Clara Zetkin

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Clara Zetkin was born Clara Zeissner in Saxony, Germany on 5 July, 1857 and died in Archangelskoye, Russia in 1933. A communist and political activist, she was also an ardent campaigner for women's rights and helped to create the first International Women's Day on 8 March 1911.

Education and Early Life

Clara Zetkin was trained as a teacher at Leipzig Teachers' College for Women. During her studies, she became involved with the women's and labour's movement. She joined in 1878 the Social Democratic Party (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands). Due to Bismark's ban on socialist activity, Zetkin went into self-imposed exile in Zurich and Paris during the 1880s. During this time, she took on the name of her lover, a Russian revolutionary and fellow exile, Ossip Zetkin with whom she had two children. Zetkin wrote pamphlets on socialism and networked with international socialists: she is one of the founding members of the Socialists International.

Role in the SPD, Communism and the 'Female Question'

From 1891-1917, Zetkin was the editor of the SPD's women's journal, Die Gleichheit (Equality). Zetkin expressed interest from the beginning in women's politics. In 1907, she became the leader of the newly founded "Women's Office" at the SPD. While some socialists saw the demand for the women's vote as being unnecessarily divisive in the working class movement,  others such as  Zetkin and Russian Alexandra Kollontai successfully fought for being accepted as a necessary part of a socialist programme. In 1910,  the first international women's conference was held in Copenhagen by the Second International and an 'International Women's Day' was established, which was submitted by Zetkin, although no date was specified. In 1915, Zetkin organised the first international women's conference against World War I in Bern, Switzerland.

A personal friend of Lenin and of the revolutionary writer and activist Rosa Luxemburg, Clara Zetkin organized the first international women’s conference against World War I (Bern, 1915). She was a cofounder in 1916 of the radicalSpartacus League (Spartakusbund), and joined the new Communist Party of Germany in 1919, becoming a member of the party’s central committee and serving in the Reichstag (federal lower house) from 1920.

Later Career (1920-1933)

Elected to the presidium of the Third International (1921), she spent more and more of her time in Moscow. Until 1924 Zetkin was a member of the KPD's central office; from 1927 to 1929 she was a member of the party's central committee. Zetkin was a member of the executive committee of the Communist International (Comintern) from 1921 to 1933. In 1925 she was elected president of the German left-wing solidarity organisation Rote Hilfe (Red Aid). In August 1932, as the chairwoman of the Reichstag by seniority, she called for people to fight National Socialism. With the election of Hitler and the ban on communists, Zetkin went again into exile to Russia, where she died in 1933.


Only in Conjunction With the Proletarian Woman Will Socialism Be Victorious, October 1896; The Workers’ International Festival, May 1899; May Greetings from Stuttgart, May 1900; Social-Democracy & Woman Suffrage, 1906; For Adult Suffrage, May 1909; German Socialist Women’s Movement, October 1909; A Greeting from Abroad, May 1913; August Bebel Obituary, August 1913; German Women to Their Sisters in Great Britain, December 1913; The Duty of Working Women in War-Time, November 1914; The Women of Germany to the Women of Great Britain, January 1915; Rosa Luxemburg (intro to the Junius Pamphlet), May 1919; Karl Liebknecht, September 1919; Rosa Luxemburg, September 1919; Hail to the Third Socialist International!, 1919; In Defence of Rosa Luxemburg, 1919; Through Dictatorship to Democracy, 1919; The Situation in Germany, 1920; Fraternal Greetings to the Communist Unity Convention, 1920; The Struggle Against New Imperialistic Wars, 1922; Organising Working Women, 1922; The Russian Revolution & the Fourth Congress of the Comintern, 1922; From the International of Word to the International of Deed; World Wide Field of Activity of the Comintern; To the Congress of the German Communist Party; Fascism, August 1923; Reminiscences of Lenin, 1924; Lenin on the Women’s Question; A May-Day Message from Germany; From My Memorandum Book.


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