V. I.   Lenin

The Agrarian Programme of Russian Social-Democracy



We shall quote the “agrarian” section of this draft programme in full.

“With a view to eradicating the remnants of the old serf-owning system and for the purpose of facilitating the   free development of the class struggle in the countryside, the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party will work for:

“1) abolition of land redemption and quit-rent payments, as well as of all services now imposed on the peasantry as a taxable social-estate;

“2) annulment of collective liability and of all laws restricting the peasant in the free disposal of his land;

“3) restitution to the people of all sums taken from them in the form, of land redemption and quit-rent payments; confiscation for this purpose of monasterial property and of the royal demesnes, and imposition of a special land tax on members of the big landed nobility who received land redemption loans, the revenue thus obtained to be credited to a special public fund for the cultural and charitable needs of the village communes;

“4) establishment of peasant committees

“a) for the restitution to the village communes (by expropriation, or, when the land has changed hands, by redemption, etc.) of the land cut off from the peasants when serfdom was abolished and now used by the land lords as a means of keeping the peasants in bondage;

“b) for the eradication of the remnants of the serf-owning system which still exist in the Urals, the Altai, the Western territory, and other regions of the country;

“5) empowerment of courts to reduce exorbitant rents and to declare null and void all contracts entailing bondage.”

The reader may perhaps wonder at the fact that the “agrarian programme” contains no demands whatever in favour of the agricultural wage-workers. On this score let us note that such demands have been included in the preceding section of the programme which contains the demands presented by our Party “to safeguard the working class from physical and moral degeneration, and also to raise its fighting capacity in the struggle for its emancipation.” The words we have underlined apply to all wage-workers, including those in agriculture, and all the 16 clauses of this section of the programme apply to the agricultural workers as well.

True, this combination of industrial and agricultural workers in one section, with the “agrarian” part of the programme limited to “peasant” demands, has the drawback that the demands in favour of the agricultural workers do not strike the eye, are not discernible at first glance. A superficial acquaintance with the programme may even create the entirely wrong impression that we have deliberately toned down the demands in favour of the agricultural wage-workers. Needless to say, this impression would be quite false, for the drawback in question is at bottom of a purely external character. It can be easily obviated by closer acquaintance with the programme itself and the commentaries on it (and it goes without saying that our Party programme will “go to the people” only together with printed commentaries, and, what is far more important, with spoken commentaries as well). Should some group wish to make a special appeal to the agricultural workers, it need only select from all the demands in favour of the workers those particular demands that are most important to farm labourers, hands hired by the day, etc., and set them out in a separate pamphlet, leaflet, or in speeches.

From the standpoint of principle, the only correct way to edit the programme sections under analysis is one that will unite all demands in favour of the wage-workers in all branches of the national economy and will distinctly place in a special section demands in favour of the “peas ants,” because the fundamental criterion of what we can and must demand in the former and latter cases is absolutely different. In the draft, the fundamental difference between the two sections of the programme under review is expressed in the preamble to each section.

For wage-workers we demand such reforms as would “safeguard them from physical and moral degeneration and raise their fighting capacity”; for the peasants, how ever, we seek only such changes as would help “to eradicate the remnants of the old serf-owning system and facilitate the free development of the class struggle in the countryside.” Hence it follows that our demands in favour of the peasants are far more restricted, that their terms are much more moderate and presented in a smaller frame-work.   With regard to the wage-workers, we undertake to defend their interests as a class in present-day society; we do this because we consider their class movement the only truly revolutionary movement (cf. the words in the theoretical part of the programme on the relation of the working class to other classes) and strive to organise this particular movement, to direct it, and bring the light of socialist consciousness into it. As regards the peasantry, however, we do not by any means undertake to defend its interests as a class of small landowners and farmers in present-day society. Nothing of the kind. “The emancipation of the workers must be the act of the working class itself,” and for this reason Social-Democracy represents—directly and wholly—the interests of the proletariat alone, and seeks indissoluble organic unity with its class movement alone. All the other classes of present-day society stand for the preservation of the foundations of the existing economic system, and that is why Social-Democracy can undertake to defend the interests of those classes only under certain circumstances and on concrete and strictly defined conditions. For instance, in its struggle against the bourgeoisie, the class of small producers, including the small farmers, is a reactionary class, and therefore “trying to save the peasantry by protecting small-scale farming and small holdings from the onslaught of capitalism would be a useless retarding of social development; it would mean deceiving the peasantry with illusions of the possibility of prosperity even under capitalism; it would mean disuniting the labouring classes and creating a privileged position for the minority at the expense of the majority” (Iskra, No. 3).[See present edition, Vol. 4, pp. 422-23.—Ed.] That is why in our draft programme the inclusion of the “peasant” demands hinges on two highly circumscribed conditions. We make the legitimacy of “peasant demands” in a Social-Democratic programme dependent, firstly, on the condition that they lead to the eradication of remnants of the serf-owning system, and, secondly, that they facilitate the free development of the class struggle in the countryside.

Let us dwell in greater detail on each of these conditions, which have already been briefly outlined in No. 3 of Iskra.

The “remnants of the old serf-owning system” are still extremely numerous in our countryside. This is a generally known fact. Labour-rent and bondage, the peasants’ inequality as a social-estate and as citizens, their subjection to the privileged landowners, who still have the right to flog them, and their degrading living conditions, which virtually turn the peasants into barbarians—all this is not an exception, but the rule in the Russian countryside, and in the final analysis this is all a direct survival of the serf-owning system. In those instances and relationships where this system still prevails, and insofar as it still prevails, its enemy is the peasantry as a whole. As opposed to serf-ownership, to the feudal-minded landlords, and the state that serves them, the peasantry still stands as a class, a class not of capitalist but of serf-owning society, i.e., as an estate-class.[1] Inasmuch as this class antagonism between the “peasantry” and the privileged landowners, so characteristic of serf-owning society, still survives in our countryside, insomuch a working-class party must undoubtedly be on the side of the “peasantry,” support its struggle and urge it on to fight against all remnants of serf-ownership.

We put the word “peasantry” in quotation marks in order to emphasise the existence in this case of an absolutely indubitable contradiction: in present-day society the peasantry of course no longer constitutes an integral class. But whoever is perplexed by this contradiction forgets that this is not a contradiction in exposition, in a doctrine, but a   contradiction in life itself. This is not an invented, but a living and dialectical contradiction. Inasmuch as in our countryside serf-owning society is being eliminated by “present-day” (bourgeois) society, insomuch the peasantry ceases to be a class and becomes divided into the rural proletariat and the rural bourgeoisie (big, middle, petty, and very small). Inasmuch as serf-owning relationships still exist, insomuch the “peasantry” still continues to be a class, i.e., we repeat, a class of serf-owning society rather than of bourgeois society. This “inasmuch—insomuch” exists in real life in the form of an extremely complex web of serf-owning and bourgeois relationships in the Russian countryside today. To use Marx’s terminology, labour rent, rent in kind, money rent, and capitalist rent are all most fantastically interlinked in our country. We lay special emphasis on this fact, which has been established by all economic investigations in Russia, because it necessarily and inevitably constitutes a source of that complexity, confusion, or, if you will, artificialness, of some of our “agrarian” demands, which at first glance so greatly puzzles many people. Whoever limits his objections to general dissatisfaction with the complexity and “artfulness” of the proposed solutions forgets that there can be no simple solution of such tangled problems. It is our duty to fight against all remnants of serf-owning relationships— that is beyond doubt to a Social-Democrat—and since these relationships are most intricately interwoven with bourgeois relationships,we are obliged to penetrate into the very core, so to say, of this confusion, undeterred by the complexity of the task. There could be only one “simple” solution of this task: to keep aloof, pass it by, and leave it to the “spontaneous element” to clear up this mess. But this “simplicity,” favoured by all and sundry bourgeois and “economist” admirers of spontaneity, is unworthy of a Social-Democrat. The party of the proletariat must not only support but must also urge on the peasantry in its struggle against all the remnants of the serf-owning system. To urge the peasantry on, it must not confine itself to wishful thinking; it must lay down a definite revolutionary directive, and be able to help in finding the bearings in the maze of agrarian relationships.



[1] We know that in slave and feudal societies, class divisions were also expressed in the division of the population into social-estates, each class with specific legal status in the state. That is why classes in a society based on slavery and feudalism (and on serf—ownership) were also separate social-estates. On the other band, in capitalist, bourgeois society, all citizens are equal in law, division into social-estates has been abolished (at least in principle), and that is why classes have ceased to be social-estates. The division of society into classes is a common feature to slave, feudal, and bourgeois societies, but in the two former estate-classes existed, whereas in the latter the classes are not estates. —Lenin

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