(1872-1952)-a member of the Russian revolutionary movement since the
1890s, an active participant in the October battles of 1917. She knew
After the Revolution, was Peo-ple's Commissar of State Social Insurance,
secretary of the International Women's Secretariat under the aegis
of the Comintern, a diplomat and an ambassador of the Soviet State
in Norway, Mexico and Sweden.
Alexandra Kollontai's memoirs of the 1917 Revolution and of Lenin
have been published many times in the Soviet Union. In recent years,
they have been used as. the basis for plays and film scripts about
the heroic October days.
To see the photos and other information
go to the Lenin Museum
THE FIRST BENEFIT
October 1917 was windy, the sky grey and overcast. The wind thrashed
the tops of the trees in the garden of the Smolny Institute, and in the
building with the endless maze of passages and its big, light, scantily
furnished halls, the work going on was of an intensity such as the world
had never before witnessed.
Two days before, power had passed into the hands of the Soviets. The Winter
Palace was occupied by workers and soldiers. Kerensky's government no
longer existed. We all realised, however, that this was only the first
rung of that difficult ladder leading to the emancipation of the working
people and to the creation of a new, hitherto unknown, republic of labour.
The Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party was squeezed into a little
side room with a plain table in the middle, newspapers on the windows
and on the floor, and a few chairs. I do not remember what brought me
there, but I do remember that Vladimir Ilyich did not even give me a chance
to ask my question. When he saw me he decided immediately that I ought
to do something far more useful than I had intended to.
"Go immediately and take over the Ministry of Social Security. That
has to be done at once."
Vladimir Ilyich was quite calm, almost merry. He joked about something
and then straight away began talking to some other people.
I do not remember why I went there alone; but I remember very well the
damp October day when I drove up to the doors of the Ministry of Social
Security in Kazanskaya Street. A tall, grey-bearded, impressive-looking
porter with lots of gold braid opened the door and looked me over from
head to foot.
"Who's in charge here?" I asked him.
"Reception hours for applicants are over," snapped the important-looking,
gold-braided old man.
"I'm not here about any application for aid. Which of the chief clerks
"I told you in plain Russian-applicants are received from one to
three; look, it's past four already."
I insisted and he reiterated his refusal. Nothing was any help. Reception
hours were over. He had been ordered not to let anyone in.
I tried to go upstairs despite the prohibition, but the stubborn old man
stood like a wall in front of me and would not allow me to take a step
And so I went away empty-handed. I had to hurry to a meeting. In those
days meetings were the most important thing, they were basic. There, among
the urban poor and the soldiers the question of "to be or not to
be" was being decided, whether the workers and peasants in army uniforms
would be able to maintain Soviet power or whether the bourgeoisie would
gain the upper hand.
Very early the next morning there came a ring at the door of the flat
in which I had been staying after my release from Kerensky's prison. It
was an insistent ring. The door was opened. There stood a typical peasant-sheepskin
coat, bast shoes, beard, all complete.
"Is it here that Kollontai, commissar from the people, lives? I have
to see him. I have a note to him from their chief Bolshevik, from Lenin."
I looked at the scrap of paper and saw that it really was written in Lenin's
"Pay him out of the social security fund whatever is due to him for
In his unhurried, peasant way he told me the whole story. At the time
of the tsar, just before the February Revolution, his horse had been requisitioned
for war purposes. He had been promised "good value" for his
horse. But time passed and there was no sign of any recompense. So the
peasant came to Petrograd and for two months had been haunting the institutions
of the Provisional Government. No results. The old man was chased here
and there, from one office to another, he had no patience and no money
left. Then he suddenly heard about some people called Bolsheviks, heard
that they were giving back to the workers and peasants everything the
tsar and the landowners had taken away from them and everything the people
had been robbed of during the war. The only thing you needed was a note
from the chief Bolshevik, from Lenin. And our peasant found Vladimir Ilyich
in Smolny, woke him up long before dawn and managed to get a note from
him. It was this note that he had shown me, but he had no intention of
giving it up.
"I'll give it to you when I get the money. In the meantime I'll keep
it - that's the surer way."
What was I to do with that peasant and his horse? The ministry was still
in the hands of the Provisional Government's civil servants. Those were
strange times-power was in the hands of the Soviets, the Council of People's
Commissars was a Bolshevik body, but the government institutions continued
to run on the political rails of the Provisional Government, like railway
coaches running away downhill.
How were we to take over the ministry? By force? The clerks would run
away and I would be left without any staff.
We arrived at a different decision. We summoned a delegate meeting of
the trade unions of junior (technical) employees under the chairmanship
of Ivan Yegorov, a mechanic. This was rather a special trade union. It
consisted of people of different trades, of all those who were employed
at the ministry in a purely technical capacity-messengers, nurses, stokers,
book-keepers, copyists, mechanics, printers and caretakers.
They discussed the situation. They discussed it in a businesslike manner.
They elected a council and next morning went to occupy the ministry.
We went in. The porter in gold braid did not sympathise with the Bolsheviks
and had not attended the meeting. He disapproved but allowed us to pass.
As we went upstairs, we were met by a flood of people coming down-clerks,
typists, accountants, heads of departments... What a hurry they were in!
They would not even spare us a glance. We came in and the staff went out.
The sabotage by officials of the civil service had begun. Only a few people
remained. They said they were prepared to work with us, with the Bolsheviks.
We entered the ministerial offices and the general offices. All empty.
Typewriters had been abandoned, papers were lying about everywhere. The
books had been cleared away. Locked up. And no keys. No keys to the safes,
Who had them? How could we work without money? Social security is an institution
whose work cannot be held up; it includes orphanages, and disabled soldiers,
and artificial limb factories, and hospitals, and sanatoriums, and leper
colonies, and reformatories, and girls' institutes, and homes for the
blind... A tremendous field of work! Demands and complaints come in from
all sides... And no keys! The most persistent of all was that peasant
with a note from Lenin. Every morning he was at the door by daybreak.
"What about paying me for me horse? A fine animal, it was. If it
hadn't been so strong and hard-working I wouldn't have taken so much trouble
over getting paid."
Two days later the keys turned up. The first payment made from the social
security fund by the People's Commissariat of Social Security was compensation
for a horse that the tsarist government had confiscated from a peasant
by force and by deception and for which that persistent peasant received
payment in full in accordance with his note from Lenin.
To see the photos and other information about Lenin
and Russian revolution go to
the Lenin Museum