German Socialist Women’s Movement
(9 October 1909)
Clara Zetkin, Justice, 9th October 1909, p. 7.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
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In 1907 the Social-Democratic Party of Germany embraced 29,458 women members, in 1908 they numbered 62,257. These figures show the practical result of political propaganda in favour of Socialism during the last twelve months. 1908 was the first year in which the new law of association for the whole Empire allowed women to join political organisations. Up to then every federated State had a law of association of its own, and throughout most of the Empire the legal prescriptions forbade women becoming members of organising political societies. Still worse, the authorities interpreted the legal texts so arbitrarily as to declare that a committee of three women comrades constituted a political organisation; and severe punishments were inflicted on women who joined societies or organised them. In some of the federated countries the law up to May, 1908, prohibited to women the attending of political and public meetings and conferences. It is an evidence of a very powerful, class-conscious conviction, and of good practical sense and training, that in spite of the fetters of the reactionary laws and the brutal practices of the authorities the Socialist women had already succeeded in joining the Party to the number of nearly 30,000; and that in the course of one year they have nearly doubled that number. In 257 local sections of the S.D.P. they had elected in 1908 a woman comrade on the Executive, and in more than fifty other sections such elections were to take place. One hundred and fifty lecture and study circles for women have been established by Party sections in order to serve the theoretical and practical instruction of their women members.
Socialist propaganda amongst the workers’ wives and women wage-earners has been carried on by many hundred public meetings, in which women comrades addressed more particularly working-class women. Over a million copies of a leaflet were distributed amongst them which, in a simple and popular manner, analysed the political events of the day, showing for what reasons women as well as men are interested in politics and must join the S.D.P. Since 1892 “Gleichheit,” the organ of the Socialist women, and which is the property of the Party, has spread Socialist ideas amongst working-class women, and has provided for the theoretical education of the women comrades. Several trade unions with a great women membership give the paper free of cost to their women members; “Gleichheit” had a circulation last year of 73,000 copies.
The office of the Socialist women, that in the former years was the centre of their propaganda work and activity, being managed by their Vertrauensperson (woman confidant) for the Empire, elected at their bi-annual conferences, was attached, in 1908 to the general office of the Party, according to the new form of political organisation for both sexes. The women’s office works now in conjunction with the Party’s Executive, in which one of the two women officers fills the post of assistant-member. In cases where it seems useful—and such happen very often—the women’s office enters also into relation with the general committee of the trade unions. Thus the political leaflet, mentioned above, was issued by our women’s office In common with the Executive of the S.D.P., and together with them and the general committee of the trade unions the office called by circulars the attention of the women comrades to various practical tasks in favour of social reforms. They are to make a vigorous propaganda that the wage-earning women shall in large numbers exercise the franchise to the administrative bodies of the State sick-Insurance, the only kind of franchise women possess in Germany. The women comrades were further engaged to form local committees for the protection of children and to improve those already existing. As the legal inspection of the administration of the children’s protective law is absolutely insufficient, these committees, together with the local trade unions’ councils, have to watch over such administration. Besides this, Socialist women were reminded to found and improve protective committees for women-workers, and collect their grievances on illegal and pernicious conditions of labour, forwarding them to the factory inspector.
Besides their activity in that line, the Socialist women have continued their propaganda in favour of the full political emancipation of their sex. The struggle for universal suffrage, vigorously maintained, particularly in Prussia, was a struggle for adult suffrage for both sexes, vindicated in meetings and leaflets. Public and factory meetings in great number; and an indefatigable activity in other different forms, have served he trade union organisations of the women workers. The number of women trade unionists has increased from 136,429 in 1907 to 138,44.3 in 1908. The work of our trade unions to enlighten, train and organise wage-earning women is not smaller nor less important than what the S.D.P. has done to induce women to join in political struggles of the working class.
The Party and trade unions are inspired with the Socialist conception of history, therefore they are aware of the great importance, in principle and practice, a Socialist women’s movement has. In consequence the political and trade union organisations give hearty help to the work of the women comrades. Yet how much our Socialist women’s movement is indebted to them for fraternal assistance! It must, however, be emphasised that its development as to extension and maturity is, in the last instance, the very own work of the women comrades themselves
The most prominent feature of the Socialist women’s movement in Germany is its clearness and revolutionary spirit as to Socialist theories and principles. The women who head it are fully conscious that the social fate of their sex is indissolubly connected with the general evolution of society, the most powerful moving force of which is the evolution of labour, of economic life. The integral human emancipation of all women depends in consequence on the social emancipation of labour; that can only be realised by the class-war of the exploited majority. Therefore, our Socialist women oppose strongly the bourgeois women righters’ credo that the women of all classes must gather into an unpolitical, neutral movement striving exclusively for women’s rights. In theory and practice they maintain the conviction that the class antagonisms are much more powerful, effective and decisive than the social antagonisms between the sexes, and that thus the working-class women will never win their full emancipation in a struggle of all women without difference of class against the social monopolies of the male sex, but only in the class-war of all the exploited, without difference of sex, against all who exploit, without difference of sex. That does not mean at all that they undervalue the importance of the political emancipation of the female sex. On the contrary, they employ much more energy than the German women-righters to conquer the suffrage. But the vote is, according to their views, not the last word and term of their aspirations, but only a weapon—a means in struggle for a revolutionary aim—the Socialistic order.
The Socialist women’s movement in Germany is inspired with the monumental dictum of Karl Marx “The philosophers hitherto have only interpreted the world in different ways; what has yet to be done is to change the world.” It strives to help change the world by awakening the consciousness and the will of working-class women to join in performing the most Titanic deed that history will know: the emancipation of labour by the labouring class themselves.