How Ukrainians voted for the preservation of the Soviet Union in 1991, but still ended up in an independent state later that year / by Alexander Nepogodin

Rally on Kaluzhskaya Square in Moscow, timed to the anniversary of the All-Union referendum on March 17, 1991 on the preservation of the USSR. © Sputnik

The seeds of the current political split in Ukraine were sown thirty years ago

Back in early 1991, few thought the disappearance of the Soviet Union from the political map was likely. The results of a huge national referendum held in March indicated as much. Ukraine’s vote exceeded 70%, and public discussion of the joint future for all the socialist republics mainly focused on various forms of a federation.

Even the proponents of Ukrainian independence did not really believe this was within reach. But, by August things started to unravel and, after a failed coup d’état in Moscow, Kiev proclaimed sovereignty.

Both the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic and its peers began to believe the collapse of the country was inevitable and had to be accepted as such. It was then that both Donbass and Crimea began to demand greater autonomy from the central government and more protection of their interests. In this article, RT revisits the six months between the USSR’s landmark referendum and the independence vote in Ukraine that somehow turned out to be enough for the republic’s population to change their minds, and explores the reasons why this outcome both put an end to the world’s largest ever country and sparked off the separatist movement. 

Looking for a Compromise

After 1988, a series of conflicts broke out one after another in different parts of the Soviet Union, creating a lot of tension: in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Transnistria, among others. In politics, at just about the same time, the “parade of sovereignties” began with the Estonian Sovereignty Declaration of November 16, 1988 that proclaimed the supremacy of Tallinn’s laws over those of the USSR. This was followed by a number of other republics, including the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic declaring sovereignty in 1989 and 1990, which in the end played a crucial role it taking the Soviet Union down.

The ensuing struggle between Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR Boris Yeltsin led to the formation of an alternative center of power that ultimately was able to challenge the Kremlin.

RTUSSR President Mikhail Gorbachev meeting Minsk community at the Palace of Culture of the Minsk Tractor Plant named after V. Lenin. M. Gorbachev in Minsk. © Sputnik / Yuri Ivanov

The situation was spiraling and changes appeared irreversible. Lithuania became the first Soviet republic to declare independence: This was enacted on March 11, 1990 by the Supreme Council of the Lithuanian SSR. It became finally clear that all these years, the very existence of the USSR was based on a silent agreement between the republics’ elites. The agreement, however, was seriously shaken by a severe economic crisis triggered by a sudden removal of state monopoly mechanisms, as well as by the rise of separatist movements, plus ethnic conflicts and by a long-overdue need for political change.

In an effort to contain the situation, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev proposed a New Union Treaty that would significantly expand the freedoms and rights of all the Union’s republics. In December 1990, the IV Congress of People’s Deputies, the equivalent of a parliament, voted to hold a referendum on the preservation of the USSR as a renewed confederation of equal sovereign republics and to pen a New Union Treaty. The idea of a confederation was proposed by the “architect of perestroika” Alexander Yakovlev. The proposal was put to a popular vote.

The 1991 Soviet Union referendum remains the only example of actual democracy in the history of the USSR. The ballot was set for March 17, 1991. Citizens had to answer “Yes” or “No” to the question: “Do you consider it necessary to preserve the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as a renewed federation of equal sovereign republics, where human rights and freedoms will be guaranteed to all nationalities?”

A lot of criticism was voiced regarding the vague wording, which allowed the results to be interpreted very broadly. But for most Soviet citizens, the question presented a simple choice between the two options: they had to say whether they are for or against the existence of the Soviet Union. In the course of the preparation for the referendum, it became clear that the USSR as it was no longer existed, as Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Georgia, Moldova and Armenia had declared they would not hold an all-out referendum on their territory. There, votes were held in some designated areas: polling stations worked in a number of organizations, enterprises and military bases.

Some of those republics that agreed to run the referendum made changes. In the Ukrainian SSR, a supplemental question was added to the main one: “Do you agree that Ukraine should be part of the Union of Soviet Sovereign States on the basis of Ukraine’s Sovereignty Declaration?”The republic’s population was en masse not bothered by the inherent conflict within the wording, between the preservation of the USSR and the republic becoming its part as a “sovereign state” based on the 1990 Sovereignty Declaration. That can be easily explained by the fact that nothing really changed after sovereignty was enacted, except some attempts to introduce a new currency.

A total of 113.5 million people, or 76.4% of USSR citizens voted for the preservation of the Soviet Union. The referendum showed that despite the growing disagreements, Soviet people wanted to continue living in one big state. 70% of the Ukrainian SSR’s population were in favor, and 80% said yes to the republic joining the union of sovereign states on the basis of the Sovereignty Declaration. In Ukraine’s western parts, around Lvov, Ivano-Frankovsk and Ternopol, however, the majority of the population voted against the preservation of the USSR.

It did seem at the time that Gorbachev had received the green light to go on with the reforms and get the New Union Treaty signed. However, due to the failed coup d’état attempt by the State Committee for the State of Emergency (GKChP), undertaken between August 18 and 21, 1991, to “stop the policies leading to the liquidation of the Soviet Union,” the New Union Treaty was not signed as scheduled. These events gave impetus to the disintegration process. In a matter of days, between August 20 and 31, 1991, Estonia, Latvia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan declared their independence.

Separatism Inside Out

Thus, the results of the Soviet Union referendum ceased to have any significance five months after it was held. The union’s republics moved on and held independence referendums, one by one. Eventually, on December 1, 1991, Ukraine declared its independence from the Soviet Union. The leadership of the Ukrainian SSR, which until then was still a Soviet republic and part of the Communist Party’s system, had spent those few months since the August 1991 attempted coup d’état waiting for the right moment.

Another factor that played a role was the fact that Gorbachev had Vladimir Ivashko moved from Kiev to Moscow as his new deputy. Ivashko was at the time chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR and head of the Ukrainian Communist Party. Gorbachev’s idea was to strengthen the ties between the leaderships this way and secure more support for himself in his fight against Yeltsin. However, the move backfired: Ivashko, who was a native of Kharkov in Eastern Ukraine, was replaced in the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR by Leonid Kravchuk, a Western Ukrainian, and this only accelerated the disintegration processes.

RTSupporters of presidential candidat Leonid Kravchuk hold his effigy during a pro-independence rally, on November 30, 1991 in Kiev, held before the vote for a referendum and the first presidential elections shedulded for December 1, 1991. © SERGEI SUPINSKI / AFP

When the State Committee for the State of Emergency made its official public announcement of attempting to change the country’s political course on August 19, Kravchuk addressed the people of Ukraine on television with an appeal to “focus on solving the most important problems of the daily life of the republic” and to maintain peace and order. In a conversation with the then Commander-in-Chief of the Ground Forces of the USSR General Varennikov, Kravchuk gave an assurance that he would be able to independently maintain order in the republic. 

With Yeltsin declaring himself Gorbachev’s “deputy” during the coup and acting like a de facto leader of the USSR calling for a “strong Russia,” Ukraine’s leaders realized that the time had come for decisive action. Events in Moscow triggered a lot of activity in Kiev. An emergency meeting of the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR was set for August 24. Deputies Levko Lukyanenko and Leonty Sanduliak wrote a draft Declaration of Independence overnight, but at the meeting it was decided the document was in need of major adjustments. A commission was set up to do this. Among its members were Alexander Moroz, the future head of the Socialist Party of Ukraine for many years to come, and Dmitry Pavlichko, who claimed that he had fought in the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA is recognized as an extremist organization and banned in Russia) and was tasked to join the Komsomol and the Communist Party as an undercover agent for the WW2 Nazi collaborators in order to help sabotage the regime from the inside.

The final draft was a botched job anyway. Moroz later recounted how he’d proposed to remove any words of recognition of Yeltsin’s role from the text of the Declaration of Independence right in Kravchuk’s office: “After our meeting with Kravchuk, I said: let’s remove any wording about Yeltsin’s role in this process, because as time will pass, it will become just awkward. This is a historical document. Everyone agreed, we crossed it out and went to present it for the vote.”

The support was almost unanimous. Even the Communists voted for independence. “[The Communists] voted for Ukraine’s independence because they understood that the imperial games of power in Moscow could end badly for Ukraine, and because the precedent was already set by Vilnius and Tbilisi … It all boiled down to who would take power, Gorbachev or Yeltsin,” Moroz, who would become chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, said later.

Confidence Vote

Nevertheless, most Ukrainians didn’t want to break up the country, severing economic and political ties with Russia – the two republics had close connections, including the familial ones. At the March referendum that was held in the USSR the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians voted for keeping the Soviet Union. That’s why Kravchuk and his government needed to rally people’s support ahead of the referendum on Ukrainian independence to undermine the legitimacy of the USSR vote.

There was another factor that contributed to the success of this scenario – Yeltsin, concerned with staying in power, benefited from Ukraine’s declared independence and the referendum. It made signing the renewed Union Treaty impossible, which would inevitably strip Gorbachev of his power and throw him out of the equation in the eyes of the Communist party elites, as well as regular Soviet people.  

The plan of the Ukrainian authorities was successful. Almost 85% of registered Ukrainians voted in the referendum held on December 1, 1991. Only one question was asked – about the declaration of independence. The overwhelming majority (90%) said ‘yes’ to gaining independence. The numbers spoke for themselves. 83.9% of Donetsk residents voted ‘yes,’ 83.9% in Lugansk, 86.3% in Kharkov, and 85.4% in Odessa. Crimea had the lowest score in that respect, only 54.2% of people supported the independence scenario. 

RTParticipants in the ‘First Crimea-wide gathering of Cossack people’ are on Lenin Square in Simferopol on the fourth anniversary of the Crimean referendum on joining the Russian Federation. © Sputnik / Maks Vetrov

To this day, Ukrainian politicians use those numbers as proof that this was a time when the people came together in their nation-building ambitions. In reality, the overwhelming support of Ukraine’s independence even in the “pro-Russian” regions came as a surprise to many at the time. There were several reasons for the massive ‘yes’ vote, however.  

First off, people were promised that all ties with Russia would stay intact and there would be no boundaries, cultural or otherwise, between the two states. The authorities also ensured the citizens that the Russian language would be protected. Kravchuk himself said this on a number of occasions. Nobody expected that there would be immediate borders dividing Russia and Ukraine. Subjectively, citizens of the two republics didn’t want a breakup, but they wanted strong power, which the Kremlin couldn’t demonstrate, so Ukrainians thought that there would be more order if the republic gained sovereignty. Many hoped that nothing would really change in the grand scheme of things, while Ukraine’s independence would result in its prosperity. Propaganda promised economic growth comparable to that of Germany and France. After all, before the fall of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was the European leader in steelmaking, coal and ironstone mining, as well as sugar production.

People were completely disoriented after the “parade of sovereignties” and August Coup. Another important factor is that the referendum was held at the same time as the presidential campaign, which Kravchuk won. Many didn’t necessarily vote for independence, they voted for the “boss,” which was the usual MO for the Soviet people. These were the same people who said yes to keeping the Soviet Union earlier, in 1991. And nine months later they chose Kravchuk and Ukraine’s independence. 

The referendum on Ukraine’s independence killed the scenario of an updated Soviet Union. The USSR soon disappeared from the map. In his comments on the referendum results, Yeltsin clearly stated that “without Ukraine, the union treaty would make no sense.” At that point, 13 out of the 15 republics had already declared independence and held similar referendums (Russia and Kazakhstan were the only ones that hadn’t done it). The events in Ukraine weren’t shocking, but they put an end to the dream of another union. Ukraine was the second most important republic and without it Gorbachev or Yeltsin had no union to rule over.

Cost of Independence

Nevertheless, even after the results of the December 5 referendum were announced Yeltsin met privately with Gorbachev to discuss the prospects of the Soviet Union. On the same day, during his inauguration, Kravchuk promised that Ukraine wouldn’t join any political unions, but would build bilateral relations with the former Soviet republics. He said that his country would be independent in its foreign policy and institute its own army and currency. The New Union Treaty was never signed, and on December 8, 1991, Belarus, Russia and Ukraine put their signatures under the famous Belovezh Accords, instituting the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). This was the final nail in the Soviet Union’s coffin.

Later Leonid Kuchma, the second President of Ukraine, admitted that the Ukrainians had been misled ahead of the referendum: “We weren’t completely honest with the people when we said that Ukraine had been feeding Russia. In our estimates, we just used global prices on everything we manufactured, but we didn’t take into account the cost of products supplied by Russia for free. In 1989, our Economy Institute published a report about the Russia-Ukraine pay balance, and it ended up being negative for Ukraine. Ukraine paid for oil and gas less than for tea or water. The country was forced to sober up when Russia switched to the global prices in trade. This resulted in hyperinflation, the scale of which couldn’t compare to any other former Soviet republics.”

Already in the beginning of the 1990s local authorities began to realize that it wasn’t just the issue of economic growth that was presented in a misleading way. During the independence campaign, it was clearly stated that Ukraine would respect the rights of Russian and Russian-speaking citizens, that everyone would be equal and there would be no discrimination. In the end of 1991, Kravchuk promised that forced “Ukrainianization” would not be allowed, and his government would “take decisive action” against any ethnic discrimination. 

In 1990, after the Ukrainian legislators declared sovereignty, the Crimean parliament scheduled a referendum on the peninsula’s legal status and re-establishing the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. It took place on January 20, and 94% of Crimeans voted for creating an autonomy within the USSR.  

However, Crimea didn’t turn into a conflict zone in 1991. The Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic even passed legislation granting the peninsula its autonomous status, but within Ukraine. Russia didn’t do anything about it because it was busy dealing with its own problems and the fight between Gorbachev and Yeltsin. The government of Crimea was also satisfied, since it got the right to its own constitution, president and guarantees for ethnic Russians. 

However, Crimea was not the only region striving for autonomy – other Ukrainian territories also wanted political independence. The International Movement of Donbass lobbied for autonomous status for the Donetsk region, and it even had a scenario in which the Donetsk–Krivoy Rog Republic would be re-established. This was formed in 1918 as part of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and included the Kharkov, Dnepropetrovsk and Donetsk regions.

Ukrainian authorities were able to avert the crisis at the time by passing a law that criminalized activities aimed at undermining Ukraine’s territorial integrity – this could now cost a perpetrator up to 10 years in prison. The government also promised that the Russian language would be equal to Ukrainian in its state-language status, but this never happened; the legislation never went through, even though, according to Kravchuk, independent Ukraine “was going to be a state for Ukrainians, Russians and other ethnic groups.”

In the following years, Kravchuk, Kuchma and their successors in office greatly disappointed the Russian-speaking communities of southeastern Ukraine – especially in Donbass and Crimea. After a prolonged political crisis, failed promises to Russian-speaking Ukrainians and two major Western-backed street uprisings (the 2004 Orange Revolution and the 2014 Euromaidan), 22 years and 364 days after the first referendum, the Crimean Autonomous Republic held its last referendum, during which it chose to be reunited with Russia. The Donbass had fought for autonomy since 1991, and now it decided to follow its own way as well, different from that of Ukraine.

Alexander Nepogodin, аn Odessa-born political journalist, expert on Russia and the former Soviet Union.

RT, August 10, 2022,

Alexandra Kollontai at 150: International Communist leader and fighter for women’s liberation / by Jenny Farrell

Alexandra Kollontai. | Public Domain

Born 150 years ago, Alexandra Kollontai was an outstanding figure in the Russian communist movement. As People’s Commissar for Social Affairs in Soviet Russia, Kollontai was the first woman in history to serve in a government cabinet.

Alexandra Kollontai, born 150 years ago on March 31, 1872, was an outstanding figure in the Russian communist movement. In exile, she was internationally active as a speaker and author. In Germany, she became friendly with Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, and Clara Zetkin. As People’s Commissar for Social Affairs, Kollontai was the first woman in history to serve in a government cabinet. From 1922, she was the USSR’s first ambassador to Norway and Sweden.

Kollontai came from a wealthy St. Petersburg family. Her father was descended from Ukrainian landowners and later became a general in the Imperial Russian Army. Her mother was the daughter of a Finnish timber merchant and a Russian noblewoman. As a child, Alexandra (Shura) spent many summers on the family estate in Finland. She was fluent in Russian, Finnish, English, German, and French, language skills that not only benefited the revolutionary movement but later also the Soviet diplomatic service. Within the Russian communist movement, she fought for women’s rights and was also instrumental in the social legislation of the early Soviet republic.

Kollontai’s active political work began when she gave workers evening classes in St. Petersburg in 1894. Through this, she became part of the Political Red Cross, an organization supporting political prisoners, which worked partly underground. August Bebel’s Woman and Socialism left a deep impression in 1895 and influenced her future thinking and work.

In 1896, Kollontai experienced her first direct encounter with capitalist industry in a large St. Petersburg textile factory. Shortly afterwards, she participated in leafleting and fundraising campaigns in support of a mass strike in the textile industry. The 1896 strikes consolidated her certainty of the need for proletarian revolution. In 1899, she joined the illegally operating Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP).

In 1905, she began to turn actively to the women’s question. Her work The Social Basis of the Woman Question was the first major exposition by a Russian Marxist on the subject. In it, she not only advocated the overthrow of the capitalist system, but she also explained the need to restructure the family itself in order to achieve true emancipation.

Between 1905 and 1908, Kollontai organized women workers in Russia to fight for their own interests against capitalists, against bourgeois feminism, and against conservatism and patriarchy in the socialist organizations. She thus laid the foundation for a mass movement.

Like many Russian socialists, Kollontai remained neutral during the split between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks in 1903. In 1904, she joined the Bolshevik faction and gave courses on Marxism for them. In 1905, she joined Trotsky, leaving the Bolsheviks in 1906 over the question of boycotting the elections to the undemocratically-elected Duma, where she believed it was nevertheless possible to stand up for left-wing demands and expose the government’s machinations.

Between 1900 and 1920, Kollontai was considered the RSDLP’s leading expert on the “Finnish question.” She wrote two books, numerous articles, and was an adviser to RSDLP members in the Tsarist Duma as well as a liaison with Finnish revolutionaries. In 1908, when she advocated Finland’s right to armed insurrection against the Tsarist Empire, she was forced into exile.

From the end of 1908 until 1917, Kollontai lived in exile. In the period before the First World War, she traveled to the U.S., Britain, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, and Switzerland. Her autobiographical sketch Autobiography of a Sexually Emancipated Communist Woman reads:

I lived in Europe and America until the overthrow of Czarism in 1917. As soon as I arrived in Germany, after my flight, I joined the German Social Democratic Party in which I had many personal friends, among whom I especially numbered Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Kautsky. Clara Zetkin also had a great influence on my activity in defining the principles of the women-workers movement in Russia. Already in 1907, I had taken part, as a delegate from Russia, in the first International Conference of Socialist Women that was held in Stuttgart. This gathering was presided over by Clara Zetkin and it made an enormous contribution to the development of the women-workers movement along Marxist lines.”

Long before the war, Kollontai began to agitate tirelessly against the threat of war. At a speech in Stockholm on May 1, 1912, she declared:

“The capitalists always say: ‘We must arm ourselves because we are threatened by war!’ And they point to their sacred symbols: militarism on land, militarism on the high seas, and militarism in the air. They summon the specter of war in order to put it between themselves and the red specter. They call for war in order to free themselves from the specter of social revolution.

“But the International answers them with one united call: ‘Down with war!’ The workers know that behind the threat of war there stands the capitalist state that wants to burden the people with new taxes, there stands the war industry that wants to increase its profits.”

Kollontai depicted on a 1972 stamp issued in the Soviet Union.

She also became involved in the anti-war movement in Germany and Austria. She was in the Reichstag when the war credits were voted for in August 1914:

“Only Karl Liebknecht, his wife Sofie Liebknecht, and a few other German Party comrades, like myself, espoused the same standpoint and, like myself, considered it a socialist’s duty to struggle against the war. Strange to say, I was present in the Reichstag on August 4, the day the war budget was being voted on. The collapse of the German Socialist Party struck me as a calamity without parallel. I felt utterly alone and found comfort only in the company of the Liebknechts. With the help of some German Party friends I was able to leave Germany with my son in August of 1914 and emigrate to the Scandinavian peninsula.”

In Sweden, she was imprisoned for anti-war propaganda. After her release, in February 1915, she went to Norway where, together with Alexander Schlapnikov, she served as a link between Switzerland, where Lenin and the Central Committee were staying, and Russia. In June 1915, she broke with the Mensheviks and officially rejoined the Bolsheviks. In September 1915, she was centrally involved in the organization of the Zimmerwald Peace Conference. Her paper Who Needs the War? (1915) was translated into several languages and circulated in countless editions and millions of copies. She made two lecture tours of the USA, attended a memorial service for Joe Hill in Seattle, and spoke from the same platform as Eugene Debs in Chicago.

With the outbreak of the February Revolution in 1917, Kollontai returned to Russia and advocated a clear policy of non-support for the provisional government. She was elected a member of the Central Committee of the Petrograd Soviet. Kollontai continued to agitate for revolution in Russia and began her involvement with the Bolshevik women’s newspaper Rabotnitsa (РаботницаWoman Worker), urging the Bolsheviks and the trade unions to pay more attention to the organization of women workers. In May 1917, she took part in the strike of women laundry workers demanding the communalization of all laundries. The industrial action lasted six weeks, but the Kerensky regime failed to meet the workers’ demands.

After the revolution, Kollontai was elected Commissar for Social Affairs in the new Soviet government. Kollontai’s description in the Autobiography gives a vivid impression of her work in the complete transformation of the first revolutionary period:

“My main work as People’s Commissar consisted in the following: by decree to improve the situation of the war-disabled, to abolish religious instruction in the schools for young girls which were under the Ministry (…), and to transfer priests to the civil service, to introduce the right of self-administration for pupils in the schools for girls, to reorganize the former orphanages into government Children’s Homes (…), to set up the first hostels for the needy and street-urchins, to convene a committee, composed only of doctors, which was to be commissioned to elaborate the free public health system for the whole country.

“In my opinion, the most important accomplishment of the People’s Commissariat, however, was the legal foundation of a Central Office for Maternity and Infant Welfare. The draft of the bill relating to this Central Office was signed by me in January of 1918. A second decree followed in which I changed all maternity hospitals into free Homes for Maternity and Infant Care, in order thereby to set the groundwork for a comprehensive government system of prenatal care. (…) 

“A special fury gripped the religious followers of the old regime when, on my own authority (the cabinet later criticized me for this action), I transformed the famous Alexander Nevsky monastery into a home for war invalids. The monks resisted and a shooting fray ensued. The press again raised a loud hue and cry against me. The Church organized street demonstrations against my action and also pronounced ‘anathema’ against me…”

In 1918, Kollontai opposed the ratification of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and resigned from the government so as not to jeopardize the unity of the Commissariat by her opposition on such a crucial question. The treaty meant the loss of large European territories, including Finland and Ukraine, for Soviet Russia. With this position, she opposed Lenin, for whom peace was a priority.

Kollontai, center, at the Congress of the Peoples of the East in Baku, 1920. | Soviet Archives

She remained active as an agitator and organizer, however, and played a key role in organizing the First All-Russian Congress of Women Workers and Peasants, serving in leading posts and founding the Women’s Committee (Zhendotel/Женотдел) of the Communist Party in 1919 together with Inessa Armand and Nadezhda Krupskaya. This body directed its work towards improving the living conditions of women throughout the Soviet Union, combating illiteracy, and educating women about the new marriage, education, and labor laws. In Soviet Central Asia, the Zhenotdel sought to improve the lives of Muslim women through literacy, education, and ‘unveiling’ campaigns.

The Zhenotdel also introduced abortion legalization for the first time in history, in November 1920. In one of several writings on the status of women, Kollontai wrote in 1919 in Sexual Relations and the Class Struggle about her vision of a truly free society in which equality is not solely legislated, but is only achieved:

“when their psyche has a sufficient store of ‘feelings of consideration,’ when their ability to love is greater, when the idea of freedom in personal relationships becomes fact and when the principle of ‘comradeship’ triumphs over the traditional idea of inequality and submission. The sexual problems cannot be solved without this radical re-education of our psyche.”

Alexandra Kollontai speaks at the International Congress of Communist Women in Moscow in 1921. The photo appeared in the 1922 book ‘Histoire des Soviets (History of the Soviets)’, published in France. | British Library

In 1921, she came into conflict with the Communist Party and Lenin directly when she publicly declared her support for the Workers’ Opposition, a grouping against party centralism. The grouping was dissolved and Kollontai remained in critical opposition within the party.

In 1922, at her own request, she entered the Soviet diplomatic service first in Norway, then in Mexico, then again in Norway and Sweden. She comments:

“Naturally this appointment created a great sensation since, after all, it was the first time in history that a woman was officially active as an ‘ambassador.’ (…) Nevertheless, I set myself the task of effecting the de jure recognition of Soviet Russia and of re-establishing normal trade relations between the two countries which had been broken by the war and the revolution. (…) On February 15, 1924, Norway in fact recognized the USSR de jure.”

Alexandra Kollontai also acted as a negotiator of the 1940 Finnish-Soviet peace treaty and served the USSR with great sensitivity. Until her retirement in 1945 on health grounds, Kollontai lived abroad as a diplomat. Thereafter, and until her death on March 9, 1952, she served the Soviet Foreign Ministry as an advisor.

Dr. Jenny Farrell was born in Berlin. She has lived in Ireland since 1985, working as a lecturer in Galway Mayo Institute of Technology. Her main fields of interest are Irish and English poetry and the work of William Shakespeare. She writes for Culture Matters and for Socialist Voice, the newspaper of the Communist party of Ireland.

People’s World, March 31, 2022,