Alexandra Kollontai was one of the most important first-wave Russian Feminists. Her work and activities helped establish a more concrete idea of Marxist Feminism and the connection’s of commercial market systems as well as those of patriarchy and family. Yet, before we talk about that, let’s look at her life.
Kollontai was born into an aristocratic, semi-privileged Russian family in a completely Tsarified-1872 Russia. The tides of change were already boiling within the middle to lower classes, as well as the peasantry. In 1881 the anarcho-communist forces of the country already assassinated Alexander II- which led to no change. What I mean by anarcho-communist forces were some dicey half-crazed individuals.
Anyway, Kollontai, unlike most Russian women, sought an education from an early age to better her own situation and perhaps expand her own horizons. Her mother forced her to get married, in the old patriarchal tradition of semi-planned loveless marriages, in this case to a sailor. However, this did not stop Kollontai who in her 20s began her political and revolutionary activities against the totalitarian autocracy imposed by Alexander III and Nicholas II of Russia.
Alexandra began engaging in the Marxist movement in Russia in the lower echelons of the party-movement( it wasn’t really a party at the time). She delivered secret notes between Marxist admirers and supporters. Interestingly, it was around this time that she separated from her husband because she said she felt trapped as an individual, and that the marriage was a deviation from her goals to take part in the Marxist Revolutionary fervor that was boiling in Russia.
At the age of 27, Kollontai joined the Socialist Democratic Labour Party which soon propelled her through the ranks of the party. In the 1903 split between the Meshivik and Bolsheviks she decided to join the Reds(Bolsheviks) a decade later in 1915.This is the cool part. After the 1917 Revolution, Alexandra Kollontai became People’s Commissar of Welfare, and in 1923 she became the Soviet Ambassador to Norway. Is it me or does it seem like these commies( pardon my language) were promoting the equality of women.
However, Kollontai’s greatest legacy cannot only be found in her actions but also in her words. She was a very espoused intellectual and Marxist social scientist.
I am going to make this simple for you, and I promise you, your world will be blown away. Kollontai argued that the capitalist force of society is the underlying reason that patriarchy is so powerful and immovable. She compares the oppression of classes similar to the oppression of women and family. Yeah okay, but what did Kollontai want?
She basically said that the traditional familial structure which is dominated by patriarchy would be completely molded within an communist system to become something that would be based on love, care rather than financial security.
So both men and women would work, and they would engage within the public sphere as comrades, regardless of gender, within a system of socialism. This in turn would lead to the following things: Women would no longer be enslaved by the drudgery of housework, and men would work beside women. This in essence would lead to the destruction of the patriarchal framework.
We can agree to up to this point, right?
So when people asked her, but who will do the housework? Who will take care of the children, and who will do the laundry? Kollontai valiantly answered that within a socialist system all of these elements would be taken care of by the socialized state.
In essence, what she means is that women and men hired by the state( as all are under socialism) take communal care of housework, children and laundry. So the institution of communal cleaning, mass free kindergarten and care centers And more importantly, massive laundry cleaning agencies all paid for by the communal state. All the while everyone works, other men and women would be paid for the domestic labors that you could not take care of. Housework would no longer be a system of slavery! There you go! This is a solution to Gillman’s problem of female domesticity!
Does this sound crazy? No it does not, if you follow the evolution of Marxian principles it might be achievable…. one day. But until then, what can we learn from Kollontai and her ideas?
Kollontai has shown us that in order for a society to be better, both women and men must be equal, not only under the law, but in their hearts and minds. If they are equal, then partnerships and marriages can foster with love and care, rather then oppression and despair. So if women are given full equality, then they will find out their identity which would lead to better marriages, made out of love. Both man and woman would be comrades, not man and wife or husband and wife. Simple comrades.
Kollontai was/is one of the most important feminist intellectuals of the 20th century.
Published in The Art of Polemics, Issue 1, on June 18th, 2014.