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One of the most powerful women connected with the Bolshevik Revolution was Inessa Stephane Armand (1874-1920), a close confidante of Vladimir Lenin. The Paris-born daughter of a British comedienne and French opera singer, Armand grew up in Moscow, joining the Soviet Democratic Labour Party in 1903, and was arrested for her illegal distribution of propaganda 1907. She escaped from prison and went into exile in Paris, where she met Lenin. After her return to Russia, she became an important Boshevik organizer; arrested again, she escaped to Galicia (Ukraine) where she lived for a time with Lenin. According to rumors, she had an affair with Lenin at this time. While in Switzerland, she formed the International Conference of Socialist Women (1915) before returning with Lenin to Petrograd following the abdication of Czar Nicolas. Following the October Revolution, she became a member of the Moscow Soviet (council) and director of the Zhenotdel, the women's branch of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union until her death of cholera in 1920.
Another prominent Bolshevik woman was Alexandra Kollontai (1872-1952). The daughter of a Ukrainian cavalry general with a keen interest in history and who favoured a constitutional monarchy, Kollontai was reading radical Marxist and populist literature by the mid-1890s. She favoured Marxist theory, and in 1899, returning to Russia after studying abroad following the failure of her marriage, she met Lenin. She became a member of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) in that same year.
When the RSDLP split into the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks in 1903, Kollontai sided with neither faction, and did not officially join the Bolsheviks until 1915. She witnessed the events of Bloody Sunday and the 1905 revolution in St Petersburg, and was exiled to Germany in 1908 after publishing Finland and Socialism, in which she encouraged the Finns to rise up against Russian oppression. She left Germany on the outbreak of World War I and travelled in Europe, returning to Russia in 1917 after the abdication of Nicholas II.
Kollontai's role in government commenced in October 1917, when she became the People's Commissar for Social Welfare (and the first female government minister in Europe). The most prominent woman in the Soviet administration, Kollontai fought for women's rights within the Soviet Union.
Politically sidelined because of her involvement in the left-wing Workers' Opposition movement, she thereafter lacked influence in government, and was appointed Soviet ambassador to Norway in 1923 (becoming the first female ambassador in the modern era). She was later the ambassador to Mexico (1926-1927) and then Sweden (1930-1945). She was also a member of the Soviet delegation to the League of Nations. Alexandra Kollontai died in 1952, less than a month short of her eightieth birthday.
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