Everyone Loves a Movement
Living in the United States these days you might have noticed an obsession with all things ‘green’. What once might have been Irish pride has turned into a ‘movement’ towards ‘environmentally friendly living’. This movement has permeated all aspects of our life. No television show, newspaper column, politician, or advertisement is complete without giving us their take on ‘green living’. Everybody seems to have ideas as to which water bottles are better to drink from and so on…And new and conflicting theories have swept all of us into a big whirl wind. We are taking in these theories and trying to live accordingly, hoping to build a ‘green’ utopia.
Now imagine that this new movement’s doctrine also included something about how copulation was an alternative energy source and would help cut back on your electricity costs. Yeah, you could imagine how many people’s ears would perk up when that commercial aired. Even the right-wing conservatives would become aware ‘active’ ‘green’ activists.
Alright, so there you have an idea of the frenzy that the ‘sex question’ had in the NEP-era society. It was all the hype, all the rage and everyone wanted to know what this new movement meant for their lifestyles and their future. Like the ‘green’ movement. The ‘sex question’ was all over the media, all over politics and all over everyday interactions. What better way to get otherwise apathetic citizens interested in revolutionary doctrine than to talk about sex?
There was a feeling of openness in the air in the Soviet 1920’s. Imagination, discussion and experimentation were a critical part of forming the ‘New’ post-Revolutionary society. Not only the economy and government had been uprooted, but the basic unit of society-family had been also.
The ‘sex question’, половой вопрос, was referred to by Marx and Engels, but it was one of the leading Revolutionary feminists, Alexandra Mikhailovna Kollontai who got the sex riddle rolling. Her theories were the ‘attention getters’ of the sex obsession and most subsequent doctrines were attempts to dismiss or uphold her theories. As citizens tried to follow and implement these theories, they found no answers, only confusion, distraction and ambiguity. Soviet society, subsequently was trampled beneath the raging ‘sex movement’.
Kollontai’s overflowing ‘glass of water’
One of the more common phrases heard when talking about sex and the Bolsheviks is the ‘glass of water’ theory. This phrase is a misquoted reference to one of the theories of Kollontai. Kollontai was to the Bolshevik feminists what Betty Friedan was to the feminists of the 60’s. Kollontai encouraged women to take control of their lives, free themselves from the chains of the hearth and be masters of their sexuality. She felt that marriage and the need for ‘love’ were bourgeois and distracted one from true revolutionary productivity. It was her words,that became (somewhat twisted) the popular creed of the ‘sex movement’ activists:
“The sexual act must be seen not as something shameful and sinful but as something which is as natural as the other needs of a healthy organism-such as hunger and thirst.”
Theses on Communist Morality in the Sphere of Marital Relations http://www.marxists.org/archive/kollonta/1921/theses-morality.htm
It must be noted here, that Kollontai was just one Bolshevik theorist. Although her ‘glass of water’ theory was a hit with the people, it was vehemently opposed by many other theorists of the Revolution, Lenin included.
The Communal Water Jug: Free, Communal Love
Kollontai was first and foremost an advocated for women’s liberation. Kollontai specifically encouraged women to become ‘new women’, women of the revolution, stalwart and unshaken by passions and petty feelings of love and jealousy. The ‘new woman’ should be equal to man in all ways, including in libido and stamina. Women, together with men should build communism, and not just stay home while their husbands build it. She agreed with Marx and Engels that monogamy and marriage were harmful to ‘the commune’-the basic unit of Communist society. She writes,
“The stronger the ties between the members of the collective, as a whole, the less the need to reinforce marital relations.”
And she gave the collective a few pointers about how good communist relationships should be:
“All sexual relationships must be based on mutual inclination, love, infatuation or passion, and in no case on financial or material motivations.” The bourgeois marriage, therefore, which was typically a sort of ‘economic arrangement’, was strictly prohibited, as opposed to passion-driven adultery, for instance.
For some couples, one night stands turn into two night stands, then into year-long posts. This gives the seeds of love and devotion a place to take root. Such a couple, according to Kollontai, could still be good communists so long as they didn’t let their exclusive love for one another become more important than their love and duty to the collective. Marriage creates a sort of property and property creates jealousy, greed, and selfishness:
“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.”
A communist wife is first and foremost, a communist with a duty to the collective. Her life, her body and her love are public property and will be utilized in building Communism, however the commune sees fit. The wife, who once might have accused her husband of checking out her friend’s backside, will put aside her jealousy and recognize that they are all comrades. Afterall, her friend’s backside is one of the marvelous structures of communism and, therefore, all three should celebrate the glories of Communism together.
Like for the hippies of Woodstock, in Kollontai’s idealized communist society indiscriminate sexual relationships would build a ‘free love’ utopia. When two people (or more I suppose) unite sexually they create a bond, a thread which connects them. And from the literal weaving of bodies, Kollontai proclaims, the great tapestry of Communism will be woven:
“…The more such threads connecting soul to soul, heart to heart, and mind to mind – the more strongly will the spirit of solidarity be inculcated and the easier it will be to attain the ideals of the working class-comradeship and unity.”
“Make Way for Winged Eros” (1923) As quoted in Richard Stites, The Women’s Liberation Movement in Russia: Feminism, Nihilism and Bolshevism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978), pp. 346-91. http://www.worc.ac.uk/CHIC/suffrage/document/sexrevoa.htm
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