Monday, March 8, 2010

On this International Women's Day

One thing I'm not doing on this day of solidarity with women of the working class and oppressed nations worldwide is to celebrate last night's Oscar wins for "The Hurt Locker," and especially not the fact that for the first time a woman won the directing award. Both director Kathryn Bigelow and the writer, who also won, used their acceptance speeches to hail and thank "our troops" around the world. How vile is that--and how much clearer could they have made it that for all its hype as merely about the horrors of war, this movie is one thousand percent on the side of the imperialist invaders and occupiers? Disgusting. All the more so as the Oscars come just two weeks before the seventh anniversary of the start of the Iraq war and coincide with the horrific criminal U.S. military offensive in Afghanistan. No, Ms. Bigelow, you're no sister of mine, lining up with U.S. imperialism's endless war, calling it art and making a tidy profit off it to boot.

Let's cleanse our palates to get rid of the nasty aftertaste from Oscar's war fest. How? By way of some books related to the origin of International Women's Day.

The German communist Clara Zetkin was the originator of IWD. Check out this book of her Selected Writings, in an edition that I grabbed from my shelves this morning, from 1984, with a foreword by Angela Davis.

Believe it or not, it was a struggle by women workers in the United States that prompted Zetkin and her comrades to propose this holiday: the magnificent 1909 strike of immigrant garment workers in New York City, known as the "uprising of the 20,000." There have been several novels that incorporate the 1909 shirtwaist strike, but I recommend the first novel directly based on it, published just a year later, in 1910. I pulled this one from my shelves this morning too: The Diary of a Shirtwaist Striker by Theresa S. Malkiel.

Here's a shot of one of the leaders of that strike, a hero of mine, Clara Lemlich. During a mass meeting at Cooper Union that had gone on too long and was too dominated by male union officials, she famously strode up to the stage and, in Yiddish, shouted, "Enough talk! It's time to walk! Strike! Strike! Strike!" (or words to that effect) and thus the great battle began. By the way, if you want to see a pretty good reproduction of that historic moment, check out the 1996 movie "I'm Not Rappaport" with Ossie Davis and Walter Matthau. It opens with this scene.

I'll also take the occasion of this IWD to recommend again The Autobiography of a Sexually Emancipated Communist Woman by Russian revolutionary Alexandra Kollontai, a member of the original revolutionary council, later the USSR's first female foreign ambassador, and author of the classic essay "The New Woman."

In the spirit of Zetkin, of Lemlich, of Kollontai, here is a 1930 Soviet poster, "Long Live International Women's Day." Interestingly, it is attributed to three artists collectively known as Brigade KGK3: Victor Koretsky, Vera Gitsevich, and Boris Knoblok.