Speech At A Meeting Of Delegates From The Poor Peasants’ Committees Of Central Gubernias
|Written||8 November 1918|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, Volume 28, 1974, pages 95-97
The meeting was called by the editors of Byednota in Moscow and was attended by 450 delegates. Lenin spoke about the tasks of the Poor Peasants’ Committees in the revolution on November 8.
November 8, 1918[edit source]
Comrades, the organisation of the poor peasants is the key problem in our internal construction work, and even in our whole revolution.
The aim of the October Revolution was to wrench the factories from the hands of the capitalists so as to make the means of production the property of the whole people, and to reconstruct agriculture on socialist lines by handing over the land to the peasants.
The first part of this aim was much easier to accomplish than the second. In the cities, the revolution was dealing with large-scale industry employing tens and hundreds of thousands of workers. The factories belonged to a small number of capitalists, who gave the workers little trouble. The workers had already gained experience in their long struggle against the capitalists, which had taught them to act concertedly, resolutely, and in an organised way. Moreover, they did not have to split up the factories; the thing that mattered was to make all production serve the interests of the working class and the peasants and see that the products of labour should not fall into capitalist hands.
But agriculture is quite a different proposition. A number of transitional measures are required if socialism is to win here. To transform a vast number of small peasant farms into large farms is something that cannot be done immediately. Agriculture, which has hitherto been conducted on a haphazard basis, cannot immediately or in a short space of time be socialised and transformed into large-scale state enterprise, whose produce would be equally and justly distributed among all working people under a system of universal and equal labour service.
While the factory workers in the cities have already succeeded in completely overthrowing the capitalists and getting rid of exploitation, in the countryside the real fight against exploitation has only just begun.
After the October Revolution we finished off the landowner and took away his land. That, however, did not end the rural struggle. Gaining the land, like every other workers’ gain, can only be secure when it is based on the independent action of the working people themselves, on their own organisation, on their endurance and revolutionary determination.
Did the peasants have this organisation?
Unfortunately not. And that is the trouble, the reason why the struggle is so difficult.
Peasants who do not employ the labour of others, who do not profit at the expense of others, will, of course, always be in favour of the land being divided among all equally, of everybody working, of land tenure not serving as a basis of exploitation; they are against the concentration of land in the hands of a few. But it is different with the kulaks and the parasites who grew rich on the war, who took advantage of the famine to sell grain at fabulous prices, who concealed grain in anticipation of higher prices, and who are now doing all they can to grow rich on the people’s misfortunes and on the starvation of the village poor and urban workers.
They, the kulaks and parasites, are no less formidable enemies than the capitalists and landowners. And if the kulaks are not dealt with properly, if we do not cope with the parasites, the return of the tsar and the capitalists is inevitable.
The experience of every revolution that has occurred in Europe offers striking corroboration of the fact that revolution is inevitably doomed if the peasants do not throw off the domination of the kulaks.
Every European revolution ended in failure because the peasants could not cope with their enemies. In the cities the workers overthrew their kings (in England and France they executed their kings several centuries ago; it was only we who were late with our tsar), yet after a certain interval the old order came back. That was because in those days even in the cities there was no large-scale industry which could unite millions of workers in the factories and weld them into an army powerful enough to withstand the onslaught of the capitalists and the kulaks even without peasant support.
The poor peasants were unorganised, fought the kulaks badly, and as a result the revolution was defeated in the cities as well.
Now the situation is different. During the last two hundred years large-scale production has developed so powerfully and has covered all countries with such a network of huge factories employing thousands and tens of thousands of workers that today everywhere in the cities there are many organised workers, the proletarians, who constitute a force strong enough to achieve final victory over the bourgeoisie, the capitalists.
In former revolutions the poor peasants had nowhere to turn for support in their difficult struggle against the kulaks.
The organised proletariat—which is stronger and more experienced than the peasants (having gained experience in earlier struggles)—now holds power in Russia and possesses all the means of production, the mills, factories, railways, ships, etc.
Now the poor peasants have a reliable and powerful ally in their anti-kulak struggle. They know that the town is behind them, that the proletariat will help them, and is in fact already helping them with every means in its power. That has been shown by recent events.
You all remember, comrades, in what a dangerous situation the revolution was this July. The Czech revolt was spreading, the food shortage in the cities was worsening and the kulaks were becoming more insolent and violent than ever in their attacks on the towns, the Soviet government and the poor peasants.
We appealed to the poor peasants to organise. We proceeded to form Poor Peasants’ Committees and organise workers’ food detachments. The Left Socialist-Revolutionaries started an uprising. They said the Poor Peasants’ Committees consisted of idlers and the workers were robbing the working peasants of grain.
We replied that they were defending the kulaks, who realised that the Soviet government could be fought by starvation as well as arms. They talked about "idlers". And we asked, "But why does an individual become an ’idler’, why does he deteriorate, why is he impoverished, and why does he take to drink? Isn’t it because of the kulaks?" The kulaks, in unison with the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries, raised an outcry against "idlers", but they themselves were raking in grain, concealing it and profiteering because they wanted to grow rich on the starvation and suffering of the workers.
The kulaks were squeezing the poor peasants dry. They were profiting from the labour of others, at the same time crying, "Idlers!"
The kulaks waited impatiently for the Czechs. They would most willingly have enthroned a new tsar so as to continue their exploitation with impunity, to continue to dominate the farm labourer and to continue to grow rich.
The only salvation was in the village uniting with the town, the rural proletarians and semi-proletarians (those who do not employ the labour of others) joining the town workers in a campaign against the kulaks and parasites.
To achieve this unity a great deal had to be done about the food situation. The workers in the towns were starving, while the kulak said: "If I hold my grain back a bit longer they may pay more."
The kulaks, of course, are in no hurry; they have plenty of money; they say themselves they have tons of Kerensky notes.
But people who during famine can conceal and hoard grain are vicious criminals. They must be fought as the worst enemies of the people.
And we have begun this fight in the countryside.
The Mensheviks and S.R.s tried to frighten us by saying that in forming the Poor Peasants’ Committees we were splitting the peasants. But if we don’t split the peasants? The countryside will be left at the kulak’s mercy. And that is exactly what we do not want, so we decided to split them. We said: true, we are losing the kulaks—we cannot avoid that misfortune (laughter )—but we shall win thousands and millions of poor peasants who will side with the workers. (Applause.)
And that is exactly what is taking place. The split among the peasants only served to bring out more clearly who are the poor peasants, who are the middle peasants not employing the labour of others, and who are the parasites and kulaks.
The workers have been helping the poor peasants in their struggle against the kulaks. In the civil war that has flared up in the countryside the workers are on the side of the poor peasants, as they were when they passed the S.R.-sponsored law on the socialisation of the land.
We Bolsheviks were opposed to this law. Yet we signed it, because we did not want to oppose the will of the majority of peasants. The majority will is binding on us always, and to oppose the majority will is to betray the revolution.
We did not want to impose on the peasants the idea that the equal division of the land was useless, an idea which was alien to them. Far better, we thought, if, by their own experience and suffering, the peasants themselves come to realise that equal division is nonsense. Only then could we ask them how they would escape the ruin and kulak domination that follow from the division of the land.
Division of the land was all very well as a beginning. Its purpose was to show that the land was being taken from the landowners and handed over to the peasants. But that is not enough. The solution lies only in socialised farming.
You did not realise this at the time, but you are coming round to it by force of experience. The way to escape the disadvantages of small-scale farming lies in communes, artels or peasant associations. That is the way to improve agriculture, economise forces and combat the kulaks, parasites and exploiters.
We were well aware that the peasants live rooted to the soil. The peasants fear innovations and tenaciously cling to old habits. We knew the peasants would only believe in the benefits of any particular measure when their own common sense led them to understand and appreciate the benefits. And that is why we helped to divide the land, although we realised this was no solution.
Now the poor peasants themselves are beginning to agree with us. Experience is teaching them that while ten ploughs, say, are required when the land is divided into one hundred separate holdings, a smaller number suffices under communal farming because the land is not divided up so minutely. A commune permits a whole artel or association to make improvements in agriculture that are beyond the capacity of individual small owners, and so on.
Of course, it will not be possible to change everywhere to socialised farming immediately. The kulaks will put up every resistance—and frequently the peasants themselves stubbornly resist the introduction of communal farming principles. But the more the peasants are convinced by example and by their own experience of the advantages of communes, the greater progress will be.
The Poor Peasants’ Committees have an immensely important part to play. They must cover the whole of Russia. For some time their development has been quite rapid. The other day a Congress of Poor Peasants’ Committees of the Northern Region was held in Petrograd. Instead of the 7,000 representatives expected, 20,000 actually turned up, and the hall booked for the purpose could not accommodate them all. The fine weather came to the rescue and the meeting was held in the square outside the Winter Palace.
The Congress showed that the rural civil war is being properly understood: the poor peasants are uniting and fighting together against the kulaks, the rich and the parasites.
Our Party Central Committee has drawn up a plan for reforming the Poor Peasants’ Committees which will be submitted for the approval of the Sixth Congress of Soviets. We have decided that the Poor Peasants’ Committees and the rural Soviets must not exist separately, otherwise there will be squabbling and too much useless talk. We shall merge the Poor Peasants’ Committees with the Soviets and turn the Poor Peasants’ Committees into Soviets.
We know kulaks sometimes worm their way even into the Poor Peasants’ Committees. If this continues the poor peasants will have the same sort of attitude towards the Committees as they had towards the kulak Soviets of Kerensky and Avksentyev. A change of name will fool nobody. It is therefore proposed to hold new elections to the Poor Peasants’ Committees. The right to vote will only go to those who do not exploit the labour of others, who do not make the starving people a source of plunder, and who do not profiteer on or conceal grain surpluses. There must be no place for kulaks and parasites in the proletarian Poor Peasants’ Committees.
The Soviet government has decided to assign one thousand million rubles to a special fund for improving farming. All existing and newly formed communes will receive monetary and technical assistance.
We shall send trained experts if they are required. Although most of these experts are counter-revolutionary, the Poor Peasants’ Committees should be able to harness them and they will work for the people no worse than they used to work for the exploiters. Our specialists are now quite sure they cannot overthrow the workers’ government by sabotage or wilful damage to work.
We are not afraid of foreign imperialism either. Germany has already burnt her fingers in the Ukraine. Instead of the sixty million poods of grain which Germany hoped to carry off from the Ukraine, she got only nine million poods, and Russian Bolshevism into the bargain, for which she was not so keen. (Storm of applause.) The British should watch out the same thing does not happen to them. We might warn them not to choke themselves! (Laughter and applause.)
The danger, however, continues to exist as long as our brothers abroad have not everywhere rebelled. And we must therefore continue to organise and strengthen our Red Army. The poor peasants should be particularly concerned in this matter for they can only carry on farming under the protection of our army.
Comrades, the transition to the new form of agriculture may perhaps proceed slowly, but the beginnings of communal farming must be carried into practice unswervingly.
There must be no let-up in the fight against the kulaks, and no deals must be made with them.
We can work together with the middle peasants, and with them fight the kulaks. We have nothing against the middle peasants. They may not be socialists, and may never become socialists, but experience will teach them the advantages of socialised farming and the majority of them will not resist.
We tell the kulaks: We have nothing against you either, but hand over your surplus grain, don’t profiteer and don’t exploit the labour of others. Until you do so we shall hit you with everything we’ve got.
We are taking nothing from the working peasants; but we shall completely expropriate all those who employ hired labour and who grow rich at the expense of others. (Stormy applause.)
- Kerensky notes—money issued in the summer of 1917 by the Provisional Government headed by Kerensky.