I love this pamphlet. It is a fascinating subject; 13 unknown revolutionary women, their story of how they not only fought for their own emancipation but led other revolutionary struggles.
Revolutionary Women was produced by the Anarchist Federation who not only want to prove that anarchism and women’s liberation are two sides of a coin, but that very often, and not just in the anarchist movement, women have had to fight their own male comrades to achieve equality.
I was fascinated to find out about Mancunian, Clara Gilbert Cole, (1868-1956) . She worked as a postal worker and married artist Herbert Cole. Clara and Herbert were involved with suffragism and he went onto become staff artist at the Women’s Social and Political Union.
Clara took part in some of the most important campaigns of her age. She opposed the First World War, founded a League against War and Conscription in 1915 and was imprisoned for five months for distributing anti-war leaflets.
In the 1920s she was involved with the unemployed movement and was arrested again. Clara became an anarchist, supporting the Spanish Civil war. Throughout her life she wrote poems, anti-war articles and was fervently anti-religion.
Maria Roda was born in Como in the Lombardy region of Italy in 1877. Her father was an anarchist and she went to work in the local mills as a teenager.
At the age of 15 years old along with comrade Ernesta Quartirola aged 14, she organised a strike in a mill for which she was imprisoned for three months. It was not the first nor last time she was imprisoned for her actions and beliefs. Eventually, with her father and sister, she moved to the USA and was involved with organising textile workers in Paterson and wrote for their newspaper “La Questione Sociale”. Maria founded an anarchist women’s group called Gruppo Emancipazione della Donna (Women’s Emancipation Group) in 1897.
The group linked up with other women’s groups in the USA and internationally discussing issues about how women could be equal comrades whilst taking part in the workers and anarchist movement. And, if that was not enough, Maria lived with comrade Pedro Esteve, had eight children, and continued to work in the silk mills and was an activist all her life.
Reading this pamphlet reminds me of the phrase: “ordinary women leading extraordinary lives”. One of the most unusual stories is about Japanese woman, Ita Noe (1895-1923). She was born into the landed aristocracy , but ran away after being forced into an arranged marriage.
Ito moved to the more progressive Tokyo and at age 18 joined the Seitosha (Blue Stocking Society) and went onto become an editor of their magazine. Ito spoke several languages, and translated the articles of anarchist Emma Goldman about women’s struggles.
She chose to live in an open relationship with anarchist Osugi Sakae which led to the couple being attacked by the media and to divisions amongst their comrades.
Ito went onto found the socialist women’s group Sekirankai in 1921. A prolific writer, she produced articles, as well translating the work of European anarchists and writing several autobiographical novels.
But after the birth of her seventh child in 1923 an earthquake hit Japan and killed thousands of people. The authorities used the situation to blame the anarchists for the chaos and murdered anarchist and socialist militants. Ito and her partner Osugi and his six year old nephew were beaten and strangled by the secret police in September 1923. They were not alone as being an anarchist in Japan at that time meant the chances of being killed by the state were high.
Revolutionary Women is an inspiring read. Not just because of the fascinating history of anarchist women but also because it’s well written and presented. If we are to convince people that grassroots politics is for them, and not just for a political class, then pamphlets like this are crucial to convincing people that they can make the changes to create a fairer society. And at £2 a copy it is accessible to everyone!
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