Alexandra Kollontai: Feminism after Revolution
For the feminist revolutionary Alexandra Kollontai, women’s liberation required nothing less than the overthrow of the capitalist system and the abolition of the family. Appointed People’s Commissar for Welfare in the wake of the 1917 October Revolution, Kollontai set about implementing a feminist agenda undreamt of in early 20th-century society: state-provided maternity care, child care, housing, and healthcare; the equivalence of formal and informal partnerships; divorce; and free abortion on demand. Emancipating women meant liberating them from everyday life (byt). Whereas capitalism privatized social reproduction, shackling women to the drudgery of domestic labor, Kollontai’s feminist communism socialized the responsibilities of care and reproduction, emancipating women to live as genuine social equals (and not merely as equals before the law, as “bourgeois” feminists would have it). Yet, Kollontai’s contradictions—her preoccupation with waged labor as emancipatory, her paternalistic attitude toward “backward” peasants, her simultaneous advocacy of free love and condemnation of sex work—remain in their essence unresolved in contemporary feminist theory and politics. How can we understand Kollontai’s revolutionary feminism? How, and to what extent, was it put into practice in the early Soviet Union? And, what can Kollontai’s revolutionary feminist politics—contradictions and all—teach us today?
In this course, we will explore the theory and practice of Kollontai’s revolutionary feminism through a reading of her major polemical, theoretical, and literary works, including Sexual Relations and the Class Struggle/Love and the New Morality, Prostitution and Ways of Fighting It, Love of the Worker Bees, Red Love, and Autobiography of a Sexually Emancipated Communist Woman, as well as excerpts from Kollontai’s diaries and speeches in the context of Soviet legal codes, social policy, and political economy. As we trace the contours of Kollontai’s thought and politics, we will ask: What lessons can we learn from both Kollontai’s political thought and her practical institutional work, as we think and go about constructing a socialism for the 21st century?
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
July 12 — August 02, 2022