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Issue #1492      9 March 2011

International Women’s Day 100th march (Part 2)

Against capitalism, against war

Clara Zetkin was not only a leading figure in the women’s movement. Her contribution to anti-war campaigns is remarkable and her working class Marxist position in relation to imperialism, militarism and war is not only relevant today but can extend our understanding of these issues.

Clara Zetkin speaks at a protest rally of the Communist Party in Lustgarten, Berlin, Germany, 1921.

The anti-war struggle is an extremely important component of class struggle. As Clara Zetkin put it: “Imperialist wars are directed against the workers; they are the inevitable expression of the very being of capitalism. The first decisive step towards demolishing the system of blood-sucking capitalism must be strong and inexorable recognition that the workers are against imperialist wars”. (Clara Zetkin, The Toilers Against War, 1933).

In August 1914 WW1 began. Even before the war Clara Zetkin had been conducting a vigorous campaign against militarism and imperialist war. She went on campaigning even after the war broke out – an extremely courageous action considering that her country, Germany, was at war.

In 1915 she passionately addressed “Women of the Working People” asking a rhetorical question: – “Where are your husbands? Where are your sons?

“For eight months now they have been at the front. They have been torn from their work and their home. Adolescents, the support and hope of their parents, men at the prime of their lives, men with greying hair, the supporters of their families: All of them are wearing military uniforms, are vegetating in trenches and are ordered to destroy what diligent labour has created.

“Millions are already resting in mass graves, hundreds upon hundreds of thousands lie in military hospitals with torn-up bodies, smashed limbs, blinded eyes, destroyed brains and ravished by epidemics or cast down by exhaustion.

“Burnt villages and towns, wrecked bridges, devastated forests and ruined fields are the traces of their deeds”.

People were told then that men went to war to protect their homes, their wives and children and their country.

Nowadays nobody talks about protecting their wives and children – it’s all about installing democracy and freedom.

But is it so? The main question is seldom asked – who profits from a war?

Clara Zetkin answered this question back in 1915.

“Only a tiny minority in each nation. The manufacturers of rifles and cannons, of armour plate and torpedo boats, the shipyard owners and the suppliers of the armed forces’ needs. In the interests of their profits they have fanned the hatred among the people, thus contributing to the outbreak of the war. This war is beneficial for the capitalists in general.

“Did not the labour of the dispossessed and the exploited masses accumulate goods that those who created them are not allowed to use? They are too poor to pay for them! Labour’s sweat has created these goods and labour’s blood is supposed to create new foreign markets to dispose of them. Colonies are supposed to be conquered where the capitalists want to rob the natural resources and to exploit the cheapest labour force”.

The list of manufactured weapons differs from those of almost a hundred years ago but the rest is the same. It is the same tiny minority who benefits from war. And it is the same people who pay the price – the working people and their families.

When Clara Zetkin said in 1915, “The capitalist system wants it that way, and without the exploitation and suppression of man by man, that system cannot exist,” she was absolutely right.

Military budgets eat up people’s taxes to make super profits for war mongers. Real needs are neglected to grab other countries’ natural resources. Regimes are changed to suit big transnationals’ demands. Millions of people are uprooted and move from one country to another trying to find security, stability, peace and work.

At this time of year we are paying tribute to women and their struggles for equality. In times of upheavals women have to carry a tenfold burden and often are the first victims of terrible abuse. Women and their children who flee armed conflicts often do not survive – they are often the forgotten victims of wars for profit. Who counts them as war casualties?

“Imperialist wars are equivalent in meaning to the murder of peoples and world devastation,” Clara Zetkin wrote in 1933 and called on all workers to be engaged in the struggle against capitalism, for socialism.

The Muslim Women’s Club

Due to very bad health Clara Zetkin spent the last years of her life in the Soviet Union and died there in 1933. Despite this she remained as active as her poor health allowed. In 1926 she wrote about her impressions of the Muslim Women’s Club in Tiflis (now called Tbilisi in Georgia). At the time it was part of the Soviet state and one of the most important issues the young Soviet government was facing was the actual, practical liberation of women.

“A symbol for the broad Oriental women’s masses are the Muslim Women’s Clubs of the Soviet Republics. Their creation and development are of great historical significance”, Clara Zetkin wrote in the article “In the Muslim Women’s Club”. She pointed out that Muslim women who were “the lowest of the low, who had been pushed into the deepest depths of social enslavement by traditions, laws and religious decrees, are rising. Diffident and wounded in body and soul, they are nevertheless rising steadily in order to achieve freedom and equality… The Muslim Women’s Clubs are not the tender breeding grounds for suffragette tendencies but the gathering places and schools for revolutionary forces.”

The Muslim Women’s Club in Tiflis was founded by the Communist Party. It was realised at the time that the new Soviet laws which proclaimed the full equality of women in all social fields had to be put into practice as well. The progress of Muslim women was obstructed by age-old prejudices and customs. The Muslim Women’s Club was set up in order to break barriers and educate Muslim women. The Tiflis Club was founded in 1923 and at the time it consisted of forty members. The Club was provided with a hall to accommodate that number and nobody at the time expected the rapid growth of the membership. But within a year the membership reached 200 women and was growing steadily.

One of the women at the Club spoke about her life: “How was our life before the revolution? Our fathers sold us like young lambs when we were hardly ten or twelve years old – sometimes even younger. Our husbands demanded our affection and love, even when they seemed to us revolting.

“When our husbands were in the mood for it, they beat us with clubs or whips. We had to serve them day and night like slaves. When they grew tired of us they told us to go to hell. They rented us out as mistresses to their friends. They starved us when it suited their fancy. They took away our dearest daughters who were the joy of our eyes and the aid for our weak arms. They sold them just as they had bought us. No mullah came to our aid when we were in need. Where could we have found a judge who would have given us legal aid?”

Everything changed for Muslim women after the revolution. Clara Zetkin talked to the female comrades at the Club who organised activities for the Muslim women. It was in such clubs that Muslim women gathered to obtain their first political and social training. It was there that they were given classes on different subjects.

It was also a place of refuge for those Muslim women who needed counsel and aid. Women were taught to read and write; lectures were organised on natural and social sciences. There were legal aid workers who helped the women with their many legal questions.

“The proclamation of legal equality cannot, of course, overcome all at once with a magic wand the traditional attitude of men towards the female sex which has developed over the centuries. Very often the women have to fight to obtain justice and that means going to court,” observed Clara Zetkin.

It was an uplifting experience for millions of illiterate and oppressed women who for the first time in their lives felt confident and strong. It was done even under the most trying circumstances because the will of the state and the people was there. It was the same situation in Central Asia and other regions of the former Soviet Union.

In every country where socialist revolutions took place or even in those moving towards socialism the position of women changed for the better.

In the short period of the Afghan April revolution in the 1980s great attempts were made to liberate women and girls. One of the first steps was a successful fight against illiteracy and the provision of public health facilities. All this was lost when the government of national unity was overthrown.

We are witnessing huge upheavals in different countries – Middle East and Northern Africa are the latest examples. Knowing the history of liberation struggles and the forces that are involved will certainly help future generations. Clara Zetkin’s writings are a good example for the study and understanding of the dialectics of the struggle.  

Next article – Culture & Life – USA and China: compare the pair

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