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Women’s Day, Lenin and a Riot in Copenhagen

For the past few days the European press has been carrying reports of riots and firefights between anarchist squatters and police in Copenhagen, Denmark over control of a 19th century building now called the Ungdomshuset or “youth house”. It appears that this municipal building was given to young people in the 1970s and since then has been the site for a vibrant “alternative” youth culture in Copenhagen.

The Guardian makes a brief mention of the fact that this building was constructed by the Danish labour movement in the last years of the 19th century and hosted Vladimir Lenin. We’ll come to that later, but what is most interesting, ironic even, for me is that two days before International Women’s Day the building where this idea was first conceived is being pulled down.

At an international conference of working women organized by the Second International in 1910 in this building the German Communist Clara Zetkin proposed organizing meetings and demonstrations in all countries on one day to highlight the slogan “The vote for women will unite our strength in the struggle for socialism”. She later explained the idea of an International Women’s Day in Die Gliecheit (Equality):

“In agreement with the class-conscious, political and trade union organizations of the proletariat of their respective countries, the Socialist women of all countries will hold each year a Women’s Day, whose foremost purpose it must be to aid the attainment of women’s suffrage. This demand must be handled in conjunction with the entire women’s question according to Socialist precepts. The Women’s Day must have an international character and is to be prepared carefully.”

This proposal was accepted by an overwhelming majority of those present and March 19, 1911 was decided upon as the date for holding the first International Women’s Day. Alexandra Kollontai tells us that March 19 was decided as it was on this day in 1848 that the King of Prussia agreed, in principle and in the face of intense working class revolts, to universal suffrage. This was, perhaps, the first time in history that a ruling class had agreed to give equal political rights to women. Kollontai, who was living in exile in Germany at that time, informs us on March 19, 1911:

“Germany and Austria on Working Women’s Day was one seething, trembling sea of women. This was certainly the first show of militancy by the working woman. Men stayed at home with their children for a change, and their wives, the captive housewives, went to meetings”

What many of us forget is that the Russian Revolution too started off with the demonstrations of International Women’s Day in 1917 St. Petersburg, where over 10,000 destitute working class women marched the cold, snow-bound streets to demand bread for their hungry children and the return of their men from the War. International Women’s Day (March 8) fell on February 23 by the old Julian calendar followed in Russia. Within days Moscow had joined this rebellion and the Tsar had to abdicate.

This unfortunate building in Copenhagen also hosted the Eighth Congress of the Second International (The International Socialist Congress In Copenhagen) from August 28 to September 3, 1910. It was attended by 896 delegates representing countries in Europe, North and South America, South Africa and Australia.

Five committees were set up for preliminary discussion and drafting of resolutions on various questions: co-operatives, trade unions, international solidarity, and unity of the trade union movement in Austria; the struggle against war; labour legislation and unemployment; miscellaneous, including socialist unity, capital punishment, Finland, Argentina, Persia, etc. Lenin was on the co-operative committee, one of the most important ones.

The resolution on the struggle against war–“Arbitration Courts and Disarmament”–confirmed the resolution of the Stuttgart Congress of 1907 on “Militarism and International Conflicts”, which included the amendments motioned by Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg, calling on the socialists of all countries to make use of the economic and political crisis caused by war to overthrow the bourgeoisie. The resolution of the Copenhagen Congress also bound the socialist parties and their representatives in parliaments to demand that their governments reduce armaments, and settle conflicts between states through arbitration courts, and urged the workers of all countries to stage protests against the threat of war.

Lenin held a conference of Left-wing Social-Democrats attending the Congress to rally the revolutionary Marxists in the international arena.

As the anarchists and police fight it out over control of this historic building, let us take time to remember the real earth shaking history that is associated with its bricks and mortar!

ANIKET ALAM can be reached at aniketalam@gmail.com
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