150th Anniversary of the Birth of the Revolutionary – Alexandra Kollontai – A Life for Women’s Rights

Alexandra Kollontai as a diplomat, 1951 (imago/ITAR TASS)

“Comrades, workers! For many centuries, women were oppressed and without rights! For many centuries, they were just an accessory to men! But the October Revolution freed women from their slavery.”

This is how Alexandra Kollontai began her “Discourse to Women Workers” in 1919. Because of her radical feminist stances, Western feminists in the 1980s celebrated her as a campaigner for women’s rights and “free love.” In the Soviet Union, the revolutionary was one of the “Communist saints”.

It must be a “good match”.

Born on March 31, 1872 to a high-ranking family in Saint Petersburg, Alexandra’s life path seems to be that of a well-protected young lady. She receives an excellent education, is fluent in several foreign languages ​​and is supposed to make a “good match”. But she defies her parents’ wishes and in 1893 she enters into an unsuitable marriage with Vladimir Kollontai. Only five years later, Alexandra Kollontai left her husband and son: “We broke up, although we loved each other. But I felt imprisoned. Minor cares from everyday life fill all life. I wanted to be free. ”

Against the “corrupt institution of bourgeois marriage”

Like many young Russian women who were eager for an education, she began her studies in Zurich. But she is not an ambitious student, but, as before in Russia, she mainly devote herself to reading revolutionary writings. After returning home in 1899, she became an active member of the revolutionary socialist movement. Kollontai fights for the annulment of what she calls the “degenerate bourgeois institution” of marriage.

In her autobiography, she wrote: “Women and their fate preoccupied me all my life, and it was their fate that led me to socialism.” After the revolutionary upheavals of 1905, Alexandra Kollontai was forced to emigrate to Western Europe and was only able to do so again in 1917 Returning to Russia after the Bolsheviks were overthrown in October, she was appointed People’s Commissar for Social Affairs and Public Welfare and is the only member of the first Soviet government .

“One of my biggest concerns is taking care of two and a half million disabled and handicapped soldiers whose situation is desperate,” she says, describing her mission in a country wracked by revolution, war and civil war.

Enforcement of civil marriage and divorce laws

In protest of the Brest-Litovsk Peace, by which Soviet Russia withdrew from World War I with significant land losses and reparations payments, Kollontai resigned from her government office in 1918 and became head of the Women’s Department of the Central Committee. Under their auspices, the Law on Civil Marriage and Divorce was introduced as well as state maternity protection and legalization of abortions:

“It is not sexual relations that determine a woman’s moral position, but her value in working life, in socially useful work,” Kollontai is convinced. But the attempt to revolutionize the traditional relationships between women and men is doomed to failure. Liberal legislation from the 1920s is history a decade later.

Nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize

At the 10th Party Congress in March 1921, Kollontai harshly criticized the party’s demands for leadership and bureaucracy and was sidelined. It has to reinvent itself and enter the international arena as a diplomat. She wrote of her appointment as head of the trade mission in Norway in 1923: “This is not only a personal joy, but another achievement of a woman.”

Alexandra Kollontai was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, ending her diplomatic career in 1945 with the rank of ambassador to Sweden.

She sums up in her autobiographical notes: “I lived not one life, but many lives.” She died in Moscow on March 9, 1952, shortly before her 80th birthday. After her death, the Stalinist regime denied her any honor.

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