It was International Women’s Day. The social-democratic circles had intended to mark this day in a general manner: by meetings, speeches, leaflets. It had not occurred to anyone that it might become the first day of the revolution.
Not a single organisation called for strikes on that day. The temper of the masses, according to Kayurov, one of the leaders in the workers’ district, was very tense; any strike would threaten to turn into an open fight. But since the committee thought the time unripe for militant action—the party not strong enough and the workers having too few contacts with the soldiers—they decided not to call for strikes but to prepare for revolutionary action at some indefinite time in the future. Such was the course followed by the committee on the eve of International Women’s Day, and everyone seemed to accept it.
On the following morning, however, in spite of all directives, the women textile workers in several factories went on strike, and sent delegates to the metal workers with an appeal for support. Thus the fact is that the revolution was begun from below, overcoming the resistance of its own revolutionary organisations, the initiative being taken of their own accord by the most oppressed and downtrodden part of the proletariat—the women textile workers, among them no doubt many soldiers’ wives.
The overgrown breadlines had provided the last stimulus. About 90,000 workers, men and women, were on strike that day. A mass of women, not all of them workers, flocked to the municipal duma demanding bread. It was like demanding milk from a he-goat. Red banners appeared in different parts of the city, and inscriptions on them showed that the workers wanted bread, but neither autocracy nor war. Women’s Day passed successfully, with enthusiasm and without victims. But what it concealed in itself, no one had guessed even by nightfall.
On the following day the movement not only fails to diminish, but doubles. About one-half of the industrial workers of Petrograd are on strike. The workers come to the factories in the morning; instead of going to work they hold meetings; then begin processions toward the centre. New districts and new groups of the population are drawn into the movement. The slogan “Bread!” is crowded out or obscured by louder slogans: “Down with autocracy!” “Down with the war!” Continuous demonstrations on the Nevsky – first compact masses of workmen singing revolutionary songs, later a motley crowd of city folk interspersed with the blue caps of students.
Throughout the entire day, crowds of people poured from one part of the city to another. They were persistently dispelled by the police, stopped and crowded back by cavalry detachments and occasionally by infantry. Along with shouts of “Down with the police!” was heard oftener and oftener a “Hurrah!” addressed to the soldiers. That was significant. Toward the police the crowd showed ferocious hatred. They routed the mounted police with whistles, stones, and pieces of ice. In a totally different way the workers approached the soldiers. Around the barracks, sentinels, patrols and lines of soldiers stood groups of working men and women exchanging friendly words with the army men. This was a new stage, due to the growth of the strike and the personal meeting of the worker with the army. Such a stage is inevitable in every revolution. But it always seems new, and does in fact occur differently every time: those who have read and written about it do not recognise the thing when they see it.
Under the flag of “Women’s Day,” began the long-ripe and long-withheld uprising of the working masses. The first step of the insurrection was the strike. In the course of three days it broadened and became practically general. This alone gave assurance to the masses and carried them forward.
A revolutionary uprising that spreads over a number of days can develop victoriously only in case it ascends step by step, and scores one success after another. A pause in its growth is dangerous; a prolonged marking of time, fatal. But even successes by themselves are not enough; the masses must know about them in time, and have time to understand their value. It is possible to let slip a victory at the very moment when it is within arm’s reach. This has happened in history..
—An excerpt from Leon Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution. Read the full story of the epic revolution that began 99 years ago on International Women's Day at marxists.org
HAPPY INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY!
Today we celebrate the revolutionary destiny of women: you are the ones who will create, and lead, the next planetary revolution. Women are the future.
Learn why we believe an international women’s uprising is one of the three most likely revolutionary scenarios: read Micah White's new playbook for revolution, THE END OF PROTEST.
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