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The Proletariat and the Peasantry

The peasant uprisings have begun. Reports of peasants raiding landed estates and confiscating the landlords’ grain and cattle are coming in from various provinces. The tsarist armies, routed by the Japanese in Manchuria, are taking their revenge on the defenceless people, making expeditions against the enemy at home, against the rural poor. The urban working-class movement is acquiring a new ally in the revolutionary peasantry. The attitude of the class-conscious vanguard of the proletariat, the Social-Democrats, towards the peasant movement is becoming a question of immediate practical significance and must be placed on the order of the day in all our Party organisations, in all speeches by propagandists and agitators.

The Social-Democrats have pointed out repeatedly that the peasant movement sets before them a twofold task. Unquestionably we must support this movement and spur it on, inasmuch as it is a revolutionary-democratic movement. At the same time we must unswervingly maintain our class proletarian point of view; we must organise the rural proletariat, like the urban proletariat and together with it, into an independent class party; we must explain to it that. its interests are antagonistic to those of the bourgeois peasantry; we must call upon it to fight for the socialist revolution, and point out to it that liberation from oppression and poverty lies, not in turning several sections of the peasantry into petty bourgeois, but only in replacing the entire bourgeois system by the socialist system.

This twofold task of the Social-Democrats was often stressed in the old Iskra, beginning with issue No. 3,[1] i. e., even before the first peasant movement of 1902; it found expression in our Party programme; it was also repeated in our newspaper (issue No. 3[2]). Now, when it is particularly important to throw light on the practical aspects of this problem, it would be of interest to quote the remarks of Karl Kautsky, who published an article entitled "The Peasants and the Revolution in Russia" in the German Social-Democratic journal, Die Neue Zeit. As a Social-Democrat, Kautsky stoutly upholds the truth that the task facing our revolution now is not that of effecting the socialist revolution but that of removing the political obstacles to the development of the existing, capitalist, mode of production. He goes on to say: "On the question of the relations between peasant and landlord, the revolutionary urban movement should remain neutral. It has no reason to step in between the peasants and the landlord, to champion the latter against the former; its sympathies are wholly with the peasantry. But neither is it the task of the revolutionary urban movement to incite the peasants against the landlords, who in present-day Russia play an entirely different role from that, let us say, of the French feudal nobility in the days of the ancien régime. Besides, even if they wished to, the urban revolutionaries could have very little influence on the relations between the landlords and the peasants. That is a matter the landlords and the peasants must settle between them selves." For a correct understanding of Kautsky’s remarks, which, taken out of context, might create no little misunderstanding, one must bear in mind also the following remark at the end of the article: "A victorious revolution would not have too much difficulty in using the large latifundia of the worst enemies of the revolution ... to improve the conditions of the proletarians and the peasants."

The reader who carefully compares these statements of Kautsky will easily recognise in them the Social-Democratic presentation of the question we have just outlined. Certain inaccuracies and unclarities in Kautsky’s expressions can be accounted for by the cursory nature of his remarks and his insufficient acquaintance with the agrarian programme of Russian Social-Democracy. The crux of the matter is that the attitude of the revolutionary proletariat towards the antagonism between the peasants and the landlords cannot, in all the exigencies of the Russian revolution, remain the same in all cases and under all circumstances. Under certain circumstances, in certain situations, this attitude must be one not only of sympathy, but of direct support, and not merely support, but actual "incitement". Under other circumstances, the attitude can and should be neutral. Judging from what we have quoted, Kautsky has correctly grasped this double aspect of our task, in contrast, not only to our "Social ists-Revolutionaries", who are sunk completely in the vulgar illusions of revolutionary democracy, but also to many Social-Democrats, who, like Ryazanov or X,[3] have been seeking a "simple" solution of the problem, valid for all combinations. The fundamental error of such Social-Democrats (and of all Socialists-Revolutionaries) is that they do not adhere to the class viewpoint, and that, in seeking a universal solution of the problem in all its combinations, they forget the dual nature of the well-to-do and the middle peasant. They take into account, virtually, only two classes— either landlords and "peasant and working class", or proprietors and proletarians. Actually, however, there are three classes, all of which differ in their immediate and ultimate aims: the landlords, the well-to-do peasantry and partly the middle peasantry, and, finally, the proletariat. Actually, the task of the proletariat under these circumstances is necessarily twofold. The entire difficulty of a Social-Democratic agrarian programme and agrarian policy in Russia lies in defining, as clearly and precisely as possible, the conditions under which the proletariat must observe neutrality and the conditions under which support and "incitement" are necessary.

There can be only one solution to this problem: with the peasant bourgeoisie against all manner of serfdom and against the serf-owning landlords; with the urban proletariat against the peasant bourgeoisie and every other bourgeoisie—such is the "line" of the rural proletariat. and of its ideologists, the Social-Democrats. In other words: to support the peasantry and urge it on even to the point of seizing any seigniorial "property", no matter how "sacred", insofar as this peasantry acts in a revolutionary-democratic manner; to be wary of the peasantry, to organise separately from it, to be ready to combat it, insofar as this peasantry acts in a reactionary or anti-proletarian manner. Or, to put it still differently: aid to the peasant when his struggle with the landlord contributes to the development and strengthening of the democratic forces; neutrality towards the peasant when his struggle with the landlord is merely a matter of squaring accounts between two factions of the landowning class, a matter to which the proletariat and the democrats are indifferent.

Such an answer, of course, will not satisfy people who approach the peasant question without well thought-out theoretical views, who are intent on popular "revolutionary" slogans calculated for effect, and who do not understand the great and serious danger of revolutionary adventurism, particularly in the sphere of the peasant question. In regard to such people—of whom there are now a considerable number among us, such as the Socialists-Revolutionaries, with the development of the revolution and of the peasant movement promising an increase in their ranks—the Social-Democrats must firmly uphold the standpoint of the class struggle against every kind of revolutionary vagueness; they must contrapose to revolutionary phrase-mongering the sober estimate of the heterogeneous elements in the peasantry. Speaking practically and concretely, the following statement will bring us nearest the truth: All opponents of Social-Democracy on the agrarian question fail to take into consideration the fact that in European Russia proper there is an entire stratum of well-to-do peasants (one and a half to two million households out of a total of about ten million). This stratum controls no less than half of all the implements of production and all the property owned by the peasants. It cannot exist without employing seasonal and day labourers. It is certainly hostile to serfdom, to the landlords, and to the bureaucracy, and is capable of becoming democratic, but still more certain is its hostility to the rural proletariat. Any attempt in an agrarian programme or in an agrarian policy to tone down or ignore this class antagonism is a conscious or unconscious departure from the socialist point of view.

Between the rural proletariat and the peasant bourgeoisie lies the stratum of the middle peasantry, whose position contains features to be found in both of these antipodes. The common features in the position of all these strata, of the peasantry as a whole, undoubtedly tend to make the entire peasant movement democratic, great as may be the evidences of non-class-consciousness and of reactionary sentiment in particular instances. It is our task never to depart from the class standpoint and to organise the closest possible union between the urban and the rural proletariat. It is our task to clarify for ourselves and for the people the real democratic and revolutionary content that lies in the general, albeit vague, striving towards "land and freedom". It is, therefore, our task to lend the most energetic support and impetus to this striving, while at the same time preparing the elements of socialist struggle in the countryside as well.

To determine clearly the practical attitude of the Social-Democratic working-class party towards the peasant movement, the Third Congress of our Party must adopt a resolution calling for support to that movement. The following is the draft of such a resolution formulating the above views, which have repeatedly been amplified in Social-Democratic literature; it must now be discussed in the widest possible circle of Party functionaries:

"The Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, as the party of the class-conscious proletariat, strives to bring about the complete emancipation of all working people from every kind of exploitation, and supports every revolutionary movement against the present social and political system. Therefore, the R.S.D.L.P. strongly supports the present-day peasant movement, among others, and stands for all revolutionary measures capable of improving the condition of the peasantry, not halting at the expropriation of the landed estates to this end. At the same time, as the class party of the proletariat, the R.S.D.L.P. works undeviatingly towards an independent class organisation of the rural proletarians, ever mindful of its obligation to make clear to them the antagonism of their interests to those of the peasant bourgeoisie, to bring them to understand that only the common struggle of the rural and the urban proletariat against the whole of bourgeois society can lead to the socialist revolution, which alone is capable of really freeing the mass of the rural poor from poverty and exploitation.

"As a practical slogan for agitation among the peasantry, and as a means of instilling the utmost political consciousness into this movement, the R.S.D.L.P. proposes the immediate formation of revolutionary peasant committees for all-round support of all democratic reforms and for their implementation in detail. In these committees as well the R.S.D.L.P. will strive for an independent organisation of the rural proletarians for the purpose of supporting the entire peasantry in all its revolutionary-democratic actions, on the one hand, and, on the other, of safeguarding the true interests of the rural proletariat in its struggle against the peasant bourgeoisie."

V. I. Lenin


[1] "The Workers’ Party and the Peasantry". See present edition, Vol. 4, pp. 420-28.—Ed.

[2] See pp. 83-89 of this volume.—Ed.

[3] X—pseudonym of the Menshevik P. P. Maslov.

Published: Vperyod, No. 11, March 23 (10), 1905. Published according to the text in Vperyod.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962, Moscow, Volume 8, pages 231-236.
Translated: Bernard Isaacs and The Late Isidor Lasker

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