The Agrarian Question and the Present Situation in Russia

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Author(s) Lenin
Written 15 November 1913


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Za Pravdu No. 36, November 15, 1913. Signed: V. Ilyin. Published according to the Za Pravdu text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, Volume 19, pages 487-491
Collection(s): Za Pravdu


(NOTES OF A PUBLICIST)[edit source]

Two interesting articles on this subject appeared in re cent magazines. One was in the liquidators’ Nasha Zarya (No. 6, 1913, N. Rozhkov) and the other in Russkaya Mysl, the organ of the Right Cadets (No. 8, 1913, Y. Y. Polferov). There can be no doubt that the two authors wrote their articles knowing nothing about each other, and that they proceeded from entirely different premises.

Nevertheless, the resemblance between the two articles is astonishing. They both clearly demonstrate—and this gives them a special value—the kinship of the principles under lying the ideas of the liberal-labour politicians and those of the counter-revolutionary liberal bourgeoisie.

N. Rozhkov uses exactly the same material as Mr. Polferov, except that the latter’s is more copious. Capitalism has been developing in Russian agriculture since the 1905 Revolution. The prices of grain and land are rising; imports of agricultural machinery and of fertilisers, as well as the home manufacture of both, are increasing. Small credit institutions are growing, and so is the number of peasants who are setting up their independent farmsteads. Wages are rising (44.2 per cent from 1890 to 1910, says N. Rozhkov who forgets the rise in the cost of living in the same period!). Commercial stock-breeding, vegetable oil production and grass cultivation are on the increase, and progress is being made in agricultural education.

Needless to say, all this is very interesting. From the point of view of Marxism there has never been the slightest doubt that the development of capitalism cannot he halted,

Had the authors merely adduced new data to explain this they would certainly have deserved our thanks.

But how should these data he appraised; and what conclusions should be drawn from them?—that is the crux of the matter. Here, N. Rozhkov jumps to conclusions with an eagerness that is positively touching. “Feudal serf economy has been transformed into bourgeois capitalist economy ... the transition to bourgeois conditions in agriculture is an accomplished fact, about which there cannot be the slightest doubt.... The agrarian problem in its previous form is now a thing of the past in Russia.... No attempt must be made to galvanise the corpse—the agrarian problem in its old form.”

As the reader sees, the conclusions are perfectly clear and just as perfectly—liquidationist. The editors of the liquidator magazine (as has long been the custom in commercialised journals with no principles) appended a small reservation to the article, stating: “There is much in this that we do not agree with ... we do not think it is possible to assert so emphatically, as N. Rozhkov does, that Russia will proceed precisely along the path mapped out by the law of November 9–June 14....”

The liquidators are “not so emphatic” as N. Rozhkov! What a profound, principled attitude to the question!

In this article N. Rozhkov has proved once again that he has learned by heart a number of Marxist propositions, but has not understood them. That is why they “popped out” so easily.

The development of capitalism in Russian agriculture was also under way in 1861–1904. All the symptoms of this development that Rozhkov and Polferov now point out were in existence at that time. The development of capitalism did not avert the bourgeois-democratic crisis in 1905, but paved the way for it and intensified it. Why? Because the old, semi-feudal, natural, economy had been eroded, while the conditions for the new, bourgeois economy had not yet been created. Hence, the unusual intensity of the 1905 crisis.

The ground for such crises has disappeared, says Rozhkov. This, of course, could possibly be true if we were to speak abstractly, of capitalism in general, and not of Russia, not of 1913. Marxists, it goes without saying, recognise the existence of a bourgeois-democratic agrarian problem only under special conditions (not always, and not everywhere).

But Rozhkov has not the slightest inkling of what propositions he has to prove in order to confirm the concrete conclusion he draws.

The peasants are discontented with their conditions? “But the peasants are discontented everywhere,” writes Rozhkov.

To compare and identify the discontent of the West-European peasants whose village life and legal status are based on a fully developed bourgeois system, and who have their “parties of law and order”, with the famines in Russia, with the complete degradation of village life caused by the social-estate system with the complete domination of feudalism in the sphere of the law, etc., is puerile and absurd. Rozhkov cannot see the wood for the trees.

Capitalism is growing, corvée (labour service) is declining, he writes. “The vast majority of landowners,” writes the liberal Polferov “... are developing more and more the contract and métayage system, which has arisen exclusively out of the peasants’ need of money and land.”

The liberal writing in Russkaya Mysl is less of a naive optimist than the ex-Marxist writing in the liquidator Nasha Zarya!

N. Rozhkov did not even attempt to deal with the data showing the degree to which métayage, labour service, corvée, bondage are prevalent in the rural districts today. With amazing unconcern, lie ignored the fact that these forms are still widespread. But this fact leads to the conclusion that the bourgeois-democratic crisis has become still more acute.

Don’t galvanise the corpse, writes the liquidator, echoing the liberal, who uses other words to indicate that the demands of 1905 are a “corpse”.

To this we have replied: Markov and Purishkevich are not corpses. The economic system which engendered them, and is engendering their class to this day, is not a corpse. To fight that class is the living task of living workers who have a live understanding of their class aims.

The renunciation of this task proves that the liquidators are a decomposing corpse, for although they do not all speak “so emphatically” as Rozhkov, they all forget, or obscure, the struggle against agrarian (and particularly landowner) Purishkevichism and against political Purishkevichism.

The domination of the Purishkeviches in our life is the reverse side of the same medal that in our rural districts is called labour service, bondage, corvée, serfdom, the absence of the most elementary general conditions for the bourgeois system of economy. If the millionaire-proprietors at the top (Guchkov and Co.) are grumbling, then the conditions of the millions of small proprietors (the peasants) at the bottom must be absolutely intolerable.

When they set out to deal with the roots of Purishkevichism the workers are by no means neglecting their “own” tasks in order to “galvanise” something that is alien to them. No. In this way the democratic aims of their struggle, of their class, become clearer to them and they teach democracy and the elements of socialism to the broad masses. For only “royal-Prussian socialism” (as Marx called it in his statement against Schweitzer)[1] can leave in the shade the feudal domination of Purishkevichism in general, and of landowner Purishkevichism in particular.

Without noticing it, Rozhkov has descended to the position of Polferov, who says: “The simple allotment of additional land” would not “save” the situation without intensification! As if intensification would not proceed a hundred times faster if Purishkevichism were abolished! As if the question were merely one of the peasants, whether they should or should not he “allotted additional land”, and not a question of the entire nation, of the entire development of capitalism, a development which is being distorted and retarded by Purishkevichism!

Rozhkov has blurted out the real nature of liquidationism, and revealed the connection that exists between the all-embracing slogan “freedom of association” (see how thus slogan is dealt with in the liberal speech delivered by Tulyakov and in the Marxist speech delivered by Badayev in the State Duma on October 23, 1013)—revealed the connection between this slogan and satisfaction with the present state of the agrarian problem.

This connection is an objective fact and Nasha Zarya’s “small reservations” will not obliterate it.

Stop thinking about the entire nation, about Purishkevichism in every sphere of life, about the famines that afflict the peasantry, about corvée, labour service and serfdom; fight “for legality”, for “freedom of association” as one of a series of reforms—such are the ideas that the bourgeoisie fosters in the minds of the workers. Rozhkov and the liquidators are merely trailing unwittingly in the wake of the bourgeoisie.

We, however, think that the proletarians, the foremost representatives of the entire mass of the working people, cannot achieve even their own emancipation except by waging an all-round struggle against Purishkevichism for the sake and in the interests of the struggle against the bourgeoisie; and these are the ideas that distinguish the Marxist from the liberal-labour politician.

  1. Royal-Prussian socialism is the name Marx and Engels gave to the policy of conciliation with Bismarck’s government, a policy pursued by Lassalle and by his successor Schweitzer, editor of the Lassallean newspaper Sozialdemokrat.