Alexandra Kollontai May 1919

What Are We Fighting For?

Source: Alexandra Kollontai: Selected Articles and Speeches, Progress Publishers, 1984;
Transcribed: Sally Ryan for, 2000.

This is a question that disturbs many, the question that faces the Red Army and the workers, and troubles the peasants. Did not the Communist-Bolsheviks, two years ago, summon us in the name of peace ? Why does war continue ? Why are we being mobilised yet again and sent to the front?

In order to answer this question one must understand what is happening all around us, the events that are taking place. As soon as the workers and peasants took power into their hands in October, 1917, they honestly and openly offered peace to all the peoples. However, the workers in the other countries were still too weak, and the predatory capitalists were still strong enough to continue the war. In March, 1918, the Soviet government, desirous of peace, signed the disadvantageous and onerous Brest Peace Treaty with Germany in order to return the ploughman to the field, the worker to his lathe, in order to save the lives of its free citizens.

However, the imperialist predators are not afraid of blood, and place no value on human life. They needed war, and therefore the bourgeoisie of every country mounted repeated attacks upon Soviet Russia and the Soviet Ukraine from outside, while inside the country they encouraged kulak action against the workers and peasants. A new battle front took shape-not Russians against Germans or Ukrainians against the allies, but 'Reds' against 'Whites', i.e. the working people against the bourgeoisie.

What else could the people do? Should they say: We are against war, we are for peace, and therefore, if the Kolchaks, Denikins and Krasnovs attack us, we will not take up arms?! Let American, or German or Russian capital rule over us once more and introduce amongst us the system that suits it best-it's all the same to us?!

Of course, not one rationally-minded Red Army soldier, worker or peasant would say anything of the kind.

The peasant soon realises: if Skoropadsky returns, together with the priests and the landowners, it will be farewell to land and freedom! Once more it will be doff your cap before the village policeman and starve to death while the landowners barns burst with golden grain!

The worker would understand that the return to power of the bourgeoisie would mean a return to lack of rights, to the exploitation of labour, the abolition of the 8-hour working day and unemployment benefit, that it would lead to the expulsion of the working people from their light and healthy flats to be chased back into damp cellars. It would mean a return to the slavery of hired labour.

The Red Army soldier would remember the prison-like regime of the tsarist barracks, blows by officers, insult and abuse from commanders of the old order, rotten meat for dinner, theft by military superintendents, and his hands would seek instinctively for his protecting rifle.

All the working people taken as a whole cannot fail to understand that now the question is whether the peasants and workers are to be the masters of Russia and the Ukraine, or whether the priests, landowners and capitalists are to return and hang once more like a millstone around the neck of the people.

This is not war, but the working people rising up in defence of their rights, freedom and very life!

We are fighting not in order to annex new lands or enslave or plunder another people, but in order to safeguard ourselves from the capitalist predators. We are fighting in order to secure for the peasant and his children the possibility of peacefully farming the land, in order to give the worker the possibility not only of working at a factory or plant, but of himself participating in the organisation of production, himself distributing the national wealth in such a way that each gets his just due, rather than one man getting it all simply because he is a capitalist and takes for himself the lion's share of the national wealth.

We are fighting in order to defend the right of the workers and peasants to run their own homeland. We are fighting in order to protect the people against the possible return of famine and rising prices. We are fighting in order to create one, united, international fraternal republic of workers and peasants, destroy private-property owners and the predatory rich, and thus put an end to war once and for all.

Our war – the war of the Reds against the Whites – is the revolt of the oppressed against those who are responsible for bloodshed. Our cry is and will remain 'War on war! Long live peaceful productive labour on behalf of all working people!'

Bulletin of the Kharkov Soviet
and the Provincial Executive Committee
of the Soviets of Workers',
Peasants' and Red Army Deputies,
7 May, 1919