The woman behind International Women’s Day
Clara Zetkin, militant socialist & anti-racist
Published Mar 25, 2011 6:25 PM
German socialist Clara Zetkin (1857-1933) is known as the 1910 founder of
International Women’s Day. One of this day’s basic tenets is
demonstrating worldwide solidarity among working and oppressed women.
Zetkin belonged to the German Social Democratic Party and later co-founded the
Communist Party of Germany. An internationalist, she opposed all discrimination
and injustice and promoted solidarity with the working and oppressed peoples of
Zetkin was fiercely anti-racist and joined worldwide protests and condemnations
of Jim Crow racism in the U.S. South.
On March 25, 1932, nine innocent African-American teenagers, known as the
Scottsboro youth, were arrested on the concocted charge of raping two white
women. An all-white jury found the nine guilty; the state of Alabama sought to
railroad eight of them to death. A mistrial was declared in the case of the
ninth; he was only 12 years old.
It took a major national struggle by African Americans, socialists and other
progressive forces to turn this around. Clara Zetkin played a part in this
struggle. One of the two women, Ruby Bates, denied having been raped and joined
this movement demanding the freedom of the eight.
Angela Davis praised Zetkin for the “important role” she played in
“the extension of international solidarity to the struggle for Black
equality in the United States” in her introduction to “Clara
Zetkin: Selected Writings,” edited by Philip Foner. As the leader of
International Red Help, Davis explained, Zetkin “appealed to progressive
people [worldwide] to defend the Scottsboro youth.”
Zetkin’s 1932 call to “Save the Scottsboro Black Youth”
rallied the international progressive movement to “Raise your
voices.” “You must act immediately and with all all of your
energy,” she appealed, “so that eight young lives will be spared.
... Let us get the eight Black youths off the electric chair and out of
Not only were the charges a “conscious” lie, said Zetkin. She
blamed wealthy land and factory owners for seeking to “incinerate those
Black youth to terrorize the Black masses, which are rising up against their
“It must not happen that alongside these luminous pages of history
appears an augmentation of the blood-stained chronicles of lynchings and
judicial crimes by the murder of eight Black youths,” she insisted.
“The strong, irresistible shout of the ... innumerable masses must
overcome the verdict of race hatred of the judge. ... It must drown out the
scream of the lynching beast. The [masses’] hands ... must be clenched
into one gigantic fist which will tear up this judgment and topple the electric
“The battle for the rescue of these eight young lives from the torture
and murder of the electric chair is part of the worldwide historical struggle
between unbiased humanity and narrow-minded, brutal and bloody race hatred. ...
In this struggle, humaneness must emerge victoriously.” Zetkin asked that
all “work and fight with devotion” and called for international
solidarity among all workers from all countries.
The death sentences were finally dropped, although the Scottsboro defendants
were imprisoned for years despite their innocence. The last one was not
released until 1950.
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