Monday, 28 March 2011

Alexandra Kollontai: Red Love

Vassilissa was a working-girl twenty-eight years old, a knitter by trade. Thin, anemic, a typical child of the city. Her hair, cut short after typhus, grew in curls. From a distance she looked like a boy. She was flat-chested, and wore a shirtwaist and a wornout leather belt. She was not pretty. But her eyes were beautiful: brown, friendly, observant. Thoughtful eyes. Those eyes would never pass by another’s sorrow.

She was a Communist. At the beginning of the war she had become a Bolshevik. She hated the war from the first. Collections had been made in the shop for the front; people were ready to work overtime for the Russian victory. But Vassilissa objected. War was a bloody horror. What was the good of it? War brought hardships to the people. And you felt so sorry for the soldiers, the poor young fellows – like sheep being led to the slaughter. When Vassilissa met a detachment on the street, going to war in full military array, she always had to turn away. They were going to meet death, but they shouted and sang at the top of their lungs! And how lustily they sang, as if they were out for a holiday. What forced them? They should have refused: We won’t go to our death; we won’t kill other men! Then there would be no war.

Vassilissa was able to read and write well; she had learned from her father, a compositor. She read Tolstoy and liked his work.

In the shop she was the only one “for peace.” She would have been discharged, but all hands were needed. The manager looked askance at her, but did not let her go. Soon Vassilissa was known throughout the district: she is against the war, a follower of Tolstoy. The women stopped speaking to her: she doesn’t want to have anything to do with her country; she doesn’t love Russia. She is lost!

Reports of her reached the local organizer, a Bolshevik. He became acquainted with Vassilissa, and talked with her; soon his opinion was formed; “A girl of character; knows what she’s about. The party could use her.”

She was drawn into the organization. But Vassilissa did not become a Bolshevik immediately. She quarreled with the members of the Party. Asked them questions, and went away furious. After long deliberation she came back of her own accord, saying: “I want to work with you.”

During the Revolution she helped in the work of organization, and became a member of the Workers’ Council. She liked the Bolsheviki and admired Lenin because he opposed the war so uncompromisingly.

In her debates with the Mensheviki and the Social Revolutionists she spoke skilfully, heatedly, tempestuously, never at a loss for words. The other women, working-women, were timid, but Vassilissa always spoke up without hesitation whenever it was necessary. And what she said always was clear and to the point.

She won the respect of her comrades. Under Kerensky she was a candidate for the municipal Duma. The girls in the knitting-shop were proud of her. Now her every word was law. Vassilissa knew how to manage women, speaking amicably, upbraiding them, as the case required. She knew everyone’s troubles, for she had been in the factory herself since her girlhood. And she defended their interests. Her comrades sometimes rebuked her: “Can’t you forget your women? We have no time for them now – there are more important things.”

Vassilissa flared up, gave the Comrades a good berating, and quarreled with the district secretary. But she did not withdraw her demands. “Why are women’s affairs less important? This idea is a habit with all of you. That’s why women are ‘backward.’ But you can’t have a revolution without the women. Woman is everything. Man does what she thinks and suggests to him. If you win over the women, half your work is done.”

Vassilissa was very belligerent in ’18. She knew what she wanted; and she did not compromise. The others relaxed a bit in the last few years, lagged behind and stayed at home. But Vassilissa carried on. Always fighting, always organizing something, always insisting on a definite point.

She was tireless. Where did she get her energy? She was delicate, with not a drop of blood in her face – only eyes. Sympathetic eyes, intelligent and observant. ...

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