Love of Worker Bees is a collection of short stories, written by Alexandra Kollontai, a female Bolshevik leader. The stories are set during the era of NEP. NEP is the period between the end of the Civil War and the onslaught of collectivization and rapid industrialization in late 1929. The term “NEP” itself is defined as a series of new economic policies introduced by the Bolsheviks in the spring of 1921. This period brought about change in the status of the family, working-class women, and in the relations between men and women. The two short stories “Vasilisa Malygina” and “Three Generations” reveal women’s evolving needs during the NEP period. In Love of Worker Bees, the author is voicing the dreams, the fears and the fragile confusions of women involved in the process of changing their lives. In the first story, “Vasilisa Malygina,” the author argues against the traditional belief in marriage and childrearing. In the second story, “Three Generations,” the author portrays confusion of three women involved in the process of changing their lives in Communist society. The two stories reflect debates over marriage, abortion, orientation towards the collective, and sexuality.
In the first short story, called “Vasilisa Malygina,” Alexandra Kolontai introduces Vasilisa Malygina, a working girl of twenty-eight, who is employed in a knitters shop. Vasilisa is a Communist and joins the Bolsheviks in 1920. She is a committed worker for the Bolshevik Party. In the story, Vasilisa often lashes out at her party friends: “Why should women’s matters be considered any less important than other things? How could you ever hope to have a successful revolution without enlisting women?” (Kollontai 22) Vasilisa concerns herself seriously with the relationship of feminism to socialism. “Winning over the women, that’s half the battle” is what she always says in her speeches and debates (Kollontai 22). The Bolsheviks strongly emphasize waged labor as a prerequisite for women’s liberation, because the struggle to incorporate female labor into the working-class movement was central to working-class women’s equality during the NEP period. In 1901, about 26% of all production workers were women; by 1914 the number increased to almost 32%; by 1917, 40%, and by the end of the civil war in 1920, close to 46% (Goldman 110). The Bolshevik Party believed that only a separate wage could offer women economic independence and access to a wider public world.
The Bolshevik Party also imposed
ideas of free unions in the Soviet Union.
The first Marriage Code was issued in 1918. It substituted civil for religious
marriages. The code established the right to divorce at the request
of either spouse. Divorce, like marriage, became a simple civil procedure.
This becomes the case in Vasilisa’s marriage to Comrade Vladimir, in the
story, “Vasilisa Malygina.” Vasilisa discovers a love letter written
to her husband, Voldya, by his mistress, Nina Konstantinovna. She decides
to write back to Nina, stating, “Vladimir and I had a common-law marriage,
so there’ll be no need for divorce” (Kollontai
176). She no longer desires to
remain Vladimir’s wife, because she cannot cope with his adulterous behavior
and his bourgeois lifestyle. Under his roof, Vasilisa turns into a worthless
“nepwoman” of a “nepman.” “Nepmen” are
the new directors (bourgeoisie) who prosper under the new economy by controlling
small enterprises under the NEP. The Bolsheviks think of them as potential
challengers and future leaders of a return to capitalism. Vasilisa is not
willing to be a director’s wife, because she does not wish to live a bourgeois
life. Her love and sympathy remain “with the working-people" (Kollontai
180). The marital behavior became looser under
the new code, limiting the absolute patriarchal authority wielded by husbands.
Bolsheviks believed that the freedom to divorce was essential to the freedom
of the individual. The right to divorce was considered particularly
important to women, whose true feelings and abilities were often suppressed
by the unbreakable bonds of marriage.