Clara Zetkin

The Marxists on oppression

The fourth part of a review article looking at the themes of John Riddell’s new book of documents from the early communist movement.

The week Paul Hampton looks at how they debated women’s liberation and other issues of oppression.


The early Communist International’s focus was on working class self-liberation and this was reflected in the time spent on discussions on party building, work to transform the labour movement and on the specifics of class struggle strategy.

The workers' government

This is the third part of a review article looking at the themes of John Riddell’s new book of documents from the early communist movement. This week Paul Hampton discusses the idea of the workers’ government.


Probably the most wide-ranging and rancorous discussion at the Fourth Congress concerned the transitional slogan of a workers’ government.

Reclaim International Women's Day!

On International Women’s Day, 8 March, Workers’ Liberty women in London helped organise a meeting to celebrate the original, militant tradition of the day. What tradition?

International Women’s Day — founded in 1911 as International Working Women’s Day — was first proposed by Clara Zetkin and other socialist women. It was a response to the 1907/8 demonstrations of women workers in New York demanding shorter hours, better pay, union rights and the vote, and to the “Rising of the 20,000”, a 13-week strike of women garment makers in 1909.

International working women's day

I had resolved to avoid reading the Guardian on Tuesday 8 March. I knew they would be publishing a “100 most inspiring women list” on this, the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. And I had no desire to revisit the taste of my breakfast on my way into work.

The list had been trailed in the paper some weeks before and promised to include Margaret Thatcher, Oprah Winfrey and Hillary Clinton. Hence the anticipation of nausea. In the event, the list was not as bad as I expected, just boring and predictable.

Clara Zetkin on the workers' government, 1922

Author

Clara Zetkin

"The workers' government", by Clara Zetkin, December 1922. First published in 'Die Kommunistische Fraueninternationale', Heft 9/10. Translated by Bruce Robinson. Text from: Clara Zetkin, 'Zur Theorie und Taktik der Arbeiterbewegung' , Reclam
Verlag, Leipzig, 1974.

Who was Clara Zetkin?

Clara Zetkin (1857-1933) pioneered the idea of a working class-based women's movement. In 1891 she became editor of the German Social-Democratic Party (SPD) newspaper for women "Die Gleichheit" (Equality) which she produced for 25 years (circulation 112,000 in 1912). Zetkin also edited the women's supplement in the leftwing "Leipziger Volkszeitung". She became secretary of the International Socialist Women in 1910 and was one of the founders of International Women's Day, which is still observed around the world.

German socialism and the “woman question”

During the nineteenth century, the emerging workers’ movement began to develop its policy on the “woman question”. The early, “utopian” socialists argued strongly for women’s liberation. Ferdinand Lassalle led the “proletarian anti-feminists”, opposing votes for women and urging male workers to strike against women’s entry into industrial labour. Marx and Engels opposed Lassalle, arguing that women’s work was a step forward, and a precondition for liberation.

Organising Working-class Women

The second in a series of articles about the German socialist women's movement 1890-1914, by Janine Booth

Education

German socialist women placed strong emphasis on education. They set up education clubs for women and girls (Frauen- and Madchen-Bildungsverein), which held meetings, hosted lectures, published articles and pamphlets, and gathered information on women’s working conditions. Each club had between 50 and 250 members, who paid a small monthly fee.

Working-class Women and Bourgeois Feminists

The third in a series of articles about the German socialist women's movement 1890-1914, by Janine Booth

What is often seen as one issue - referred to at the time as the ‘woman question’ - actually developed quite differently amongst women of different classes.

Bourgeois women

Conclusions

The last in a series of articles about the German socialist women's movement 1890-1914, by Janine Booth

Divided loyalties

Socialist feminists are continually accused of ‘divided loyalties’, challenged to declare which is our priority: class or sex. It makes a lot more sense to direct this challenge at feminists who defend capitalism, or at socialist men.

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