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Aleksandra Mikhailovna Kollontai

Aleksandra Mikhailovna Kollontai

The Soviet diplomat Aleksandra Mikhailovna Kollontai (1872-1952) was a champion of women's rights. She is also known for her advocacy of free love and revolutionary opposition.

Aleksandra Kollontai was born Aleksandra M. Domontovich on April 1, 1872, in St. Petersburg. Her father was a czarist general, and her early life reflected her family's privileged status. She was briefly married to a czarist officer but soon separated from him and from the background that he and her family represented. At the turn of the century she became an agitator for woman's rights and joined the nascent Russian Social Democratic movement. When the movement divided into Bolshevik and Menshevik factions, she vacillated between both groups. She drifted from both factions, spending her time abroad after 1908, where she moved through various countries arguing that a revolutionary movement must overthrow conventional family structure as well as political and economic structures. Her "winged Eros" theory denounced marriage and the family unit and argued for free love.

The trauma of World War I led Kollontai to play down her emphasis on breaking up families and also radicalized her political outlook. She became reconciled with V. I. Lenin—with whom she had been on bad terms for a decade—and corresponded with him extensively while she lived in the United States. In 1917, after the overthrow of the monarchy, she returned to Russia, where she actively identified with the Bolsheviks, being elected to the party's Central Committee in August 1917 and becoming an enthusiastic participant in the seizure of power in November 1917.

For the first several years of Bolshevik power, Kollontai was actively identified with opposition movements. In 1918 she joined the Left-Communists in opposing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, by which Soviet Russia left the war. In 1920 she was one of the most prominent leaders of the Workers Opposition, where she agitated for relaxation of party and government control of the trade unions and for more state functions to be turned over to the unions. In 1921, after presumably accepting political reconciliation, she became the head of the women's section of the Bolshevik party. However, her renewed espousal and practice of free love scandalized the party leadership, and she narrowly avoided expulsion.

In 1923, having apparently settled down and abandoned her crusade for free love and revolutionary action, Kollontai embarked on a new career as a diplomat, at first in Norway. In 1926-1927 she was briefly in Mexico and then returned to Norway. In 1930 she was named minister (later ambassador) to Sweden, where she served some 15 years, enjoying occasional prominence, as in her 1944 negotiation of the Soviet-Finnish armistice. In 1945 she returned to Moscow, where she lived her remaining years as an adviser to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She died on March 9, 1952.

Further Reading

For the story of Aleksandra Kollontai's life see Isabel de Palencia, Alexandra Kollantay: Ambassadress from Russia (1947). □

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