Where Does the 8th of March Come From?
One of the most famous activists of the German and international socialist and women’s movement, Clara Zetkin, went down in the history of the 20th century not only as an active communist but also as a woman reformer who played an important role in the formation of the European movement for women’s rights. In Soviet times, Zetkin’s main merit was considered the institution at her proposal for International Women’s Day.
The date of March 8 was chosen for the celebration as it is the day when women in Soviet Russia started protesting for their right to vote, which they were eventually granted in 1917.
Clara Zetkin, nee Eisner, was born in 1857 in the small Saxon town of Wiederau into the family of a rural teacher. Already at a young age, Clara stood out among her peers with curiosity and tenacious memory: at the age of 9, the girl read everything Goethe and Schiller and recited their poems with pleasure, and at 12, she quoted excerpts from the History of the French Revolution by the historian Thomas Carlyle.
While still a student at the Leipzig Pedagogical Gymnasium, a prestigious educational institution, she began attending secret meetings of the Social Democrats, and in 1878 she joined the Socialist Workers’ Party, later renamed the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). At the same time, she met her future life partner, the Russian émigré revolutionary Osip Zetkin, with whom she was soon forced to leave for Zurich, fleeing the intensified persecution of the socialists in Germany.
In 1882, the Zetkins moved to Paris, where Osip and Klara continued to engage in party activities. They earned their living by translating and publishing in social democratic newspapers, although the pay was meagre. At the time of the death of Osip, who died in 1889 from tuberculosis, he and Klara had two sons. Despite the fact that Klara had signed herself with the last name Zetkin for many years, she never entered an official marriage with Osip.
Struggle for women’s rights
Living in France, Clara Zetkin actively participated in the Constituent Congress of the Second International’s preparation and work in Paris in 1889, where she made a speech on the role of women in the revolutionary struggle. And after Germany stopped persecuting the Social Democrats, Klara returned to her homeland, wherein 1892 in Stuttgart, she began to publish the SPD newspaper for women “Equality”.
In 1907, Clara Zetkin became the head of the SPD women’s department, where she, together with Rosa Luxemburg, advocated for equal rights for women. At the International Conference of Women Socialists in Copenhagen in 1910, at the suggestion of Zetkin, it was decided to celebrate International Women’s Day, later timed to coincide with the anniversary of the demonstration of workers in New York textile enterprises on March 8, 1857.
The last refuge – the Soviet Union
In 1917, for his opposition to the First World War, the SPD leadership removed Zetkin from his job at the editorial office of the Equality newspaper. In the same year, she took part in the founding of the Independent Social Democratic Party (NSDPD). After the creation of the Communist Party of Germany (KKE) in December 1918, she actively advocated the entry of workers – members of the NSDPD into its ranks.
From 1920 to 1933, Zetkin was constantly elected as a member of the Reichstag from the Communist Party while at the same time heading the International Women’s Secretariat of the Comintern. In 1920, Clara Zetkin went to the Soviet Union for the first time, where she met Lenin and Krupskaya. In subsequent years, Zetkin often came to Moscow to participate in the congresses of the Comintern. She had friendly relations with Lenin and Krupskaya.
In July 1932, when, as a result of early elections to the Reichstag, the National Socialists won a majority in the German parliament, Clara Zetkin was in Moscow. As the most senior member of the Reichstag, she had the right to open the first session of the new convocation. Despite feeling unwell, she went to Berlin, where she made a fiery speech about the danger of Nazism and called for the creation of a united anti-fascist front. After the left-wing parties were banned in Germany, Zetkin went to her final exile, this time to the Soviet Union.
Klara Zetkin died on June 20, 1933, in Arkhangelsk near Moscow at the age of 76. 600 thousand people attended the funeral ceremony of the German revolutionary. Zetkin’s ashes were placed in an urn in the Kremlin wall on Red Square in Moscow. Bless her soul.