Kollontai: Communist Marriage (1921)

"Theses on Communist Morality in the Sphere of Marital Relations"

Source: “Theses on Communist Morality in the Sphere of Marital Relations”, ©Alix Holt 1977.  Reprint from Selected Writings of Alexandra Kollontai, translated and with an introduction and commentaries by Alix Holt,  Lawrence Hill Books  (Brooklyn, NY).

Alexandra Kollontai (1873-1952), the daughter of a czarist general,  was a prominent participant in the Russian Social-Democratic movement. When the Bolsheviks assumed power in Russia, she was named Commissar of Social Welfare. Kollontai ultimately attained the rank of ambassador in 1943, the first woman in the world to achieve this distinction.  An orthodox Marxist, Alexandra Kollontai always worked for the full emancipation of women. Many of her writings—including "Theses on Communist Morality in the Sphere of Marital Relations," published in 1921—dealt with women's issues. Many ideas expressed in her works were branded as libertine both in the Soviet Union and the West, yet Kollontai helped to expand the concept of "women's issues." She considered family, sex and sexuality, and personal politics as important to the betterment of women's status and role in society as the right to vote.

         In the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat, communist morality—and not the law—regulates sexual relationships in the interest of the workers' collective of future generations.

         Each historical (and therefore economic) epoch in the development of society has its own ideal of marriage and its own sexual morality.  Under the tribal system, with its ties of kinship, the morality was different from that which developed with the eslablishment of private property and the rule of the husband and father (patriarchy).  Different economic systems have different moral codes.  Not only each stage in the development of society, but each class has its corresponding sexual morality (it is sufficient to compare the morals of the feudal landowning class and of the bourgeois in one and the same epoch to see that this is true).  The more firmly established the principles of private property, the stricter the moral code.  The importance of virginity before legal marriage sprang from the principles of private property and the unwillingness of men to pay for the children of others. . . .

         In the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat, relations between the sexes should be evaluated only according to the criteria mentioned above—the health of the working population and the development of inner bonds of solidarity within the collective.  The sexual act must be seen not as something shameful and sinful but as something which is as natural as the other needs of healthy organisms, such as hunger and thirst. . . .

         As communist morality is concemed for the health of the population, it also criticizes sexual restraint. . . . This concem for the health of the human race does not establish either monogamy or polygamy as the obligatory form of relations between the sexes, for excesses may be committed in the bounds of the former, and a frequent change of partners by no means signifies sexual intemperance.  Science has discovered that when a woman has relationships with many men at one time, her ability to have children is impaired; and relationships with a number of women drain the man and affect the health of his children negatively.  Since the workers' collective needs strong and healthy men and women, such arrangements of sexual life are not in its interests. . . .

         In the view of the need to encourage the development and growth of feelings of solidarity and to strengthen the bonds of the work collective, it should above all be established that the isolation of the "couple" as a special unit does not answer the interests of communism.  Communist morality requires the education of the working class in comradeship and the fusion of the hearts and minds of the separate members of this collective.  The needs and interests of the individual must be subordinated to the interests and aims of the collective.  On the one hand, therefore, the bonds of family and marriage must be weakened, and on the other, men and women need to be educated in solidarity and the subordination of the will of the individual to the will of the collective.  Even at this present, early stage, the workers' republic demands that mothers learn to be the mothers not only of their own child but of all workers' children; it does not recognize the couple as a self-sufficient unit, and does not therefore approve of wives deserting work for the sake of this unit.

         As regards sexual relations, communist morality demands first of all an end to all relations based in financial or other economic considerations.  The buying and selling of sexual favors destroys the sense of equality between the sexes, and thus undermines the basis of solidarity without which communist society cannot exist. Moral censure is consequently directed at prostitution in all its forms and at all types of marriage of convenience, even when recognized by Soviet law.  The preservation of marriage regulations creates the illusion that the workers' collective can accept the "couple" with its special, exclusive interests.  The stronger the ties between the members of the collective as a whole, the less the need to reinforce marital relations. Secondly, communist morality demands the education of the younger generation in responsibility to the collective and in the consciousness that love is not the only thing in life (this is especially imponant in the case of women, for they have been taught the opposite for centuries).  Love is only one aspect of life, and must not be allowed to overshadow the other facets of the relationships between individual and collective.  The ideal of the bourgeois was the married couple, where the partners complemented each other so completely that they had no need of contact with society.  Communist morality demands, on the contrary, that the younger generation be educated in such a way that the personality of the individual is developed to the full, and the individual with his or her many interests has contact with a range of persons of both sexes.  Communist morality encourages the development of many and varied bonds of love and friendship among people.  The old ideal was "all for the loved one"; communist morality demands all for the collective....

         In the transitional period, relations between men and women must, in order to meet the interests of the workers' collective, be based on the following considerations.  (1) All sexual relationships must be based on mutual inclination, love infatuation, or passion, and in no case on financial or material motivations.  Any calculation in relationships must be subject to merciless condemnation.  (2) The form and length of the relationship are not regulated, but the hygiene of the race and communist morality require that relationships be based not on the sexual act alone, and that it should not be accompanied by any excesses that threaten health.  (3) Those with illnesses, etc. that might be inherited should not have children.  (4) A jealous and proprietary attitude to the person loved must be replaced by a comradely understanding of the other and an acceptance of his or her freedom. Jealousy is a destructive force of which communist morality cannot approve.  (5) The bonds between the members of the collective must be strengthened.  The encouragement of the intellectual and political interests of the younger generation assists the development of healthy and bright emotions in love.

         The stronger the collective, the more firmly established becomes the communist way of life.  The closer the emotional ties between the members of the community, the less they need to seek refuge from loneliness in marriage.  Under communism the blind strength of matter is subjugated to the will of the strongly welded and thus unprecedentedly powerful workers' collective.  The individual has the opportunity to develop intellectually and emotionally as never before. In this collective, new forms of relationships are maturing and the concept of love is extended and expanded.

Question: Why might Kollontai's views be considered radical?