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World-Changing Women: Alexandra Kollontai

Updated Saturday, 25 February 2023
Alexandra Kollontai, inspired by Marxist ideals, became a member of the revolutionary government and led a campaign to help women working in the appalling textile factories. Read her story here...
Alexandra Kollontai 1872 - 1952 Russia Revolutionary Politics

Alexandra Kollontai image Photograph of Alexandra Kollontai In pre-revolutionary Russia, aristocratic women’s lives were expected to revolve around domesticity and family responsibilities.  Alexandra Kollontai, however, who was inspired by Marxist ideas to join the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party at the age of 27, showed that it was possible to follow a different path. She was eventually to become the most prominent woman in the Soviet administration following the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 when was appointed People's Commissar for Social Welfare.

Kollontai was born into St. Petersburg nobility; she married in 1893 and bore a son but soon felt constrained by married life.  Her political interests were triggered following a visit to a textile factory where she witnessed the appalling conditions endured by women workers.  She turned to study the history of working movements and led a campaign to encourage women workers to fight for their own interests against their employers, against middle-class feminism and, as she saw it, against the male conservatism of socialist organizations.

As a member of the revolutionary government Kollontai was able to implement the reforms she had long advocated. She was best known for founding the ‘Women's Department’, an organization that worked to improve the conditions of women's lives in the Soviet Union, fighting illiteracy and educating women about the new marriage, education, and working laws brought about by the Revolution. However, Kollontai became increasingly critical of the Communist Party and eventually lost political influence. She was appointed to various diplomatic positions from the 1920s, preventing her from influencing policy related to women at home.

Kollontai saw marriage and the traditional family as legacies of the past. She believed that, under communism, these would give way to stronger ties between the individual and wider society. Alexandra Kollontai died in Moscow in 1952, less than a month away from her 80th birthday.

This article is part of the world-changing women collection. All the articles in this collection are specially produced for the How women changed the world interactive tour created to reveal the untold stories the history books left out.

You can also view these articles without the interactive feature here.


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