Kollantai, Alexandra

   Alexandra Kollantai was the leading Marxist feminist of her generation, and is significant for efforts to make female emancipation a central issue on the Marxist revolutionary agenda. Born in St. Petersburg, Russia into a liberal aristocratic family, she turned to revolutionary politics in 1899 when she joined the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP). Her interest in women’s emancipation soon became apparent and in 1908 she wrote The Social Bases of the Woman Question in which she outlined a Marxist approach to the issue. Also in this year, in danger of arrest, she fled to Western Europe, where she remained, lecturing and writing, until returning to Russia in 1917. Back in Russia she was elected to the RSDLP’s Central Committee, and after the revolution she was appointed commissar of social welfare. In this post she worked to establish public funding of maternity care and to introduce laws allowing civil marriage and divorce, and also laws to protect women at work.
   In 1920 Kollantai was appointed director of the Party’s Zhenotdel (Women’s Department). Here she worked to develop in Russia maternity hospitals, child-care facilities such as nurseries and day-care centers, and even restaurants to ease women’s domestic work. She also tried to get women included in decision-making bodies in party, government and unions, and endeavored to publicize women’s rights and to stop male abuse of women.
   Kollantai’s relationship with the party leadership was strained first by her opposition to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1918, and then by her involvement in the Workers’ Opposition group in 1921, which criticized the bureaucratization, elitism, lack of democracy and the New Economic Policy. This, along with criticisms of her feminism, led to her dismissal from the Zhenotdel in 1922. She took no further part in activities relating to the “Woman Question,” instead becoming a diplomat for the Soviet Union. She rose to become ambassador to Sweden before retiring in 1945. She died in Moscow in 1952. In her writing on women’s emancipation Kollantai criticized the bourgeois family and morality, and argued for their abolition. In their place she advocated what she called “winged eros,” a pure monogamous love between women and men freed from the distortions created by male domination and the capitalist economic system. This notion included being freed from the burden of child-care, a task she believed should be undertaken communally. Her perspective on women’s issues was in keeping with the orthodox Marxist view insofar as she believed the economic revolution including the abolition of private property had to come before women could be emancipated. For Kollantai class had primacy over gender, and women were divided by class in the same way as men were, and did not have an identity that transcended class as bourgeois feminists believed.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

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