Date of Degree

6-2021

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.A.

Program

Political Science

Advisor

Susan Buck-Morss

Subject Categories

Political Theory | Women's Studies

Keywords

Alexandra Kollontai, Marxist feminism, The Woman Question, liberal feminism, Bolshevism, feminist theory

Abstract

Alexandra Kollontai envisioned a world in which all women and their proletarian comrades were liberated from subordination under capitalism. She served as People’s Commissar in the Bolshevik government and established the Zhenotdel, the government’s department for women. Under the Bolsheviks, women were granted equal legal status to men, divorce rights, access to birth control, and were the primary benefiters of the nationalization of domestic work (i.e., communal childcare, dining, and laundry halls). Kollontai and the Soviet Union provide us with one of the few examples of Marxist feminism in action. Liberal critics of Kollontai and her Marxist comrades and contemporaries voice concern over whether or not women’s issues can equally coexist with class struggle. Marxists, to the liberal, do not extend The Woman Question – an intellectual project that examines society through the lens of women’s conditions and roles within it – far enough, instead privileging class over gender as political categories. In many ways, liberals viewed the defeat of Bolshevism and later decline of the Soviet Union as validation of their critiques of Marxist feminism and as justification for dismissing it from mainstream feminist theory. There has recently been a resurgence of interest in Kollontai among Marxist academic and activist circles. Though Kollontai herself would not identify as a feminist, her political work and writing is an integral contribution to Marxist feminist theory today. When we return to her work, we can see how she centers women in her class politics, despite criticisms from liberals that women’s issues are forced to take a backseat when coexisting with class struggle. She calls for revolution in property and social relations, proposing what she calls Red Love, a comradely, emancipatory alternative to capitalist romance. In this paper, I place Kollontai in conversation with her liberal critics and ultimately argue that what is often criticized as being her weakness – her unwillingness to compromise her radical class politics in her quest for women’s liberation – is, instead, one of her strengths. If we as feminist theorists are sincere in our commitment to women’s liberation, we should be returning to the work of women like Alexandra Kollontai.

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