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
1912 Lawrence Textile Strike
Mired in the recurrent nightmare that is Trump, it is hard to look back and take stock of what happened last week, let alone three months ago. Yet, looking back at Hillary Clinton’s defeat, one may not only see the rising tide of Trump’s hordes, but also the tragic fate of a liberal era. Nowhere is this clearer than in the contradictions embodied by Clinton’s deeply personal but nonetheless strained relation to feminism. Not surprisingly, a broad group of radical and internationalist women are showing the way forward with a call for a feminism of the 99% and coordinating in the U.S. on March 8th with the International Women’s Strike.
Even viewed from a radical perspective, responding on one hand to Clinton’s loss and on the other to Trump’s continuous appalling attacks, we can see Hillary Clinton defeat as having the features of a contemporary tragedy.
The Women’s March on Washington has been involved in so many controversies that it leaves my head, unprotected by a pussy cap, spinning. First came the charges that women of color were being left out, resolved by inviting several of them to co-organize the march. As Janet Mock has written, the march has mostly silenced sex workers. Currently, the phrase “sex work” appears just once, but it’s not hard to discern a gulp of distaste, a wrinkling of noses, in the sole reference to sex that remains, which implies that sex work can only be exploitative. For a brief moment in time, the march was so inclusive that it even included anti-abortion groups (they were swiftly dropped).