The Fire and the Fury

International Women's Day 2005

by an ad hoc transgenerational RW writing group

Revolutionary Worker #1270, March 13, 2005, posted at

New York City. Manhattan's Lower East Side. It is November 1909.

Bitterly cold winds cut through sweaters and coats to the skin like a knife. Winter is early this year. People hurry down the frosty sidewalks, vendors splatter ketchup and mustard on hotdogs, teenage boys sell newspapers--their breath rising up in rolling gray clouds.

Suddenly, a voice. A collective voice, 20,000 strong, reverberates off of the surrounding buildings and makes its way through the maze of city streets.

How momentous. It's mostly women, packing the street, marching together, from hundreds of the city's sweatshops. Their banners speak of socialism and justice. And they're chanting in Yiddish, Italian, Russian and occasionally in English. They demand an end to the horrors of their everyday lives, the murderous pace of work, the starvation piece rates, their complete lack of basic rights as women, as human beings.

Their boots stomp the pavement. They're shivering, from rage and from the cold. What an irony: they work in the garment district, sometimes 15 hours a day, stitching and pressing, stitching and pressing, stitching and pressing their lives away. They clothe the world. And yet many can't even afford a decent coat for themselves.


This "Uprising of the Twenty Thousand" stunned the world. The U.S. had been seen as the refuge of immigrants, and the escape for the desperate. And now, suddenly, the world saw the truth: that the waves of immigrants landing in New York were viciously exploited in countless tiny factory sweatshops.

And that truth soon came home again, in a horrible way, when a fire swept through several floors of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory near Washington Square Park. A new technology, the telegraph, broadcast the news all over the world.

The fire forced many of the factory workers onto ledges far above the street. And then, many of them were forced to jump, with their hair and clothes in flames, holding each other's hands, down to the hard pavement below.

Inspired by the "Uprising of the Twenty Thousand," a worldwide conference of socialist women declared in 1911 that from now on March 8 would be honored as International Women's Day. Year after year, it was honored in more and more countries, with strikes, marches and celebrations.


It is now almost a hundred years later. How many women are still sentenced to this kind of life? How often are young women still treated as worthless?

On our planet today, sweatshop working conditions and slave wages can be found everywhere. Literally millions of women and girls are bought and sold each day in a capitalist free market of prostitution and sexual abuse. And for virtually every woman on the planet, every new day comes with a fear of rape. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. There is, for far too many, a daily reality of beating and sexual abuse--for the most part committed by men who know their victims personally.

As Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP, has said, "The oppression of women, on the greatest scale and down to the most personal and intimate detail, is an everyday fact of life under the present order. In personal family relations, and everywhere in society, women--even those of the propertied and financially well- off classes--are continually subjected to insult, threats, abuse, degradation, and brutality at the hands of men. They are virtually treated as property themselves--as commodities to be bought and sold and to be used to sell other commodities. Male supremacist domination and oppression of women is not only an everyday fact of life--it is a foundation stone of capitalism and of all systems where one section of society dominates and exploits others. And therefore it is woven into the fabric of society and the dominant culture--in religious-based `traditional morality' as well as in the flagrant sexual plunder of pornography and prostitution." (from "Why Only Proletarian Revolution Can Liberate Women")

Women have been struggling for thousands of years against these chains of oppression. And yet, here we are, this far along in the game, right here in the 21st century, and life is still filled with these same horrors. And right now, the Christian fascist forces in this country have gained great strength. And make no mistake about it: these people want to plunge this country, and the world, into a new high-tech Dark Ages.

"In some significant ways, what was written 150 years ago in the Communist Manifesto, concerning the consequences of unfettered bourgeois commodity relations, is assuming a pronounced expression among sections of the U.S. population in the context of today's `post-Cold War' world capitalism. The following phrases from the Manifesto have a particular and powerful resonance: `the bourgeoisie, wherever it has gotten the upper hand...has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous "cash payment." It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of Philistine sentimentalism in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value.... In a word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.' There is a great irony here: the very `triumph' and `triumphalism' of capitalism in today's circumstances has produced effects and sentiments which tend to undermine, among significant sections of the U.S. population, the willingness to make personal sacrifices for `god and country'-- that is, for the interests and requirements of the imperial ruling class, within the U.S. itself and in the world arena. In reaction to this, the `conservatives,' with the Christian Right playing a decisive role, are attempting to revive and impose precisely `the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of Philistine sentimentalism'--to resurrect a situation where worldwide exploitation that is unsurpassed in its brutality is at the same time `veiled by religious and political illusions.' " (From "The Truth About Right-Wing Conspiracy...And Why Clinton and the Democrats Are No Answer" by Bob Avakian, RW #983, November 22, 1998 )

Life for women is so intense and stressful already and these fundamentalists want to take back much of the ground that women have gained through hundreds of years of struggle.

Just think about this: the president of Harvard University, Lawrence Summers, recently stood up at a conference of academics and argued that the reason women are so rarely represented in the top levels of scientific research is, at least in part, because women inherently do not have the same aptitude for scientific and mathematical thinking. Think about what that means! It means that ancient and utterly unscientific arguments about the inferiority of women have still not been defeated, even in the "halls of higher learning"!

Or this: Thirty years after abortion was legalized in the United States, this basic right of women is still under siege. And worse: the most reactionary and anti-women forces in the society now smell victory for their cause.. And they expect this president to push through the recriminalization of abortion. They hope to soon see doctors going to prison for helping women end unwanted pregnancies.

So the question burns in our minds: Is this the way it has to be? Is half of humanity doomed to an existence filled with fear, violence, and hatred? Or is something else, something much better and much more liberating possible? Or is the question of women's liberation just "off the map"?


"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

In the 19th century, Charles Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities, set against the world history conflict of the French Revolution.

And today you could say we are living through the tale of two epistemologies- -two radically different ways of looking at reality and the world.

What is the truth?

Women need the truth, in this world of lies.

Women need to understand the roots of their oppression, the roots of patriarchy. For centuries, women have been treated as a piece of property, as an object. It is a history as old as classes and as deep and horrific as anything you can imagine.

Women need to know that this is rooted in the social and economic systems that organize their lives.

And more: They need to know the potential for them and the potential for humanity to overthrow this current system of exploitation.

And we all need to see the ways that potential is coming forward within capitalism today. When we look at the sweep of human history we can see that two centuries ago a new class emerged which Marx recognized as having the potential for leading humanity to transform all of society--to make two radical ruptures, freeing the planet from all traditional property relations and all enslaving and unscientific ideas.

This propertyless class of workers, which communists call "the proletariat," cannot free itself without freeing all of humanity, and so with the emergence of this proletariat in history there emerges, for the first time, the possibility of the final and complete historic emancipation of women.

In this historic process, the proletariat as a class needs to both unite with, lead and learn from different class and social forces throughout society. It is going to be extremely complex and multi-layered. Women's oppression is rooted in the underlying economic foundation of society, but this cannot be viewed in a narrow--or "economist" way--since the ideas contending in society and the social relations and political relations play a profound and initiating role in changing the status quo. Through proletarian revolution, a new historic process can unfold--that can draw in the creative potential of millions of people, to remake society and humanity itself. Creative, artistic and intellectual innovation will propel this process forward.

We have a whole wave of proletarian revolutions--from the Paris Commune of 1871, where women fought in the trenches and reenvisioned society . to the Soviet Union, where the blood of women and communists was shed as women threw off their veils and age-old feudal and tribal oppression as part of the first socialist country on the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in Maoist China, where a whole generation of women had grown up in a country where they did not look at themselves (nor did the men) as defined by gender first and foremost, and women were giving leadership to an unprecedented "revolution within the revolution." (See "Subway Dreams on International Women's Day," by Osage Bell, RW #1231, March 7, 2004) And yet these revolutions did not go far enough and had real shortcomings--and the new generation is challenged to go further.

And today, at the very moment we are haunted by a new Dark Ages mentality in the ruling class, the communist project is going through a Renaissance, as Bob Avakian has reimagined the process of proletarian revolution and developed the science of communism that we call Marxism-Leninism-Maoism--a science that enables us to understand reality in its motion and development and change things on that basis. Grappling with the difficult contradictions of getting from this oppressive world to a liberated one, Avakian is putting those contradictions forward for us all to struggle over. And in the process of struggling out these questions, we have to find the truth wherever it may lie. He is re-envisioning what the leadership of this historic class has to look like--the relationship of the communist revolutionaries to artists, scientists and different sections of the people--and a whole method and approach for resolving these contradictions that he calls the "solid core with a lot of elasticity." (See "Dictatorship and Democracy, and the Socialist Transition to Communism," in RW #1250-1264, August 22, 2004 to January 16, 2005. Also available online at

And based on this new vision, we understand that the irrepressible desire for the emancipation of women will continue to be a powerful motor for revolutionary change in the world--until finally we have moved beyond the time in history where half of humanity suffers because of their sex.

Emancipating the world is going to be very wrenching. But it's also going to be very interesting, and liberating.

And all of this is an important truth that women, and men too, need to know.

Think of the Uprising of the Twenty Thousand and those factory women of Triangle Shirtwaist. Think of how important it is to see their struggle and their suffering as part of this historic fight for a new world!

What will it mean if the factory women of today, trapped in the same horrific conditions, see this possibility and necessity for a whole revolution and for bringing into being a whole different kind of system? A system that is not founded on and rooted in the exploitation of human labor and degradation of women. A system where there is intense and conscious struggle to overcome the deep inequalities and divisions between men and women.

What would it mean for a young girl today--just getting interested in boys, just starting to feel pressure not to raise her hand in math class--to see these things? What would it mean for her to know that her abilities counted for something or for her to be encouraged to develop her interests and strengths?

So many girls are shut down, pushed out, turned away from so many pursuits, told to hide their artistic, intellectual and athletic talents, to focus on pleasing and attracting boys--and then are accused of being inadequate or inferior.

And what would it mean for us all, if such girls saw the truth--that this is the weight of ancient oppression pushing down on them, a weight they can resist and overthrow together with others? What would it mean to a new generation of women and humanity's future?

And look at the lives of so many women, the millions of working poor, the single mothers, the many struggling to make ends meet. Look at how their world is put in turmoil by just the chance they might be pregnant. Think of how many sit holding that plastic stick in front of them, hoping against hope that it's not positive.

Imagine how important it is to be able to make a conscious and rational choice, not weighed down by some superstition. Imagine what it would mean if many more women got a chance to understand scientifically how a fetus develops as part of a woman's body.

And what would it mean for a whole generation of women, the teenagers and 20- somethings of this country, to really understand, objectively, how important their right to abortion is to their most fundamental control over their own lives? For them to see what they will lose if this right is stolen--by hangmen in judges' robes and empire-builders at the heights of power. And for them to join together to fight for their lives and liberation.


Women need the truth about all this. And men need those truths as well.

In the original Dark Ages, women were forced into a position of utter submission to their husbands and the patriarchy in general--and even persecuted as witches and burned at the stake if they stepped out of their assigned roles.

Women and men need to know the extreme dangers that loom ahead of us, and the fact that this is not the only possible future for humanity. They need to know the analysis that Bob Avakian has been bringing forward about the Christian fascists in this country, where they come from and where they're on their way to taking things. We need to look at the deep contradictions that exist for these forces and how deeply this country is polarized around what they're trying to bludgeon into being. We need to struggle for a different kind of polarization, that can actually stop this whole juggernaut and even wrench a radically different kind of future out of these times. (See "The Pyramid of Power And the Struggle to Turn This Whole Thing Upside Down," RW #1231, March 7, 2004 and online talks "Elections, Democracy, and Dictatorship, Resistance and Revolution," "Christianity and Society--The Old Testament and The New Testament--Resistance and Revolution," and "God Doesn't Exist and We Need Liberation Without Gods," downloadable audio files at

The fire that burns deep within women, the fire that will not accept any degrading role and that tells us that this is not the way things have to be, needs to be taken to a whole new level--with a clear, sweeping and scientific sense of where we stand in history and what we can wrench out of today's bitterness.

Women do not have to accept being treated like property in any way. They need a chance to play a powerful role in the transformation of all society, to be full participants and leaders of this struggle to liberate all of humanity, and to liberate themselves in the process.

Break the Chains!

Unleash the Fury of Women as a Mighty Force for Revolution!