The Famine and the Reactionary Duma
|Written||22 December 1911|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1974, Moscow, Volume 17, pages 446-450
Not so long ago, under the influence of last year’s harvest, the hack journalists confidently held forth on the beneficial results of “the new agrarian policy”, and, taking their cue from them, some naïve persons proclaimed that there had been a turn in our agriculture and that it was on the upgrade throughout Russia.
Now, as if timed to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the decree of November 9, 1906, the famine and crop failure which have gripped nearly half of Russia have shown most graphically and incontrovertibly how much wanton lying or childish simplicity there was behind the hopes placed in Stolypin’s agrarian policy.
Even according to government calculations, the authenticity and “modesty” of which were demonstrated during preceding spells of famine, the crop failure has affected twenty gubernias; twenty million people “are entitled to receive relief”, in other words, they are bloated from hunger and their farms are being ruined.
Kokovtsov would not be Minister of Finance and the head of the counter-revolutionary government if he did not make “encouraging” statements—there is really no crop failure, you see, but merely “a poor harvest”; hunger “does not cause disease”, but, on the contrary, “sometimes cures” diseases; the stories about the sufferings of the famine-stricken are all newspaper inventions—as is eloquently testified to by the governors; on the contrary, “the economic conditions of the localities affected by the poor harvest are not so bad at all”; “the idea of giving free food to the population is pernicious”, and, finally, the measures taken by the government are “sufficient and timely”.
The head of the constitutional government forgot to mention his brilliant invention designed to combat the famine, namely, that police agents should be given authority to organise “famine relief”.
“Public aid” even from legal liberal societies has now been abolished and a Saratov police agent, as the only champion of the starving, has been able to spend freely in taverns the funds entrusted to him to aid the famine-stricken.
Naturally, the feudal landowners on the Right were enthusiastic about “the detailed and, so to speak, all-embracing speech of the Chairman of the Council of Ministers” (Deputy Vishnevsky on November 9); naturally, the grovelling Octobrists promptly stated in their motion to pass to next business that “the government has taken timely measures to combat the effects of the crop failure”; and one of their leaders (by no means an ordinary mortal!) indulged in a profound discourse on “unrestricted circulation of canned fish as a means of providing the population with desirable food”.
Hunger-typhus, scurvy, people eating carrion for which they fight dogs, or bread mixed with ashes and manure such as was demonstrated in the State Duma—all these things do not exist as far as the Octobrists are concerned. To them the word of the Minister is law.
And the Cadets? Even on this issue they refrained from voicing a straightforward opinion on the infamous behaviour of the government and found nothing better than, through the medium of Kutler, one of their speakers, to “draw reassuring conclusions from the comprehensive speech of the Chairman of the Council of Ministers” (sitting of November 9); and in formulating their motion to pass to next business, they gently described the activity of the government as being merely “insufficiently [!] systematic, inadequate, and not always [!] timely”.
The question of relief and of its organisation is but one aspect of the matter, as the Social-Democrat deputy, Comrade Belousov, correctly pointed out in his speech. No less important is the fundamental question which arises each time the discussion turns on the famine—the question of the causes of famine and of the measures to combat crop failures.
The feudal landowners on the Right have a “very simple” solution: the “loafing” muzhik must be made to work still harder and then “he’ll deliver the goods”. Markov the Second, the diehard from Kursk, thinks that it is “horrible” that “out of 365 days in the year the muzhik works only 55–70 days, doing nothing for three hundred days”, merely warming his back on the stove and “demanding a ration from the government”.
The semi-feudal landowners among the Nationalists and Octobrists take a “deeper” view of the matter. In line with their duty to sing the praises of the authorities, they are still trying to persuade people that “the question of famine will be radically solved when the land passes from the hands of the feeble and the drunkards into the hands of the strong and the sober”, “when the reform inaugurated by the late P. A. Stolypin is fully implemented, when the stake on the strong is won”. (Kelepovsky’s speech at the sitting of the Duma on November 9.)
However, the more far-sighted among the recent defenders of the decree of November 9 are already beginning to sense that the breath of death is hovering over this “great reform”. N. Lvov, a deputy from Saratov, who was and, as he declared, still is “in favour of the law of November 9”, shared with the Duma the following impressions he had gained “from contact with reality”: “All those things you are saying here in the State Duma somehow seem terribly removed from the actual suffering which one sees with one’s own eyes”. “It is necessary to exercise great caution, and it is necessary to spare that section of the population whom some people are inclined to ignore. As a result of the law of November 9, many newcomers have appeared in some gubernias, including Saratov, land prices have risen and the condition of the poor population has become extremely difficult.... Terrible hatred and condemnation are welling up among the peasant poor—and some measures ought to be taken against this state of affairs.... For relying on the strong by no means implies that the poorer peasants ought to be hastened to their doom and left to perish in poverty”, and so on and so forth.
In brief, the impressions “gained from contact with reality” are beginning to open the eyes of this landowner who was “in favour of the law of November 9”.
The seeds of immeasurably more profound doubt as to the salutary effect of Stolypin’s “agrarian reform” have been planted by this year’s famine in the minds of the Right-wing peasants. The motion put forward by Andreichuk, a Right-wing peasant, “that the government shall, at an early date, introduce into the State Duma a bill to limit the amount of land in the hands of big landowners”—a motion supported by all the Right-wing peasants and even by rural priests—shows more than anything else along what lines the peasants, even the Rights among them, think the “struggle against the famine” should be conducted.
The demand voiced by Andreichuk, the demand that comes direct from the peasant world, provides additional proof (recall the statement of the Right- and Left-wing peas ant deputies suggesting the compulsory alienation of land ed estates in order to provide allotments for those who possess little land, recall the speeches of the peasant deputies in the debate on the decree of November 9, etc.), showing how deeply the need for an agrarian revolution is penetrating into the minds even of the Right-wing peasants, to what great extent even they regard the struggle against famine as inseparable from the struggle “for land”.
A real struggle against famine is inconceivable without the appeasement of the peasants’ land hunger, without the relief from the crushing pressure of taxes, without an improvement in their cultural standard, without a decisive change in their legal status, without the confiscation of the landed estates—without a revolution.
In this sense this year’s crop failure is a new reminder of the doom that awaits the entire existing political system, the June Third monarchy.