Hello everyone and welcome back to the podcast and of course happy international women’s day! It’s the day that all women’s history and feminist podcasters dream of, the day we get to talk even more about women than we already do! International women’s day is great, obviously, and I absolutely love seeing everyone celebrating each other on my social medias obviously all through Instagram and Facebook and Twitter it’s people talking about women who inspire them, women who support them, it’s really, really great.
However I also think it’s important that we talk about the origin of the day. This is so classic me, I have to ruin everything with a bit of history but I do think it’s important and especially because there has been a lot of talk this year about corporations cashing in on feminism, female liberation and especially on international women’s day. I mean, the number of corporations that I’ve seen on my timelines or in my email inbox giving special discounts, having special ranges for IWD and it all rings a little bit hollow.
And this is especially important when we look at the origins of IWD, which we’re going to be doing in this episode, it was created by a bunch of amazing socialist and communist women, who were at the time incredibly dissatisfied with the way that feminism was going. They felt that feminist at the time was only really serving the rich, middle class white women who were doing nothing to further the cause of worker’s rights and rights for working class women. And so it is so ironic to see corporations using IWD to essentially make money because the women who set up the day were vehemently opposed to capitalism in all it’s forms and corporations, and so I think they would have been quite upset to see what the day had become, especially with the way that corporations handle it. So, it is important to talk about these women and the origins of the day. You’ll remember if you’ve been listening for a while that this time last year I did an episode on Theresa Malkiel, who was one of the other women who was instrumental in setting up IWD but today we’re going to be talking about Clara Zetkin, who was a German socialist, she was an activist but also one of the people who set up IWD. So let’s just get straight into it!
She was born in Wiederau in 1857 on the 5thof July and in 1872 her family moved to Leipzig and she was educated at the Leipzig Teacher’s College for Women. It was while she was there that she began making contacts with the Social Democrat Party, the Social Democrat Party had been founded in 1975, it merged together 2 different parties, the ADAV and the SDAP. And by 1890 it changed it’s name, it eventually became known as the Social Democratic Party of Germany, the SDP, so I’m probably going to be referring to it as the SDP from this point onwards, Social Democratic Party of Germany is a little bit of a mouthful and I think it’s just easier to say.
In 1878 Bismarck had placed a ban on socialist activity in Germany, and so Zetkin left in 1882 to go to Zurich, she kind of self imposed an exile on herself to Zurich and then to Paris because she knew she wasn’t going to be able to live her best life as it were or to operate and meet people she wanted to meet when there was a ban on this sort of activity but while she was in Paris and she was studying to be a journalist and a translator she also spent a lot of her time distributing socialist literature and basically just trying to spread the work about socialism and worker’s rights. It was here that she met the person who would eventually become her partner, Ossip Zetkin, she adopted his surname later on. He was the person who introduced her to a lot of politics and especially a lot of people in politics so she could actually make those connections that would be so important and so vital later on in her life. This was around the time that she began helping with the formation of the Socialist International Group. Her and Ossip had 2 sons together, Maxim and Konstantin, but by 1889 he become very ill with spinal tuberculosis and he died in June of that year. After he passed away, Clara moved to Stuttgart with her 2 sons and kind of removed that self-imposed exile from herself.
Clara had been very interested in politics in general, and she’d been moving in those circles, but she became interested in the politics of equal opportunities and women’s suffrage and once back in Germany she became the editor of the Social Democrat Party newspaper for women which is called, and please excuse me while I absolutely butcher this, Die Gleichheit, which means equality in German and she held this position for about 25 years so she really really took that paper from strength to strength.
In 1897 she married Georg Friedrich Zundel, who was an artist. This relationship was sort of short-lived, it disintegrated in about 1927, mostly because Clara was just so so committed to her work by then that it was impossible for her to continue maintaining any form of relationship. But they had a good 20-year run so I think they still had a good time for those 20 years.
Zetkin’s main fight was against the concept of ‘bourgeois feminism’. She basically argued that feminism had become very much for the middle class and it was being used as a tool to divide the unity of the working class. So in 1899 she said: “The working women, who aspire to social equality, expect nothing for their emancipation from the bourgeois women’s movement, which allegedly fights for the rights of women. That edifice is built on sand and has no real basis. Working women are absolutely convinced that the question of the emancipation of women is not an isolated question which exists in itself, but part of the great social question. They realize perfectly clear that this question can never be solved in contemporary society, but only after a complete social transformation.”
So it’s clear from that quote Clara thought that the current model of feminism was completely incompatible with socialism, she was very much a revolutionary in that sense, she felt that there had to be a complete overhaul of society in order for any change to be made, especially when it came to working class rights and women’s rights. She didn’t think that feminism was relatable to the working class, and she said: “without economic freedom it changes absolutely nothing”.
So one of her primary goals was to get women out of the house and into work so that they could participate in trade unions and other worker’s rights organizations so that they could start improving conditions for themselves.
In 1907 she became the leader of the newly created women’s office at the SPD and in 1910, in August, an international women’s conference was organised so at the time a fellow socialist Luise Zietz proposed that there be an annual international women’s day. This was supported by Zetkin by also by Theresa Malkiel, who I covered last year and 100 women delegates from 17 different countries agreed that this would be a really good idea – they thought that it would be a great way to promote equal rights and especially women’s suffrage.
So IWD was celebrated for the first ever time the following year, on March 19th1911 and over 1 million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland were all involved which is incredible!
In 1914, the First World War broke out and Clara gave a speech at the international women’s peace conference in Switzerland. She said:
“Who profits from this war? Only a tiny minority in each nation. The workers have nothing to gain from this war, but they stand to lose everything that is dear to them.”
She was very very very anti-war and in 1915 she organised an international socialist women’s anti-war conference in Berlin but because of all this anti-war rhetoric and her protesting the war, she was arrested multiple times and in 1916 she was even taken into what us known as protective custody. She was released from this multiple times due to illnesses but people were looking out for her a lot, she was under massive amounts of scrutiny.
While at this point she was a part of the SPD, she disagreed with them on many many many different aspects, especially their pro-war stance and their handing of women’s issues so in January of 1919, the communist party of Germany was formed andZetkin decided to leave the SPD and join this party instead. She represented the party from 1920-1933 and she even interviewed Lenin in 1920 on something called “The women’s question”.
Clara was the chair of the second international conference of communist women in 1921, and it was here that she changed the date of IWD to march 8th because if you can remember the first one was on March 19thbut she changed it and this date, as you can probably tell if you know what date it is, just check your calendars, that date has stayed as the date for IWD since 1921.
In 1925 she was elected as the president of the German left-wing solidarity organisation and because of that she was able to give this opening address, she gave a speech. A lot of it was very very much attacking Hitler and attacking the party. So she said, (this is just a tiny little snippet): “The most important immediate task is the formation of a United Front of all workers in order to turn back fascism”.
So obviously as communists their main goal was getting rid of fascism, as was many people’s goal at that point, but she wanted to do it through the organisation of workers and getting them together to be a really united force.
In 1932 she was the recipient of the Order of Lenin, which is an incredibly high honour and showed that she was really being appreciated for the work that she was doing. And when Hitler took over power in 1933, the communist party of Germany was of course banned and it would’ve been a very dangerous place for her to be especially as she had been very very vocal leading up to him coming into power against fascism and against the Nazi party so after this, Zetkin went into exile for the last time, this time she went to the Soviet Union.
She never went home, she stayed there for the rest of her life and she died in a place called Arkhangelskoye which is near Moscow – she died in 1933. Her ashes were placed in the Kremlin wall necropolis, by the Moscow kremlin wall, which is near the Red Square.Her funeral was attended by lots and lots and lots of high profile communists, including Stalin and Lenin’s wife and in her obituary in the Manchester Guardian, she was referred to as the ‘grandmother of communism’ which is a ridiculously impressive title to receive and it’s a wonder that she’s not really spoken about enough – that is pretty cool.
After 1949, every major city in the German Democratic Republic had a street named after her. Her name can be found on the maps of many former lands of the German Democratic Republic so that’s pretty cool. And if you find yourself in Leipzig, why not head over to Johannapark to see the statue of her that was erected there in 1967? It was put up so that they could celebrate her 110thbirthday.
So Clara has been given quite a bit of recognition, mostly though it was within the socialist and communist groups and so that’s why I think it’s so important to talk about her in relation to IWD because she was the driving force behind it – she helped to create it with various other socialist women, she also was instrumental in changing that date so that reason why we’re even celebrating today is because of Clara Zetkin. But not only that, but she was an incredible force when it came to worker’s rights and the rights of women, the emancipation of women. I think she identified a key concept which is something that a lot of people are talking about now, which is the concept that feminism cannot exist and cannot exist well in conjunction with capitalism, corporations – they’re using feminism for their own gain, they’re not doing it for women, for the emancipation of women. As I said in the beginning, it is very hollow. So I think it’s important to talk about her not just in the sense of IWD but also in the sense of a socialist movement and without making my political leanings too clear (I think I can’t really avoid that can I?), I think that especially on days like this when we’re talking about feminism it is very important to be mindful and to not promote capitalism as much as possible because it’s not going to help us in our journey to women’s rights.
So that is the incredible story of Clara Zetkin, I think she’s a really cool woman. Whatever your political stance she was very very powerful and a key political player so I’m glad that I’ve been able to take the change to talk about her in relation to IWD. And aside from all that political stuff, I hope you had a good IWD whatever it is that you’re doing, I know that there have been a heap of events that are going on, especially in London. I’m not going to any of them, I’m going to be sitting on the sofa and watching TV because that’s what IWD means for me!
So the theme for this year’s IWD is balance for better, it’s the idea of creating a more gender-balanced world and raising awareness against bias, celebrating women’s achievements. I personally like to think that I do that with this podcast, if you’ve been listening for the little over a year that I’ve been doing it I try and promote as many women from different fields as possible but I also think it’s important when it comes to sections like the cel-her-bration, because not only is it important to highlight the gender bias that has happened in history, it’s important not to forget that there are still things happening, there is still gender bias here in 2019 so I want to be able to have a platform where I can promote women who are doing incredible things now, supporting women and raising up women and I can do that with the cel-her-bration.
haven’t done a proper cel-her-bration for a while, for various reasons, but today I want to talk about Erica Malunguinho. She is a very worthy subject for my IWD cel-her-bration! So Erica has just become the first trans woman to win a sole seat in the Sao Paulo legislature. This is especially important considering the political climate in brazil at the moment – their president Jair Bolsonaro is very far right in his political leanings, he ran on a platform featuring a whole lot of homophobic and racist rhetoric, especially against afro-Brazilian communities. Despite this Malunguinho won over 50,000 votes running with the Socialism and Liberation Party, and she was focusing especially on increasing wider political participation especially with Brazil’s black and LGBTQ+ communities.
Here’s a great quote from her (it’s a bit long, but it’s very important): “We have a gigantic mission to recover the notion of politics for the people. Institutional politics was placed far from the people, mainly far from historically vulnerable groups. This distance is purposeful. Our mission is to make that rapprochement and humanize politics. That means to understand that our existence is political, the existence of our historically erased people — like black and LGBTQ communities.”
She is going to have her work cut out for her; Brazil is a horrendous place to be LGBTQ+ or black. The Trans Murder Monitoring Project records Brazil as being the deadliest place to be trans, there were at least 167 murders between October 2017 and September 2018. Afro-Brazilians, who are a large part of the demographic of the favelas, are disproportionally more likely to die in homicides and killings by police. So she, who is trans herself and part of the afro-Brazilian community is really going to have to work hard, especially considering what she’s up against, but it’s incredible that she was even elected in to this position. She has very similar rhetoric to Clara Zetkin actually, this idea of attempting to bring back people into politics who have been left on the outside and who are not being represented properly. So that’s my cel-her-bration for this week!
I hope that you enjoyed this episode. Please do get in contact with me, anyway that you see fit, I am on @GGGpod on Instagram and Twitter, you can follow me for different content and to see whenever I upload an episode if you’re more on your phone than you are on Apple Podcasts. And speaking of Apple Podcasts, why don’t you head on over there and give me 5 stars, write a review, I’d really appreciate it because this show requires a lot of research and time and so to see your reviews really makes me happy, makes me feel very good. I hope you all have a great rest of your IWD’s, I mean there’s only a couple of hours left in the UK but you can still have a good time in those few hours! I will be seeing you next week, I won’t leave it as long as next Friday, don’t worry, you’ll be hearing from me sooner. If you’ve got anyone who you would like me to cover or to cel-her-brate you can get in contact with me on those socials or you can email me firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to hear about a sports person, a politician, a scientist anything like that, or even a country that you want to hear someone from, just let me know. I’m very open to suggestions! If you’ve got someone that you’d like to hear me cel-her-brate on the podcast, I’d also like to hear that as well. Hope you have great weekends and a great rest of your day and I’ll see you soon!