Bolshevik Feminist: The Life of Aleksandra Kollontai

Bolshevik Feminist: The Life of Aleksandra Kollontai

Bolshevik Feminist: The Life of Aleksandra Kollontai

Bolshevik Feminist: The Life of Aleksandra Kollontai

Excerpt

Aleksandra Kollontai belonged to the generation of European feminists who won major advances in suffrage and social welfare programs for women. She participated in the campaigns for female emancipation and she made a contribution to the literature on the woman question by exploring the relationship between sexuality and liberation. Yet Kollontai vehemently denied that she was a feminist; rather, she saw herself as a Marxist revolutionary who sought freedom for women as part of the freeing of all humankind from the control of capitalism. Thus she set herself apart from those other members of her generation who pursued reforms for women, becoming instead a socialist, in truth a socialist feminist.

The distance that Kollontai put between herself and the feminists accounts in part for her being relatively unknown among Western European and American students of the woman's movement. Furthermore, her most original writing gained prominence in Europe only in the twenties, at the very time that it went out of favor in her own country. In 1923 criticism of her theories on female personality began to appear in the Soviet press, because Communist Party leaders were trying to destroy her political influence and also because they were reacting against the sexual exploration of the revolutionary years. They gave Kollontai a choice -- to stop propagating her ideas or to leave the party -- and she chose to submit. Thereafter her feminist socialism, always divorced from feminism by Koliontai herself, was relegated to obscurity within Soviet communism. Only in the late sixties did Western feminists begin to rediscover her ideas and the woman herself.

Western feminists in search of Kollontai found very little to guide them -- two sympathetic but reticent biographies by friends, some unrevealing Soviet studies, and memoirs written under the constraints of politics and fading memory. Yet the story of her life was there, behind the official pictures, in Kollontai's prolific writings and in the documents of Soviet history. The search for her led through these remnants to an extraordinary woman whose life deserved retelling. She was an original feminist, despite her disavowals; she espoused a utopian Marxism which came into conflict with the imperatives of industrialization; and she lived a life that resembled melodrama more than reality. Awakened to an interest in her by the revival of feminism, then tantalized by her romantic obscurity . . .

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