Alexandra Kollontai and ‘Lefty’ Emancipation

By Demetrio Iannone

When talking about feminism, many immediately think of Western liberal democracy, but few know that many early feminists, that set the base for future feminism, were not as Western and liberal as we think. A perfect example can be found in Alexandra Kollontai (1872-1952). She was a Russian revolutionary woman that took active part, along her other comrades like Inessa Armand, in the October Revolution of 1917. Now, I am not here to bore you to death with historical facts, even though I would love that, but I would rather like to stress how important it is to look closely at history to appreciate what feminism has achieved and what it still has to strive for. Also, I would like to give credit where credit’s due, hoping that Kollontai would be proud, and reveal the inherent link between Feminism and Socialism to the JCU community.

    We look at the progress of emancipation and we think that it just popped out of nowhere, but we have to credit the ones that have fought in times that were more hostile to feminist thought than ours. Kollontai was one of those, and she shall be remembered as other “Western” feminists such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. In her revolutionary years, she was keen in pushing forth the image of the “New Woman.” The latter symbolised the working woman that broke all her chains, like the household and family burdens, and dedicated herself to the cause of collective emancipation. Now you might think that this is too radical of an idea, or maybe too communist, for our modern taste, and it is here that I would like to remind ourselves to come to terms with the historical contexts of the time. If now we strive to improve the gender pay gap and abortion rights, back then, especially in a old-styled society, such as the Tsarist ones, these aims were mere dreams. A radical change, in more basic paradigms, such as the one of the household, needed to be established in order to deeply change the society of the time. This is what Kollontai’s political career was aimed at accomplishing.

    Of course, studying Soviet emancipation can really show what can go wrong when the emancipation movement falls into authoritarian hands, such as the ones of Stalinism that boycotted early revolutionary  achievements (1917-1924) such as the legalization of abortion, and teach us that, on a long term, the Soviet example is not ideal. However, turning a blind eye towards those activists, such as Kollontai, that were brave enough to rebel in times that were not characterized by the same freedoms as ours, is also a flaw.

    This brings me to the main point of this appeal. We must think of the taboo word “Socialism” when we think of Feminism! Whether we like it or not. Being Italian, this applies also to the case of Italian women. If women in Italy have achieved certain rights, starting from the voting rights and ending in job accessibility in certain parts of society, which before were distant from reach, it is thanks to tenacious comrades like Camilla Ravera, Nilde Iotti, and many lower key but still important women activists and partisans who were all aligned by the same ideal of equity that defines Socialism. We need to be enlightened by these thinkers to appreciate what we have achieved so far, but this shouldn’t hinder our determination to accomplish more. Ravera, Iotti, Kollontai, and Armand would be shocked to see that after all their fights, feminicide, misogyny, and rape culture are still major issues in Italy, Russia, and the rest of the world. So let's not fail them, let us, men and women alike, strive for feminist and egalitarian emancipation!

Adriana DeNoble