From a Publicist’s Diary (Peasants and Workers)
|Written||11 September 1917|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, Volume 25, pages 278-286.
PEASANTS AND WORKERS[edit source]
Izvestia of the All-Russia Congress of Peasants’ Deputies No. 88, of August 19, carries an exceedingly interesting article which should be regarded as basic material for every Party propaganda and agitation worker who has anything to do with the peasants and for every class-conscious worker who is going to the countryside or comes in contact with peasants.
The article is entitled “Model Mandate Compiled on the Basis of 242 Mandates Submitted by Local Deputies to the First All-Russia Congress of Peasants’ Deputies Held in Petrograd, 1917”
The best thing would be for the Congress of Peasants’ Deputies to publish as much detailed information as possible about all those mandates. (if it is absolutely impossible to print them all in full, which, of course, would be preferable). It is particularly necessary, for instance, to have a full list of the gubernias, uyezds and volosts, showing how many mandates have been received from each locality, when they were compiled or delivered, and to analyse at least the basic demands, so that we can tell whether the various points differ according to areas, whether such questions as abolition of private property rights to all peasant lands, periodic redistribution of land, prohibition of wage-labour, confiscation of the landowners’ implements and livestock, etc., etc., are put differently in, say, areas with homestead and communal land ownership, areas with Russian and non-Russian populations, central and outlying areas, areas that never had serfdom, and so on. No thorough-going study of the extraordinarily valuable material contained in the peasant mandates is possible without such details. And we Marxists must exert every effort to make a thorough-going study of the facts underlying our policy.
In the absence of better material, and as long as it has not been proved factually incorrect in one respect or another, the summary of the mandates (as we shall call the “Model Mandate”) remains the only material of its kind which, we repeat, is an absolute must for every Party member.
The first part of the summary is devoted to general political principles, to demands of political democracy; the second, to the land question. (It is to be hoped that the All-Russia Congress of Peasants’ Deputies or some other body will summarise the peasants’ mandates and resolutions concerning the war.) Without going into detail in the first part, we shall note only two points from it, § 6, demanding the election of all office-holders, and § 11, calling for the abolition of the standing army once the war is over. These points bring the peasants’ political programme closest of all to the Bolshevik Party programme. Basing ourselves on these points, we must stress and prove through all our propaganda and agitation that the Menshevik and Socialist-Revolutionary leaders are traitors not only to socialism, but also to democracy. In Kronstadt, for instance, contrary to the will of the population and to democratic principles, and to please the capitalists, they upheld the office of a commissar subject to approval by the government, that is, an office not purely elective. In the Petrograd district councils and in other local self-government bodies, the Socialist-B evolutionary and Menshevik leaders, contrary to democratic principles, are fighting the Bolshevik demand for the immediate institution of a workers’ militia, to be succeeded by a popular militia.
According to the summary, the peasant land demands are primarily abolition of private ownership of all types of land, including the peasants’ lands, without compensation; transfer of lands on which high-standard scientific farming is practised to the state or the communes; confiscation of all livestock and implements on the confiscated lands (peasants with little land are excluded) and their transfer to the state or the communes; a ban on wage-labour; equalised distribution of land among the working people, with periodical redistributions, and so on. In the transition period, pending the convocation of the Constituent Assembly, the peasants demand the immediate enactment of laws prohibiting the purchase and sale of land, abolition of laws concerning separation from the commune, farmsteads, etc., laws protecting forests, fisheries, etc., abolishing long-term and revising short-term leases, and so on.
You do not have to give these demands a lot of thought to see that it is absolutely impossible to realise them in alliance with the capitalists, without breaking completely with them, without waging the most determined and ruthless struggle against the capitalist class, without overthrowing its rule.
The Socialist-Revolutionaries are deceiving themselves and the peasants precisely by assuming and spreading the idea that these reforms, or similar reforms, are possible without overthrowing capitalist rule, without all state power being transferred to the proletariat, without the peasant poor supporting the most resolute, revolutionary measures of a proletarian state power against the capitalists. The significance of the appearance of a Left wing among the “Socialist-Revolutionaries” is that it proves there is a growing awareness of this deception within their party.
Indeed, confiscation of all private land means the confiscation of hundreds of millions in capital belonging to the banks to which the greater part of this land is mortgaged. How can any measure like this be taken without the revolutionary class overcoming the capitalists’ resistance by revolutionary methods? Moreover, it is here a question of the most highly centralised capital of all, bank capital, which is connected through billions of threads with all the nerve centres of the capitalist economy of a huge country and which can be defeated only by the no less centralised might of the urban proletariat.
Further, take the transfer of highly efficient farms to the state. Obviously, the “state” capable of taking them over and running them really and truly in the interests of the working people, and not in the interests of the officials and the capitalists themselves, must be a proletarian revolutionary state.
The confiscation of stud farms, etc., and then of all livestock and implements, is something more than striking one staggering blow after another at private ownership of the means of production. It means taking steps towards socialism, for the transfer of livestock and implements “to the exclusive use of the state or a commune’ implies large-scale, socialist agriculture or at least socialist control over integrated small farms, socialist regulation of their economy.
And what about a “ban” on wage-labour? This is a meaningless phrase, helpless, unwittingly naive wishful thinking on the part of downtrodden petty proprietors, who do not see that capitalist industry as a whole would come to a standstill if there were no reserve army of wage-labour in the countryside, that it is impossible to “ban” wage-labour in the villages while permitting it in the towns, and lastly, that to “ban” wage-labour means nothing but a step towards socialism.
Here we come to the fundamental question of the workers’ attitude to the peasants.
A mass Social-Democratic workers’ movement has existed in Russia for more than twenty years (if we begin with the great strikes of 1896). Throughout this long span of time, through two great revolutions, through the entire political history of Russia, runs the issue of whether the working class is to lead the peasants forward, to socialism, or whether the liberal bourgeoisie are to drag them back, to conciliation with capitalism.
The opportunist wing of the Social-Democrats has always reasoned by the worldly-wise formula: since the Socialist-Revolutionaries are petty bourgeois, “we” reject their philistine utopian views on socialism in the name of bourgeois rejection of socialism. Struvism neatly replaces Marxism, and Menshevism slithers down to the role of a Cadet flunkey seeking to “reconcile” the peasants to bourgeois rule. The latest and most striking evidence of that role is that Tsereteli and Skobelev, hand in hand with Chernov and Avksentyev, were busy signing the Cadets’ reactionary landowner decrees in the name of “revolutionary democrats”.
The revolutionary Social-Democrats, who have never renounced criticism of the petty-bourgeois illusions of the Socialist-Revolutionaries, and never entered into any bloc with them except against the Cadets, work unremittingly to wrest the peasants away from Cadet influence, and in opposition to the philistine’s utopian view of socialism, put forward the revolutionary proletarian road to socialism instead of liberal conciliation with capitalism.
Now that the war has speeded up developments fantastically, aggravated the crisis of capitalism to the utmost, and confronted the peoples with making an immediate choice between destruction and immediate determined strides towards socialism, the full depth of the gulf between semi-liberal Menshevism and revolutionary proletarian Bolshevism is clearly revealed over the practical issue of what action the tens of millions of peasants should take.
Accept the rule of capital because “we” are not yet ripe for socialism, the Mensheviks tell the peasants, substituting, incidentally, the abstract question of “socialism” in general for the concrete question of whether it is possible to heal the wounds inflicted by the war without decisive strides towards socialism.
Accept capitalism because the Socialist-Revolutionaries are petty-bourgeois utopians, the Mensheviks tell the peasants and rally together with the Socialist-Revolutionaries to support the Cadet government.
And the Socialist-Revolutionaries, beating their breast, assure the peasants that they are against any peace with the capitalists, that they have never regarded the Russian revolution as a bourgeois revolution—and therefore enter into a bloc with the opportunist Social-Democrats and rally to support a bourgeois government. The Socialist-Revolutionaries sign all peasant programmes. however revolutionary, except that they do so not to carry them out, but to pigeon-hole them and deceive the peasants with the most noncommittal promises, while actually pursuing for months a policy of compromise with the Cadets in the coalition government.
This crying, practical, direct, palpable betrayal of the peasants’ interests by the Socialist-Revolutionaries radically alters the situation. We must take this change into account. It is not enough to conduct agitation against the Socialist-Revolutionaries in the old way, the way we did between 1902 and 1903, and 1905 and 1907. It is not enough to expose theoretically the petty-bourgeois illusions of “socialisation of land”, “equalised land tenure”, “a ban on wage-labour”, etc.
That was on the eve of the bourgeois revolution, or before the bourgeois revolution’s completion, and the task was primarily to carry it through to overthrow the monarchy.
Now the monarchy has been overthrown. The bourgeois revolution has been completed in so far as Russia has become a democratic republic with a government of Cadets, Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries. And the war in the past three years has pushed us a good thirty years ahead. It has forced on Europe universal labour service and the compulsory syndication of undertakings, caused hunger and unprecedented ravages in the leading countries, and imposed steps towards socialism.
The fundamental premise of our class policy at that time was that only the workers and peasants can overthrow the monarchy. And this premise was correct. February and March 1917 reaffirmed this.
The premise of our class policy today is that only the proletariat, leading the poorest peasants (the semi-proletarians, as our programme puts it), can end the war with a democratic peace, heal the war wounds, and initiate steps towards socialism which have become absolutely necessary and urgent.
It follows that the emphasis in our propaganda and agitation against the Socialist-Revolutionaries must be shifted to the fact that they have betrayed the peasants. They represent a minority of well-to-do farmers rather than the mass of the peasant poor. They are leading the peasants to an alliance with the capitalists, i.e., to subordination to them, rather than to an alliance with the workers. They have bartered the interests of the working and exploited people for ministerial posts and a bloc with the Mensheviks and Cadets.
History, accelerated by the war, has forged so far ahead that the old formulas have acquired a new meaning. “A ban on wage-labour” was formerly only an empty phrase bandied about by the petty-bourgeois intellectual. In the light of today, it means something different: the millions of peasant poor say in their 242 mandates that they want hired labour abolished but do not know how to do it. We know how. We know that this can be done only in alliance with the workers, under their leadership, against the capitalists, not through a compromise with them.
These are the changes that the basic line of our propaganda and agitation against the Socialist-Revolutionaries, the basic line we pursue in addressing the peasants, must now undergo.
The Socialist-Revolutionary Party has betrayed you, comrade peasants. It has betrayed the hovels and deserted to the palaces, if not the royal palaces, then those where the Cadets, those bitter enemies of the revolution, and particularly the peasant revolution, sit in the same government as the Chernovs, Peshekhonovs, and Avksentyevs.
Only the revolutionary proletariat, only the vanguard that unites it, the Bolshevik Party, can actually carry out the programme of the peasant poor which is put forward in the 242 mandates. For the revolutionary proletariat is really advancing to the abolition of wage-labour along the only correct path, through the overthrow of capital and not by prohibiting the hiring of labourers, not through a “ban” on wage-labour. The revolutionary proletariat is really advancing to confiscation of land, implements, and agricultural technical establishments, to what the peasants want and what the Socialist-Revolutionaries cannot give them.
This is how the basic line pursued by the worker in addressing the peasant must now change. We workers can and will give you what the peasant poor want and are searching for without always knowing where and how to find it. We workers are upholding our own interests and at the same time the interests of the vast majority of the peasants against the capitalists, while the Socialist-Revolutionaries, allying themselves with the capitalists, are betraying these interests.
Let us recall what Engels said on the peasant question shortly before his death. He stressed that socialists have no intention whatever of expropriating the small peasants, and that the advantages of mechanised socialist agriculture will be made clear to them only by force of example.
The war has now confronted Russia in practice with a problem of exactly this order. There is a shortage of implements. They must be confiscated, and the highly efficient farms must not be “divided up”.
The peasants have begun to realise this. Need has compelled them to do so. The war has compelled them, for there are 110 implements to be had anywhere. What there is must be thriftily husbanded. And large-scale farming means saving labour through the use of implements as well as many other things.
The peasants want to keep their small farms, to set equal standards for all, and to make readjustments on an equalitarian basis from time to time. Fine. No sensible socialist will differ with the peasant poor over this. If the land is confiscated, that means the domination of the banks has been undermined, if the implements are confiscated, that means the domination of capital has been undermined—and in that case, provided the proletariat rules centrally, provided political power is taken over by the proletariat, the rest will come by itself, as a result of “force of example”, prompted by experience.
The crux of the matter lies in political power passing into the hands of the proletariat. When this has taken place, everything that is essential, basic, fundamental in the programme set out in the 242 mandates will become feasible. Life will show what modifications it will undergo as it is carried out. This is an issue of secondary importance. We are not doctrinaires. Our theory is a guide to action, not a dogma.
We do not claim that Marx knew or Marxists know the road to socialism down to the last detail. It would be nonsense to claim anything of the kind. What we know is the direction of this road, and the class forces that follow it; the specific, practical details will come to light only through the experience of the millions when they take things into their own hands.
Trust the workers, comrade peasants, and break with the capitalists! Only in close alliance with the workers can you begin to carry out the programme set out in the 2/i2 man dates. Allied with the capitalists and led by the Socialist-Revolutionaries, you will never live to see a single determined, radical step in the spirit of this programme.
But when in alliance with the urban workers, waging a ruthless struggle against capital, you begin to realise the programme of the 242 mandates, the whole world will come to our and your assistance, and then the success of that programme—not as it stands now, but in its essence—will be assured. When that happens, the domination of capital and wage slavery xviii come to an end. That will be the beginning of the reign of socialism, the reign of peace, the reign of the working people.
- Izvestia of the All-Russia Congress of Peasants’ Deputies (Izvestia Vserossiiskogo Soveta Krestyanskikh Deputatov)—the official daily newspaper of that Soviet published in Petrograd from May 9 (22) to December 1917. It expressed the views of the Right wing of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party. Its attitude to the October Revolution was hostile. It was closed down for its counter-revolutionary propaganda.
- Lenin is referring to Frederick Engels, The Peasant Question in France and Germany (Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, Vol. 3, Moscow, 1973, pp. 469–72).