J. V. Stalin

The October Revolution and
the Question of the Middle Strata

November 7, 1923

Source : Works, Vol. 5, 1921 - 1923
Publisher : Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1954
Transcription/Markup : Salil Sen for MIA, 2008
Public Domain : Marxists Internet Archive (2008). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit "Marxists Internet Archive" as your source.

The question of the middle strata is undoubtedly one of the basic questions of the workers' revolution. The middle strata are the peasantry and the small urban working people. The oppressed nationalities, nine-tenths of whom consist of middle strata, should also be put in this category. As you see, these are the strata whose economic status puts them midway between the proletariat and the capitalist class. The relative importance of these strata is determined by two circumstances: firstly, these strata constitute the majority, or, at any rate, a large minority of the population of the existing states; secondly, they constitute the important reserves from which the capitalist class recruits its army against the proletariat. The proletariat cannot retain power unless it enjoys the sympathy and support of the middle strata, primarily of the peasantry, especially in a country like our Union of Republics. The proletariat cannot even seriously contemplate seizing power if these strata have not been at least neutralised, if they have not yet managed to break away from the capitalist class, and if the bulk of them still serve as the army of capital. Hence the fight for the middle strata, the fight for the peasantry, which was a conspicuous feature of the whole of our revolution from 1905 to 1917, a fight which is still far from ended, and which will continue to be waged in the future.

One of the reasons for the defeat of the 1848 Revolution in France was that it failed to evoke a sympathetic response among the French peasantry. One of the reasons for the fall of the Paris Commune was that it encountered the opposition of the middle strata, especially of the peasantry. The same must be said of the Russian revolution of 1905.

Basing themselves on the experience of the European revolutions, certain vulgar Marxists, headed by Kautsky, came to the conclusion that the middle strata, especially the peasantry, are almost the born enemies of the workers' revolution, that, therefore, we must reckon with a lengthier period of development, as a result of which the proletariat will become the majority of the nation and the proper conditions for the victory of the workers' revolution will thereby be created. On the basis of that conclusion, they, these vulgar Marxists, warned the proletariat against "premature" revolution. On the basis of that conclusion, they, from "motives of principle," left the middle strata entirely at the disposal of capital. On the basis of that conclusion, they prophesied the doom of the Russian October Revolution, on the grounds that the proletariat in Russia constituted a minority, that Russia was a peasant country, and, therefore, a victorious workers' revolution in Russia was impossible.

It is noteworthy that Marx himself had an entirely different appraisal of the middle strata, especially of the peasantry. Whereas the vulgar Marxists, washing their hands of the peasantry and leaving it entirely at the political disposal of capital, noisily bragged about their "firm principles," Marx, the most true to principle of all Marxists, persistently advised the Communist Party not to lose sight of the peasantry, to win it over to the side of the proletariat and to make sure of its support in the future proletarian revolution. We know that in the ‘fifties, after the defeat of the February Revolution in France and in Germany, Marx wrote to Engels, and through him to the Communist Party of Germany:

"The whole thing in Germany will depend on the possibility of backing the proletarian revolution by some second edition of the Peasant War." 1

That was written about the Germany of the ‘fifties, a peasant country, where the proletariat comprised a small minority, where the proletariat was less organised than the proletariat was in Russia in 1917, and where the peasantry, owing to its position, was less disposed to support a proletarian revolution than the peasantry in Russia in 1917.

The October Revolution undoubtedly represented that happy combination of a "peasant war" and a "proletarian revolution" of which Marx wrote, despite all the "highly principled" chatterboxes. The October Revolution proved that such a combination is possible and can be brought about. The October Revolution proved that the proletariat can seize power and retain it, if it succeeds in wresting the middle strata, primarily the peasantry, from the capitalist class, if it succeeds in converting these strata from reserves of capital into reserves of the proletariat.

In brief: the October Revolution was the first of all the revolutions in the world to bring into the forefront the question of the middle strata, and primarily of the peasantry, and the first to solve it successfully, despite all the "theories" and lamentations of the heroes of the Second International.

That is the first merit of the October Revolution, if one may speak of merit in such a connection.

But the matter did not stop there. The October Revolution went further and tried to rally the oppressed nationalities around the proletariat. We have already said above that nine-tenths of the populations of these nationalities consist of peasants and of small urban working people. That, however, does not exhaust the concept "oppressed nationality." Oppressed nationalities are usually oppressed not only as peasants and as urban working people, but also as nationalities, i.e., as the toilers of a definite nationality, language, culture, manner of life, habits and customs. The double oppression cannot help revolutionising the labouring masses of the oppressed nationalities, cannot help impelling them to fight the principal force of oppression—capital. This circumstance formed the basis on which the proletariat succeeded in combining the "proletarian revolution" not only with a "peasant war," but also with a "national war." All this could not fail to extend the field of action of the proletarian revolution far beyond the borders of Russia; it could not fail to jeopardise the deepest reserves of capital. Whereas the fight for the middle strata of a given dominant nationality is a fight for the immediate reserves of capital, the fight for the emancipation of the oppressed nationalities could not help becoming a fight to win particular reserves of capital, the deepest of them, a fight to liberate the colonial and unequal peoples from the yoke of capital. This latter fight is still far from ended. More than that, it has not yet achieved even the first decisive successes. But this fight for the deep reserves was started by the October Revolution, and it will undoubtedly expand, step by step, with the further development of imperialism, with the growth of the might of our Union of Republics, and with the development of the proletarian revolution in the West.

In brief: the October Revolution actually initiated the fight of the proletariat for the deep reserves of capital in the shape of the masses of the people in the oppressed and unequal countries; it was the first to raise the banner of the struggle to win these reserves. That is its second merit.

In our country the peasantry was won over under the banner of socialism. The peasantry received land at the hands of the proletariat, defeated the landlords with the aid of the proletariat and rose to power under the leadership of the proletariat; consequently, it could not but feel, could not but realise, that the process of its emancipation was proceeding, and would continue, under the banner of the proletariat, under its red banner. This could not but convert the banner of socialism, which was formerly a bogey to the peasantry, into a banner which won its attention and aided its emancipation from subjection, poverty and oppression.

The same is true, but to an even greater degree, of the oppressed nationalities. The battle-cry for the emancipation of the nationalities, backed by such facts as the liberation of Finland, the withdrawal of troops from Persia and China, the formation of the Union of Republics, the moral support openly given to the peoples of Turkey, China, Hindustan and Egypt—this battle-cry was first sounded by the people who were the victors in the October Revolution. The fact that Russia, which was formerly regarded by the oppressed nationalities as a symbol of oppression, has now, after it has become socialist, been transformed into a symbol of emancipation, cannot be called an accident. Nor is it an accident that the name of the leader of the October Revolution, Comrade Lenin, is now the most beloved name pronounced by the downtrodden, oppressed peasants and revolutionary intelligentsia of the colonial and unequal countries. In the past, the oppressed and downtrodden slaves of the vast Roman Empire regarded Christianity as a rock of salvation. We are now reaching the point where socialism may serve (and is already beginning to serve!) as the banner of liberation for the millions who inhabit the vast colonial states of imperialism. It can hardly be doubted that this circumstance has greatly facilitated the task of combating prejudices against socialism, and has cleared the way for the penetration of socialist ideas into the most remote corners of the oppressed countries. Formerly it was difficult for a Socialist to come out openly among the non-proletarian, middle strata of the oppressed or oppressor countries; but today he can come forward openly and advocate socialist ideas among these strata and expect to be listened to, and even heeded, for he is backed by so cogent an argument as the October Revolution. That, too, is a result of the October Revolution.

In brief: the October Revolution cleared the way for socialist ideas among the middle, non-proletarian, peasant strata of all nationalities and races; it made the banner of socialism popular among them. That is the third merit of the October Revolution.


Pravda, No. 253, November 7, 1923


1. J. V. Stalin is here quoting Karl Marx's letter to Frederick Engels of April 16, 1856 as given in the book: Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Letters, Moscow 1922 (see Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, Vol. II, Moscow 1951, p. 412).