A review of A.K. 47: 47 Selections from the Works of Alexandra Kollontai
In this ongoing podcast, Kristen Ghodsee (author of 12 books including Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism & Everyday Utopia) reads and discusses 47 selections from the works of Alexandra Kollontai (1872-1952), a socialist women’s activist who had radical ideas about the intersections of socialism and women’s emancipation.
Sounds fairly dry perhaps, but those familiar with Kollontai (or Ghodsee for that matter) will know this means they’re in for a wild ride. Portrayed as a dangerous sex-radical and then intentionally shoved into obscurity, Alexandra Kollontai was a true Red Valkyrie who warrants today’s feminists’ attention.
Ghodsee gives a brief overview of her subject: “Born into aristocratic privilege, the Ukrainian-Finnish Kollontai was initially a member of the Mensheviks before she joined Lenin and the Bolsheviks and became an important revolutionary figure during the 1917 Russian Revolution. Kollontai was a socialist theorist of women’s emancipation and a strident proponent of sexual relations freed from all economic considerations.
After the October Revolution, Kollontai became the Commissar of Social Welfare and helped to found the Zhenotdel (the women’s section of the Party). She oversaw a wide variety of legal reforms [including legalization of abortion] and public policies to help liberate working women and to create the basis of a new socialist sexual morality. But Russians were not ready for her vision of emancipation, and she was sent away to Norway to serve as the first Russian female ambassador (and only the third female ambassador in the world).”
For the podcast, Ghodsee selects excerpts from Kollontai’s essays, speeches, and fiction and puts them in context. Her analysis is not free from critique and includes input from firsthand sources during Kollontai’s day and present-day perspectives from scholars, artists, and activists. Ghodsee’s breadth and depth of knowledge combined with her down to earth, accessible style somehow also leaves much room for big utopian ideas and imagination. Some of my favorite episodes are co-hosted with Ghodsee’s teenage daughter, who has inherited Mom’s intelligence and seems to possess a fearless honesty. Her “manifesto of fun” is a must listen.
Like all good podcasts, there’s an element of parasocial connection that develops for the committed listener. If started from episode one, listenerds like me will travel through the past few years and relive the covid19 pandemic and the overturn of Roe v Wade through Ghodsee’s eyes, as well as other personal journeys like empty-nest syndrome, the pressures of work, and losing a pet. As we try to inhabit our own visions of better worlds while also living in this world, it is a welcome gift to be able to peer into the everyday life of others engaged in the balancing act of praxis. Community is a powerful tonic, even across the divides of time and space bridged by a podcast.
For example, I read Everyday Utopia (which I also highly recommend) before I knew about the podcast. Going back in time by listening to episodes that were recorded while that book was being written, I felt like I was witnessing the book’s development as a defiance against the shock, fear, and sadness of Covid. I thought about my own reactions and efforts during that time, and those of others, to tap into resilience and find ways of coming together through crisis. Understanding Everyday Utopia from this perspective, a radical feminist response to a disconnected world in despair, gave me one of those smiles way down deep inside – I recognized my own struggle in it and felt strength in community. What a marvelous transmutation, spinning hope from despair – and in Ghodsee style, with all the well-researched history and practice that our hardened hearts and bruised imaginations require, providing a solid footing from which to dream and to change.
A.K. 47 is one of my all-time favorite podcasts, and not just for the juicy feminist history and mind-freeing utopian vision and strategy. My final reviewer’s take – it’s just good vibes. A lot of media seems to either be entertaining or educational. We all have guilty pleasures and engage in escapism to cope, and then we might take in some news, analysis, history, or science. There is rarely something that satisfies both the desire for enjoyment and for learning as well as listening to A.K. 47 does. It is a true pleasure and a joy, leaving me refreshed and thinking long after each short episode is finished.
Against today’s rightward currents, it is essential to find ways of connecting through our most human and therefore, most common experiences. In what better realms to find and explore shared desires for liberation than in kinship, love, sex, & everyday life?
To echo A.K. 47’s battle cry: as always, keep up the good fight!
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