(In 48 Years' Time)

by Alexandra Kollontai

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

written 1922

collected in —
Selected Writings of Alexandra Kollontai
edited and translated by Alix Holt

Norton: New York, 1977 July 2004

A utopian vision of Alexandra Kollontai

[Commune Ten, in the Soviet world federation.]

7 January 1970. It's warm and bright, and there is a lively and festive atmosphere in the "House of Rest" where the veterans of the "Great Years" of the world revolution spend their days.

The veterans decided that on the day that had once been Christmas Day they would recall their childhood and youth by decorating a tree. A real fir tree just like in the years before the world upheavals. ...

Alexandra Kollontai (1872-1952) was an early agitator for women's rights through socialism and for a general world socialist revolution; she was the only woman member of the Bolshevik Central Committee, Lenin's government, as the Communist revolution in Russia began.

"Soon (In 48 Years' Time)" is a short science-fiction story written in 1922.

Stories of utopias often show children as a primary goal and reason for whatever process brought about the fair world order: these children are ever so strong, bright, cheerful, and productive. While in dystopian stories, the children are of course stunted, sickly, dull, and woeful.

The world of "Soon" is a utopia, and Kollontai shares a glimpse of the not-too-distant Communist future — 48 years forward from 1922, that is in 1970 — when the comfortable and peaceable world has been realized. Communal child-raising has erased traditional failures and sorrows. The defeated and supplanted capitalist dystopia remains only in museum exhibits and the memories of the old folks, like the "red grandmother" and other surviving veterans of the world revolution.

The immediate hopefulness of 1922

"Soon" works well as a children's story, a complement to her other fiction as well as essays and speeches on personal and familial relations, such as "Sexual Relations and the Class Struggle", "Communism and the Family", and "Make Way for Winged Eros: A Letter to Working Youth". The Alexandra Kollontai Archive section of the Marxists Internet Archive has a substantial selection of her writings, but not "Soon".

To readers of today, "Soon" conveys a sense of immediate hopefulness in the early years of the Soviet revolution, with more immediacy that we can now retrieve from speeches or histories. A hopeful vision, in 1922.

We may wonder how many of the surviving "red grandmothers" have memories so warm. I find an interesting contrast in Robert A. Heinlein's fictional portrayal of a libertarian grandmother in the brave and memorable Hazel Stone of The Rolling Stones, who was a girl revolutionary in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. Heinlein's enterprising young people do not forget where liberty comes from, or that the struggle from time to time must be renewed.

Children in the grip of the State

Communism in practice, within the many prison zones

Small children were "arrested" along with their parents too. One woman prisoner, arrested in the 1920s, wrote an acid letter of complaint to Dzerzhinsky, thanking him for "arresting" her three-year-old son ... Hundreds of thousands of children were effectively arrested, along with their parents, during the two great waves of deportation, the first of the kulaks in the early 1930s, the second of "enemy" ethnic and national groups during and after the Second World War....

Many years later, a child of deported kulaks recalled his ordeal on the cattle trains: "People became wild ... How many days we traveled, I have no idea. In the wagon, seven people died of hunger." ...

Evgeniya Ginzburg [a political prisoner in the far North of the USSR] ... worked in a camp nursery, and found, upon arrival, that even the older children could not yet speak ...

When Ginzburg tried to teach her new charges, she found that only one or two, those who had maintained some contact with their mothers, were able to learn anything. And even their experience was very limited:

"Look," I said to Anastas, showing him the little house I had drawn. "What's this?"

"Barrack," the little boy replied quite promptly.

With a few pencil strokes I put a cat alongside the house. But no one recognized it, not even Anastas. They had never seen this rare animal. Then I drew a traditional rustic fence around the house.

"And what's this?"

"Zona!" Vera cried out delightedly.

Anne Applebaum
Gulag: A History
If not soon, when?

Postcard art - Soviet astro Santa Claus, 1975 (small)

Alexandra Kollontai was spared in Stalin's great purges of Communist leaders, and died the year before Stalin's own death. After the Soviet collapse, the contrast of Kollontai's little vision with the history of Communist reality — utopia in power — may be less heart-breaking.

If not in 1922 for the children — while the Communist breeze still felt fresh to many in the Soviet Union — if not at hand right then in 1922, after how many years of Communism will the Soviet children's cheerful days arrive?


© 2004 Robert Wilfred Franson

Cosmonaut Santa Claus
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Soviet postcard, 1975

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