The Agrarian Programme of the Liberals
|Written||7 April 1905|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 8, pages 315-322.
The legal press reported some time ago that a conference of Zemstvo leaders from various parts of Russia had been held in Moscow. Moskovskiye Vedomosti even sought to give the alarm, shouting that the government was allowing revolutionary assemblies to be held in Russia, and that it was necessary to call a congress of the monarchist party, etc.; but no one paid serious attention to these outcries, since the police these days have their hands full with affairs of a much more disturbing nature. By all accounts, however, the Zemstvo men kept within the bounds of their usual constitutional aspirations. Still, their conference proceedings were of considerable interest, inasmuch as they comprehended the agrarian question. We quote in full the theses which, by the press reports, were adopted by a majority of the conference:
“1) State interference in the economic life should be extended to agrarian relations as well. 2) Proper agrarian legislation presumes a radical change 1??]. 3) The impending agrarian reform should be framed on the following principles: I. Improvement of the economic conditions of the farming class by the compulsory redemption of the necessary supplementary plots from private holdings for the benefit of the land-poor of various categories [the elaboration of this question has been entrusted to several persons]. II. Crown lands and some of the royal demesnes to be declared state lands; these state lands to be increased by the purchase and redemption of privately owned land and to be utilised for the benefit of the labouring population. III. The conditions of lease to be regulated through governmental intervention in the relations between owners and tenants. IV. The establishment of public and state mediation commissions to enforce agrarian measures in accordance with the above-mentioned principles. V. The proper organisation of a widely-conceived system of migration and settlement, better credit facilities, reform of the Peasant Bank, and assistance to co-operative enterprises. VI. The radical revision of land-surveying legislation with a view to simplifying, facilitating, and cheapening demarcation, abolishing the open-field system on privately owned lands and peasant allotments, making possible the exchange of lots, etc.”
Before dealing with this most instructive programme point by point, let us dwell on its significance as a whole. Undoubtedly, the very fact that spokesmen of the landlord class present such a programme proves more conclusively than lengthy arguments that Russia differs substantially in some respect from all the fully formed capitalist nations of Western Europe. In what does this difference consist? Is it in the semi-socialist village communal system that prevails in our country with the corresponding absence of a bourgeois intelligentsia and of bourgeois democracy, as the old Narodnik socialists used to think and as the “Socialists Revolutionaries” still think to some extent? Or is it in the multitude of feudal survivals that enmesh our countryside, making it impossible for capitalism to develop widely and freely and creating Narodnik moods precisely in bourgeois-democratic circles? This is a question no thinking socialist will dismiss with evasive excuses, or on the grounds that it is too abstract and theoretical, supposedly out of place in an epoch of revolution, or by reference to the fact of peasant uprisings as a sufficient explanation of the landlords’ complaisance. Now, in the epoch of revolution, evasiveness or lack of principle in theoretical questions is tantamount to utter ideological bankruptcy; for now of all times a socialist requires a well-thought-out and consistent world out look, so that he may control the events and not the events him. Reference to the peasant uprisings contributes nothing either, for the programme now adopted by the landed proprietors, who are politically organised in Zemstvo unions, embodies the wishes which have been expressed for many a decade by the whole liberal press and by all liberal leaders. The Narodnik programme has become the programme of the landlords—a fact that gives a clear political answer to the question we have raised. In a revolutionary epoch theoretical disputes over social issues are settled by the direct action of the diverse classes.
Let us now examine the agrarian programme of the liberals more closely. Our legal press is inclined to sing its praises. Ekonomicheskaya Gazeta, for instance, “records the fact that the Zemstvo people have come forward with an agrarian programme that is incomparably more extreme [really!] than could have been expected, judging from the prevailing impression of the composition of the Zemstvo at the present time” (extreme, that is, from the point of view of the landlords?). “This is evidence of the fact,” continues the article, “that the Zemstvo political group possesses both political tact and a deep understanding of what is taking place about us....
The tact and the understanding of the landlords consist in the fact that when the peasants themselves began to intervene actively and definitely in agrarian relations, these landlords began to speak of the necessity of state interference. The same old story! State intervention in agrarian relations has always been a fact in Russia. When it was intervention in the interests of the upper classes, it was called in police parlance “order”; when the intervention comes from below, it is called “disorder”. Yes, but what kind of intervention do the landlords want? Their programme shows that they want intervention exclusively to regulate the relations between owners and tenants. ALL the measures which they propose, from redemption of supplementary plots to credit facilities and the exchange of lots, etc., apply exclusively to those persons who use the land, i.e., the various categories of farmers. And what of the rural labourers who have no farms of their own? As far back as the nineties of the past century, in Russia’s fifty interior” gubernias alone there were estimated to be no fewer than three and a half million farm-hands and day-labourers for whom farm employment was the principal means of earning a livelihood. Today, the number of agricultural wage-labourers is undoubtedly still greater, and the overwhelming majority of them are entirely or almost entirely farmless. Apart from those who possessed neither home nor farm, it was estimated that more than three million of the approximately ten million peasant farms in the stated gubernias possessed no horses; and that was ten years ago. All these are farmers in name alone. Their most vital interests lie in higher wages, shorter hours, and improved working conditions. The landlords are discreetly silent on the subject of intervention in the relations between employers and workers. And we may rest assured that no one will give this kind of intervention serious thought until the rural workers themselves intervene.
We Social-Democrats must pay most serious attention to this kind of intervention. Both the immediate practical interests of the movement and our general principles demand it. The bourgeois-democratic nature of Russian liberalism and of Russian Narodism has always manifested itself, among other things, in the fact that the interests of small farming completely overshadow the interests of rural hired labour. Of course, convinced Narodniks, and sometimes “Socialists-Revolutionaries”, are prone to regard this as quite natural in view of the “secondary” role (in their imagination, but not in actual peasant life) of hired labour, in view of the fact that with the further development of “village communal traditions”, “labour views”, and “equalised tenure”, this role might even be reduced to nought. But this tendency, however earnest, sincere, and socialistic the justifying speeches may be, is in fact a sign of nothing but petty-bourgeois narrow-mindedness. This sort of day dreaming, a quality possessed by both the Russian peasant and the Russian intellectual, is petty-bourgeois day-dreaming. The flowers of this Narodnik day-dreaming are the same fictitious flowers that decorate one of the chains of labouring mankind, and Social-Democratic criticism must ruthlessly pluck out such flowers, “not that man should continue to wear his chain bereft of all joy and pleasure, but that he should throw off the chain and reach for the living flower.”
We are in full sympathy with the peasant movement. We would consider it a tremendous gain both for the general social development of Russia and for the Russian proletariat if the peasantry, with our help, succeeded in wresting from the landlords all their lands by revolutionary means. But even assuming this most favourable outcome—even then, the mass of agricultural hired labourers would only temporarily diminish in number but could in no event disappear altogether. Even then, the independent interests of the rural hired labourers would remain independent interests.
The transfer of the land to the peasants would not at all do away with the predominance of the capitalist mode of production in Russia; it would, on the contrary, provide a broader base for its development; it would bring this development from the type approximating the Italian closer to the American. The property distinctions among the peasants, which are already tremendous, but relatively not very noticeable chiefly on account of the general oppression under the absolutist serf-owning system, would not in any way cease to exist. The expansion of the home market, the development of exchange and commodity production on a new scale, the rapid growth of industry and of cities— all these inevitable effects of a substantial improvement in the condition of the peasants would unavoidably increase property distinctions. The more illusions on that score are widespread among us, the more energetically must the Social-Democrats combat them, if they really want to represent the interests of the working-class movement as a whole, and not merely of one of its stages.
Until there has been a complete socialist revolution, not even the most radical and most revolutionary measures for agrarian reform will eliminate the class of agricultural wage-workers. The dream of making all people petty-bourgeois is a reactionary platitude. For this reason we should start working now to develop the class-consciousness of the rural wage-workers and to rally them into an independent class organisation. The strike wave in the towns can and should spread to the villages, not only in the form of peasant uprisings, but in the form of real labour strikes, especially at mowing and harvesting time. The demands contained in the working-class section of our programme, which are so often presented by the urban workers to their employers, must, with the corresponding changes necessitated by the different living conditions, be put forward by the rural workers, too. We must take advantage of the fact that so far there are no special laws in Russia degrading the position of the rural workers below that of the urban workers (except for the law forbidding them to leave their work without permission). We must see to it that the rising tide of the proletarian movement creates a specifically proletarian mood and proletarian methods of struggle among the farm-hands and day-labourers.
The petty-bourgeois stratum of the rural population, the peasantry in the strict and narrow sense of the word, cannot help being revolutionary at certain periods in history. Its present revolutionary attitude is an inevitable product of the conditions of the “old order’, and we must vigorously support and develop it. But it will follow just as inevitably from the conditions of the new order, of the new, free, capitalist Russia, that part of the rural petty bourgeoisie will side with “order”; and the more land the peasants take away from the landlords now, the sooner this will come about. In the countryside, too, only the rural proletariat can be a truly revolutionary class, a class that, under all circumstances, is revolutionary to the end. The conversion of the wretched, downtrodden muzhik into a free, energetic European farmer will be a tremendous democratic gain; but we socialists shall not forget for a moment that this gain will be of no real use to the cause of mankind’s complete emancipation from all oppression unless and insofar as the farmer is confronted by a class-conscious, free, and organised rural proletariat.
The liberal landlords keep quiet about the rural worker. As far as the future farmer is concerned, their sole concern is to get him converted as quickly as possible, with the mini mum loss to their pockets (it would, perhaps, be more correct to say with the maximum gain to their pockets), into their ally, into a man of property, a pillar of order. What miserable sops they hope to get off with! Their only revolutionary measure, the confiscation of the royal demesnes, is restricted to a part of these lands; they are afraid to call confiscation confiscation, and say nothing about the church lands. While promising supplementary plots to the land-poor, they firmly insist on redemption, with not a word about who should make the redemption payment. They obviously take it for granted that the peasant will pay, as in the case of the famed redemption of 1861. The landlords will give up their worst lands at exorbitant prices, which is what their supplementary endowments promise. All the measures they propose in regard to credits, co-operation, exchange of lots, etc., are restricted entirely to narrow proprietary interests. With regard to leases—one of the most acute problems of peasant farming—t.hey offer nothing but the vaguest of catchwords—“regulation”. This may mean any thing at all, even an increase in rents, on the pretext of standardisation; we indicated above what the representatives of the ruling classes have always understood by “order”.
However, the most important and politically most dangerous feature of the liberal programme is, in our view, the clause concerning the “public and state mediation commissions”. The method of realising the agrarian reform is a matter of great importance; for on the method of realisation, concretely and actually, will depend the earnest character of the reform. In regard to this question too (as in regard to many others), we have the Narodniks to thank when we pay the main attention to the economic advantage, ignoring or underestimating the political aspect of the matter. This point of view, natural in a petty bourgeois, understandable in a farmer, is absolutely inadmissible in a Social-Democrat. To the Social-Democrat shifts within the classes and categories of farmers and proprietors are of no consequence unless accompanied by a political gain that facilitates the class struggle of the proletariat. From the point of view of petty-bourgeois day-dreaming, all schemes for “equalised tenure”, etc., are important. From the point of view of the Social-Democrat, all such projects are idle and harmful day-dreams that divert the public mind from the realities of real democratic gains. The Social-Democrats will never forget that the ruling classes always and everywhere try to divide and corrupt the working people with economic sops. In the sphere of agrarian reform they find this policy particularly easy and pursue it with particular skill.
All the more definitely and emphatically must we insist on the basic demand of our agrarian programme, namely, the establishment of revolutionary peasant committees that will themselves enforce really radical (not in the landlords’ sense “radical”) agrarian reforms. Short of this, every agrarian reform will inevitably and inescapably be a new fraud, a new trap, like the famed “Reform” of 1861. This is precisely what the “public [?] and state mediation commissions” are—the laying of a trap! By “public” we understand the landlords; by “state”—the bureaucrats. “Public and state commissions” means landlords’ and bureaucrats’ commissions pure and simple.
That is the point on which we must immediately focus our agitation in the countryside. Peasants, do you hear? They want once again to load you with benefits in true bureaucratic manner, to “regulate” your life by landlord intervention, to “redeem” land for you on the pattern of that old-time land redemption of dismal memory! The landlords are so kind, so very kind: seeing that their lands are in danger of being taken away for nothing, they magnanimously consent to sell them—at a suitable price, of course.... Do you agree to such intervention on the part of landlords and bureaucrats? Or do you want to intervene yourselves and build up a life of freedom for yourselves? Then unite with the urban proletariat, fight for the republic, arise for the insurrection which will bring you a revolutionary government and revolutionary peasant committees!
- Moskovskiye Vedomosti (Moscow Recorder)—a newspaper, founded in 1756. Since the sixties of the nineteenth century it voiced the views of the most reactionary monarchist sections of the landlords and the clerical order. From 1905, it was one of the chief organs of the Black Hundreds. Its publication continued until the October Revolution, 1917.
- Lenin quotes from Marx’s Zur Kritik der Hegelschen Rechisphilosophie. MEGA, 1. Abt., Bd. 1, S. 608.
- Cf. Marx’s article of 1846 printed below. (See pp. 323-29 of this volume.—Ed.)—Lenin