V. I.   Lenin

The Agrarian Programme of Russian Social-Democracy



That is why the “simple” criterion of “feasibility,” with the aid of which Martynov so “easily” pulled our agrarian programme to pieces, is inadequate and worthless. This criterion of direct and immediate “feasibility” is applicable in general only to the avowedly reformative sections and clauses of our programme, and by no means to the programme of a revolutionary party in general. In other words, this criterion is applicable to our programme only by way of exception, and by no means as a general rule. Our programme must be feasible only in the broad and philosophical sense of the word, so that not a single letter in it will contradict the   direction of all social and economic evolution. And since we have correctly determined this direction (in general and in particular), we must—in the name of our revolutionary principles and our revolutionary duty—fight with all our might, always and absolutely, for the maximum of our demands. However, to try to determine in advance, before the final outcome of the struggle, in the course of that struggle, that we shall perhaps fail to achieve the entire maximum means lapsing into sheer philistinism. Considerations of this kind always lead to opportunism, even if the authors of such considerations may harbour no such intentions.

Indeed, is it not philistinism on Martynov’s part to discern “romanticism” in the Iskra agrarian programme “because it is highly problematic whether the peasant masses can be brought into our movement under the present conditions” (Rabocheye Dyelo, No. 10, p. 58. Italics mine)? This is a good example of those very “plausible” and very cheap arguments by means of which Russian Social-Democratism was simplified to “economism”. A closer look at this “plausible” argument will show that it is a soap-bubble. “Our movement” is the Social-Democratic labour movement. The peasant masses cannot just be “brought” into it: that is not problematic but impossible, and there was never any question of it. However, the peasant masses cannot but be brought into the “movement” against all the remnants of the serf—owning system (including the autocracy). Martynov confused matters by using the expression “our movement,” without giving thought to the fundamental difference between the character of the movement against the bourgeoisie and against the serf-owning system.[1]  

It is not the bringing of the peasant masses into the movement against remnants of serf-ownership that can be called problematic, but perhaps only the degree to which they are so brought: serf-owning relationships in the country side are closely interwoven with bourgeois relationships, and as a class of bourgeois society the peasants (the small farmers) are far more a conservative than a revolutionary element (particularly since in our country the bourgeois evolution of agricultural relationships is only just beginning). That is why, in a period of political reforms, it will be far easier for the government to split the peasants (than, for instance, the workers), far easier for it to weaken (or even, at the worst, to paralyse) their revolutionary spirit by means of minor and insignificant concessions to a comparatively small number of petty proprietors.

All this is true. But what follows from it? The easier it is for the government to come to terms with the conservative elements of the peasantry, the greater must be our efforts, and the sooner we must exert them, to reach agreement with its revolutionary elements. It is our duty to determine with the greatest possible scientific precision the direction along which we must support these elements, and then to urge them to wage a resolute and unconditional struggle   against all remnants of the serf-owning system, to urge them on at all times and under all circumstances, by all available means. And is it not philistinism to attempt to “prescribe” in advance the degree of success that will attend our urging? That will be decided by life and recorded by history; our present job, in any case, is to fight on, and fight to the end. Does a soldier who has already gone into the attack dare argue that we perhaps will wipe out not an entire enemy army corps, but only three-fifths of it? Is not such a demand as, for instance, the demand for a republic also “problematic” in the Martynov sense? It will surely be easier for the government to make partial payment on this bill than to meet the bill of the peasant demands for the eradication of all traces of the serf-owning system. But what is that to us? We shall, of course, pocket this partial payment, without however calling off our desperate struggle for full payment. We must spread the idea far and wide that only in a republic can the decisive battle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie take place; we must create[2] and consolidate republican traditions among all the Russian revolutionaries and among the broadest possible masses of Russian workers; we should express through this “republic” slogan that we will carry to the end the struggle to democratise the state system, without looking back—and the struggle will itself determine what share of that payment, when and how, we shall succeed in winning. It would be stupid to try to calculate that share before we make the enemy feel the full force of our blows and without ourselves feeling the full force of his blows. Similarly, with regard to the peasant demands, our job is to determine, on the basis of scientific data, the maximum of these demands and to help the comrades to fight for this maximum—and   then let the sober legal critics and the illegal “tail-enders,” the latter so enamoured of tangible results, laugh at its “problematic” character![3]


[1] How little thought Martynov has given to the question he has undertaken to write on is most vividly seen from the following statement in his article: “In view of the fact that tile agrarian section of our programme will still be of comparatively little practical significance for a very long time to come, it affords a wide field for revolutionary phrase-mongering.” The underlined words contain the very confusion indicated in the text. Martynov has heard that in the West agrarian programmes are put forward only when there is a highly developed working-class movement. In our country this movement is just beginning. Hence, our publicist hastens to conclude—“for a very long time to come”! He has overlooked a trifle: in the West agrarian programmes are written for the purpose of drawing those who are half-peasants,   half-workers into the Social-Democratic movement against the bourgeoisie; while in our country such programmes are meant to draw the peasant masses into the democratic movement against the remnants of the serf-owning system. That is why in the West the significance of the agrarian programme will become all the greater, the more agricultural capitalism develops. The practical significance of our agrarian programme will decrease, as far as most o fits demands are concerned, the more agricultural capitalism develops, since the remnants of serf-ownership this programme is directed against are dying out both of themselves and as the result of the government’s policy. Our agrarian programme is, therefore, calculated in practice mainly for the immediate future, for the period preceding the downfall of the autocracy. A political revolution in Russia will at all events lead inevitably to such fundamental changes in our most backward agrarian system that we shall unfailingly have to revise our agrarian programme. But Martynov is quite sure of only one thing: that Kautsky’s book[4] is good (this is warranted), and that it is sufficient to repeat and transcribe Kautsky without bearing in mind how radically different Russia is with regard to the agrarian programme (this is not at all wise). —Lenin

[2] We say “create,” because the old Russian revolutionaries never paid serious attention to the question of a republic, never considering it a “practical” issue—the Narodniks, the rebels, etc., because of their contemptuous anarchist attitude towards politics, those in the Narodnaya Volya[5] because they wanted to leap straight from the autocracy into the socialist revolution. It has fallen to our lot (if we leave out of account the long forgotten republican ideas of the Decembrists), to the lot of the Social-Democrats, to popularise the demand for a republic among the masses and to create republican traditions among the Russian revolutionaries. —Lenin

[3] It would perhaps be useful, in discussing the “feasibility” of the demands in the Social-Democratic programme, to recall Karl Kautsky’s polemic against Rosa Luxemburg in 1896. Rosa Luxemburg wrote that the demand for Poland’s restoration was inappropriate in the Polish Social-Democrats’ practical programme, since this demand could not be realised in present-day society. Karl Kautsky took exception to this, saying that this argument was “based on a strange misconception of the essence of a socialist programme. Whether they find direct expression in the programme or are tacitly accepted ’postulates,’ our practical demands should be conformed (werden ... darnach bemessen), not with their being achievable under the given alignment of forces, but with their compatibility with the existing social system, and with the consideration whether they can facilitate and further (fördern) the proletariat’s class struggle, and pave (ebnen) for it the way to the political rule of the proletariat. In this, we take no account of the current alignment of forces. The Social-Democratic programme is not written for the given ("den”) moment—as far as possible, it should cover (ausreichen) all eventualities in present-day society. It should serve not only for practical action (der Action), but for propaganda as well; in the form of concrete demands, it should indicate, more vividly than abstract arguments can do, the direction in which we intend to advance. The more distant practical aims we can set ourselves without straying into Utopian speculations, the better; the direction in which we are advancing will be all the clearer to the masses—even to those who are unable to grasp (erfassen) our theoretical premises. The programme should show what we demand of existing society or of the existing state, and not what we expect of it. As an example, let us take the programme of German Social-Democracy. It demands that officials should be elected by the people. Measured by Miss Luxemburg’s standards, this demand is just as Utopian as the demand for the establishment of a Polish national state. No one will be deluded into believing that it is possible to ensure that, under the political conditions obtaining in the German Reich, government officials are elected by the people. With just as good reason as one can assume that a Polish national state is achievable only when the proletariat wins political power, one can assert this concerning the above demand. But is that sufficient ground for not including it in our practical programme?” [Neue Zeit, XIV. 2, S. 513 u. 514. All italics are Karl Kautsky’s.] —Lenin

[4] The reference is to Karl Kautsky’s book, Die Agrarfrage. Eine Übersicht über die Tendenzen der modernen Landwirtschaft und die Agrarpolitik der Sozialdemokratie. (The Agrarian Question.   A Review of the Tendencies of Modern Agriculture and the Agrarian Policy of Social-Democracy), published in Stuttgart in 1899.

[5] Narodnaya Volya (The People’s Will)—a secret political organisation of Narodnik terrorists, which arose in August 1879, following a split in the secret society Zemlya I Volya (Land and Liberty). The Narodnaya Volya was headed by an Executive Committee which included A. I. Zhelyabov, A. D. Mikhailov, M. F. Frolenko, N. A. Morozov, V. N. Figner, S. L. Perovskaya, A. A. Kvyatkovsky. While continuing to uphold Utopian Narodnik socialism, the members of the Narodnaya Volya (Narodovoltsi) at the same time put forward the task of achieving political liberty. Their programme envisaged the organisation of “permanent popular representation” created on the basis of universal suffrage, the proclamation of democratic liberties, the transfer of the land to the people, and the working out of measures for handing over the factories to the workers. The overthrow of the tsarist autocracy was the immediate aim of the Narodnaya Volya, but, since it had no links with the masses, the Narodovoltsi took the path of political plots and individual terrorism.

After March 1,1881 (the assassination of Alexander II), the government smashed the Narodnaya Volya organisation by savage persecution, executions, and provocation. Repeated attempts to revive the Narodnaya Volya during the eighties proved fruitless. In 1886, for instance, a group was formed under the leadership of A. I. Ulyanov (the brother of V. I. Lenin) and P. Y. Shevyrev, which adopted the traditions of the Narodnaya Volya. After an unsuccessful attempt on the life of Alexander III in 1887, the group was uncovered and its active members executed.

While criticising the erroneous Utopian programme of the Narodovoltsi, V. I. Lenin at the same time held in high regard the self-sacrificing struggle against tsarism waged by the members of the Narodnaya Volya organisation. In 1899 he pointed out in “A Protest by Russian Social-Democrats” that “the members of the old Narodnaya Volya managed to play an enormous role in the history of Russia, despite the fact that only narrow social strata supported the few heroes, and despite the fact that it was by no means a revolutionary theory which served as the banner of the movement” (see present edition, Vol. 4, p. 181).

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