b. 1872, Saint Petersburg; d. 1952, Moscow
"The separation of the kitchen from marriage is … no less important than the separation of Church from State …"
—Aleksandra Kollontai, cited in Stites, Women's Liberation Movement in Russia, 355
Aleksandra Kollontai was the driving force behind feminist politics in revolutionary Russia. Her beginnings did not predict the radical politics to which she would later subscribe. Born into a wealthy family, she married an army officer before rejecting her privileged existence to join the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party. In 1908, she published The Social Bases of the Woman Question, her first feminist statement. Kollontai continued to write about feminist concerns and in 1917, after the Bolshevik takeover, became commissar of social welfare. Firmly committed to the belief that the abolition of private property went hand-in-hand with a revolution in social relations, Kollontai advocated women's full participation in the workforce, collectivized living arrangements, and state responsibility for child-rearing. In 1919, along with Inessa Armand and Nadezhda Krupskaya, she founded Zhenotdel, the Women's Section of the Communist Party. It was through Zhenotdel and the new Family Code of 1917–18 that Kollontai and her comrades implemented their concept of the "new woman" and gender relations appropriate to a revolutionary society. The socialization of domestic tasks was written into much of the legislation that she drafted in the early years of the Soviet republic. It was not long before a backlash set in, however. In 1922, Kollantai was dismissed from her posts and offered a diplomatic position, which she held for more than two decades. She was effectively exiled and, by the mid-1920s, the "new woman" had been undermined by conservative factions within the party.
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