“Feminism and the Question of Class” by Alexandra Kollontai
The history of the women’s movement for equal rights goes back more than a hundred years, and it remains a highly topical issue at the moment. Alexandra Kollontai was one of the first leaders of the feminist movement. She was an adherent of historical materialism. Kollontai believed that the woman question cannot be separated from the social and economic situation in the country. Natural qualities of women were considered a minor factor. The main indicator of the state of women’s rights was the social class to which the woman belonged. In the article “Feminism and the Question of Class” Alexandra Kollontai analyzes the struggle of women’s movement, its inhomogeneity, and its various streams. Although the author states several important and rightful concepts and ideas, she appears to be biased and heavily dependent on different governmental systems that existed in that period.
At the beginning of the article, the author gives a brief description of historical materialism and points out the interdependence of the woman question and the general social question. Kollontai believes that “women can become truly free and equal only in a world organized along new social and productive lines” (Kollontai, 2006, p. 198). Thus, it becomes obvious that the author opposes the development of feminist movement in the existing framework of society’s social structure. In the main part of the article, the author singles out two types of feminist movement, such as the liberation movement of proletarian women and feminist movement of women from the bourgeois class. Moreover, Kollontai opposes bourgeois feminism and considers it to be a dead end development of the women’s movement. At the same time, she praises proletarian women as the ones who truly cause society to progress. The article is organized in such a way that the author gradually moves from the acknowledgement of the division in the women’s movement to the statement of primogeniture and dominance of the proletarian women’s movement.
The strongest point in Kollontai’s article is that she does not address the natural differences between men and women. She completely focuses on the social, economic, and political rights of women. The author leaves the scientists the right “…to absorb themselves in discussion of the question of the superiority of one sex over the other” (Kollontai, 2006, p. 198). Thus, the author does not intrude on the unfamiliar territory, where she would not be able to present proper support for her argumentation. At the same time, she carefully introduces the term “historical materialism”, while restating that this ideology “…demands that only each person, whether man or a woman, has a real opportunity for the fullest and freest self-determination” (Kollontai, 2006, p. 198). In this manner, she successfully backs her argument about the need for equality between sexes and the reasonable commitment to the previously mentioned ideology.
Unfortunately, the strong argumentative part of the article is followed by exaggeration, bias, and inconsistency. Actually, it all starts in a rather persuasive manner. The author acknowledges that “the women who take part in the liberation movement do not represent one homogenous mass” (Kollontai, 2006, p. 198). The world of women is divided in the same manner as the world of men. By the divide, Kollontai implies proletarian and bourgeois women. The main mistake of the author lies in the fact that she treats women not as individuals but as cogs in the enormous state system. Kollontai peremptorily declares that a woman can have equal rights and be free only in a world of harmony, justice, and socialized labor. I understand it as a reference to the utopian idea of socialism which implies equality of all people in the social and economic context regardless of differences in their aspirations and ambitions. The author believes that any struggle would be in vain if the system of society does not change. This idea, even with the lack of evidence, would sound good if the author did not consider the bourgeois women as the group which would benefit from an already existing system. Regarding women from bourgeois class, the author points out that “… it would indeed open doors to new and unprecedented rights and privileges that until now have been enjoyed by men of the bourgeois class” (Kollontai, 2006, p. 199). In my opinion, the author takes it upon herself to speak for all women of another class, while accusing them of the fact that they were born in wealthier families, hence their desire for equality is not as justified as that of the proletarian women.
Having analyzed the author’s bias, I would like to proceed to the exaggeration that may be found in the article. The author states that “under the impact of the monstrous successes of capitalism, the middle classes of the population were hit by waves of need” (Kollontai, 2006, p. 199). Due to the economic situation, the bourgeois women had to either accept destitution or get the right to work. This is why women began to enter universities, be employed to offices and editorial houses. I believe that this idea is a pure exaggeration as it is not supported by any arguments. The author simply states it as the fact, while she does not provide any figures or even personal examples. Thus, Kollontai distantly reflects on such an important subject and shoves the bourgeois class under one common stereotype. I cannot agree with the author that economic struggle was the principal reason for women’s awareness of their rights and aspirations. Eventually, my main claim consists in the fact that the author tends to make significant conclusion on behalf of many people while not building upon some statistic research.
All of the previously mentioned claims can be challenged because another person may view them as a subjective opinion or special way of perceiving the article. Yet, inconsistency represents the undeniable flaw of the author. Initially, Kollontai is a powerful fighter for women’s rights and equality. At the same time, she flatly declares her commitment to a particular social class of women, i.e. proletarian. Moreover, the author believes that the prosperity of the latter group is a direct result of the other group’s hard work. She points out that “…only thanks to the fact that the labour of women workers had received recognition on the world market were the bourgeois women able to occupy the independent position in society in which the feminists take so much pride” (Kollontai, 2006, p. 199). I believe that the author falls into the same trap as many other ideologists and leaders of movements. If one person starts to divide people within a united movement into those who are “right” and those who are “wrong”, such a concept is doomed to failure. The covert hostility and rivalry between women is considered to be one of the main stereotypes. It is the relic of the past, which the feminist movement is diligently battling.
In conclusion, in the article “Feminism and the Question of Class”, Alexandra Kollontai analyzes the struggle of women’s movement and its inhomogeneity. The strongest point in Kollontai’s article is that she completely focuses on the social, economic, and political rights of women, while she does not address the natural differences between men and women. She skilfully brings the argument under the ideology of historical materialism. At the same time, the strong argumentative part of the article is followed by exaggeration, bias, and inconsistency. Eventually, the author appears to be more fixated on the difference between social classes than directly on the women’s movement.