Useful Polemics

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Author(s) Lenin
Written 22 June 1906

Ekho No. 1, June 22, 1906. Published according to the Ekho text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1965, Moscow, Volume 11, pages 40-42.
Collection(s): Ekho
Keywords : Peasantry, Russia

More than half of the Goremykin government’s long communication on “measures for improving the conditions of life of the peasantry” is devoted to polemics against the views of the peasants and the talk (“rumours”, as the Goremykins contemptuously call it) that is going on among the people. These polemics are extremely useful. The Goremykin government is debating with the “Russian peasantry”. It declares that the views the peasants hold are “mistaken”, and tries to prove to them that their demands and plans are “primarily opposed to the interests of the peasants themselves

Now it is exceedingly praiseworthy, gentlemen of the Goremykin government, that you should try the art of gentle persuasion! You should have tried this long ago. It really would have been far better had you dealt with the peasants by argument rather than by means of the birch, the knout, bullets and rifle butts. Almost all newspapers would publish a government communication. The village priests, the Zemstvo officials, the rural district elders and the police officials would read it to the peasants. The peasants would ponder over it. They would be taught sense by the government, how to understand their real interests. And after thinking it over, and having been taught something by the government, they would decide by a majority vote who was right. How nice it would be if this were so! But how atrocious it is when, with one hand, the Goremykins and their myrmidons flog, torture and murder the peasants, and with the other, they run down their throats “communications” to teach them to understand their own interests! Peasant newspapers are being suppressed; peasant delegates and members of the Peasant Union[1] are languishing in jail, or in Siberia; the villages are inundated with troops, as if they were enemy territory—and the Goremykin government hands the flogged and tortured peasants a communication to the effect that they are being flogged and tortured for their own good!

This is a useful communication! It will have a splendid effect on the peasants. The government has undertaken a little of the work of the Trudovik, or Peasant, Group in the Duma. This Group ought to appeal to the people, to tell them about the demands the peasant deputies in the Duma are making for land for the peasants, and what the government says in answer to these demands. The Trudovik Group has not yet done this. The government has come to its aid. Our government is so clever! It has itself published a communication to the whole people and has told them what the peasants demand.

Even in the most out-of-the-way villages, even in villages where they have never heard about the Peasant Union and about the peasant deputies in the Duma (if there are such villages—probably there are; ours is such a wild country), even there, the local priest, or village elder, will read the government’s communication. The peasants will gather round, listen quietly, and then disperse. And afterwards they will gather again, with no officials present, and begin to talk. They will discuss the government’s assurance that it and the bureaucrats are not protecting the interests of the landlords. They will chuckle and say: “Oh no, they wouldn’t dream of such a thing!” They will discuss the statement that voluntary sale of the land by the landlords, particularly if it is done through the medium of the government officials, will be far more advantageous to the peasants than compulsory alienation (perhaps even without redemption payment). They will chuckle and say: “What fools we have been not to have realised up to now that it is far better for us to obey the landlords and the bureaucrats than to decide all matters for ourselves.”

But perhaps the peasants will not only chuckle? Perhaps they will reflect over something else, and not only with laughter, but with rage? Perhaps they will decide for themselves not only where truth lies, but how to attain it?...

Our government is so clever!

Incidentally, Mr. Muromtsev, the Cadet Chairman of the State Duma, tells us not to use the word: government. It is wrong, if you please. The Duma, too, is part of the government. We must say: the Cabinet. Then we shall conclude just like “gentlemen” do: the Duma is the legislature, and the Cabinet the executive; the Duma is part of the government.

Kind Mr. Muromtsev! Kind Cadets! They have so painstakingly studied the German books on state law that they know them by heart. They know the business better than Goremykin, who in his communication does not say a word about the Duma, but refers all the time to the government. Who is right, Goremykin or Muromtsev? What should we say: Cabinet or Government?

Goremykin is right. His refinement ... humph! humph! his subtle mind ... caused him inadvertently to speak the truth. The Muromtsevs, being professors and pundits, utter conventional lies.

The peasants will learn something from Goremykin, not from Muromtsev. They will want to settle accounts with the government, not with the Cabinet. And they will be right.

  1. The All-Russian Peasant Union—a revolutionary-democratic organisation which arose in 1905. It demanded political liberty and the immediate convocation of a constituent assembly; it supported the tactics of boycotting the First State Duma. The agrarian programme of the Union included demands for the abolition of private ownership of the land and for the transfer of monastery, church, crown and state lands to the peasants without redemption payments. The Union was half-hearted and wavering in its policy. While demanding the abolition of landlord ownership o land, it agreed to partial compensation of the landlords. From the very beginning of its activities the Peasant Union was subjected to police persecution. The Union ceased to exist by 1907.