By Yelena Maksimova
At the Second International Socialist Women’s Conference, held in Denmark in 1911, the German Social Democrat Clara Zetkin proposed the establishment of an annual day of solidarity with working women from all over the world in their struggle for equal economic and political rights. She recommended drawing the attention of the public by gathering at rallies and demonstrations. The first International Women’s Day was observed on March 19th, 1911.(1)
In Russia, Women’s Day was observed for the first time in 1913, in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The following year, it was also observed in the cities of Saratov, Samara, Ivano-Voznesensk and Kiev. It was then that the first issue of Rabotnitsa (“Woman Worker”) was published. The periodical’s creation was initiated by the Bolshevik caucus of the Russian Social-Democratic Workers’ Party (RSDRP). On the front page of Rabotnitsa was written: “This journal aims at the comprehensive promotion of the interests of the women’s labor movement.”(2) For that reason and because it is still being published, it has been selected as the source for compiling this history of International Women’s Day, March 8th, in Russia.
Thus in 1914, March 8th is proclaimed the “day of struggle” for women workers (3) to join forces with men workers to fight for their class interests.(4) The next March 8th issue was not published until 1923.(5) That issue was released in a country that had undergone a social revolution, a country being built anew, and country in which, as it seemed, no oppression could possibly exist. Consequently, the mottos of the holiday were: “self-discipline, self-activity and active participation of women in the economic life of the country.”(6)
In the years before 1930, one could read calls on the pages of Rabotnitsa to recruit other women workers and peasants to join the Soviets (7) and for its readers to work actively in them, to battle illiteracy among women,(8) reorganize everyday life (expand day care facilities, communal kitchens, laundries) and learn how to manage production.(9) It was necessary to prepare for March 8th, to organize a “socio-cultural march of women workers” to factories, schools, maternity houses, communal kitchens etc. This was done to assess the appropriate use of resources,(10) to determine the numbers of illiterate women and send them to literacy-training stations (likpunkty), to count the number of women who had been placed in a job requiring a qualification over the preceding year, and to assess “how many practical things have been done in order to free women of the burdens of the family and the household.”(11)
Thus we can say that in the 1920s, March 8th was a demonstration of the idea that any woman can be a manager (khozyaika) (12) of the country and run the state.
In the 7th issue of 1930 we read: “The millions-strong masses of women in the USSR have grown and taken on a position of such an importance for building socialism that their future growth can be guided only by the party as a whole.”(13) It was then thought that the foundations of inequality were being demolished, that women were being emancipated “from mind-numbing, unproductive work in the household,” and that a completely new type of woman would emerge, women who would devote all of their efforts not to combating inequality, but to fighting for the Five-Year-Plan.(14)
“The holiday will be a success” when every single woman worker takes part in socialist competitions. That was the background for the calls upon women toilers to mobilize themselves on the International Communist Women’s Day for “taking technology by storm,” combating indolence and the immobilization that prevent women workers from mastering technology (15), and for the calls to promote the Stakhanovite movement among women workers and peasants and to take popular control of social and communal services, setting up kitchen, childcare and laundry facilities.(16) Women pilots, shock workers, scientists, cultural workers etc. were glorified. But in contrast to the early 1930s, when the pages of Rabotnitsa reflected the preparations for March 8, relating how many new kitchen, childcare and laundry facilities, clubs etc. were scheduled to open on that day, and reporting the opening of classes to train women peasants to join the soviets etc. etc., by the 1940s recitations of accomplishments took their place, i.e. lists of what the socialist revolution had given to women. March 8th, as it turned out, had ceased to be a day to fight for equal rights and instead represented a “political campaign, aiming at the mobilization of all women workers for shock labor in production,”(17) and for the defense of the homeland.
During the Great Patriotic War, March 8th was the day on which the call to “mobilize all women’s labor reserves” was heard and appreciated with particular intensity: “Women workers, engineers and technicians! Give more tanks, planes, and weapons to the front line! Women nurses, medical aides and doctors! Carry the injured soldiers and commanding officers off the battlefield! Women anti-aircraft gunners, snipers, and pilots! Improve your combat skills unremittingly!”(18)
In the post-war years, women are the “reserves of the working class.”(19) On March 8th, they are advancing Soviet science, increasing the productivity of labor and educating children “through unremitting labor.”(20)
The 50th anniversary of International Women’s Day was in 1960. The February issue of Rabotnitsa for that year was published with a supplement presenting “facts and figures,” i.e. the results of women’s struggle for their political and economic rights in the Soviet Union. According to the articles in the supplement, a great deal had been achieved by women over those 50 years. Here are some headlines characterizing those achievements: “700,000 DEPUTIES”, “ACTIVE BUILDER OF SOCIETY”, “LABOR IS CREATIVE ACTIVITY” and “TO THE SUMMITS OF SCIENCE AND CULTURE”. The supplement ends with an appeal from the International Women’s Assembly for Disarmament (21) calling for “uniting efforts in the struggle for peace….”(22) While in the past, March 8th had been a day for portraying women’s success in building socialism and a day of solidarity with the revolutionary activities of women workers in other countries, it had now become a day of international solidarity in the struggle for peace and the happiness of children.
This attitude towards the holiday remained unchanged in the 1970s and 1980s.
“There is something false about that day”(23): this is how March 8th was characterized in the era of perestroika (24). Instead of congratulations, there was a re-evaluation of whether fundamental changes to society’s attitude towards women had really occurred. Nevertheless, March 8th was still considered to be a day of struggle. Thus emerging out of reflections upon oppressive motherhood, the subordinate role of women and domestic violence, come calls to change all that. “We were once called country-makers. So let’s really become them!” ,
From the beginning of the 1990s, the congratulatory remarks disappear almost completely from the pages of Rabotnitsa; in fact, the periodical often failed to mention the holiday at all. When it did do so, it was in the context of “Dear men, give flowers to the women!”
Thus the day that had once represented the purest essence of women’s struggle for equal rights was transformed first into one marking the struggle of women to labor successfully for the benefit of the Homeland, next, into one marking the struggle for peace and the happiness of children all over the world, and finally, in our time, into a day that signifies the purest essence of sexism.
(1) The date on which the holiday is now observed in multiple countries (March 8th) was introduced only in 1914.
(2) Rabotnitsa, 1914, no. 1.
(3) According to Marxist views, there were no interests specific to women other than the common class interests; therefore Marxists treated the term “feminists” with great hostility; when it was applied, it meant “women of the bourgeois class”.
(4) V. Vedineva. Znachenie zhenskogo dnia [“The meaning of Women’s Day”]. Rabotnitsa, 1914, no. 1.
(5) Publication of the journal was interrupted due to World War I and the civil war in Russia that broke out in 1918.
(6) Kalendar “Mezhdunarodnogo dnia rabotnits” [“International working women’s day calendar”]. Rabotnitsa, 1930, no. 7.
(7) A. Artiukhina. Kak dolzhny rabotitsy gotovitsia k 8 marta [“How women workers should prepare for March 8th”]. Rabotnitsa, 1927, no. 3.
(8) F. Niurina. 8-oe marta – proletarskii prazdnik [“March 8th is a proletarian holiday”]. Rabotnitsa, 1928, no. 9.
(9) A. Artiukhina. V nastuplenie na ostatki proshlogo [“Marching on the remnants of the past”]. Rabotnitsa,
(10) A. Artiukhina. Kak gotovitsia k 8 marta [“How to prepare for March 8th”]. Rabotnitsa, 1929, no. 6.
(11) Den rabotnitsy [“The day of the woman worker”]. Rabotnitsa, 1926, no. 4.
(12) Khoziaika: lit. mistress of the house; homemaker, or in this case “country-maker” – trans.
(13) A. Artiukhina. Vosmoe marta 1930 goda [„March eighth 1930“]. Rabotnitsa. 1930, no. 7.
(14) M. Shaburova. Razvernem podgotovku k 8 marta [“Let’s unfurl preparations for March 8”]. Rabotnitsa, 1931, no. 8.
(15) A. Artiukhina. 8 marta mobilizuemsia na shturm tekhniki [“On March 8 we mobilize ourselves to take technology by storm”]. Rabotnitsa, 1931, no. 9-10.
(16) 8 marta – vsenarodnyi prazdnik [March 8 is a holiday for the whole people]. Rabotnitsa, 1939, no. 6.
(17)A. Artiukhina. Vosmoe marta 1930 goda [„March eighth 1930“]. Rabotnitsa, 1930, no. 7.
(18) O Mezhdunarodnom zhenskom dne – 8 marta. Postanovlenie CK VKP(b) [“On the International Women’s Day, March 8. Decree of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviki)” ]. Rabotnitsa, 1944, no.3.
(19) K. Kirsanova. “Partiia Lenina-Stalina – vdokhnovitel i organizator osvobozhdeniia zhenshchin” [“The party of Lenin and Stalin is the inspirer and organizer of women’s liberation”].Rabotnitsa, 1947 no. 2
(20) “O Mezhdunarodnom zhenskom dne – 8 marta. Postanovlenie CK VKP(b)” [“On the International Women’s Day, March 8. Decree of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviki)”]. Rabotnitsa, 1946, no. 3.
(21) The assembly, organized by the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, took place 1959 in Sweden, with women from 26 countries taking part.
(22) “Deistvovat vmeste!” [“Act jointly!”]. Rabotnitsa, 1960, no. 2, supplement.
(23) I. Zhuravskaia. “Razgovor 9 marta” [“Conversation on March 9”]. Rabotnitsa. 1988, no. 3.
(24) Perestroika: General term referring to all the economic and political changes that took place in the USSR from 1986 to 1991.
(25) Country-makers: see note 12, above – trans.
(26) Z. Krylova. “Nelzia ostanovitsia!” [“Don’t stop“]. Rabotnitsa, 1989, no. 3.
(27) Z. Krylova. “Darite zhenshchinam tsvety” [“Give flowers to the women”]. Rabotnitsa, 1999, no. 3.
Yelena Maksimova was born in Moscow and earned her degree at the Historical-Philosophical Faculty of the University of the Russian Academy of Education. She has worked as a lecturer and guide at the State Museum of Oriental Art. She is a feminist, enjoys archeology and photography and takes part in environmental protests. Activist of the Initiative Group For Feminism.
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