Kollontai, Alexandra 1872–1952

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Kollontai, Alexandra
1872–1952

Alexandra Kollontai, née Domontovich, Bolshevik feminist and diplomat, was born in St. Petersburg on March 31 (March 19, old style), 1872, the daughter of a Russian general and a half-Finnish mother. Her girlhood radical sympathies arose from reading French and Russian novels and from news about the executed assassins of Tsar Alexander II in 1881—one of whom was female. Alexandra was briefly married to Vladimir Kollontai, son of a Polish political exile. In the 1890s, she aligned herself with the Russian Marxists who in 1903 divided into Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. At first a Menshevik, she published anticapitalist works and distributed illegal pamphlets to St. Petersburg factory workers. After witnessing Bloody Sunday in 1905, when tsarist troops shot down unarmed workers, Kollontai became a full-time revolutionary. At the same time, Russian feminists, after the establishment of a parliament, were agitating for women's suffrage. Kollontai, outraged that feminists ignored the class struggle, worked to enlist female factory workers into a proletarian women's movement that would join the struggle for a socialist revolution. She launched an assault on what she called "bourgeois feminism" while attempting to bring issues of women's lives to the attention of her largely indifferent male socialist colleagues.

During World War I, Kollontai sided with the Bolsheviks on their antiwar positions. In 1917 she organized women against the war and the Provisional Government. When the Bolsheviks took power that year, she gained a temporary appointment as commissar of public welfare and a few years later headed up Zhenotdel—the women's section of the Bolshevik (now Communist) Party. In the early 1920s, she used her position to fight prostitution, recruit women into politics, propagandize their right to divorce and abortion, and work for the emancipation of Central Asian Muslim women. But she also incurred censure for leading an opposition faction within the party. Kollontai's factionalism and her sexual writings led Vladimir Lenin and his successors to remove her from Soviet domestic politics by appointing her to diplomatic posts in Norway and Mexico, and eventually as ambassador to Sweden. She survived Joseph Stalin's lethal purges and World War II and died in Moscow on March 9, 1952.

Kollontai, more than any other Bolshevik—male or female—delved into gender issues before and after the revolution. While condemning prostitution, which "smothers love in human hearts," she allowed for sex outside formal marriage for both genders. She viewed marriage practices of her day as emotionally constrictive and failing to allow for incompatibility. Her ideal partnership was a comradely union of equals, whose offspring would be raised, if the couple wished, with the help of the state. She considered free unions just as legitimate as legal marriage, but warned women of the traps set by consuming passion that could drain their energy and often flatten their egos. For Kollontai, reproductive freedom was essential, though she saw the 1920 Soviet legalization of abortion a necessary evil that a socialist society would obviate through the state's ability to care for of all children. Going beyond legal and social policy, Kollontai developed the notion of "winged eros," sensuous and rarefied "love play" that required mutual sensitivity and independence for both partners. Opposing any restraint on sexual and reproductive life, she posited a "New Woman" of self-discipline, individuality, sexually, and economic independence in a future collectivist society where those who chose parenthood cared for their own and for others' children under a state umbrella of communal housekeeping.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

WORKS BY

Kollontai, Alexandra. 1971. Autobiography of a Sexually Emancipated Communist Woman. New York: Herder and Herder.

Kollontai, Alexandra. 1971. Kvinnans ställning i den ekonomiska samhällsutvecklingen [Women's position in the economic development of society]. Helsinki: Gidlunds.

Kollontai, Alexandra. 1972. Izbrannye stati i rechi [Selected articles and speeches]. Moscow: Politizdat.

Kollontai, Alexandra. 1977. Selected Writings of Alexandra Kollontai, ed. and trans. Alix Holt. New York: Norton.

WORKS ABOUT

Clements, Barbara Evans. 1979. Bolshevik Feminist: The Life of Aleksandra Kollontai. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Farnsworth, Beatrice. 1980. Aleksandra Kollontai: Socialism, Feminism, and the Bolshevik Revolution. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Halvorsen, Carsten. 1946. Revolutionens Ambassador: Alexandra Kollontays liv og gerning [Ambassador of reolution: Alexandra Kollontai's life and work]. Copenhagen: Tiden.

Itkina, A. M. 1970. Revolyutsioner, tribun, diplomat: Stranitsy zhizni Aleksandry Mikhailovny Kollontai [Revolutionary, tribune, diplomat: pages from the life of Alexandra Mikhailovna Kollontai]. 2nd edition. Moscow: Izd. Polit. Lit.

                                                  Richard Stites

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Kollontai, Alexandra 1872–1952

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