Free Love and Communism: The Alexandra Kollontai Story

(source: spartacus-educational.com)

(source: spartacus-educational.com)

No matter the time period, no matter the location, the status of women has always been in question. As the Bolsheviks came to power, women in Russia began to see themselves on a more equal field; legislation like the Code on Marriage, the Family and Guardianship made divorce easier for women, children born out of wedlock received rights and both spouses were finally given the right to own property. With laws like this, Russia, although not perfect in the eyes of feminists, was one of the most progressive countries at the time in terms of gender (Seventeen Moments).

One woman in particular, Alexandra Kollontai, made huge strides to promote the equality of women. During her studies, Kollontai became fascinated with Marxism; she wanted social equality for all, and especially amongst her female peers. She became the Commissar of Social Welfare, making her the most important woman in the new government. Kollontai founded the Zhenotdel, the women’s branch of the Communist Party, in which she attempted to liberate women by educating them about the new gender reforms.

While she had many visions throughout her political career, perhaps her most interesting was her promotion of Free Love. She did not promote “casual sex” per se, but she believed that women’s sexuality was oppressed. According to her Theses on Communist Morality in the Sphere of Marital Relations, she stated that “sexuality is a human instinct as natural as hunger or thirst.” As a communist, she did not support the idea of a traditional family unit; in her eyes, citizens would be supported, not by their families, but by society. Treating women as property was not something she wanted to continue in Russia.

Later in her career, she became a diplomat, working in various countries around the world. Unfortunately, she was never allowed in the United States, but had posts in Norway and Mexico. Her writings continued to be influential during the Feminist Movement of the 1970s.

Sources:
http://soviethistory.macalester.edu/index.php?page=subject&SubjectID=1917woman&Year=1917&navi=byYear

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexandra_Kollontai

http://search.proquest.com/docview/103676060/F99725BDC475492BPQ/4?accountid=14826

https://www.marxists.org/archive/kollonta/1921/theses-morality.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_the_Russian_Revolution

https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1884/origin-family/

http://encyclopedia2.thefreedictionary.com/Code+of+Laws+on+Marriage+and+the+Family

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8 Responses to Free Love and Communism: The Alexandra Kollontai Story

  1. Love all the primary sources you linked to! You did a good job connecting some of the social changes of the era with the big political changes.

  2. This was a very interesting post. I never knew that Russia was so progressive in transforming women’s rights in society. I did my post on Russia’s army and it’s influence in the revolutions. You may be interested to know that while I was researching, I found out that Nicholas II actually allowed women to join the army by approving individual requests. I am attaching a link to a photo of a women’s battalion: http://www.dhr.history.vt.edu/modules/eu/mod03_1917/evidence_detail_33.html

    gracehemmingson says:

    It is interesting that although communism, as you mentioned, is so against the idea of the family unit, the Family Code of 1918 specifically required spouses to maintain each other and parents and children to maintain each other. Link to the Family Code below:
    http://soviethistory.macalester.edu/index.php?page=article&ArticleID=1917family1&SubjectID=1917woman&Year=1917#4

  3. In Russia’s Great Patriotic War especially, they fought for survival. Therefore, it was necessary to conscript women. Although Ukrainian, Soviet sniper Lyudmila Palivchenko is considered to be the most successful female sniper, credited with 309 kills. Alexandra Samusenko, was also Ukrainian and the only woman serving in the 1st Guards Tank Army.

  4. I would have never believed that social movements for the rights of women would have come in Communist Russia before the United States. Although the success of these movements is unclear, they seem to have been fairly popular. Also, its often weird for me to think of a society where the traditional family unit is something that is trying to wiped out of existence. I can’t see where something like that would ever have a positive impact on society.

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