Item description for The Essential Alexandra Kollontai by Sharon Smith Alexandra Kollontai...
This is a collection of the work of Alexandra Kollontai, a leading member of Russia's Bolshevik Party and an integral part of the international women's movement. It encompasses her groundbreaking writings on sexual morality under capitalism, women's oppression, the family, and women's role in the Russian Revolution. This book is now available to today's activists and scholars with a new introduction by Sharon Smith.
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Release Date Jan 1, 2008
Publisher Haymarket Books
ISBN 1931859310 ISBN13 9781931859318
Reviews - What do customers think about The Essential Alexandra Kollontai?
Relevant? Nov 6, 2004
Lately as I have been rereading texts by such writers and thinkers as Alexandra Kollontai, Rosa Luxemburg and later analysis of their thinking by Raya Dunayevskaya, I ask myself the same question people ask me, perplexed as they see that I am reading something so "outdated" about a system that was "proven wrong": is this information relevant today, aside from the historical perspective gained from it? Yes, I argue that it is very relevant. It proves, if nothing else, that issues, particularly for women, that were issues 100 years ago are still issues today. Many societies have made little or no social progress, and some have arguably moved backwards.
This particular book, with analysis from Alix Holt, is quite useful and telling because Holt provides a context and an even-handed critique of Kollontai's writing. Kollontai has been dismissed by many as an overly idealistic thinker, and her thoughts on family and sexuality have earned Kollontai an undeserved reputation as someone who advocated sexual promiscuity and irresponsibility as well as "moral decay". Naturally these analyses are overly simplistic; Kollontai was a revolutionary (not just in the traditional sense, having participated actively in the Russian Revolution and serving as Lenin's only female commissar, but also a revolutionary on social norms and sociology). Kollontai questioned the role of family in society and predicted that "family" as the nuclear unit would cease to exist (under socialism/Communism, in her evaluation) because family is an economic/need-based construct. The erosion of the family unit as economic unit would change the dynamics between men and women and would create the need for in depth evaluation of sexuality and the basis for relationships. Kollontai asked many questions on this topic in earnest, which were integral questions to the development of Soviet society (beset by major problems as it was) yet as time went on, her ideas were marginalized and even demonized. As the Soviet propaganda machine grew (mostly under Stalin), Kollontai no longer had a voice. Suddenly these ideas, in the words of Alix Holt, "became more and more preposterous and the party quite sensibly put its foot down. In actual fact, things were quite otherwise, for her ideas changed very little. It was the attitudes of men and women both inside and outside the party that were changing and giving rise to objections against what had previously been accepted without question." Kollontai watched the Revolution for which she had fought (and in the name of which she had been blind and naive to many realities) be co-opted by the Stalin personality cult and excessive bureaucracy. It is evident that Kollontai was a personality more than a philosopher. She had beliefs and ideas, but she, as Holt points out in later analysis, failed to form her observations into real and meaningful analysis. Many of her most striking ideas are barely developed. Kollontai objected to being linked with a women's movement or a feminist movement in her time because she felt that women's rights would be part and parcel of any successful proletarian revolution, and that equality would be achieved automatically. This is part of Kollontai's short-sightedness, faithfully documented in this book and analyzed by Holt. Kollontai had valuable ideas she never researched or explored fully; she recognized intrinsic problems within society (particularly those pertaining to women and children), but she blindly accepted that the revolution and the Soviet government would take care of all these things. By the time she realized that the "dream" was slipping away, it was too late. Stalin had the power to silence her one way or another (she is one of the few to survive the purges, although it can be argued that she was sidelined effectively by being sent as Soviet ambassador to Norway, Mexico, etc.)
This book coupled with other readings about or by Kollontai give a vivid picture of Russia during and after the revolution and the hopes many people shared for building a worker's society. The book also illustrates, as I stated, how the same concerns that Kollontai and colleagues faced in forming a new government still plague society today. Although strides have been made in "granting" women more equality, they are still not "equal" in many regards. Kollontai, who was so ahead of her time, gives modern women pause to consider that if serious feminist and equality matters are STILL problematic now, almost 100 years after Kollontai was fighting for the equality of all people, we have not really "blazed the trail" to women's rights. At the same time, though, it is not just society "holding women back" but also the attitudes of many women themselves. (For example, Bill Maher said that when women want to elect a woman to the US presidency, they will. They have the majority. It is not society necessarily that isn't ready; perhaps it's women themselves.) Unfortunately Kollontai faced an uphill battle educating people as to their individual rights and responsibilities... we still face this issue now. Relevant? Absolutely so.