A Century of International Women’s Day

On behalf of the Irish Republican Socialist Movement, the Irish
Republican Socialist Committees of North America issues the following
statement in recognition of International Women’s Day and the 100th
anniversary of its first celebration.

International Women’s Day is observed on 8 March every year to
celebrate the economic, political, and social achievements of women
and to call for full gender equality worldwide, although the IRSCNA
believes that the day’s history with explicitly socialist and working
class dimensions is what is worthy of celebrating, along with
continuing the struggle for women’s liberation in the context of the
broader class struggle.

As Alexandra Kollontai recognized in 1920, International Women’s Day
must be “a day of international solidarity, and a day for reviewing
the strength and organization” of working class women.

In May 1908, the Socialist Party of America designated the last Sunday
in February for the observance of National Woman’s Day, which was
celebrated for the first time on 28 February 1909.

In 1910, the Second International, at the initiative of Clara Zetkin
and other socialist women, established the first International
Woman’s Day under the slogan, “The vote for women will unite our
strength in the struggle for socialism.” The first was held on 19
March 1911 in several European nations. In Austria, celebrations
began a day earlier, with women also carrying red flags in honor of
the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the Paris Commune.

In 1917, with two million Russian soldiers dead in World War I and a
badly deteriorating economy, workers in Petrograd began striking and
demonstrating. On 23 February (by the Julian calendar used in Russia,
or 8 March by the Gregorian calendar), women began demonstrating with
a demand for peace and bread. A march to factories by the women
brought out 50,000 striking workers in solidarity. The women’s
uprising was part of the broader February Revolution. Four days
later, the Czar was forced to abdicate and the provisional government
became the first government of a major power to grant women the right
to vote.

While the IRSCNA recognizes that women have made economic, political,
and social gains, we must point out that this is not the same thing
as liberation. Women, especially middle class women, in western
capitalist nations may have more life options now than at any time in
the past, but throughout the world women, especially workers and
peasants, continue to be victims of poverty, labor exploitation,
sexual exploitation, violence, rape, and oppression by religious
fundamentalists. The modern day slave trade exploits women for sexual
purposes, and the number of women who have been victimized by this
trade is staggering.

Wherever there are workers exploited by capitalism, there are workers
who are doubly oppressed as both workers and as women. Lesbian,
bisexual, and transgender women face further oppression and violence
based on their sexual and gender identities.

The bodies of women are still contested terrain for reactionaries. In
Ireland, the right for women to make decisions about their bodies and
the medical procedures performed upon them is severely restricted. In
the US, where that right is recognized, it is presently under severe
assault by a resurgent and misogynistic Right, which wants nothing
more than to roll back the clock on the rights women won through
decades of struggle, whether those be reproductive rights or economic

The Irish Republican Socialist Movement has always been at the
forefront of supporting women’s liberation, and women have always
been an integral part of our movement. When the Irish Republican
Socialist Party was founded on 8 December 1974, four women were
elected to its first national executive. Its second chairperson,
Miriam Daly, was a woman, and at one point in the early 1980s, much
of the party’s leadership was female. Women were also active as
volunteers in the Irish National Liberation Army during decades of
armed struggle against British occupation, just as Constance
Markievicz was a leader in the Irish Citizen Army during the Easter
Rising of 1916.

At its first Ard Fheis (convention) in 1975, the IRSP became one of
the first parties in Ireland to support a woman’s right to choose
abortion and to call for full equality for gays and lesbians. At the
2000 Ard Fheis, bisexuals and transgender people were explicitly
recognized in a new equality statement passed by those assembled.

From the Egyptian uprisings to the union protests in Wisconsin, we
have seen women standing up and making their demands known. The war
on workers is also a war on working women. Working women are forced
to sell their labor power to survive, while women in the home perform
unpaid labor that benefits the capitalist system.

The history of International Women’s Day is the history of socialist
women engaged in class struggle, women who knew that gender liberation
is inextricably linked to class liberation.

In conclusion, the IRSCNA believes that women’s liberation can only
be fully realized within the context of a global struggle to liberate
all oppressed classes and people. We salute all of the women and men
who have fought for, and continue to fight for, women’s liberation
and working class liberation.