In 1920, Alexandra Kollontai declared that Soviet communism had to respond to capitalism’s radically transforming the family. Summing up the effects of industrialization on working-class families, she delivered a stark message: “The individual household is dying,”; “the domestic economy is dying,”; “Our forefathers knew some family life, but the children of the proletariat know none.” […]
Alexandra Kollontai envisioned a world in which all groups in society were free from any form of subordination. She was particularly concerned about the multiple forms of discrimination women experienced, which reduced their societal position. Therefore, she believed that the prevailing subordination of women could be resolved through the application of Marxist feminism. To promote women’s involvement in leadership and political agenda, Alexandra Kollontai established the Zhenotdel, the government’s department for women, in which women were granted equal legal status to men. Zhenotdel sought to embrace the emerging social norms in which “the old family in which the man was everything and the woman nothing” was gradually being replaced by a society in which both men and women had equal rights and freedoms (Kollontaĭ 4). Kollontai also raised global attention regarding various ways in which women experienced diverse forms of manipulation and exploitation through capitalism and the individual ownership of private property. However, many critics opposed Alexandra Kollontai’s idea of Marxist feminism, citing that the idea would not coexist with class struggle. Many critics argued that applying Marxist ideology could be more fruitful if policymakers focused on the conflict of interests between the workers and the ruling class. Therefore, this study seeks to assess the validity of Alexandra Kollontai’s idea of improving the position of women in society and transforming the condition of families. The industrial revolution changed working families’ conditions and improved women’s position in society, which provoked Alexandra Kollontai’s consideration for applying Marxist feminism.
Alexandra Kollontai was right about the potential implications of capitalism on the domestic economy. She observed that capitalism encouraged inequality and gendered discrimination in society, which threatened community development and failed participation of public members in government. Many proponents of capitalism described it as the most efficient economic system in which public members participated in free markets with limited government intervention, which enabled improved living standards. For this reason, Alexandra Kollontai was criticized by feminists and her party for being perceived as too radical. According to Kollontaĭ, many critics of Marxist feminism argued the idea of privileged class over gender. While class struggle and gendered discrimination constitute major social problems associated with capitalism, critics of Marxist feminism argued that “women are deprioritized, subordinated, exploited through capitalism and the individual ownership of private property” (Jarnow 56). They cited that Kollontai’s idea only focused on class struggle while neglecting the negative implications of capitalism on gender equality. However, Alexandra Kollontai’s idea sought to address the tendency of capitalism to cause inequality in society that unfairly subjects women to difficult living conditions. For example, women in the lower class are subjected to double struggle through class and gendered discrimination. Alexandra Kollontai argued that addressing class struggle would be the most effective strategy to address the subordination of women in capitalist societies. Therefore, she was right about the effectiveness of Marxist feminism in addressing gendered inequality and class struggle.
Kollontai’s assessment also identified how capitalism encourages monopsony, which accelerates gender discrimination and increases income and wealth disparities in society. Capitalism is aimed at allowing firms the freedom to engage in production activities with minimal government intervention. As a result, the policy offered too much power to firms, accelerating consumer exploitation and inefficient utilization of natural resources. For example, through capitalism, firms earned monopsony power to employ workers and pay lower wages due to a lack of regulation by the government. As a result, the strategy increases income and wealth disparities in society as the individuals in the high class earn more from controlling factors of production while the lower-class experiences extreme poverty. Capitalism also increases the tendency of business organizations to exclude women in leadership positions and expand the gender wage gap, which constitutes severe subordination against women. Since Alexandra Kollontai envisioned a world where all members of society have equitable access to resources and lead quality lives, she advocated for Marxist feminism to address such challenges. Therefore, her identification of capitalism as a factor for monopsony was valid.
Alexandra Kollontai’s assessment of the effectiveness of Marxist feminism was inspired by the rapid transformation of working families during the industrial revolution. The industrial revolution period was characterized by the mass expansion of industries, creating many employment opportunities for public members. As a result, many women secured employment opportunities in the industries. Contrary to social norms that required women to complete domestic chores while men worked in various industries, the Industrial Revolution increased the number of women working in businesses. As a result, family roles significantly changed as men and women were forced to complete similar tasks at home. For example, husbands whose wives worked in various industries were forced to complete domestic chores while women assumed the role of breadwinner (Lucas 185). As more women engaged in production activities within the business organization, their involvement in leadership was considered since there was a need to nominate representatives who would present the interests of women in decision-making. As a result, the position of women in society improved, which resulted in a significant decline in male dominance in family decisions. Therefore, the industrial revolution brought about gender equality among families.
The industrial revolution also brought about a decline in fertility and a consequent reduction in family size in society. Due to the high demand for specialized work among industries, the education system during the industrial revolution focused on equipping learners with sufficient knowledge and skills to engage in production activities. It also accommodated learners from the two genders, mainly due to the increased recognition of the role of women in society. As a result, many women spent considerably long periods training to acquire skills and secure employment to stimulate their financial independence. During the time, “real wages formed the bedrock of the standard of living,” which shifted women’s focus from establishing families to generating income for themselves and their families (Griffin 71). As women spent more hours working in the industries, the time they spent with their families reduced. The competition for employment opportunities was also high, forcing women to work hard to avoid being replaced by more productive individuals. As a result, women were forced to adopt various family planning strategies to avoid losing their positions due to pregnancy. Eventually, the average number of children born by a woman rapidly declined, which reduced the average size of families. Therefore, the industrial revolution was observed to reduce fertility among families.
The industrial revolution also disrupted the relationship between spouses and the traditional relationship between generations. Before the Industrial Revolution, fathers acted as the breadwinners to the family while women completed domestic chores and cared for the children. However, family traditions were transformed due to the increased involvement of women in production during the Industrial Revolution. Men and women could pass on skills to their children and equally contribute to family decisions. Unlike the traditional families in which authority was highly associated with masculinity, an individual’s capacity to dominate family decisions was influenced by financial capacity. During that period, many people’s living standards improved since “it was possible to envisage a sustained increase in the volume of goods and services produced per unit of human effort or per unit of accessible resources,” which brought about economic independence among women who engaged in production activities (Lucas 2). For example, when the father was unemployed, family roles could be dramatically reversed since women brought home wages while husbands completed domestic chores. In such situations, major family decisions, such as spending choices, were dominated by women.
Moreover, as mothers engaged in production activities, they concentrated on alleviating themselves of childcare responsibilities and hired housemaids. Such a behavior replaced the customary practice whereby women were mainly expected to take care of their children. For this reason, the industrial revolution period interrupted family traditions.
As the industrial revolution period changed working families’ conditions and improved women’s position in society, Alexandra Kollontai found it necessary for legislators to employ Marxist feminism to promote gender equality and support community development. She identified the potential implications of capitalism on the domestic economy, which unfairly subject women to difficult living conditions. She also assessed how capitalism encourages monopsony, which accelerates gender discrimination and increases income and wealth disparities in society. During the Industrial Revolution, family roles significantly changed as men and women were forced to complete similar tasks at home. Women also gained recognition in leadership as there was a need to nominate representatives who would present the interests of women in decision-making. A decline in fertility and a consequent reduction in the average family size was recorded during the Industrial Revolution. The relationship between spouses and the traditional relationship between generations was also disrupted, primarily due to changes in family roles and economic capacity among women. Due to such changes, it was necessary to advocate for Marxist feminism, as proposed by Alexandra Kollontai, to promote gender equality and reduce class struggle.
Griffin, Emma. “Diets, Hunger and Living Standards during the British Industrial Revolution.” Past and Present, vol. 239, no. 1, 2018, pp. 71–111. doi:10.1093/pastj/gtx061.
Jarnow, Jesse. Socialism: A Primary Source Analysis. The Rosen Publishing Group, 2005.
Kollontaĭ, Aleksandra. Communism and the Family. Contemporary Publishing Association, 1920.
Lucas Jr., Robert E. “What Was the Industrial Revolution?” Journal of Human Capital, vol. 12, no. 2, 2018, pp. 182–203. doi:10.3386/w23547.
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Published On: 01-01-1970