"In what ways was the Russian Revolution revolutionary for women? Discuss with particular reference to Alexandra Kollontai's views on women and revolution in her autobiography."
The Russian Revolution was a chaotic period of mayhem and destruction which had significantly altered the lives of women and families. The altercation, began between the Provisional Party and the Communist Bolshevik party as they battled for control over the Soviet State. The Bolshevik Party, anticipated for a society that allowed women to voice their opinions and to give them the same working rights as males. The following essay will consist of a critical analysis on the Russian Revolution, and the how it impacted society at the time. It will detail what women had to endure in order to have their political beliefs voiced, also the equality of marriage and working rights. Alexandra Kollontai’s autobiography will highlight her importance throughout the Russian Revolution. It will also represent, how the influences that were made had a significant impact upon her rise to prominence.
The Russian Revolution was a revolutionary period of chaos for Russian citizens. Kollontai’s autobiography creates an insight into how women rebelled and went against society’s norms which transformed the lives of individuals throughout Russia. The Bolshevik party had played a powerful role during the transformation of this time, and as a result the revolution was successful. They had allowed woman to have their voices heard in society, as well they were given the right of acceptance (Ruthchild, 2012, p.2). This was a momentous reform, as it was on rare occasions that women had the right to politically vote. Woman across Russia, profoundly took their stand as they fought for what they deserved. Socialists, woman, friends and family all took part in an outstanding protest on the streets of Russia, where they had paraded their rights, and coincidentally this had occurred on International Women’s Day. Kollontai was a woman of her time, who proudly stood up in what she believed in, this was
recognised in her autobiography, “I realized that I had thereby achieved a victory not only for myself, but for women in general…” (Herder, 1971). Kollontai’s autobiography illustrates her achievements, and what she endured prior to achieving her goals. The protest that was conducted on the streets, was only the beginning the chaotic revolution, but also the start of woman’s rights. The Bolshevik party, played a tremendous part in the woman’s right campaign. Kollontai, and the Bolsheviks both envisioned similar perspectives on how society needed to be. The Bolshevik’s involvement in the revolution was imperative, as it was them who appointed Alexandra Kollontai as Commissar of Social Welfare. The Bolshevik party offered a revolutionary change for woman which significantly altered their lives. The Provisional party failed to meet the expectations of revolutionary change for woman, the Bolsheviks simply took the chance when it was presented to them. Kollontai’s position not only allowed her access to publish legal documents, but also to document the rights of women in Russia. When analysing who initiated the Russian revolution, it was that women in general began the contest. However, without the support of the Bolshevik party it would have not happened. “Kollontai’s extraordinary strength and determination on women's issues caused her to be inaccurately portrayed as an ultra-radical threat to the newly developing Russian society” (Braun, 2007). Thus, Kollontai was motivated by the support of the Bolsheviks to further revolutionise the rights of women in society.
Kollontai had strong beliefs towards women, and this was conveyed in her autobiography. She believed that no women under any circumstance should have to endure such struggles which were needless to human society. Encouraging women to join the work force did not only continue the revolution, but it was also the first of many steps towards equality for women. This gave women the opportunity to work and provide for their families, rather than being labelled as “shadow of their husband, supplement, an appendage” (Herder and Herder 1971). Woman had accomplished their rights to work, however this only occurred by the proposal of movements at the eighth Soviet Congress. At the time, Kollontai argued all Soviets to implement awareness of equal rights of women, and to involve them in State and Communal work. Soon after, the motion was approved and Kollontai was well on her way to celebrating another victory. Goldman (1995) states, The Bolsheviks and Kollontai, best believed that allowing women to work would not only improve their social skills but also live a successful lifestyle. Goldman (1995), further highlights the concept of women’s emancipation from patriarchal domination was exactly what Kollontai vowed for. Overall, the motions that were established by Kollontai and the Bolsheviks played a revolutionary part in the revolution towards women.
Kollontai’s upbringing played a significant role in the Russian Revolution. Growing up, her childhood was perhaps irregular, her parents had high expectations of her and profoundly encouraged her to educate herself beyond the standard level of a teenager. As stated by Clements (1973), her parents refused to send her to university because they had fears she may encounter revolutionary ideas. Kollontai was recognized as a strong opinionated female, who tested her boundaries of expectation. However, in 1896 it was through her husband’s work in a textile factory, where she was exposed to the true horrors of unfair working conditions many women suffered. While touring the factory, she came across a young child’s body, lying on the bare floor unconscious. “The visit to the textile factory decided my fate. I could not lead a happy, peaceful life when the working population was so terribly enslaved” (Herder and Herder, 1971). It was insignificant actions, which ultimately led to the Russian Revolution. The exposure of the horrifying working conditions, in the textile factory is an example of how the revolution impacted women in society. It gave Kollontai the opportunity to stand up for women rights, where she would assertively voice her opinion.
The economic dependence of women, was something Kollontai persistently fought for. She travelled from country to country and organized events such as protests and rallies which revolutionized society at the time. Kollontai states, (Herder and Herder 1971) that it was in Paris where she organized the housewives' strike "La grève des menagères" against the high cost of living. During the October revolution, and the introduction of Lenin’s New Economic Policy, as stated by Farnsworth (1981), Kollontai was appointed to a higher position where she was given the authority to facilitate divorce and simplify marriage laws. This gave Kollontai the opportunity to implement additional legislations which allowed woman more economic freedom with their families. Kollontai had strong views on woman, and believed that they had the potential to flourish in society. Farnsworth (1981), states, Kollontai was more concerned with the emotional and psychological problems that women had suffered prior to the revolution. She not only anticipated for economic dependence, but also the right of sexual freedom.
Kollontai, worked exceptionally well towards amplifying the voices of women. Their participation throughout the Russian revolution was considerably noticeable, as all the reforms that were made changed the lives of women throughout society. The outbreak of World War I found Kollontai at a new turning point in her life again. Kollontai described the War as “abomination, a madness, a crime” (Herder and Herder, 1971) and did everything she could to escape it at the time. Her involvement in the Russian Social Democratic Party was a significant influence towards the Russian Revolution. Being the first female agitator raised concern, however this had not stopped her from questioning the rights of women. As stated by Porter (1981), Kollontai had spent the first decade trying to settle for the rights of women and trying to get revolutionaries to take up the important women’s oppression within the struggle for socialism. Kollontai, was recognized as the first Bolshevik member to emphasize the importance of sexual oppression that majority of women throughout society suffered in their households. This manifestation, contributed a noteworthy part towards the revolution for women.
Although there were several contributions which had made the Russian Revolution revolutionary for women, Kollontai’s movement to involve women within the Bolshevik party was most substantial. Being the first female member in the party, was a remarkable attainment and she could not have been given more recognition for this (Herder and Herder, 1971). It is evidently highlighted throughout Kollontai’s autobiography, that women would have not been successful if they had not put themselves on the line throughout the Russian Revolution. Lenin had also played quite a significant influence on women revolutionizing throughout the Russian Revolution. It was Lenin who encouraged all women to get involved and take part in social movements. Kollontai, engaged herself in “political debates beyond the Zhenotdel” (Porter, 1981, p.228) and firmly stood up for the rights of women, even when it had proven her costly. However, a turning point which had marked an important time in Bolshevik history was Kollontai’s estrangement from the soviet government (Porter, 1981, p.228). Kollontai and Lenin worked alongside each other and ensured regulations were implemented for women to give them an equal stance against society. Moreover, the success of the women rights was further represented in the launch of the Zhenotdel. This allowed women to legally gain power in political parties as well as being given the right to have their voices heard in the political sphere. The contribution that women had made to society during the time of the Russian Revolution was exceptional. They progressed their influence on political issues and revolutionized their thoughts on social laws.
Kollontai’s ambitions were purely recognized throughout the determination that was placed into each of her achievements. However, after the death of Lenin, Stalin rose to power which meant Kollontai’s position in government was soon to be ceased (Porter, 1981, p.228). This had not stopped her from further revolutionizing for the rights of women. Kollontai returned to Moscow, to “agitate against the repressive changes in the marriage laws and to be questioned during the height of Stalin’s purges of the old Bolsheviks” (Porter, 1981, p.228). Kollontai was a woman of her time, who dedicated herself even when it was costly. This was recognized in her execution from her position in the Soviet politics. Kollontai’s contribution to the Bolshevik party was extraordinary, as she had created a lifestyle for women who wanted to be able to live for themselves without having to depend on their significant other. Ultimately, the emancipation of women would have not occurred, if Kollontai did not work alongside the Bolsheviks. Their success primarily came from the Bolsheviks taking Kollontai under their wing and putting their trust in her.
In conclusion, Alexandra Kollontai was an admirable woman, who made significant contributions to the emancipation of women. The tribulations she faced, were a clear indication of how willing she was to settle the rights for women. Her rise to prominence was highlighted throughout the Russian revolution against women. The essay provided, outlines an analysis on how the Russian Revolution was revolutionary for women, and the rights and freedom that were gained from the chaotic event. Kollontai’s views on women, throughout her autobiography also provides an insight into the struggles she endured for women.
· Clements, B. (1973). Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies; Cambridge University Press. Association For Slavic, East European, And Eurasian Studies; Cambridge University Press, 32(2), 324-328.
· Braun, T. (2007). Peace profile: Alexandra Kollontai. A Journal Of Social Justice, 10(2).
· Porter, C. (2017). Aleksandra Kollontai: Socialism, Feminism, and the Bolshevik Revolution by Beatrice Farnsworth; Alexandra Kollontai: The Lonely Struggle of the Woman Who Defied Lenin. The University Of Chicago Press, 7(1), 220-230.
· Goldman, W. (1995). Women, the State and Revolution: Soviet Family Policy and Social Life,. Oxford University Press On Behalf Of The American Historical Association, 100(2), 557-559.
· Kollontaĭ, Alexandra. The Autobiography of a Sexually Emancipated Communist Woman. New York: Herder and Herder, 1971.
· Ruthchild, R. (2010). From West to East: International Women's Day, the first decade. Berghan Books, 6(1).