Special pages :
For a workers' and farmers' government
|Written||29 July 1938|
question: Which is preferable of the two slogans: "workers' government" or "workers' and farmers' government"?
Trotsky: I believe it is a very important error to have accepted the formulation, "workers' government," instead of "workers' and farmers' government," and I believe the basis of this error is one-half sectarian misunderstanding. One can oppose the slogan of "workers' government" with the same arguments used against "workers' and farmers' government," for you can say that Green in conjunction with Lewis – that is not our government. We can say that Green plus Lewis plus La Follette, as a representative of the petty bourgeois and peasant – that is not our government. In that sense we can condemn the slogan of "workers' government" as not sufficiently clear. So good, we can condemn it as well as "workers' and farmers' government." If we accept the slogan of "workers' government" then all of our other slogans, our whole strategy and tactics, will give a concrete meaning to the slogan. This slogan will become very popular and clear: "You workers must take the power." Then we give this program, which excludes [a Green-Lewis-La Follette government] as a power which we could accept and support. But then we have deprived ourselves of the possibility of saying to the poor farmers, "It will also be your government."
The farmers play a very important role in the United States. In England, this is not a very important question because the workers are the overwhelming majority. In the United States the question of "workers' and farmers' government" is very important. Why deprive ourselves of the possibility in the rural districts to say, "This government would be yours? That is our drive, on the basis of progress; what can you object, farmers? What are your propositions, etc.?"
question: Don't you think the misunderstanding or mistake arises also from a misunderstanding of the transition program itself? The idea back of limiting the slogan is that farmers don't have the same interest as workers, that they will come into conflict.
Trotsky: Of course the workers and peasants, the workers in general, the peasants in general, don't have the same interests. The farmers are not a class, but a series of layers, of social strata beginning with semiproletarian elements and ending with exploiters, big farmers, etc. The slogan "workers' and farmers' government" doesn't include for us the whole peasantry or farmers. We indicate that by our slogan we will introduce a political delimitation in favor of the poor farmers against the rich farmers. The bourgeois democrats as well as the fascists are interested in representing the farmers as a unit and, through the higher stratum of the farmers, which is totally bourgeois, in keeping the lower stratum under control.
Contrariwise, we are interested in introducing a wedge, to omit here the higher stratum and to attract to us the lower. When we say "workers' and farmers' government" in our propaganda, we add every time that we mean the exploited farmers, not exploiters, not the farmers who have agricultural workers – they are not our allies. In this sense we can say that the more successful we are, the more closely would be the alliance between the workers and the lower strata of the farmers.
It is very possible on some questions we will have the support even of the middle farmers. We can even say that we can have some success with some of the higher classes, but with the radicalization of our measures, especially during the seizure of power, they will be repulsed. But during the radicalization of our activity when we are before the seizure of the power and especially after seizure of the power, the middle elements of farmers can also be repulsed for a certain time, because the fluctuation of the farmers is tremendous – towards the workers, many times against, and only through this fluctuation can we definitely win the exploited majority of the peasants for alliances with them for building up socialist society. In this sense we should understand this slogan in a dynamic perspective and not as an agreement with a definite class for an indefinite time.
The important thing is that we ourselves understand and make the others understand that the farmers, the exploited farmers cannot be saved from utter ruin, degradation, demoralization, except by a workers' and farmers' government, and that this is nothing but the dictatorship of the proletariat, that this is the only possible form of a workers' and farmers' government. By and by we must give this understanding to the agricultural workers and to the semiproletarian farmers – that their own government cannot be conducted by La Follette and other bourgeois, only by revolutionary workers.
The farmers themselves are absolutely incapable of creating their own government. This fact is confirmed by all of history from the middle ages down. Every time they are led by the burghers, the radical burghers. When the peasants began a movement, it was a local movement. Only the burghers gave national character to the Reformation, but all the peasants remained as local sects. The same was true politically of the peasants' government – the feudal system was vanquished in France only under the guidance of the Jacobins, and the Jacobins were petty bourgeois of the cities.104 The same in Russia. Victory was assured only by the workers. The same in Germany. Hitler, with petty intellectuals, succeeded in winning the support of the peasants. The peasants themselves were ready to follow the guidance of fascists or communists, awaited salvation, and Hitler was more successful; but Hitler's movement began as a movement of the towns. Naturally it finished under the inspiration of finance capital.
We must thoroughly understand ourselves that the peasants and farmers, who economically represent a survival of the productive system of the middle ages, can have no guiding role in politics. They can decide only through the cities; better, they can be guided only by the workers. But it is necessary to pose this slogan before the peasants themselves. We say you must not choose as your alliance the bourgeois, but the workers, who are your brothers. And this government would be your government, of workers and poor farmers – not of all farmers, but poor farmers.
question: The question came up of whether it wouldn't be proper under given circumstances in the United States to use the term "nationalization" rather than "expropriation," nationalizing coupled on to the idea of being without compensation. The term "nationalization" is a common one and has been emphasized by workers' movements. For example, the miners put on their program "nationalization of the mines." The railroad workers put on their program "nationalization of the railroads." Would it be better to enlist their support for "nationalization without compensation?"
Trotsky: The slogan "expropriation" in the program does not exclude compensation. In this sense, we often oppose expropriation to confiscation. Confiscation excludes compensation, but expropriation can include compensation. How much compensation is another question. For example while agitating we can be asked, what will you do now, transform the owners and bearers of power into tramps? No, we will give them decent compensation necessary for their life, insofar as they are unable to work – that is, the older generation. It is not necessary to imitate the Russians. They suffered intervention from many, many capitalist nations; it deprived them of the possibility of giving compensation. We are a rich people in the United States, and when we come into power we will give compensation to the older generation. In this sense it would not be favorable to proclaim confiscation without any compensation. It is better to use expropriation than confiscation, because expropriation can be equal to confiscation, but can include also some compensation.
We should show that we are not a revengeful people. In the United States it is very important to show that it is a question of material possibilities, but we will not personally destroy the capitalist class. Expropriation and nationalization – I believe we can use both. Expropriation is very important because it signifies an act of revolutionary will. They are the owners of means which should belong to the community. It is necessary to expropriate them. Nationalization can signify as in England the mines, in France the military industries – a voluntary agreement between the owners and government. The owners became participants in the nationalized property, and many of them in France, for example, became richer than before, for they were saved from bankruptcy.
That is why we can use, I believe, the alternatives in our agitation, the words expropriation and nationalization, but underline the word expropriation. We can say to the miner, you wish nationalization. Yes, it is our slogan. It is only the question of conditions. If the national property is too burdened with debts against former owners, your conditions can become worse than now. To base the whole proceedings upon a free agreement between the owners and the state signifies ruin of the workers. Now you must organize your own government in the state and expropriate them. Good. We will not condemn them to pauperism. We will give them something to live on, etc.