Clara Zetkin: The face on a banknote

In the last 20 years of the existence of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), a banknote with denomination of 10 Marks was in circulation. On one side of it there was a picture of a young woman sitting in front of a large computer. That forerunner of today's computers symbolized the success of the "first state of workers and peasants on German soil" in the field of new technologies. On the back of the note there was a portrait of an old woman - revolutionary Clara Zetkin.

East Germans had a following joke ridiculing the deficit of cars. First you were shown the side of the bill with the image of the woman dreamily staring at the computer monitor. Then the question followed: "Do you know what this woman is dreaming of?" When you shook your head in bewilderment, the explanation was provided: "She is dreaming of a "Trabant" car. Do you know when she will get it?" The answer to this question was on the other side of the bill depicting an old, gray-haired woman. Only looking really carefully into the tiny letters under the portrait one could read: Clara Zetkin. 

However, the introduction of the Soviet people to the historical figure did not begin with her portraits. In the Soviet Union Clara Zetkin was mainly known in connection to the Women's Day on March 8 that she initiated. However, there was no complete clarity in this regard and the authorship of the holiday sometimes was given to Rosa Luxemburg, perhaps due to the fact that Rose was born on March 5.

The idea of ​​celebrating International Women's Day on March 8 came to Europe from overseas. In 1908, at the call of women from the Socialist Party of America, the National Women's Committee was formed that was to initiate this spring day in the struggle for women's voting rights.

The first International Women's Day was celebrated with a complete triumph in the U.S. in February of 1909. At the time the feminists came to a rally alongside the Socialists. The American May Wood-Simon brought the idea to celebrate this day to the Second International Socialist Women's Conference, held in Copenhagen on August 27, 1910. German socialists Clara Zetkin and Käte Duncker spoke at a conference in Copenhagen in support of the International Women's Day.

Nevertheless, in the historical memory of many Soviet citizens the name of Clara Zetkin was firmly associated with the spring Women's Day. Clara's real name was Ayssner, sometimes spelled as Eißner. The name under which she entered into the history was arrogated by her not quite legitimately, as she was not officially married to the social democrat Ossip Zetkin. From the union with the political immigrant from Odessa she had two sons - Max and Constantine. When in 1889 Ossip Zetkin died of tuberculosis, Clara was only 32, but looked much older than her years.

Ten years after the death of her common law husband, 42-year-old Clara Zetkin married a 24-year-old painter Georg Friedrich Zundel and remained married to him until their divorce in 1928.

Clara Ayssner was born on July 5, 1857. She was the eldest daughter of Josephine Vitale, whose father, Jean Dominique, took an active part in the French Revolution in 1789, and in the Napoleonic campaigns. Her father was Gottfried Ayssner, a teacher and a cantor, the son of a rural laborer and schoolteacher from the Saxon town of Viderau. Her mother maintained contacts with the founder of the new women's movement, in particular, Louise Otto-Peters and Augusta Schmidt. She adored the books of George Sand and founded a women's gym Union in Viderau. To give children a good education, in 1872 the family moved to Leipzig.

From 1891 to 1917 Clara Zetkin was the editor of the proletarian women's magazine Die Gleichheit - "Equality," published in Stuttgart. She actively participated in the preparation and the work of the Constituent Congress of the International II in Paris, and never forgot about the fight for women's rights.

In 1907, Clara Zetkin met with Lenin, with whom she tied a lifetime friendship. Clara had uneasy relationship with the other ardent revolutionary, Rosa Luxemburg. In 1907 her 22-year-old son Constantine became the lover of 36-year-old Rosa Luxemburg. Clara was upset with Rosa for some time. But when the artist Zündel who fell in love with a young Paolo Bosch (a daughter of the founder of the famous household appliances company) asked Clara for a divorce, and her son Constantine left Rosa, the grief brought the two women closer together.  

Intimate friends and fellow fighters belonged to left-wing German social democracy and fought against the revisionist theories of the moderate socialist Eduard Bernstein. Criticizing him, they agreed with Lenin. However, the leader of the world proletariat was confused, as he said in a conversation with Zetkin, by "strange things". Lenin was perplexed how prostitutes could be organized as a special detachment of the revolutionary struggle when there were plenty of "industrial workers" in Germany.

"It is much like a literary fashion that attached the image of Madonna to every prostitute," Lenin said in a conversation with Clara Zetkin. He continued: "The list of your sins, Clara, is not over yet. I was told that at the reading evenings and discussions with women workers the issues of sex and marriage are the main topics of discussion. Allegedly this is the main object of attention of the political teaching and educational work. I did not believe my ears when I heard it. "

The proletariat fighting against counter-revolution had no place and time to discuss "matters of sex", that, as aptly noted by Lenin, "flourished on the muck of bourgeois society." Clara Zetkin continued to cling to the topic of women's emancipation, but in vain. An experienced debater, Lenin broke the resistance of the German Communist, who, in his words, had "strong remnants of the Social Democratic position, and an old-fashioned middle class."

Clara Zetkin passed away on June 20, 1933 in Arkhangelsk estate near Moscow at the age of 76. The urn with her ashes is entombed in the Kremlin wall on Red Square.

Igor Bukker


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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov