Alexandra Kollontai 1912

The International Proletariat and War

Source: Alexandra Kollontai: Selected Articles and Speeches, Progress Publishers, 1984;
From: a speech delivered in Stockholm on 1 May, 1912;
First Published: Social-Demokraten, 2 May, 1912;
The Russian text is a translation from the Swedish;
Transcribed: Sally Ryan for, 2000;
Proofed: and corrected by Chris Clayton 2006.

Alexandra Kollontai was invited to Stockholm by the Swedish League of Socialist Youth and the left wing of the Swedish Social-Democratic Party to address a meeting held to mark May Day. The meeting was held outdoors, in a large field at Gardet, before an audience of thousands. The famous philologist, Doctor Hannes Skjold, interpreted Kollantai's speech into Swedish, and it was his interpretation that was no doubt used as the basis of the text published in the Swedish press.

Today is our great day, the day when the solidarity of the international proletariat is being expressed throughout the world by mass demonstrations. And is this not a sign of growing solidarity that I, a foreigner from distant Russia, can stand here today and, speaking in German, which is neither my native tongue nor yours, pass on to you greetings from the Russian proletariat.

The Russian proletariat, together with the proletariat of the whole world, protests against all wars. It is a well-known fact that the proletariat knows no national frontiers. It recognises only two 'nations' in the civilised world: the exploiters and the exploited.

The capitalists always say: 'We must arm ourselves because we are threatened by war!' And they point to their sacred symbols: militarism on land, militarism on the high seas, and militarism in the air. They summon the spectre of war in order to put it between themselves and the red spectre. They call for war in order to free themselves from the spectre of social revolution.

But the International answers them with one united call: 'Down with war!' The workers know that behind the threat of war there stands the capitalist state that wants to burden the people with new taxes, there stands the war industry that wants to increase its profits. We still remember the scandal that broke out a few years ago in France when the French capitalists deceived the German minister of war into placing with them a new order for military weapons. They had spread the rumour that the French Ministry of War had ordered new armaments, new cannon, new machine-guns. And the German minister of war, who did not wish to be outdone by the French, immediately placed a similar order with the French capitalists. Only later was it discovered that these rumours were pure bluff!

In France the capitalists say to the proletariat: 'Come with us to the Sahara and occupy it. There, in the desert, you will find that which you lack at home.' And here, in Sweden, the Swedish capitalists repeat the old time-worn menace: 'Don't forget the threat from Russia – we must arm ourselves!'...

And even if tsarism, if the Russian capitalists, did indeed venture to attack Sweden, we nonetheless still exist! We, the proletariat! Did we not survive the crisis in Morocco? [1] And who was it then who impeded the threatened outbreak of war? Yes, the international proletariat, which threw out the challenge to the German and French governments, the German and French capitalists: 'Not one step further! We stand here, and if the capitalists dare to wage war, then the red spectre will turn into social revolution, and you yourselves will then be responsible!'

Yes, social revolution! May Day is an international holiday that is celebrated in every country... May Day is the preparation for social revolution, a trial mobilisation of the forces of the working class. And the workers of the world are united, they say: 'We are ready for battle!'

Social revolution is inevitable. Let the bourgeoisie, the capitalists, talk of socialism putting down roots in the existing system! Nothing of the kind can happen. How can one talk of 'putting down roots' when every year in London 200 thousand people die in slums and workhouses? Can there be any question of 'putting down roots' when in Paris 500 thousand people are permanently without work?

It is also important to take into account the significant events that have taken place over recent years, the strikes and lock-outs, and above all, the growing militancy of the proletariat! As little as ten years ago we could scarcely have imagined the events of recent years.

It all began with the Russian revolution of 1905. Unfortunately, reaction in Russia was too strong, and the revolution was suppressed. But then the red spectre moved to Sweden, and there was a general strike which, despite all the catastrophes involved, despite the poverty, signified moral victory for the Swedish proletariat. The whole International was then able for the first time to appreciate the true significance of such a mass strike.

This was followed by strikes in France and England. Never before in history had there been a strike on such a scale as that in England, where one million people walked out from work en masse in order to defend the demands of their class.

Thus we can see how the strength of the proletariat is growing from year to year. And if the bourgeoisie talks of war, then we answer with the thousands of voices of the organised workers: 'We do not want war! We demand peace! Down with war! Long live the social revolution!'


1. This is reference to the so-called Agadir crisis in Morocco in 1911, when a German gunboat entered a French port, causing a further deterioration in relations between the two countries and bringing them to the brink of war. The Moroccan crises seriously affected international relations on the eve of the First World War; they constituted a trial of strength between the two imperialist blocs. Lenin numbered the Moroccan crises among the 'chief crises in the international policy of the great powers after 1870-71' (V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 39, p. 686).