On International Women’s Day: Alexandra Kollontai

“It is only in revolutionary struggle against the capitalists of every country, and only in union with the working women and men of the whole world, that we will achieve a new and brighter future — the socialist brotherhood of the workers.”Alexandra Kollontai

Alexandra Kollontai (March 31, 1872 – March 9, 1952)

I just wanna make a quick post for International Women’s Day, a holiday celebrated across the world to pay respect and honor the women of the world. It should come as no surprise that the holiday isn’t widely celebrated in the United States’, as most traditionally radical/awesome holidays aren’t.

Kollontai is an often overlooked figure in the history of the Russian Revolution and yet is easily one of the most enticing figures in its history.  Kollontai is not only an important figure of the revolution as one the most prominent women in the Bolshevik Party.  She was also a a prolific political theorist, revolutionary activist, visionary, as well as a novelist.

Kollontai became a passionate communist in 1896 after visiting a textile factory where mostly women worked.  She became active in the women’s strike movement that later took place at the plant, which served as a springboard for a lifetime of revolutionary political activity, especially in women’s struggles.  Later she joined the Bolshevik Party in 1915, and was an active socialist agitator, principally among women workers as a speaker and writer for various working-class papers.  As an active party leader, she banned together with other female members to challenge the party to pay more attention to the needs of women in Russia.

Kollontai believed that women’s liberation and sexual freedom were vital components in the struggle for socialism.  She advocated what many people today could refer to as “polyamory” or free love, and believed that under the conditions of classlessness the nuclear family would melt away as a superfluous extension of bourgeois property relations.

On the family under communism, Kollontai wrote,

The workers’ state needs new relations between the sexes, just as the narrow and exclusive affection of the mother for her own children must expand until it extends to all the children of the great, proletarian family, the indissoluble marriage based on the servitude of women is replaced by a free union of two equal members of the workers’ state who are united by love and mutual respect. In place of the individual and egoistic family, a great universal family of workers will develop, in which all the workers, men and women, will above all be comrades. This is what relations between men and women in the communist society will be like. These new relations will ensure for humanity all the joys of a love unknown in the commercial society, of a love that is free and based on the true social equality of the partners.

Poster for a lecture by Kollontai in the United States, 1915.

She was also an outspoken critic of “bourgeois” or liberal feminism, which aimed only for women’s political equality.  In an early leaflet written to celebrate the first ever celebration of International Women’s Day in Russia, she criticized liberal feminism,

For bourgeois women, political rights are simply a means allowing them to make their way more conveniently and more securely in a world founded on the exploitation of the working people. For women workers, political rights are a step along the rocky and difficult path that leads to the desired kingdom of labour.

Following the victory of the revolution in Russia in October 1917, Kollontai became a prominent official in the new Soviet government, founding the Women’s Department or “Zhenotdel.”

In 1920 she, along with the Bolshevik trade unionist Alexander Shliapnikov, helped form the Workers’ Opposition, a left faction of the Bolshevik Party.  The Workers’ Opposition argued against what they viewed as a tendency toward bureaucratization in the party and the reintroduction of capitalist policies.  In 1922 at the Tenth Party Congress, the Workers’ Opposition was banned.  In spite of their protest, almost all members of the Opposition remained active in the party.  Many of the faction’s leaders were later were killed or exiled during Stalin’s purges, including Shliapnikov.  Kollontai avoided the purges, and continued to rise within the Soviet government, becoming the world’s first ever female ambassador in 1923.

In 1926 Kollontai wrote her short but beautiful and inspiring autobiography titled The Autobiography of a Sexually Emancipated Communist Woman. Kollontai also frequently wrote fiction novels which reflected her theoretical and visionary work including Red Love and Love of Worker Bees.

Further Reading:

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