On Our Agrarian Programme
(A Letter to the Third Congress)
The new peasant movement, which is daily growing and gathering strength, is again forcing the question of our agrarian programme to the fore. The basic principle underlying this programme cannot, of course, give rise to differences of opinion and discussions. The party of the proletariat must support the movement of the peasantry. It will never defend the present system of landlordism against the revolutionary onset of the peasantry, but at the same time it will always strive to develop the class struggle in the countryside and to introduce political consciousness into this struggle. These principles, I believe, are shared by all Social-Democrats. Opinion is divided only when it comes to putting the principles into practice, when it comes to formulating them in a programme to meet the tasks of the moment.
Reality is the best arbiter of all theoretical differences, and I am confident that the rapid march of revolutionary events will eliminate also these differences on the agrarian question in the Social-Democratic movement. Hardly any one will deny that it is not our business to indulge in project mongering for all manner of land-reform schemes, or that we must strengthen the ties with the proletariat and support the peasant movement, without however losing sight of the possessive tendencies of the peasant proprietor—tendencies whose antagonism to the proletariat will be all the more rapidly and sharply revealed the more rapidly the revolution advances.
On the other hand, the present revolutionary moment plainly calls for a thoroughly definite and concrete slogan. The formation of revolutionary peasant committees must become that slogan, and our Party’s agrarian programme has quite correctly advanced it. There is a great amount of ignorance and backwardness in the peasant movement, and it would be extremely dangerous to cherish any illusions on that score. The ignorance of the peasant is revealed, first of all, in his failure to perceive the political aspect of the movement, to perceive, for instance, that without radical democratic changes in the entire political structure of the entire state it is absolutely impossible to make any lasting progress in the direction of extending the ownership of the land. The peasant needs land, and his revolutionary feeling, his instinctive, primitive sense of democracy cannot express itself otherwise than by laying hands on the landlords’ land. No one will attempt to dispute this, of course. The Socialists-Revolutionaries let it go at that instead of analysing these vague aspirations of the peasantry from the class point of view. The Social-Democrats maintain, on the basis of such an analysis, that it is scarcely possible for the entire peasantry to go solid on any issue beyond the demand for the return of the cut-off lands, for when the limits of such an agrarian reform are exceeded, the antagonism between the rural proletariat and the "enterprising muzhiks" will inevitably assert itself more sharply than ever.The Social-Democrats, of course, can have no objection to the insurgent muzhik’s "dealing the landlord the final blow" and to his taking all his land away from him, but they cannot embark on adventurism in a proletarian programme, they cannot let the class struggle against the property-owners be obscured by roseate prospects of such changes in the landowning system (even though these changes may be democratic) as would merely reshuffle the classes or categories of property-owners.
Until now our programme contained the demand for the return of the cut-off lands, while the various commentaries on the programme pointed out that the cut-off lands are not a barrier, but "a door leading farther", and that the proletariat would gladly support the peasantry in this further advance, while having to keep a watchful eye on its temporary ally, the peasant proprietor, lest he show his proprietary teeth. Now, in face of the revolutionary events, the question naturally arises whether it would not be more appropriate to transfer such a statement of our tactics from the commentaries to the programme proper. After all, the programme is the official general Party expression of the views of Social-Democracy, whereas a commentary necessarily represents the more or less personal views of this or that Social-Democrat. Would it not, therefore, be wiser to put into the programme a more general statement of our policy on this question, and leave it to the commentaries to elaborate on specific measures and separate demands, as, for instance, the cut-off lands?
To clarify my idea, I shall state here how the corresponding place in our programme ought to be formulated: (The R.S.D.L.P. demands above all)... "(4) the formation of revolutionary peasant committees for the purpose of eliminating all remnants of the serf-owning system, transforming all rural relations in general along democratic lines, taking revolutionary measures to improve the lot of the peasantry, even to the extent of taking the land away from the landlords. Social-Democracy will back the peasantry in all its revolutionary-democratic undertakings, while at the same time defending the independent interests and the independent organisation of the rural proletariat."
The proposed formulation introduces into the programme what has hitherto usually been elaborated in the commentaries and transfers the cut-off lands from the programme to them. Such a change has the advantage of bringing out more clearly in the programme the specific, independent character of the proletarian position; and clarity on such an important issue outweighs all editorial inconveniences (such as the inclusion in the programme of an explanation usually placed in the commentaries, instead of a definite demand; we might mention, incidentally, that our programme contains such explanations: compare, for instance, the clause on combating reforms that tend to consolidate the tutelage of the police and the bureaucracy). Another advantage is that the programme quashes once and for all the absurd idea alleging that the Social-Democrats tell the peasants they cannot and must not go beyond the cut-off lands. We must dispel this idea by a clear formulation in the programme, and not confine ourselves to explaining it in the commentaries. The fact that no concrete methods for expropriating the land are mentioned in the proposed formulation may appear to be a defect. But is it, strictly speaking, a defect?
Social-Democrats who have written on the agrarian question have pointed out repeatedly how inappropriate it is for us to occupy ourselves with project-mongering in this connection, since the chief measure of an agrarian reform— nationalisation of the land—would, in a police-ridden state, necessarily be perverted and would serve only to obscure the class nature of the movement. Yet all other measures for transforming agrarian relations will, under the capitalist system, be only an approach to nationalisation; they will be only partial measures, only a few of the possible measures, i.e., measures to which Social-Democracy has no intention whatever of restricting itself. At the present time the Social-Democrats are against nationalisation, and even the Socialists-Revolutionaries, under the influence of our criticism, have become much more cautious on the subject (compare their draft programme with their former "élan").
But the point is that the revolutionary movement leads us towards the democratic republic, which, with the abolition of the standing army, etc., constitutes one of our immediate. demands.
In a democratic republic, with the people armed and with other measures of a like republican character realised, Social-Democracy cannot renounce nationalisation of the land and thereby tie their own hands on this issue. Thus, the defect in the formulation I propose is only an apparent one. In point of fact, this formulation provides a consistent class slogan for the present moment—-indeed, an absolutely concrete slogan—while leaving ample scope for the "revolutionary-democratic" measures which may prove necessary or desirable in the event of a favourable development of our revolution. At the present time, as well as in the future, pending the complete victory of the peasant uprising, a revolutionary slogan must necessarily take into account the antagonism between peasant and landlord; and the cut-off lands clause quite correctly emphasised this circumstance. On the other hand, all and every "nationalisation", "transfer of rents", "socialisation", etc., ignore and obscure this characteristic antagonism, and therein lies their defect.
At the same time, the formulation I propose widens the aims of the revolutionary peasant committees to include "transforming all rural relations in general along democratic lines". The peasant committees are presented as a slogan in our programme, which correctly characterises them as peasant, i.e., social-estate, in essence, since oppression of one social-estate by another can be destroyed only by the whole of the lower, oppressed estate. But is there any reason for confining the aims of these committees to agrarian reforms? Must other committees really be set up for other, e.g., administrative, reforms? The trouble with the peasants, as I have previously pointed out, is their utter failure to perceive the political aspect of the movement. If we could succeed, even in a few instances, in connecting the effective revolutionary measures taken by the peasantry to improve their position (confiscation of grain, of livestock, and of land) with the formation and activity of peasant committees and with the full sanctioning of these committees by the revolutionary parties (and, under especially favourable conditions, by a provisional revolutionary government), we could consider the struggle to win the peasants for the democratic republic as won. Unless the peasantry is thus won over, all its revolutionary steps will be very insecure, and all its gains will easily be wrested from it by the social classes in power.
Finally, in speaking of supporting "revolutionary-democratic" measures, the proposed formulation draws a clear line between the deceptive, pseudo-socialist appearance of such measures as the peasant seizure of land and their actual democratic content. To realise how important it is for a Social-Democrat to draw such a line, it suffices to recall the attitude of Marx and Engels towards the agrarian movement, for instance, in America (Marx in 1848 on Kriege, Engels in 1885 on Henry George). Today, of course, no one will attempt to deny the existence of a peasant war for land, of the land fever (in semi-feudal countries or in the colonies). We fully recognise its legitimacy and its progressiveness, but at the same time we reveal its democratic, i.e., in the final analysis, its bourgeois-democratic content. Therefore, while endorsing this content, we, for our part, make special "reservations"; we point to the "independent" role of the proletarian democratic movement and to the specific aims of the Social-Democratic Party as a class party that is working for the socialist revolution.
These are the reasons that lead me to suggest that the comrades discuss my proposal at the forthcoming Congress and broaden the corresponding clause of the programme in the direction I propose.
V. I. Lenin
To the Rural Poor, first published in pamphlet form, Geneva, May 1903. See present edition, Vol. 6, p. 420.—Ed.
Cut-off lands (otrezki—Russian term)—lands seized by the landlords from the peasants’ allotments at the time of the emancipation of the serfs in Russia in 1861.
The reference is to the following point in the Party’s programme adopted at the Second Congress of the R.S.D.L.P.: "In striving to achieve its immediate aims, the R.S.D.L.P. supports any and every opposition and revolutionary movement directed against the existing social and political order in Russia, while at the same time emphatically rejecting all reformatory projects that are in any way connected with the extension or consolidation of police-bureaucratic patronage over the toiling classes" (see The C.P.S.U. in Resolutions and Decisions of Its Congresses, Conferences, and Plenary Meetings of the Central Committee, Moscow, 1953, Part I, p. 43; Russ.).
"The Anti-Kriege Circular" was written by Karl Marx in collaboration with Frederick Engels at the beginning of May 1846 and published in the monthly Das Westph5lische Dampiboot (see Aus dem literarischen NachlafJ von Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels und Ferdinand Lassalle. Herausgegeben von Franz Mehring; Band II, Stuttgart, 1902, 5. 414-28).
Engels wrote on Henry George in his preface to the American edition of his The Condition of the Working Class in England. The work appeared in New York in 1887.
Published: Vperyod, No. 12, March 29 (16), 1905. [signed] —.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 8, pages 246-251.
Translated: Bernard Isaacs and The Late Isidor Lasker