Women’s Day, Lenin and a riot in Copenhagen

6 03 2007


Newspapers for the past few days have 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 organised by the Second International in 1910 in this building the German communist Clara Zetkin proposed organising 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 19th March 1911 was decided upon as the date for holding the first International Women’s Day. Alexandra Kollontai tells us that 19th March 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 19th March 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.

Similar protests by working class women had blossomed in America where women had started commemorating the path-breaking strike by women textile workers of New York City which took place on 8th March 1857. In 1913 it was decided to change the date of the Women’s Day to 8th March and it has since remained so.

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 (8th March) fell on 23rd February by the old Julian calender 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 inter national 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!


I just realised that this has been published by CounterPunch! That’s exciting….

Since this post was first put up here, it has been published all over the world! Now I am world famous in blogistan! Its been posted on the History News Network, by the Communist University of South Africa and on a website which is completely Greek to me! Its also been linked to various blogs and news/views feeders.

~~  ~~  ~~

This article was written from information I gathered while writing a three part series in my weekly column in The Post, Lahore, in March 2007. Those three articles are titled

Are Men and Women Equal? Part I, Part II, Part III.

~~  ~~  ~~            ~~  ~~  ~~




10 responses

6 03 2007
amit misra

Nitpick: (definite) article preceding a proper noun on line 3 paragraph 2.
Otherwise: A bit of a dilemma. Does a socialist need to preserve historical reminders of past struggles, or is constant renewal a more leftward option?

6 03 2007
Aniket Alam

oops! for the first point… will correct it immediately, though it may be quite a Freudian slip considering what communists have made Lenin into…

As for your second point, constant renewal is not just an option but a given. The point still remains that there is a difference between forgetting and moving on….

7 03 2007

I didn’t know Women’s Day had a strong historical past,..i thought it was celebrated to gratify womanhood.

9 03 2007

i read this piece earlier and came back to it again yesterday seeking reaffirmation of the spirit behind women’s day after being flooded with advertisements for diamonds, candlelight dinners and what not…

9 03 2007

The post reminds me of a remark Eric Hobsbawm made in Age of Extremes:
“The distruction of the past, or rather of the social mechanisms that link one’s contemporary experiences to that of earlier generations, is one of the most characteristic and eerie phenomena of the late twentieth century. Most young men and women at the century’s end grow up in a sort of permanent present lacking any organic relation to the public past of the times they live in…. For historians of my generation, the past is indestructible…because we belong to the generation when streets and public places were named after men and events.”
(Eric Hobswam, Age of Extremes, Viking, 1994)

11 03 2007
Sakyajit Bhattacharya

I would like to draw attention to the collection of Lenin’s writing on women’s liberation movement.Different articles have been published over 20 years,from 1899 to 1923.

6 09 2007
Clara Zetkin and Women’s Day at Blogbharti

[…] Aniket Alam writes on the controversy surrounding a historical building that once hosted Vladmir Illich Lenin and the association of this building with the great woman socialist leader Clara Zetkin. At an international conference of working women organised by the Second International in 1910 in this building the German communist Clara Zetkin proposed organising 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), Linked by bhupinder. Join Blogbharti facebook group. Do you know you can follow Blogbharti in Facebook? […]

30 03 2009

Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language 😉
See you!
Your, Raiul Baztepo

7 04 2010

thanks Aniket for this wonderful post

9 03 2014
nina rao

nice reminder

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