Arts and Culture
The title of this paper is taken from a court statement made by Clara Zetkin (1857-1933), leader of the Proletarian Women’s Movement in Germany, following her arrest in November 1915 on the charge of treason. Accused of disseminating pamphlets which allegedly sought ‘to turn women away from their patriotic duty’, she emphatically defines herself as an ‘international socialist woman’, thereby positioning herself in opposition to the patriarchal, nationalist discourses which prevailed during World War I. Reacting against the widespread belief that women should support the war and the fatherland, she commits herself to ‘the international solidarity of women’ and ‘their pacifist cause’.
Taking Zetkin’s statement as a starting point, this paper examines the depiction of the proletarian woman in the work of female writers such as Berta Lask (1878-1967), Claire Goll (1890-1977), and Clara Viebig (1860-1952). It aims to show how the figure takes on shifting political meanings, as writers attempt to negotiate the competing discourses of nationalism and internationalism, belligerence and pacifism. In some texts, the figure is used to convey a class-based sense of universal sisterhood, born out of opposition to imperialism and militarism, which transcends national boundaries. In others, it appears to assume nationally specific characteristics, paradoxically asserting the superiority of the German proletarian woman in the international class struggle. The figure of the proletarian woman is thus part of a complex system of circulation, in which categories of gender and class are used both to challenge and reassert notions of national loyalty and fixed geographical belonging.