Here is a presentation given by Terry Moon for International Women’s Day/Women’s History Month.
Women Bearing the Brunt of Reaction Lead the Resistance
Talk for the Chicago Local of News and Letters Committees
March 27, 2019
Part I: International Women’s Day Worldwide
This talk takes off from the lead in the March-April issue of News & Letters which went to the printers before International Women’s Day on March 8. It is important to see what women did that day and the reaction to it for it tells us a great deal about the world we’re living in now as well as how to transform it. Since the philosophy of Marxist-Humanism tells us that we must begin—but not end—with listening to the thoughts and actions of those struggling for freedom which we see as a form of theory, I’m going to go into some detail about the happenings on March 8. As for all the state and national sponsored events, none of them catch the real spirit of the day, which is revolt, which is a time to reclaim women’s lost history and to fight for a freedom-filled future.
The insulting absurdity of the corporate response is seen in how the Samuel Adams brewery is releasing a beer dedicated to Ruth Bader Ginsburg titled “When There Are Nine.” I’m sure Justice Ginsburg was not thrilled, and I’m also sure they didn’t ask her first. The pronouncements from governments are at best self-serving and at worst a bunch of lies. An example of the latter is the message supposedly from Donald Trump, but clearly not written by him, which ends with the sentence: “We remain vigilant in our pursuit of equality and opportunity so that all women may blaze new trails, pursue their dreams, and reach their full potential.” Yes, as long as that doesn’t entail childcare, equal pay, reproductive rights, ending rape and abuse, and as long as you’re not an immigrant, a person of color, or poor—or a woman.
When we see what women really did on March 8, most in opposition to their governments, the real meaning of the day shines forth. Some examples:
In Pristina, Kosovo, women shouted slogans during a rally for gender equality and against violence; in Indonesia, hundreds of activists marched to the presidential palace in Jakarta with banners and placards calling for more equality; in New Delhi, India, women shouted slogans during the march and carried signs reading: “Women Against War! Invest In Caring—Not Killing!” and “Struggle Against Casteism & Capitalism!”; in Nairobi, Kenya, women protested femicide; in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, women held a banner in a rally to mark International Women’s Day and were practically surrounded by cops; in Rome, Italy, women from the feminist movement “Non Una Meno” (Not One Less) staged a gathering in front of the Labor Ministry protesting male violence against women, gender discrimination, and harassment in the workplace. Some dressed as handmaidens. At a huge demonstration, hundreds of Salvadoran women protested in San Salvador demanding decriminalization of abortion, an end to violence against women and respect for their rights. A National Movement of Nurses staged a “White March” for better working conditions in Lisbon, Portugal. Women in Sudan, as part of the movement there against Omar al-Bashir, went on a hunger strike in defiance and protest against arbitrary detention. They were teargassed, some were arrested, beaten and denied healthcare. Lastly, in defiance of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte—who revels in his sexism—over 4,000 demonstrators marched in Manila shouting slogans and chants against him. In the Philippines, where a woman or child is raped every hour, Duterte’s misogyny is not a joke but a provocation.
These are just some of the militant demonstrations that took place around the world on March 8.
Part II: Women’s Militancy and the Counter-revolutionary Reaction against It
There are three countries we need to look at closer as they exemplify what the lead brought out: “Women know that the world is becoming more dangerous for us as the first target of neo-fascists is often women.” Those countries are Turkey, Spain and Pakistan.
What becomes clear when you look at the last several years of what women in Turkey did on International Women’s Day, is that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan continues to reveal his fascist ideology, now emboldened by the spread of neo-fascism worldwide and the growing opposition to him at home.
In 2016, Erdoğan banned IWD demonstrations on March 4, supposedly for women’s safety but no one believed it. Thousands of women marched anyway and in further defiance of Erdogan, who has been slaughtering Turkey’s Kurdish population and destroying their homes and cities, the women’s announcements in Ankara were in Kurdish and Arabic as well as Turkish. Chants included: “Woman, life, freedom!” In another direct affront to Erdoğan, the women yelled, “The bans are yours, March 8 is ours!” In addition, they called for the overthrow of his Justice and Development Party (AKP).
In 2017 Erdoğan did not ban the IWD marches. If he had, it would not have stopped the tens of thousands of women who took to the street—over 10,000 in Istanbul alone. They chanted, “End male-perpetrated violence,” and “Tayyip, Tayyip, run, run, we are coming!” Ending male violence is a yearly demand because hundreds of women are killed in Turkey each year by husbands and others who supposedly “love” them.
Last year thousands of women again took Erdoğan to task as they marched in Istanbul. They demanded, as always, an end to violence and chanted: “We won’t shut up, we are not afraid, we won’t obey” and signs read, “When women jump it’s a revolution.” Erdoğan attacks women’s freedom and the very idea of feminism, pontificating that equality for women “is against human nature,” and that’s one of his milder statements.
But this year had a very different atmosphere as the stench of the police state Turkey is becoming permeated the air on March 8.
First, the IWD demonstrations were banned on March 8—purposefully making it impossible for all the women planning on going to know about it. Second, the march site was jammed with police in riot gear. As reported by AFP and globelvillagespace.com, “Thousands of demonstrators were eventually allowed into a small part of the avenue to stage the protest. They unfurled banners that read ‘feminist revolt against male violence and poverty,’ and “I was born free and I will live free.’…” Then as reported by al-Monitor: the police “attacked women with tear gas, plastic bullets, batons and police dogs.” A picture shows the police line was five rows thick in places. A demonstrator said, “The police tried to beat us after the gas attack. They were directing the dogs to attack us as well, but [the gas was so thick that] the dogs had a hard time breathing and seeing.”
Third was the vilification and lies, clearly planned ahead of time. Because a Muslim call to prayer—called “azan”—was broadcast at the same time as the IWD march and not heard by the demonstrators who were blowing whistles, banging drums, chanting and singing, Erdoğan and his minions spread the lie that, to quote Erdoğan: the demonstrators, “under the guise of women’s day…whistled at our azan….They chanted slogans. Their only alliance is the enmity towards azan and the flag.”
Erdoğan wants to be reelected at a time when the economy is tanking and unemployment is rife. A longtime feminist activist who had participated in the last 17 IWD demonstrations said, “Muslim women are disillusioned by the AKP. A headscarf doesn’t protect us from police or male brutality.” Indeed, hundreds of scarfed Muslim women were at the demonstration and gassed by the cops. The outcry wrought by Erdoğan’s lies prompted the Diyanet-Sen (the syndicate for employees of the Religious Affairs Directorate) to demand the government officially investigate and that the marchers apologize to the Turkish population.
The use of fundamentalist religion and “our culture,” to demonize feminists, while certainly not new, has never before been used to discredit IWD demonstration participants in such a well-orchestrated manner and coming from the highest levels of government. Yet women in Turkey are not alone in this experience.
The IWD demonstrations in Spain were huge, tens of thousands marched. Feminism is very popular in Spain, so popular, in fact, that the Right is determined to co-opt it and, in the process, destroy it. While the government and Center-Right party are suggesting mild reforms, the far-Right party, Vox, claims that proposed legislation to fight violence against women, for equality, and for LGBTQ rights discriminates against men. A Catholic organization, HazteOir (Make yourself heard) charted a bus which they drove around the country painted with the slogan #StopFeminazis and a picture of Hitler with pink lipstick.
There is a group started by Spanish right-wingers called “Women of the World Global Platform,” which aims to bring conservative groups and associations from around the world together. They called for a counterdemonstration in Madrid on March 10. They claim that IWD is “a day for those who reject femininity as well as masculinity, complementarity [meaning males and females have different essences and have to stick to them for they complement each other and make humanity whole], maternity and dedication to the family. But we celebrate it, confirm it, and reclaim it.” Ah yes, that old trope: feminists hate men.
They actually managed to pull off a demonstration of about 200 where every one of their signs was printed. A priest carried one reading “United families are the future of the nation”; other signs read “I am a woman and men are our allies,” “I am a woman: in society, in my family, in my work, in politics,” and one I found hilarious: “I don’t want a confrontational feminism.” But most startling was the fact that a small group of Transgender people joined this demonstration carrying exactly the same signs everyone else carried that included: “In feminine yes, and in masculine also.” The only sense I could make of this was that this group was so wedded to stereotypical gender roles that they oppose a feminism that challenges them.
Because feminism in Spain has become popular, these actions by the Right are attempts to redefine it and create a “good feminism” and a bad feminism. The good feminism wants to embed the status quo and the bad feminism wants women’s liberation. And while it is quite transparent, it is also insidious because it is an attempt to destroy a freedom movement while pretending to support it and a way to turn women against each other.
Lastly, we want to look at Pakistan. The demonstrations in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad were described by a participant as “groundbreaking celebration[s] of women in a massive march comprised of women from all backgrounds, ages and ethnicity, coming together to raise the banner of women empowerment and making the world feel their presence on a colossal level.” The range of issues was evidenced by the signs: “Grow a Pair!” “Paratha Rolls not Gender Roles,” “Girls just wanna have FUNdamental Rights,” “My Mind, My Body, My Power,” ‘Women have heads too!,” “End to violence,” “#IPledgeToStopAcidAttacks,” “#IPledgeToStopHonor Killings,” “Arrange marches, not marriages,” “A Woman’s Place Is in the Kitchen Resistance,” “Towards Social Services for Women,” “It’s Time to Organize,” “A Free Media is a Feminist Media.” “Keep your dick to yourself,” “We are not punching bags,” “We need rights, not marriage proposals.”
In short, Pakistan experienced fantastic marches where the humanism of the tens of thousands of participants was clear, where women’s determination to create a more human world was made explicit. In a country where honor killings are rife, the Aurat (Woman) March issued a manifesto that “demand[ed] the right to autonomy and decision-making over our bodies; …equal access to quality reproductive and sexual health services for women, all genders and sexual minorities.” It demanded “economic justice, implementation of labor rights,” and end to sexual harassment in the workplace, “recognition of women’s unpaid labor, and the provision of maternity leave and daycare centers….[It] also focused on climate change…clean drinking water and air, protection of animals and wildlife…Other demands covered nearly every aspect of social justice.”
The backlash has been brutal. What enraged people the most, besides the March itself, were signs that challenged deeply entrenched sexism and privilege and those about women’s control of our bodies. A well-known Islamic cleric’s video “is making the rounds on social media, in which he is visibly furious over a…sign, ‘My body, my choice.’ He threatened women with rape, saying that if they claim the right to their bodies, men can also claim the right to rape women. [A week ago] This video ha[d] more than 67,000 views.” The backlash is what you would expect: women have been vilified, planners received rape and death threats and there were calls to the government to investigate them; pictures on social media have been altered to make marchers look bad, to change the signs they were carrying; complaints were made to police; the Prime Minister was asked to investigate the march planners to discover their real agenda; and a group of men announced a Men’s March in Karachi for March 23.
None of this has stopped the forward move of Pakistani women for a different, freer reality. One of the Aurat March planners , Shumaila Hussain Shahani, said, “I do not think such petty right-wing tactics will deter the marchers. Marches will continue, our struggle for a gender-just world will continue.”
These attacks against IWD are new in their intensity and size. They signal a recognition by the Right of the power of women’s thought and actions as well as their determination to crush women’s drive for liberation. But the objective truth is that women’s struggle for freedom continues to grow globally both in size, in militancy, and in ideas.
Part III: Why We Celebrate International Women’s Day
It is important to remember that the reason we celebrate IWD as we do—worldwide—is because the Women’s Liberation Movement, beginning in the mid-1960s, rediscovered that day and made it our own and made it radical. While it was started by U.S. garment workers and picked up by Clara Zetkin, who with the German working women declared an International Working Women’s Day, by the 1960s IWD in Russia, East Germany, everywhere it was acknowledged, was celebrated with flowers and candy and thanking women for staying in their place. This day is radical, not because of any leftist party, but because all of a sudden history became important to women in the Women’s Liberation Movement because we realized that we had been left out of it. When we delved into women’s history, we realized what a loss that had been.
Holly Near’s then popular song, “Imagine My Surprise!” is not about love, it is about women’s history: “Imagine my surprise! I love that I have found you. But I ache all over wanting to know your every dream. Imagine my surprise! To find that I love you. Feeling warm all over knowing that you’ve been alive.”
When the Women’s Marches against the election of Donald Trump erupted worldwide in January of 2017, many on the Left joined the mainstream media in viewing—and dismissing—them as merely fodder for the Democratic Party. Of course that does describe some of the March’s recognized organizers as well as some of the participants. But even if one stopped with bourgeois elections, what the marches represent to so many is not admiration for the Democratic Party, but a first negation of the horrific vision of the world the Republicans are determined to impose on everyone. IWD displays the same first negation and Reason implicit in the marches and manifestos.
Part IV: Marxist-Humanism and Women’s Liberation
When Marxist-Humanism looks at these marches, our first thought is not—is not—that all these women need is for us to lead them. That what they need is us to bring them the consciousness of how important labor is and how we must rid ourselves of capitalism. Let’s remember that when Russian women started the Russian Revolution by marching against the Tsar on IWD they did it against the advice of the Left parties of their time.
We start from two very different places. One is making sure we actually find out what is in the movement itself which we comprehend as a form of theory. This is why I spent so much time talking concretely about IWD.
We start with this movement from practice, listening to it to learn what is in it and then to make that explicit so that not only do we see it, but the participants see it themselves and recognize their own Reason, their own ideas about what needs to change and how, that they recognize their own agency.
The second place we start is with philosophy—a very specific philosophy—Karl Marx’s philosophy of revolution in permanence deepened and developed in our age by Marxist-Humanism. Marxist-Humanism reveals a Marx who is far more profound and complex than most post-Marx Marxists have thought. Raya Dunayevskaya is one of the few Marxist philosophers who demand that we see the whole of Marx. In her work, Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution, she makes the point that “the most serious errors of not only bourgeois but of socialist feminists…[is that they] have helped those men who have tried to reduce Marx to a single discipline, be that as economist, philosopher, anthropologist, or ‘political strategist’” (p. 104).
People are taught that Marx was strictly about the proletariat. Of course the proletariat is crucial to Marx and central to his understanding of capitalism and how to abolish it. If, however, you delve into 1844, the point where Marx broke from bourgeois society and decided to devote his life to revolutionary philosophy and activism, you will find that not only is he talking about alienated labor, but at one and the same time he is talking about the alienation of the relationship between men and women, between those who are supposed to love each other the most.
He says if you look at the relationship between men and women you can measure how free, or not, a society is. Raya Dunayevskaya took this further and said that looking at that relationship can help you see how deep and total revolution has to be. Marx was specifically talking about what it means to be a human being, saying that we know we are getting to something new “when another human being is needed as a human being.” Revolution to Marx was not just a question of economic transformation but as well a transformation of human relationships. You will see that is true because when you read Capital you see that even the economic relationships were, in the end, also human relationships and what was so perverse about capitalism is that it made people appear as things.
In telling us in exquisite detail exactly what capitalism is—historically, economically, ideologically, and philosophically—and at the same time tracing the human history of struggle (be that against slavery, the introduction of machines, factories, early automation, or the history of anthropology, “Marx took Hegel’s revolution in philosophy and created a philosophy of revolution.” Marx took Hegel’s dialectic and saw that one could comprehend history as the history of class struggle, or workers struggling for a better life. He saw the dialectic as self-development through contradiction, as human beings changing reality through the contradiction in their lives between what life was for them and what they saw it should be. That is just as true of the slave as the worker or the women.
No one is saying that women, or the proletariat, or the Black dimension, or the youth movements, etc., can change this world by themselves. The fact that they know it too is clear in how people involved in struggle look outside their own particular fight to find something that can answer their questions of how to move from a critique of what is to a better society. But the answer can never be “Just follow us, we have the answer.” That only reproduces the alienated human relations we have under capitalism, especially the division between mental and manual labor. Rather there needs to be a new relationship between theory and practice, the movements from practice and those who have studied the history and philosophy of revolution and are also determined to change reality. Without that new relationship, the counter-revolution from within the revolution that has been the bane of our era will win in the end. Women’s freedom is not a question of singling out women workers, as if that can, alone, answer the question of women’s liberation—although women workers have a hugely important revolutionary contribution to make and, historically, have made.
Women, Blacks and other people of color, youth, and certainly workers are dialectical inseparable aspects of the human liberation that not only groups like us are working for but the movements themselves are working for too. That is what we’re seeing in the issues raised at the Women’s Marches and at the International Women’s Day demonstrations worldwide. They are so diverse, so deep-reaching that they can only be satisfied by a total revolution and that needs to be made explicit.
In our age of nuclear bombs increasingly in the hands of neo-fascists, we can’t keep making the same mistakes again and again. As the Pakistani woman Shahani said, “Marches will continue, our struggle for a gender-just world will continue.” The question is, will we be able to meet that challenge and help it develop further?
 “Istanbul police fire tear gas at banned women’s day rally,” by AFP, globalvillagespace.com/Istanbul-police-fire-tear-gas-at-banned-womens-day-rally, March 8, 2019.
 “Has misogyny become the official state policy in Turkey?” by Pinar Tremblay, al-monitor.com, March 20, 2019.
 “Feminism is the word in Spain’s electoral campaign,” by AFT, Arab News, March 6, 2019.
 “In Pakistan: Breaking the shackles of patriarchy at Aurat March 2019: In pictures,” by Bismah Mughal, The News (thenews.com.pk).
 “Pakistan’s Women Marched for Their Rights. Then the Backlash Came.,” by Tehreem Azeem, The Diplomat, March 20, 2019.