A leading member of the Russian socialist movement, in 1917 Kollontai published this appeal in the Bolshevik’s women’s paper Rabotnitsa
Alexandra Kollontai was a leading member of the Russian socialist movement. She became a revolutionary socialist since the 1890s, when she became active in Marxist organisations in St Petersburg. She spent many months of her life in exile, during which she became a respected speaker and writer across the European socialist movement. Kollontai did not join the Bolsheviks until 1917 when she was elected to the Central Committee. She became Commissar for Social Welfare in the Soviet government. Kollontai was most closely associated with the struggle of working class women to organise and fight for their own interests. In 1917 Kollontai published this appeal in the Bolshevik’s women’s paper Rabotnitsa.
A serious task of great responsibility now faces the working men and women of our country. We must build the new Russia, a Russia in which the working people, office workers, servants, day workers, needlewomen and those who are simply the wives of working men, will have a better and brighter life than they had during the accursed reign of bloody Nicholas.
However, the task of winning and consolidating state power for the proletariat and the small peasant, of introducing and implementing such legislation as will limit the appetites of capitalist exploiters and defend the interests of workers, is not the only task now facing the working men and women of Russia. The proletariat of Russia now occupies a special position vis-a-vis the working men and women of other countries.
The great Russian revolution has placed us, Russian working men and women, in the front ranks of those fighting for the world-wide workers’ cause, for the interests of all workers.
We are able to speak, write and act more freely than the working women and men of other countries.
How, then, can we not use this freedom, won for us by the blood of our comrades, to concentrate our forces, the forces of the women of the working class, without delay in order to conduct a tireless, insistent mass struggle to achieve the quickest possible end to world war?
Our women comrades, the working women of other countries, are waiting for us to take this step.
War is now the most dreadful evil hanging over us. While the war continues we cannot build the new Russia, cannot resolve the problem of bread, of food, cannot halt the rising cost of living. While, with every hour that passes, the war continues to kill and cripple our children and husbands, we, the women of the working class, cannot know peace!…
If our first task is to help our comrades build the new, democratic Russia, our second task, no less urgent, and closer to our hearts, is to rouse working women to declare war on war.
And this means: firstly, not only to ourselves understand that this is not our war, that it is being waged in the name of the pecuniary interests of the wealthy bosses, bankers and manufacturers, but also to constantly explain this to our working comrades both women and men.
Secondly, it means uniting the forces of working women and men around that party which not only defends the interests of the Russian proletariat, but is also fighting to ensure that proletarian blood is not shed for the glory of capitalists.
Comrade women workers! We can no longer resign ourselves to war and rising prices! We must fight. Join our ranks, the ranks of the Social-Democratic Labour Party! However, it is not enough to join the party. If we really want to hasten peace, then working men and women must fight to ensure that state power is transferred from the hands of big capitalists-the ones really responsible for all our woes, all the blood being shed on battlefields-to the hands of our representatives, the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.
In the struggle against war and rising prices, in the struggle to secure power in Russia for the dispossessed, for the working people, in the struggle for a new order and new laws, much depends on us, the women workers. The days are passed when the success of the workers’ cause depended only on the organisation of the men. Now, as a result of this war, there has been a sharp change in the position of working-class women. Female labour can now be found everywhere. War has forced women to take jobs that before they would never have thought of. Whereas in 1912 there were only 45 women for every 100 men working in factories, now it is not uncommon to find 100 women for every 75 men.
The success of the workers cause, the success of the workers’ struggle for a better life – for a shorter working day, for higher pay, for health insurance, unemployment pay, old-age pensions, etc. – the success of their struggle to defend the work of our children, to obtain better schools, now depends not only on the consciousness and organisation of the men, but also on the number of women workers entering the ranks of the organised working class. The more of us enter the ranks of the organised fighters for our common workers’ cause and needs, the sooner we will win concessions from the capitalist extortionists.
All our strength, all our hope, lies in organisation!
Now our slogan must be: comrade women workers! Do not stand in isolation. Isolated, we are but straws that any boss can bend to his will, but organised we are a mighty force that no one can break.
We, the women workers, were the first to raise the Red Banner in the days of the Russian revolution, the first to go out onto the streets on Women’s Day. Let us now hasten to join the leading ranks of the fighters for the workers’ cause, let us join trade unions, the Social-Democratic Party, the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies!
Our ranks united, we will aim at rapidly putting an end to bloody war among the nations; we will oppose all who have forgotten the great working-class precept of unity, of solidarity among the workers of every country.’
It is only in revolutionary struggle against the capitalists of every country, and only in union with the working women and men of the whole world, that we will achieve a new and brighter future-the socialist brotherhood of the workers.
Judy Cox is a lifelong socialist writer and speaker. Now a teacher in East London, Judy was on the editorial board of International Socialism and has written amongst other things on Marx’s theory of alienation, Rosa Luxemburg’s economic theory, William Blake and Robin Hood.