Clara Eissner Zetkin
(b. 1857- d. 1933)

Clara Zetkin was a German feminist socialist. In the late 1800s in Europe, a feminist movement grew out of socialist and Marxist circles. Throughout her life, Zetkin was politically active fighting for women's rights. She and her fellow feminists believed that socialism was the only way women could truly become equal to men. She influenced socialist groups throughout Germany, France, and Russia and German socialist political movements including the German Communist Party. Unlike many other feminists of the time, Zetkin pushed for socialism above feminism. At times she even spoke out against feminists to further her socialist cause. 

Zetkin went to college to become a teacher. She quickly became involved in women's rights movements. Inspired by socialists in Russia, she began her career as a socialist in the 1870s. She began living with Ossip Zetkin in an unmarried relationship (which was a trend among her feminist counterparts) and took on his last name. Ossip was forced out of Germany by anti-socialist movements and went to Paris, France. Clara Zetkin followed him, and helped him raise their two sons. She gained concern for working women which fueled her disdain of the upper-class women's attitudes towards working class women. When she and Ossip were allowed back in Germany Zetkin picked up a communist cause and became part of the new German Communist Party. She eventually represented them in the Reichstag. Zetkin also befriended Lenin who shared some of her socialist views.

Zetkin made a number of appearances to support her feminist socialist cause. In 1889 she spoke ant the meeting of the Second International. She wrote The Question of Women Workers and Women at the Present time. She was the editor and wrote for Equality newspaper, a feminist print source intended for women, and published books on her interviews with Lenin. In 1915 she made a speech at the International Women's Peace Conference, in which many women gathered to protest the war going on in Europe. She spoke before the Reichstag in 1932 encouraging a "Soviet Germany." Throughout her numerous writings and speeches, Zetkin's underlying theme was that socialism was inherently feminist and would bring about true equality. She always placed the socialist cause ahead of the feminist cause because she believed that non-socialist feminism would not result in women's rights. She often criticized feminists (particularly upper-class feminists) who were not socialists. Many socialist men resisted integrating socialism with feminism which created conflict among the ideologies of feminists socialists and non-feminist socialists. Zetkin gained their by arguing that socialism had some inherently feminist concepts and her movement supported them from a primarily socialist standpoint.

Zetkin's major historical impact was her influence on future feminists. The link between feminism and socialism paved the way for a number of feminist socialists who pushed for a number of ideas ranging from pacifism to the unequal nature of marriage and the family. Women such as Rosa Luxemburg, Alexandra Kollantai, and others were influenced by Zetkin's ideals. Luxemburg was one of the founders and a major leader in the Spartacus League, which was the left wing of the Socialist Democratic party in Germany. They strongly opposed there party's decision to support World War I. Zetkin was always ready to critique fellow feminists for ideas she disagreed with. Alexandra Kollantai was one of the many younger feminists who fought for the ideals of there older counterparts such as Zetkin. Zetkin's criticism of her fellow feminists ideas resulted in her shaping the nature of the feminist socialist movement. Her focus on socialism prevented many feminist ideas, such as birth control and inter-class feminist cooperation, from becoming major feminist movements. The men and women she influenced would go on to develop the feminist ideas even after Zetkin's death in 1933. She was also active in the Spartacus League and the early German Communist party.

Annotated Bibliography

Frolich, Paul. Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Her Work. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972.
This book is about the work of Rosa Luxemburg, a Marxist counterpart of Zetkin. Luxemburg was a founder of the Spartacus League, which was the left wing of the German Socialist Democratic party. She strongly opposed World War I and often worked with Zetkin on many socialist feminist issues. The book contains information on Zetkin's impact on Luxemburg which is useful for understanding the impact Zetkin had on her contemporaries and on her followers.

LeGates, Marlene. In Their Time: A History of Feminism in Western Society. New York: Routledge, 2001.
This book contains information on the roll of Zetkin on feminist theories. It provides the theories that Zetkin and other feminists created and how they impacted the feminist movement at large. Zetkin was known to criticize other feminist's ideas. She spoke out against any feminists who were not socialists and refused to cooperate with upper class feminists. When feminists brought ideas such as birth-control under the auspice of the feminist movement, Zetkin was quick to criticize them. As the author shows, this would effect later feminists as some began to romanticize single parent families and non monogamous relationships.

Lommen, Mike. "Clara Zetkin - The Socialist Feminist." University of North Dakota. <>  (19 December 2005).
This website is a history project done by a history student at the University of North Dakota. It provides basic background information on Clara Zetkin. This site is useful for obtaining basic information but for a more complete understanding of Zetkin and her impact on socialism and feminism, a more complete source should be used.

Luxemburg, Rosa. ed. by Mary-Alice Waters. Rosa Luxemburg Speaks. New York: Pathfinder Press, Inc., 1970.
This book is a collection of Rosa Luxemburg's writings including articles, pamphlets, and letters. It is useful for understanding Zetkin's impact on Rosa Luxemburg, a fellow socialist who worked with Zetkin and her cause. Luxemburg was a founder of the Spartacus League, which was the left wing of the German Socialist Democratic party. She strongly opposed World War I and often worked with Zetkin on many socialist feminist issues. The readings in the book are an excellent way to gain a broader understanding of the Socialist Feminist movement which Zetkin was involved in.

Marxist Internet Archive. "Clara Zetkin Internet Archive." Marxist Writers. <>(19 December 2005).
This internet archive contains twelve writings and speeches by Zetkin. It includes some segments of her comments on her interviews with Lenin. The site also has a very short biography inculdeing the future occupations of her two sons Maxim and Konstantin. The latter worked to help his mother publish some of her works.

Rydell, Roy. "International Women's Day: Remembering Clara Zetkin." People's Weekly World. <>
People's Weekly World, an online newspaper connected to the U.S. Communist Party and derived from the Daily Worker, published this article to depict Zetkin's roll in International Women's day. The publisher is a partisan organization, who's authors write about labor issues, workers rights, peace, civil liberties, the environment, women's rights, and other issues. The article provides good biographical information on Zetkin, particularly on her involvement with many different organizations. This is useful because Zetkin had many minor roles in small organizations. The books listed in this bibliography focus on her major roll in socialist politics. This article has information on many of Zetkin's minor rolls that the books leave out or only briefly mention.

Young, Robert J. C. Post Colonialism: An Historical Introduction. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2001.
One chapter of this book is devoted to women's movements in the late 1800's and early 1900s. The chapter has information on several international conferences including women's peace conferences, in which Zetkin gave speeches. It provides the background behind the conferences and the role of many different people (including Zetkin) in them as well as there impact and affects. The author also provides some brief information on the women's communist movement which Zetkin was involved it. This book is useful for understanding the context in which Zetkin was writing and speaking about feminist socialism. Other sources talk either about Zetkin's feminism or feminism at large, but this source goes into detail on many other issues such as communism and socialism that many women like Zetkin tied to feminism.

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Last Revision: December  2005

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