V. I. Lenin

Speech Delivered At The First All-Russia Conference

On Party Work In The Countryside[1]

November 18, 1919

Delivered: 18 November, 1919
First Published: Pravda No. 259; November 19, 1919; Published according to the Pravda text
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, Volume 30, pages 143-150
Translated: George Hanna
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters & Robert Cymbala
Copyleft: V. I. Lenin Internet Archive (www.marx.org) 2002. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

Comrades, unfortunately I have not been able to take part in the conference you have arranged, that is, in this conference on work in the countryside. Hence I shall have to limit myself to some general, basic considerations, and I am certain that you will be able gradually to apply these general considerations and fundamental principles of our policy to the various tasks and practical questions that come up before you.

The question of our work in the countryside is now, strictly speaking, the basic question of socialist construction in general, for insofar as the work among the proletariat and the question of uniting its forces are concerned, we can safely say that during the two years of Soviet power communist policy has not only taken definite shape but has unquestionably achieved lasting results. At first we had to fight a lack of understanding of the common interests among the workers, to fight various manifestations of syndicalism when the workers of some factories or some branches of industry tended to place their own interests, the interests of their factory or industry, above the interests of society. We had to fight a lack of discipline in the new organisation of labour, and still have to. I believe you all remember the major stages through which our policy has passed, when, as we promoted more and more workers to new posts, we gave them an opportunity to familiarise themselves with the tasks facing us, with the general mechanism of government. The organisation of the communist activity of the proletariat and the entire policy of the Communists have now acquired a final, lasting form; I am certain that we are on the right path and that progress along that path is fully ensured.

As regards work in the countryside, the difficulties here are undoubtedly great, and we gave this question full consideration at the Eighth Congress of the Party[2] as one of the most important issues. In the countryside as well as in the towns we can rely only on the working and exploited people, only on those who, under capitalism, bore the whole burden of the landowner and capitalist yoke. Since the time when the conquest of power by the workers abolished private property and enabled the peasants to sweep away the power of the landowners at one blow, they divided up the land and, of course, gave effect to the fullest equality and thus considerably improved the exploitation of the soil, raising it to a level above the average. It goes without saying, however, that we could not achieve everything we would have wished in this respect, for it would take tremendous funds to provide each with sufficient seed, livestock and implements as long as the land is tilled by individual peasants. Moreover, even if our industry were to achieve extraordinary progress and increase the production of agricultural machines, even if we were to imagine all our wishes fulfilled, it would still be obvious that to supply each small peasant with sufficient means of production is impossible and most irrational since it would mean a terrible fragmentation of resources; only joint, artel, co-operative labour can help us to emerge from the blind alley in which the imperialist war has driven us.

In the mass, the peasants, whose economic position under capitalism made them the most downtrodden, find it hardest of all to believe in the possibility of sharp changes and transitions. The peasant's experience of Kolchak, Yudenich, and Denikin compels him to show especial concern about his gains. All peasants know that the permanence of their gains is not finally guaranteed, that their enemy—the landowner—has not yet been destroyed, but has gone into hiding and is waiting for his friends, the international capitalist brigands, to come to his aid. And although international capital is becoming weaker day by day and our international position has greatly improved in the recent period, if we soberly weigh all the circumstances, we have to admit that international capital is still undoubtedly stronger than we are. It no longer can openly wage war against us—its wings have already been clipped. Indeed, all these gentlemen in the European bourgeois press have latterly begun to say, “You are likely to get bogged down in Russia, perhaps it is better to make peace with her.”That is the way it always is—when the enemy is beaten, he begins talking peace. Time and again we have told these gentlemen, the imperialists of Europe, that we agree to make peace, but they continued to dream of enslaving Russia. Now they realise that their dreams are not fated to come true.

The international millionaires and multimillionaires are still stronger than we are. And the peasants see perfectly well that the attempts to seize power by Yudenich, Kolchak, and Denikin were financed by the imperialists of Europe and America. And the mass of the peasants know very well what the slightest weakness will cost them. The vivid memory of the rule of the landowners and capitalists makes the peasants reliable supporters of Soviet power. With each passing month Soviet power becomes more stable and there is growing political consciousness among the peasants who formerly laboured and were exploited and who themselves experienced the full weight of the landowner and capitalist yoke.

Things, of course, are different with the kulaks, with those who hired workers, made money by usury, and enriched themselves at the expense of the labour of others. Most of these side with the capitalists and are opposed to the revolution that has taken place. We must clearly realise that we still have a long and stubborn fight to wage against this group of peasants. Between the peasants who shouldered the full load of the landowner and capitalist yoke and those who exploited others there is, however, a mass of middle peasants. Here lies our most difficult task. Socialists have always pointed out that the transition to socialism will raise this difficult problem—the attitude of the working class to the middle peasantry. Here it is to be expected that Communists, more than anyone else, will show a serious understanding and intelligent approach to this complicated and difficult task, and will not try to solve it at one stroke.

The middle peasants are undoubtedly accustomed to farming each for himself. They are peasant proprietors, and although they have no land as yet, although private property in land has been abolished, they remain proprietors, primarily because this group of peasants remain in possession of food products. The middle peasant produces more food than he needs for himself, and since he has surplus grain he becomes the exploiter of the hungry worker. Herein lies the main task and the main contradiction. The peasant as a working man, as a man who lives by his own labour, as one who has borne the yoke of capitalism, sides with the worker. But the peasant as a proprietor with a surplus of grain is accustomed to regarding it as his property which he can sell freely. Anyone who sells grain surpluses in a hunger-ridden country becomes a profiteer, an exploiter, because the starving man will give everything he has for bread. It is here that the biggest and hardest battle has to be fought, a battle which demands of all of us representatives of Soviet power, and especially the Communists working in the countryside, the greatest attention and most serious thought to the issue in hand and the way to approach it.

We have always said that we do not seek to force socialism on the middle peasant, and the Eighth Party Congress fully confirmed this. The election of Comrade Kalinin as Chairman of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee was prompted by the need to build the closest of bonds between Soviet power and the peasantry. Thanks to Comrade Kalinin our work in the countryside has gained considerable momentum. The peasant is now undoubtedly in a position to keep in closer contact with the Soviet government through Comrade Kalinin, who represents the supreme authority of the Soviet Republic. In this way we said in effect to the middle peasant: “There can be no question of forcibly imposing socialism on anyone.”But we must make him understand this, we must know how to tell him this in a language the peasant understands best of all. Here we must rely only on the force of example, successfully organised socialised farming. To give an example of artel, co-operative labour we must first achieve success in organising such farming ourselves. In these past two years the movement to set up agricultural communes and co-operatives has acquired tremendous scope. Looking at things soberly, however, we must say that a great many of the comrades who tackled the organisation of communes started to farm without sufficient knowledge of the economic conditions of peasant life. Undue haste and wrong approach to the question led to a tremendous number of mistakes which have had to be rectified. Time and again the old exploiters, former landowners, wormed their way into state farms. They no longer dominate there, but they have not been eliminated. It is necessary either to squeeze them out or put them under the control of the proletariat.

This is a task that confronts us in all spheres of life. You have heard of the series of brilliant victories won by the Red Army. There are tens of thousands of old colonels and officers of other ranks in that army and if we had not accepted them in our service and made them serve us, we could not have created an army, And despite the treachery of some military specialists, we have defeated Kolchak and Yudenich, and are winning on all fronts. The reason for this is the existence of communist cells in the Red Army; they conduct propaganda and agitation carrying a tremendous impact, and thanks to them the small number of old officers find themselves in such an environment, under such a tremendous pressure from the Communists, that the majority of them are unable to break out of the communist organisation and propaganda with which we have surrounded them.

Communism cannot be built without knowledge, technique, and culture, and this knowledge is in possession of bourgeois specialists. Most of them do not sympathise with Soviet power, yet without them we cannot build communism. They must be surrounded with an atmosphere of comradeship, a spirit of communist work, and won over to the side of the workers' and peasants' government.

Among the peasants there have been frequent manifestations of extreme distrust and resentment of state farms, even complete rejection of them; we do not want state farms, they say, for the old exploiters are to be found there. We have told them—if you are unable to organise farming along new lines yourselves, you have to employ the services of old specialists; otherwise there is no way out of poverty. We shall weed out old experts who violate the decisions of the Soviet government as ruthlessly as we do in the Red Army; the struggle goes on, and it is a struggle without mercy. But we shall force the majority of the experts to work as we want them to.

This is a difficult, complex task, a task that cannot be solved at one blow. Here conscious working-class discipline and closer contact with the peasants are needed. The peasants must be shown that we are not blind to any of the abuses on the state farms, but at the same time we tell them that scientists and technicians must be enlisted in the service of socialised farming, for small-scale farming will not bring deliverance from want. And we shall do what we are doing in the Red Army—we may be beaten a hundred times, but the hundred-and-first we defeat all our enemies. But to do this, work in the countryside must proceed by joint efforts, smoothly, in the same strict, orderly way as it has proceeded in the Red Army and as it is proceeding in other fields of economy. We shall slowly and steadily prove to the peasants the superiority of socialised farming.

This is the struggle we must wage on the state farms, this is where the difficulty of transition to socialism lies, and it is thus that Soviet power can be really and finally consolidated. When the majority of the middle peasants come to see that unless they ally themselves with the workers they are helping Kolchak and Yudenich, that in all the world only the capitalists remain with them—the capitalists who hate Soviet Russia and for years to come will repeat their attempts to restore their power—even the most backward middle peasants will realise that either they must forge ahead in alliance with the revolutionary workers toward complete emancipation or, if they vacillate even slightly, the enemy, the old capitalist exploiter, will gain the upper hand. Victory over Denikin is not enough to destroy the capitalists once and for all. This is something we all must realise. We know full well that they will try time and again to throw the noose around Soviet Russia's neck. Hence the peasant has no choice; he must help the workers, for the slightest hesitation will bring victory to the landowners and capitalists. Our primary, basic task is to help the peasants understand this. The peasant who lives by his own labour is a loyal ally of Soviet power, and the worker regards such a peasant as his equal, the workers' government does everything it can for him, indeed there is no sacrifice the workers' and peasants' government is not ready to make to satisfy the needs of such a peasant.

But the peasant who makes use of the surplus grain he possesses to exploit others is our enemy. To satisfy the basic needs of a hungry country is a duty to the state. Yet far from all peasants realise that freedom to trade in grain is a crime against the state. “I have raised this grain, it is my product, and I have a right to do business with it,”the peasant reasons out of habit, as he used to. But we say this is a crime against the state. Freedom to trade in grain means enriching oneself by means of this grain, i.e., a return to the old way of life, to capitalism, and this we shall not allow, this we shall fight against at all costs.

In the transition period we shall carry out state purchases of grain and requisition grain surpluses. We know that only in this way shall we be able to do away with want and hunger. The vast majority of the workers suffer hardship because of the incorrect distribution of grain; to distribute it properly, the peasants must deliver their quotas to the state as assessed, exactly, conscientiously, and without fail. Here Soviet power can make no concessions. This is not a matter of the workers' government fighting the peasants, but an issue involving the very existence of socialism, the existence of Soviet power. Today we cannot give the peasants any goods, because there is a shortage of fuel and railway traffic is being held up. We must start with the peasants lending the workers grain at fixed prices, not at profiteering prices, so that the workers can revive production. Every peasant will agree to this if it is a question of an individual worker dying from starvation before his eyes. But when millions of workers are in question, they do not understand this and the old habits of profiteering gain the upper hand.

Prolonged and persistent struggle against such habits, agitation and propaganda, explanatory work, checking up on what has been done—these are the components of our policy toward the peasantry.

We must render every support to the working peasant, treat him as an equal, without the slightest attempt to impose anything on him by force—that is our first task. Our second task is to wage an unswerving struggle against profiteering, huckstering, ruination.

When we began to build the Red Army, we had only separate, scattered groups of guerrillas to start with. Lack of discipline and unity resulted in many unnecessary sacrifices, but we overcame these difficulties and built up a Red Army millions strong in place of the guerrilla detachments. If we were able to do this in the brief period of two years, and in a sphere as difficult and hazardous as the army, we are all the more certain that we can achieve similar results in all spheres of economic endeavour.

I am certain that although this problem of the proper attitude of the workers to the peasantry and of the correct food policy is one of the most difficult, we shall solve it and win a victory in this field such as we have won at the front.


[1] The First All-Russia Conference on Party Work in the Countryside was held from November 16 to November 19, 1919, in Moscow.

Representatives of all gubernia and regional Party Committees (except Orenburg, Urals, Don, Orel, Voronezh, Astrakhan and Archangel) and from many uyezd and some volost Party Committees attended the Conference. The Conference was convened for the purpose of pooling experience of Party work in the countryside and for working out practical measures for its improvement. The agenda of the Conference was the following: reports by local Party organisations, report on organisational questions, work among peasant women and the peasant youth, cultural and educational work in the countryside, a newspaper for peasants, publishing literature for the countryside, Party Week in the countryside, and others.

The Conference approved the proposal submitted by the C.C., R.S.P.(B.) Rural Department to muster Party forces for work among the peasants, and also adopted, with some amendments, a draft instruction for work in the countryside. The Conference pointed out the necessity of drawing women into all spheres of state organisation, and of drawing peasant youths into the All-Russia Communist Youth League. The Conference passed a decision to hold a Party Week in the countryside, and approved of the practice of convening non-party conferences.

On the first day the Conference adopted a decision to ask Lenin to take part in the Conference. Lenin made a speech at the Conference on November 18, in which he congratulated the delegates on the occasion of the liberation of Kursk by the Red Army.

[2] The Eighth Congress of the R.C.P.(B.) was held March 18-23,1919 in Moscow. One of the most important questions discussed at the Congress was the attitude towards the middle peasants. In all his speeches and particularly in his report on work in the countryside, Lenin explained the Party's new policy in relation to the middle peasants‹passing from the policy of neutralising the middle peasants to one of firm alliance with them, while relying on the poor peasants and carrying the struggle against the kulaks, and preserving the leading role of the proletariat in that alliance. That slogan had been advanced by Lenin in November 1918. The Congress adopted a “Resolution on the Attitude Towards the Middle Peasants”written by Lenin. Lenin's policy helped to strengthen the military and political alliance of the working class and the peasantry, and played a decisive role in achieving victory over the interventionists and whiteguards, and later on in building socialism by the joint efforts of workers and peasants.