Valentina Tereshkova – socialism sends women to the cosmos!

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 Geoff, from Salford, discusses Valentina Tereshkova.

Come and celebrate International Women’s Day this Sunday in Birmingham with the CPGB-ML and Red Youth at 274 Moseley Rd, Highgate, B12 0BS.

valentina tereshkova red youth

The ideals of the party were close to me, and I have tried to adhere to those principles all my life.

– Valentina Tereshkova

On 16 June 1963, Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova of the Soviet Union became the first woman in space, propelling the achievements of women under socialism to the cosmos!

Valentina was born on 6 March 1937 in the village of Bolshoye Maslennikovo, Yaroslavl. After being left mostly in ruin following the first world war and subsequently the Great October Socialist Revolution, Yaroslavl had risen again, becoming a major beneficiary of the economic development and five-year plans of the Soviet Union under the Bolshevik party; a thriving industrial city – rich, efficient, with vast collectivised farmlands.

Valentina’s parents earned their livelihoods in the all-important nationalised sectors. Her father Vladimir was a tractor driver and mother Yelena worked at the Krasny Perekop cotton mill.

When Valentina was just 2, her father lost his life in combat serving as a sergeant and tank commander for the Red Army in the Winter War – an armed precursory conflict to the second world war between the USSR and the Nazi stooges then in charge of Finland.

When she was just 4, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Although Yaroslavl was heavily protected by Moscow in terms of ground combat, it was frequently targeted during air raids owing to its importance in providing armaments for the Red Army.

Throughout this time, Valentina’s mother continued to work hard, as well as raising Valentina and her two siblings Vladimir and Ludmilla. It was only with the determination displayed by Yelena and with the support of a loving socialist state that families like this survived to see the end of the war.

Thanks to the industrialisation and collectivisation of the 1930s, and the successful routing of the Trotskyite counter-revolutionary fifth column that was in the pay of Hitlerite fascism,  Valentina and millions of soviet children like her were able to emerge from the horrors of the Great Fatherland Liberation War and go on to fulfil their potential.

After the war, her family moved to the city of Yaroslavl, where Valentina had her schooling. Having completed high school, she went on to work in the day whilst taking correspondence courses at night, and soon graduated from the Light Industry Technical School.

Starting out working in a tyre factory, she then moved to join the cotton mill her mother and sister were at, working as a loom operator. It was whilst at the cotton mill that Valentina first joined the Komsomol (Young Communist League) and shortly went on to become a member of the Communist Party.

It wasn’t until 1959 that Valentina took the first significant steps towards her eventual role of cosmonaut when she joined the Yaroslavl Air Sports Club and soon become a skilled amateur parachutist.

On 12 April 1961, the USSR’s Yuri Gagarin had become the first man in space, making a single orbit of the earth aboard the Vostok 1. A year later, it was decided that the Soviets should advance their long list of achievements by sending a female cosmonaut to space. Furthermore, the ambition was to send a civilian on the mission, thus proving that the potential to achieve greatness is not inherent in an individual’s class background but simply the result of opportunity.

Having been inspired like so many millions worldwide by the accomplishments of Gagarin and the Soviet Union, Valentina volunteered for the mission and was shortlisted for training along with four other applicants, only one of whom had any pilot experience previously.

Comrade Tereshkova did experience difficulties in her training – in most part owing to her background and a lack of technical understanding – but his didn’t phase her one bit. She worked as hard as anyone could, constantly studying and preparing in order to give herself the best chance of being the first woman in space.

Her effort ultimately paid off in March 1963, when Tereshkova, codenamed Chaika, was selected as the leading candidate. Her first mission was a joint mission between the Vostok 5, piloted by Valery Bykovsky, and the Vostok 6, piloted by Tereshkova.

After the Vostok 5 launched successfully on 14 June, Tereshkova began the final preparations for her own take-off. On approaching the rocket for launch, she said: “Hey, sky! Take off your hat, I’m coming!”

Comrade Chaika orbited the Earth 48 times before safely and successfully landing in the Altay region to the celebration of locals and the jubilation of millions of working women worldwide. The flight had not been entirely perfect, but after Valentina spotted an error in the navigation system early, she was able to redirect the shuttle before any serious problems occurred.

Following her successes, Comrade Valentina continued as an instructor and test pilot for the Soviet space programme, as well as obtaining her doctorate in technical sciences. She went on to marry another cosmonaut, Andriyan Nikolayev, and they had one child, a daughter, together.

In 1968, Comrade Tereshkova headed the Soviet Women’s Committee, always affirming that she was not a feminist but a communist. She remained in politics until the collapse of the USSR, and also became a well-published research scientist.

Comrade Valentina was awarded many honours for her achievements. She received the Hero of the Soviet Union and Order of Lenin in addition to a stockpile of other awards that were sent from around the world. She has also had a lunar crater and minor planet, 1671 Chaika, named after her for her outstanding achievements.

In Comrade Valentina, just as in Comrade Stalin, we see embodied the achievement and fulfilment of the lives of millions of soviet workers – their creativity and labour emancipated by socialism and set free to soar to the heavens!

soviet union in space

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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

Dolores Ibárruri

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, Austin, aged 15 from Leeds, discusses Dolores Ibárruri.

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.

No passaran! (They shall not pass!)

– La Pasionaria

Dolores Ibárruri was an inspirational leader, a revolutionary fighter and an influential speaker who was heavily involved in the resistance movement against the fascist rebellion by General Franco that sparked the Spanish Civil War.

Dolores Ibárruri

Dolores was born in Gallarta, Spain on 9 December 1895 into a family of miners. She experienced horrendous poverty as a child and her dream of becoming a teacher was never realised, owing to her parents’ inability to finance her education. Instead, she became a seamstress and then a housemaid.

Her husband, an active trade unionist and revolutionary socialist, was imprisoned for his part in the general strike of 1917, and, as a consequence, her financial situation deteriorated. She spent her nights reading Karl Marx and other books she found in the library of the local workers’ centre, and his works influenced her to become a communist.

In 1920, Dolores was elected onto the provincial committee of the newly-founded Basque Communist Party and, ten years later, she was promoted to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Spain (PCE). During these years, Dolores had six children. Of her five daughters, four died very young. Her only son died at the battle of Stalingrad, leaving just one daughter to survive into adulthood and old age.

Comrade Ibárruri was a regular writer for the party’s newspaper, Mundo Obrero, signing off her works with the pseudonym La Pasionaria (Passionflower) – a name she coined when she wrote her first article against religious hypocrisy for a miners’ newspaper in 1918. She used her journalism as a platform to campaign against the unfair treatment of women in the country and to improve their lot through socialist revolution. In 1931, she was appointed the paper’s editor and moved to Madrid.

That year also saw the beginning of the second republic in Spain. King Alfonso III left the country when a majority of seats at the election were won by anti-monarchist candidates. During the first five years of the republic, communists continued to be persecuted, however, particularly after the fascistic, semi-feudal coalition of right-wing forces that made up CEDA won the 1933 election. Dolores was jailed four times in this period.

In 1936, the policy of the united front was adopted by communists all over Europe, and the Spanish Popular Front emerged victorious in the February election. The communists gained enough votes for a single seat in parliament – and it was taken by Dolores. The Popular Front’s electoral programme had included a commitment to freeing all political prisoners, so, without waiting for any other authorisation Comrade Ibárruri went straight to the jail to see her comrades released:

As soon as the victory of the Popular Front in the elections became known I, already an elect member of parliament, showed up at the prison of Oviedo the next morning, went to the office of the director, who had fled in a mad panic because he had behaved like a genuine criminal toward the Asturian prisoners interned after the revolution of October 1934, and there I found the administrator, to whom I said, ‘Give me the keys because the prisoners must be released this very day.’

He replied, ‘I have not received any orders,’ and I answered, ‘I am a member of the republic’s parliament, and I demand that you hand over the keys immediately to set the prisoners free.’ He handed them over and I assure you that it was the most thrilling day of my activist life, opening the cells and shouting, ‘Comrades, everyone get out!’ Truly thrilling.

I did not wait for parliament to sit or for the release order to be given. I reasoned: ‘We have run on the promise of freedom for the prisoners of the revolution of 1934. We won – today the prisoners go free.’

However, in the face of the newly-forged alliance between social democrats, republicans and communists, the fascists struck back, backed up by military aid from Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy. They launched a full-scale rebellion under the leadership of General Franco against the newly-elected progressive government.

Imperialism, which was seriously threatened by the developments in republican Spain, sought to strangle the country’s progressive forces by sending aid to the fascists while preventing aid getting through to the government. In this way, it hoped to hold back the rising tide of working-class militancy and communism.

At a time when fascism – the most nakedly brutal form of monopoly capitalism, in which all pretence of democracy was being discarded in favour of an iron dictatorship aimed at keeping down the workers’ anger at a time of deep capitalist crisis – was on the rise and spreading throughout Europe, the western media was publishing propaganda against, no, not Germany, Italy or Spain, but against the Soviet Union.

The ‘collectivisation famine’ lie was published in 1935 by the Hearst press at a time when socialism was proving itself to be the only sane solution to the worsening capitalist crisis and the rise of fascism. Instead of hailing the achievements of the industrialisation and collectivisation programmes in the USSR under Stalin’s leadership, the ‘democratic’ capitalists chose to demonise socialism and to support the rise of fascism.

The British, French and US imperialists, while claiming to uphold democracy, refused to help the Spanish government against Franco. They drew up a ‘non-intervention’ agreement that pretended to be neutral, but was in reality aimed at cutting off supplies to the republic. This did not help Dolores and the revolutionaries in Spain who were defending their nation against the fascists.

However, with a little help from its friends – namely, the Soviet Union and Mexico – the People’s Army (the resistance movement formed by the anti-fascists in Spain) was supported by the formation of the International Brigades.

The call went out from the Comintern (the Communist International) to revolutionaries in Europe, the Americas and all over the world that volunteers were needed to fight with their brothers and sisters in Spain against fascism. Meanwhile, Comrade Ibárruri was very active on the committee that transferred funds from the Comintern to the republican army.

As well as giving every possible support to the formation of the brigades, the Soviet Union helped directly by sending food, medicine, equipment and advisors to the resistance forces, even as it was also busy preparing itself for the biggest and most catastrophic war the world had ever seen. The Soviet Union’s leaders understood that the war in Spain and the rise of fascism were both symptoms of the deepening capitalist crisis, and that the crisis was bound to lead to a bigger conflict if not stopped by revolution.

Dolores Speech

Throughout the civil war, Dolores was extremely active, and she coined many of the republicans’ most famous slogans. As chief propagandist for the republican forces, she ended a radio speech in 1936 with the famous words, “The fascists shall not pass! No pasaran!” This passionate slogan became the battle cry for the republican army, who defended the city for three long years.

Later, at a meeting for the women of Spain, she famously stated: “It is better to be the widows of heroes than the wives of cowards!” And, in 1936, at rallies in both France and Belgium to mobilise support for the republican army, she cried:

The Spanish people would rather die on its feet than live on its knees!

However, the republican army was threatened from within by the formation of POUM (Worker’s Party of Marxist Unification), a coalition of Trotskyite and anarchistic parties. The POUM objected vigorously to the influence of the Soviet Union within the republican army, and did much to undermine the discipline of the republican forces. POUM was dubbed the fascist “fifth column” after Emilio Mola, a fascist general, stated in an interview in 1936 that he had four columns of soldiers heading towards Madrid and a fifth one (the POUM) behind enemy lines.

The POUM’s endless demands for ultra-revolutionary sounding measures such as self-governming workers’ co-ops in the cities and immediate collectivisation in the countryside were not only a diversion from the urgent struggle against fascism but an outright service to fascism. Trotskyism in the Service of Franco, written by George Soria and based on first-hand observation and on the study and analysis of official documents and papers, explains how this came about.

In the end, the republican army could not hold off the might of Franco’s army, which was financed heavily by Germany and Italy, and the republicans eventually lost the civil war. On 1 November 1939, Dolores made a powerful speech to over 13,000 people at a farewell parade in Barcelona expressing her gratitude to all the volunteers who had come to the aid of the republican government from the people of Spain:

From all peoples, from all races, you came to us like brothers, like sons of immortal Spain; and in the hardest days of the war, when the capital of the Spanish republic was threatened, it was you, gallant comrades of the International Brigades, who helped save the city with your fighting enthusiasm, your heroism and your spirit of sacrifice …

Today many are departing … You can go proud. You are history. You are legend. You are the heroic example of democracy’s solidarity and universality in the face of the vile and accommodating spirit of those who interpret democratic principles with their eyes on hoards of wealth or corporate shares which they want to safeguard from all risk.

At the end of the war, Dolores fled to the Soviet Union, where she lived a happy life, despite the difficulties and tragedies of the war.

Her son fought for the Red Army but sadly died at the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942. Delores remained active within the PCE and became the party’s secretary general in May 1944. She lived in Moscow for many years, receiving the Lenin Peace Prize in 1964 and the Order of Lenin Prize in 1965.

La Pasionaria

When General Franco died, Dolores moved back to Spain and in 1977 she was once more elected as a deputy to the Cortes (Spanish parliament).

On 12 November 1989, at the age of 93, Dolores Ibárruri died of pneumonia. Although only one of her daughters survived her, her legacy lives on in countless generations of the men and women workers all over the world that she inspired with her bravery, her steadfastness and her indomitable spirit.

La Pasionaria is remembered as a woman who never capitulated to fascism; who fought for rights for women and who tied those rights to the need for socialism. She was a revolutionary fighter, an activist, a writer and a speaker. Her inspiration is a shining star whose light guides us in our struggle against imperialism and reaction, and for liberation and socialism.

La Pasionaria statue
La Pasionaria statue in Glasgow, Scotland

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.