March 8: International Women's Day and the beginnings of the Red Scare
International Women’s Day
The early 20th century fostered a wave of women's movements, as they demanded equal economic, cultural and political power. International Women’s Day is observed on the same date that a pivotal strike took place in Russia in 1917.
On that day thousands of Russian women took to the streets demanding "Bread and Peace." There seem to be a fair number of scholars who see this event as the beginning of the Russian Revolution and the deposition of Tsar Nicholas.
A participant in that Revolution (on the Tsarist side) was an uneducated Siberian girl named Maria Bochkareva who, in 1914, asked for and received special permission from the Tsar to fight alongside the men in WWI. She was wounded at least twice and paralyzed for four months but was still ridiculed and sexually harassed by her male counterparts and had to prove her courage time and again. She mustered out in 1917 but was soon right back at it, organizing Russia’s first all-female battalion, called the "1st Russian Women’s Battalion Of Death." After the battalion disbanded she was captured by the Bolsheviks and sentenced to death.
Maria was rescued by one of her WWI comrades and quickly decamped for the United States, where she met with President Wilson, laid out her case for American support against the Bolsheviks, dictated her memoirs and moved on to Great Britain, where she made a similar pitch to King George. Then she returned to Russia, began to put together a women’s medical detachment for the White Army but was captured again by the Bolsheviks and, in 1920, at age 30, was executed as an "enemy of the working class," thus bearing out the old Thomas Hobbes quote about life being "brutish and short."
One might say that Maria Bochkareva was on the wrong side of history in the revolution but looking back through the lens of time it seems a bit irrelevant. After all, it’s not as if the Bolsheviks ended up lifting the peasantry out of poverty and misery. Ms. Bochkareva was a young woman with a goal. She had no connections and no education. The only power she had was her will power, which she pitted against a very hairy male hierarchy and got what she wanted. So, Maria Bochkareva, I salute you.
Washington state passes Un-American Activities Bill
And since we’re in the Red Scare wheelhouse:
This date in 1947 was a big one for the American Red Scare which lead to the infamous Joseph McCarthy senate House Un-American hearings in the early 1950s. You see, Washington state was well ahead of the curve on this one, conducting "name names" hearings in 1948, well in advance of Tail-Gunner Joe. The chairman was Spokane Republican representative (and, apparently McCarthy manqué), Albert Canwell. See the video below for a contemporaneous opinion of Mr. Canwell’s leadership.
The hearings focused on the Washington Pension Union, the Building Service Employees Union, Seattle Repertory Theatre and the University of Washington faculty. Which sounds about par for the course, doesn’t it. If you’re looking for people to accuse of communist ties, fish where the fish are—cast your nets among the unions, the arts and higher education.
The clip below contains a segment of a 1994 interview with Seattle civil rights attorney, John Cauglin. He was the attorney for at least one of the groups that the Canwell Commission had in its sights. These are his views on Representative Canwell and goals of the hearings.