‘Through Dictatorship To Democracy’ by Clara Zetkin

Source: Marx Memorial Library (MML)

CLARA ZETKIN 1857-1933

Zetkin was an active member of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) before she was forced into exile as a result of Bismarck’s anti-socialist laws which lasted from 1878 to 1890. Although she did not marry her partner, the Russian émigré Ossip Zetkin, Clara (born Eissner) took his name and was thus known throughout her political life as Clara Zetkin. When she returned to Germany she was heavily involved in the SPD and for many years was the editor of its paper aimed at women workers, ‘Die Gleichheit’ (‘Equality’)

From 1889- 1914, Zetkin was involved in the work of the Second International during the course of which she met Lenin and many other European socialists. It was on Zetkin’s initiative that the women’s section of this body was founded; the International Socialist Women’s Conference SWI). It met for the first time in 1907 in Stuttgart. It was there that she met and stayed in close contact with Alexandra Kollontai, one of the Russian delegates. Thereafter Kollontai became Russian correspondent of ‘Die Gleichheit’. In 1910 at the Copenhagen Conference of the SWI, Clara Zetkin proposed the motion which inaugurated International Women’s Day:

‘…. 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.’

The Second International collapsed with World War One in 1914. Zetkin opposed the war and ardently supported the Russian Revolution. The SPD split on both issues and Zetkin joined the Spartacus League and later became a founder member of the German Communist Party (KPD). She went to Soviet Russia in 1920 where she travelled widely. Although she was active in the KPD, life in Germany was increasingly difficult because of the rise of fascism. Zetkin spent the last years of her life in the Soviet Union. She was awarded the Order of Lenin in 1933.