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Social-Democracy's Attitude Towards the Peasant Movement

V. I. Lenin

The tremendous importance of the peasant movement in the democratic revolution Russia is now passing through has been repeatedly explained in the entire Social-Democratic press. As is well known, the Third Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. passed a special resolution on this question in order to define more exactly and to co-ordinate the activities of the whole party of the class-conscious proletariat with regard to. the peasant movement of today. Although the resolution was drawn up in advance (the first draft was published in Vperyod, No. 11, March 10[23], 1905[1]), and although it was carefully gone over at the Party Congress, which took pains to formulate the views already established throughout the Russian Social-Democratic movement— the resolution has nevertheless perplexed a number of comrades working in Russia. The Saratov Committee has unanimously declared this resolution unacceptable (see Proletary, No. 10)[3]. It is to be regretted that an explanation of this verdict, as requested by us at the time, has not yet been forthcoming. We only know that the Saratov Commit tee has declared also unacceptable the agrarian resolution passed by the new-Iskra Conference—consequently they are dissatisfied by what is common to both resolutions, not by what distinguishes them.

New material on this question is provided by a letter we have received from a Moscow comrade (issued in the form of a hectographed leaflet). We print this letter in full:




The regional organisation of the Moscow Committee has taken up work among the peasants. The lack of experience in organising such work, the special conditions prevailing in the rural districts of Central Russia, and also the lack of clarity in the directives contained in the resolutions of the Third Congress on this question, and the almost complete absence of material in the periodical and other press on work among the peasantry, compel us to appeal to the Central Committee, to send us detailed directives, covering both the theoretical aspect and the practical questions involved, while we ask comrades who are doing similar work to acquaint us with the practical knowledge your experience has given you.

We consider it necessary to inform you about the misgivings that have arisen among us after reading the resolution of the Third Congress "on the attitude towards the peasant movement", and about the organisational plan which we are already beginning to apply in our work in the rural districts.

    "§ a) To carry on propaganda among the mass of the people, explaining that Social-Democracy aims at giving the most energetic support to all revolutionary measures taken by the peasantry and likely to improve their condition, measures including confiscation of land belonging to the landlords, the state, the church, the monasteries, and the imperial family" (from the resolution of the Third Congress of the R.S.D.L.P.).

First of all, this paragraph does not clarify how Party organisations will, or should, carry on their propaganda. Propaganda requires, first and foremost, an organisation standing very close to those who are to be propagandised. Whether this organisation should consist of committees of the rural proletariat, or whether other organisational forms of oral and printed propaganda are possible—this question remains unanswered.

The same applies to the promise to give energetic support. To give support, and energetic support at that, is also possible only if local organisations exist. To us the question of "energetic support" seems in general very vague. Can Social-Democracy support the expropriation of landlords' estates that are farmed most intensively, with the use of machinery, cultivating high-grade crops, etc.? The transfer of such estates to petty-bourgeois proprietors, however important improvement of their condition may be, would be a step back from the standpoint of the capitalist development of the given estate. In our opinion we as Social-Democrats should have made a reservation on this matter of "support": "provided the expropriation of this land and its transfer to peasant (petty-bourgeois) ownership results in a higher form of economic development on these estates."


    "§ d) To strive for the independent organisation of the rural proletariat, for its fusion with the urban proletariat under the banner of the Social-Democratic Party, and for the inclusion of its representatives in the peasant committees."

Doubts arise with regard to the latter part of this paragraph. The fact is that bourgeois-democratic organisations such as the Peasant Union, and reactionary-utopian organisations such as the Socialist- Revolutionaries organise under their banner both bourgeois and proletarian elements of the peasantry. By bringing into such "peasant" committees our representatives from rural proletarian organisations we shall be contradicting ourselves, our stand regarding a bloc, etc.

Here, too, we believe, amendments, and very serious ones, are needed.

These are a few general remarks on the resolutions of the Third Congress. These should be analysed as soon and in as great detail as possible.

As regards the plan for a "rural" organisation in our Regional Organisation, we must say that we have to work under conditions which are not even mentioned in the resolutions of the Third Congress. First of all, it should be noted that the territory we cover—Moscow Gubernia and the adjoining uyezds of neighbouring gubernias—is mainly an industrial area with a relatively low level of handicraft industry and with a very small section of the population engaged exclusively in agriculture. Huge textile mills, each employing 10,000 to f 5,000 workers, alternate with small factories, employing 500 to 1,000 workers and scattered in out-of-the-way hamlets and villages. One would think that in such conditions Social-Democracy would find here a most favourable field for its activities, but facts have proved that so superficial an assumption does not hold water. Although some of the factories have been in existence for 40 or 50 years, the overwhelming majority of our "proletariat" have not yet become divorced from the land. The "village" has such a strong hold over them, that none of the psychological and other characteristics acquired by a "pure" proletarian in the course of collective work develops among our proletarians. The farming carried on by our "proletarians" is of a peculiarly linsey-woolsey type. A weaver employed in a mill hires a labourer to till his patch of land. His wife (if she is not working at the mill), his children, and the aged and invalid members of the family work on this same piece of land, and he himself will work on it when he becomes old or maimed, or is discharged for violent or suspicious behaviour. Such "proletarians" can hardly be called proletarians. Their economic status is that of paupers; their ideology Is that of petty bourgeois. They are ignorant and conservative. It is from such that Black-Hundred elements are recruited. However, even among these people class-consciousness has begun to awaken of late. Through the agency of "pure" proletarians we are endeavouring to rouse these ignorant masses from their age-old slumber, and not without success. Our contacts are increasing in number, and in places our foothold is becoming firmer, the paupers are coming under our influence, beginning to adopt our ideology, both in the factory and in the village. And we believe that it will not be unorthodox to form organisations in an environment that is not "purely" proletarian. We have no other environment, and were we to insist on orthodoxy and organise only the rural "proletariat", we would have to disband our organisation and those in the neighbouring districts. We know we shall have difficulties in struggling against the urge to expropriate the arable and other land neglected by the landlords, or those lands which the holy fathers in cowl and cassock have not been able to farm properly. We know that bourgeois democracy, from the "democratic" monarchist faction (such a faction exists in Ruza Uyezd) down to the "Peasant" Union, will fight us for influence among the "paupers", but we shall arm the latter to oppose the former. We shall make use of all Social-Democratic forces in the region, both intellectual and proletarian, to set up and consolidate our Social-Democratic commit tees of "paupers". And we shall do this in accordance with the following plan. In each uyezd town, or big industrial centre we shall set up uyezd committees of groups coming under the Regional Organisation. In addition to setting up factory committees in its district the uyezd committee will also set up "peasant" committees. For reasons of secrecy these committees should not have many people on them and should be made up of the most revolutionary and capable pauperised peasants. Wherever there are both factories and peasants, workers an d peasants should be organised in a single subgroup committee.

In the first place, such committees should have a clear and exact idea of local conditions:

A) Agrarian relationships:
     1) peasant allotments, leases, form of tenure (communal, by households, etc.);
     2) the neighbouring land:
          a. to whom it belongs;
          b. the amount of land;
          c. what relation the peasants have to this land;
          d. on what terms the land is held:
               1. labour rent,
               2. excessive rent for "cut-off lands", etc.;
          e. indebtedness to kulaks, landlords, etc.

B) Imposts, taxes, the rate of assessment of peasant and landlord lands respectively.

C) Migratory labour and handicraft industries, passports, whether there is winter hiring,[4] etc.

D) Local factories and plants: the working conditions there:
     1) wages,
     2) working hours,
     3) the attitude of the management,
     4) housing conditions, etc.

E) The administration: the Rural Superintendents, the volost headman, the clerk, the volost judges, constables, the priest.

F) The Zemstvo: councillors representing the peasants, Zemstvo employees: the teacher, the doctor, libraries, schools, tea-rooms.

G) Volost assemblies: their composition and procedure. H) Organisations: the Peasant Union, Socialist-Revolutionaries, Social-Democrats.

After familiarising itself with all these data the Peasant Social-Democratic Committee is obliged to get such decisions passed by the assemblies as may be necessitated by any abnormal state of affairs. This committee should simultaneously carry on among the masses intense propaganda and agitation for the Ideas of Social-Democracy, organise study circles, impromptu meetings, mass meetings, distribute leaflets and other literature, collect funds for the Party, and keep in touch with the Regional Organisation through the uyezd group.

If we succeed in setting up a number of such committees the success of Social-Democracy will be assured.

Regional Organiser

It goes without saying that we shall not undertake the task of working out the detailed practical directives to which the comrade refers: this is a matter for the comrades on the spot and for the central body in Russia which is guiding the practical work. We propose to take the opportunity presented by our Moscow comrade's interesting letter to explain the resolution of the Third Congress and the urgent tasks of the Party in general. It is obvious from the letter that the misunderstandings caused by the resolution of the Third Congress are only partly due to doubts in the field of theory. Another source is the new question, which has not arisen before, about the relations between the "revolutionary peasant committees" and the "Social-Democratic Committees" which are working among the peasants. The very posing of this question testifies to the big step forward made in Social-Democratic work among the peasants. Questions of—relatively speaking—detail are now being brought into the foreground by the practical requirements of "rural" agitation, which is striking root and assuming stable and permanent forms. And the author of the letter keeps forgetting that when he blames the Congress resolution for lack of clarity, he is in fact seeking an answer to a question which the Congress of the Party did not raise and could not have raised.

For instance, the author is not quite right when he says that both propagation of our ideas and support for the peas ant movement are possible "only" if local organisations exist. Of course such organisations are desirable, and as the work increases they will become necessary; but such work is possible and necessary even where no such organisations exist. In all our activities, even when carried on exclusively among the urban proletariat, we must never lose sight of the peasant question and must disseminate the declaration made by the entire party of the class-conscious proletariat in the person of the Third Congress, namely, that we support a peasant uprising. The peasants must learn this—from literature, from the workers, from special organisations, etc. The peasants must learn that in giving this support the Social-Democratic proletariat will not stop short of any form of confiscation of the land (i.e., expropriation without compensation to the owners).

A question of theory has in this connection been raised by the author of the letter, whether the expropriation of the big estates and their transfer to "peasant, petty-bourgeois ownership" should not be specifically qualified. But by proposing such a reservation the author has arbitrarily limited the purport of the resolution of the Third Congress. There is not a word in the resolution about the Social-Democratic Party undertaking to support transfer of the confiscated land to petty-bourgeois proprietors. The resolution states: we support ... "up to and including confiscation", i.e., including expropriation without compensation; how ever, the resolution does not in any way decide to whom the expropriated land is to be given. It was not by chance that the question was left open: it is obvious from the articles in Vperyod (Nos. 11, 12, 15[2]) that it was deemed unwise to decide this question in advance. It was stated there, for instance, that under a democratic republic Social-Democracy cannot pledge itself and have its hands tied with regard to nationalisation of the land.

Indeed, it is the revolutionary-democratic aspect of the peasant uprisings and a particular organisation of the rural proletariat in a class party that at present form the crux of the matter for us, as distinct from the petty-bourgeois Socialist-Revolutionaries. It is not schemes of a "general redistribution" or nationalisation that is the kernel of the question; the essential thing is that the peasantry see the need for, and accomplish, the revolutionary demolition of the old order. That is why the Socialist-Revolutionaries are pressing for "socialisation", etc., while we are pressing for revolutionary peasant committees: without the latter, we say, all reforms amount to nothing. With them and supported by them the victory of the peasant uprising is possible.

We must help the peasant uprising in every way, up to and including confiscation of the land, but certainly not including all sorts of petty-bourgeois schemes. We support the peasant movement to the extent that it is revolutionary-democratic. We are making ready (doing so now, at once) to fight it when, and to the extent that, it becomes reactionary and anti-proletarian. The essence of Marxism lies in that double task, which only those who do not understand Marxism can vulgarise or compress into a single and simple task.

Let us take a concrete instance. Let us assume that the peasant uprising has been victorious. The revolutionary peasant committees and the provisional revolutionary government (relying, in part, on these very committees) can proceed to any confiscation of big property. We are in favour of confiscation, as we have already declared. But to whom shall we recommend giving the confiscated land? On this question we have not committed ourselves nor shall we ever do so by declarations like those rashly proposed by the author of the letter. The latter has forgotten that the same resolution of the Third Congress speaks of "purging the revolutionary-democratic content of the peasant movement of all reactionary admixtures"—that is one point—and, secondly, of the need "in all cases and under all circumstances for the independent organisation of the rural proletariat". These are our directives. There will always be reactionary admixtures in the peasant movement, and we declare war on them in advance. Class antagonism between the rural proletariat and the peasant bourgeoisie is unavoidable, and we disclose it in advance, explain it, and prepare for the struggle on the basis of that antagonism. One of the immediate causes of such a struggle may very likely be provided by the question: to whom shall the confiscated land be given, and how? We do not gloss over that question, nor do we promise equalitarian distribution, "socialisation", etc. What we do say is that this is a question we shall fight out later on, fight again, on a new field and with other allies. There, we shall certainly be with the rural proletariat, with the entire working class, against the peasant bourgeoisie. In practice this may mean the transfer of the land to the class of petty peasant proprietors—wherever big estates based on bondage and feudal servitude still prevail, and there are as yet no material conditions for large-scale socialist production; it may mean nationalisation—given complete victory of the democratic revolution—or the big capitalist estates being transferred to workers' associations, for from the democratic revolution we shall at once, and precisely in accordance with the measure of our strength, the strength of the class-conscious and organised proletariat, begin to pass to the socialist revolution. We stand for uninterrupted revolution. We shall not stop half-way. If we do not now and immediately promise all sorts of "socialisation", that is because we know the actual conditions for that task to. be accomplished, and we do not gloss over the new class struggle burgeoning within the peasantry, but reveal that struggle.

At first we support the peasantry en masse against the landlords, support it to the hilt and with all means, including confiscation, and then (it would be better to say, at the same time) we support the proletariat against the peasantry en masse. To try to calculate now what the combination of forces will be within the peasantry "on the day after" the revolution (the democratic revolution) is empty utopianism. Without falling into adventurism or going against our conscience in matters of science, without striving for cheap popularity we can and do assert only one thing: we shall bend every effort to help the entire peasantry achieve the democratic revolution, in order thereby to make it easier for us, the party of the proletariat, to pass on as quickly as possible to the new and higher task—the socialist revolution. We promise no harmony, no equalitarianism or "socialisation" following the victory of the present peasant uprising, on the contrary, we "promise" a new struggle, new inequality, the, new revolution we are striving for. Our doctrine is less "sweet" than the legends of the Socialist-Revolutionaries, but let those who want to be fed solely on sweets join the Socialist-Revolutionaries; we shall say to such people: good riddance.

In our opinion this Marxist point of view settles also the question of the committees. In our opinion there should be no Social-Democratic peasant committees. If they are Social-Democratic, that means they are not purely peasant committees; if they are peasant committees, that means they are not purely proletarian, not Social-Democratic commit tees. There is a host of such who would confuse the two, but we are not of their number. Wherever possible we shall strive to set up our committees, committees of the Social- Democratic Labour Party. They will consist of peasants, paupers, intellectuals, prostitutes (a worker recently asked us in a letter why not carry on agitation among the prostitutes), soldiers, teachers, workers—in short, all Social-Democrats, and none but Social-Democrats. These committees will conduct the whole of Social-Democratic work, in its full scope, striving, however, to organise the rural proletariat especially and particularly, since the Social-Democratic Party is the class party of the proletariat. To consider it "unorthodox" to organise a proletariat which has not entirely freed itself from various relics of the past is a tremendous delusion, and we would like to think that the relevant passages of the letter are due to a mere misunderstanding. The urban and industrial proletariat will inevitably be the nucleus of our Social-Democratic Labour Party, but we must attract to it, enlighten, and organise all who labour and are exploited, as stated in our programme—all without exception: handicraftsmen, paupers, beggars, servants, tramps, prostitutes—of course, subject to the necessary and obligatory condition that they join the Social-Democratic movement and not that the Social-Democratic movement join them, that they adopt the standpoint of the proletariat, and not that the proletariat adopt theirs.

The reader may ask—what is the point, then, of having revolutionary peasant committees? Does this mean that they are not necessary? No, they are necessary. Our ideal is purely Social-Democratic committees in all rural districts, and then agreement between them and all revolutionary-democratic elements, groups, and circles of the peasantry for the purpose of establishing revolutionary committees. There is a perfect analogy here to the independence of the Social-Democratic Labour Party in the towns and its alliance with all the revolutionary democrats for the purpose of insurrection. We are in favour of a peasant uprising. We are absolutely opposed to the mixing and merging of heterogeneous class elements and heterogeneous parties. We hold that for the purpose of insurrection Social-Democracy should give an impetus to all revolutionary democracy, should help it all to organise, should march shoulder to shoulder with it, but without merging with it, to the barricades in the cities, and against the landlords and the police in the villages. Long live the insurrection in town and country against the autocracy! Long live revolutionary Social-Democracy, the vanguard of all revolutionary democracy in the present revolution!


[1] "The Proletariat and the Peasantry" 1905. See present edition, Vol. 8, pp. 235-36.—Ed.

[2] "The Proletariat and the Peasantry", 1905; "On Our Agrarian Programme", 1905; "The Agrarian Programme of the Liberals", 1905. See present edition, Vol. 8, pp. 231-36, 246-51, 315-22.—Ed.

[3] Issue No. 10 of Proletary, August 2 (July 20), 1905, published a resolution of the Saratov Committee of the R.S.D.L.P., which held a conciliatory stand; the resolution had been adopted on a report on the Third Congress of the Party and the Mensheviks' Conference. Proletary published the resolution with an epilogue by Lenin (see Lenin Miscellany XVI, p. 130).

[4] Winter hiring—the hiring of peasants for summer work, practised by the landlords and kulaks during the winter, when the peasants were particularly in need of cash, and would agree to extortionate terms.

Published: Proletary, No. 16, September 14 (1), 1905.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 9, pages 230-239.
Translated: The Late Abraham Fineberg and Julius Katzer

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