The Land Question and the Rural Poor
|Written||13 September 1913|
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, Volume 19, pages 376-378.
A paper on this important subject was read by Minin, a Chernigov agronomist, at the All-Russian Agricultural Congress on September 3 in Kiev.
Mr. Minin, apparently a Narodnik (who agreed, incidentally, with the bourgeois professor Kosinsky on the viability of “family” farming), demonstrated in all justice that agronomy helps the affluent peasant. The agrarian regulations help the strong and ruin the poor. They are a chariot in which the strong sit and crush the defeated.
There can be no doubt that this is an absolute truth. Only people without a conscience could deny it. But in what does Mr. Minin see “salvation”?
He said (according to the report in Kievskaya Mysl No. 244):
“The only thing that will save the smallest farms after the re allocation is for them to form themselves into voluntary co-operatives for the joint exploitation (collective tilling) of their own land.”
Obviously, this Narodnik remedy is simply childish. The landowners and kulaks are driving millions of peasants from the land and ruining millions more. World capitalism as a whole, the entire power of international commerce, the might of capital to the tune of thousands of millions in the hands of the bourgeoisie of all countries are pulling Russia along with them, sustaining and supporting her bourgeoisie in the towns and in the countryside, including those within the village communes. And now we are told that the collective tilling of “their own scraps of land” by ruined peasants is “salvation”! This is like trying to beat a railway train with a wheelbarrow—in speed and carrying capacity.
It won’t work, my Narodnik gentlemen! You are right, of course, when you say that the railway train is crushing the poor, but wheelbarrows are not what yow should be thinking about.
Not backward from the train to the wheelbarrow, but onward from the capitalist train to that of the united proletarians.
The innocent dreams of the Narodniks are not only childishly naïve, they are actually harmful because they divert the minds of the poor from the class struggle. There is no salvation for the rural poor outside the class struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie for the reconstruction of the entire capitalist system. All these unions, co-operatives, associations, etc., can only be of use if they participate consciously in that class struggle.
Although it is beyond all shadow of doubt that the development of capitalism and the proletarianisation of the countryside must inevitably continue in Russia, as in the rest of the world, it would be the greatest mistake to con fine oneself to this truth.
There are various kinds of capitalism—the semi-feudal capitalism of the landowners with its host of residual privileges, which is the most reactionary and causes the masses the greatest suffering; there is also the capitalism of free farmers, which is the most democratic, causes the masses less suffering and has fewer residual privileges.
What influence, for example, would the transfer of all the land to the peasants without compensation have on the development of capitalism in Russia? That would not be socialism. That would also be capitalism, yet it would not be Purishkevich-Guchkov but democratic, Narodnik-peasant capitalism. The development of capitalism would proceed more rapidly, more extensively, more freely and with less suffering for the masses.
That is the real substance of the present, existing agrarian problem in Russia. That is what the advocates of land owners’ solution of the land question and bourgeois agronomy on the one hand, and the Narodniks and Left Cadets (such as Shakhovskoi) on the other, were arguing about in Kiev (without understanding the substance of the issue). They were arguing about whether bourgeois democrats should leave the Purishkeviches to complete the organisation of the new Russia on feudal-capitalist lines, or whether they should take that organisation into their own hands, into the hands of the masses, into the hands of the peasants, and continue it without the Purishkeviches on free, democratic, capitalist lines.
It is not difficult to understand the position of the politically conscious worker on this issue. We know perfectly well that both the Stolypin path of development and that of the Narodniks mean the development of capitalism, which will in any case lead to the triumph of the proletariat. We shall not lose heart, no matter which turn history takes. But we shall not, allow history to take any turn without our participation, without the active intervention of the advanced class. The working class is not indifferent to the clashes between the Purishkeviches and the peasant democrats; its attitude is one of heartiest, most devoted defence of the interests of peasant democracy and democracy for the entire people in their most consistent form.
Not the least concession to the alleged socialism (but actually petty-bourgeois dreaming) of the Narodniks, which is rotten through and through, but the greatest attention to the peasant democrats, to their education, to awakening and rallying them, to liberating them from every kind of stifling prejudice—such is the line taken by the politically conscious worker.
Do you want to dream of the victory of the wheelbarrow over, the train? Then your way is not ours, we are the enemies of banal Manilovism. Do you want to fight against the Purishkeviches? Then your way is ours, but remember that the workers will not forgive the slightest vacillation.
But the working class treats those who, in obsequious haste, declare the “complete” success of Stolypin’s solution of the land question with the contempt that advanced, strong classes hostile to reformism always display towards opportunists and towards the knights of transient success.
- Manilov—a character from Gogol’s Dead Souls, a chatterbox and empty day-dreamer whose name has become a synonym for the passive, easy-going attitude to reality typical of such characters.