Kollontai discusses prostitution in the USSR, stating that the short-term solution should be to place prostitutes into forced labour camps if they do not have additional regular employment. Kollontai argues against the criminalisation of selling sex as such, but takes the position that sex work is not productive labour but instead 'taking from the rations of others'. Professional prostitutes were to be treated as 'labour deserters' justifying the same treatment as 'speculators, traders and hoarders'.
Speech by Alexandra Kollontai to the third all-Russian conference of heads of the Regional Women’s Departments, 1921.
Comrades, the question of prostitution is a difficult and thorny subject that has received too little attention in Soviet Russia. This sinister legacy of our bourgeois capitalist past continues to poison the atmosphere of the workers’ republic and affects the physical and moral health of the working people of Soviet Russia. It is true that in the three years of the revolution the nature of prostitution has, under the pressure of the changing economic and social conditions altered somewhat. But we are still far from being rid of this evil. Prostitution continues to exist and threatens the feeling of solidarity and comradeship between working men and women, the members of the workers’ republic. And this feeling is the foundation and the basis of the communist society we are building and making a reality. It is time that we faced up to this problem. It is time that we gave thought and attention to the reasons behind prostitution. It is time that we found ways and means of ridding ourselves once and for all of this evil, which has no place in a workers’ republic.
Our workers’ republic has so far passed no laws directed at the elimination of prostitution, and has not even issued a clear and scientific formulation of the view that prostitution is something that injures the collective. We know that prostitution is an evil, we even acknowledge that at the moment, in this transitional period with its many problems, prostitution has become extremely widespread. But we have brushed the issue aside, we have been silent about it. Partly this is because of the hypocritical attitudes we have inherited from the bourgeoisie, and partly it is because of our reluctance to consider and come to terms with the harm which the widespread mass scale of prostitution does to the work collective. And our lack of enthusiasm in the struggle against prostitution has been reflected in our legislation.
We have so far passed no statutes recognising prostitution as a harmful social phenomenon. When the old tsarist laws were revoked by the Council of People’s Commissars, all the statutes concerning prostitution were abolished. But no new measures based on the interests of the work collective were introduced. Thus the politics of the Soviet authorities towards prostitutes and prostitution has been characterised by diversity and contradictions. In some areas the police still help to round up prostitutes just as in the old days. In other places, brothels exist quite openly. (The Interdepartmental Commission on the Struggle against Prostitution has data on this.) And there are yet other areas where prostitutes are considered criminals and thrown into forced labour camps. The different attitudes of the local authorities thus highlight the absence of a clearly worded statute. Our vague attitude to this complex social phenomenon is responsible, for a number of distortions of and diversions from the principles underlying our legislation and morality.
We must therefore not only confront the problem of prostitution but seek a solution that is in line with our basic principles and the programme of social and economic change adhered to by the party of the communists. We must, above all, clearly define what prostitution is. Prostitution is a phenomenon which is closely linked with unearned income, and it thrives in the epoch dominated by capital and private property. Prostitutes, from our point of view, are those women who sell their bodies for material benefit – for decent food, for clothes and other advantages; prostitutes are all those who avoid the necessity of working by giving themselves to a man, either on a temporary basis or for life.
Our Soviet workers’ republic has inherited prostitution from the bourgeois capitalist past, when only a small number of women were involved in work within the national economy and the majority relied on the “male breadwinner”, on the father or the husband. Prostitution arose with the first states as the inevitable shadow of the official institution of marriage, which was designed to preserve the rights of private property and to guarantee property inheritance through a line of lawful heirs. The institution of marriage made it possible to prevent the wealth that had been accumulated from being scattered amongst a vast number of “heirs”. But there is a great difference between the prostitution of Greece and Rome and the prostitution we know today. In ancient times the number of prostitutes was small, and there was not that hypocrisy which colours the morality of the bourgeois world and compels bourgeois society to raise its hat respectfully to the ‘lawful wife” of an industrial magnate who has obviously sold herself to a husband she does not love, and, to turn away in disgust from a girl forced into the streets by poverty, homelessness, unemployment and other social circumstances which derive from the existence of capitalism and private property. The ancient world regarded prostitution as the legal complement to exclusive family relationships. Aspasia [the mistress of Pericles] was respected by her contemporaries far more than the colourless wives of the breeding apparatus.
In the Middle Ages, when artisan, production predominated, prostitution was accepted as something natural and lawful. Prostitutes had their own guilds and took part in festivals and local events just like the other guilds. The prostitute guaranteed that the daughters of the respectable citizens remained chaste and their wives faithful, since single men could (for a consideration) turn to the members of the guild for comfort. Prostitution was thus to the advantage of the worthy propertied citizens and was openly accepted by them.
With the rise of capitalism, the picture changes. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries prostitution assumes threatening proportions for the first time. The sale of women’s labour, which is closely and inseparably connected with the sale of the female, body, steadily increases, leading to a situation where the respected wife of a worker, and not just the abandoned and “dishonoured” girl, joins the ranks of the prostitutes: a mother for the sake of her children, or a young girl like Sonya Marmeladova for the sake of her family. This is the horror and hopelessness that results from the exploitation of labour by capital. When a woman’s wages are insufficient to keep her alive, the sale of favours seems a possible subsidiary occupation. The hypocritical morality of bourgeois society encourages prostitution by the structure of its exploitative economy, while at the same time mercilessly covering with contempt any girl or woman who is forced to take this path.
The black shadow of prostitution stalks the legal marriage of bourgeois society. History has never before witnessed such a growth of prostitution as occurred in the last part of the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries. In Berlin there is one prostitute for every twenty so-called honest women. In Paris the ratio is one to eighteen and in London one to nine. There are different types of prostitution: there is open prostitution that is legal and subject to regulation, and there is the secret, “seasonal” type, All forms of prostitution flourish like a poisonous flower in the swamps of the bourgeois way of life.
The world of the bourgeoisie does not even spare children, forcing young girls of nine and ten into the sordid embraces of wealthy and depraved old men. In the capitalist countries there are brothels which specialise exclusively in very young girls. In this present post-war period every woman faces the possibility of unemployment. Unemployment hits women in particular, and causes an enormous increase in the army of “street women”. Hungry crowds of women seeking out the buyers of “white slaves” flood the evening streets of Berlin. Paris and the other civilised centres of the capitalist states. The trade in women’s flesh is conducted quite openly, which is not surprising when you consider that the whole bourgeois way of life is based on buying and selling. There is an undeniable element of material and economic, considerations even the most legal of marriages. Prostitution is the way out for the woman who fails to find herself a permanent breadwinner. Prostitution, under capitalism provides men with the opportunity of having sexual relationships without having to take upon themselves the responsibility of caring materially for the women until the grave.
But if prostitution has such a hold and is so widespread even in Russia, how are we to struggle against it? In order to answer this question we must first analyse in more detail the factors giving rise to prostitution. Bourgeois science and its academics love to prove to the world, that prostitution is a pathological phenomenon, i.e. that it is the result of the abnormalities of certain women, just as some people are criminal by nature, some women, it is argued, are prostitutes by nature. Regardless of where or how such women might have lived, they would have turned to a life of sin. Marxists and the more conscientious scholars, doctors and statisticians have shown clearly that the idea of “inborn disposition” is false. Prostitution is above all a social phenomenon; it is closely connected to the needy position of woman and her economic dependence on man in marriage and the family. The roots of prostitution are m economics. Woman is on the one hand placed in an economically vulnerable position, and on the other hand has been conditioned by centuries of education to expect material favours from a man in return for sexual favours – whether these are given within or outside the marriage tie. This is the root of the problem. Here is the reason for prostitution.
If the bourgeois academics of the Lombroso-Tarnovsky school were correct in maintaining that prostitutes are born with the marks of corruption and sexual abnormality, how would one explain the well-known fact that in a time of crisis and unemployment the number of prostitutes immediately increases? How would one explain the fact that the purveyors of “living merchandise” who travelled to tsarist Russia from the other countries of western Europe always found a rich harvest in areas where crops had failed and the population was suffering from famine, whereas they came away with few recruits from areas of plenty? Why do so many of the women who are allegedly doomed by nature to ruin only take to prostitution in years of hunger and unemployment?
It is also significant that in the capitalist countries prostitution recruits its servants from the propertyless sections of the population. Low-paid work, homelessness, acute poverty and the need to support younger brothers and sisters: these are the factors that produce the largest percentage of prostitutes. If the bourgeois theories about the corrupt and criminal disposition were true, then all classes of the population ought to contribute equally to prostitution. There ought to he the same proportion of corrupt women among the rich as among the poor. But professional prostitutes, women who live by their bodies, are with rare exceptions recruited from the poorer classes. Poverty, hunger, deprivation and the glaring social inequalities that are the basis of the bourgeois system drive these women to prostitution.
Or again one might point to the fact that prostitutes in the capitalist countries are drawn, according to the statistics, from the thirteen to twenty-three age-group. Children and young women, in other words. And the majority of these girls are alone and without a home. Girls from wealthy backgrounds who have the excellent bourgeois family to protect them turn to prostitution only very occasionally. The exceptions are usually victims of tragic circumstances. More often than not they are victims of the hypocritical “double morality”. The bourgeois family abandons the girl who has “sinned” and she – alone, without support and branded by the scorn of society – sees prostitution as the only way out.
We can therefore list as factors responsible for prostitution: low wages, social inequalities, the economic dependence of women upon men, and the unhealthy custom by which women expect to he supported in return for sexual favours instead of in return for their labour.
The workers’ revolution in Russia has shattered the basis of capitalism and has struck a blow at the former dependence of women upon men. All citizens are equal before the work collective. They are equally obliged to work for the common good and are equally eligible to the support of the collective when they need it. A woman provides for herself not by marriage but by the part she plays in production and the contribution she makes to the people’s wealth.
Relations between the sexes are being transformed. But we are still bound by the old ideas. Furthermore, the economic structure is far from being completely re-arranged in the new way, and communism is still a long way off. In this transitional period prostitution naturally enough keeps a strong hold. After all, even though the main sources of prostitution – private property and the policy of strengthening the family – have been eliminated, other factors are still in force. Homelessness, neglect, had housing conditions, loneliness and low wages for women are still with us. Our productive apparatus is still in a state of collapse, and the dislocation of the national economy continues. These and other economic and social conditions lead women to prostitute their bodies.
To struggle against prostitution chiefly means to struggle against these conditions – in other words, it means to support the general policy of the Soviet government – which is directed towards strengthening the basis of communism and the organisation of production.
Some people might say that since prostitution will have no place once the power of the workers and the basis of communism are strengthened, no special campaign is necessary. This type of argument fails to take into account the harmful and disuniting effect that prostitution has on the construction of a new communist society.
The correct slogan was formulated at the first All-Russian Congress of Peasant and Working Woman: “A woman of the Soviet labour republic is a free citizen with equal rights, and cannot and must not be the object of buying and selling.” The slogan was proclaimed, but nothing was done. Above all, prostitution harms the national economy and hinders the further development of the productive forces. We know that we can only overcome chaos and improve industry if we harness the efforts and energies of the workers and if we organise the available labour power of both men and women in the most rational way. Down with the unproductive labour of housework and child-minding! Make way for work that is organised and productive and serves the work collective! These are the slogans we must take up.
And what, after all, is the professional prostitute? She is a person whose energy is not used for the collective; a person who lives off others, by taking from the rations of others. Can this sort of thing be allowed in a workers’ republic? No, it cannot. It cannot be allowed, because it reduces the reserves of energy and the number of working hands that are creating the national wealth and the general welfare, from the point of view of the national economy the professional prostitute is a labour deserter. For this reason we must ruthlessly oppose prostitution. In the interests of the economy we must start an immediate fight to reduce the number of prostitutes and eliminate prostitution in all its forms.
It is time we understood that the existence of prostitution contradicts the basic principles of a workers’ republic which fights all forms of unearned wages. In the three years of the revolution our ideas on this subject have changed greatly. A new philosophy, which has little m common with the old ideas, is in the making. Three years ago we regarded a merchant as a completely respectable person. Provided his accounts were in order and he did not cheat or dupe his customer too obviously, he was rewarded with the title of “merchant of the first guild”, “respected citizen”, etc.
Since the revolution attitudes, to trade and merchants have changed radically. We now call the “honest merchant” a speculator, and instead of awarding him honorary tides we drag him before a special committee and put him in a forced labour camp. Why do we do this?’ Because we know that we can only build a new communist economy if all adult citizens are involved in productive labour. The person who does not work and who lives off someone else or on an unearned wage harms the collective and the republic. We, therefore, hunt down the speculators, the traders and the hoarders who all live off unearned income. We must fight prostitution as another form of labour desertion.
We do not, therefore, condemn prostitution and fight against it as a special category but as an aspect of labour desertion. To us in the workers’ republic it is not important whether a woman sells herself to one man or to many, whether she is classed as a professional prostitute selling her favours to a succession of clients or as a wife selling herself to her husband. All women who avoid work and do not take part in production or in caring for children are liable, on the same basis as prostitutes, to be forced to work. We cannot make a difference between a prostitute and a lawful wife kept by her husband, whoever her husband is – even if he is a “commissar”. It is failure to take part in productive work that is the common thread connecting all labour deserters. The workers’ collective condemns the prostitute not because she gives her body to many men but because, like the legal wife who stays at home, she does no useful work for the society.
The second reason for organising a deliberate and well-planned campaign against prostitution is in order to safeguard the people’s health. Soviet Russia does not want illness and disease to cripple and weaken its citizens and reduce their work capacity. And prostitution spreads venereal disease. Of course, it is not the only means by which the disease is transmitted. Crowded living conditions, the absence of standards of hygiene, communal crockery and towels also play a part. Furthermore, in this time of changing moral norms and particularly when there is also a continual movement of troops from place to place, a sharp rise in the number of cases of venereal disease occurs independently of commercial prostitution. The civil war, for example, is raging in the fertile southern regions. The Cossack men have been beaten and have retreated with the Whites. Only the women are left behind in the villages. They have plenty of everything except husbands. The Red Army troops enter the village They are billeted out and stay several weeks. Free relationships develop between the soldiers and the women. These relationships have nothing to do with prostitution: the woman goes with the man voluntarily because she is attracted to him, and there is no thought on her part of material gain. It is not the Red Army soldier who provides for the woman but rather the opposite. The woman looks after him for the period that the troops are quartered in the village. The troops move away, but they leave venereal disease behind. Infection spreads. The diseases develop, multiply, and threaten to maim the younger generation.
At a joint meeting of the department of maternity protection and the women’s department, Professor Kol’tsov spoke about eugenics, the science of maintaining and improving the health of humanity. Prostitution is closely connected with this problem, since it is one of the main ways in which infections are spread. The theses of the interdepartmental commission on the struggle against prostitution point out that the development of special measures to fight venereal diseases is an urgent task. Steps must of course be taken to deal with all sources of the diseases, and not solely with prostitution in the way that hypocritical bourgeois society does. But although the diseases are spread to some extent by everyday circumstances, it is nevertheless essential to give everyone a clear idea of the role prostitution plays. The correct organisation of sexual education for young people is especially important. We must arm young people with accurate information allowing them to enter life with their eyes open. We must not remain silent any longer over questions connected with sexual life; we must break with false and bigoted bourgeois morality.
Prostitution is not compatible with the Soviet workers’ republic for a third reason: it does not contribute to the development and strengthening of the basic class character and of the proletariat and its new morality.
What is the fundamental quality of the working class? What is its strongest moral weapon in the struggle? Solidarity and comradeship is the basis of communism. Unless this sense is strongly developed amongst working people, the building of a truly communist society is inconceivable. Politically conscious communists should therefore logically be encouraging the development of solidarity in every way and fighting against all that hinders its development – Prostitution destroys the equality, solidarity and comradeship of the two halves of the working class. A man who buys the favours of a woman does not see her as a comrade or as a person with equal rights. He sees the woman as dependent upon himself and as an unequal creature of a lower order who is of less worth to the workers’ state. The contempt he has for the prostitute, whose favours he has bought, affects his attitude to all women. The further development of prostitution, instead of allowing for the growth of comradely feeling and solidarity, strengthens the inequality of the relationships between the sexes.
Prostitution is alien and harmful to the new communist morality which is in the process of forming. The task of the party as a whole and of the women’s departments in particular must he to launch a broad and resolute campaign against this legacy from the past. In bourgeois capitalist society all attempts at fighting prostitution were a useless waste of energy, since the two circumstances which gave rise to the phenomenon – private property and the direct material dependence of the majority of women upon men – were firmly established. In a workers’ republic the situation has changed. Private property has been abolished and all citizens of the republic are obliged to work. Marriage has ceased to be a method by which a woman can find herself a “breadwinner” and thus avoid the necessity of working or providing for herself by her own labour. The major social factors giving rise to prostitution are, in Soviet Russia, being eliminated. A number of secondary economic and social reasons remain with which it is easier to come to terms. The women’s departments must approach the struggle energetically, and they will find a wide field for activity.
On the Central Department’s initiative, an interdepartmental commission for the struggle against prostitution was organised last year. For a number of reasons the work of the commission was neglected for a time, but since the autumn of this year there have been signs of life, and with the co-operation of Dr Gol'man and the Central (Women’s) Department some work has been planned and organised. Representatives from the People’s Commissariats of health, labour, social security and industry, the women’s department and the union of communist youth are all involved. The commission has printed the theses in bulletin no. 4, distributes circulars to all regional departments of social security outlining a plan to establish similar commissions all over the country, and has set about working out a number of concrete measures to tackle the circumstances which give rise to prostitution.
The interdepartmental commission considers it necessary that the women’s departments take an active part in this work, since prostitution affects the propertyless women of the working class. It is our job it is the job of the women’s departments – to organise a mass campaign around the question of prostitution. We must approach this issue with the interests of the work collective in mind and ensure that the revolution within the family is completed, and that relationships between the sexes are put on a more human footing.
The interdepartmental commission, as the theses make clear, takes the view that the struggle against prostitution is connected in a fundamental way with the realisation of our Soviet politics in the sphere of economics and general construction. Prostitution will he finally eliminated when the basis of communism is strengthened. This is the truth which determines our actions. But we also need to understand the importance of creating a communist morality. The two tasks are closely connected: the new morality is created by a new economy, but we will not build a new communist economy without the support of a new morality. Clarity and precise thinking are essential in this matter, and we have nothing to fear from the truth. Communists must openly accept that unprecedented changes in the nature of sexual relationships are taking place. This revolution is called into being by the change in the economic structure and by the new role which women play in the productive activity of the workers’ state. In this difficult transition period, when the old is being destroyed and the new is in the process of being created, relations between the sexes sometimes develop that are not compatible with the interests of the collective. But there is also something healthy m the variety of relationships practised.
Our party and the women’s departments in particular must analyse the different forms in order to ascertain which are compatible with the general tasks of the revolutionary class and serve to strengthen the collective and its interests. Behaviour that is harmful to the collective must he rejected and condemned by communists. This is how the Central Women’s Department has understood the task of the interdepartmental commission. It is not only necessary to take practical measures to fight the situation and the circumstances that nourish prostitution and to solve the problems of housing and loneliness etc., but also to help the working class to establish its morality alongside its dictatorship.
The interdepartmental commission points to the fact that in Soviet Russia prostitution is practised (a) as a profession and (b) as a means of earning supplementary income. The first form of prostitution is less common and in Petrograd, for example, the number of prostitutes has not been significantly reduced by round-ups of the professionals. The second type of prostitution is widespread in bourgeois capitalist countries (in Petrograd; before the revolution, out of a total of fifty thousand prostitutes only about six or seven thousand were registered), and continues under various guises in our Russia, Soviet ladies exchange their favours for a pair of high-heeled boots; working women and mothers of families sell their favours for flour. Peasant women sleep with the heads of the anti-profiteer detachments in the hope of saving their boarded food, and office workers sleep with their bosses in return for rations, shoes and in the hope of promotion.
How should we fight this situation? The interdepartmental commission had to tackle the important question of whether or not prostitution should be made a criminal offence. Many of the representatives of the commission were inclined to the view that prostitution should be an offence, arguing that professional prostitutes are clearly labour deserters. If such a law were passed, the round-up and placing of prostitutes in forced labour camps would become accepted policy.
The Central Department spoke in firm and absolute opposition to such, a step, pointing out that if prostitutes were to be arrested on such grounds, then so ought all legal wives who are maintained by their husbands and do not contribute to society. The prostitute and the house-wife are both labour deserters, and you cannot send one to a forced labour camp without sending the other. This was the position the Central Department took, and it was supported by the representative of the Commissariat of justice. If we take labour desertion as our criterion, we cannot help punishing all forms of labour desertion. Marriage or the existence of certain relationships between the sexes is of no significance and can play no role in defining criminal offences in a labour republic.
In bourgeois society a woman is condemned to persecution not when she does no work that is useful to the collective or because she sells herself for material gain (two-thirds of women in bourgeois society sell themselves to their legal husbands), but when her sexual relationships are informal and of short duration. Marriage in bourgeois society is characterised by its duration and by the official nature of its registration. Property inheritance is preserved in this way. Relationships that are of a temporary nature and lack official sanction are considered by the bigots and hypocritical upholders of bourgeois morality to be shameful.
Can we who uphold the interests of working people define relationships that are temporary and unregistered as criminal? Of course we cannot. Freedom in relationships between the sexes does not contradict communist ideology. The interests of the work collective are not affected by the temporary or lasting nature of a relationship or by its basis in love, passion or passing physical attraction.
A relationship is harmful and alien to the collective only if material bargaining between the sexes is involved, only when worldly calculations are a substitute for mutual attraction. Whether the bargaining takes the form of prostitution or of a legal marriage relationship is not important. Such unhealthy relationships cannot be permitted, since they threaten equality and solidarity. We must therefore condemn all prostitution, and go as far as explaining to these legal wives are “kept women” what a sad and intolerable part they are playing in the worker’s state.
Can the presence or otherwise of material bargaining be used as a criterion in determining what is and what is not a criminal offence? can we really persuade a couple to admit whether or not there is an element of calculation in their relationship? Would such a law be workable, particularly in view of the fact that at the present time a great variety of relationships are practised among working people and ideas on sexual morality are in constant flux? Where does prostitution end and the marriage of convenience begin? The interdepartmental commission opposed the suggestion that prostitutes be punished for prostituting, i.e. for buying and selling. They confined themselves to suggesting that all people convicted of work desertion be directed to the social security network and from there either to the section of the Commissariat that deals with the deployment of the labour force or to sanatoria and hospitals. A prostitute is not a special case; as with other categories of deserter, she is only sent to do forced labour if she repeatedly avoids work. Prostitutes are not treated any differently from other labour deserters. This is an important and courageous step, worthy of the world’s first labour republic.
The question of prostitution as an offence was set out in thesis no. 15. The next problem that had to be tackled was whether or not the law should punish the prostitute’s clients. There were some on the commission who were in favour of this, but they had to give up the idea, which did not follow on logically from our basic premises. How is a client to be defined? Is he someone who buys a woman’s favours? In that case the husbands of many legal wives will be guilty. Who is to decide who is a client and who is not? It was suggested that this problem be studied further before a decision was made, but the Central Department and the majority of the commission were against this. As the representative of the Commissariat of justice, admitted, if it were not possible to define exactly when a crime had been committed, then the idea of punishing clients was untenable. The position of the Central Department was once again adopted.
But while the commission accepted that clients cannot he punished by the law, it spoke out for the moral condemnation of those who visit prostitutes or in any way make a business out of prostitution. In fact the commission’s theses point out that all go-betweens who make money out of prostitution can be prosecuted as persons making money other than by their own labour. Legislative proposals to this effect have been drawn up by the interdepartmental commission and put before the Council, of People’s Commissars. They will come into force in the neat future.
It remain for me to indicate the purely practical measures which can help to reduce prostitution, and in the implementation of which the women’s departments can play an active role. It cannot be doubted that the poor and inadequate wages that women receive continue to serve as one of the real factors pushing women into prostitution. According to the law the Wages of male and female workers are equal, but in practice most women are engaged in unskilled work. The problem of improving their skills through the development of a network of special courses must he tackled. The task of the women’s departments must be to bring influence to bear on, the education authorities to step up the provision of vocational training for working women.
The political backwardness of women and their lack of social awareness is a second reason for prostitution. The women’s departments should increase their work amongst proletarian women. The best way to fight prostitution is to raise the political consciousness of the broad masses of women and to draw them into the revolutionary struggle to build communism.
The fact that the housing situation is still not solved also encourages prostitution. The women’s department and the commission for the struggle against prostitution can and must have their say over the solution of this problem. The interdepartmental commission is working out a project on the provision of house communes for young working people and on the establishment of houses that will provide accommodation for women when they are newly arrived in any area, However, unless the women’s departments and the komsomols in the provinces show some initiative and take independent action in this matter, all the directives of the commission will remain beautiful and benevolent resolutions – but they will remain on paper. And there is so much we can and must do. The local women’s departments must work in conjunction with the education commissions to raise the issue of the correct organisation of sex education in schools. They could also hold a series of discussions and lectures on marriage, the family and the history of relationships between the sexes, highlighting the dependence of these phenomena and of sexual morality itself on economic factors.
It is time we were clear on the question of sexual relationships. It is time we approached this question in a spirit of ruthless and scientific criticism. I already said that the interdepartmental commission has accepted that professional prostitutes are to be treated in the same way as labour deserters It therefore follows that women who have a work- book but are practising prostitution as a secondary source of income cannot he prosecuted. But this does not mean that we do not fight against prostitution. We are aware, as I have already pointed out more than once today, that prostitution harm the work collective, negatively affecting the psychology of men and women and distorting feelings of equality and solidarity. Our task is to re-educate the work collective and to bring its psychology into line with the economic tasks of the working class. We must ruthlessly discard the old ideas and attitudes to which we cling through habit Economics has outstripped ideology. The old economic structure is disintegrating and with it the old type of marriage, but we cling to bourgeois life styles. We are ready to reject all the aspects of the old system and welcome the revolution in all spheres of life, only . . . don’t touch the family, don’t try to change the family! Even politically aware communists are afraid to look squarely at the truth, they brush aside the evidence which clearly shows that the old family ties are weakening and that new forms of economy dictate new forms of relationships between the sexes. Soviet power recognises that woman has a part to play in the national economy and has placed her on an equal footing with the man in this respect, but in everyday life we still hold to the “old ways” and are prepared to accept as normal marriages which are based on the material dependency of a woman on a man. In our struggle against prostitution we must clarify our attitude to marital relations that are based on the same principles of “buying and selling”. We must learn to be ruthless over this issue; we must not be deflected from our purpose by sentimental complaints that “by your criticism and scientific preaching you encroach on sacred family ties”. We have to explain unequivocally that the old form of the family has been outstripped. Communist, society has no need of it. The bourgeois world gave its blessing to the exclusiveness and isolation of the married couple from the collective; in the atomised and individualistic bourgeois society, the family was the only protection from the storm of life, a quiet harbour in a sea of hostility and competition. The family was an independent and enclosed collective. In communist society this cannot be. Communist society presupposes such a strong sense of the collective that any possibility of the existence of the isolated, introspective family group is excluded. At the present moment ties of kinship, family and even of married life can be seen to be weakening. New ties between working people are being forged and comradeship, common interests, collective responsibility and faith in the collective are establishing themselves as the highest principles of morality.
I will not take it upon myself to prophesy the form that marriage or relationships between the sexes will assume in the future. But of one thing there is no doubt: under communism all dependence of women upon men and all the elements of material calculation found m modern marriage will be absent. Sexual relationships will be based on a healthy instinct for reproduction prompted by the abandon of young love, or by fervent passion, or by a blaze of physical attraction or by a soft light of intellectual and emotional harmony. Such sexual relationships have nothing in common with prostitution. Prostitution is terrible because it is an act of violence by the woman upon herself in the name of material gain. Prostitution is I naked act of material calculation which leaves no room for considerations of love and passion. Where passion and attraction begin, prostitution ends. Under communism, prostitution and the contemporary family will disappear. Healthy, joyful and free relationships between the sexes will develop. A new generation will come into being, independent and courageous and with a strong sense of the collective: a generation which places the good of the collective above all else.
Comrades! We are laying the foundations for this communist future. It is in our power to hasten the advent of this future. We must strengthen the sense of solidarity within the working class. We must encourage this sense of togetherness. Prostitution hinders the development of solidarity, and we therefore call upon the women’s departments to begin an immediate campaign to root out his evil.
Comrades! Our task is to cut out the roots that feed prostitution. Our task is to wage a merciless struggle against all the remnants of individualism and of the former, type of marriage. Our task is to revolutionise, attitudes in the sphere of sexual relationships, to bring them into line with the interest of the working collective. When the communist collective has eliminated the contemporary forms of marriage and the family, the problem of prostitution will cease to exist.
Let us get to work, comrades. The new family is already in the process of creation, and the great family of the triumphant world proletariat is developing and growing stronger.
Originally posted at https://www.marxists.org/archive/kollonta/1921/prostitution.htm
Source: Selected Writings of Alexandra Kollontai, Allison & Busby, 1977;
Translated: by Alix Holt.