State Legislature don’t hesitate to drop their cover of “moral indignation” as they openly encourage and force women to become prostitutes.
This is a great exposure of what the capitalist class has always offered women: prostitution, instead of productive work and a firm place in the economic life of the country. And our honorable rulers have not stopped at that. Protective legislation for women and children which our fellow workers fought and died for 50 years ago, is gradually being stripped away under the cover of “equal rights.” The capitalists are trying to convince us that equality means taking everything away from us so that nobody has anything and therefore we are all equal!!
We demand an end to welfare cutbacks, forced labor programs, such as W.I.N., and to the humiliation and degradation that women on welfare are forced to go through.
We demand jobs with good pay for all women who want to work, with adequate and free day care for our children. We demand that protective legislation such as lifting regulations and anti-compulsory overtime rules be extended and enforced, not repealed.
We demand equal pay for equal work. And these are just a few examples of the issues that our women’s movement must take on.
The target of our fight is U.S. imperialism. We recognize that both men and women suffer from the exploitation and oppression at the hands of the capitalist class. We seek to unite men and women in this struggle – not play men and women off against each other. The capitalist educational system has fed us for many years with the view that women would do well to keep quiet and take whatever is dished out to them. But these ideas have never met with reality, and definitely won’t do today. In order for men and women to defeat their common enemy, they must take up the struggle against these old doctrines of “male supremacy.” Many men still treat women as inferiors. But we are confident that with patient education these ideas will be defeated, along with other incorrect views, in the course of revolutionary struggle.
To conclude, we would like to thank everyone for coming to this celebration tonight. We are carrying out a glorious tradition of struggle of the workers all over the world. Declaring this international solidarity, men and women side by side, we will without a doubt take great steps towards the end of the imperialist system and towards a new socialist society.