Clara Zetkin (1857-1933) pioneered the idea of a working class-based women’s movement. In 1891 she became editor of the German Social-Democratic Party (SPD) newspaper for women “Die Gleichheit” (Equality) which she produced for 25 years (circulation 112,000 in 1912).
Zetkin also edited the women’s supplement in the leftwing “Leipziger Volkszeitung”. She became secretary of the International Socialist Women in 1910 and was one of the founders of International Women’s Day, which is still observed around the world.
The followers of Ferdinand Lassalle, the main ideological rivals of the Marxists in the German workers’ movement, were “proletarian anti-feminists”, opposing the entry of women into waged work. Zetkin advocated economic independence for women workers, arguing for the right to equal wages for the same work, for union representation and state-funded childcare. Zetkin also fought for equal political rights, such as the right to vote, and advocated the right to divorce and to abortion. She analysed the role of the family in women’s oppression.
Zetkin was consistently on the left of the SPD. Along with Rosa Luxemburg and others she opposed World War One and went on to become one of the founders of the German Communist Party (KPD).