For the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, here’s a clip from my 1972 film, “His/story” (which I made as a student in Germany) about the legendary German socialist and feminist, Clara Zetkin, and her visit to the Soviet Union in 1920.
The preceding years had seen unprecedented struggle by women throughout the world, including in the US. In 1910, at an international socialist women’s congress in Copenhagen, Clara Zetkin proposed an annual women’s day to demand legal and political equality and the right to vote.
The first International Women’s Day was on March 19, 1911. Millions of women marched in Germany, Denmark, Austria, and Switzerland. This resounding success that was followed, only a week later, by the tragic ‘Triangle Fire’ in New York City took the lives of more than 140 young Italian and Jewish immigrant garment workers. Clara Zetkin (orig. Clara Eissner, 1857 – 1933) already looked back on a lifetime of struggle on behalf of working women.
She had grown up in a peasant village in Saxony and studied to become a teacher. As a student in Leipzig, she became active in the women’s, labor, and socialist movements and met the Russian revolutionary, Ossip Zetkin, whom she followed into exile in Zurich and Paris after he was banned in Germany. She had two sons with Ossip, who died in 1889.
That same year she played a key role in the founding of the Socialist International in Paris. In 1890, Clara returned to Germany and settled in Stuttgart, working as a translator. From 1891 until 1917, she was the editor of “Equality,” the women’s newspaper of the German Social Democratic Party. Clara broke with the Social Democratic Party after it supported Germany’s entry into World War I.
She was arrested several times during World War I because of her anti-war activities. In 1916, she joined with dissident Social Democrats, including her good friend, Rosa Luxembourg, in forming the Spartacist group, a precursor of the German Communist Party.
From 1920 to 1933, during the Weimar Republic, she was an elected representative of the Communist Party to the German Reichstag.
When Hitler took power, she was again forced into exile.
She died in the Soviet Union in 1933 and was buried there.
The Nazis banned International Women’s Day and instead promoted Mother’s Day each May. After the Nazis were defeated, International Women’s Day was again celebrated in Germany as it is throughout the world.
A clip from the 1972 film, “His/story” (which
Elsa Rassbach made as a student in Germany) about the legendary German socialist and feminist, Clara Zetkin, and her visit to the Soviet Union in 1920.