V. I.   Lenin

The Agrarian Programme of Russian Social-Democracy



Finally, as to the first two clauses of our agrarian programme, there is no need to dwell on them at length. “Abolition of land redemption and quit-rent payments, as well as of all services now imposed on the peasantry as a taxable social-estate” (Clause 1) is something that is self-evident to every Social-Democrat. Moreover, no doubts arise as to the practical feasibility of this measure, so far as we can judge. The second clause demands “annulment of collective liability and   of all laws restricting the peasant...” (note: “peasant” and not “peasants”) “... in the free disposal of his land.” Here we must say a few words about the much-vaunted and memorable “village commune.” Actually, of course, the annulment of collective liability (Mr. Witte may manage to put this particular reform through before the revolution), the abolition of division into social-estates, freedom of movement, and the right for each individual peasant freely to dispose of his land will rapidly and inevitably bring about the removal of the burden of taxation and serf-bondage that the land commune to a three-fourths extent constitutes at the present time. But this result will only prove the correctness of our views on the village commune, prove how incompatible it is with the entire social and economic development of capitalism. The result will by no means follow from any particular measure recommended by us “against the village commune,” for we never have supported and never shall support a single measure aimed directly against this or that system of peasant land tenure. Moreover, we shall unreservedly defend the village commune as a democratic organisation of local government, as a co-operative or a neighbours’ association, against all encroachments on the part of the bureaucrats—encroachments which find such favour with opponents of the village commune in the camp of Moskovskiye Vedomosti.[3] We shall never help any one to “destroy the village commune,” but we shall strive absolutely for the abolition of all institutions that run counter to democracy, irrespective of the effect of this abolition on the basic or partial reallotment of the land, etc.; that is where we differ fundamentally from the Narodniks—overt and covert, consistent and inconsistent, timid and bold—who, on the one hand, are “of course” democrats, and on the other, fear to resolutely and unequivocally define their attitude towards such elementary democratic demands as full freedom of movement, complete abolition of the social-estate nature of the peasant commune, and, consequently, utter annulment of collective liability, and abolition of all laws restricting the peasant in the free disposal of his land.[1]

The objection may be raised that, by sanctifying the individual will of each particular peasant, the, latter measure will destroy the village commune, not only as a system of land reallotment, etc., but outright, even as-a co-operative neighbours’ association. Each individual peasant will have the right to demand, despite the will of the majority, that his land be allotted to him as a separate plot. Does this not run counter to the general tendency of all socialists to further the extension rather than the restriction of the right of the collective body over the individual?

To this we reply that it does not at all follow from our formulation that every peasant must necessarily demand that a separate plot of land be allotted to him. What does follow is only liberty to sell the land; moreover, the preferential right of the commune members to purchase land that is being sold does not run counter to this liberty.

The annulment of collective liability would turn all members of the peasant commune into free co-owners of a certain plot of land; as to what use they will then make of this plot, that is their business and will depend on common civil law and on whatever special agreements they enter into among themselves. With regard to extending the right of the collective body over the individual, such extension is upheld by the socialists only when It is in the interests of technical and social progress.[2] In this form, naturally, we too would uphold any appropriate law if only it referred not just to the small property-owners alone, or just to the peasants alone, but in general to all those who own land.


[1] This is the touchstone we should apply to the numerous radicals In Russia (and even revolutionaries, of Vestnik Russkoi Revolutsii) who in this question are inclined to sit between two stools. —Lenin

[2] Kautsky, for instance, considers it correct to demand “the restriction of the rights of private property in land in the interests of 1) demarcation of land holdings, abolishing strip-farming; 2) raising standards of agriculture; 3) preventing epidemics” (Die Agrarfrage, S. 437). Demands of this sort, which are fully justified, are not and should not be connected in any way with the peasant commune. —Lenin

[3] Moskovskiye Vedomosti (Moscow Recorder)—one of the oldest Russian newspapers, published by Moscow University from 1756 (originally as a one-sheet paper). During 1863-87 it was published and edited by M. N. Katkov, an extreme reactionary and chauvinist, who was bitterly opposed to the least signs of progressive social thought and transformed the newspaper into a monarchist-nationalist organ voicing the views of the most reactionary sections of the landlords and clergy. From 1905 Moskovskiye Vedomosti was one of the chief organs of the Black Hundreds. It was closed down at the end of 1917.

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