IWD 2024 | ‘Down with war, forward with socialism!’

International Women’s Day 2024, 8 March, takes place in a world in turmoil. Since January, the conflict in the Middle East and horrifying onslaught on Gaza have intensified. The war in Ukraine is also showing no end in sight. The misery and brutality of war is set against a backdrop of global economic instability and crisis, with the working class hit hard by the rising cost of living globally.

Yet despair and desperation is only one half of the story. In the past 18 months, we have seen a new generation of working-class fighters, many of whom are women, playing a leading role in strike action across a number of countries.

We have also seen the emergence of a mass anti-war movement, with women at the forefront, coming out week after week along with hundreds of thousands of ordinary people across the world – to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people and calling for an end to the slaughter in Gaza.

International Women’s Day was founded with this spirit of internationalist workers’ solidarity, promoting from its origins the shared interests of workers of all countries, not the capitalist exploiters and warmongers.

It was launched by socialists and first held in 1911 as a day to both remember and build for the struggles of women workers. Historically, women workers celebrated ‘their day’ by participating in mass demonstrations, protests and strikes – a far cry from the corporate sponsored ‘official’ International Women’s Day of recent years.

International Women’s Day founders recognised – that the liberation of women is fundamentally linked to the need to get rid of capitalism, which not only perpetuates women’s oppression, but is also a system of war and conflict.

The founders also understood that, even though women at that time made up a minority of the workforce, overthrowing capitalism and building a new socialist society, based on the democratic control by the majority, would require a united struggle of workers of all genders. This required a conscious approach to organise and build socialist ideas among women.

Historically, a rallying point for International Women’s Day demonstrations has been resistance to war, occupation and national oppression, including within Palestine.

First Intifada

During what is known as the first Intifada (or ‘uprising’) beginning in 1987, Palestinian women played an active role organising marches, boycotts, and directly confronting Israeli soldiers. They also set up day centres to look after children, which stayed open late so women could participate in the demonstrations.

Their experience of the uprising demonstrated the potential power that a united movement would have in bringing about both national and gender-based liberation. At the 1988 International Women’s Day march, Palestinian women called for an independent state as a means of achieving their liberation.

However, women’s role was subsequently thrown back, with women later excluded from participation in demonstrations.

International Women’s Day has not been a focal point for struggle against national oppression and war because of some kind of so-called ‘natural’ tendency towards pacifism, but because of the impact that war and national oppression has on women.

A spotlight is shone on existing inequalities and oppression in periods of crisis.

Tragically, we see this disproportionate impact unfolding in Gaza now. Israel’s offensive within the densely populated Strip has resulted in women and children making up 70% of casualties.

Women are relied upon by the capitalist system to provide ‘free’ care for the very young and elderly. In wartime, this adds additional strains and risk. In Gaza, some women have been unable to flee areas because of their caring responsibilities for sick, disabled and elderly family members. Sexual violence is recognised as a tactic of war.

War and hunger

There is also the threat of starvation. Though this is particularly acute in Gaza due to the Israeli siege, as one of the founders of International Women’s Day, German Marxist Clara Zetkin, wrote in her manifesto against World War One: “The twin-sister of war is hunger”.

As the bombing devastates infrastructure and destroys food stores, women face the sharp end of being unable to provide enough food for their families, ultimately going without.

In the face of such devastation and brutality, it can be challenging to see a way out.

Yet even when confronted by the horrors of war, Clara Zetkin urged socialists, and in particular socialist women, to “fight for life”.

She argued then – as we do today – that socialism is the only path to peace. In a pamphlet that she was later imprisoned for, she wrote: “In the interests of their profits, they have fanned the hatred among the people, thus contributing to the outbreak of the war… Workers have nothing to gain from this war, but they stand to lose everything that is dear to them”.

Along with Rosa Luxemburg and others, she continued to fight for international socialism, appealing for international workers’ solidarity. They used International Women’s Day demonstrations as a rallying point for this message, even when large sections of both the women’s and socialist movement fell behind ‘their’ nations’ flags and supported the imperialist war.

February 1917

In 1917, a huge step toward peace was made when the women textile workers of Petrograd, Russia, downed tools on International Women Day and marched towards the Tsar’s palace, demanding bread and peace. The ‘February Revolution’ had begun.

Over two million Russian soldiers had died in the war and there were huge food shortages. Though these women faced armed troops, they persuaded them not to fire on the demonstrators but to join them.

In his writings on the Russian Revolution, Leon Trotsky comments on the bold role played by women, describing how women went “up to the cordons more boldly than men” and would take hold of soldier’s rifles, commanding them to “put down your bayonets; join us!”

They also called on male workers to join them. Within days, the Tsar was gone. Eight months later, the working class had taken power in the ‘October Revolution’, led by the Bolshevik Party.

Leading Bolshevik Alexandra Kollontai commented: “The 1917 Working Women’s Day has become memorable in history. On this day, the Russian women raised the torch of proletarian revolution and set the world on fire.”

Though it was women, because of the urgency of their situation, who “lit the fire”, it was the Bolshevik Party under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky that played the crucial role in translating the huge anger against capitalism and its warmongering leaders, into a strategy for taking power.

Trotsky put it, explaining the crucial role of a revolutionary party: “Without a guiding organisation, the energy of the masses would dissipate like steam not enclosed in a piston box. But nevertheless, what moves things is not the piston or the box, but the steam”.

The social, political and material position of women was dramatically transformed after the revolution. Women gained freedoms their counterparts in capitalist countries were years away from achieving, including the right to vote, equal pay for equal work, divorce, as well as the introduction of free nurseries and communal laundries.

In the West, women’s mobilisation in the workplace during the first and second world wars led to dramatic changes in how women saw their role in society. The struggle for women’s rights has since won important reforms, and in many ways improved social attitudes.


However, under capitalism, positive social changes and gains are ultimately constrained. Not least because capitalism is in crisis, unable to offer such gains on a permanent basis, but also because inequality and division are ingrained in the capitalist system. Capitalism is based on the exploitation of the majority by a minority.

To end sexism, misogyny and oppression we first need to end capitalism. Capitalism incorporated pre-existing gender inequality into its fabric to suit its economic and political interests and it continues to reproduce such division.

Bringing an end to the capitalist system requires a united class struggle of all workers – of all genders. It is even clearer today than it was 100 years ago, that it is impossible to transform society without the participation of women. Women now make up a large proportion of the global working class.

The working class is central to changing society because of the role it plays in the production and delivery of all the goods and services we need; because of that it can be unified by its common interests to exercise its strength against those of the capitalist exploiters.

By taking the big companies and banks into democratic public ownership, a plan of production can be developed to meet the needs of all. By taking all the levers of power out of the hands of the capitalist class and establishing working-class democratic control of society, the basis can be laid for the socialist transformation of society – and with it the start of the process of unpicking the historic foundations of women’s oppression. The genuine collaboration of socialist states internationally can bring an end to war for good.

This International Women’s Day, join us in the fight for a future, that is free from war, inequality, poverty, exploitation and oppression. As Zetkin declared in her manifesto, “down with war, forward with socialism”.