What Antoinette Konikow Taught the Workers

From The Militant, Vol. X No. 28, 13 July 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Class Struggle

“The troubles of this world,” wrote Antoinette Konikow in the July 29, 1944 Militant, “we Socialists have always assured the workers, are not due to any conflict between the sexes – to a man’s world or a woman’s world. Poverty, disease, corruption, war, unemployment are due to economic causes; to the division of humanity into two classes: the boss class and the working class. Women, like men, belong to both classes, the possessing class and the dispossessed. Women of the rich class are generally satisfied with this world which gives them wealth, leisure and security...

“Housework is a stigma of poverty or near poverty. The poorer the family, the bigger the task of the wife and mother, since better wages for the husband gives her a chance to send out the laundry, to buy labor-saving devices, to indulge occasionally in a restaurant meal. No wonder that Hitler, who tried his best to keep women backward, proclaimed that church, kitchen and children are the women’s sphere!”

Comrade Konikow then pointed out the value of women going into industry: “Work in the factory opens the woman’s eyes. She knows now that her boss makes big profits out of her labor. She learns the lessons of the class struggle – and learns them in a shorter time than did her husband and other men workers. Women had to go through this same industrial schooling by which men learned, in order to understand the present system of living ...

“Capitalism created the working class, which is historically bound to overthrow capitalism ... In the Second World War, capitalism has brought forth an army of women wage earners, who previously had been far away from the battlefield of labor. Now women work side by side with men, women have joined the industrial army, women are due to become fighting members of the working class.”

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Leisure and Machines

How small machines like refrigerators, toasters, vacuum cleaners, automatic dishwashers, etc., lighten housework, was used by Antoinette Konikow to explain to “Mrs. Smith, my neighbor” how the vast machinery of the industrial system could give the workers more leisure and rest if they only possessed them.

“Mrs. Smith was quite amazed,” continued Comrade Konikow in the June 8, 1940 Militant. “The comparison of machines in the factory and at home had evidently never occurred to her. Then she sadly shook her head. ‘It sounds right, but machinery belongs to the bosses and they would never permit workers to use it that way?

“‘Well,’ was my answer, ‘the workers in Russia succeeded in getting all the factories and mines and transportation in their hands. True it did not work out as it should have been because workers of other countries did not follow their example. Also in Russia the workers were unable to stop a bureaucracy from grabbing power away from them. But the revolution in Russia proved it can be done and the experience of the workers there will teach the workers of the whole world how to avoid the mistakes made in Russia? ”

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Socialism and Housewives

In a Letter to Housewives, Antoinette Konikow wrote in the March 30, 1940, Militant: “After attaining workers’ power the first task to relieve women’s life would be the creation of nurseries, kindergartens and playgrounds in a sufficient number – here in the United States their number is deplorably small. The next would be the organization of cooperative lunch rooms to relieve mothers of their kitchen drudgery. Even then mothers would still have plenty of work left: taking care of smaller meals, keeping the house in order, taking care of clothing, entertaining or supervising the children out of school and nurseries, nursing children with minor illnesses. Yes, even under socialism the mother will have her 6–8 hour day of work.”

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Motherhood Without Fear

“Mothers! The sugar-coated gifts hide the bitter pill of the boss system,” wrote Comrade Konikow in the May 11, 1940, Militant. “Under capitalism there can be no improvement of conditions for women, mothers of families. Only in a Socialist society will mothers achieve that security which will permit them to raise children without fear for their future. But no one will ‘give you that as a gift. You will have to struggle and fight for Socialism, you together with the workers, men and women, black and white, old and young – in this country and in others – for their cause is yours and only through the victory rat the workers will mothers solve their problems. Only when mankind raises itself from slavery and exploitation and enjoys a free and full life will women choose motherhood happily, confidently and proudly. Rearing and preparing the young for a life in a socialist society, for useful labor, for boundless achievements in science, industry and art – that will indeed make of motherhood an interesting, important and honored profession.”

* * *

Health and Beauty

Antoinette’s championship of working class women included even things that might seem trivial. In an instructive letter on cosmetics quoted by Grace Carlson in the June 9, 1945, Militant, Comrade Konikow said:

“The working woman uses cosmetics, not only for her own satisfaction – to have a nice appearance or to attract possible romance – but she has to look well and attractive to keep her job. I think that if women would lead a healthy and normal life, their faces would look different. They would acquire the rosy cheeks that we had in our youth and the bright eyes and the red lips.

“To me cosmetics are an expression of our unhealthy life under capitalism. It is not an important issue but it is just as well to understand that changes in women’s work affect even the most minute forms of their life. This doesn’t mean that I condemn cosmetics. I think that we shall have to use them for quite a while yet!”

* * *

Planning the Family

Antoinette tirelessly explained that none o£ the burning problems of working men and women could really be solved except through the building of socialism. But she never hesitated to advocate measures – no matter how unpopular – that could alleviate, even if only partially, the plight of the poor and the downtrodden.

Among the unpopular measures she championed was birth control. She was among the first to fight in this country for its legalization. She never accepted birth control as a panacea, and always exposed those who did, just as she scathingly exposed the fraudulent claims and practices of licensed and unlicensed medical quacks. Her primary concern was to mitigate the double drudgery of women who not only have to care for families but are also burdened with work in industry.

At every oportunity she lectured on birth control before working class audiences of women, spreading knowledge about it, utilizing her training as a physician “to popularize it, explaining just what could be done and what couldn’t. She wrote a popular pamphlet on birth control. To help dispel the widespread ignorance among the medical profession on this subject, she published a scientific book on contraceptive methods.

It must be remembered that she did all this despite constant police surveillance as a “dangerous radical,” despite the reactionary atmosphere of. Boston, ridden for years by the notorious “Watch and Ward Society,” and despite the opposition of the intolerant Catholic hierarchy and other bigots.

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Youth and the Future

Addressing herself to the youth at a mass meeting held in New York, October 28, 1938, to celebrate the founding of the Fourth International and the Tenth Anniversary of American Trotskyism, Antoinette Konikow said:

“No sermons or admonitions, for you do not need them! I am proud of you. I want to tell you that I envy you, your youth and vigor. I would like to be 50 years younger to work with you, for your task In the coming years will be the most important in human history. You have great monsters to fight, Fascism, Stalinism. It was easier to work under the Russian Czar than under Stalin, easier under the German Kaiser than under Hitler.

“But you have better weapons than we had, more knowledge, the experience of 50 years Of the leadership erf the greatest living genius of the revolution, Leon Trotsky.”

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On Imperialist War

When the capitalist world stood at the brink of the Second World War, Comrade Konikow warned the workers who opposed the slaughter that they must steel themselves against persecution. In her speech October 28, 1938 on the fiftieth anniversary of her work in the movement, she recalled her dramatic experiences in the First World War:

“I was sent on tour by the German-language federation of the Socialist Party to speak in German at anti-war meetings. This was no ee»y task at the height of the war frenzy. Many times comrades would approach me, pale and trembling, begging that I speak on another subject. They pointed to German detectives and the sheriff sitting in the crowd. Often I felt like weakening – but there was one magic word that gave me strength to do my duty. I tell it to you comrades – it may again help you. The magic word Liebknecht.”

(Liebknecht stood up all alone in the Reichstag in 1914 to battle in the name of the working class against the war and German imperialism. – Editorial Note)

* * *

oscow Frame-up Trials

In the fight against Stalinism, AntoinetteKonikow took a vigorous part. As late as 1943 she was still on the public rostrum exposing the role dC the Kremlin in The Moscow Frame-up Trials. Thus The Militant for August 28, 1943, reports that as “the leading speaker” at a Boston meeting she “contrasted ... the real Trotsky with the slanderous and lying picture of him presented in the Davies film, ‘Mission to Moscow? which she had just seen.”

Again in the August 19, 1944, Militant she reviewed Duranty’s book USSR – The Story of Soviet Russia. Duranty “does not pillory Stalin for his proven guilty as Trotsky’s murderer,” she wrote, “but tries to discredit the victim of the Kremlin Borgia. The ‘spiteful twilight’ Duranty refers to was the years when Trotsky performed his greatest work – creating the Fourth International to sweep the monstrous obstacle of Stalinism from the path erf the oncoming revolution.”

“In his chapter on the Moscow Trials,” continued Comrade Konikow, “Duranty reveals the main purpose of his book: to whitewash the Kremlin. No one could prove, says he, that any of the accused confessed under duress. Therefore, he concludes that the confessions were true and the trials were not frameups. Duranty accepts the verdict of the Moscow Trials, although he doesn’t dare to repeat openly the faked charges against Trotsky. For he is aware of the findings of the Dewey Qommission on the Moscow Trials which completely exonerated Trotsky on all charges and branded the trials as frame-ups.”

Last updated: 19 June 2021