Alexandra Kollontai – Biography

Biographical information: Name – Alexandra Mikhailovna Kollontai Born – March 31st 1872 in St. Petersburg Died – March 9th 1952 in Moscow Occupation – Russian communist revolutionary, Soviet Ambassador to Norway Family background: Kollontai was born to a relatively wealthy family. Her father, General Mikhail Alekseevich Domontovich, served as a Calvary officer in the Russo-Turkish war and was an advisor to the Russian administration in Bulgaria. Kollontai’s mother, Alexandra Androvna Masalina-Mravinskaia, was a daughter of a Finnish peasant who made a fortune selling wood.
Kollontai’s parent’s long and difficult struggle to be together would colour her views on relationships, sex and marriage. Kollontai was extremely close with her father, both sharing an interest in history and politics. Education: Kollontai’s mother and her nanny were demanding, “There was order in everything, there was order in everything: to tidy up toys myself, to lay my underwear on a little chair at night, to wash neatly, to study my lessons on time, to treat the servants with respect”.
Alexandra was considered a good student, mastering a range of languages. She spoke French with her mothers and sisters, English to her Nanny, Finnish with the peasants at a family estate, and she was a student of German. Alexandra wanted to continue her education at university but her mother said that there was no real need for women to have higher education. Political membership: At the time of the split in the Russian Social Democrat Labour Party in 1903, into the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks, Kollontai did not side with either.

Kollontai then first joined the Mensheviks but then in 1915 finally joined the Bolsheviks. After the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, Kollontai became the People’s Commissar for Social Welfare. Kollontai founded the Zhenotdel or “Women’s Department” in 1919. This organisation worked to improve the condition of women’s lives in the Soviet Union, fighting illiteracy and educating women about the new marriage laws put in place by the revolution. Revolutionary activities:
Kollontai’s first activities were timid and modest, helping out a few hours a week with her sister at a library that supported Sunday classes in basic literacy for urban workers, sneaking a few socialist ideas into the lesson sideways. At this library, Kollontai met Elena Stasova, an activist in the budding Marxist movement in St. Petersburg. Stasova began using Kollontai as a courier, transporting parcels of illegal writings to unknown individuals.
In 1898 Kollontai left to study Economics in Zurich, Switzerland. She then paid a visit to England, where she met members of the British Labour party. She returned to Russia in 1899, at which time she met Vladimir Lenin. She became a member of the Russian Social Democrat Labour Party in 1899. Kollontai went in exile, to Germany in 1908 after publishing “Finland and Socialism”, which called on the Finnish people to rise up against oppression within the Russian empire.

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