It is usual that for International Women’s Day on March 8, this and other web sites commemorate the role that women played in the Russian revolution — in celebration of which International Women’s Day became a regular event. On other occasions we have looked at the role that women are playing in struggles today abroad as well as at home. In this article I am doing something a bit different — to start to celebrate the role that socialist feminists played in second wave feminism in Britain.
The following working paper was presented to the Toronto conference of Historical Materialism on May 16, 2010. For Spanish-language translation, see IPS blog de debate. When we celebrate International Women’s Day, we often refer to its origins in U.S. labour struggles early in the last century. Less often mentioned, however, how it was relaunched and popularized in the 1920s by the Communist Women’s Movement. Moreover, this movement itself has been almost forgotten, as have most of its central leaders.
Gerda Lerner has been the single most influential figure in the development of women’s and gender history since the 1960s. Over the course of 50 years, a handful of brave and potentially marginal historians created a field with thousands of PhDs. The field expanded from Lerner’s development of an MA program at Sarah Lawrence College in 1972 to the presence of Women’s History faculty in the great majority of U.S. colleges and universities.
The idea that socialists should be feminists too is uncontroversial to many revolutionary socialists. But why socialism needs feminism is still worth spelling out.
This is the cover story of the forthcoming January 2013 issue of the magazine of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation. It is posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with Kavita Krishan’s permission. Kavita Krisnan is secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association AIPWA.
As a historian, I know that the actions very often have highly unintended consequences. Historical turning points occur, not because deep planning willed them into existence, but at the intersection of many cross-currents. So it is today. Activists of our generation have been campaigning for long over rape, demanding changes in rape laws, changes in attitudes, and a wide range of demands. But it was not our repeated campaigns, nor even the over a decade long epic protest of Irom Sharmila, that managed to shake the entire country. It was, on the surface, a single incident, the Delhi bus gang rape of early December 2012. We are aware of the vast numbers who have come out and demanded punishment, government action, who have protested repeatedly and vigorously.
The following criteria of internal sanctions in the party, in regard to oppression of women, were approved at the VI National Congress, held from the 1st to the 5th of November 1989 in Mexico.
The Delhi gang rape is gruesome. But it does not stand alone. There were 22,000 rapes reported in 2010, and this implies at least 100,000 unreported cases. In the National capital, Delhi, there were around 570 cases reported. West Bengal has about 9,000 cases of rape, where the matter had not begun moving in courts. Rapes, gang rapes, rape as a “political” action (rape of "lower" caste women, rape of minority community women, rape of political opponents) have been taking place continuously. Though India’s political leaders have been claiming stridently that India is forging ahead, that India is one of the new powerhouses of the world, in terms of the violence inflicted on women, in terms of the sheer barbarism of rape, India shows no sign of being a forward looking, civilized country.
This story is part of a Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting collaboration between African and American journalists on reproductive health issues. The article appeared in the January 21, 2013 edition of The Nation and we are republishing with the permission of Agence Global.
This article was written in 1992 in the context of a wide-ranging debate within the Italian Fourth Interntionalists and in Ridfondazione around the “difference theory” put forward by Luce Irigaray.
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