Alexandra Kollontai was a Russian Communist revolutionary. She was a major figure in the Russian socialist movement from the turn of the century through the revolution and civil war. During periods of exile she was also active as a speaker and writer in Germany, Belgium, France, Britain, Scandinavia and the United States. She played a major role in forcing the Russian socialist movement to organize special work among women and in organizing mass movements of working-class women and peasants, and was the author of much of the social legislation of the early Soviet republic.
Kollontai began political work in 1894. In 1896, Kollontai saw the open face of capitalist industry for the first time when she visited a large textile factory where her engineer husband was installing a ventilation system. Later that year, she became active in leafletting and fundraising in support of the mass textile strike which rocked the Petersburg area. For the rest of her political career, Kollontai retained her connections with the women textile workers of St. Petersburg. The 1896 strikes established the primacy of working-class revolution in Kollontai’s mind.
Kollontai, like many Russian socialists, was neutral in the Bolshevik-Menshevik split of 1903. In 1904, she joined the Bolshevik faction and conducted classes on Marxism for it. In 1905, she joined with Leon Trotsky in pressing for a more positive attitude toward the newly-emerged Soviets and in pressing for unity of the party factions. She became treasurer of the St. Petersburg Social Democratic Committee. In 1906, she left the Bolsheviks over the question of boycotting elections to the Duma, an undemocratically-elected parliament of limited power in which she felt it was nevertheless possible for left deputies to raise demands and expose the government’s machinations.
From 1905 through 1908, Kollontai led the campaign which has most clearly established her place in history – to organize the women workers of Russia to fight for their own interests, against employers, against bourgeois feminism, and where necessary (as it frequently was) against the conservatism and male chauvinism of the socialist organizations. Through interventions at meetings of the liberal Women’s Union, strikes and protests, the foundations were laid for a mass movement.
From 1946 until her death in 1952, she was an advisor to the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs. [read more]