Alexandra Mikhailovna Kollontai (1872–1952) was an influential activist, politician, and diplomat whose efforts profoundly shaped the early gender politics of the Soviet Union. After witnessing the horrifying labor conditions in a Narva textile mill, Kollontai dedicated the rest of her days fighting for the emancipation of both women and workers. As an avid writer of pamphlets, books, essays, diaries, and letters, Kollontai left a rich documentary record of her life. As a leading figure in the international socialist and communist women’s movements, and due to her many speaking tours and writings, she had an international impact and became one of the best-known women’s rights activists of the twentieth century.
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Books and Articles by Alexandra Mikhailovna Kollontai
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Bolshaya lyubov. Povesti i rasskazy. St. Petersburg: Izdatelskii dom Azbuka-klassika, 2008.
“Die Arbeiterfrage in Finland,” Soziale Praxis. Berlin Leipzig Central blatt fur sozial Politik, no. 9 (1900): 50.
Diplomaticheskiye dnevniki: 1922–1940. Moskva: Academia, 2001.
Finlyandiya i socialism: Sbornik statei. St. Petersburg: Malykh, 1906.
Iz moey zhizni i raboty. Vospominaniya i dnevniki. Moskva: Izdatelstvo “Sovetskaya Rossiya,” 1974.
Izbrannye statyi i rechi. Moskva: Izdatelstvo politicheskoi literatury, 1972.
Letopis moey zhizni: Avtobiograficheskii ocherk. Moskva: Academia, 2004.
Lyubov pchel trudovykh. Moskva: Gosizdat, 1923.
Marksistskii feminism: Kollekziya tekstov A.M. Kollontai. Tver: Feministpress, 2003.
Novaya zhenshina. Moskva: Novaya zhizn, 1913.
Novaya moral i rabochii klass. Moskva: Izd. VZIK, 1918.
Obshestvo i materinstvo. St.Petersburg: Zhizn i znaniye, 1916.
“Osnovy vospitaniya po vzglyadam Dobrolyubova.” Obrazovaniye, no. 9 (1898): 11–15; no. 10 (1898): 1–19; no. 11 (1898): 1–16.
“Promyshlennost i torgovlya Velikogo knyazhestva Finlyandskogo.” Nauchnoe obozreniye, no. 7 (1901): 8–40.
Revoluziya – velikaya myatezhniza. Izbrannye pisma, 1901–1952. Moskva: Sovetskaya Rossiya, 1989.
Semya i kommunisticheskoe gosudarstvo. Moskva: Izdatelstvo “Kommunist”, 1918.
Sestry. Moskva: Gosizdat, 1927.
“Socialism v Finlyandii.” Zarya, no. 4 (1902): 71–79.
Sozialnyye osnovy zhenskogo voprosa. St. Petersburg: Znanie, 1909.
“Splavshiki lesa v Finlyandii.” Nauchnoe obozreniye, no. 9 (1902): 69–78.
Svobodnaya lyubov. Riga: Strok, 1925.
The Autobiography of a Sexually Emancipated Communist Woman, edited, with an afterword, by Iring Fetscher. Translated by Salvator Attanasio. Foreword by Germaine Greer. New York: Herder and Herder, 1971. https://www.marxists.org/archive/kollonta/1926/autobiography.htm#17.
V. Malygina. Moskva: Gosizdat, 1927.
“Zemelnyi vopros v Finlyandii.” Nauchnoe obozreniye, no. 2 (1902): 45–54; no. 3 (1902): 205–210; no. 4 (1902): 124–136.
Zhenshina na perelome. Moskva: Gosizdat, 1923.
“Zhilisha finlyandskikh rabochikh.” Russkoe bogatstvo, no. 7 (1902): 126–144.
Zhizn’ finlyandskikh rabochikh. Ekonomicheskoe issledovaniye. St.Petersburg: T-vo khudozhestvennoi pechati, 1903.
Abramova, M.G., A.V. Popova, and S.S. Gorokhova. “Proekt zhenskoi emansipazii Aleksandry Kollontai kak gendernoe ‘rasshireniye’ marksizma.” Vestnik Moskovskogo gosudarstvennogo oblastnogo universiteta. Seriya: Istoriya i politicheskiye nauki 2 (2021): 44–54.
Body, Marcel. “Mémoires: Alexandra Kollontai.” Preuves 14 (1952): 12–24.
Breslav, Eva. A.M. Kollontai. Moskva: Izdatelstvo Mysl, 1974.
Bucur, Maria. The Century of Women: How Women Have Transformed the World since 1900. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2018.
Carrère d’Encausse, Hélène. Alexandra Kollontaï. La Walkyrie de la Révolution. Paris: Fayard, 2021.
Clements, Barbara Evans. Bolshevik Feminist: The Life of Aleksandra Kollontai. Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press, 1979.
Dazhina, I. “V vodovorote novoi Rossii. Pisma A.M. Kollontai V.I. Leninu i N.K. Krupskoi v Shveizariyu.” Novyi mir, no. 4 (1967): 235–242.
Delap, Lucy. Feminisms: A Global History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020.
de Miguel, Ana. Alejandra Kollontai (1872–1952). Ediciones del Orto, 2001.
Dolidovich, Olesya and Katzina Tatyana. “Stanovleniye sistemy sozialnogo obespecheniuya pod rukovodstvom A.M. Kollontai: ot sfery privatnoi v Rossiiskoi Imperii k prostranstvu publichnogo v Sovetskoi Rossii (12 noyabrya 1917 goda–11 marta 1918 goda).” Zhurnal issledovanii sozialnoi politiki 9, no. 2 (2011): 255–276.
Farnsworth, Beatrice. Aleksandra Kollontai: Socialism, Feminism, and the Bolshevik Revolution. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1980.
Farnworth, Beatrice. “Conversing with Stalin, Surviving the Terror: The Diaries of Aleksandra Kollontai and the Internal Life of Politics.” Slavic Review 69, no. 4 (2010): 944–970.
Ghodsee, Kristen. “Crashing the Party: The Radical Legacy of a Soviet-era Feminist.” World Policy Journal 35, no. 2 (Summer 2018): 70–74
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Govryakov, Igor. “Prinzipy agitazii sredi zhenshin v pervyi god sovetskoi vlasti: neopublikovannye instrukzii A.M. Kollontai.” Istoriya otechestvennykh smi 1 (2015): 16–22.
Haan, Francisca de, Krassimira Daskalova, and Anna Loutfi, eds. A Biographical Dictionary of Women's Movements and Feminisms: Central, Eastern, and South Eastern Europe, 19th and 20th Centuries. Budapest and New York: Central European University Press, 2006.
Hauge, Kaare. “Alexandra Mikhailovna Kollontai: The Scandinavian Period, 1922–1945.” PhD diss., University of Minnesota, 1971.
Holton, Sandra Stanley. Feminism and Democracy. Women’s Suffrage and Reform Politics in Britain, 1900–1918. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.
Ingemanson, Birgitta. “Letters from Aleksandra Kollontaj in Sweden.” Russian Language Journal/Pyccкий язык 41, no. 140 (Fall 1987): 197–214.
Itkina, Anna. Revolutsioner, tribun, diplomat. Ocherk zhizni A.M. Kollontai. Moskva: Politizdat, 1964.
Izelev, Leonid. Aleksandra Kollontai: Diplomat and Courtesan. Moskva: Armada, 1997.
Kalmanovich, Anna. Pretenzii k zhenscomu dvizheniyu voobshe i k I-mu Vserssiiskomy zhenskomu s’ezdu v chastnosti. Neskolko slov o knige g-zhi Kollontai ‘Socialnyye osnovy zhenskogo voprosa’. St. Petersburg, 1910.
Kitai, Satoko. “Eros I revolyuziya: teoriya A.Kollontai.” Novyi filologicheskii vestnik 2 (2009): 124–131.
Kollontai, Vladimir. Moya chrezvychainaya babushka. Vospominaniya vnuka ob Aleksandre Mikhailovne Kollontai. Moskva: Izdatelstvo “Aspekt Press”, 2019.
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Lapidus, Gail. Women in Soviet society: Equality, Development, and Social Change. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978.
Masucci, Michelle, Lind, Maria and Warsza, Joanna, eds. Red Love: A Reader on Alexandra Kollontai. Sternberg Press, 2020.
Medvedev, Roy. Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1971.
Miller, Carol. “‘Geneva—The Key to Equality’: Inter-war Feminists and the League of Nations,” Women’s History Review 3, no. 2 (1994): 218–245.
Mindlin, Emilyi. Ne dom, no mir: povest’ ob Aleksandre Kollontai. Moskva: Politizdat, 1978.
Mlechin, Leonid. Kollontay. Moskva: Molodaia gvardiia, 2013.
Motefiore, Simon Sebag. Stalin: Court of the Red Tsar. London: Vintage, 2004.
Mozokhin, Oleg. “Stalin v zhizni Kollontai.” Rodina, no. 9 (2014): 96–102.
Nishikawa, Masaoю. Socialists and International Actions for Peace, 1914–1923. Berlin: Frank & Timme Verlag, 2010.
Olesin, Mikhail. Pervaya v mire. Biograficheskii ocherk ob A.M. Kollontai. Moskva: Izdatelstvo politicheskoi literatuty, 1990.
Osipovich, Tatyana. “Kommunizm, feminism, osvbozhdenie zhenshin i Aleksandra Kollontai.” Obshestvennye nauki i sovremennost, no. 1 (1993): 174–186.
Otchet o Pervoi mezhdunarodnoi konferenzii kommunistok. Moskva: Gosudarstvennoe izdatelstvo, 1921.
Palencia, Isabel de. I Must Have Liberty. New York and Toronto: Longmans, Green and Co, 1940.
Palencia, Isabel de. Alexandra Kollontai: Ambassadress from Russia. New York and Toronto: Longmans, Green and Co, 1947.
Pervyi congress Kominterna. Mart 1919. Eds. E. Korotkii, B. Kun, O. Pyatnizkii. Moskva: Partiinoe izdatelstvo, 1933.
Porter, Cathy. Alexandra Kollontai. The Lonely Struggle of the Woman Who Defied Lenin. New York: The Dial Press, 1980.
Porter, Cathy. Alexandra Kollontai: A Biography. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2014.
Pushkarev, A.M. “K istoriographii ‘Istorii povsednevnosti’ I ‘Novogo byta’ 1920kh (problema ‘novoi polovoi morali v rabotakh A.M. Kollontai).” Zhenshina v rossiskom obshestve, no. 1–2 (2005): 55–75.
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Editors and Affiliations
Appendix: Brief Reflections on Archival Sources, Scholarly Biographies and Kollontai Fan Fiction
Appendix: Brief Reflections on Archival Sources, Scholarly Biographies and Kollontai Fan Fiction
Alexandra Kollontai has long fascinated scholars and activists around the world. The first biographical writings about Kollontai appeared in 1947 and 1952 in the West, but it took more than a decade before similar biographies appeared in the Soviet Union. In the English-language literature, a second wave of books about the Russian women’s movement and about Kollontai’s life began appearing in the late 1970s just as women in the West took a growing interest in Marxist feminism. In the contemporary Russian context, she is better remembered for her diplomatic achievements than she is for her women’s activism. Our biographical overview of Kollontai’s life above relies primarily on Russian sources, including several key texts relating to Kollontai and her life. These include her own papers and memoirs (both published and unpublished), a biography written by her grandson Vladimir Kollontai and scholarly biographies published before and after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. We also draw upon biographies and memories of Kollontai written in English and French.
In the first place, Alexandra Kollontai left a very rich literary, journalistic and epistolary legacy in different languages; a full list of her published works would take several pages. She kept diaries all her life and was careful to preserve them, and it is thanks to these that we can get a fairly complete idea of Kollontai’s character and way of thinking. Today, Kollontai’s personal archive in Russia (fund 134) is held at the Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi arkhiv sotsial'no-politicheskoi istorii (RGASPI) (Russian State Archive of Social and Political History) in Moscow, which is part of the Federal'noe arkhivnoe agentstvo Rossii (Rosarkhiv) (Federal Archival Agency of Russia).129 At the end of her life, she also collected her notes on and memoirs of Joseph Stalin in a separate file (which was given to Stalin for review), and which is now held in RGASPI (fund 558).
Her letters and other documents related to her political and diplomatic service can also be found in various European archives. According to Birgitta Ingemanson, over 600 letters sent from Alexandra Kollontai to her Swedish colleagues and friends are held in six different Swedish archives: Göteborgs Universitetsbibliotek (Göteborg University Library); Kungliga Biblioteket [Royal library] in Stockholm; Lunds Universitetsbibliotek [Lund University Library]; Riksarkivet [National Archives]; Stockhoms Stadsarkiv [City Archives of Stockholm] and Uppsala Universitetsbibliotek [Uppsala University Library].130 According to Daniella Spenser, the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs contains an entire dossier of Spanish articles and opinions about Kollontai during the time she served as the Soviet ambassador to Mexico [Archivo de Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, 41–26-27].131 In the secret police archives of other European countries, Kollontai may also have dossiers documenting her various activities during her exile from Russia between 1908 and 1917.
Kollontai’s most important writings were not reprinted in Russia during her lifetime. Only in 1972, on the centenary of her birth, was a collection of her works—Izbrannye statyi i rechi (Selected articles and speeches)—published. In 1974, a collection of autobiographical materials, Iz moey zhizni i raboty. Vospominaniya i dnevniki (From my Life and Work), also appeared. After long approvals and delays (preparation of the publication began in the late 1980s), Kollontai’s Diplomaticheskiye dnevniki: 1922–1940 (Diplomatic Diaries: 1922–1940) were published in 2001. These publications as well as a volume that appeared in 1989, Revoluziya—velikaya myatezhniza. Izbrannye pisma 1901–1952 (Revolution is a Great Rebel: Selected Letters 1901–1952), emphasized Kollontai's role as a revolutionary and a diplomat. In the early 2000s only, after a new wave of interest in women’s and gender studies, did scholars investigate her contribution to the theory of Marxist feminism. A collection of Kollontai’s works on the women's issue, as well as an autobiographical essay, and a collection of her literary works were published during this decade.132
As mentioned above, the first Kollontai biographies written in the Soviet Union appeared in the 1960s. These include Anna Itkina, Revoluzioner, tribun, diplomat. Ocherk zhizni A.M. Kollontai (A Revolutionary, Tribune, Diplomat. An Essay about A.M. Kollontai) (1964), Eva Breslav, A.M. Kollontai (1974), Zinovii Sheinis, Put’ k vershine. Stranizy zhizni A.M. Kollontai (Way to the Top. Pages from the Life of A.M. Kollontai) (1984), Mikhail Olesin, Pervaya v mire. Biograficheskii ocherk ob A.M. Kollontai (The First in the World. A Biographical Essay about A.M. Kollontai) (1990), and Leonid Mlechin, Kollontay (2013). Mikhail Trush (previously published under a pseudonym “Olesin”) released a new, expanded edition of Kollontai's biography as Ot politiki revoluzionnoi borby k pobedam na diplomaticheskom fronte. Zhiznennyi put’ Aleksandry Kollontai (From Revolutionary Struggle to Diplomatic Victories. The Life Path of Alexandra Kollontai) (2017). The memoirs of Alexandra Kollontai’s grandson have a special place in the list of books about her as they reveal some new facts about her family life and her personality. Vladimir Kollontai’s Moya chrezvychainaya babushka. Vospominaniya vnuka ob Aleksandre Michailovne Kollontai (My Extraordinary Grandmother. Memories of the Grandson of Alexandra Michailovna Kollontai) (2019) was published with the support of the MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations) Alumni Association, of which Vladimir Kollontai is a member. In addition to these serious treatments of her life, a popular genre of historical romances has also appeared, such as Emilyi Mindlin, Ne dom, no mir: povest’ ob Aleksandre Kollontai (Not Home but World: A Story about Alexandra Kollontai) (1978), Arkadii Vaksberg, Valkiriya revoluzii. Roman ob A.M. Kollontai (Valkyrie of Revolution. A Novel about A.M. Kollontai) (1997), Leonid Izelev, Aleksandra Kollontai: Diplomat i kurtizanka (Alexandra Kollontai: Diplomat and Courtesan) (1997), which are only loosely based on the historical record.
Because Alexandra Kollontai lived a long and busy life as a revolutionary, women’s activist, politician and diplomat, she has been the subject of multiple non-Russian biographical treatments using different spellings of her name.133 In English, there are four key biographies of Alexandra Kollontai. The oldest of these is written by the Spaniard Isabel de Palencia who was Kollontai’s fellow diplomat and friend in Sweden during the 1930s: Alexandra Kollontay: Ambassadress from Russia (Longmans, Green and Co., 1947). The other three are scholarly biographies by Beatrice Farnsworth, Barbara Evans Clements and Cathy Porter.134 In addition to these three books, there is an unpublished dissertation about Kollontai’s life in Scandinavia from the University of Minnesota in 1971, which was based on research conducted in the Swedish and Norwegian archives,135 and a 2020 edited collection which includes essays and interviews reflecting on her life and legacy.136
In addition to the numerous articles about her, historians Richard Stites, Gail Lapidus, Wendy Goldman and Elizabeth Wood each wrote important English books which discuss Kollontai and her work with the Women’s Section (Zhenotdel).137 More recently, Maria Bucur and Lucy Delap have examined the importance of Kollontai’s life and work within the context of twentieth century women’s movements.138 In Spanish, the gender scholar Ana de Miguel published a biography in 2001 called Alejandra Kollontai (1872–1952).139 In Swedish, Gustav Johansson’s book, Alexandra Kollontay Perioden 1872–1917: Revolutionens ambassadör, was first published in 1945 and reissued in the late 1970s. Finally, in French, a substantive article by Marcel Body, a close comrade and associate of Kollontai’s in Sweden, was published after her death in the journal Preuves in 1952, and Alexandra Kollontaï. La Walkyrie de la Révolution by Hélène Carrère d’Encausse in 2021.
In terms of Kollontai’s own writings, some of the key pieces can be found online in English at the Marxist Internet Archive.140 A smaller selection of her writings are also freely available in Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese.141 There are also many published collections of her writings in multiple languages. The life and work of Kollontai are experiencing a revival at the current moment, and she has recently inspired various creative endeavors, including a biographical play,142 sonic collages,143 curatorial courses,144 a podcast145 and a special Alexandra Kollontai cake.146
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Novikova, N., Ghodsee, K. (2023). Alexandra Kollontai (1872–1952): Communism as the Only Way Toward Women’s Liberation. In: de Haan, F. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Communist Women Activists around the World. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-13127-1_3
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