Comrades from Red Youth yesterday gave a presentation to the Stalin Society, discussing what the vital lessons of the Russian revolution, Stalin’s role in building socialism, and what it means to us today.
The presentation by comrade Corinne is reproduced below.
Ella Rule gives a short, amusing and informative talk, about the recent history of the ‘women’s movement’ in Britain.
Addressing a meeting to mark International Women’s Day, held by the CPGB-ML and Red Youth in Birmingham, on 8 March 2014, she outlines why working class women have not been involved in the women’s movement – because it has not addressed their needs.
Speaking from her experience, and with reference in particular to the 1972 women’s conference held in Skegness, which she and her comrades attended, she illustrates how a potentially progressive and liberating movement was effectively hijacked and side-tracked by a number of petty-bourgeois groups who pushed their false, anti-men, anti-worker, anti-social(ist) and anti-marxist views on the movement that developed in the 1960s and 1970s, effectively destroying it.
She prefaces her remarks by noting that women have everything to gain by pursuing the path of socialism, and the overthrow of the capitalist system, that exploits the majority, divides them and gives them a life of servitude, in the interests of fabulous super-profits of an insignificant handful (of men predominantly, but a few of the few are, in fact, women) – the finance capitalists.
How can real equality and liberation be won by working women? By liberating humanity from the system of wage slavery.
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Red Youth salutes the revolutionary women of the world! Our young cadre will be publishing short pieces all this week to celebrate our revolutionary heroines in the run up to International Women’s Day. Today Jamie, aged 25, discusses Constance Markiewicz.
Revolutionary socialist was not an obvious vocational choice for Constance Markiewicz. The eldest daughter of Arctic explorer Sir Henry Gore-Booth, an Anglo-Irish protestant landlord, and Lady Georgina Gore Booth, Constance was born into relative privilege.
She was a talented artist and studied at the prestigious Académie Julian in Paris, where she met her future husband, Count Kazimierz Markiewicz, a Polish nobleman.
Yet, within this affluent upbringing, there lay confronting experiences that began to shape Constance’s political outlook:
Her father, a wealthy landlord, offered free food to local people during the agonising and genocidal British imperialist-engineered Great Famine between 1840-52.
Constance and her sister Eva were childhood friends of the poet WB Yeats, who was a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.
She had interactions with progressive movements, including suffragettes, as a student in London and Paris.
The creation of the Gaelic League – a formally apolitical group concerned with the preservation of Irish culture, but which comprised many nationalists and future political leaders – offered further exposure to radical ideals.
And, as is claimed in folklore, Constance rented a small cottage in the countryside outside Dublin. The previous tenant, poet Padraic Colum, left behind copies of revolutionary journals such as The Peasant and Sinn Fein, which promoted Irish freedom from British imperialism.
These experiences inspired a transformation from a life of privilege to a commitment to economic, political and social equality for all.
The years 1908-09 saw a rapid development of Constance’s political activities: she joined Sinn Fein and Inghinidhe na hÉireann (Daughters of Ireland); travelled to Manchester to support the suffragettes’ successful attempt to oppose Winston Churchill’s election to parliament; and – of vital importance to the cause of Irish liberation – created a paramilitary youth movement, Fianna Éireann, to educate teenage boys and girls on the use of firearms.
Soon after, in 1913, Ireland experienced the most severe industrial dispute of its history. The Dublin Lock-out was the culmination of a series of industrial struggles that aimed to win trade-union rights for workers. Irish workers lived in some of the worst conditions in all of Europe; the mix of slum housing, poor sanitation and little access to health care made the rapid spread of disease, including tuberculosis, inevitable. In this context, the workers, lacking any representation, were brutally exploited by the industrial capitalists.
James Larkin, the talented organiser and orator, recruited many into the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU), and demanded improved conditions. Whilst wealthy capitalists locked unionised workers out of their jobs, starving them, and employed blackleg labour from Britain and elsewhere in Ireland, the struggle had two crucial legacies: it developed the culture of industrial action and trade unionism in Ireland; and introduced socialist ideals firmly in the context of Irish nationalism and the question of Home Rule.
Constance Markiewicz supported the workers throughout the seven-month lock-out by organising voluntary food production and distributing it amongst the hungry and destitute families. This activity was self-funded by selling many of her own possessions.
Markiewicz also encountered the legendary Marxist James Connolly during this period. Connolly had formed the Irish Citizens Army (ICA) to defend the workers from police brutality; several hundred had been savagely beaten by the authorities during the lock-out. She quickly joined the ICA and injected it with her interest in culture – designing a military uniform and creating songs to professionalise and inspire the army.
The Irish Citizens Army went on to play a central role in the Easter Rising of 1916. This extraordinary event, again, placed socialism and the demand for equality at the heart of the national independence movement.
Markiewicz did not assume a secondary or subservient role – as early 20th-century society may have expected – but served as an armed lieutenant, directing her own unit, supervising the barricades, personally wounding a British sniper and holding her position for six days.
The rebellion was suppressed by British bombs and the leaders surrendered after the military had destroyed large parts of Dublin. However, as with the Dublin Lock-out three years earlier, the Easter Rising’s success was not its immediate material gain, but the legacy of inspiring generations of Irish men and women to fight for freedom against British imperialism.
It also demonstrated to the people of Europe, notably the Bolsheviks of Russia, that turning your guns on your real enemy – imperialist, colonialist states – and away from other working-class people during the first world war (1914-18) was a most revolutionary act.
Markiewicz was sentenced to death, along with other leaders, including Connolly, for her role in the rebellion. This was later converted to life imprisonment after the British feared that executing a woman would prompt further social unrest. In court she proclaimed: “I do wish your lot had the decency to shoot me.”
In the 1918 general election, after being released as part of an amnesty, Constance Markiewicz was elected as MP for Dublin St Patrick’s constituency. This made her the first woman ever elected to the House of Commons. She, in accordance with Sinn Fein policy, refused to take a seat in the British parliament.
The remarkable life of Constance Markiewicz continues to inspire countless young people. Whilst the capitalists tolerate – and even manipulate and revere – ‘charitable’ women, they despise revolutionary ones. They fear nothing more than women who are committed to education, organisation and liberation.
Markiewicz infused national independence with socialism; republicanism with feminism; and charity with empowerment. She is an example to revolutionaries everywhere.
Red Youth salutes the revolutionary women of the world!
We’d like to take the time over the coming week – until International Women’s Day on 8 March – to discuss why women’s liberation is a key part of the struggle against capitalism, and to remember some inspiring female comrades, past and present, who struggled for the liberation of their people, the liberation of the working class, and who recognised that special attention had to be paid, within these struggles, to the liberation of women, from their subordinate role in society, and the special and additional oppression that women face due to their sex alone.
It will soon be International Women’s Day, a day now used by many capitalist governments in an attempt to portray themselves as ‘progressive’ or ‘egalitarian’.
Formerly known as ‘International Working Women’s Day’ it was celebrated by communists the world over – in the Soviet Union, China, Spain, Germany, and countless other countries – to pay tribute to the efforts and struggles of labouring women.
However, in an unsurprising turn, it was robbed of its core message by the UN, when it was officially decreed that 8 March would be a day for capitalist governments to not only remove the focus on working women, but also to demonise non-western nations in the name of ‘progressivism’.
But there can be no end to misogynistic culture under capitalism, as misogyny is simply too profitable. Mainstream cinema, the cosmetics industry, fashion, general advertising, television, the music industry, and pornography are all hugely lucrative industries that require a culture of misogyny to sustain their existence.
We, as communists, will honour International Women’s Day by acknowledging that capitalism is not the origin of misogyny, but that misogyny cannot be eradicated within capitalism. It is a day to celebrate the achievements of heroic communist women and to think deeply about the way in which misogyny will be rejected both in a future socialist society and within current communist organisations.
Be a revolutionary, not a cheerleader!
Most importantly, it is the role of communists to oppose the idea that women are inherently passive and inherently weak in their attitude, mind, and spirit. A good illustration of how deeply ingrained these attitudes are in capitalist societies is Wang Zheng’s account from Some of Us, a collection of memoirs from women who grew up during the Cultural Revolution:
Not long after I arrived in the United States, I met an American woman at a friend’s home. She told me with apparent pride that her daughter was a cheerleader. I did not know what kind of leader that was. Hearing her explanation, I could not bring myself to present a compliment, as she obviously expected.
I just hoped that my eyes would not betray my disdain as I thought to myself, ‘I guess this American woman has never dreamed of her daughter being a leader cheered by men.’ I feel fortunate that I was “brainwashed” to want to be a revolutionary instead of a cheerleader.
In capitalist society women are expected to be the ‘cheerleaders’ for both working men when they are generating profit for the ruling classes and echoing the media’s misogyny, and for capitalist men when they gather ever greater profits off of the backs of the workers of the world.
It is our duty to ensure that while capitalism is destroyed, alongside it goes misogyny, so that such prejudices will never again blight human progress.
Red Youth is having a meeting in Birmingham on 9 March to discuss and celebrate the role of revolutionary women in the struggle to defeat capitalism, imperialism, and fascism, and how women’s liberation is intrinsically linked with workers’ liberation and communism.
Comrades Ella and Joti will ask what 45 years of women’s liberation has done for us, and why there are still so few women involved in politics in 21st-century Britain.
As the crisis deepens, the situation of women is becoming worse and not better. The few areas in which women could find some support are being ruthlessly cut. While taxation rises, wages plunge in inverse proportion to rising unemployment.
Experience shows that it is only under socialism that women’s needs can really be given priority, for it is only under socialism that the whole of production is geared to serving the needs of working people in general rather than the interests of profit, which always grudges every penny spent on wages and social facilities.
Women workers must stand shoulder to shoulder with the revolutionary proletariat as a whole to overthrow capitalism and establish and build socialism. And it stands to reason that the revolutionary proletariat must always put attending to the needs of the working-class women as one of their most urgent priorities, both in their demands on the capitalist class and in the measures that they implement as soon as they seize state power.