The 8th of March is a very significant date in fighting for a socialist future. This is the day of international solidarity of working women in the struggle for their economic, social and political rights.
The decision to celebrate this day was accepted at the Second International Congress of Socialist Women in Copenhagen in 1910, after the proposal of Klara Zetkin. In 1911 IWD was celebrated in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Denmark for the first time. Meetings and demonstrations organised by the female activists of the Bolsheviks’ Petrograd City Committee of became very important events in the February Revolution.
One of the first Bolshevik decrees, signed by Lenin, declared the equality between men and women and equal rights for sexual minorities. International Women’s Day became an official holiday in Russia. Indeed, it was a considerable step forward!
Unfortunately, the better part of these gains were completely forgotten during the period of Stalinism. In that period the institution of the family was restored in soviet ideology to support the authoritarian tendencies in society. Leon Trotsky wrote that it was one of the main means in the totalitarian system for enforcing authority and enhancing the personality cult of Stalin.
So, in the period of Stalinism there was little real equality although there was a lot of talking about it. Women had the possibility to go into higher education, to enjoy equal rights in some professions like doctors and teachers but, in practice, most economic, social and especially political rights belonged to men.
So-called “equality” meant women doing the same or even harder jobs as men. It is hard to believe, but a working woman might return to her job only one month after the birth of her child. But young girls were always told about the equality between ‘soviet’ men and women and it made them very proud.
From the end of the ’50s International Women’s Day lost its name and turned into the Holiday of the 8th of March! Now it is just the holiday when men give presents to their women, boys greet girls in schools, “heads of the family” try to wash dishes etc. So it’s the only one day in the whole year when men remember that a woman must have a rest and a chance to be proud of being a woman. Russian women just don’t know that IWD was founded to strengthen working women’s struggles all over the world and to fulfil the real equality between men and women.
It’s getting worse now. The attempts to restore capitalism in Russia have resulted in the increased exploitation of women’s labour at all levels – as a workforce and as housemaids. Because of the domination of capitalist ideology, we can see a growth of sexism. Prostitution increases, women’s wages decrease, there is no equality in admission to jobs and so on.
The economic system of the USSR was organised in such way that at the very beginning of the restoration of capitalism a lot of women lost their jobs. Mostly it was women with high education like engineers and social workers. Women constitute about 75% of the army of unemployed in Russia, but there is also an army of “hidden unemployed” – the so-called crisis professions such as doctors, school teachers and high school teachers.
80% of school teachers, 70% of medical personnel and 55% of high school teachers are female and almost all of these people are state employees. The average wage which they get is about $12 per month – less than a living wage – and the state does not pay it on time.
Now we can see a rise of protest among the representatives of these professions. In January there were several big strikes of the school teachers all over the country. Unfortunately, these actions were not successful because their organising abilities were weak.
As for women’s organisations in Russia, it is possible to say that there is no real women’s structure which is massive and active at all. There is a Women’s Party but it is made up of careerists and does not deal with fight the capitalists who are making the fortunes. Most female organisations are liberal and they were created after the western model. Being face to face with crisis has shown that such structures are absolutely of no help to the unemployed women and the poverty-stricken.
Thus it may be said that while working class women constitute a very strong social power which is potentially revolutionary, the main problem is changing their consciousness and organising their will to fight.