Special pages :
Fine Words—Foul Deeds
The agrarian debates in the State Duma are highly instructive. The speeches of the leaders of the various parties must be gone into in greater detail, and a thorough insight obtained into their content.
Without doubt, the attitude to landed proprietorship is the gist of the agrarian question. The peasants are fighting against landed proprietorship, trying to obtain land for themselves. What is the attitude of the various parties to this struggle?
The Social-Democrats have put forward the direct and open demand for alienation without compensation. In his speech, Tsereteli, a Social-Democratic representative, forcibly revealed the falseness of the defence of landed property “rights”, explained that it originated as plunder, showed up the boundless hypocrisy of the speeches on private property as an inalienable right, and refuted the Prime Minister, who by “state interests” understood, not the interests of the people, but the interests of that handful of landlords with whom the state authorities are closely linked.
Add to this the proposal made by Comrade Tsereteli at the end of his speech to relegate the question to local land committees (elected, of course, by universal, direct, equal and secret ballot) for examination, and you will get a complete and definite picture of the proletarian position on the land question. The right of the landlords to land is denied. The method of the reform is clearly defined—local committees, which means the domination of peasant interests over those of the landlords. Alienation without compensation means the full defence of the interests of the peasants, and an implacable, struggle against the class avarice of the landlords.
Now let us turn to the Trudoviks. Karavayev did not put forward with full clarity and definiteness the principle of “alienation without compensation”. The representative of the peasants was less determined in presenting the people’s demands to the landlords than was the representative of the workers. The demand to hand the question over to local committees was not put clearly; no protest was made against the scheme of the liberals (the Cadets) to relegate the discussion on this acute question to a commission, so as to keep it farther away from the people, farther from the light of publicity, farther from free criticism. Despite all these shortcomings in the Trudovik’s speech, as compared with that of the Social-Democrat, we have to admit that the Trudovik defended the cause of the peasants against the landlords. The Trudovik opened the eyes of the people to the miserable condition of the peasantry. He disputed the arguments put forward by Yermolov and other defenders of the landlord class, who tried to deny the need to extend peasant holdings. He defined the minimum needs of the peasantry at 70,000,000 dessiatines of land, and explained that there are more than 70,000,000 dessiatines of landlord, crown and other lands available to meet the needs of the peasants. The tenor of the Trudovik speech was—we repeat, despite the shortcomings we have stressed—an appeal to the people, an effort to open the eyes of the people....
Let us take Cadet Kutler’s speech. An entirely different picture immediately unfolds before us. We feel that we have moved from the camp of the fully consistent (Social-Democrat) or somewhat vacillating (Trudovik) defenders of the peasants against the landlords, into the camp of the landlords, who realise the inevitability of “concessions” but are bending every effort to make the concessions as small as possible.
Kutler spoke of his “agreement” with the Trudoviks, of his “sympathy” for the Trudoviks, only to sugar the pill of immediate curtailments, cuts, abridgements, which, he says, must be made in the Trudoviks’ draft Kutler’s speech was, indeed, full of arguments against the Social-Democrats and against the Trudoviks.
To give weight to our words, let us analyse Kutler’s speech step by step.
Introduction. A curtsey to the Trudoviks. The Cadet agrees with the basic idea, he warmly sympathises, but... but ... the draft of the Trudovik Group “is not confined to the simple and obvious aim of alleviating peasant land-hunger. It goes farther, it attempts to re-create radically all existing land-law relations” (all quotations from the report in Tovarishch).
And so we get “sympathy” for the muzhik in word, curtailment of the muzhik’s demands in deed. The word is for the muzhik, the deed for the landlord.
And on top of this, Kutler assures the Duma that the Trudovik does not confine himself to a simple and obvious aim! Think of it, reader: the Trudovik speaks forthrightly of 70,000,000 dessiatines of land. They have to be transferred from the landlords to the peasants. And that is not “simple”, that is not “obvious”!!
For “clarity” you have to speak about the labour standard. about the subsistence standard, about the allotment standard of 1861. And Mr. Kutler talks and talks and talks. He fills his listeners’ heads with a spate of words on all those worthless questions in order to draw the conclusion: “in my opinion ... there are 30,000,000 dessiatines lacking” to bring the peasant allotments up to the 1861 standard, and that standard is still below the subsistence standard. That is all. That is all he has to say on the extent of the need, and its satisfaction.
But is this an answer to the 70,000,000 dessiatines? You are simply prevaricating, worthy knight of “the people’s freedom”, and telling us old wives’ tales! Should 70,000,000 dessiatines of land go to the peasants, or not? Yes or no?
And, to disclose the nature of these evasions still more clearly, we shall add to the Trudovik’s reference the summarised figures of the latest land statistics. Investigations undertaken in 1905 show a total of 101,700,000 dessiatines of land in private hands. Of these, 15,800,000 belong to various associations; 3,200,000 dessiatines belong to owners of plots not bigger than 20 dessiatines; 3,300,000 dessiatines belong to owners of plots between 20 and 50 dessiatines; 79,400,000 dessiatines belong to owners of more than 50 dessiatines each. These latter number altogether 133,898. The average area belonging to each of them, therefore, is 594 dessiatines. Suppose ,we were to leave each of these gentlemen 50 dessiatines. That would make 6,909,000 dessiatines. Deduct 6,900,000 from 79,400,000 dessiatines and we get 72,600,000 dessiatines of available landlords’ land, to say nothing of crown, state, church, monastery and other lands.
We see that the Trudovik still did not correctly define the amount of land that the peasantry could and should receive, although his figure of 70,000,000 dessiatines was close to the truth.
So please take the trouble to give a simple and clear answer, my Cadet gentlemen: should 70,000,000 dessiatines of land be transferred from the landlords to the peasants? Yes or no?
Instead of giving a direct answer, the former minister and present liberal hypocrite wriggles like the devil at mass, and exclaims pathetically:
“Is not that right [the right to land according to the Trudovik draft] a right to enter premises in which all the places are occupied?”
Very nice, isn’t it? The question of the 70,000,000 dessiatines is bypassed. The liberal gentleman answers the peas ants—the premises are occupied.
Having dealt summarily with the unpleasant question of the 70,000,000 dessiatines (ignorant fellows, those muzhiks! bothering us with their 70,000,000), Kutler began to raise objection to the Trudoviks in respect of the “practical feasibility” of land nationalisation.
All that is merely malicious tittle-tattle, because if the 70,000,000 dessiatines are left to the landlords there will be nothing to nationalise! But Mr. Kutler speaks only to conceal his thoughts.
What is the nature of his objection to the nationalisation of the land?
“It seems to me that it may be possible to imagine the political conditions under which the land nationalisation bill might become law, but I cannot imagine there being, in the near future, political conditions under which such a law could actually be implemented.”
Weighty and convincing. The liberal civil servant, who has been kowtowing all his life, cannot imagine political conditions under which legislative power would belong to representatives of the people. It is usually the case— our dear liberal is hinting—for power over the people to belong to a handful of landlords.
Yes, that’s how it is. That’s how matters stand in Russia. We are, however, talking about the struggle for people’s freedom. The question under discussion is precisely that of how to change the economic and “political conditions” of landlord rule. And you object by making reference to power now being in the hands of the landlords, and by stating that backs have to be bent lower:
“It is groundless and unjust to complicate the simple and indisputably valuable task of helping the peasant population
You’ve got to know your own limits!
And Mr. Kutler talks on and on, saying that instead of the “unfeasible” nationalisation, all that is necessary is “to extend peasant land tenure”.
When it was a question of the extension of peasant land ownership (and not land tenure, sir!) by 70,000,000 dessiatines of landlords’ land—then Kutler went over to the question of “nationalisation”. And from the question of nationalisation” he went back to that of “extension”... It may happen, he thinks, that they won’t remember the 70,000,000 dessiatines !
Mr. Kutler is an out-and-out defender of private property in land. He declares that its abolition would be “the greatest injustice”.
“Since nobody proposes to abolish property in general, it is essential that the existence of property in land be in every way recognised.”
Since we cannot take two steps forward this very day, then “it is essential” to refuse to take a simple step forward! Such is the logic of the liberal. Such is the logic of landlord avarice.
It might at first sight seem that the one point in Mr. Kutler’s speech that. touched on the defence of peasant and not landlord interests was the recognition of compulsory alienation of privately-owned land.
But anyone who trusted the sound of those words would be making a serious mistake. Compulsory alienation of the landlords’ land would then and only then be of benefit to the peasants if the landlords were compelled to hand over a great deal of land to the peasants, and to hand it over cheaply. And what if the landlords compel the peasants to pay dearly for miserable patches of land?
The words “compulsory alienation” mean precisely nothing if there is no actual guarantee that the landlords will not swindle the peasants.
Not only does Mr. Kutler fail to propose a single one of those guarantees but, on the contrary, his whole speech, his whole Cadet position, precludes them. The Cadets do not want action outside the Duma. They frankly call for local committees with an undemocratic composition —representatives from the peasants and landlords in equal numbers, with a government chairman! That means nothing but the landlords coercing the peasants.
Add to this that the valuation of the land will be made by those same landlord committees, that the Cadets are already today (see the end of Kutler’s speech) foisting one half of the payment for the land on the peasants (the peas ants will also pay the other half in the form of increased taxation!) and you will see that the Cadets’ fine words conceal foul deeds.
The Social-Democrats and the Trudoviks spoke in the Duma for the peasants, the Rights and the Cadets for the landlords. That is a fact, and no evasions or fine phrases will cover it up.