Women of the world unite!

Throughout late February and early March 1920, Marguerite Harrison interviewed numerous Soviet officials, including some powerful women. Today is International Women’s Day, so it’s fitting to acknowledge these female revolutionaries.

Among those was Angelica Balabanova, the secretary of the Third International, the organization of Communists from around the world. Balabanova and Harrison had much in common. They had both been born into privileged families and suffered under domineering mothers. Balabanova gave Harrison a ticket to the annual meeting of the Communist Party and introduced her to the eccentric Alexandra Kollontai.

Dressed in a green velvet gown and matching slippers, Kollontai greeted Marguerite and espoused her views on free love and child rearing, including the belief that children should be the property of the state.

Alexandra Kollantai

In early March, Harrison for the first time saw Vladimir Lenin when he spoke at the opening session of the Moscow Soviet. Her initial reaction was one of disappointment. He was rather short, overweight and totally average looking. “After his first words, however, I became absorbed in his speech. His tremendous sincerity, utter self-confidence and the forcefulness of his personality fascinated me,” she later wrote.

Over several weeks, Harrison grew increasingly comfortable in Soviet Russia, and perhaps too careless. She should have sensed something was wrong when the Reds allowed her to read uncensored reports sent directly to the ROSTA news agency. Each night Marguerite went to the wire service’s central office and copied dispatches about peasant uprisings, meetings, and strikes.

She was careful not to write down information that would incriminate her, but by merely reading these reports, she was walking into a trap.

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