Works of Alexandra Kollontai 1921

Theses on Communist Morality in the Sphere of Marital Relations

Source: Alexandra Kollontai, Selected Writings, Allison & Busby, 1977;
Translated: by Alix Holt, 1972;
First published: Kommunistka, No.s 12-12, 1921;

Family and marriage are historical categories. phenomena which develop in accordance with the economic relations that exist at the given level of production. The form of marriage and of the family is thus determined by the economic system of the given epoch, and it changes as the economic base of society changes. The family. in the same way. as government, religion. science, morals. law and customs, is part of the. superstructure which derives from the economic system of society.

Where economic functions are performed by the family rather than by society as a whole, family and marital relations are more stable and possess a vital capacity: “The less the development of labour, and the more limited its volume of production ... the more preponderantly does the social order appear to be dominated by ties of sex” (Engels, Origins of the Family). In the period of natural economy the family formed an enclosed economic unit which was necessary for humankind and thus had a vital capacity. The family was at that time a unit of both production and consumption. Outside the family/economic unit the individual had no means. especially at the earliest levels of the development of society, of sustaining the conditions necessary for life. In some areas and in some countries where capitalism is weakly developed (among. the peoples of the East, for example) the peasant family is still fundamentally a family/economic union. With the transition, however, from a natural economy to a merchant capitalist economy based on trade and exchange, the family ceases to be necessary for the functioning of society and thus loses its strength and vital capacity.

The fact that with the consolidation of the capitalist system of production, the marital/family union develops from a production unit into a legal arrangement concerned only with consumption, leads inevitably to the weakening of marital/family ties. In the era of private property and the bourgeois-capitalist economic system, marriage and the family are grounded in (a) material and financial considerations, (b) economic dependence of the female sex on the family breadwinner – the husband – rather than the social collective, and (c) the need to care for the rising generation. Capitalism maintains a system of individual economies: the family has a role to play in performing economic tasks and functions within the national capitalist economy. Thus under capitalism the family does not merge with or dissolve into the national economy but continues to exist as an independent economic unit, concerned with production in the case of the peasant family and consumption in the case of the urban family. The individual economy which springs from private property is the basis of the bourgeois family.

The communist economy does away with the family. In the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat there is a transition to the single production plan and collective social consumption, and the family loses its significance as an economic unit. The external economic functions of the family disappear, and consumption ceases to be organised on an individual family basis, a network of social kitchens and canteens is established. and the making, mending and washing of clothes and other aspects of housework ‘are integrated into the national economy. In the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat the family economic unit should be recognised as being, from the point of view of the national economy. not only useless but harmful. The family economic unit involves (a) the uneconomic expenditure of products and fuel on the part of small domestic economies, and (b) unproductive labour, especially by women. in the home – and is therefore in conflict with the interest of the workers’ republic in a single economic plan and the expedient use of the labour force (including women).

Under the dictatorship of the proletariat then. the material and economic considerations in which the family was grounded cease to exist. The economic dependence of women on men and the role of the family in the care of ‘the younger generation also disappear. as the communist elements in the workers’ republic grow stronger. With the introduction of the obligation of all citizens to work, woman has a value in the national economy which is independent of her family and marital status. The economic subjugation of women in marriage and the family is done away with, and responsibility for the care of the children and their physical and spiritual education is assumed by the social collective. The family teaches and instils egoism thus weakening the ties of the collective and hindering the construction of communism. However. in the new society relations between parents and children are freed from any element of material considerations and enter a new historic stage.

Once the family has been stripped of its economic functions and its responsibilities towards the younger generation and is no longer central to the existence of the woman, it has ceased to he a family. The family unit shrinks to a union of two people based on mutual agreement.

In the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat. the workers’ state has to concern itself not with the economic and social unit of the family, since this unit dies as the bonds of communism are consolidated, but with the changing forms of marital relations. The family as an economic unit and as a union of parents and children based on the need to provide for the material welfare of the latter is doomed to disappear. Thus the workers’ collective has to establish its attitude not to economic relationships but to the form of relationships between the sexes. What kind of relations between the sexes are in the best interests of the workers’ collective? What form of relations would strengthen. not weaken. the collective in the transitional stage between capitalism and communism and would thus assist the construction of the new society? The laws and the morality that the workers’ system is evolving are beginning to give an answer to this, question.

Once relations between the sexes cease to perform the economic and social function of the former family, they are no longer the concern of the workers’ collective. It is not the relationships between the sexes but the result – the child – that concerns the collective. The workers’ state recognises its responsibility to provide for maternity, i.e. to guarantee the well-being of the woman and the child, but it does not recognise the couple as a legal unit separate from the workers’ collective. The decrees on marriage issued by the workers’ republic establishing the mutual rights of the married couple (the right to demand material support from the partner for yourself or the child), and thus giving legal encouragement to the separation of this unit and its interests from the general interests of the workers’ social collective (the right of wives to be transferred to the town or village where their husbands are working), are survivals of the past; they contradict the interests of the collective and weaken its bonds. and should therefore be reviewed and changed.

The law ought to emphasise the interest of the workers’ collective in maternity and eliminate the situation where the child is dependent on the relationship between its parents. The law of the workers’ collective replaces the right of the parents, and the workers’ collective keeps a close watch, in the interests of the unified economy and of present and future labour resources. In the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat there must, instead of marriage law. be regulation of the relationship of the government to maternity, of the relationship between mother and child and of the relationship between the mother and the workers’ collective (i.e. legal norms must regulate the protection of female labour, the welfare of expectant and nursing mothers, the welfare of children and their social education). Legal norms must regulate the relationship between the mother and the socially educated child, and between the father and the child. Fatherhood should not be established through marriage or a relationship of a material nature. The man should he able to choose whether or not to accept the role of fatherhood (i.e. the right which he shares equally with the mother to decide on a social system of education for the child, and the right. where this does not conflict with the interests of the collective, of intellectual contact with the child and the opportunity to influence its development).

There are two grounds on which, in the interests of the workers’ collective, the relationships between the sexes ought to be subject to legislative regulations: (a) the health and hygiene of the nation and the race, and (b) the increase or decrease of the population required by the national economic collective. In the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat. the regulation of relationships enters a new phase. Instead of laws and the threat of legal proceedings, the workers’ collective must rely on agitational and educational influences, and on social measures to improve the relationships between the sexes and to guarantee the health of the children born from these relationships. For example, the Commissariats of Health and Education must carry out a broad campaign on the question of venereal and other infectious diseases, thereby reducing the danger of these diseases spreading through sexual intercourse and daily living. A person is guilty before the law not for having had sexual relations but for having consciously kept silent and hidden the fact that he or she has the disease from those with whom he or she lives and works, and thus for failing to observe the rule on precautions to he taken to reduce the likelihood of infection.

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 and 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 establishment 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 bourgeoisie 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.

Hypocrisy (the outward observance of decorum and the actual practice of depravity), and the double code (one code of behaviour for the man and another for the woman) are the twin pillars of bourgeois morality. Communist morality must above all, resolutely spurn all the hypocrisy inherited from bourgeois society in relationships between the sexes. and reject the double standard of morality.

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 organism. such as hunger and thirst. Such phenomena cannot be judged as moral or immoral. The satisfaction of healthy and natural instincts only ceases to be normal when the boundaries of hygiene are overstepped. In such cases, not only the health of the person concerned but the interests of the work collective, which needs the strength and energy and health of its members, are threatened. Communist morality. therefore. while openly recognising the normality of sexual interests. condemns unhealthy and unnatural interest in sex (excesses, for example, or sexual relations before maturity has been reached, which exhaust the organism and lower the capacity of men and women for work).

As communist morality is concerned for the health of the population, it also criticises sexual restraint. The preservation of health includes the full and correct satisfaction of all man’s needs; norms of hygiene should work to this end, and not artificially suppress such an important function of the organism as the sex drive (Bebel. Woman and Socialism). Thus both early sexual experience (before the. body has developed and grown strong) and sexual restraint must be seen as equally harmful. This concern 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 main 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.

It is accepted that the psychological state of parents at the moment of conception influences the health and life capacity of the child. Thus in the interests of human health, communist morality :criticises, sexual relations which are based on physical attraction alone and are not attended by love or fleeting passion. In the interests of the collective, communist morality also criticises persons whose sexual relationships are built not on physical attraction but on calculation. habit or even intellectual affinity.

In 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 recognise 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 on financial or other economic considerations. The buying and selling of caresses 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 recognised 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 important 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 bourgeoisie 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 ones”; communist morality demands all for the collective.

Though sex love is seen in the context of the interests of the collective. communist morality demands that people are educated in sensitivity and understanding and are psychologically demanding both to themselves and to their partners. The bourgeois attitude to sexual relations as simply a matter of sex must be criticised and replaced by an understanding of the whole gamut of joyful love-experience that enriches life and makes for greater happiness. The greater the intellectual and emotional development of the individual the less place will there be in his or her relationship for the bare physiological side of love. and the brighter will be the love experience.

In the transitional period, relations between men and women must. in order to meet the interests of the workers’ collective, he 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. All 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 he 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 the need to seek a 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.