Clara Zetkin

The Women’s Movement

March 8: The International Communist
Women’s Day, 1923

(8 March 1923)

Source: International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 24, 8 March 1923, pp. 187–188.
Transcription & HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
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Another International Communist Women’s Day, which – apart from Soviet Russia and the Soviet republics affiliated to it – does not yet mark the celebration of victorious combats fought by the world proletariat against the exploiting and enslaving rule of the bourgeoisie! On the contrary: the bourgeoisie is exerting its utmost energy, with greater ruthlessness and brutality than ever, to hold the masses in subjection. The murderous bands of Fascismo complete the work begun by the police, the judges, and soldiers. The international characteristic features of our time are: depreciation of currency, usurious prices for the necessities of life, rubbery by means of taxes and levies, unemployment, longer working hours, increased production despite devitalizing living conditions, growing uncertainly of earnings and of means of living. And to all this must be added frightful housing conditions, chronic ill-nourishment intensified to actual starvation, lack of linen and clothing, of light, warmth, and cleanliness, of the most modest demands on culture; proletarianization of the petty and middle bourgeoisie and especially of the “intellectuals”, transformation of willing workers among the non-propertied classes into idle beggars, calamitous spread of epidemics, disease, and death in want and misery, especially among children. And this, – in all countries where capitalism is still uncontrolled master in its own house, not only in industry, but in the state, despite “democracy”, or rather, precisely with the aid and blessing of “democracy”.

The cruel fate of the masses weighs with especial heaviness on the women, unless they happen to be appendages of the capitalist industrial magnates, dealers, speculators, profiteers, and usurers. There is no misery of the present day which is not felt by the women with double and multiple intensity. The working woman, the female civil service employee, teacher, etc., is more liable to dismissal than her male fellow worker, and when out of work she suffers more than the unemployed man from cold and starvation, for she receives a smaller dole than he. The housewife shares all the cares of her husband, son, and brother; she does not only suffer with him, but for him as well. The mother stands with bleeding heart before the cross of Golgotha, when she is powerless to satisfy the cries of her children, for bread and warmth, for a small share of the joys of life, for a little knowledge and beauty; when she is powerless to protect them from the merciless claws of disease, demoralization, and death. The stunted children, the infant mortality, the increasing number of neglected youthful criminals – are these not the most annihilating accusations against the present state of society in all capitalist countries?

But working women, housewives and mothers, are as a rule less capable of resistance against the miseries assailing them, less armed than their brothers. They feel acutely the wretchedness of their condition, but they endure instead of fighting, they are feeble in self-defence. The evil heritage of centuries of subjugation to man, the seclusion within four narrow walls, has dulled their outlook, destroyed their will power. As woman has humbly obeyed her husband’s commands, or bent to the will of the family, in the same way she does not venture to oppose the merciless exploitation of capitalism, the oppression of the bourgeois state.

Even in important states, women are not yet in possession of civil and political rights, without which they cannot light for their own interests and for the interests of those they love. Is it not a fact that in Switzerland, France, Belgium, Italy, etc., the women to-day are in the same position as yesterday or the day before, without the right of voting for or being elected to the legislative Parliament?

During the years that followed the outbreak of the disastrous imperialist war, die troubles and torments of working women have risen mountain high, Their most diffident hopes of alleviation have been cruelly crushed, their burden of misery has increased daily.

The dominating and inappeasable greed of the capitalist governments for a further extension of power is preparing a fresh bloodbath for the peoples, by far vaster and filled with greater terrors and cruelties than the imperialist war of plunder which we have just witnessed. The military occupation of the Ruhr area by French Imperialism has brought on new storm clouds. An accident may decide whether the struggle between the French ore potentates and the German coal barons shall lead to a bloody conflict. And such a conflict cannot possibly be confined to France and Germany. It will be the signal for a fresh imperialist world war.

It is not Thyssen, Klöckner, Stinnes, and their like, who bear the costs and sufferings of the Ruhr occupation. Thanks to the occupation, they shovel in profits by the milliard. And it is not the mining slaves of Northern France, on the other side of the Rhine, who profit by the imperialist predatory raid. These, in company with the proletariat of the Ruhr area and of the whole of Germany, will be the vanquished, precisely as the combined exploited proletariats of all countries emerged subjugated and robbed from the war of 1914–1918.

The combined forces of the French imperialist bayonet and the famine whip of German capitalism will exert every effort to wring the maximum profits out of the Ruhr proletariat, will plunge the Ruhr proletariat into untold miseries by increased exploitation and oppression. And just as the misery of the Ruhr will spread irresistibly till it includes the whole of the workers of Germany, with the same deadly certainty will spread to the disinherited in France and other capitalist countries. This is the will of the international class struggle, which binds by a common fate the exploited and oppressed, regardless of frontiers.

Women and men!

The women of the creative working class are equal victims of this common fate. The working women, the women of the petty-bourgeois and small-holding class, whether in England, France, Italy, or elsewhere, will feel the blows of Poincaré’s sabre as painfully as the miners and iron workers of the Ruhr district; and they too will be able to breathe more freely when strong German proletarian fists overthrow the regime of Cuno and Stinnes. and establish the Workers’ Government.

The more conscious the working women become of the impending danger, the more it is their most sacred duty to exert their utmost power to avert it. The International Communist Women call upon them to fulfil this duty. They show them who are the truly culpable, who the guilty ones are who leave the workers’ plates empty despite unwearying toil and labor, whilst idlers wallow in excess and celebrate orgies of gluttony.

The real culprit is neither the Frenchman nor the German, neither the Englishman nor the Yankee. He belongs to no nation and yet to all. It is Capitalism, striking violent blows in every direction, in its despairing death agonies.

There is no doubt of it! Capitalism is decaying, is in a state of dissolution. Its economy is no longer able to repair the havoc of war; it is no longer capable of maintaining the parasitic class in luxury, and al the same time of securely holding down, with hand and brain, its miserable slaves at the wretched level of their pre-war existence. The bourgeoisie still maintains its rule solely thanks to the treachery of the reformist leaders and their influence on the workers. All the bourgeoisie can now do is to snatch the last morsel of bread from the lips of the starving, and to drive families with their children from the comfortless tenement houses into the street or into empty stables; this the bourgeoisie can do as long as the working masses fear the revolution and its attendant sacrifices.

The Communist International has drawn the correct conclusion from the misery of the poor and weak. The International proclaims the necessity of a united front against the world bourgeoisie. Even if your spirit is so enslaved that you do not dare to dream of freedom, then at least you can hear the voice of your hungry stomach. Up and defend yourselves against increased exploitation, profounder misery!

This is our appeal to you in an hour in which the proletariat is wrestling with life and death, an appeal to all working women, all housewives and mothers, regardless of political or religious creed: Remember that you are all companions in misery! Unite! Come forth from the retreats where you bide your martyrdom, unveil wounds before the eyes of the capitalist world, drunk with temporary victory. Proclaim your demands. strengthen your will to fight for these demands. Confront the raging greed for profits and the attacks of the capitalists with your own demands:

Equal wages for equal work, and adequate provision for the unemployed, man or woman. Eight hour day, free Saturday afternoon, legal protection for working women, adult or youthful, and the extension of this protection to all wage workers. Strict measures against usurious prices, control of production, distribution, and prices by workers’ councils, by control committees composed of consumers and housewives. Comprehensive and effectual protection for mothers, infants, and children; social provision for the old, invalid, or war-disabled which is compatible with human dignity; exemption of productive workers from taxation, taxation of the propertied classes by means of confiscation of real values, and by compulsory loans. Security of the rights of organization and striking, full political and social rights for all women. Immediate release of all imprisoned revolutionary fighters.

The International Communist Women appeal to all working women to join their brothers in proclaiming their firm determination to fight for the realization of these and similar demands. To proclaim this not bbv words, but by deeds, by marching courageously into the combat against the exploiting bourgeoisie, against the enslaving force of their state, wherever and under whatever form these two deadly enemies encounter them. Combat, determined combat against the war armaments and war making of the bourgeoisie, against the occupation of the Ruhr! Combat against the While Terror, against Fascismo! Combat for the extension of power of the shop stewards and tl»e workers’ councils. Combat for the disarmament of the bourgeoisie and arming of the workers, the real producers! Combat for the workers’ government!

The Communists of Soviet Russia stand side by side with us for the attainment of our aim of aiding the masses of working women to realize their full emancipation. No law stands in their way. But the world proletariat has recoiled in alarm from its great task of carrying forward the world revolution. Consequently every circumstance hindering communist development or hostile to it is felt in Soviet Russia. Such hindrances are especially felt on the economic field. From Soviet Russia as the source of the World Revolution the current of awakening life flows over all capitalist countries, among the masses of women in the other federal Soviet republics and in the Orient.

The International Communist Women’s Organization is spirit of spirit, power of the power, of the Third International. Not something for women alone! But the joint work of all communists, whether men or women. It is a link in the chain of battle for the proletarian united front, and in (lye proletarian united front. This chain can only be complete when the working women are included. This chain alone is strong and firm enough to fetter the murderous and brutal hands of the bourgeoisie. And when the proletariat has once fettered these hands, then it will gain self-confidence to overthrow its deadly enemy, Capitalism.

Last updated on 11 August 2021