The life of leading revolutionary Alexandra Kollontai is explored in a new Rebel’s Guide by author Emma Davis.
The book, released this month, analyses Kollontai’s ideas, and shows how her writings about women are still relevant today.
Kollontai played a critical role in the 1917 Russian Revolution, in particular around issues of women’s oppression and sexual liberation.
Alongside German revolutionary Clara Zetkin, Kollontai was part of establishing International Women’s Day in 1910—a tradition still celebrated today.
Kollontai believed that women’s liberation is intrinsically linked to workers’ struggle and that, without a mass movement, it’s impossible to defeat oppression.
She argued against middle class feminists, who fought for limited rights for women under class society but turned their backs on poor women.
And she railed against activists who argued that men were responsible for women’s oppression.
She wrote that women’s liberation was only possible through the “fundamental transformation of the present social order”.
Kollontai said that “the movement of women workers is by its very nature an indivisible part of the general workers movement”.
The Rebel’s Guide explores how Kollontai’s ideas are built on Frederick Engels’s writings on the link between women’s oppression and the rise of class society.
In particular, Engels argued that the nuclear family unit reinforces women’s oppression under capitalism.
Kollontai described how working class women experienced a “double burden” of exploitation at work and shoulder the responsibility for housework and childrearing at home.
She also dedicated much of her writing to exploring how capitalism impacted on people’s sexual relationships.
Her writing left some other socialists worried that her ideas about relationships would alienate male workers.
Kollontai fought to ensure working women were at the heart of a unified revolutionary struggle.
She argued the revolution’s success depended on “the number of women workers entering the ranks of the organised working class”.
After the revolution, in her role as head of the department of social welfare, Kollontai was responsible for the care of children, mothers, older and disabled people.
She oversaw the introduction of many laws that dramatically and instantly improved the lives of women.
During these years, Russia became the most progressive country in the world in regard to women’s rights.
By 1920, all women could access divorce and abortion was legal.
Their lives were transformed—they became financially and socially independent.
Many women were able to pursue their own interests for the first time. All these gains were rolled back under the rule of Joseph Stalin.
Kollontai was relocated to Norway and she lived abroad as a diplomat for the rest of her life.
Tragically, Kollontai defended Stalin’s rule, even though he had systematically wiped out the gains made by women.
Kollontai fought for a unified struggle against a capitalist system. Her insights are vital for understanding that struggle today.