Zetkin, Clara

   nee Eissner (1857-1933)
   Marxist and feminist; one of the few radicals to hold an SPD office. She was born in Niederau, a village near Chemnitz. Her father was a Jewish schoolteacher; her mother awakened Clara s interest in women's* rights. She qualified as a teacher in Leipzig (1874-1878), where she also engaged in work for women's rights. Several Russian emigres introduced her to socialism; one, Ossip Zetkin, converted her to Marxism. When Bismarck's antisocialist law of 1878 forced Ossip's expulsion, she followed him in 1882, first to Switzerland and then to Paris; exile brought contacts with no-table socialists. Although she had two children by Zetkin and took his name, she never formally married him for fear of losing her German citizenship. Ossip died in 1889, and Clara, who retained his name until her death (she married an artist, Georg Zundel, in 1899), moved to Stuttgart in 1891 upon repeal of the antisocialist laws. An address she delivered before leaving Paris, "For the Lib-eration of Women, was adopted as a manifesto of working-class women.
   Despite a troubled relationship with the SPD leadership, Zetkin was the dom-inant female socialist until World War I and served in the Party s central control commission during 1895-1914. A member of the Party's ultraleft wing with Karl Liebknecht,* Franz Mehring, and Rosa Luxemburg,* she edited, from its founding in 1892, the women s journal Gleichheit, an SPD publication with 125,000 subscribers in 1914. Blaming capitalism for reducing woman s role to that of breeder and housekeeper, she engaged in trade-union* work and cham-pioned formation of a youth auxiliary free from adult control (the SPD rejected the notion). In 1914 she rebuked the Party for supporting the war. Secretary of the Women s Section of the Socialist International, she organized a conference of pacifists in Bern in March 1915; upon returning home she was arrested for antiwar activities. A founder of Gruppe Internationale (precursor to the Spar-tacus League*) and the USPD, she was forced to resign from Gleichheit in 1917.
   A vehement opponent of parliamentary democracy, Zetkin embraced Lenin s idea of a proletarian dictatorship and was a founding member in December 1918 of the KPD, on whose Zentrale she served (1919-1923 and 1927-1933). In June 1920 she was one of two Communists elected to the Reichstag.* Although she was frequently ill, she vigorously promoted a pro-Soviet, anti-Western program. While she retained an interest in feminism and antimilitarism, her energies were consumed by political tactics. She condemned efforts at revolutionary action because they garnered no mass support. From 1921, as part of the Moscow-directed Comintern, she was embroiled in the KPD s internecine feuding; in 1923 she withdrew to Moscow. Although she was friendly with Lenin, she embraced Stalin s idea of "socialism in one country and became an apologist for the latter s brutalities.
   Zetkin returned to Germany in 1927 and was prominent in expelling Heinz Neumann* from the KPD. Having retained her Reichstag seat throughout her Russian exile, she became more passive influence than public power. Since tradition dictated that each new Reichstag be opened by its oldest deputy, she convened the session in August 1932; after denouncing both fascism and bour-geois democracy, she oversaw Hermann Goring's* election as Reichstag Pres-ident. Visiting Moscow when Hitler* seized power, she did not urge violence against the Nazis, believing that they would soon discredit themselves; she died on 20 June without comprehending her error.
   REFERENCES:Foner, Clara Zetkin; Frevert, Women in German History; Koonz, Mothers in the Fatherland; Steenson, "Not One Man!"; Thonnessen, Emancipation of Women.

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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