Archive for the ‘Women’s rights & women’s liberation’ Category

Today, March 8, is International Working Women’s Day – or what feminists have hijacked into the classless International Women’s Day.  Last month also marked the 100th anniversary of the February 1917 revolution in the Russian Empire, a revolution sparked off by working class women. 

Working class women sparked off the Russian Revolution

by Anne McShane

The centenary of International Working Women’s Day in Petrograd (St Petersburg) in February 1917 is an important moment to take a more critical approach to this history.

Most of us on the left are familiar with the events themselves. In his classic work, The Russian Revolution, Leon Trotsky provides us with a dramatic and inspiring depiction of the uprising in Petrograd – he describes in detail the five glorious days of struggle. How the Petrograd working class rose up in grim determination against the tsarist state. How the strikes, which began on International Working Women’s Day, ostensibly in protest against the war, developed rapidly into a mass movement with the power to oust the imperial regime. How it advanced on the citadels of power, precipitating mutiny after mutiny among the armed forces, as soldiers and Cossacks refused to massacre the workers. In less than a week the centuries-long rule of the tsarist autocracy was routed by the Petrograd working class.

However, it must be admitted that the revolution was premature. There was no party leadership in place and the left, including the Bolsheviks, was caught unawares. The uprising was also confined almost entirely to Petrograd. It has often been described as a purely spontaneous movement – an angry working class letting off steam against the war, conscription and prohibition. But, as Trotsky makes very clear, to argue that the working class of Petrograd were just acting instinctively or in an unconscious way is absurd. Those (often in academic circles) who want to portray it as such are anxious to deny the depth of revolutionary ideas among workers, or their ability to analyse, decide and act on their own behalf. They want to separate off this movement from October and argue that the provisional government and ‘bourgeois democracy’ was the natural conclusion of February. The October revolution is presented as a putsch in contrast to the spontaneity of February. It is more concerning that some on the left also distinguish the two revolutions in the same way. As always, however, reality is a lot more (more…)

s-l1000The following review of the book REBEL WOMEN in Australian working class history, eds Sandra Bloodworth and Tom O’Lincoln, appeared in issue #14 (Xmas 2000-March 2001) of the Christchurch-based magazine revolution, one of the predecessors of this blog.

by Linda Kearns

Women’s oppression, its relation to capitalism, and how to fight it have been matters of controversy both on the far left and between the far left and feminists.

Feminists have long criticised the far left for trying to subsume women’s oppression into class.  But a cursory glance at feminist studies and recent feminist theory tends to indicate that the vast majority of women – working class women – receive short shrift from the ‘sisterhood’.

In fact, there has also been a certain amount of nicking going on, as feminist historians have joined the fad for disaggregating the working class.  So where working class women are dealt with, it is gender rather than class which have been of interest.  Moreover, gender has been seen as counterposed to, even oppressed by, men of the working class.

Even socialist women, women who consciously chose to identify as, and fight as, socialist women – and not as feminists – have been appropriated – or expropriated by feminists: Rosa Luxemburg and Alexandra Kollontai are two Marxists who spring to mind as victims of this fad.

Sandra Bloodworth notes, for instance, the way the (more…)

downloadby The Spark

Before electronic computers, and multifunctioning calculators, there were human computers. Black and white women mathematicians were tasked with turning numbers into meaningful data for NASA. Their calculations made possible many ground-breaking missions. These calculations, done by hand, with pencil and paper, often took more than a week to complete, filling six to eight notebooks with data and formulas.

Hidden Figures follows three black women “computers”: Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) – and their work at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia in the ‘60s.

All three of these women were brilliant mathematicians living and working in segregated and sexist Virginia. The film gives a sense of the indignities and humiliations these women endured. At one point Katherine Johnson is sent to a new department to calculate the trajectories for Alan Shepard’s space flight. The men – all white – were not (more…)

images-2by Sarah Black

Art critic, novelist, writer and academic John Berger died last week, aged 90. Amid the media accolades, Suzanne Moore writes an opinion piece for The Guardian entitled ‘I do not recognise the stereotype of John Berger as a dour Marxist – his work embodied hope’. Though the headline is provocative, Moore’s piece does remember the man as kind, interested and warm.

Berger originally trained as a painter at the Chelsea School of Art, but stopped painting in the late 40s, as the post-war images-1nuclear threat seemed to him to render his work trivial. Instead he threw his energies into writing. He managed to enrage the art and media establishment by his pro-Soviet stance, as well as his criticism of big figures in the art world, such as Henry Moore, Francis Bacon and Pablo Picasso (whose work he felt further mystified art). Berger wrote extensively throughout his career – not just criticism, but fiction and other non-fiction works. In 1972 he won the Man Booker prize for his novel, G. His 1975 book, The seventh man, focuses on the plight of the urban poor.

Berger’s warmth comes across in his most well-known work,Ways of seeing. Unlike contemporary programmes of the time, this 1972 BBC four-part series of films-turned-essays was not presented by a stuffy old man in an art gallery with a suit and a pipe. Filmed in an electronics workshop, Berger, sporting an Aztec-patterned shirt, talks to the viewers at home in a laid-back, conversational manner – the aesthetics of the production have a dynamism that transcends the very 1970s look. Berger places advertising images next to still lifes and soft porn beside nudes, in order to make the viewer interrogate the image, the artist and the subject. His aim was to demystify western European painting from its holy status (where criticism’s purpose was to help us pray) and instead find a different way of (more…)

The interview below first appeared in revolution magazine (#6, May-June 1998).  Fred was a longtime shopfloor militant and Marxist in the United States, being frequently fired and suspended from jobs due to his union and political activities.  At the time of the interview Fred was living in San Francisco but retirement meant that, at a certain point, he could no longer afford to live in that city and he moved to Mexico.  Fred died in 2002.

Fred at founding conference of the Class Struggle League

Fred at founding conference of the Class Struggle League, 1972

revolution: People have an image of the 1960s as fairly wild, in terms of social experimentation and political radicalism.  How general were these trends in the US?

Fred Ferguson: In the beginning, it depended on what part of the country you were in.  The New York City and San Francisco Bay metropolitan areas have always been little social democratic and liberal islands in a sea of reaction.  The US is a very backward country, politically and culturally.

However, as time went on and one revelation after another was made of government lying, duplicity, secret vendettas against civil rights leaders and secret wars against whole countries, young people began to wake up and look around.

By the end of the war in Vietnam, even high school (and junior high school), student strikes were taking place in the most remote areas of the mid-west and rural south.

Tens of thousands of young people flocked to the two sea coasts and formed what was to become the ‘youth culture’ of the United States.  The influence was tremendous: racially, sexually, politically, in pharmacology, fashion, hair styles and even in the automobile plants of Detroit.

The combined effect of that period politically has been misnamed ‘the Vietnam Syndrome’.  But it didn’t only apply to the government’s policy in Southeast Asia – it extended to nearly every aspect of society.  The people no longer believed.

revo: Although the US lost the Vietnam War and the American ruling class appears to have been traumatised for a while by that experience, they seem to have paid very little political price domestically.  For instance, no big revolutionary organisation emerged out of the years of ferment around the war and today the US government is intervening militarily around the world again, with very little domestic opposition.  How would you assess the campaign against the Vietnam War?

Fred: The campaign against the war was headed by the social democrats and their political partners in the Communist Party and the rapidly rightward-moving Socialist Workers Party.  Sociologically, it was overwhelmingly pacifist, middle class and campus-based.  The working class was, by and large, suffering under the patriotic illusions left over from World War II and the Korean War.  The US had only just begun its long decline economically and most of the working class was doing quite well compared to the pre-war years.  That tended to give them a conservative colouration.

But by 1967 most were deeply disturbed by the war and by the pictures that were on their television news programmes every night.  The social democrats, with no base in the working class, and the CP which had pissed theirs away in the 1930s and strike-breaking during World War II, had been driven to the right by the McCarthyite witch-hunt and the need to hide in the Democratic Party.  The left-wing concentrated around the (Maoist) Progressive Labor Party and the early (Trotskyist) Spartacist League were just too small, too late and too shrill.

During the same period much of the youth became (more…)

The éirígí calendar for 2017 has the theme of Women of the Revolution, 1913-1923.  This period covers the Great Dublin Lockout of 1913-14 and the formation of the workers’ militia (the Irish Citizen Army), the formation of Cumann na mBan, the 1916 Rising, the war for independence and the civil war.  Here are the cover and a few shots from inside the calendar.  Contact éirígí to order copies of the calendar.

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This is the first in what will be an ongoing series on militant and revolutionary women

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Working class women played key role in 1915 Glasgow rent strike

by Marianne Kemp

With the partial commodification of state housing – mainly through the imposition of market rents – and the growth of precarious and low-paid work, along with b are existence-level benefits, state house tenants face very hard circumstances.  In the early 1990s Auckland state housing tenants, with the assistance of the Communist Party, formed the State House Action Committee and fought back through rent strikes and occupations.  Both SHAC and the CPNZ  are long gone and, although there have been tenant protests since, there has been no significant tenant movement to carry on the work of SHAC.  It would certainly be a contribution to the struggle if someone produced a reflective history of SHAC – ie an account of its strengths, weaknesses, successes, failures and the lessons for the future.

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Working class women and men organised physical defence against the lackeys of the landlords

It can also be helpful to learn about and reflect on previous struggles by working class tenants in both private and state sector rental housing.  There are some important differences between state-owned and privately-owned housing – for instance, it’s a lot easier to put more pressure on a few private landlords than on the state with all its power but, on the other hand, the state has a lot more tenants who can be mobilised against it.  However the changes in state housing, in particular the imposition of commodification via market rents, means there are now increasingly significant similarities between these two forms of rental housing.  This means state housing tenants today can draw inspiration and lessons from earlier struggles against private landlords as well as against the capitalist state as landlord.

One of the most dramatic and significant struggles by working class tenants, certainly in the English-speaking world, took place in (more…)