Alexandra Mikhailovna Kollontai (Russian: Алекса́ндра Миха́йловна Коллонта́й — née Domontovich, Домонто́вич; 31 March O.S. 19 March] 1872 – 9 March 1952) was a Russian Communist revolutionary, first as a member of the Mensheviks, then from 1915 on as a Bolshevik. In 1923, Kollontai was appointed Soviet Ambassador to Norway, one of the first women to hold such a post.
The Autobiography of a Sexually Emancipated Communist Woman (1926)
- The Autobiography of a Sexually Emancipated Communist Woman (1926), Translated by Salvator Attanasio, Herder and Herder, 1971.
- Nothing is more difficult than writing an autobiography. What should be emphasized? Just what is of general interest? It is advisable, above all, to write honestly and dispense with any of the conventional introductory protestations of modesty. For if one is called upon to tell about one's life so as to make the events that made it what it became useful to the general public, it can mean only that one must have already wrought something positive in life, accomplished a task that people recognize. Accordingly it is a matter of forgetting that one is writing about oneself, of making an effort to abjure one's ego so as to give an account, as objectively as possible, of one's life in the making and of one's accomplishments.
- By looking back while prying, simultaneously, into the future, I will also be presenting to myself the most crucial turning points of my being and accomplishments. In this way I may succeed in setting into bold relief that which concerns the women's liberation struggle and, further, the social significance which it has. That I ought not to shape my life according to the given model, that I would have to grow beyond myself in order to be able to discern my life's true line of vision was an awareness that was mine already in my youngest years. At the same time I was also aware that in this way I could help my sisters to shape their lives, in accordance not with the given traditions but with their own free choice to the extent, of course, that social and economic circumstances permit. I always believed that the time inevitably must come when woman will be judged by the same moral standards applied to man. For it is not her specific feminine virtue that gives her a place of honor in human society, but the worth of the useful mission accomplished by her, the worth of her personality as human being, as citizen, as thinker, as fighter. Subconsciously this motive was the leading force of my whole life and activity. To go my way, to work, to struggle, to create side by side with men, and to strive for the attainment of a universal human goal (for nearly thirty years, indeed, I have belonged to the Communists) but, at the same time, to shape my personal, intimate life as a woman according to my own will and according to the given laws of my nature. It was this that conditioned my line of vision.
- I have succeeded in structuring my intimate life according to my own standards and I make no secret of my love experiences anymore than does a man. Above all, however, I never let my feelings, the joy or pain of love take the first place in my life inasmuch as creativity, activity, struggle always occupied the foreground.
- I managed to become a member of a government cabinet, of the first Bolshevik cabinet in the years 1917/18. I am also the first woman ever to have been appointed ambassadress, a post which I occupied for three years and from which I resigned of my own free will. This may serve to prove that woman certainly can stand above the conventional conditions of the age. The World War, the stormy, revolutionary spirit now prevalent in the world in all areas has greatly contributed to blunting the edge of the unhealthy, overheated double standard of morality. We are already accustomed not to make overly taxing demands, for example, on actresses and women belonging to the free professions in matters relating to their married life. Diplomacy, however, is a caste which more than any other maintains its old customs, usages, traditions, and, above all, its strict ceremonial. The fact that a woman, a "free," a single woman was recognized in this position without opposition shows that the time has come when all human beings will be equally appraised according to their activity and their general human dignity.
- When I was appointed as Russian envoy to Oslo, I realized that I had thereby achieved a victory not only for myself, but for women in general and indeed, a victory over their worst enemy, that is to say, over conventional morality and conservative concepts of marriage. ... What is of a wholly special significance here is that a woman, like myself, who has settled scores with the double standard and who has never concealed it, was accepted into a caste which to this very day staunchly upholds tradition and pseudo-morality. Thus the example of my life can also serve to dispel the old goblin of the double standard also from the lives of other women. And this is a most crucial point of my own existence, which has a certain social-psychological worth and contributes to the liberation struggle of working women.
- I am still far from being the type of the positively new women who take their experience as females with a relative lightness and, one could say, with an enviable superficiality, whose feelings and mental energies are directed upon all other things in life but sentimental love feelings. After all I still belong to the generation of women who grew up at a turning point in history. Love with its many disappointments, with its tragedies and eternal demands for perfect happiness still played a very great role in my life. An all-too-great role! It was an expenditure of precious time and energy, fruitless and, in the final analysis, utterly worthless. We, the women of the past generation, did not yet understand how to be free. The whole thing was an absolutely incredible squandering of our mental energy, a diminution of our labor power which was dissipated in barren emotional experiences. It is certainly true that we, myself as well as many other activists, militants and working women contemporaries, were able to understand that love was not the main goal of our life and that we knew how to place work at its center. Nevertheless we would have been able to create and achieve much more had our energies not been fragmentized in the eternal struggle with our egos and with our feelings for another. It was, in fact, an eternal defensive war against the intervention of the male into our ego, a struggle revolving around the problem-complex: work or marriage and love? We, the older generation, did not yet understand, as most men do and as young women are learning today, that work and the longing for love can be harmoniously combined so that work remains as the main goal of existence. Our mistake was that each time we succumbed to the belief that we had finally found the one and only in the man we loved, the person with whom we believed we could blend our soul, one who was ready fully to recognize us as a spiritual-physical force. But over and over again things turned out differently, since the man always tried to impose his ego upon us and adapt us fully to his purposes. Thus despite everything the inevitable inner rebellion ensued, over and over again since love became a fetter. We felt enslaved and tried to loosen the love-bond. And after the eternally recurring struggle with the beloved man, we finally tore ourselves away and rushed toward freedom. Thereupon we were again alone, unhappy, lonesome, but free–free to pursue our beloved, chosen ideal ...work. Fortunately young people, the present generation, no longer have to go through this kind of struggle which is absolutely unnecessary to human society. Their abilities, their work-energy will be reserved for their creative activity. Thus the existence of barriers will become a spur.
- Already as a small child I criticized the injustice of adults and I experienced as a blatant contradiction the fact that everything was offered to me whereas so much was denied to the other children. My criticism sharpened as the years went by and the feeling of revolt against the many proofs of love around me grew apace.
- I revolted against this marriage of convenience, this marriage for money and wanted to marry only for love, out of a great passion.
- I stood close to the materialist conception of history, since in early womanhood I had inclined towards the realistic school.
- Not a single one of the men who were close to me has ever had a direction-giving influence on my inclinations, strivings, or my world-view. On the contrary, most of the time I was the guiding spirit. I acquired my view of life, my political line from life itself, and in uninterrupted study from books.
- My Marxist outlook pointed out to me with an illuminating clarity that women's liberation could take place only as the result of the victory of a new social order and a different economic system.
- The vehement struggle between the two factions of the Russian Workers Party broke out anew: the Bolsheviks on the one side, the Mensheviks on the other. In 1908 I belonged to the Menshevik faction, having been forced thereto by the hostile position taken by the Bolsheviks towards the Duma, a pseudo-Parliament called by the Czar in order to Pacify the rebellious spirits of the age. Although with the Mensheviks I espoused the point of view that even a pseudo-Parliament should be utilized as a tribute for our Party and that the elections for the Duma must be used as an assembling point for the working class. But I did not side with the Mensheviks on the question of coordinating the forces of the workers with the Liberals in order to accelerate the overthrow of absolutism. On this point I was, in fact, very left-radical and was even branded as a "syndicalist" by my Party comrades. Given my attitude towards the Duma it logically followed that I considered it useless to exploit the first bourgeois women's congress in the interest of our Party. Nevertheless I worked with might and main to assure that our women workers, who were to participate in the Congress, emerged as an independent and distinct group. I managed to carry out this plan but not without opposition. My Party comrades accused me and those women-comrades who shared my views of being "feminists" and of placing too much emphasis on matters of concern to women only. At the time there was still no comprehension at all of the extraordinarily important role in the struggle devolving upon self-employed professional women. Nevertheless our will prevailed.
- It must be admitted that, although I possessed a certain degree of ambition, like every other active human being, I was never animated by the desire to obtain "a post." For me "what I am" was always of less importance than "what I can," that is to say, what I was in a position to accomplish. In this way I, too, had my ambition and it was especially noticeable there where I stood with my whole heart and soul in the struggle, where the issue was the abolition of the slavery of working women.
- The question rises whether in the middle of all these manifold, exciting labors and Party-assignments I could still find rime for intimate experiences, for the pangs and joys of love. Unfortunately, yes! I say unfortunately because ordinarily these experiences entailed all too many cares, disappointments, and pain, and because all too many energies were pointlessly consumed through them. Yet the longing to be understood by a man down to the deepest, most secret recesses of one's soul, to be recognized by him as a striving human being, repeatedly decided matters. And repeatedly disappointment ensued all too swiftly, since the friend saw in me only the feminine element which he tried to mold into a willing sounding board to his own ego. So repeatedly the moment inevitably arrived in which I had to shake off the chains of community with an aching heart but with a sovereign, uninfluenced will. Then I was again alone. But the greater the demands life made upon me, the more the responsible work waiting to be tackled, the greater grew the longing to be enveloped by love, warmth, understanding. All the easier, consequently, began the old story of disappointment in love, the old story of Titania in "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
- To me the war was an abomination, a madness, a crime, and from the first moment onwards–more out of impulse than reflection–I inwardly rejected it and could never reconcile myself with it up to this very moment.
- About the first World War.
- Such is life's irony.
- Looking back one perceives only a massive operation, struggle, and action. Inreality there were no heroes or leaders. It was the people, the working people, in soldiers' uniform or in civilian attire, who controlled the situation and who recorded its will indelibly in the history of the country and mankind. It was a sultry summer, a crucial summer of the revolutionary flood-tide in 1917!
- The issue was to wage a struggle against the war, against coalescence with the liberal bourgeoisie, and for the power of the workers' councils, the Soviets.
- Then came the great days of the October Revolution. Smolny became historic. The sleepless nights, the permanent sessions. And, finally, the stirring declarations. "The Soviets take power!" "The Soviets address an appeal to the peoples of the world to put an end to the war." "The land is socialized and belongs to the peasants!"
- When one recalls the first months of the Workers' Government, months which were so rich in magnificent illusions, plans, ardent initiatives to improve life, to organize the world anew, months of the real romanticism of the Revolution, one would in fact like to write about all else save about one's self.
- I never gave a thought to any kind of danger, being all too engrossed in matters of an utterly different character.
- The Revolution was in full swing. The struggle was becoming increasingly irreconcilable and bloodier, much of what was happening did not fit in with my outlook. But after all there was still the unfinished task, women's liberation. Women, of course, had received all rights but in practice, of course, they still lived under the old yoke: without authority in family life, enslaved by a thousand menial household chores, bearing the whole burden of maternity, even the material cares, because many women now found life alone as a result of the war and other circumstances.
- In the autumn of 1916 when I devoted all my energies to drawing up systematic guidelines for the liberation of working women in all areas, I found a valuable support in the first President of the Soviets, Sverdlov, now dead. Thus the first Congress of Women Workers and Women Peasants could be called as early as November of 1918; some 1147 delegates were present. Thus the foundation was laid for methodical work in the whole country for the liberation of the women of the working and the peasant classes. A flood of new work was waiting for me. The question now was one of drawing women into the people's kitchens and of educating them to devote their energies to children's homes and day-care centers, the school system, household reforms, and still many other pressing matters. The main thrust of all this activity was to implement, in fact, equal rights for women as a labor unit in the national economy and as a citizen in the political sphere and, of course, with the special proviso: maternity was to be appraised as a social function and therefore protected and provided for by the State.
- In all the social relations which I had during the three years of my work in Norway, I never once experienced the least trace of aversion or mistrust against woman's capabilities. To be sure, the healthy, democratic spirit of the Norwegian people greatly contributed to this. Thus the fact is to be confirmed that my work as official Russian representative in Norway was never, and in no wise, made difficult for the reason that I belonged "to the weaker sex."
- The work began with great zeal and the most roseate hopes. A splendid summer and an eventful winter marked the year of 1923! The newly resumed trade relations were in full swing: Russian corn and Norwegian herring and fish, Russian wood products and Norwegian paper and cellulose.
- My life was as crammed with strenuous work and highly interesting experiences alike.
- If I have attained something in this world, it was not my personal qualities that originally brought this about. Rather my achievements are only a symbol of the fact that woman, after all, is already on the march to general recognition. It is the drawing of millions of women into productive work, which was swiftly effected especially during the war and which thrust into the realm of possibility the fact that a woman could be advanced to the highest political and diplomatic positions. Nevertheless it is obvious that only a country of the future, such as the Soviet Union, can dare to confront woman without any prejudice, to appraise her only from the standpoint of her skills and talents, and, accordingly, to entrust her with responsible tasks. Only the fresh revolutionary storms were strong enough to sweep away hoary prejudices against woman and only the productive-working people is able to effect the complete equalization and liberation of woman by building a new society.
- I stand on the threshold of new missions and life is making new demands upon me. No matter what further tasks I shall be carrying out, it is perfectly clear to me that the complete liberation of the working woman and the creation of the foundation of a new sexual morality will always remain the highest aim of my activity, and of my life.
- Alexandra Kollontai Internet Archive at Marxists Internet Archive.
- Christine Thomas, "For socialism and women's liberation," (Archived 2009-10-25) Socialism Today, March 2003.
- Helen Ward, "Alexandra Kollontai," PermanentRevolution.net
- Gabrille Tousignant, "St-Petersbourg workers of the textile industry," Kollontai.net