Approfondimenti politiciCobasINTERNATIONAL

[INTERNATIONALISM] Who Needs the War? (Chi ha bisogno della guerra?) – di Alexandra Kollontai

Who Needs the War?

(Chi ha bisogno della guerra?)

di Alexandra Kollontai 


The war (First World War – 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918) had not yet ended. Indeed, its end was still not even in sight, but the number of disabled was multiplying: the armless, the legless, the blind, the deaf, the mutilated. They had set off for the bloody world slaughter-house young, strong, healthy. Their lives still lay ahead of them. Then only a few months, weeks, even days later, they were brought back to the infirmaries, half dead, broken.

They are called ‘Heroes’, by those who started a European war, who sent one people out against another, the worker from one country out against his fellow worker from another. At least now they have won their reward! They will be able to walk around wearing their medals! People will respect them!

However, in real life, things are different. The ‘hero’ comes home to his native village or town, and when he arrives he cannot believe his eyes: in place of ‘respect’ and joy he finds waiting for him fresh sufferings and disillusionment. His village has been reduced to poverty and starvation. The menfolk were dragged off to war, the livestock requisitioned. Taxes must still be paid, and there is no one to do the work. The women have been run off their feet. They are haggard and starved, worn out with weeping. Disabled-heroes wander about the village, some with one medal, some with two. And the only ‘respect’ the hero gets is to hear his own family reproach him as a parasite who eats the bread of others. And the bread is rationed!

The ‘hero’ who returns to the town fares no better. He is met with ‘respect’, his mother weeps from both grief and joy: her darling son is still alive, her ageing mother’s eyes have beheld him once again. The wives smile. For a day or two they will fuss over him. And then…

Since when do working people have the time, the leisure, to look after an invalid? Each has his own affairs, his own worries. Moreover, times are difficult. Not a day passes but the cost of living rises. War!… The children are ailing; war is always accompanied by epidemics, infection. The wife is trying to do a thousand things at once. She must work for herself and for the ‘bread-winner’.

And the tsar’s pension?

How much is that? It would hardly pay for one boot for the one leg remaining!

Officers, wounded generals, will, of course, receive their pensions ‘according to rank’, but who is interested in the ordinary private, the former workers, peasants or artisans? Who cares about their fate? The power of the state is not in the hands of the people. It is in the hands of the landowners and industrialists, the lords and masters. The state finances controlled not by those ‘hero-soldiers’ who die in the hundreds of thousands and millions in the war, but by those same lords: the landowners, industrialists and state officials – the servants of the tsar.

At first, while the memory is still fresh and the cannon are still sounding at the front, the ‘hero-soldiers’ will be remembered. Various societies, charitable organizations and the Red Cross will come to their aid with miserly handouts…First one year passes, then another. Peace comes, and people take up once more their former daily round. What will become of our ‘heroes’?

Wounded colonels and generals will ride about in their cars; they took care of themselves during the war, hoarded up their cash, stuffed their pockets with the soldiers’ rations… And the ‘hero-soldiers’, maimed with their medals? What will their fate be?

It is not a pleasant fate that awaits the hero and saviour of his fatherland, even if he wears ten medals on his breast…The tsarist government will not concern itself about him, will not give him a thought… The hearts of the landowners and industrialists, the hearts of the masters, will not grieve over the injured… What does it matter to them? It is not their brother who is suffering, wandering about the country cursing his fate… This is not a ‘gentleman’ but one of the ‘lower orders’. And the ‘lower orders’-the workers, the peasant, the artisan – were born precisely in order to serve their ‘lords and masters’, to shed their blood for them, and as their reward to die of hunger under some fence…

While the people themselves do not speak out on behalf of the ‘heroes’, while the people themselves do not take power into their own hands, while the people themselves do not control the state finances, the cripple-heroes will be unable to improve their lot.

What Were They Fighting For?

Ask any soldiers, be he Russian or German, what were they fighting for? For what did they shed the blood of their brothers, the workers and peasants of their neighbouring country? For what did they cripple people? They will not tell you, they will not answer, because they themselves do not really know.

Perhaps they were fighting on behalf of the Serbs, or perhaps it was the Germans who attacked Russia. There was talk of land. At first the Russian peasant-soldiers thought: “We’re going to take the land away from the Germans.”

However, they soon realized that the war was not about land!… What was it about then? There are very few who know, who understand. It is not only the Russians who are fighting ‘in the dark’ without really understanding for what they are knifing, bayoneting, and crippling people. The German, English and French soldiers also have as little idea of the real reason for the war. Ask any one of them-each will cite you a different reason.

The German people were told: “Russia has attacked us. Russian Cossacks are marching on Berlin. We must defend our fatherland. At the same time we will go and liberate Russia from the toils of bureaucracy, from the arbitrariness and lawlessness of the tsar’s officials. We are going to die for the ‘liberty’ of the Russian people! The Russian people themselves are weak and cannot deal with their ‘internal enemies’, with venal ministers and the rapacious oppressor-landowners. Let’s help them! We will open up for the Russian people the road to popular liberty, to rights and freedom.”

This was the seductive song that the Kaiser and his staff, the German landowners and industrialists, sang to the German people. The people did not understand; they believed. In millions of issues the capitalist newspapers spread lies about the war, governments introduced wartime censorship, did not allow one word of the truth to be printed, and threw the best friends of the working class into jail. The people were fooled, as the Russian soldiers were fooled when they were assured that it was for ‘land’ that they were marching into Galicia…

In France, the government, the generals, ministers, bankers and industrialists, found another explanation of the war for their people. It was time to take back from the Germans the territory of Alsace and Lorraine, which they had conquered in 1870. “Citizens of glorious republican France! You live in a free country; you have won all political rights for yourselves at home. But next door, in neighbouring Germany, the people are groaning under the yoke of the Kaiser! Let us save the German people! We will fight until we have chased the Kaiser out of Germany and have established a republic for the Germans!”

And so, noble France decided to ‘liberate’ the German people and put an end to the Kaiser. Not a bad cause! Who needs kaisers and tsars? However, if you look a little closer you see that there is something rather odd: the people were living in peace, the Kaiser and the Tsar were friends and paid visits to each other. The capitalists of various countries worked together to set up factories and trading companies, together robed the colonies in Asia and Africa, profited from the production of cannon and armored vehicles. And suddenly all the tsars and all the capitalists of the various countries have apparently been seized by a noble passion: let us go and ‘liberate’ our neighbour! Let us introduce rights and justice, equality and prosperity among our neighbours!

The Germans set off to save Russia from the tyranny of tsarism, and the French set out to liberate the Germans from the tyranny of the Kaiser.

However, after the war, the kaisers and tsars are still safe and sound, still on their thrones with their power intact. And the capitalists have grown rich, thanks to the war. They ‘earned’ about 20-40 kopecks for every rouble’s worth of supplies for the army, and these supplies are worth hundreds and thousands of millions of roubles. And those very citizens about which the ‘great powers’ were suddenly so concerned have strewn their own land and foreign lands with their bones. Is it the ‘liberation’ of a foreign people that is the cause of war? Is there anyone who still believes in such fairy tales?

Let us take another example: apparently, the English only came into the war later on in order, on the one hand, to defend Belgium, and on the other to defeat and destroy the German ‘military machine’ – militarism. This is how it is presented in words. But how does the English monarchy heave in fact? First of all, England loses no opportunity to seize German colonies, German land. And, of course, England does not ask the German population under whose dominion they wish to remain – under German or under English. Belgium is Belgium, but meanwhile one must take for oneself other lands and peoples. Yet, what do the Germans need them for?

The same goes for the struggle against the military machine. The English do not like the ‘German militarists’, curse the Prussians and express their indignation: the Germans have killed the spirit of freedom among their own people, who have become a trained, obedient herd.

While the criticism may be valid, words and practice do not coincide. In practice, the English government, while cursing the ‘German-Prussians’, is trying to learn from them and to introduce in its own country a ‘German-style militarism’. From the beginning of the war a struggle has been going on in England between the people and the government: the English government decided to introduce in England the same militarism for which it went to war against Germany, is attempting to introduce universal compulsory military service in place of the paid volunteer system which previously existed in England.

Now the English millionaires and predators have succeeded in breaking the resistance and have begun to introduce compulsory military service. Once again it turns out not to be true; the English government decided to ‘liberate’ a foreign country from the evil of ‘militarism’, and to impose the very same evil upon its own people! However, this is not all! The example given by Germany was so much to the taste of the English government that it decided to do what other countries had done and introduce a ‘military system’ in manufacture: to mobilise the workers, subordinate them to the military authorities, remove from them the right to strike and defend their interests, and to bind them to the state… And this genuine ‘military slavery’ of the workers has been introduced not only in Germany but in all the belligerent countries- in France, in Germany and in Russia. Work for a pittance, put up with every kind of restriction and insult – if you don’t you’ll be sent to the front to face the bullets of the ‘enemy’. The English workers are putting up a bold and stubborn fight against this new injustice, against this new attack by the capitalists against the workers; they are fighting against a new form of slavery and defending their rights… However the English government is not retreating… It likes the example set by Germany, finds ‘Prussian militarism’ to its taste!

This is how matters stand, in fact: the very reason, the very ‘evil’ for which war was declared against a neighboring country is introduced and reinforced at home!… The Germans went to ‘liberate’ the Russian people, and at home during the war introduced the same tsarist tyranny!… The French drew the sword in the name of ‘freedom’ for the Germans, and instead invented forms of oppression such as France had not known for years!… One only has to look around more carefully to notice that these are not the reasons that caused the (European) powers to go to war with each other, that the reason why one country went to war against its neighbour is not the one put before the people. The war has other causes, other purposes, other reasons.

Who Is Responsible For the War?

There are those who say: “Perhaps we do not know the reasons for the war, but as for who is responsible – that is obvious! And the one who is responsible should be punished. But who is responsible? Ask a Russian and he will say: Germany! She was the first to declare war, and therefore she is the instigator.” Ask a German and he will say: “That”s not true! Lies! We Germans did not want war, we prolonged negotiations. But the Russian government was the first to declare mobilisation. That means that the instigator is Russia!” “Not true,” shouts Russia’s “allies.” “The Russian government declared mobilization in response to an ultimatum, to the demand sent to Serbia by the Austrian government. The instigator is Austria!” But Austria points to Russia, with England at her back. Read any of those many government books about the war, with their collections of letters, telegrams and government ‘notes’ (demands), and remember how, over the last few decades, the great powers now at war with each other competed with each other in robbing China, Persia, Turkey, the lands of Africa and others, and then one thing will be clear to you: for many months, even years, before the war, the governments of all these countries were striving to outwit one another, conducted diplomatic negotiations while secretly preparing for war. They pretended to be ‘bosom friends’, but in fact had only one thing in mind: to prove more skillful in outwitting the other – the English the Germans, the Germans the Russians, the Russians the Austrians… And at the same time each government was also deceiving its own people. They spent years preparing for war and spent vast amounts of their nation’s wealth on these preparations. What were the financial resources of the nation used for in all the capitalist countries? For schools? For hospitals? For worker insurance? For cheap housing for the poor? To improve land or roads? To meet the numerous needs of the people? Nothing of the kind!

The wealth of the nation was spent on its military, on preparations for bloody conflict were made simultaneously by the German and the Russian, the English and the Belgian governments. And now they pretend to be orphans! The people, the politically conscious working people, were well aware before the war where the national wealth was going, knew that taxes were collected so that the tsars and kaisers, the English and French capitalists, would have the wherewithal to build a navy and machine guns… The people knew that in Russia half of this money went to line the pockets of the ‘builders’. Why should we now forget who prepared the war? Why should we think that the culprits are the German workers and peasants, and not our own useless, selfish government? No! If we are looking for the culprit, then we must say directly and honestly: the governments of all the belligerent powers are equally responsible for this present war. Responsibility for the war lies with the capitalists, bankers and landowners, together with their patrons and friends the tsars, kings, kaisers and their ministers and diplomats. They all constitute one criminal band. It is not the interests of the people that they watch over, but rather their own interests. War does not benefit the people, but rather their own pockets. They brought on this bloody disaster with their ‘foreign policy’. As for the people – get out there and die!… “Save the motherland” which they themselves betrayed, bringing on disaster. Die “for the glory of the fatherland,” forgetting all the injustices, insults and humiliations… Forget that even before the war began you understood that no good would come of government policy. Do not dare remember that only yesterday you seethed with indignation when an officer struck a private, that you cursed the people’s lack of rights in their own country… Now it is war!… Only yesterday you would have laughed if someone had told you that the manufacturer-oppressor is your ‘brother’, and the German worker, as deprived as you are, is your ‘worst enemy’. Only yesterday you would have given short shrift to any ‘counsellor’ who presumed to recommend that you sacrifice your life for a landowner, factory-owner or some wealthy boss. But today it’s war, and you bayonet, stab, cripple and kill the ‘enemy’, a worker or peasant as ill-fated as you yourself… You sacrifice your own life and destroy that of a comrade from another country to the benefit of your common enemy – the millionaire. Such is the will of those who are truly responsible for the carnage of world war, the will of the capitalist class governments, the servants and friends of capital!

The Homeland In Danger!

But what should one do? One cannot, after all, refuse to fight when one’s country has been attacked, and when one’s homeland is in danger. Let those who were ready to die ‘for the homeland’ ask themselves honestly and in all conscience: What homeland does the worker have, what homeland do the dispossessed have? Do they have a homeland? If they did, would there be the yearly flow of emigrants from every country into alien lands, the dispossessed and unemployed leaving their native lands, believing, hoping that, perhaps, this ‘alien land’ will prove a more loving step-mother than their own mother country? Would there be, in Russia itself, hundreds of thousands of hungry and penniless ‘migrants’?

The general has a homeland, and so does the landowner, the merchant, the manufacturer and all those who carry a fat wallet in their pocket. To these, the wealthy with the bulging purses, the homeland gives rights and privileges and the state authorities concern themselves about their fate. But what does the ‘motherland’ give to the worker, be he Russian, German or French? The struggle for his daily bread, the struggle against poverty and lack of rights, oppression at the hands of the master, landowner and landlord, insults, grief, illness and humiliation… Not infrequently prison! In Russia penal servitude and exile… This is what the modern homeland gives to its children, to those who create its wealth with their own hands, to those who purchase its military honour with their lives…

For the poor, the motherland is not a mother but a step-mother… Nonetheless there are many who says: perhaps our mother does not indulge us, her loyal children who water her land with the sweat of our brow, but we love our land! We will defend our people from attack by foreign enemies, we will save the faith of our fathers from enemies of another creed!… But is modern warfare, warfare among all the major European powers, a war conducted between enemies of different creeds or races? Look more closely. Who is fighting whom – Orthodox against Catholic or Catholic against Lutheran? Christians against Mohammedans? No! This war has mixed everyone together. The Orthodox Russian shoots at the Orthodox Bulgarian, the French Catholic kills the German Catholic, the Mohammedan helps the Christian to aim at a brother Mohammedan, Jew kills Jew, and Pole kills Pole…

The war is being waged not among peoples of different faiths, not among different peoples with different faiths, not among different peoples with different customs, languages and traditions, but rather among states, among large capitalist powers. Each such power has swallowed up more than one people, taken more than one piece of land from its neighbours. Consider how many peoples and nations you can find even in Russia!

The same is true of Austria. Nor does Germany lag behind: It once seized a piece of Poland, took Holstein from the Danes and won Alsace from France. And England, the ‘ruler of the waves’? How many peoples has she brought under her imperial sway – Indians and Africans, Australians and islanders… The major powers have drawn a ‘frontier’ around themselves, driven the most diverse races and people across that frontier and declared: “There is your homeland! Obey our laws in peace-time, and if there is war it is your duty to die for this homeland we imposed upon you! The “great powers” who are now warring amongst themselves is each an oppressor of numerous peoples and nations. Russia oppresses Jews, Ukrainians, Poles, Finns and many others. Germany oppresses Poles, Jews and Danes. England and France oppress tens and hundreds of millions in their colonies. War is being waged not in the name of freedom for the people, not in the name of one”s right to one’s native language, not for the survival of institutions beneficial to the working class. No, war is being waged in the name of the ‘right’ of the great powers to oppress as many possible alien peoples and to rob as many possible colonies. The war is being waged by predators in order to divide the spoils. A grotesque picture emerges: on the order of the great powers, people of one nation, one language, one faith, kill and cripple each other, trample over the land… The Russian Ukrainian peasant aims his gun at the Ukrainian peasant from Austria; the worker from Russian Poland points his machine-gun at Polish workers from Germany.

And if one thinks of all the soldiers that England and France have brought from their colonies – Africans, Indians… For what ‘homeland’ are they dying? Their homeland is thousands of miles away. But what is left of that homeland since the Europeans invaded it, since the ‘great powers’ subdued it with fire and sword? They have no homeland anymore, and now they must die for the glory of the bourgeoisie of the nation that oppresses them. However, it is not only the nations that have been conquered and subdued by the capitalist states who are without a homeland; so also are the ‘true sons’ of Russia, Germany and England if they are merely the “offspring of the common folk.” What kind of homeland is it if tens of millions are hired slaves working day and night for a handful of capitalists? What kind of homeland is it if these tens of millions of workers have nothing to lose but their chains? What kind of homeland is it when it is not the people themselves who conduct the affairs of the homeland, enact laws, supervise the national economy and control the national budget, but a handful of masters, of wealthy exploiters?

Before defending and dying for one’s country, would it not instead of marching out against the external German foe, would it not be more sensible to deal with the internal enemy, i.e. to expel all those tyrants and oppressors of the Russian people who have, by their dangerous and selfish policies, caused the people to be massacred? Would it not be more sensible if the German people, instead of setting out to ‘liberate’ Russia from ‘tsarism’, were to settle accounts with their own Kaiser, with their own capitalists and landowners? Would not the French be better advised to ‘purge’ their native land of enemies nearer to home rather than directing their cannon against the German people? There was a time when the workers and peasants, in defending their ‘homeland’, were defending their native tongue from foreign oppression, defending their freedom against feudal lords and tsars. Now, however, the class of capitalists has gathered into its own hands all wealth and all power even in the most liberal countries, while in Russia the people are oppressed by the aristocracy – the feudal landowners together with the capitalists. The capitalists of the whole world are now united in alliances which plunder and oppress the workers in many countries. The capitalists set the workers of one country against the workers of another country in order to strengthen their hold on workers throughout the world. The capitalists wage war in order to share out the spoils and weaken the workers by division. Thus those who speak about the present war in terms of the defence of freedom and the homeland are lying. There is only one way to defend freedom and right, to defend the cause of the working class in this war- agreement among the workers of every country and their common struggle against the capitalists in the name of a socialist society.

“If They Beat Us Things Will Be Even Worse”

When it is a question of profit, the capitalists of every country, every tribe and race, become look-alike ‘bloodbrothers’. Moreover, in times of peace the workers are well aware of this. They also know that the ‘enemies’ of the workers’ interests, the workers’ cause, are not the workers of another neighbouring country but the capitalist bosses on both sides of the border. Why, when the people are being summoned to the banner of the Tsar or the Kaiser, should the worker forget all that life has taught him? Why should he believe on mere say-so that the pecuniary interests of the industrialist, merchant or manufacturer who happens to be his compatriot are closer to him than the workers’ cause common both to him and to the dispossessed German and Austrian proletarian?

The Cause of the War

Yet, even if war is a nasty, filthy business that no-one would defend, how can one not fight once the war has begun, once it is a reality?

Here we must first seek the answer to another question: why has the war begun? What has caused the war? What are the reasons behind it? Wars have a variety of causes. Once people fought over territory, for the freedom of their native land. However, the present war has its own particular cause: this war was generated by capitalism. Capitalism is the name given to an economic system in which capital, factories and land are divided up among a comparatively small group of people in the country, while the rest possess only their workers’ hands with which to feed themselves, and these they sell to the boss – the capitalist, the manufacturer, the landed proprietor. As the capitalist economy develops in each state, capital begins to feel cramped in its own country. In order to increase profits and interest, capital requires that the market expand, requires new places, countries, colonies into which it can invest its accumulated capitals and from which the manufacturers and industrialists can obtain ‘raw materials’ such as metal, ore and cotton, to produce goods.

The major capitalist powers, those who are now at war with each other, all experience the same need for a world market, for colonies. Each power thinks only of how it can bring under its control the colonies and markets of other countries, either by diplomatic deception and by bribing the governments and capitalists in the weak and dependent countries, or by force of arms. Colonies and domination of the world market are the causes of the disputes that flare up among the major modern powers. Each wishes to monopolise (i.e., to be the sole master of) the market, each wishes to take all the profit for itself alone. To begin with, these powers try to resolve the dispute by ‘diplomatic negotiations’ in which each strives to trick or outwit the other. Even in times of peace, the negotiations conducted by the diplomats never cease. However, no information is given to the people. The dispute among the capitalist states i.e. being conducted not on behalf of the people, but on behalf of the capitalists, and these capitalist private property owners push their states onto the path of so-called colonial or ‘imperialist’ policy. It is they who decide whether or not there will be war. And the people? They need to know only one thing: if you are called-up – go and die!

If the diplomats do not succeed in outwitting each other, they immediately threaten war. Behind the diplomats there stand the cannon, and therefore there is no stable peace among the states, only ‘armed peace’, that is, a period of peace during which the state intensifies its preparations for war… Neither the workers nor the people as a whole know anything about the negotiations conducted by the diplomats. These negotiations are conducted ‘in secret’. However, the capitalists, the bankers and the landowners – those on whose behalf this ‘aggressive policy’ is being pursued, always know how the diplomats are faring. If they begin to suspect that their own diplomats have failed to defend their financial interests, that the negotiations are working to the advantage of the capitalists of another power, they immediately raise the alarm: “Help! The homeland is in danger! Brother workers, forget all the humiliations, forget all the past! Save our common homeland! Go and die for the glory of the fatherland.” The government heeds the cry raised by the capitalists. It cannot fail to heed it, for the government itself is made up of capitalists and landowners, and the government serves them, protecting their profits and theft… In order to please the capitalists, the government begins to ‘hector’ to its neighbour, and the negotiations being conducted by the diplomats become more ‘heated’… Before you know it, war has started! The people, however, cannot be told the truth: we are fighting because our manufacturers and industrialists, our bankers and merchants, want large profits; we are fighting in order to ensure our capitalists the ‘right’ to rob some colony or country. This would be ‘awkward’. The people will not be willing to die for such a cause. So we must cry: “The fatherland is in danger!”… Or invent some tale or other such as “Let us free our neighbours from tsarism or kaiserism!” The capitalists, landowners, and bankers sit in their offices, pocket the tripled profit on the sale of arms, and await the outcome of the war. Meanwhile the people fight and die, the people sacrifice their lives. And for what? To provide a better, sweeter, richer, more luxurious life for their own native exploiters, bosses, industrialists, landowners, manufacturers…

The people are too trusting! They possess so little knowledge. They have not yet understood where their own interests lie, and the capitalists and the servants of the government make use of this. Thus the cause of this war is the struggle of national capital on the world market. Russian capital is fighting German capital in Russia itself, and fighting Austrian capital in the Balkans; English and French capital is fighting German capital in Africa, Asia and on the markets of the smaller states. Capital clashes with capital, fights against capital, each seeking to expel the other. Each desires mastery for itself, to retain its ‘monopoly’, fleece the worker during the production of the goods, and the customer during the sale of the goods. The more quickly capitalism develops, the more states are drawn into this struggle- the more bitter the struggle becomes. War becomes unavoidable. It is pointless to comfort oneself with the thought that this is the war to end wars. For as long as there exist capitalist property owners who hold state power in their hands, wars will continue. The aim of these wars will be the same as the aim of the present war, namely, to secure better profits for one’s own industrialists and businessmen. Does such an aim deserve that blood be shed in its names? Are the workers acting wisely when for such a cause they kill a fellow workers from another country, destroy towns and devastate peaceful villages?… Have the workers come to ‘love’ their own exploiters, their own tyrant masters so much during the war that they are willing to die to defend their profits and interests?!

Once the true cause of war, its purpose, has been understood, another question arises: what is to be done? How can the slaughter be stopped? How can the people be spared new conflicts and disputes among the capitalists, new wars, in the future? Before seeking the answer to these questions one must realize one thing: while capitalism continues to exist, while there is private ownership of land, factories, plants, etc., upon the earth, while citizens continue to be divided into the haves and the have-nots, into capitalists who have seized state power and hired workers without rights, while capitalists continue to fight amongst themselves on the world market for the sake of their profits, wars are inevitable. Wars will only end when the power of the capitalists has been smashed, when the owner-exploiters are no longer able to harm the people and push them into bloody conflicts. War is generated by the unjust inequitable capitalist structure of society. In order to put an end to war, the structure of society must be changed. In order to put an end to war, all the factories, all the plants, all the industrial enterprises must be removed from the capitalist masters: the land must be taken from the landowners, the mines from private proprietors, the banks from the capitalists, and all this wealth must become common property. In order to put an end to war, a new and juster socialist world must be won for the people, for the working class. When the people manage themselves control all national wealth, themselves manage the national economy and the national budget, themselves look to the needs and requirements of all the citizens, themselves strive to ensure the prosperity and well-being of their native land and the brotherhood of all peoples, then there will be no more wars. Then neighbouring peoples will not seek to destroy each other, then there will be no need for an ‘aggressive policy’: peaceful countries of free working people will always find a common language! Then there will no longer be the chief culprits of war – a clique of capitalists destroying millions of people so that after the war their purses will be fuller!… This is the main task facing the workers.

However, one question remains, there remains another, immediate and urgent task: how can we stop the present fratricidal war? What is to be done? There is an answer, and, more importantly, it is one and the same answer for the workers of every country. That answer is as follows: governments may set brother upon brother, a worker from one country against a fellow worker from another country, but the enemy remains one and the same for all workers throughout the world, the interests of the Russian and the German, the English and the Austrian workers are one and the same. In order to achieve peace, the first thing to be done is to bring culprits to book. And who are the culprits if not the tsars and kaisers, together with their diplomats and ministers, all the obedient servants of capital; who else but they are responsible for this bloody catastrophe? Let them answer for their deeds! Away with this worthless government, the patrons of the wealthy moneybags! Away with tsars, kings, emperors, kaisers! Away with their ministers, policemen and corrupt officials! State power should belong to the people! Let he who desires peace, let he who desires peace, let he who is weary of this criminal war, join the ranks of those fighting not against an external, but against the internal enemy of the people. Let him say to himself: instead of dying for the greater profit of the Krestovnikovs, the Guchkovs, the Morozovs, the Purishkeviches and all their honourable fraternity, I will give my life for the freedom of my people, for the rights of the working class, for the victory of the workers’ cause!… If the Russian workers, the German workers, and the workers of all the belligerent countries say this, there will no longer exist in the world a power willing to let the bloodshed continue, and the peace will follow automatically. All that is necessary is that each soldier at the front, each worker in the workshop, should realise: my enemy is not the one who, like myself in my own county, has no rights, who is oppressed by capital, whose life is a struggle for his daily bread.

My enemy is in my own country, and this enemy is the same for all the workers of the world. The enemy is capitalism, this enemy is the rapacious, corrupt class government. This enemy is the lack of rights suffered by the working class. Comrade worker, a private in the enemy army, I know now that it is not you who are my enemy. Give me your hand, comrade! We are both of us the victims of deception and violence. Our main and common enemy is at our rear. Let us turn our rifles and guns against our real, our common enemies… And then all our brave commanders, field marshals and generals will take to their heels!… Let us each go to war in our own country against our oppressors, let us cleanse our homelands from the real oppressors, let us cleanse our homelands from the real enemies of the people, from the tsars, kings and emperors! And when power is in our hands, we will conclude our own peace over the heads of the defeated capitalists… This is the way forward for those who wish to fight for a stable peace among the nations, for the victory of the workers’ cause, for the replacement of capitalist society by a just and better world based on the socialist brotherhood of the workers of every country. This is the path, comrade, which you are being called to follow by the organized, conscious worker-socialists of Russia, Germany, England, France, Italy, Bulgaria, and other states, by those socialists who have remained true to the workers’ cause, who have not forgotten the great workers’ call: “Workers of all countries, unite!” Rally round the red banner of the revolutionary workers’ organizations! To work, comrades, to work! There have been enough victims to the glory of capital. Our common enemy lies in our rear! Away with those responsible for the war! Away with capitalists and tsars! Let us fight for the freedom of our homeland, for stable peace! Long live the approaching, long-awaited social revolution! Long live the victory of the socialist brotherhood of nations! 

Alexandra Kollontai (1872-1952) was Commissar for Social Welfare in the first Soviet government. For more of her writing see the Kollontai Archive.