By the Incendiary Editorial Board
On March 8, thousands across the US will celebrate International Working Women’s Day (IWWD), a working-class holiday that originated at the beginning of the 20th century as part of the struggle for socialism. Since then, the holiday which began as a rallying cry to politicize and organize women against the ruling class (the bourgeoisie) has been co-opted by the class it was meant to oppose. This year, revolutionary women and their comrades in the US are striving to reassert the proletarian line in observing IWWD, using the occasion to bring women into the revolutionary struggle against US imperialism, which oppresses and exploits women throughout the world.
Today, the face of US imperialism is the President, the sexist philanderer and ultrareactionary Donald Trump. During his presidential bid, at least 17 women accused him of sexual harassment and/or assault. In an audio recording from 2005, Trump can be heard telling TV broadcaster Billy Bush that he could get away with sexual assault and could “Grab [women] by the pussy.” Trump has even made comments lusting after his own daughter, Ivanka Trump.
The mainstream indifference to Trump’s blatant hatred of women and his disgusting behavior fueled the anger of millions of women, who mobilized in a countrywide movement known as the “Women’s March,” first held on January 21, 2017, the day after his inauguration. It was a mass political rejection of the systemic sexism personified by Trump.
In the years since, each subsequent Women’s March has seen lower and lower turnouts as the organizers have doubled down on their legislative aims for the movement. The so-called “Women’s Agenda” posted on their website states that the goal is to “serve as a work plan to Congress [and] create the roadmap we will use to mobilize our constituents into 2020 and beyond.”
The ruling class leaders of the Women’s March, and the bourgeois women’s movement in general, intentionally obscure the exploitation of working-class women by blurring the line between the two most antagonistic classes under capitalism, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.
This “intersectional” program, centered on “policy priorities” and getting out the vote, is typical of the bourgeois ideology that has dominated contemporary women’s movements. These practical, “tangible” solutions for women’s issues may be palatable to ruling class lawmakers, but they grossly undercut the magnitude of women’s oppression and negate the yearning of women, in particular proletarian women, to be free of exploitation.
The revolutionary spirit of International Working Women’s Day has likewise been smothered by bourgeois ideology. Dropping “Working” from the title entirely, multinational firms like Amazon, Avon, and HCL Technologies have partnered this year to turn the holiday into a marketing platform for their products, using hollow calls for gender equality and female entrepreneurship to boost their profit margins.
It was not the prospect of “tangible” reforms that brought women out in such incredible numbers after Trump’s inauguration. Contrary to the politics of the organizers, the first Women’s March was in essence a direct repudiation of the imperialist government itself, against the capitalist system that had enabled such a clear enemy of women to become US President. Despite its relatively tame nature and heavy petty-bourgeois character, the Women’s March nonetheless represented a mass mobilization that revolutionaries should not ignore.
The large scale of the first Women’s March did not suggest that the problems facing women were the kind that could be addressed by a handful of laws or another election. The packed streets of those 2017 protests echoed the first IWWD protests of the 20th century and demonstrated the same need for fundamental change, as well as the necessity for revolutionary proletarian ideology to take its place at the forefront of the women’s struggle.
Women’s Oppression in the US Today
In the US, the majority of women are exploited as workers as well as being oppressed as women. This compounded burden is oversimplified by the bourgeois women’s movement as the ‘gender pay gap,’ with the well-known statistic that women on average are paid 82% of what their male counterparts are paid. This is an undisputed fact, but overemphasizing it disguises women’s exploitation as merely a case of discrimination when it is really a class issue at its core.
Women, especially single mothers, are significantly more likely to fall into poverty than men. In part, this disparity is due to women being forced to take around 60% of low-paying jobs in the US, such as in the agricultural or domestic industries. As disparate as pay may be between men and women, the difference in wealth between these women who work for minimum wage (or less) and the capitalists (including women) who exploit them is multitudes greater.
US society operates on the principle of private ownership, where the few at the top exploit the many at the bottom who must work to survive. Women’s oppression emerged with the advent of private property, and its worst forms directly reflect this historical connection.
Poor and working women are more exposed to sexual violence, for example, where their bodies are treated like property. These women face this threat in their daily lives: from romantic partners, teachers, the police, and their bosses, but their proximity to poverty and the higher rate of evictions among these women also means they are in greater danger of being coerced into prostitution or kidnapped for the purposes of sex trafficking. When they seek justice through legal means for this abuse, they are forced to rely on a criminal ‘justice’ system that not only ignores their reports of violence and assault, but whose enforcers regularly target women themselves.
Women’s bodies are further fetishized and commodified by the billion-dollar beauty and pornography industries, one selling the objectified ‘woman’ in commercials, the other selling her in pop-up ads and streaming sites with every click on the internet. Religious reactionaries and right-wingers lobby to cut off women’s access to reproductive healthcare, furthering the idea that their bodies do not belong to them. Over the past year, various state governments have passed legislation to ban abortions or restrict abortion services, close clinics, limit the number of providers, and restrict access to healthcare that covers abortions.
It is important to emphasize that although many of those targeted in these examples are women and the abusers are mainly men, it is not strictly divided along gender lines. There are women bosses, police, and pimps who all contribute to women’s oppression out of reverence for the capitalist cornerstone of private property. There are ‘sex positive’ feminists who are apologists for pornography and prostitution, and women politicians that pass laws which persecute the majority of women. US imperialism, with women commanders, soldiers, and contractors, plunders the livelihood of millions of women across the world from Latin America to Asia.
The bourgeois media, including women journalists, demonize male abusers in a way that makes sexual violence into a moral question where the perpetrator is ‘evil,’ rather than part of the capitalist system which abuses and exploits workers at large, especially the poor.
Bourgeois women and the practical reforms they propose effectively mask the class antagonisms that shape women’s oppression. The totality of the misery imposed on the majority of women illustrates that their path to emancipation is not a question of policy but a question of power.
The Fight for a Proletarian Women’s Movement
Revolutionaries throughout the US have demarcated themselves from the bourgeois women’s movement by taking up campaigns that serve the people rather than politicians or bosses. At the end of 2018, revolutionary women in the US founded the Popular Women’s Movement-Movimiento Femenino Popular (PWM-MFP) in homage to the women’s mass organization founded by the Communist Party of Peru that incorporated working and peasant women into class struggle, called for armed revolution under the leadership of the proletariat, and denounced electoral politics as an instrument of counter-revolution.
On IWWD 2019, PWM-MFP struck a blow for the working class when they organized the first combative IWWD march in recent history in the US, marching in solidarity with revolutionary women around the world. They took over one of the busiest streets in Austin, Texas, waving red flags and chanting “Women Hold Up Half the Sky!” Onlookers watched as the march maintained its pace as dozens of police vehicles attempted to obstruct them. Large portraits of revolutionary women like Rosa Luxemburg, Jiang Qing, and Comrade Norah were held high behind a banner which read, “Unleash the Fury of Women!”
In the past year, women students at the University of Texas at Austin have organized to combat abusive professors that the administration refuses to fire, forming a group called “Fire the Abusers.” This effort joins the wave of women and students across the country, mobilized by the Me Too movement, protesting against their own abusers on college campuses. Students in New York City and elsewhere have cited the militancy and fearlessness of Fire the Abusers, who have disrupted the classes of predatory professors and bombarded the homes of pedophile apologists, as inspiration for moving past collaboration with bourgeois administrations that only offer empty compromises.
The combative transit protests around the world, from New York City to Santiago, Chile, have seen the mass leadership of women, particularly youth, and in Mexico there have been regular mass mobilizations calling for an end to violence against women. It is this rebellious spirit, where the hardships endured by the majority of women are not relegated to government policy but taken head on, that must be brought back to IWWD.
Women revolutionaries throughout history have set an example of giving their lives to revolution, fighting not only as women, but to liberate the proletariat as a class. Comrade Clara Zetkin made the original call for a holiday to celebrate women as part of the working class in 1910. She helped found the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) and dedicated herself to fighting Nazi fascism until her exile. Comrade Avanti of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) left a comfortable life to fight alongside the poor peasantry and proletariat, and gave us her important work ‘Philosophical Trends in the Feminist Movement,’ which analyzes and critiques the ways women’s oppression is mistheorized by the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie. Comrade Edith Lagos fought in the People’s War in Peru, and was martyred by the reactionary old state. Her funeral was attended by 30,000 people, despite the old Peruvian state deeming it an illegal event.
All these examples of revolutionary women teach us how their desire for liberation as women was led by proletarian ideology and their desire for liberation as the working class. In countries like Mexico and Brazil, the MFP organizations there bring women into the revolutionary struggle, and in the People’s Wars of Peru, Turkey, India, and the Philippines, women are transformed into red soldiers under the leadership of their respective Communist Parties with gun in hand. In all of these oppressed nations, women are taking up their revolutionary task for New Democracy.
When the women’s movement is viewed as part of the international working-class movement, the short-term, country-specific reforms of the bourgeoisie seem even more inadequate. While imperialists compete fiercely against each other for domination over the oppressed nations and the world’s resources, the majority of women, as part of the international working class, grow more connected as production becomes increasingly socialized.
Socialist revolution is impossible without the participation of women, and likewise women will never be free of oppression without first overthrowing capitalism and creating a new socialist society where private property is eradicated and collective ownership of the means of production is ushered in.
The ruling class mystifies the path to women’s emancipation, promoting the lie that women will be emancipated by electing more women as representatives of US imperialism. The bourgeoisie is dependent on this myth, otherwise the class contradictions among the women’s movement become more apparent.
For too long, the bourgeoisie has dominated the women’s movement in the US, bringing portions of the masses into the service of the ruling class. Revolutionaries and proletarian activists have grown sick of being pacified and have begun to contend over the women’s movement as a battlefield of class struggle.
The international proletariat celebrates International Working Women’s Day as a call for working women to join revolutionaries and communists across the world to uphold the proletarian line and to fight for socialism. Incendiary unites with the women of the proletariat, and for all women with the desire for revolution to answer this historic call!
Unleash the Fury of Women as a Mighty Force for Revolution!