Who were the women behind the bread riots that sparked the Russian Revolution? On International Women's Day in 1917, women textile workers left their factories and took to the streets in Petrograd to demand bread and peace. Their actions triggered food riots and a mass strike, ultimately leading to the fall of Tsar Nicholas and changing the course of history. In the centenary year of the Russian Revolution, we present a preview from Tariq Ali's The Dilemmas of Lenin.
- Alexandra Kollantai (1872–1952): Veteran Bolshevik, only supporter of the April Theses; first woman to be appointed ambassador (to Norway).
Women played a major part in both of the revolutions of 1917, and to a much greater extent than they had in 1905. The February uprising was, in fact, triggered by the strike of women in the textile industry in their dual roles as workers and, in many cases, the wives of soldiers at the front. They sent appeals to the metal workers to join them and, by the end of the day, over 50,000 workers were marching in the streets of the capital. They were joined by housewives marching to the Duma demanding bread. It was International Women’s Day (8 March by the Gregorian calendar), that the Bolshevik activist Konkordia Samoilova had made known to Russians in 1913 and that had been celebrated, observed and marked from that year onwards. It was usually a smallish public event in a few cities. Celebrating it with a mass strike led by women workers was unprecedented. There was a special irony involved: Russia’s capitalists had assumed that since women were the most oppressed, docile and socially backward (in the sense that unlike the terrorist women of previous decades, a large majority were illiterate) group in Russian society, they would, according to capitalist logic, make the most obedient and trouble-free members of the workforce. This was a miscalculation. As the First World War continued, so did the need for more labour. The percentage of women in the factories doubled and trebled. The Putilov arms industry was also producing the most militant workers and Bolshevik organisers, female and male.
In celebration of International Women’s Day on 8th March, the women workers of Verso and New Left Review share some of our favourite feminist books in tribute to the radical roots of the observance.
- Jo Spence/Rosy Martin, Mother as Factory Worker, 1984-88
Women in more than 50 countries will go on strike from paid and unpaid labour today while millions more will be taking part in direct action on what is set to be one of the most political International Women’s Days in history.
In this article, published in 1920 in Pravda, Russian revolutionary Alexandra Kollontai describes the origins of the day when "the organised demonstrate against their lack of rights."
>> see also: all our International Women's Day reading, 40% off until March 9th
Women’s Day or Working Women’s Day is a day of international solidarity, and a day for reviewing the strength and organization of proletarian women.
Occasioned by the publication of a French edition of Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly, Jean-Philippe Cazier's interview with Judith Butler first appeared in Diacritik.
Judith Butler, November 2015. via Vimeo.
Your book explicitly draws on texts by numerous philosophers, notably Levinas and in particular Hannah Arendt. But it also seems to have a strong attachment to Spinoza’s work. We can establish numerous specific links between this book and Spinoza’s philosophy, for example its core interest in the notion of relations, its reflection on the "power" of the "mass," the question of the body and what a body can be, the problem — one that runs through several of your books — of the unliveable lives produced by a violent régime, etc. In general terms, what does your philosophical work owe to Spinoza’s writings? And more precisely: why do you think it is interesting to use Spinoza today in order to think through the political and ethical problems you pose in your book?
It is true that Spinoza remains in the background of my thinking. Perhaps you have detected that his thought is surfacing more explicitly in my own. I am aware, for instance, that his notion of persistence, and his philosophy of life are quite important for my understanding of the political realm. I also consider myself to be close to Etienne Balibar’s early work on Spinoza and politics. It might be important to consider some paths from Spinoza to contemporary politics that does not necessarily move through Deleuze, even though Deleuze brings out a very important dimension of bodily action as rooted in the capacity to be affected. The point is not only that the conatus, that desire to persist in one’s own being, is enhanced or diminished depending on the dynamic interactions with other living beings, but that a desire to live together, a pulsation that belongs to co-habitation, emerges that forms the basis of consensus, and that this political principle and practice follows from the very exercise or actualization of the desire to persist in one’s own being. One desires to persist in one’s own being, but that can only happen if one is affected by the other, and so without that fundamental susceptibility there can be no persistence.