The women’s movement in Britain

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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Leila Khaled

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, Comrade Adam, aged 12, discusses Leila Khaled.

Red Youth will be meeting to celebrate International Women’s Day on 9 March, at 1.00pm, at the CPGB-ML party centre 274 Moseley Road, Highgate, Birmingham.

In the beginning, all women had to prove that we could be equal to men in armed struggle. So we wanted to be like men – even in our appearance … I no longer think it’s necessary to prove ourselves as women by imitating men.

I have learned that a woman can be a fighter, a freedom fighter, a political activist, and that she can fall in love, and be loved, she can be married, have children, be a mother … Revolution must mean life also; every aspect of life.

– Leila Khaled

Leila Khaled is a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). She was born on 9 April 1944 in Haifa, Palestine. She and her family fled to Lebanon during the 1948 Nakba (Catastrophe), leaving her father behind.

At the age of 15, following in the footsteps of her brother, Leila joined the radical Arab Left Nationalist Movement, originally started in the late 1940s by Comrade George Habash. The Palestinian branch of this movement became the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine after the 1967 Six-Day War.

Leila Khaled with portrait
Leila Khaled with a portrait of her younger self

Comrade Khaled came to public attention for her role in a 1969 hijacking of the TWA Flight 840, which aimed to publicise Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians. On its way from Rome to Athens, she and her comrades diverted a plane to Damascus. She ordered the pilot to fly over Haifa, so she could see her birth place, which she could not return to. No one was injured, but the aircraft was blown up after all the hostages had disembarked.

After this high-profile operation, Leila underwent six plastic surgery operations on her nose and chin to conceal her identity and allow her to take part in a future hijacking – and because she did not want to wear the face of an icon.

On 6 September 1970, Leila and Patrick Arguello, a Nicaraguan, attempted the hijack of Israeli El-al flight 219 from Amsterdam to New York as part of the Dawson Field hijackings – a series of almost simultaneous hijackings carried out by the PLFP. The attack was foiled when Israeli sky marshals killed Arguello and overpowered Khaled. Although she was carrying two hand grenades at the time, Khaled had received very strict instructions not to threaten passengers on the civilian flight.

The pilot diverted the aircraft to Heathrow airport in London, where Leila was delivered to Ealing police station. On 1 October, the British government released her as part of a prisoner exchange. The next year, the PFLP abandoned the tactic of hijacking, although splinter movements continued to hijack airplanes.

Leila Khaled in Damascus
Leila Khaled, defiant, in Damascus

Speaking about Palestinian freedom fighters such as comrade Khaled, and the many martyrs and soldiers of the PFLP and PLO, the legendary George Habash said these words:

I remember each of the martyrs, one by one, and without exception – those martyrs to whom we are indebted, for whom we must continue the struggle, holding fast to the dream and holding fast to hope, and protecting the rights of the people for whom they shed their blood. Their children and their families have a right to be honoured and cared for. This is the least we can do for those blazing stars in the skies of our homeland.

I also remember now the heroic prisoners in the jails of the occupation and the prisons of the Palestinian Authority – those militants who remind us morning and night of our patriotic duty by the fact that they are still there behind bars and by the fact that the occupation still squats on our chests. Each prisoner deserves the noblest signs of respect …

Now permit me to express my gratitude to all the comrades who have worked with me and helped me, whether in the Arab Nationalist Movement or in the Popular Front. They stood beside me during the hardest conditions and the darkest of times, and they were a great help and support for me. Without them I would not have been able to carry out my responsibilities. They have been true comrades, in all that the word implies.

Those comrades helped to create a congenial atmosphere, an environment of political, theoretical, and intellectual interaction that enabled me to do all that was required. Those comrades have a big place in my heart and mind. I offer all my thanks and appreciation to each one of them by name. In addition, to the comrades who vigilantly guarded me, looking out for my safety, all these long years, I offer my gratitude …

As a last word, I feel it necessary to say that I know well that the goals for which I worked and struggled have not yet been attained. And I cannot say how or when they will be attained. But on the other hand, I know in light of my study of the march of history in general, and of Arab and Palestinian history in particular, that they will be attained.

In spite of this bitter truth, I leave my task as General Secretary of the Front with a contented mind and conscience. My conscience is content because I did my duty and worked with the greatest possible effort and with complete and deep sincerity. My mind is content because throughout my working years, I continually based myself on the practice of self-criticism.

It is important to say also that I will pay close attention to all your observations and assessments of the course taken by the Popular Front while I was its General Secretary. I must emphasise that with the same close attention, if not with greater attention, I will follow and take to heart the observations and assessments of the Palestinian and Arab people on this course and my role in it.

My aim in this closing speech has been to say to you – and not only to you, but to all the detainees, or those who experienced detention, to the families of the martyrs, to the children of the martyrs, to those who were wounded, to all who sacrificed and gave for the cause – that your sacrifice has not been in vain. The just goals and legitimate rights which they have struggled and given their lives for will be attained, sooner or later. I say again that I don’t know when, but they will be attained.

And my aim, again and again, is to emphasise the need for you to persist in the struggle to serve our people, for the good of all Palestinians and Arabs – the good that lies in a just and legitimate cause, as it does in the realisation of the good for all those who are oppressed and wronged.

You must always be of calm mind, and of contented conscience, with a strong resolve and a steel will, for you have been and still are in the camp of justice and progress, the camp whose just goals will be attained and which will inevitably attain its legitimate rights. For these are the lessons of history and reality, and no right is lost as long as there is someone fighting for it.

Khaled continued to return to Britain for speaking engagements until as late as 2002, although she was refused a visa by the British embassy in 2005 to address a meeting at the Féile an Phobail in Belfast, where she was invited as a speaker.

She is now married to the physician Fayez Rashid Hilal, and today lives with their two sons Bader and Bashar in Gaza, Palestine, where she currently serves on the Palestinian National Council.

Leila Khaled on the PNC
Leila Khaled currently serves on the Palestinian National Council, the legislative body of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation

Comrade Leila was the subject of a film entitled Leila Khaled, Hijacker. The documentary film Hijacker – The Life of Leila Khaled was directed by Palestinian filmmaker, Lina Makboul.

Laila Khaled will always be remembered as a freedom fighter who stood up against the oppression of her country’s people. She fought against Israel and imperialism and for the liberation of Palestine.

Clara Zetkin

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 Womens Day. Today Birmingham comrade Phil, aged 22, discusses Clara Zetkin.

Red Youth will be meeting to celebrate International Women’s Day on 9 March, at 1.00pm, at the CPGB-ML party centre 274 Moseley Road, Highgate, Birmingham.

Women’s propaganda must touch upon all those questions which are of great importance to the general proletarian movement. The main task is, indeed, to awaken the women’s class consciousness and to incorporate them into the class struggle.

Clara Zetkin

Born as Clara Eißner, the eldest of three children in Saxony, Germany in 1857, Clara Zetkin lived a life of struggle – for socialism, for women’s rights and against fascism.

Her mother already had contacts with the emerging bourgeois women’s movement at the time and Clara herself became politically active from 1874, joining the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) in 1878. However, Bismarck’s draconian ‘Socialist Law’, which banned extra-parliamentary political activities, forced her into exile in 1882, first to Zurich and then to Paris.

During her time in the French capital, she adopted the name of her life partner, the Russian Marxist Ossip Zetkin, with whom she had two children. There she also played a significant role in the founding of the Second International in 1889, which would two-and-a-half decades later so disgracefully collapse over the question of the first world war – splitting the socialist movement and for the first time clearly showing the reactionary and chauvinist nature of what we now know as social democracy.

Clara Zetkin

From early on in their time with the SPD, Clara Zetkin and comrade Rosa Luxemburg were part of the inner-party opposition, which came to be known as the Spartacus League (Spartakusbund) and consisted of fierce critics of Eduard Bernstein’s reformist views. She was among those consistently arguing against Bernstein and his followers in the revisionism debate.

Having returned to Germany in 1890, Zetkin worked as editor and publisher of The Equality (Die Gleichheit), a proletarian women’s magazine. She proved to be a brilliant journalist, increasing the paper’s circulation from 11,000 to 67,000 between 1903 and 1906.

When she joined the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (USPD) in 1917, she was ‘relieved’ of her duties at the publication for petty political reasons. In 1919, she finally joined the newly-formed Communist Party of Germany (KPD) and started to publish a new magazine, called Die Kommunistin, meaning ‘the female communist’.

In addition to her publications work, Clara Zetkin was one of the first few women deputies at both regional and national parliaments, taking advantage of the small concessions made by the bourgeoisie to advance women’s rights in practice and push towards their representation in public life.

Nevertheless, she also was a staunch critic of the bourgeois women’s movement. In a speech in 1899 at the founding congress of the Second International, Comrade Zetkin criticised demands for formal political rights such as that of access to the professions and equal education for women (while perfectly legitimate and important) as not going far enough, and argued that full social and economic emancipation would only be possible under socialism.

In 1911, Comrade Zetkin was also heavily involved in the birth of International Women’s Day – the day we will soon be celebrating. After an encouraging start in central Europe, especially in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Germany, Women’s Day spread around the world. Indeed, demonstrations marking Women’s Day were instrumental in sparking the February Revolution in Russia in 1917.

In 1932, after being re-elected to the German parliament (Reichstag) at the age of 75, Comrade Clara used her speech at the opening of parliament to passionately denounce the policies of Hitler and his thugs. After the National Socialists came to power in 1933 and banned the KPD (having blamed the Reichstag fire on them), Comrade Zetkin was forced into exile once again – this time choosing to live in the Soviet Union.

Comrade Clara died soon after, on 20 July 1933, at the age of 76, and the urn containing her ashes was personally carried to the Kremlin Wall Necropolis by Josef Stalin.

Clara Zetkin

Constance Markiewicz

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.

Red Youth will be meeting to celebrate International Women’s Day on 9 March, at 1.00pm, at the CPGB-ML party centre 274 Moseley Road, Highgate, Birmingham.

I did what I thought was right and I stand by it.

– 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.

Markiewicz in uniform
Markiewicz in uniform

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.

Markiewicz Election Success
Procession to celebrate Markiewicz’s election

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.

Why should you be celebrating International Women’s Day?

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.

Women hold up half the sky

– Mao Zedong

Red Youth will be meeting to celebrate International Women’s Day on 9 March, at 1.00pm, at the CPGB-ML party centre 274 Moseley Road, Highgate, Birmingham.

Without the participation of women there will be no revolution!
Without the participation of women there will be no revolution!

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.

Join us to celebrate International Women’s Day!

Meeting: Sunday 9 March at 1.00pm

Venue: 274 Moseley Road, Highgate, Birmingham, B12 0BS