Clara Zetkin 1914

The Duty of Working Women in War-Time

Source: Zetkin “The Duty of Working Women in War-Time,” Justice, 19th November 1914, p.2. A stirring call in time of war;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

The New York “Vorwärts” the weekly edition of the “Neu Yorker Volkszeitung,” publishes an article on this subject from the pen of our esteemed comrade Clara Zetkin, of which the following is a summary The desire of the international proletariat for peace has shown itself powerless to prevent the world war. As cannon balls roll over weak blades of grass, which but yesterday waved gently in the breeze, crushing them to the earth, so the forces of Imperialism, driven on by capitalism, have swept over the proletarian peace demonstrations and hopes. The world is now aflame. A war is raging such as has never been known before ....

Was it necessary?

Workers Towards Socialism.

Martial-law makes it impossible for us to seek an answer. We are face to face with the fact that the driving forces of capitalism have burst the bounds of peaceful development. The consequences are incalculable, for whatever the changes may be which the war brings about on the map of Europe, it is certain that it will not be fought to the end without having the most tremendous effect on the economics of the nations, and on the world’s market. It is just this consideration which demands that the working class should become, in increased measure, the conscious bearers of the historic process of development towards the higher social order of Socialism.

It were unworthy of Socialist women to watch these historic events with folded hands, which from their To-day are preparing the To-morrow. The times call them to great tasks, the fulfilment of which requires all the devotion, enthusiasm and self-sacrifice which flows from the “eternal feminine” of their nature and their conviction.

War and Hunger.

The twin-sister of war is hunger. Its shrivelled, merciless hand knocks at the door of each family whose breadwinner is in the field .... Unemployment, too, spreads more quickly than any pestilence; anxiety, hunger, sickness, child-mortality follow in its wake. What will the winter bring? That, question is on millions of lips ....

Here we have the wide field where the Socialist women can fight battles, which are at the same time battles for their rights as human beings. The moment demands their whole strength. And so the Socialist women are working peacefully alongside of the bourgeois nationalist “Women’s Service,” and. also with its representatives on communal bodies, without however joining its organisation, which would be a drag upon them in their work. Our comrade Frau Zietz has recently written an article pointing out the necessity of such activity and the lines of demarcation by which it must be guided in each instance.

The Help of Women Essential.

If the municipalities are in earnest in their desire to stem the terrible tide of approaching misery, they cannot do without the help of our women comrades’ day. For they bring to the relief work knowledge and schooling obtained in the Socialist Party and the trade unions, as well as the practical experience which they have gained as proletarians. They know how to find the way to those proud and sensitive sufferers in garret and cellar who do not apply for relief, and they can find the sympathetic word that will loosen their tongues. They have the quick penetrating eye to see where and in what way help is needed. More than anyone else they can “open their mouth for the dumb and for the cause of all that are forsaken.” No alms; help and work as a social duty, that is the demand put convincingly by them to all public bodies. And our women must moreover seek to awaken the Socialist spirit, the proletarian class solidarity, in those they are helping; for let it be remembered that all the loving help and relief are in themselves incapable of shaking the foundations of capitalist society.

Maintain our Organisation

The war has thinned the ranks of our political and economic organisations. It is for the women to see that the loosened threads are not entirely sundered. When we speak of preserving the organisations, we mean, above all, the spirit which dwells therein. One of the most important methods of preserving this spirit is by the circulation of our Press, which, above all the turmoil of battle and the heaps of ruins, must keep the banner of International Socialism waving aloft unstained.

The Hardening Effect of War.

International Socialism! Do not the words sound like a mockery? In the days when the representatives of the proletariat should have been assembled in Vienna for the covenant of peace and freedom of the peoples, tens of thousands of the sons of the people were drawing their last breath on the battlefields, tens of thousands more were lying groaning in the field. hospitals, and that death and those wounds had been dealt by a brother-hand. Hundreds of thousands, indeed millions, irrespective of what country’s uniform they wear, are declaring with clenched teeth: “We do not wish to, we must. The rights and independence of our fatherland are menaced.” War has its own logic, its own laws and standards. It creates an atmosphere which indeed calls forth heroism, but which on the other hand, whether the fighters would or no, often rouses the beast that slumbers in the sub-consciousness of man. Letters from the front prove the hardening of the soul and the senses to the horrors of battle, a hardening which in many cases develops into brutality and bestiality. The papers relate the most horrible atrocities which citizens beyond the German boundaries are said to have perpetrated, in the name of patriotism, against the invading German soldiers; yes, even against the wounded and those who are caring for them. Even if the descriptions of these deeds are enormously exaggerated, as we believe they are, there is still more than enough of barbarity.

“Avenging” “Outrages.”

But do our ears deceive us? Similar barbarities are to “avenge” these misdeeds. That is what we read in part of the bourgeois Press. For every German maliciously shot, a village burnt down. The “Berliner Neueste Nachrichten” goes further and demands “ the clearance of occupied districts of all inhabitants .... Everyone seen in civil dress in the banned districts 24 hours after the expulsion order should be shot as a “spy.” Hand in hand with the advocacy of barbarism goes, of course, detraction of foreign peoples, whose friendship Germany but yesterday was striving to gain, and the belittling of their contributions to the upward march of humanity. It is as though all the standards were broken by which right and justice used to be measured in the life of nations, all the weights falsified with which the value of national things was weighed. Far away indeed seems the world-wide ideal of proletarian solidarity, the brotherhood of the peoples. Is it possible that the war extinguishes not only human lives, but human goals?

All Peoples have Contributed to Civilisation.

No, a thousand times no. Let us not allow the working masses to forget that the war has been caused by world-wide economic and political complications, and not by ugly and despicable personal qualities in the peoples with which Germany is fighting. Let us have the courage, when we hear the invectives against “perfidious Albion,” the “degenerate French,” the “barbaric Russians,” etc., to reply by pointing out the ineradicable riches contributed by these peoples to human development, and how they have assisted the fruition of German civilisation. The Germans, who have themselves contributed so much towards the international treasury of civilisation, ought to be able to exercise justice and veracity in judging other peoples. Let us point out that all peoples have the same right to independence and autonomy for the preservation of which the Germans are struggling ....

We Socialist women hear the voices which in this time of blood and iron still speak softly, painfully, and yet consolingly, of the future. Let us be their interpreters to our children. Let us preserve them from the harsh brazen sound of the ideas which fill the streets to-day, in which cheap pride-of-race stifles humanity. In our children must grow up the security that this most frightful of all wars shall be the last. The blood of the killed and wounded must not be a stream to divide that which unites the present distress and the future hope. It must be as a cement which shall bind fast for all time

The “Gleichheit” Suppressed

“The ‘Gleichheit’ Suppressed,” Justice, 17th Dec. 1914, (anon) p.1.

“Humanité” publishes a report from a Swiss correspondent that the journal “Gleichheit,” published at Stuttgart and edited by our well-known comrade, Clara Zetkin, has been suppressed, and her “Appeal to Socialist Women” confiscated. This action of the Würtemburg Government follows upon the speech delivered on Sunday, December 6, at a Party meeting at Stuttgart. She strongly attacked the attitude of the majority of the Social-Democratic Reichstag Section. At the conclusion of her speech the local Executive of the Party and about thirty delegates left the hall, leaving nearly a hundred delegates present. These delegates passed a resolution congratulating Karl Liebknecht on voting against the further war credits in the Reichstag.

The number of the “Gleichheit” for November 27 contained a stirring article by Clara Zetkin entitled “An Appeal to the Socialist Women of all Countries.” In it she wrote: “The longer the war continues, the more are the masks torn down that have deceived so many people. It is presenting itself in all its naked ugliness as a war of capitalist conquest and world domination.” She makes a passionate appeal to the Socialist women of all countries to preserve the old Social-Democratic ideal and not to permit themselves to be carried away by the pervading Chauvinism. She saysIf men must kill, it is we women who must fight for life. If men remain silent, it is our duty to speak out.”

A certain number of copies of the “Gleichheit” were sent across the Swiss frontier before the issue was confiscated.