. Alexandra Kollontai | London Progressive Journal
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Alexandra Kollontai

Sun 6th Oct 2019

This short essay is a study of Alexandra Kollontai – the great Russian Socialist. Her life, and her work, was devoted to the struggle for Socialism, but it was also devoted to the struggle for the liberation of women. She was also a great thinker on the ideas of Marxism-Feminism. Kollontai is one of those figures, in the history of Russian Marxism, who deserves every part of her legacy – a revolutionary legacy devoted to revolutionary struggle. She spent her entire adult life struggling to ensure that the struggle for Socialism also included the struggle for the liberation of women. In her struggle for women she helped to ensure that one of the defining aspects of the October Revolution of 1917 was the struggle for women’s liberation. While the Soviet Union, the state created to serve the struggle of social liberation, was not perfect in terms of its struggle for women’s liberation, at many times during its history, what was achieved for women was remarkable – and owes a great deal to Kollontai. She truly personified the idea that the struggle for social liberation is only possible with the social liberation of women [1]. She truly personified the idea that women are central to the struggle for Socialism. Her life, from 1872 to 1952, was a life committed to Socialism and to Revolution. We should remember her as she lived – a life committed to the revolution, and a life committed to the liberation of all [2].

Alexandra Kollontai was born on 31 March 1872, in Ukraine. She was a Bolshevik who took part in both the Russian Revolution of 1905 and the Russian Revolution of 1917. Her father was a Tsarist general who fought in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878. Her father was a man of liberal political views. Kollontai’s family background was shaped by the difficulties of her parent’s marriage – difficulties which shaped her own politics, and her own views on women’s exploitation and women’s oppression. In her youth, in the 1890s, Kollontai became interested in Russian radical populism, and in the ideas of Marxism. She joined the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in 1899, met Lenin in 1899, became a Menshevik in 1906, during the 1903 split between Mensheviks and Bolsheviks, and became a Bolshevik in 1915. She witnessed the Bloody Sunday Massacre, in St. Petersburg, in 1905, which led to the Russian Revolution of 1905. She left Russia, in exile, in 1908. She visited Germany and became involved in the debates of German Social-Democracy. During this time she was often in contact with Clara Zetkin, Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, and other German revolutionary Socialists. At the outbreak of the First World War, Kollontai left Germany, for Denmark, and returned to Russia in 1917, with the victory of the February Revolution. After Lenin’s return to Russia, in April 1917, Kollontai was one of the few who immediately supported his call for working-class revolution - a Soviet Revolution. During this time she was also a member of the Petrograd Soviet. After the victory of the October Revolution, and the establishment of Soviet power, Kollontai became a member of the government – as people’s commissar for social welfare. In 1919 she founded the women’s department of the Bolshevik Party. Her role, in this area, helped to improve the lives of millions of Russian women – improving literacy, education, and rights for women. She was a leading figure in the Soviet government from 1917 to 1922. During this period she also wrote several works which outline a Marxist critique of the oppression of women – forming a basis for Socialist-Feminism. Her work also forms a crucial part of the Socialist critique of Liberal-Feminism. From 1922, Kollontai became increasingly involved in the diplomatic affairs of the Soviet government, holding diplomatic positions in Mexico and Scandinavia, until 1945. During the struggle between Trotsky and Stalin, in the 1920s, Kollontai sympathised with Trotsky and the Left Opposition but managed to survive Stalin’s purges in the 1930s. When Kollontai died, in 1952, she was one of the few surviving Old Bolsheviks. [3]

A woman like Kollontai is crucial in any social struggle. Her struggle was often enough to ensure that the Bolshevik government of 1917 was a major force for women’s rights. She agitated, day and night, to ensure that women were central to the Russian Revolution - and to the Soviet government. Her work, in this area, was unparalleled. Her work, in this area, was revolutionary. [4] Kollontai was a survivor. She was a survivor in the sense that she managed to survive the purges of Stalin and she managed to continue the struggle despite the limits of Stalinism. She was a survivor in that she continued the struggle for decades - against Tsarism, against Reaction, and against Counter-Revolution. Her example exists for any revolutionary who is faced with the real challenge of having to confront real political power and real social power. Her example also exists for anyone who recognises that in order for there to be social revolution there needs to be social revolution for women. Any effective Feminist politics can still learn a great deal from Alexandra Kollontai. Her example exists for any Socialist-Feminist. [5]

Kollontai can be criticised. Her opposition to Stalinism was not strong. Her Feminism was not always perfect. She often made mistakes in terms of her day-to-day politics. This does not distract from the reality of her importance. She was a revolutionary - a real revolutionary. She deserves her memory and her legacy. She remains one of the great revolutionaries of the 20th century.

1 A. Kollontai, New Woman, (1918)
2 A. Kollontai, Women Workers Struggle For Their Rights, (1919)
3 A. Kollontai, Autobiography, (1926)
4 A. Kollontai, Autobiography, (1926)
5 B.E. Clements, The Life of Aleksandra Kollontai, (1979)
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