Lightly educated thought leaders, from Hollywood celebrities to corporate America, have joined with hashtag slacktivists to celebrate “International Women’s Day,” Thursday’s top trend on Twitter. Even the White House issued a statement to honor the day. Few, however, have mentioned International Women’s Day’s sordid past, perhaps because even a passing familiarity with the holiday’s history would cause most Americans to shun the celebration altogether.
The Socialist Party of America held the first Women’s Day demonstration in New York on February 28, 1909, at the urging of Socialist Party leader Theresa Serber Malkiel. The International Socialist Women’s Conference expanded the observance the following August to inaugurate the general meeting of the Socialist Second International. German socialist Luise Zietz, alongside communists Clara Zetkin and Kate Duncker, established the event as an annual Women’s Day, moving the date to March for the following year.
By 1917, Russian communists joined the festivities, which elevated International Women’s Day from a leftist eccentricity to the inciting event for the destruction of the twentieth century. On March 8, women textile workers launched a demonstration for “bread and peace” in the Russian capital of Petrograd. The agitated ladies demanded no less than the overthrow of the Russian constitutional monarchy, kicking off the Russian Revolution.
The demonstration’s enormous influence surprised even the most ambitious communists. Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky wrote of the event,
[March 8, according to the Gregorian calendar] was International Women’s Day, and meetings and actions were foreseen. But we did not imagine that this “Women’s Day” would inaugurate the revolution. Revolutionary actions were foreseen but without date. But in the morning, despite the orders to the contrary, textile workers left their factories and sent delegates to ask for support of the strike … which led to mass strike … all went out into the streets.
Czar Nicholas abdicated within a week.
A grateful Vladimir Lenin — if such a thing as a grateful communist exists — declared International Women’s Day an official state holiday following the success of the October Revolution. Chinese communists took up International Women’s Day in 1922 and officially recognized the holiday following their victory in the Chinese Civil War in 1949. Celebrations remained confined to communist dictatorships and their fellow travelers living in free countries until the United Nations adopted International Women’s Day in 1975. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
The Soviet Union continued to celebrate the holiday that initiated its empire throughout seven horrifying decades of communist rule as Stalin’s purges, famines, and deportations murdered 50 million Russian subjects; his pact with Hitler initiated World War II; Nikita Khrushchev’s belligerence nearly torched the world in nuclear holocaust; and the Kremlin enslaved one-sixth of the globe behind an Iron Curtain, to name the highlights.
There is a curious historical parallel that, just as the first woman plunged mankind from Edenic paradise, International Women’s Day condemned humanity to unprecedented horror in the twentieth century. But Americans don’t know much about history, and ours is not a curious culture.