A Comparison of the Stolypin and the Narodnik Agrarian Programmes
|Written||1 July 1912|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1975, Moscow, Volume 18, pages 143-149.
In previous articles (see Nevskaya Zvezda Nos. 3 and 6) we have cited the basic data on landownership in European Russia and described the nature of the agrarian question in Russia. The main point of this question is to abolish medievalism in landownership.
The contradiction between capitalism, which prevails throughout the world, including Russia, and medieval landownership, as embodied both in the landed estates and in the peasant allotments, is irreconcilable. The old, medieval system of landownership is bound to be broken up, and the more drastic, ruthless and bold this break-up, the better for the entire development of Russia and the better for the workers, and for the peasants, who are today crushed and oppressed by innumerable survivals of medievalism, as well as by capitalism.
The question may be asked: Such being the situation, how can one compare the Stolypin and the Narodnik agrarian programmes? Are they not in direct opposition to each other?
Yes, they are, but this opposition does not remove the one fundamental point which the two programmes have in common, namely, the fact that both recognise the necessity of breaking up the old system of landownership. The old has to be broken up—as early and thoroughly as possible, say those in charge of Stolypin’s “land distribution”; but it has to be broken up in such a way as to ensure that the whole burden of it falls on the shoulders of the majority of the peasants—of the most ruined and most disinherited of them. The landlords should Lose nothing in the process. If it is inevitable that they should lose part of their land, then the land should be alienated exclusively by the freely given consent of the landlords, and at a price considered “fair” by the landlords. The well-to-do peasants should be supported, and there is no reason to shrink from the ruin of the mass of “weak” peasants.
Such is the meaning of the Stolypin agrarian programme. The Council of the United Nobility, which entrusted Stolypin with drafting it, behaved as a true representative of the reactionaries—not of those who make fine speeches but of those who mean business. The Council was perfectly loyal to its class interests when it banked on the strong. And indeed, after 1905 it became obvious that the police and the bureaucracy alone were inadequate as a protection against the peasants.
Where else was the Council of the United Nobility to seek for allies? Only among the insignificant minority of the well-to-do peasants—the kulaks. It could not have found any other allies in the countryside. And to win over the “new landlords” to their side, the reactionaries did not shrink from delivering the whole countryside into their hands literally to be sacked and plundered.
If a break-up is inevitable, then let us break up allotment landownership in our favour and for the benefit of the new landlords—that is the gist of the agrarian policy which the council of the United Nobility dictated to Stolypin.
But, speaking in purely theoretical terms, it has to be admitted that a break-up—a no less, and indeed much more, drastic one—is also possible from the other side. It cuts both ways. If, for instance, the 70 million dessiatines of land belonging to 30,000 landlords were to pass to 10 million peasant households in addition to the 75 million dessiatines they already own, and if the two categories of land were merged and then distributed among the well-to-do and middle peasants (the poor peasants could not use the land any way, because they have nothing to plough, sow, fertilise and cultivate it with), what would be the result of the reform?
Pose this question from a purely economic standpoint. Consider this fundamental possibility from the angle of the general conditions of capitalist economy throughout the world. You will see that our suggested reform would result in a more consistent, drastic and ruthless break-up of medieval landownership than the Stolypin programme envisages.
Why medieval and none but medieval? Because capitalist landownership cannot be abolished, by its very nature, through any transfer of the land, not even through the transfer of all the land to the state (i.e., through what the science of political economy calls land “nationalisation”). Capitalist landownership is the holding of land by those who have capital and adapt themselves best to the market. Regardless of whether the land is still owned by the landlord, or by the state or the allotment peasant, it is bound to have a master, who can always rent it. The renting of land is increasing in all capitalist countries, under the most diverse forms of landownership. No bans whatever can prevent the capitalist, the master who has capital and knows the market, from laying his hands on the land, since the market dominates the whole of social production, i.e., since this production remains capitalist.
Nor is that all. The renting of land is even more convenient for pure capitalism, for the fullest, freest, and most “ideal” adaptation to the market, than is ownership of land. Why? Because private ownership of land hampers its transfer from hand to hand, hinders the adaptation of land tenure to the conditions of the market, perpetuates ownership of the land by a particular family or person and his heirs, even if they are bad farmers. Renting is a more flexible form, under which the adaptation of land tenure to the market takes place most simply, most easily and most rapidly.
That, incidentally, is why Britain is not an exception among the capitalist countries, but is the country that, from the point of view of capitalism, has the most perfect agrarian system, as Marx pointed out in his criticism of Rodbertus. And what is Britain’s agrarian system? It is the old system of landownership, landlordism, with the new, free, purely capitalist renting of land.
And what if that landlordism were to exist without land lords, i.e., if the land, were owned, not by landlords,, but by the state? That, from the point of view of capitalism, would be a still more perfect agrarian system, with still greater freedom of adaptation of land tenure to the market, with still greater ease in the mobilisation of the land as an object of economy, with still greater freedom, breadth, clarity and definiteness in the class struggle characteristic of every form of capitalist landownership.
And the more a country is lagging behind world capitalism, the greater the effort it must make to overtake its neighbours, the more it has “neglected” its “disease”, the disease of medieval landownership and small-scale bondage farming, and the more imperative that country’s need for a radical break-up of all its relations of landownership, of a]l its agrarian system, the more natural will be the rise and wide dissemination in that country, among its agricultural population, of all sorts of ideas and plans of land nationalisation.
Both the year 1905 and the two first Dumas proved beyond question—and the Third Duma confirmed it indirectly, through its “peasant” deputies (sifted through a landlord sieve)—that all sorts of ideas and plans for nationalising the land are extremely widespread among Russia’s agricultural population. Before approving or condemning these ideas, one should ask oneself why they have become wide spread and what economic necessity has evoked them.
It is not enough to criticise those ideas from the stand point of their inner logic and harmony or of their theoretical correctness. They should be criticised from the standpoint of the economic necessity reflected in them, however “fanciful”, inaccurate or “twisted” this reflection may some times be.
The economic necessity which at the beginning of the twentieth century gave rise among the Russian peasantry to ideas of nationalising the land is the necessity of a drastic break-up of the old system of landownership. The ideas of “equalised division” of all the land are ideas of equality, necessarily born of the struggle against the survivals of serfdom and inevitably transplanted to the land in a situation where 30,000 “residual serf-owners” possess 70 million dessiatines, while 10 million bond peasants possess 75 million dessiatines.
There is nothing utopian about the transfer of the first category of land into the second category, or rather to the owners of this second category. What is utopian is merely the dream of equality among the masters of the land while the market dominates; it is utopian to dream of the “right to land” for all “citizens, men and women” (including those who have no household) under capitalism. But the utopian character of these ideas should not allow us to forget the very true, living reality which is actually behind them.
There is nothing utopian about the abolition of all medieval distinctions of landownership—landlord, allotment, etc. There is nothing utopian about breaking up the old relations in regard to the land. On the contrary, the development of capitalism most imperatively demands this break up. There can be neither “equalised division” of the land nor “socialisation” of it under capitalism. That is utopia.
Land nationalisation is quite feasible economically under capitalism, and its real significance would consist in any case—that is, no matter how it was effected, by whom and on what conditions, whether stably and for a long time or unstably and for a short time—in the maximum elimination of all that is medieval in Russian landownership and Russia’s agrarian system; it would consist in the freest adaptation of the new system of land tenure and landownership to the new conditions of the world market.
Let us imagine for a moment that the Left Narodniks’ plan was put into practice, say, through the equal division of all the lands among all citizens, men and women. Such division under capitalism is the greatest absurdity. Under capitalism, it would not and could not last even a year. But does this imply that its results would be zero or negative?
Not in, the least! Its results would be of tremendous ad vantage—not the kind the Left Narodniks expect, but a most real advantage. That advantage would consist in all distinctions between the present social-estate and category forms of landownership being broken up. It would be a tremendous gain for the whole national economy, for capitalism, for the proletariat, because nothing could be more harmful to the development of Russia than our old, present-day, landownership. Both landlordism and allotment land ownership are thoroughly feudal forms of landownership.
An equalised redivision of the land could not last, but it would be impossible to go back to the old system! No “restoration” could revive the boundaries once they had been removed. No political force on earth could prevent the establishment of such new boundaries, limits, and forms of land tenure as would correspond to the new requirements of the market.
“Departition the land,” I recall a Left Narodnik saying in the Second Duma. He fancied that the result would be “equalised land tenure”. He was mistaken. But speaking through him was, as the irony of history would have it, the most consistent and fearless radical bourgeois, who is aware of the absurdity of the old, medieval “partitions” of our “allotment”, “nobility”, “church”, etc., etc., landowner ship, and is aware of the necessity of breaking down all those partitions to make way for a new distribution of the land. Only, this distribution would have to be not “per capita”, which is the Narodnik’s dream, but per capital, as imposed by the market.
The Narodniks’ constructive plans are utopia. But their constructive plans have an element that is destructive in relation to medievalism. And that element is by no means utopia. It is the most living reality. It is the most consistent and progressive reality from the standpoint of capitalism and the proletariat.
Let us briefly sum up our views. The real similarity between the Stolypin and the Narodnik agrarian programmes lies in the fact that both advocate a radical break-up of the old, medieval system of landownership. And that is very good. That system deserves no better than to be broken up. The most reactionary of all are those Cadets of Rech and Russkiye Vedomosti who reproach Stolypin for causing a break-up, instead of proving the need for a still more consistent and resolute break-up. We shall see in a following article that the Stolypin type of break-up cannot do away with bondage and labour service, while the Narodnik type can.
For the time being we shall note that the only entirely real result of the Stolypin break-up is a famine among 30 million people. And it remains to be seen whether the Stolypin break-up may not teach the Russian people how they should carry out a more thorough break-up. It is no doubt teaching that. But will it succeed in it? Time will tell.
- See pp. 32–35 and 73–77 of this volume—Ed.
- See Karl Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, Vol. II, Part Two. These propositions of Marx’s were set forth and explained by Lenin in “The Agrarian Question in Russia Towards the Close of the Nineteenth Century” (see present edition, Vol. 15, pp. 139–42).
- See pp. 243–53 of this volume.—Ed.