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253 KOLLONTAI, Alexandra (1872–1952) Publicist, writer, first woman-diplomat; leader and ideologist of the socialist women ’s movement in Russia (1907–1922); Narodnyi Kommissar Obshchestvennogo Prizreniia (People’s Commissar / Minister of Social Welfare) in the first Soviet Government ; leader of the Zhenotdel (Women’s Bureau), attached to the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party (1920–1922). Alexandra Kollontai (nee Domontovich ) was born on 1 April 1872 in St Petersburg, to a wealthy family, though her father and mother came from different social classes. Her father, Mikhail Domontovich (1830–1902), was a nobleman and officer whose family lineage went back to the thirteenth century. Her mother, Alexandra Domontovich (born Masalina; first married name Mravinskaya), was the daughter of a tradesman from Finland. Later, she became involved in founding the first girls’ high school in Sofia. In order to marry Mikhail Domontovich, Alexandra’s mother had to apply for a divorce, having had three children from her previous marriage. At the time, this was an unusual thing for a woman to do. Alexandra had two sisters and a brother from her mother’s first marriage : Adel (data unknown); Euginia (1864–1914), who became a leading opera singer, and Alexander (data unknown), who became a lawyer. Alexandra was the only child from her mother’s second marriage. By her own account, she inherited a keen and active nature from her parents. All the children lived together with their mother and her second husband and, after she left home, Alexandra would stay in contact with all of them, especially with Euginia. After the armistice in San-Stephano had been signed between Russia and Turkey (19 February 1878), Alexandra’s father was appointed governor of Turnovo, one of the oldest towns in Bulgaria. Later that year, he became business-manager to the Russian deputy in Bulgaria (1878–1879) and joined the political circle of Dragan Tsankov and Petko Karavelov (the husband of Ekaterina Karavelova), who were preparing the constitution of the newly-established Bulgarian State. In May 1879, he was urgently recalled to St Petersburg when his liberal views were seen to conflict with those of the Russian government. Alexandra Domontovich was educated at home. In the fall of 1888, she sat exams at the boys’ high school in St Petersburg and obtained a school-leaving certificate . She later continued her education by means of private courses. Since childhood , she had always displayed a great interest in foreign languages and it was her 254 knowledge of many European languages that shaped her career as a public figure and diplomat. In 1893, Alexandra Domontovich became Alexandra Kollontai when she married her second cousin—Vladimir Kollontai (1867–1917), an engineer—in St Petersburg. Though she loved him and the couple had a son (Mikhail, born 1894), she saw her marriage as a prison, an obstacle to the leading of a socially useful life. In 1898, under the pretext of further pursuing her education, Alexandra Kollontai left her husband and child permanently and went abroad. She never lost touch with her son however, and they maintained close relations throughout her life. Abroad, Kollontai began to read Marxist theory. She attended the lectures of famous academics: Professor Gerkner at Zurich University (1898) and Beatrice and Sydney Webb in England (1899); independently, she studied the life of workers in Finland and wrote “Zemel’nyi vopros v Finliandii” (The agrarian question in Finland, 1902) and “Sotsializm i Finliandiia” (Socialism and Finland, 1907). Acquaintance with the likes of Klara Zetkin, Rosa Luxemburg and Paul and Laura Lafarge (whom she met in Stuttgart, Zurich and Paris between 1901–1907) drew her deeper into socialist ‘party work.’ At this time, ‘the woman question’ was becoming increasingly central to her interests. During the first Russian Revolution (1905–1907), Kollontai distributed propaganda among Russian women workers and tried to convince leaders of the Social Democratic Party of the need to involve women in the socialist movement. At the same time, she actively collaborated with activists of the Western socialist women’s movement: Klara Zetkin, Lilly Braun, Adelheid Popp and Angelika Balabanoff. She worked in the International Women’s Socialist Secretariat (IWSS), established during the international conference in Stuttgart (1907), and in 1910, became a member of the IWSS’s governing body. In Russia, Kollontai focused primarily on trying to dissuade women workers from joining liberal / feminist women’s organizations, which had become very influential during the revolutionary years. Her Marxist views held that it was impossible to obtain full gender equality through reform. Only the...

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