From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya
Editor’s note: The first International Women’s Day was observed 100 years ago in March 1911. This year also marks the 32nd anniversary of the historic demonstration in Tehran, Iran, on International Women’s Day, March 8, 1979. On that day, women and supporters braved Islamic Guards and thugs allied with the new government headed by Ayatollah Khomeini. The marchers demanded that the revolution, forged by the masses, continue and include freedom for women. As a philosophic contribution to furthering the revolution, Iranian Marxist-Humanists translated and published several writings by Raya Dunayevskaya. Two of her writings from that time are excerpted here.
The first selection is from her 1980 pamphlet, 25 Years of Marxist-Humanism in the U.S.: A History of Worldwide Revolutionary Developments. The second is a letter to her colleagues in News and Letters Committees in 1979, reprinted in her book, Women’s Liberation and the Dialectic of Revolution: Reaching for the Future. Both are available from News and Letters–contact us for a copy.
Sept. 5, 1980
Nothing short of a shift in global powers climaxed the period 1977-79, from the reverberations of post-Mao China, through the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa and the Latin American revolts, to the struggles of the Iranian masses against the Shah, which assumed such mass proportion as to develop into outright revolution.
At its very beginning I had been working on a new book, the topic of which has three subjects. One is Rosa Luxemburg; the second is the relationship of Women’s Liberation in her time and ours; and the third is Marx’s philosophy of revolution, which had gained a new dimension with the first transcription of Marx’s Ethnological Notebooks. I no sooner had reached the first chapter on Rosa Luxemburg, which deals with the turning point in her life–the 1905-07 Russian-Polish Revolution–than all sorts of new facts about its extension into Persia illuminated the Iranian struggles of 1978. At the same time, Marx’s Ethnological Notebooks cast new illumination on the philosophy of Women’s Liberation as it extended Marx’s own 1844 analysis of the Man/Woman relationship to his 1881-82 analyses of the possibility of revolutions occurring in backward countries.
The overthrow of the Shah, and with it the undermining of U.S. imperialism’s dominance of the Gulf region, not only opened a dramatic shift in global power, but for the first time moved the question of the Middle East from oil to one of social revolution. What was most outstanding was that the greatest, most powerful and sustained mobilizations for months on end, including a general strike of oil workers, preceded the three-day insurrection of Feb. 9-12, 1979, which did indeed initiate a whole new epoch in world relations.
EVERY SEGMENT OF THE POPULATION had been totally involved in ridding Iran of its twin nemeses–the Shah and U.S. imperialism–and it seemed to be the eve of the greatest revolution since 1917. The workers who had been out on general strike refused to turn over their guns even when the Ayatollah Khomeini commanded it. All sorts of spontaneous organizations arose, by no means limited to former guerrilla groups. Quite the contrary. There were shoras [councils or soviets], there were workers’ councils, there were anjomans [associations]. And in all of them youth were dominant.
There was no end to the freedom of the press and the great attraction for the student youth of new Marxist translations. The most eagerly sought-after of the Marxist groups were those who were independent of any state power. The most persistent fighters for self-determination were also the most organized, and were not only the Kurds but also the Arabs. Because they were all part of the mass revolutionary outburst which overthrew the Shah, they felt confident in continuing the fight for genuine self-determination.
Finally, and by no means least, the Women’s Liberation Movement aimed at opening up a new chapter for the revolution. They were involved for five days, beginning on International Women’s Day, March 8, 1979, in continuous marches under the slogan, “We made the revolution for freedom and got unfreedom.”
AYATOLLAH KHOMEINI NO SOONER found himself in total power than contradictions began tearing the newly liberated nation apart. The emergent retrogression was analyzed in the March 1979 Political-Philosophic Letter, “Iran: Unfoldment of, and Contradictions in, Revolution.” This critique was translated and published in Farsi, as were my writings on Women’s Liberation in a pamphlet entitled Woman as Reason and Force of Revolution, which also included an article on women by Rosa Luxemburg and Ding Ling’s Thoughts on March 8. The introduction to the series of essays was written by an Iranian Marxist-Humanist woman, Neda.
All through 1979 and indeed a good part of 1980 there was hardly an issue of N&L which did not have either eyewitness reports on the Iranian Revolution, letters from Iran, special articles on both the women’s revolution and the fundamentalist Islamic betrayal of it, as well as serious articles on what type of organization, what type of shoras, what kind of relationships of religion to revolution….
Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution greatly illuminated the events of 1979 and 1980. History had paid little attention to the 1905 Russian Revolution’s extension to Persia referred to earlier, though especially the women’s anjoman was a true historic first. Suddenly, however, another element of that revolution in Persia–its first constitution–became a focal point for the 1979 Iranian Revolution. But what the Islamic fundamentalists meant by it and what the young revolutionaries related to, were absolute opposites.
The Left revolutionaries were studying and trying to practice the dialectics of the 1905-07 Russian Revolution, Luxemburg’s analysis of the General Strike as both political and economic and thus bringing on the revolution, the call for women’s liberation included in Luxemburg’s manifestos, and above all, the focus on the spontaneity of the masses who were actually more revolutionary than the leaders. What the study also showed was the possibility of a revolution bursting out in a technologically backward country ahead of one that was not only technologically advanced, but one that had a great mass Social Democratic party.
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March 10, 1979
On my way to the talk in celebration of International Women’s Day, that I was to give at Wayne State University on “Rosa Luxemburg and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution,” came the news of the most magnificent international event: tens of thousands of Iranian women were demonstrating against Khomeini, shouting, “We fought for freedom and got unfreedom!” Naturally, I began the talk with an homage to those Iranian women’s liberationists who had, with this act, initiated the second chapter of the Iranian Revolution. Thus, my very first sentence stressed the todayness that this mass outpouring had placed on our topic, though it was to begin with rolling back the clock to 62 years ago, when the Russian working women transformed International Women’s Day into the first of the five days that toppled the centuries-old Tsarist Empire.
The point was not only to single out great revolutionary acts, but to demonstrate that even in the first Russian Revolution of 1905, a great theoretician, Rosa Luxemburg, was as “shortchanged” about her thoughts as were the Russian working women, en masse, who were later to be played down as allegedly “unconscious” about their historic act which began the second Russian Revolution. Toward that end, I read from the still-unpublished speech of Rosa at the famous 1907 Congress of all Russian Marxist tendencies, which pointed to the fact that 1905 was but the first of a series of 20th-century revolutions….
I SPENT THE FOLLOWING DAY, March 9, talking with an Iranian male revolutionary, developing ideas not only of the revolution but how we must be prepared for the counter-revolution that is sure to arise in Iran as Khomeini holds on to power and gathers not only men but some women to consent to turning back the clock to Islam’s reactionary viewpoint on women–and by no means only on the question of dress; and I singled out the historic points in the development of the Russian Revolution, which moved from the February events through Lenin’s April Theses to Kornilov’s July counter-revolution, and only after many laborious and bloody months arrived finally at October. In a word, we were discussing my next Political-Philosophic Letter on the Iranian Revolution.
March 10 was still a newer day when, but half an hour before the Iranian’s plane left, I came up with the idea of translating into Farsi Ding Ling’sThoughts on March 8. The publication would carry also the following message of solidarity with the Iranian women of today, stretching back to 1908 on native grounds:
“In Spring 1908–when the 1906 Constitutional Revolution everyone is talking about today was still alive, and a women’s anjoman was still most active, especially in Tehran–New York garment workers declared March 8 to be Women’s Day. The following year, in support of the locked-out Triangle Shirtwaist makers, the mass outpouring became known as the ‘Uprising of the 20,000’; that so inspired the German working women’s movement that its leader, Clara Zetkin, proposed to the Marxist International that March 8 become an International Women’s Day. Today, you–the daring women of Iran–have opened a new chapter in the Iranian Revolution of 1979. In homage to you, and to express our solidarity with your ongoing revolution, we are here translating the thoughts of still another opponent of the status quo, this time in China–Ding Ling, who opposed both Stalin and Mao (who purged the great writer), as she expressed herself creatively in Thoughts on March 8.”
The friend who volunteered to do the translation felt that, indeed, the simple act of translation would thus express a totally new Man/Woman relationship….
1. Lawrence Krader transcribed Marx’s Notebooks, which were published in 1972 under the title, The Ethnological Notebooks of Karl Marx, by Van Gorcum, Assen.
2. The letter, “Iran: Unfoldment of, and Contradiction in, Revolution,” is also included in Women’s Liberation and the Dialectics of Revolution. The Political-Philosophic Letters mentioned on this page are part of the Selected Writings on the Middle East by Raya Dunayevskaya; see Appeal on opposite page.–Editor
3. Ding Ling was a Chinese revolutionary whose 1942 Thoughts on March 8 criticized the cruel sexism within Mao’s Communist Party, including its leadership. She was later purged.–Editor
4. Interestingly enough, there was also a new interest in and new translations of Luxemburg’s writings. We published the first translation ever of herTheory and Practice, by David Wolff [Available from News and Letters]
5. Luxemburg’s speech and a discussion of women in the 1905 Russian Revolution can be found in Dunayevskaya’s Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991).–Editor
6. Dunayevskaya’s Dec. 17, 1979, Political-Philosophic Letter, “Not So Random Thoughts on: What Is Philosophy? What Is Revolution? 1789-1793; 1848-1850; 1914-1919; 1979,” includes a dialectical view of the different stages revolutions pass through, whether Russia 1917 or Iran 1979. It was excerpted in the Oct. 2001 N&L. Gen. Lavr Kornilov led the July 1917 counter-revolution in Russia.–Editor