Alexandra Kollontai: biography of this Russian politician and thinker.
A summary of the life of Alexandra Kollontai, a Marxist thinker very influential in feminism.
With the October Revolution many social changes took place in Russia. The country went from a czarist regime to a communist one, founding the Soviet Union and recognizing several rights to the working people.
But as it usually happens in much of the world, if women want their rights to be recognized they have to make a place for themselves in society, fight for them and, if they are lucky, overthrow the patriarchal system from within, something that Alexandra Kollontai was on the verge of achieving.
Today we will discover the life of this feminist pioneer, a key figure in the recognition of women's rights in the Soviet Union and who had the honor of being the first ambassador of a modern nation, through a biography of Alexandra Kollontai.
Brief biography of Alexandra Kollontai.
Alexandra Mikhailovna Kollontai is one of the most important figures of Marxism, and her political and intellectual influence is present in many feminist and leftist movements. Here we will give an overview of her trajectory.
Alexandra Mikhailovna Kollontai, born Alexandra Mikhailovna Domonovich, was born on March 31, 1872 in St. Petersburg, when Russia was still an empire.when Russia was still a tsarist empire.
Her family was aristocratic, of Ukrainian origin, which originated in the 13th century. His father was Mikhail Domonovich, a general in the service of the tsar, and his mother was Alexandra Androvna Masalina-Mravinskaia, from a family of Finnish peasants with an extensive fortune thanks to the lumber industry.
Thanks to the economic resources available to her family, young Alexandra had access to private teachers who educated her throughout the year. In the summer, she spent her days reading at the family's estate in Karelia, a region of Finland under Russian rule. Thus, from an early age, Alexandra Kollontai immersed herself in the life of the tenant farmers and farm workers..
Alexandra was always very close to her father who instilled in her an interest in history and politics from a liberal perspective. On the other hand, she did not have such a good relationship with her mother, and on more than one occasion they had conflicts, especially when the young girl showed interest in continuing her studies. Alexandra's mother considered it inappropriate for a woman to devote her life to study or intellectual pursuits.
At the age of 19 Alexandra met the man who was to be her husband, her cousin Vladimir Ludvigovich Kollontai. Despite the fact that the young people fell in love, her mother opposed the marriage, as Vladimir was a young engineering student from a modest background. However, they managed to get married and, after giving birth to their first son Mikhail, Alexandra Kollontai began to feel a great disillusionment with married life, as she saw it as a trap that prevented her from that did not allow her to develop her intellectual activity, especially to be able to write.
A free and socialist woman
Although she continued to love her husband and her son, in 1896 Alexandra decided to join the Socialist Party and in 1896 decided to join the socialist party and went to study in Zurich, Switzerland, leaving her family behind.leaving her family behind. The Swiss city was a real opportunity for Kollontai, as it had become a hub for students interested in socialism, and while there she decided to study political economy.
At this time he became acquainted with the ideas of Karl Marx and Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, as well as with the thought of Karl Kautsky and Rosa Luxemburg. At this time he wrote his first article, in which he examined the influence of the environment on the development of children, and his first book investigated the living and working conditions of the Finnish proletariat in relation to industry. The book was published in 1903 in St. Petersburg, where it attracted attention among the most revolutionary sectors.
In 1899 he joined the Russian Social-Democratic Workers' Party, which was the beginning of his career.This was the beginning of her busy life as a revolutionary woman and key figure in Russian society of her time. This would lead her to participate in the revolutionary events of 1905 after seeing the massacre of workers in front of the Winter Palace.
During World War I, Kollontai spoke out openly against it. The reason for this was that he saw that the conflict was nothing more than another large-scale action marked by imperialist motivations that were at the service of the ruling class. In this sense, she participated in the Zimmerwald Conference of 1915 and, after several events in Imperial Russia, she would participate in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.
Under the shadow of Lenin
Alexandra Kollontai joined the Bolshevik movement in 1914, known to be the most radical faction of the Russian Social-Democratic Worker's Partybeing established by Lenin himself. From 1915 Kollontai served as Lenin's assistant, a great honor for a woman who wanted gender equality to be achieved. A few months before October 1917, Kollontai became the first woman to be elected as a member of the Central Committee of the Party.
After the October Revolution and the Bolsheviks having gained power, Alexandra Kollontai was appointed People's Commissar for Social Welfare. She was also elected to the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet, the new name for St. Petersburg. Kollontai actively supported Lenin in his vision of the soviets as bodies for the exercise of power and the key to leaving bourgeois society behind.
After all this, Alexandra Kollontai plunged into the leadership of the Soviet Women's Organization in 1920, known as the Zhenotdel. This fundamental milestone in her trajectory as a feminist reference was due to the fact that Lenin promoted her appointment, making her a woman with a high capacity to initiate social changes from within.
Alexandra Kollontai defined her social and feminist politics away from the family structure.. According to the Marxist ideas she followed, the bourgeois family was the center of the oppressive and immoral social structures of capitalism, so it was necessary to change this institution or directly overthrow it in order to achieve greater civic freedom. She and many socialists thought that the idea of the patriarchal family should be overthrown, making the care of children and the home the task of the whole society.
That is why Kollontai, with Lenin's support, planned a network of institutions that would act as crèches, kindergartens, restaurants and public laundries, services that would liberate women from the burden of the family.services that would free women from the childcare and home care traditionally assigned to them. This almost utopian ideal was intended to make society act as a large family in which all its citizens were protected.
Taking advantage of her power within the Zhenodtel, Alexandra Kollontai enacted several feminist laws. She made marriage a civil and equal institution between spouses, facilitated access to divorce for both parties and achieved state protection for mothers and children, in addition to making maternal care in hospitals free of charge.
Kollontai was changing her society, in which women had been subordinated to men, from the institutions themselves, making them legally binding. The Revolution had succeeded in laying the foundations for real equality between men and women, but it was Alexandra Kollontai who was making it real by legal means. Taking advantage of her influence, she tried to raise awareness of women's sexual liberation in two works, not without controversy.not without controversy: The New Woman y Love in Communist Society.
Disputes with the party
But although Kollontai succeeded in mobilizing much from the institutions themselves, she made several mistakes. The first was to depend too much on the figure of Lenin. When she lost his support and was removed from the Zhenotdel, all Kollontai's political influence collapsed like a house of cards. As hard as it was for Kollontai to admit it, the leading figure of his time was a man and he needed him to carry out his revolutionary reforms.
The reason Lenin stopped supporting her was her advocacy of female sexual freedom. Kollontai wanted women to move away from the traditional home life and achieve sexual freedom, without limiting themselves to having children as the main life milestone.. The problem with this was that as revolutionary as the newly created Soviet Union was, her ideas were too radical, even for other socialist women, who had deep-rooted traditionalist ideas.
The other mistake was to think that she would succeed in replacing the idea of the traditional family with that of a socialist state taking over domestic roles, however much Lenin had supported her. Post-revolutionary Russia was still recovering from civil war, facing famine, death and desolation, causing citizens to take refuge in their families in order to carry on. The family was an institution that, although traditional and patriarchal, was the most resilient and secure of all.
The first female ambassador
Kollontai's views were becoming annoying within the party, especially to Iosif Stalin, whom she explicitly criticized.whom she explicitly criticized. Many of her socialist colleagues accused her of sectarianism and she was even threatened with expulsion from the party. This is why in 1922 Alexandra Kollontai had already lost practically all her political strength within Russia and Lenin relegated her to diplomatic functions.
Becoming an ambassador was not a disgrace, quite the contrary: she had become the first woman ambassador in the world. She represented the Soviet Union in Sweden, Norway and Mexico, and was also part of the Soviet delegation to the League of Nations, an institution similar to the modern UN.
Taking advantage of her diplomatic task, Alexandra Kollontai traveled for more than 20 years in Europe and the United States, defending and spreading her theses.defending and spreading her feminist socialist theses. But, while she was convincingly defending her revolutionary ideas abroad, the Soviet Union was changing again, this time against her. Iósif Stalin was taking advantage of her absence to overturn several of the laws passed by Kollontai, causing all that revolutionary feminism had achieved to vanish.
In 1945, after the end of World War II, she returned to the Soviet Union. A year later she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She spent her last years in Moscow, writing her memoirs and serving as an advisor to the Russian Foreign Ministry.. Alexandra Mikhailovna Kollontai died on March 9, 1952 in Moscow, aged 79.
- Kollontai, A. (2015) Autobiography of a sexually emancipated woman and other texts on love, Horas y Horas, Madrid. ISBN 978-84-96004-62-7
- Kollontai, A. (2018) Fourteen lectures at the Sverdlov University of Leningrad, Cienflores, Madrid. ISBN 978-987-45535-1-5
- Kollontai, A. (2008) The love of the worker bees, Alba, Barcelona. ISBN 978-84-8428-419-2
- Kollontai, A. (2017) El amor y la mujer nueva, Cienflores, Madrid. ISBN 978-987-4039-08-8
- Kollontai, A. (2017) Socialist feminism and revolution, Federico Engels Foundation, Madrid, 2017. ISBN 978-84-16285-27-3
- Kollontai, A. (2008) La bolchevique enamorada, Txalaparta, Tafalla. ISBN 978-84-8136-509-2
- Kollontai, A. (2011) Sexual relations and the class struggle, In Struggle, n/a, 2011. ISBN 9789588926667
- Kollontai, A. (2016) Woman and class struggle, Viejo Topo, Barcelona. ISBN 978-84-16288-78-6
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)