Marral Shamshiri and Sorcha Thomson (eds), She Who Struggles: Revolutionary Women Who Shaped the World

IssueFebruary - March 2024
Review by Ian Sinclair

From Che Guevara to Gandhi and Lenin, revolutionaries and historians of revolutions have tended to focus on so-called ‘Great Men’.

She Who Struggles is an admirable attempt to correct this imbalance, an edited collection highlighting women who played key roles in revolutionary, anti-colonial and socialist struggles during the twentieth century, including in Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Kurdistan, Mali and Palestine.

‘Within these movements, women’s liberation was often placed as subsequent to the achievement of national and social transformation,’ Marral Shamshiri and Sorcha Thomson note in their introduction.

As the front cover image suggests, some of the women directly participated in armed struggle, with a fascinating chapter recounting how Fusako Shigenobu from the Japanese Red Brigades relocated to the Middle East in the early ’70s to carry out violent actions in support of Palestinian liberation.

However, while it is not explicitly signposted as such, many of the women undertook nonviolent work – often as part of a wider campaign that included armed resistance – including journalism, cultural work, trade unionism and organising international conferences.

Other women participated in principally nonviolent struggles, such as Mabel Dove, working for Ghana’s independence, and Delia Aguilar, helping to oust president Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines.

Molly Todd’s section on the Sister Cities movement, a grassroots network established in 1986 linking people in the United States with people living under a US-backed dictatorship in El Salvador, in Central America, will be of particular interest to Peace News readers.

Elsewhere, the mention of protesters invading the track during the closing ceremony of the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games (to draw attention to imprisoned political activist Tom Mooney) confirms that groups like Just Stop Oil are part of a long lineage of disruptive civil disobedience.

The strength of solidarity and internationalism felt by many of the activists is a central theme of the book.

Durable links were made with those struggling against imperialism in Vietnam, Palestine, and Cuba, with demonstrations in southern Lebanon mourning the assassination of Congolese prime minister Patrice Lumumba in 1960. The recent huge marches in London in support of Palestine suggest global solidarity is a central pillar of the anti-war movement in the UK today, though the infrastructure and breadth of links in the ’60s and ’70s feels much deeper.

With contributions from academics, activists and writers, the collection is broadly accessible, though some chapters assume quite a bit of existing knowledge.

The relatively short biographical sketches feel like primers on their subjects, and there are academic-level references for those who wish to delve deeper.

An important corrective to most previous histories, this is a valuable resource – for activists looking for inspiration, for students and academics, and as a stimulating discussion tool for politically progressive reading groups.