Alexandra Kollontai 1920

Communism and the Family

Source: The Communist, October 15, 1920;
Transcribed: Sally Ryan for, August, 2002.
Note: Some words unreadable, noted by [???].

Will the family be maintained in the Communist State? Will it just be as it is today? That is the question which is tormenting the women of the working class, and which is likewise receiving attention from their comrades the men. In recent days this problem has particularly been agitating all minds among the working women, and this should not astonish us. Life is changing under our eyes; former habits and customs are gradually disappearing; the entire existence of the proletarian family is being organized in a manner that is so new, so unaccustomed, so "bizarre", as to have been impossible to foresee. That which women at the present day all the more perplexed is the fact that divorce has been rendered easier in Soviet Russia. As a matter of fact, by virtue of the decree of the People's Commissaries of December 18th, 1917, divorce has ceased to be a luxury accessible only to rich; henceforth the working woman will not have to petition for months, or even for years, for a separate credential entitling her to make herself independent of a brutish or drunken husband, accustomed to beat her. Henceforth, divorce may be amicably obtained within the period of a week or two at most. But it is just this ease of divorce which is such a hope to women who are unhappy in their married life, which simultaneously [???] other women particularly those who have become accustomed to considering the husband as the "provider", as the only [???] in who do not yet understand that women must become accustomed to seek and to find this support elsewhere, no longer in the person of the man, but in the person of society, of the State.

From the Genetic Family to the Present Day

There is no reason for concealing the truth from ourselves: the normal family of former days in which the man was everything and the woman nothing – since she had no will of her own, no money of her own, no time of her own – this family is being modified day by day; it is almost a thing of the past. But we should not be frightened by this condition. Either through error or through ignorance we are quite ready to believe that everything about us may remain immutable while everything is changing. It has always been so and it will always be so. There is nothing more erroneous than this proverb! We have only to read how people have lived in the past, and we shall learn immediately that everything is subject to change and there are no customs, nor political organizations, nor morals, which remain fixed an inviolable. And the family in the various epochs in the life of humanity has frequently changed in form; it was once quite different from what we are accustomed to behold today. There was a time when only one form of family was considered normal, namely, the genetic family; that is to say, a family with an old mother at its head, around whom were grouped, in common life and common work, children, grand-children, great-grand-children. The patriarchal family was also once considered the sole norm; it was presided over by a father-master whose will was law for all the other members of the family; even in our days, such peasants families may still be found in Russian villages. In fact in those form of the family, its customs, vary according to race. There are peoples such as, for instance, the Turks, Arabs, Persians, among whom it is permitted by law to have many wives. There have been, and there still are at present, tribes which tolerate the contrary custom of permitting a wife to have several husbands. The habitual morality of the present day man permits him to demand a young girl that she remain a virgin until legitimate marriage; but there were tribes among whom the woman, on the contrary, made it a matter of pride to have many lovers, decorating her arms and legs with rings to indicate their number.

Such practices, which could not but astonish us, practices which we might even qualify as immoral, are found among other people who in their turn consider are laws to be "sinful". There fore there is no reason for our becoming terrified at the fact that the family is undergoing a modification, that gradually the traces of the past which have become outlived are being discarded, and that new relations are being introduced between man and woman. We only have to ask:

"What is it that has become outlived in our family system and what, in the relations of the working man and working woman and the peasant and the peasant woman, are their respective rights and duties which would best harmonized with the conditions of life in the new Russia, in the workers' Russia which our Soviet Russia now is?" Everything compatible with this new condition would be maintained; all the rest, all the superannuated rubbish which has been bequeathed to us by the cursed epoch of servitude an domination which was characteristic of the landed proprietors and the capitalist, ??? shall be always held together with the exploited class [???]...[???] of the proletariat and of the poor.