Posted on | January 17, 2015 | 94 Comments
In her most recent book, controversial British feminist Laurie Penny treats her unsuspecting young readers to Soviet propaganda, quoting a Bolshevik commissar’s denunciation of romantic love — without bothering to identify Alexandra Kollontai as the top female official in Vladimir Lenin’s Communist revolutionary regime.
A contributing editor for The New Statesman, Penny attacks “the neoliberal notion of romantic love” in her book Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution, insisting young women must “refuse to define ourselves by romantic love . . . or lack of it.”
In support of her anti-love position, Penny writes on page 236 of her book that “today’s growing girls of every age might do well to recall the words of Alexandra Kollontai.” Penny then quotes Kollontai’s condemnation of love as “an absolutely incredible squandering of our mental energy, a diminution of our labour power.”
The source of this quote is identified in the endnotes of Penny’s book (page 254) as Kollontai’s 1926 The Autobiography of a Sexually Emancipated Communist Woman. That note lists the URL at Marxists.org where Penny evidently found it online.
Beyond this endnote, however, Kollontai is not further identified in Unspeakable Things, perhaps because Penny assumes her feminist readers are already familiar with the Soviet official who died in 1952.
So-called “Second Wave” feminists — leaders of the Women’s Liberation movement that arose from the New Left in the United States in the late 1960s — embraced Kollontai as a pioneering hero. Between 1979 and 1981, three separate English-language biographies of Kollontai were published, two by American professors (Barbara Evans Clements and Beatrice Farnsworth) and issued by university presses, and a third by British scholar Cathy Porter. In addition to those three biographies, a 1977 anthology of Kollontai’s writings, translated from Russian by British editor Alix Holt, was republished in the United States in 1980 by W.W. Norton & Company.
“With the current high interest in both feminism and Marxism in the West, the rediscovery of Kollontai was predictable,” Professor Simon Karlinsky wrote in a 1981 New York Times article reviewing the Kollontai biographies by Clements, Farnsworth and Porter. Karlinsky saw these biographers as seeking “to appropriate her ideas and experience to the newly revived feminist trends in Western democracies.” Karlinsky noted how Kollontai and the Bolsheviks opposed the liberal reform efforts of “bourgeois” feminists:
The roots of all oppression, the Marxists reasoned, are economic. Proletarians, whether men or women, are exploited by the bourgeoisie, and a proletarian revolution will put an end to that. . . . Alexandra Kollontai’s contributions to the anti-feminist campaign of the Marxists were her coaching of a group of women workers to disrupt the 1908 national congress of Russian feminists by shouting slogans and the publication in 1909 of her book The Social Bases of the Woman Question, a 400-page diatribe against the leaders of the feminist movement.
In that “diatribe,” Kollontai declared that the Marxist party “always and everywhere adheres to the principle of women’s equality”:
The followers of historical materialism reject the existence of a special woman question separate from the general social question of our day. Specific economic factors were behind the subordination of women; natural qualities have been a secondary factor in this process. Only the complete disappearance of these factors, only the evolution of those forces which at some point in the past gave rise to the subjection of women, is able in a fundamental way to influence and change their social position. In other words, women can become truly free and equal only in a world organised along new social and productive lines.
Kollontai’s rejection of reforms within the capitalist system and her demand for a revolutionary destruction of that system, are echoed in Laurie Penny’s own denunciation of “the logic of business and money” that she identifies as “neoliberalism.” Penny slams liberal feminism:
As financial capitalism faltered following the near-collapse of the global stock markets in 2008, the notion that one day all women would be able to make empowering choices within a market that respected their goals and autonomy was exposed as a twenty-year-old fairy tale.
The feminism that has mattered to the media and made magazine headlines in recent years has been the feminism most useful to heterosexual, high-earning middle- and upper-middle-class white women. Public ‘career feminists’ have been more concerned with getting more women into ‘boardrooms,’ when the problem is that there are altogether too many boardrooms, and none of them are on fire.
Although she is herself of upper-middle-class background — her mother is a lawyer, as was her late father, and she attended elite schools in England — Penny’s hostility toward capitalism led her to support the so-called “Occupy” protest movements in 2011. In this, also, Penny mirrors the life of Kollontai. The Russian revolutionary Kollontai describes in her autobiography how she grew up in comfortable circumstances as the daughter of a general in the czar’s army:
I was the youngest, the most spoiled, and the most coddled member of the family. This, perhaps, was the root cause of the protest against everything around me that very early burgeoned within me. Too much was done for me in order to make me happy.
Alexandra Kollontai, Soviet Commissar
In contrast to the reformist measures advocated by 19th-century liberals, Marxist doctrine demanded the destruction of the traditional family, as Kollontai explained in her 1921 Bolshevik treatise, “Theses on Communist Morality in the Sphere of Marital Relations”:
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 . . . 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. . . .
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 be a family. The family unit shrinks to a union of two people based on mutual agreement.
Penny does not quote these other writings of Kollontai and, as previously noted, gives her readers no biographical information on the Russian Marxist who was the lone female member of the Bolshevik Central Committee at the time of the 1917 revolution. Kollontai spent six months as a commissar in Lenin’s dictatorship before resigning that post and was subsequently appointed to a series of diplomatic posts, spanning two decades as a Soviet ambassador first in Norway (1923-25), then Mexico (1926-27) and Sweden (1930-1945).
Left to right: Josef Stalin, Genrikh Yagoda, Nikolai Yezhov.
Left to right: Leon Trotsky, Felix Dzerzhinsky, Lavrenti Beria.
“This is no time for speech-making. Our Revolution is in serious danger. . . . We have no need for justice now. Now we have need of a battle to the death! We must act not tomorrow, but today, at once!”
— Felix Dzerzhinsky, December 1917
It is doubtful that Laurie Penny’s young readers know any more about the murderous brutality of the Soviet Union than does Penny herself. Only 28 years old, Penny’s attacks on “neoliberalism” in Unspeakable Things never examine the prosperity and freedom enjoyed under this system — i.e., limited government, representative democracy and industrial capitalism — in historic contrast to the totalitarian nightmares that covered the 20th century in the blood of innocents. A deliberate policy of terrorism was a weapon that the Bolsheviks considered absolutely necessary, as Leon Trotsky proclaimed in 1920:
We were revolutionaries in opposition, and have remained revolutionaries in power. To make the individual sacred we must destroy the social order which crucifies him. And this problem can only be solved by blood and iron. . . .
The Red Terror is a weapon utilized against a class, doomed to destruction, which does not wish to perish. . . .
The man who recognizes the revolutionary historic importance of the very fact of the existence of the Soviet system must also sanction the Red Terror.
Dzerzhinsky, Genrikh Yagoda, Nikolai Yezhov, Lavrenti Beria — these depraved monsters led the Cheka and the NKVD, merciless and sadistic murder gangs that imposed the “dictatorship of the proletariat” on the enslaved millions who suffered under Soviet tyranny. By the time the Evil Empire crumbled into the ash-heap of history, it is estimated that as many as 100 million people had been killed by Marxist-Leninist regimes in Russia, China, Cuba, Cambodia, Vietnam, Angola, Nicaragua and other outposts of communist imperialism.
Of this senseless slaughter — to say nothing of the millions impoverished, imprisoned or exiled by the “dictatorship of the proletariat” — Laurie Penny seems stubbornly ignorant. Instead she heaps every imaginable calumny on the West’s “neoliberal” capitalist system. It is this system, of course, which sent her to some of England’s finest schools and provides her with publishing opportunities, a system that is even now providing her with a prestigious Nieman Fellowship to Harvard University.
If she would care to research the history of the man whose name is on that fellowship — founded with a bequest from his widow — Laurie Penny would learn that the self-made millionaire Lucius Nieman earned his fortune by hard work and courage. In 1919, Nieman’s Milwaukee Journal won the Pulitzer Prize for its “strong and courageous campaign for Americanism,” resolutely supporting the U.S. war effort against Germany “in a constituency where foreign elements made such a policy hazardous from a business point of view.” Indeed, at the time of World War I, Milwaukee was home to one of the largest German emigré populations in the world, yet Nieman’s “Americanism” was unflinching.
How ironic, then, that Laura Penny, an outspoken enemy of “Americanism” and an enthusiastic devotee of the Marxist doctrines of Kollontai and other radicals, should be granted a fellowship named for the great patriot Lucius Nieman, her reward for such important “journalism” as these colorful passages from Unspeakable Things:
In 2011, the summer of rage and riots, I kiss a girl and she tastes of cigarettes and gin and I like it. She says she wants to be a mistress forever. We met because we were sleeping with the same boy, and he isn’t entirely comfortable with how close we’ve become. I buy her a cupcake from a posh sex shop. The cupcake has icing on it shaped like a cunt with a little clear sugar glaze tricking obscenely off the frosting folds. She laughs and eats it right there in front of me because she is hungry. . . .
Then he’s sick of us both, and so we go out like we have before, eyeliner and cigarettes and bus passes on our way to corrupt young minds. . . . We are a tag team, an unstoppable perversion: we drag strange little hipsters into strange beds, turn them on to roll-ups and feminism. . . .
I have spent more time than I care to contemplate in my nimble years in the company of polyamorists, queer non-monogamists and the sort of people who prefer labels like “love anarchists” . . .
I don’t mean to advocate casual sex, housing collectives and late nights drinking bad vodka with bisexual activists as alternatives that necessarily work for everyone, though they’ve always done so for me.
Anyone who cares to read Unspeakable Things (those passages are excerpted from pp. 231-234) will discover that Laurie Penny is as wholehearted an evangelist for sexual perversion as she is a wholehearted enemy of democratic capitalism. Indeed, she is an enemy of every value of Lucius Nieman’s “Americanism,” but in this she is probably no different than any of the other Nieman Fellows at Harvard. Do any of them disagree with anything in Laurie Penny’s book? Is there a single Nieman Fellow who would criticize Laurie Penny’s tribute to the deadly ideas of the Bolshevik commissar Alexandra Kollontai?
Of course not. The last person at Harvard University who dared disagree with feminists was Larry Summers, and we know what happened to him. Feminism’s totalitarian terror continues, and the revolutionaries in power have no need for justice now.
ADDENDUM: Why am I such an outspoken and uncompromising anti-feminist? Because it is always smarter in the long run to be an enemy of totalitarians than to be a friend of totalitarians. If you think you can negotiate or compromise with totalitarianism, you are doomed to learn a painful lesson. While researching this article I discovered an interesting historical statistic: Of the 16 original commissars in the Bolshevik regime, nine were executed during Stalin’s 1937-38 purge and another, Trotsky, was assassinated by one of Stalin’s agents in 1940.