Rebel Youth presents 10 biographies of revolutionary women!
“The idea of freedom is inspiring. But what does it mean? If you are free in a political sense but have no food, what’s that? The freedom to starve?”
Angela Davis first became involved in the black liberation and communist movements in the late 1960s as a professor at the University of California Los Angeles. As an outspoken critic of US imperialism and white supremacy, Davis was targeted for persecution and was imprisoned in 1970 on charges of murder and kidnapping. After a massive mobilization across the world demanded her freedom, Davis was acquitted in 1972. She has continued her political work to this day, as well as pioneering theoretical work on the relationship between race, class, and gender and on incarceration. Lefties today are sometimes still spotted sporting a nostalgic ‘Free Angela!’ button.
Read more: Angela Davis: An Autobiography
Watch: Free Angela and All Political Prisoners
La Pasionaria (Dolores Ibárruri)
“The fascists shall not pass. ¡No Pasaran!”
Spanish communist Dolores Ibárruri, better known as La Pasionaria, lived up to her name through her passionate speeches and the energy and enthusiasm with which she threw herself into mobilizing popular support for the Spanish Republic and against Franco’s fascists. In the process, she came to be a symbol of anti-fascist resistance to both Spaniards and foreigners alike. During the Spanish Civil War La Pasionaria was an articulate inspiration to the communists as well as a fierce opponent of the fascists. Exiled from Spain following the war she finally returned in 1977 to the great joy of many Spanish people.
Read more: ¡Comrades! Portraits from the Spanish Civil War;
They Shall Not Pass: the Autobiography of La Pasionaria
“Tell El Commandante I will fulfill the mission no matter how long it takes.”
Tania was born Tamara Bunke in Argentina to exiled German communist parents. In the 1950s her family returned to the GDR, where she worked for the Free German Youth and the World Federation of Democratic Youth. After meeting Che Guevara in 1960, Bunke moved to Cuba, where she participated in the literacy campaign as well as other revolutionary efforts. She was selected to participate in Che’s attempt to launch armed struggle in Bolivia, where she operated as an undercover agent for several years. Her loyalty to the struggle was unwavering despite having to cut almost all ties with her friends and family in order to safely complete her mission. Tania was one of the last surviving members of the guerrilla group when she was killed by the Bolivian army in August, 1967.
Read more: Tania: Undercover with Che Guevara in Bolivia
“There was enthusiasm and a fighting spirit in the Dressmakers’ Union. Girls in their ‘teens, women past middle age, all enthusiastically worked together to build their union. It was truly theirs, for they were in on all deliberations… recognized for the first time in their working lives as human beings who had a purpose in life and who were part of a great movement.”
Annie Buller was a leading member of the Communist Party of Canada and a militant organizer who travelled the country in the 1920s and 30s organizing mineworkers, dressmakers, and other sectors of the working class into unions. Jailed twice for several years as part of government repression of communists, Buller was never discouraged from her deep conviction that Canada would see a socialist future. Throughout her life Buller also worked to organize the unemployed, campaigned against fascism and later the Vietnam War, and worked to build left wing and labour publications in Canada. A police report apparently described her as “a very powerful speaker; very well liked. Dangerous agitator.”
Read more: Raising the Workers’ Flag: The Workers’ Unity League of Canada, 1930-1936; She Never Was Afraid: The Biography of Annie Buller
“What I stand for is the… ideal of a worker’s republic.”
Nicknamed the ‘rebel countess’, this fighter for Irish independence was atypical given that she was born into an Anglo-Irish family of aristocrats. Rejecting the path set out for her at birth and deeply affected by the poverty she encountered in Dublin slums, Markievicz threw her hat in with socialist trade unionist James Connolly and his Irish Citizen Army. She is perhaps best remembered for her role in the 1916 Easter Rising after which she was sentenced to death along with the other leaders of the movement, although her sentence was commuted because she was a woman.
Read more: Terrible Beauty: A Life of Constance Markievicz
“Your ‘order’ is built on sand. Tomorrow the revolution will rise up again, clashing its weapons, and to your horror it will proclaim with trumpets blazing: I was, I am, I shall be!”
Born a few days before the proclamation of the Paris Commune and dead just a year after the October Revolution, Rosa Luxemburg’s life punctuated a great historical period. Throughout her life she dedicated her energies, capacities and intellectual powers to the goal of world socialist revolution. A leading intellectual and theorist as well as an active member of the Polish and then German left, Luxemburg eventually broke with the German left over their support for the First World War. She was one of the founders of the Spartacus League, which became the German Communist Party, and was a leader of the 1919 general strike and uprising. Jailed twice and eventually murdered by a right-wing paramilitary group, Luxemburg paid the ultimate price for her convictions.
Read more: Rosa Luxemburg Speaks
“Remember me as a revolutionary communist.”
Leslie Feinberg helped transform understandings of gender both on the left and in society at large as the author of one of the first novels to deal with the experiences of trans people, Stone Butch Blues, and as a tireless activist for trans liberation. Feinberg became a communist in the late 1960s and participated in struggles against imperialist war, for black liberation, workers’ rights, women’s rights, and more. Feinberg gained a reputation as an extraordinarily hardworking organizer, who believed passionately in the inseparable connections between the struggles of all oppressed people.
Read more: Lavender and Red; LGBT Struggle: An Essential Working Class Struggle; Stone Butch Blues
Nguyen Thi Binh
“It is the duty for all Vietnamese to help each other in the fight against the foreign aggressors for the independence of the country and for peace.”
Nguyen Thi Binh, who became known around the world as Madame Binh, became involved in the Vietnamese revolution in the 1940s during the struggle against the French. She joined the communist party and became a senior diplomat. Binh represented the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam during years of difficult negotiations with the United States, and was one of the signatories of the Paris Peace Accord that finally ended America’s war on Vietnam. After the war, Binh continued to serve Vietnam, as Foreign Minister, Minister of Education, and eventually Vice-president of the country.
Read more: Family, Friend and Country: Nyugen Thi Binh’s Memoir
“I count myself an African, and there is no cause I hold dearer.”
The child of communist parents, Ruth First was part of the small minority of white South Africans who fought against the Apartheid regime. First was imprisoned repeatedly for her activity, including a period of detention without charge lasting 117 days, during which she was tortured. After her release she continued to participate in the anti-apartheid struggle from exile in Britain and several African countries. In 1982, First was assassinated by South African intelligence.
Read more: Ruth First and Joe Slovo in the War Against Apartheid
The Cuban Revolutionaries
Vilma Espin, Celia Sanchez, Melba Hernandez, Haydee Santamaria
“I was not born a guerilla or a revolutionary, for sure. But I knew… the Cuban peasants would follow me if they felt we had a chance against Batista. I had to show them we had a chance.” – Celia Sanchez
Each of the four women most associated with the triumph of the Cuban Revolution has a fascinating and inspiring story. Haydee Santamaria and Melba Hernandez were early converts to the struggle, both participating in the famed July 26th attack on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago, the action which inspired the name of the young revolutionary movement. After the revolution, Haydee devoted herself to developing and promoting the world-renowned Cuban culture, founding the Casa de Las Americas. Vilma Espin was a chemical engineer and ballet dancer born into a wealthy family. As a young woman she acted as messenger between sections of the revolutionary movement in Mexico and Cuba, and post-revolution she was responsible for founding the Federation of Cuban Women, which works to advance the position of women in Cuban society. Celia Sanchez was a leading guerilla soldier who devoted the rest of her life to building Cuban socialism and preserving the historical records of the Revolution. The beautiful and expansive Parque Lenin in Havana was developed for the enjoyment of the Cuban people under her direction and a memorial statue at its entrance honours her memory.