Clara Zetkin

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Zetkin, Clara


Born July 5, 1857, in Wiederau, Saxony; died June 20, 1933, in Arkhangel’skoe, near Moscow. Leading figure in the German and international labor movements; a founder of the Communist Party of Germany (CPG).

Zetkin was the daughter of H. Eissner, a village schoolmaster. She studied at a private teachers college in Leipzig, where she was in close contact with a group of Russian students and émigrés; a member of this group, Osip Zetkin, subsequently became her husband.

In the late 1870’s Zetkin became active in the German labor movement. In 1881—a year in which the Exceptional Law Against the Socialists was in effect—she joined the ranks of the German Social Democrats. Forced to emigrate, Zetkin took part in the socialist movements of France, Austria, and Italy. From 1882 she worked for the Social Democrats’ illegal newspaper Der Socialdemokrat in Zürich. As one of the organizers of the founding congress of the Second International in Paris in 1889, Zetkin addressed the congress on the role of women in the revolutionary struggle. F. Engels, who knew her personally, had a high opinion of her work. Zetkin subsequently participated in all the congresses of the Second International.

In 1890, when the Exceptional Law Against the Socialists was abrogated, Zetkin returned to Germany, where she headed the Social Democratic women’s movement. From 1892 to 1917 she served as editor in chief of Die Gleichheit, the German working women’s Social Democratic newspaper. As one of the left-wing leaders of the German Social Democratic movement, Zetkin worked with R. Luxemburg, K. Liebknecht, and F. Mehring in the struggle against revisionism. During the Russian Revolution of 1905–07, Zetkin came to the conclusion that the Russian proletariat had become the militant vanguard of the international proletariat, and she called on the German working class to utilize the experience of the first Russian revolution. Along with R. Luxemburg and other left-wing figures, Zetkin laid particular emphasis on the paramount role of mass political strikes as an important tool in the revolutionary struggle.

On Zetkin’s initiative the first international women’s conference was organized in 1907. Zetkin was elected secretary of the international women’s secretariat. The International Conference of Women Socialists, held in Copenhagen in 1910, adopted Zetkin’s resolution establishing March 8 as International Women’s Day.

Zetkin campaigned actively against militarism and imperialist colonial policies. At the Congress of the Second International held in Basel in 1912 she called on workers everywhere to struggle decisively against the threat of an imperialist war. Zetkin’s profound understanding of Marxism and her active opposition to the opportunism of the Second International were highly valued by V. I. Lenin.

After World War I began, Zetkin condemned the chauvinist position of the leaders of Germany’s Social Democratic Party. She helped organize the International Women’s Socialist Conference of March 1915, held in Bern (Switzerland), against the imperialist war. Upon returning to her native land, Zetkin was arrested and imprisoned. Once released, she resumed her revolutionary activities. Because of her antiwar propaganda, she was removed by the Social Democratic Party leadership from her editorial position on Die Gleichheit. Zetkin then moved to Leipzig, where she edited a women’s supplement published by the newspaper Leipziger Volkszeitung. She was one of the founders and directors of the Spartacus League, which became part of the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany (ISDPG), founded in 1917. Zetkin, elected to the Central Committee of the ISDPG, actively opposed the party’s centrist leadership.

Exultantly welcoming the Great October Socialist Revolution, Zetkin helped organize the movement of solidarity with Soviet Russia. After the CPG was founded in December 1918, Zetkin actively advocated the enrollment of working-class members of the ISDPG into the ranks of the CPG. In 1919 she became a member of the CPG and of its Central Committee.

Although she was subject to the characteristic vacillations and errors of the German left, Zetkin was able to correct and learn from her own mistakes.

Zetkin participated in the work of the Second and subsequent Congresses of the Communist International (Comintern). In 1921 she became a member of the Comintern’s Executive Committee and of the Executive Committee’s Presidium. In addition, she headed the international women’s secretariat of the Comintern. Zetkin was active in the International Organization for Aid to Revolutionaries, and in 1925 she became chairman of its Central Committee. She maintained friendly relations with V. I. Lenin and N. K. Krupskaia. Zetkin first visited the land of the Soviets in 1920.

Beginning in 1920, Zetkin was regularly elected a deputy to the Reichstag. In August 1932, in her opening address as the senior deputy in the newly elected Reichstag, she warned against the fascist danger and called for the establishment of a united proletarian front. Zetkin was awarded the Order of Lenin and the Order of the Red Banner. She is buried in Moscow, on Red Square, next to the Kremlin’s wall. A Clara Zetkin Medal was instituted in the German Democratic Republic.


Ausgewählte Reden und Schriften, vols. 1–3. Berlin, 1957–60.
In Russian translation:
Zavety Lenina zhenshchinam vsego mira. Moscow, 1958.
Vospominaniia o Lenine. Moscow, 1955.
Zhenskii vopros i rabochii klass. Moscow, 1917.
Ocherk istorii vozniknoveniia proletarskogo zhenskogo dvizheniia v Germanii. Moscow, 1929.
Sotsializm pridet k pobede tol’ko s zhenshchinoi-proletarkoi! Moscow, 1960.
O literature i iskusstve. Moscow, 1958.


Lenin, V. I. Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed. (See Index volume, part 2, p. 483.)
Krupskaia, N. K. Klara Tsetkin. Moscow, 1933.
Pieck, W. Klara Tsetkin. Moscow, 1957. (Translated from German.)
Klara Tsetkin. Moscow, 1933. (Collection of articles and materials.)
Boiarskaia, Z. S. Klara Tsetkin. Moscow, 1959.
Klarin, V. M. Klara Tsetkin v bor’ be za kommunisticheskoe vospitanie molodezhi. Moscow, 1963.
Ilberg, H. Klara Tsetkin. Moscow [1958]. (Translated from German.)
Dornemann, L. Zasedanie reikhstaga ob”iavliaiu otkrytym. . . . Zhizn i deiatel’nost’ Klary Tsetkin. Moscow, 1976. (Translated from German.)
Clara Zetkin. Eine Auswahlbibliographie der Schriften von und über Clara Zetkin. Berlin, 1957.