Three Essays by Alexandra Kollontai - “Communism and the Family,” 1918, “Sexual Relations and the Class Struggle,” and “Love and the New Morality,” 1919
These essays connect with TV shows like ‘The Bachelor.’ Really! The first of these essays was part of an address to the 1918 Russian Women’s Congress, attended by 1,000 delegates. Kollontai had been named the Commissar for Social Welfare, the first women to hold a government post like this in Europe. The second two were interventions in the intra-party debate, in which Kollontai attempted to bring up women’s issues during the Russian Civil War.
This is very modern stuff. Seriously. Marxists are the children of the future, and as such, Kollontai seemed to have a crystal ball.
Kollontai's first address describes the legal steps the Bolshevik government immediately took to help women. It legalized divorce and abortion. It legislated equal pay and equal job opportunities. Protective legislation was enacted for pregnant women and nursing mothers. Forced marriage was outlawed. Distinctions between legitimate and ‘illegitimate’ children were banned. Laws governing sexual behavior were repealed. A system of daycare was setup at government expense. A plan was laid to socialize the ‘private’ domestic tasks of the family.
Kollontai addresses worries many had at the time that the family was changing too fast. She basically says the old patriarchal family found under capitalism and serfdom is dead. As she put it: “…all the superannuated rubbish which has been bequeathed to us by the cursed epoch of servitude and domination which was characteristic of the landed proprietors and the capitalists … shall be swept aside…” Kollontai declares that the goal was ending, not the ‘double shift’ but the ‘triple shift’ that many women worked – 1. paid work, 2. housework and 3. baby care. The best wife in the past had been one ‘with hands of gold.’ She points out that many things that were formerly produced in the family by women – like clothing – are now done in a factory instead. Central kitchens and restaurants, socialized house cleaning and laundries, child care after the children are weaned – were to be made available and lessen women’s burdens (and mens' too). She especially poured scorn on the drudgery of housework. In essence, the nuclear family was not being abolished – many of its ostensibly eternal roles would just wither away by choice.
She understands that capitalism makes use of the free labor of the family every day – another ‘take’ it indulges in, just as it takes from the environment for ‘free' and hides the reality of surplus value stolen from workers.
Kollontai does not avoid the sexual issue – marriage. She thinks that marriage should be a ‘civil’ one of affection and comradeship. The old marriage – based on the church marriage, “until death do us part,’ saturated with monetary considerations – is done. Today under neo-liberal capitalism civil marriages are the most common – yet the monetary issue still stands, and an unknown number of people still intend to live by that stupid phrase. Arranged marriages and ‘covenant’ marriages exist for nearly all Hindus and some conservative Christians, for instance. Marrying outside your class is still verboten in many societies. Kollontai then declares that marriages of (sexual) affection will do away with prostitution. As we can see, prostitution still exists in the U.S. because marriage is still a monetary and conservative institution which many times kills sexual desire. She says that a generalized ‘free love’ can only come about through true social equality of men and women.
This is, after all, the woman who wrote, “The Autobiography of a Sexually Emancipated Woman.” These 1919 essays were published in a Soviet book, “The New Morality of the Working Class.”
Sex, like eating and drinking, defecating, physical exercise or work, is essential to the human animal. This fact religions try to hide and so does economic bourgeois society, which needs restraints on sexuality in order to get the most work out of us. Sex’s prime use under capitalism is as a sales tool, to increase buying. As Marx noted, sex and drink were about the only pleasures the British working class had. Kollontai argues in the first essay on sexual relations that developing the seeds of the new society now, even in the midst of war, is essential to winning women and building that society. She feels it is necessary to find the ‘magic thread.’
What is the ‘magic thread’? Kollontai first points out that sexual problems are not private. And by ‘sex’ she does not just mean conflict between men and women. She posits the problem of modern marriage in that it leads one person – usually the man – egotistically ‘possessing’ the married partner in an unequal relationship. While this seems a bit over the top today in the U.S. or Europe, this is still true for many modern marriages, especially conservative ones. Watch the U.S. TV program ‘The Bachelor’ or ‘The Bachelorette’ if you can stand it. Here marriage has been turned into a reality show – a fake dream-world holding the new Cinderella or Prince Charming. It caters to a very archaic image of marriage. In this season, the mostly desperate big-city women have to plan to marry a rich farmer from rural Iowa, move to his big farm and have children. That is what he wants. Talk about ‘possession’!
Kollontai says the real solution is to increase ‘the potential for loving.’ She calls for ‘new relationships between the sexes that are deeper and more joyful.' Pretty vague, right? She continues:
“The attempt by the middle-class intelligentsia to replace indissoluble marriage by the freer, more easily broken ties of civil marriage destroys the essential basis of social stability of the bourgeoisie. It destroys the monogamous property-oriented family. On the other hand, the greater fluidity in relationships between the sexes coincides with, and is even the indirect result of one of the basic tasks of the working-class. Rejecting the element of submission in marriage…”
Which is what is going on now in U.S. society, in Europe & Japan, due to the rise in divorce and the putting off of marriage. In bourgeois Japan, the rise of working women is putting a crimp on marriage and baby-making because, as the Guardian stated: “Japan …still has some of the worst systemic gender inequality in the world” because it “has a European economy and South Asian social family mores.” I.E. women in Japan have to choose to have sex=babies=stay home=quit job=imprisonment.
In her last essay on love and a new morality, Kollontai lays her cards on the table. She discusses a book by the German Grete Meisel-Hess about sexual issues. Kollontai thinks that the reality of the ‘soul mate’ or the ‘perfect love’ is few and far between. She discusses 3 kinds of sexual relationships and suggests a fourth. 1, she takes apart the ‘marriage is forever’ thesis, as it mainly cripples the family members, especially the woman. 2, she points out that prostitution is the commodification of sex – the perfect capitalist plan. 3, she discusses the ‘free marriage,’ pointing out that ‘free unions” (today’s civil marriage of sexual love) still have a problem. Though the partners spend more time together, these unions demand a greater amount of time and emotional energy than most people have left after working. “In a society based on competition … there is not room left for the cult of the demanding and fragile Eros.” Which is why even these marriages disintegrate or cripple. This kind of marriage usually involves 'full possession' as well.
So what to do? Kollontai:
“…a person, in the course of his/her long life and in the process of the development of his/her personality, will change sexual partners.”
“When two people live on top of each other all the time the tender spring flower of even the most loving attachment will be killed.”
According to Kollontai, still given the need for a socialist society, the most frequent relationships in the new society (and by implication the present) should be ‘game love.’ What is this? “Game love,” from what I can tell from this text, is sort of like ‘friends with benefits. An ‘erotic friendship’ as she calls it, ‘light and carefree.’ Sort of a considerate relationship in which each party doesn’t try to get ‘undisputed possession’ of the other person. Kollontai thinks that relationships like this can train people for those very rare ‘greater loves.’ She thinks humans need to “overflow with erotic inspiration without having to lose freedom and give the future as payment.” Which they do in most marriages.
And you thought all Marxists were prudes.
Reviewed below, a book on “Soviet Women –Walking the Tightrope,” and an art show on “Women in Soviet Art,” – use blog search box, upper left.
And I bought it at Mayday Books in the used section
January 8, 2015