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Alexandra Kollontai

From Women in European History

File:Kollontai_alexandra.jpg‎

De'Azia L. Baldwin

During Russia’s communist revolution changing social structures and the emergence of a new political party brought new opportunities.Changing laws for the Soviet family would push for a complete overhaul of Russian society [1]. This new era saw an introduction of women playing increasing roles in the political functions of society. Especially due to the platform of equality, the Communist Party became the breeding ground of many political influences, including some women among the most prominent. One of those women was Alexandra Kollontai. During her time with the Party, Kollontai held many prominent roles in there activities. She was able to administer new policies in support of the liberation of women, family, and the worker. Her ideals of equality, which included a women’s right to care for herself and her family as she saw fit, became among the first associated with feminism. During her political career Alexandra Kollontai was listed among the most well known and influential social revolutionaries.

Contents

Childhood

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Alexandra Mickailovna Domontovich was born in 1872 between the end of March or the beginning of April. The discrepancy in the day of her birth, which is said to be between March 19 and April 1 due to the fact that after the Russian Revolution adjustments were made to their calendar. She was born in the Russian capitol of Saint Petersburg to a family of Russian nobility. Her father, Michael Domontovich, was a general and member of Ukrainian gentry. Her mother, also named Alexandra, came from a family of peasants; her father however, was able to obtain a small fortune from exporting wood. The two would not marry until years after their first meeting, and would do so under controversial circumstances. Her mother was still legally married to her first husband, Mravinskii, at the time she became pregnant with young Kollontai. Due to this, Michael, her father, would have to adopt her after her birth. Showing an independent nature, the new wife refused to be a burden to her husband and went on to build a profitable business out of their family home [2]. Alexandra’s mother had children from her previous marriage which meant that the new baby became the youngest of four children: two older sisters Jenny and Adele and one older brother. She was, however, special in that she was the first baby from the marriage of her parents to survive infancy. Due to this Alexandra was heavily nurtured. She was drowned in love and protected and watched over with what was deemed unconditional love and affection. In her autobiography Kollontai states that she “was the youngest, the most spoiled, and the most coddled member of the family.”[3] At an early age she was given the nickname Shura. Because of fear of social influences on their child and the desire to have her presence constantly in the home, Shura was home schooled. Marie Strakhova, Shura’s nanny and educational tutor, was among the early influences of Russian revolution and activism in Kollontai’s life.

During her childhood days, Alexandra was never denied much. Despite this initial affection and being granted every wish, Alexandra seemed to have always been a rebel at heart. Kollontai’s mother and sisters were thought to be beautiful and were among the socialite women of the day. However, when in the presence of these women and their peers, Kollontai had become like her father, developing a growing distaste for what she saw as mundane, insignificant chatter of the women of her class [4]. Her father, too, was often away or irremovably wrapped up in his writings. Because of her father’s business dealings in the home, Kollontai was constantly aware of the turmoil that went on in Russia at the time. She often spent time listening to the tales and discussion of her father and his associates on political issues and uproars.

Young Shura was given as many material possessions as she could hope. Despite this she watched with empathy as other children her age struggled with their families to satisfy daily needs [5]. And, while both her paretns were strong willed intellectuals, they had held from two different backgrounds, giving Alexandra a wide specturm to develop her mind with. Growing up in this type of environment, one in which harsh and unfair conditions were constantly in her midst and the unsettling dynamics of the political entities were made known, fueled the flame in Kollontai’s heart to fight against injustice and inequality. She became focused on education and change. Always an advocate for freedom, her belieF that woman should have equality in all facets of life could be seen in her choice of marriage. Rather than be married of by the arrangement of her family and a suitor, Kollontai choose instead to be married in 1893 to a cousin, Vladimir Kollontai, whom she had always adored. To this union one son was born, Michael. The marriage to Vladimir was short lived due to differences not only in economic background but, educational interest as well [6]. Alexandra Kollontai filed for divorce, to the agreement of her husband who too felt trapped and unhappy in the marriage. This was done in an effort to give her more physical and mental liberation and control.

Involvement in the Communist Party

Kollontai’s interest in education, struggle, and history is what helped to lead her to the new Russian Revolution that had begun to emerge at the time. As a student she would often indulge in the many political readings available. After being encouraged by her teacher, she quickly became a supporter of the new political force forming around her. Taking up the plight of the working class after a visit to Narva, a textile factory, she became more and more intrigued by the socialist theories of Marxism. Kollontai begun working small jobs for the radical Social Democrats and was further encouraged by her associates within the Party to join them, which she conceded to doing. In 1905, a little after she had joined the movement, Kollontai was a witness toBloody Sunday, at which point she had already become a known member of the Communist movement because of her speeches and writings. One of those writings was a Finnish pamphlet entitled the Czarist Duma, written in support of and as a call to arms for women’s movements [7]. With her involvement in the Communist Party Kollontai could see that even from a Marxist view equality was needed and required for all functioning members of society. As she recognized it, this would include women. During this time in Russia the role of women outside of the home was changing, especially in the working class where the number of women laborers was greatly increasing. The work of women, including prostitution, and women themselves were beginning to be seen as of equal value and importance to that of man. Because of this Kollontai is considered to be one of the first and rare supports of the feminist movement within the Communist Party, an issue that would remain closer to her heart than any other. She felt that women’s liberation would come naturally and as a result of social change through “comradeship between the sexes”. Her views of the expression of free love extended not to simply sexual desires but also to a woman’s ability and right to choose her mate [8] Kollontai fought to include the demands of women in the Party’s working-class movement. In 1907 the Working Women’s Club was opened in connection with the struggle of the Communist movement with the support of a few of the party members. Her support of the Russian Communist movement, feminism, and the working-class revolution caused the reigning government to view Kollontai as an outlaw. Her views and opinions were believed to be “playing the game of reaction and that she unchained brutal passions among the workers.[9]” This view of her political intentions were like a black ball to her efforts. She was seen as a trouble-maker, who's goal was to produce unwarranted public outcry and violent revolts. Furthermore, she worked with efforts to improve the connection between Finnish and Russian Social-Democratic Parties in order to further their plight against the Tsar. This lead to Kollontai’s becoming a fugitive, having to leave her child in the safety of close companions and fleeing to neutral areas of Europe and America in 1908.

At some point during the revolution, most notably at a convention in the year of 1907, the Russian Social Democratic Party was split into two opposing views, the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. The Bolsheviks were led under the direction of V. Lenin,who asserted that in order to effect change the Party would need to partake in a workers' revolution and over throw the current government. The Mensheviks were lead by A. Bogdanov, believing that boycotts and protest of Russian government were needed to bring them peacefully into the new form of government [10]. Kollontai originally joined sides with the latter of the two groups. Beginning in 1911 Alexandra Kollontai would organize several strikes and lectures to support and bring awareness to the plights of women and the working class revolution. Sometime during this period she reports that she had found a new love interest, which did not work out due to his inability to view her as intellectual and not just female. This view, that women should have roles and identities completely opposite of men because of gender, conflicted with Alexandra’s growing views on feminism and cross-gender equality. In spite of the let down in her failed relationship, Kollontai left Germany, where she had taken up residence upon her return to Europe, in August 1914 when the Party platforms were just beginning to emerge and but heads, and moved to Sweden in an effort to fight against the World War. Upon her return to GermanY Kollontai became close friends and accomplice to an old Party acquaintance of hers, Vladimir Lenin. Kollontai became more aware of the Bolshevik socialist aspirations. One issue of top priority to Lenin, as Alexandra would learn, was how the idea of war would affect workers. This knowledge, coupled with her fierce determination to change the way society and the revolution where going led her to join the Bolshevik party.


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Career

One of the most important things that Alexandra had a hand in was the fight for higher working wages. She became a part of the Central Committee in the party. When the war broke out in Russia, Kollontai quickly went to work in trying to turn the masses from the new found ‘war-hysteria’[11]. Because of her intense involvement, Alexandra was arrested on the terms of spy and treason. Kollontai was counted as being among the first Social-Democrats to be arrested due to anti-war propaganda. She was released in 1917 and was appointed People’s Commissar of Social Welfare. This cabinet position made Kollontai the first woman in Russia to hold a government office.

With her work in the changing revolution as a Communist cabinet member Alexandra continued to push the issues that burdened women and children and, her advice and recommendations were sought to shape all matters pertaining to women as dealt with by the Party. She advocated for equality in woman’s rights and expression in connection with men. Kollontai challenged the roles of gender in daily function, often refering to the feminist ideals she held dear to heart. She asserted that feminism was not the notion of complete power or seperation from men. Kollontai believed in the idea of woman as a completed self, socially independent and equal to men in all regards. She felt that this too, like any revolutionary issue,would be[12] a necessary part of the Party’s programming. Many of the policies established concerning women would serve as guidelines in other communist revolutions, such as the one in Canada [13]. However, due to the strength and presistence of her ideals Kollontai would later resign from this post because of conflict with male members of the party. In October of 1922 she was appointed by the Soviet as the first woman ambassadress to Norway. In this post Kollontai worked toward bettering trade between Russia and Norway. Her efforts led to the signing of a trade agreement in Moscow in 1925. Kollontai held the position of ambassadress for three years. This was an important step in history because as a woman she was not only the first to hold some of the most prominent positions, but was also to have a greater impact on legislation that had ever before.

Death and Legacy

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Alexandra Kollontai died on March 9, 1952. From an early age she had refused to settle for what society had to over her. She encouraged women to take charge of not only their rights and knowledge but, that of their children as well. It was her hope and objective to bring revolution and liberty not just on an individual level, but also through the emancipation of the family unit as an entity, essential to social welfare. She left behind a legacy of hard work and support of the working class. One of the things she is most remembered for is her influence on the feminist movement of her time. She sympathized with the working class and the struggles they faced day to day. Kollontai fought against the stereotypes and traditional roles of women during her time in order to further the progression of society. She worked closely within the Communist Party of Russia, changing the role women played in the Party and becoming a leader and motivator through her writings and speeches. She played a vital role in the shaping of Communist policies and bringing about social awareness. Her experiences and achievements, as a woman, Social-Democratic revolutionary, and feminist, were trail blazing and many of her ideals are remembered among the most influential staples of Communist programming.

Sources


Alexandra Kollontai - Annotated Bibliography

References

  1. Sangster, John. "The Communist Party and the Woman Question, 1922-1929 ." Labour / Le Travail. Vol. 15. Canadian Committee on Labour History and Athabasca University Press (Spring 1985):26
  2. DePalencia, Isabel. Alexandra Kollontai:Ambassadress from Russia. Longmans, Green and Co. Toronto, Canada. 1947. p15
  3. Kollontai, Alexandra. The Autobiography of a Sexually Emancipated Communist Woman. New York, New York: Herder and Herder. 1971
  4. DePalencia, Isabel. Alexandra Kollontai:Ambassadress from Russia. Longmans, Green and Co. Toronto, Canada. 1947. p. 21
  5. DePalencia, Isabel. Alexandra Kollontai:Ambassadress from Russia. Longmans, Green and Co. Toronto, Canada. 1947. 63
  6. Kollontai, Alexandra. The Autobiography of a Sexually Emancipated Communist Woman. New York, New York: Herder and Herder. 1971
  7. Farnsworth, Beatrice. Aleksandra Kollontai socialism feminism and the Bolshevik revolution. Stanford University Press. Stanford, CA. 1980.
  8. Kollontai, Alexandra. Sexual relations and the class struggle love and the new morality. The Falling Wall Press. 1972.
  9. DePalencia, Isabel. Alexandra Kollontai:Ambassadress from Russia. Longmans, Green and Co. Toronto, Canada. 1947. p 138
  10. Yassour, Avraham. “Lenin and Bogdanov: Protagonists in the ‘Bolshevik Center’”. Studies in soviet thought. Vol 22 No1. Springer. (Feb 1981): 3
  11. DePalencia, Isabel. Alexandra Kollontai:Ambassadress from Russia. Longmans, Green and Co. Toronto, Canada. 1947
  12. Farnsworth, Beatrice. Aleksandra Kollontai socialism feminism and the Bolshevik revolution. Stanford University Press. Stanford, CA. 1980.p 23
  13. Sangster, John. "The Communist Party and the Woman Question, 1922-1929 ." Labour / Le Travail. Vol. 15. Canadian Committee on Labour History and Athabasca University Press (Spring 1985): 24-56

REVISED COMMENTS: THIS IS LOOKING BETTER. I'M STILL NOT SEEING FOOTNOTES. BE SURE TO INCLUDE REFERENCES FOR FINAL VERSION. DON'T FORGET TO ADD IN AT LEAST THREE OUTSIDE LINKS. CONTINUE TO BE VILIGANT ABOUT GRAMMAR AND PUNCTUATION. I CORRECTED MUCH OF WHAT I SAW, BUT IT WOULDN'T HURT TO HAVE A WRITING TUTOR TAKE A LOOK AT IT. ALSO CONTINUE TO WORK TO MAKE YOUR ANALYSIS SHINE THROUGH. YOU'VE DEFINETELY MADE PROGRESS ADDRESSING THE COMMENTS BELOW, BUT CONTINUE TO WORK TO IMPROVE ON THOSE FRONTS FOR THE FINAL VERSION.

THIS IS A GOOD START. HOWEVER, YOU NEED TO FOCUS YOUR WRITING MORE, ON THE LEVEL OF PARAGRAPHS, SECTIONS, AND THE PAPER AS A WHOLE. WHAT DO YOU WANT READERS TO GET OUT OF IT? WHAT POINTS ARE YOU TRYING TO MAKE? AS IT STANDS, THIS IS A NARRATIVE OF HER LIFE, BUT IT DOESN'T PROVIDE ANY ANALYSIS OR SENSE OF WHY HER STORY IS IMPORTANT. FURTHER, THE WIKI IS CURRENTLY ABOUT HALF AS LONG AS IT SHOULD BE. YOU NED TO ADD IN SPECIFIC EXAMPLES, REFERENCES FROM THE TEXT AND FROM YOUR SECONDARY SOURCES, AND FOOTNOTES. I WILL EXPECT SUBSTANTIAL REVISIONS FOR THE FINAL PRODUCT.

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