Alexandra Kollontai Biography

(Russian Revolutionary and Diplomat & First Woman in History to Become an Official Member of a Governing Cabinet)

Birthday: March 31, 1872 (Aries)

Born In: Saint Petersburg, Russia

Alexandra Kollontai was a Russian revolutionary who gained prominence in politics for her strong views against the privileges of the bureaucracy. She was also a champion for women and labor empowerment. She was the first woman to represent the Soviet Union in a foreign country. Her feminist views bothered the male-dominated 'Central Committee,' which eventually tried to expel her from the party. Despite not supporting Vladimir Lenin, Kollontai joined him only to oppose World War I. She was a prolific writer, too, and some of her writings were published in 1978. However, she was forgotten after her death, and some Soviet biographers and editors reissued her memoirs without any mention of her past ‘Menshevik’ association or her support for sexual liberation.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Aleksandra Mikhaylovna Kollontay

Died At Age: 79


Spouse/Ex-: Pavel Dybenko (m. 1917–1938)

father: Mikhail Alekseevich Domontovich

mother: Alexandra Androvna Masalina-Mravinskaya

siblings: Yevgeniya Mravina

children: Mikhail Kollontai

Born Country: Russia

Feminists Revolutionaries

Died on: March 9, 1952

place of death: Moscow, Russia

Ancestry: Finnish Russian, Ukrainian Russian

Cause of Death: Heart Attack

City: Saint Petersburg, Russia

More Facts

awards: Order of Lenin
Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Olav‎
Order of the Red Banner of Labour

  • 1

    What were Alexandra Kollontai's contributions to the feminist movement?

    Alexandra Kollontai was a prominent feminist and advocate for women's rights. She played a key role in promoting gender equality, fighting for women's suffrage, and championing women's rights in the workplace.
  • 2

    How did Alexandra Kollontai impact the Russian Revolution?

    Alexandra Kollontai was a leading figure in the Russian Revolution of 1917. She was the only woman in the first Soviet government and worked to improve the status of women in society, including advocating for maternity benefits and access to education and healthcare.
  • 3

    What were Alexandra Kollontai's views on marriage and the family?

    Alexandra Kollontai was known for her radical views on marriage and the family. She believed that traditional family structures were oppressive to women and advocated for free love, communal living arrangements, and the socialization of childcare.
  • 4

    How did Alexandra Kollontai contribute to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union?

    Alexandra Kollontai was a key member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and played a significant role in shaping its policies on women's rights and social issues. She was instrumental in advocating for progressive reforms within the party and government.
  • 5

    What impact did Alexandra Kollontai have on international relations?

    Alexandra Kollontai was a pioneering diplomat and played a crucial role in promoting socialist and feminist ideas on the international stage. She worked to establish diplomatic relations with other countries and championed the cause of women's rights globally.
Childhood & Early Life
Alexandra Mikhailovna Domontovich was born on March 31 (March 19 in Old Style) 1872, in St. Petersburg, Russian Empire, to Mikhail Alekseevich Domontovich and Alexandra Alexandrovna Masalina (Massalina).
Her father had been a tsarist general in the 'Imperial Russian Army.' Both her parents held strong and progressive political views. Hence, Kollontai, too, developed the same at a young age. However, her parents were quite orthodox and did not allow her to attend school, to keep her safe from "undesirable elements."
Kollontai was home-tutored under the strict surveillance of her mother and her English nanny. She received private lessons from a family friend, Victor Ostrogorsky, who was also a literary historian. He was the one who recognized Kollontai's exceptional literary talent and advised her to become a writer. One of her other tutors was Maria Strakhova.
Kollontai was a rebel. Hence, when her parents arranged her marriage at 16, she vehemently opposed it. She desired to study abroad but chose to stay at home and start writing instead.
Kollontai eventually fell in love with one of her distant cousins, Vladimir Ludvigovich Kollontai. Vladimir was an engineering student at a military institute. Her parents disapproved of him. Hence, they eloped and got married in 1893. The following year, she gave birth to their son, Mikhail.
The marriage that Kollontai thought of as an escape from her mother's fate soon began to feel like a cage. The intellectual and philosophical fire in her did not let her be a stay-at-home mother. Similarly, her growing interest in politics, too, hit her marriage hard.
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Political Career
While studying in St. Petersburg, she gravitated toward the rising wave of Marxism. She joined politics in 1894.
Simultaneously, she would provide evening tuitions to workers in St. Petersburg. She worked for the 'Political Red Cross,' both publicly and secretly. The group was set up to help political prisoners. In 1895, she drew inspiration from August Bebel's 'Woman and Socialism.' It shaped her future political ideas, too.
In 1896, Kollontai witnessed capitalist exploitation when she visited a textile factory and was horrified by the poor living and working conditions of the workers, especially of the females.
Subsequently, the 1896 strike of textile workers pushed her to contribute to make their lives better. She actively worked to raise funds for the workers. This marked the beginning of her life-long connection with the women textile workers of St. Petersburg. Kollontai, who soon became the face of women empowerment, began writing articles for political journals, bringing the conditions of the industrial workers in Russia to people’s attention.
Meanwhile, her marriage almost ended, and she gravitated more toward Marxism for guidance and support.
In 1898, Kollontai left Russia, leaving behind her husband and son, to study labor history at the 'University of Zurich,' under the tutelage of Marxist economist Heinrich Herkner.
Her father secretly financed her Marxist studies and helped her by hiding her illegal revolutionary brochures from the police.
Soon, she turned into a committed Marxist. However, she rejected their Fabian reformist views. She was still motivated to uplift the living and labor conditions of the female workers and hence stepped into socialism.
Kollontai also worked for several educational charities, aiding impoverished people. She worked toward destroying the privileges of the bureaucrats.
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Joining the Social Democrats
Kollontai returned to St. Petersburg in 1899. The previous year, her first article on child development and the role of society got published in the Marxist journal 'Obrazovanie' (‘Education’). By then, she had completely abandoned her privileged social position and joined the 'Russian Social Democratic Labor Party' (RSDLP).
She became instrumental in spreading revolutionary propaganda among women workers. In 1900, her first set of articles on the conflict between the Finnish people and the Russian autocracy was published.
She became the ‘RSDLP's chief advisor on the tsarist ‘Duma’ and the relationship with Finnish revolutionaries. Her book 'The State of the Working Class in Finland,' published in 1903, grabbed the attention of several revolutionaries.
That year, following her interest in the trade union movement, which the factory owners opposed, she supported Father Georgi Gapon to form the 'Assembly of Russian Workers.'
The party split in 1903, at its ‘Second Congress’ in London, due to the dispute between the leaders Vladimir Lenin and Julius Martov. While Lenin became a ‘Bolshevik,’ Martov became a ‘Menshevik.’
Kollontai initially did not join any of the two factions. However, in 1904, she joined the ‘Bolsheviks.’ The following year, along with Leon Trotsky, she worked for the councils of workers' deputies. They worked toward a possible unity of the party factions. In the process, she participated in the uprising popularly known as 'Bloody Sunday,' in front of the 'Winter Palace' in St. Petersburg.
Lenin's dictatorial leadership bothered Kollontai. Hence, she quit the ‘Bolshevik’ faction and joined the ‘Mensheviks’ in 1906 and stayed with them until 1915. However, she continued to be in contact with Lenin and other ‘Bolshevik’ members.
Within 2 years of her joining the ‘Mensheviks,’ she had to flee Russia to avoid arrest. Through her writings, she urged the Finnish people to launch an armed revolt against the oppression of the Russian Empire. This infuriated the authorities.
Kollontai went to Germany and devoted her time to writing books such as 'The Class Struggle,' 'Society and Motherhood,' 'The Social Foundations of the Female Question,' and 'The Working Class and the New Morality.'
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During her exile, she developed her skills as an orator and learned several languages. She gained international fame as an agitator for the 'German Social Democratic Party' (SPD).
Meanwhile, she had a long-term relationship with her faction comrade Petr Pavlovich Maslov. The relationship ended in 1911. Kollantai then began a relationship with fellow exile Alexander Gavrilovich Shliapnikov, who was 13 years younger to her. Their relationship ended in 1916, but they remained friends after that.
In 1913, she helped ‘Bolshevik’ women activists Konkordia Samoilova, Inessa Armand, and Nadezhda Krupskaya to launch a newspaper for women called 'Rabotnitsa' (‘The Woman Worker’), which specifically projected the working class. She rejoined the ‘Bolsheviks’ in 1915, believing Lenin would support her in opposing World War I.
Shortly after the onset of the war, Kollontai was arrested in Germany and deported to Sweden, where her anti-war writings upset the government. She was then sent to Norway. Upon her release, she met Lenin in Scandinavia, where he was in exile.
She organized the 'Zimmerwald Conference' of socialist parties to oppose the war, while her booklet 'Who Needs War?' was translated into several languages. Kollontai returned to Russia to launch a campaign against the ‘Provisional Government.’
She supported Lenin's April 1917 call for a Soviet revolution and was imprisoned during the 'July Days.' Kollontai became a member of the ‘Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet’ and a Russian delegate to the ‘Ninth Congress’ of the 'Finnish Social Democratic Party.'
Despite her disputes with Lenin, she was elected “People's Commissar for Social Welfare” at the ‘Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets,’ after the ‘Bolsheviks’ assumed power following the October Revolution (1917).
Her tenure in the ‘Ministry for Social Welfare’ began with a strike. As the “People's Commissar,” Kollontai legalized abortion, divorce, birth control, and homosexuality. She also decriminalized prostitution, banned illegitimacy, and made the Soviet Union one of the first countries to grant women voting rights. She also promoted childcare, job training, collective kitchens, and free maternity and infant healthcare.
After leading a delegation to Sweden, England, and France, to promote the new government in 1918, Kollontai opposed the 'Treaty of Brest-Litovsk' and resigned, knowing Finland had given up.
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For the rest of 1919, she suffered from typhus, along with heart and kidney disease. In spite of this, Kollontai continued to be a prominent agitator and coordinator. She organized the 'First All-Russian Congress of Working and Peasant Women' in November 1918.
In 1919, Kollontai, Armand, and Sophia Smidovich established the 'Central Commission for Agitation and Propaganda Among Working Women' ('Zhenotdel').
Lenin's 'New Economic Policy' (NEP) reversed many of Kollontai's reforms. Women lost jobs and were confined to their homes, as many crèches were shut down. She condemned the ‘Communist Party’ leadership and joined Shlyapnikov to form a left-wing party faction in 1921.
The group opposed bureaucracy, demanded greater democracy, and demanded that more power be given to trade-union organizations. Lenin managed to crush the opposition and politically sidelined Kollontai.
Kollontai became the 'Zhenotdel' leader after Armand's death in 1920. The ‘Zhenotdel’ was shut down in 1930, under the new government of Joseph Stalin, as he argued that the group's goal had been achieved.
Kollontai's 1921 pamphlet 'The Workers' Opposition' motivated party members and trade unions against the ‘Bolshevik’ hierarchy, which led to the end of her political career. The male-dominated Soviet power aristocracy sidelined her by sending her to Oslo as a Soviet representative for a trade delegation. With this, she became the world's second female ambassador to lead such a delegation.
Her relationships were also used against her. Kollontai was accused of neglecting her political duties due to her relationship with the leader of the ‘Baltic Fleet,’ Pavel Dybenko, who was 17 years her junior. They, however, separated in 1922.
After leading delegations as a trade representative in Norway (1923–1925, 1927–1930) and Mexico (1925–1927), she became an envoy to Sweden from 1930 to 1945. She was an elected member of the Soviet delegation to the 'League of Nations.'
She was a peacemaker during the Russo-Finnish War (the Winter War) of 1939–1940, which ended with the 'Treaty of Moscow' in March 1940. Kollontai was made an ambassador in 1943 and conducted the Soviet-Finnish truce negotiations of 1944.
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Final Days & Death
Kollontai retired and returned to Russia in 1945. She lived in Moscow until her death.
Finland's prime minister J. K. Paasikivi nominated her for the 'Nobel Peace Prize' in 1946, but she lost to American religious leader J.R. Mott and Emily Greene Balch.
In her final years, she was bound to a wheelchair but served as an advisor to the U.S.S.R. ‘Foreign Ministry.’ Till the end of her life, Kollontai remained loyal to Marxism-Leninism and Stalin.
She died of a cardiac arrest on March 9, 1952.
Facts About Alexandra Kollontai
Alexandra Kollontai was a prominent feminist and one of the first women to hold a government position in the world.
She was known for her unconventional personal life, including openly advocating for free love and challenging traditional gender roles.
Kollontai was a talented writer and published several works on women's rights and socialist ideology.
She played a key role in the Bolshevik Revolution and was a strong advocate for working-class women's rights.
Kollontai was a trailblazer in promoting international solidarity among women and establishing the first Women's Department in a government.

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