V. I.   Lenin

The Agrarian Programme of Russian Social-Democracy



Having examined the “general section” of our agrarian programme, we shall now proceed to analyse its specific demands. We shall take the liberty of beginning not with the first but with the fourth clause (on the cut-off lands), since this is the most important and the central clause, the one that lends a special character to the agrarian programme and is at the same time its most vulnerable point (at any rate, in the view of most of those who voiced their opinions on the article in No. 3 of Iskra).

Let us recall that this clause is made up of the following components: 1. It demands the establishment of peasant committees with authority to reorganise agrarian relationships that are direct survivals of the serf-owning system. The expression “peasant committees” has been chosen to make it quite clear that, as distinct from the “Reform” of 1861 with its committees of nobles,[4] the reorganisation of these relationships must rest with the peasants, and not with the landowners. In other words: the final abolition of relation. ships stemming from the serf-owning system is left, not to the oppressors, but to ·the section of the population which is oppressed by these relationships; not to the minority, but to the majority of those concerned. In essence, this is nothing but a democratic revision of the peasant reform (i. e., the very thing demanded by the first draft programme prepared by the Emancipation of Labour group). And the only reason   we have not chosen this latter expression is because it indicates the true nature and concrete substance of this re vision less definitely and less expressively. Therefore, if Martynov, for instance, really had some contribution to make on the agrarian question, he should have stated definitely whether he rejects the very idea of a democratic revision of the peasant reform, and if not, then he should have stated just how he pictures it.[1]

Further, 2. The peasant committees are given the right to expropriate and redeem landlords’ land, to effect ex changes of land, and so on (Clause 4,b); moreover, this right is limited to cases where there is a direct survival of serf-owning relationships. Specifically (3), the right to expropriate and redeem is granted only with regard to land which, first, was “cut off from the peasants when serfdom was abolished” (since time immemorial this land had been an essential appurtenance of the peasant farm, part and parcel of that farm, and was artificially severed from it by the legalised robbery known as the great Peasant Reform)—and, secondly, is “used by the landlords as a means of keeping the peasants in bondage.”

This second condition still more limits the right of redemption and expropriation, extending it, not to all “cut-off lands,”   but only to such that to this day remain instruments of bond age and “by means of which,” as Iskra has formulated it, “forced labour, bondage, the corvée system, i.e., in actual fact the very same serf labour, is still maintained." In other words, wherever the half-hearted nature of our Peasant Reform has led to serf-owning forms of farming surviving to this day, with the aid of land cut off from the peasants’ lands, the peas ants are given the right to do away with these survivals once and for all, even by means of expropriation, the right to the “restitution of the cut-off lands.”

We can therefore reassure our kind-hearted Martynov, who has asked with such alarm: “What should be done about those cut-off lands in the possession of the nobility or purchasers of non-noble origin, which are now being cultivated along model, capitalist lines?" It is not a question of these particular cut-off lands, my worthy friend, but rather of those typical (and extremely numerous) cut-off lands which to this very day serve as a basis for still existing remnants of the serf-owning system.

Finally, 4. Clause 4, b, empowers the peasant committees to eradicate remnants of serf-owning system which still survive in certain parts of the country (servitude, uncompleted allotment of land, its demarcation, and so forth and so on).

Hence, for the sake of simplicity, the entire content of Clause 4 may be briefly expressed as “restitution of the cut off lands.” The question arises: how did the idea of this demand originate? It arose as the direct outcome of the general and fundamental proposition that we must assist the peasants and urge them to destroy all remnants of the serf-owning system as completely as possible. This meets with “general approval,” doesn’t it? Well then, if you do agree to follow this road, make an effort to proceed along it independently; don’t make it necessary to drag you; don’t let the “unusual” appearance of this road frighten you, don’t be put out by the fact that in many places you will find no beaten track at all, and that you will have to crawl along the edge of precipices, break your way through thickets, and leap across chasms. Don’t complain of the poor road: these complaints will be futile whining, for you should have known in advance that you would be moving, not along a highway   that has been graded and levelled by all the forces of social progress, but along paths through out-of-the-way places and back-alleys which do have a way out, but from which you, we or anyone else will never find a direct, simple, and easy way out—“never,” i.e., whilst these disappearing, but so slowly disappearing, out-of-the-way places and back-alleys continue to exist.’

But if you do not want to stray into these back-alleys, then say so frankly and don’t try to get away by phrase-mongering.[2]

You agree to fight for the abolition of the remnants of the serf-owning system? Very well. Remember, however, that there does not exist a single juridical institution to express or stipulate these remnants—I am of course speaking of those remnants exclusively in the sphere of the agrarian relationships that we are discussing now, and not in the sphere of legislation relating to the social-estates, financial affairs, etc. Direct survivals of the corvée system, recorded times without number in all the economic surveys of Russia, are maintained, not by any special law which protects them, but by the actually existing land relationships. This is so to such an extent that witnesses testifying before the well-known Valuyev Commission[5] openly stated that serf-ownership would undoubtedly have been revived had it not been   directly prohibited by law. Hence, one of two things: either you refrain altogether from touching upon the land relationships between the peasants and the landlords—in which case all the remaining questions are sAved very “simply,” but then you will also be ignor’ing the main source of all the survivals of serf-owning economy in the countryside, and will “simply” be avoiding a burning question bearing on the most vital interests of the feudal landlords and the enslaved peasantry, a question which tomorrow or the day after may easily become one of the most pressing social and political issues in Russia. Or else you want also to touch upon the source of the “obsolete forms of economic bondage” represented by the land relationships—in which case you must reckon with the fact that these relationships are so complex and entangled that they do not actually permit of any easy or simple solution. Then, if you are not satisfied with the concrete solutions we have proposed for this complex question, you no longer have the right to get away with a general “complaint” about its complexity, but must attempt to cope with it independently, and propose some other concrete solution.

The importance of the cut-off lands in present-day peasant farming is a question of reality. And it is noteworthy that deep as the gulf is between Narodism (in the broad sense of the word) and Marxism in the appraisal of the economic system and the economic evolution of Russia, the two doctrines have no divergence on this question. Representatives of both trends are agreed that the Russian countryside is teeming with remnants of serf-ownership and (nota bene) that the predominant mode of private farming in the central gubernias of Russia (the “labour-rent system of farming”) is a direct survival of the serf-owning system. They are agreed furthermore that the cutting-off of peasant land in favour of the landlords—i.e., both the cutting-off in the downright literal sense and the depriving of the peasants of the right to use common lands as pasturage, the right to use wood lands, watering places, grazing grounds, and so forth—con stitutes one of the mainstays (if not the mainstay) of the labour-rent system. It will suffice to recall that, according to the most recent data, the labour-rent system of landlord farming predominates in no less than 17 gubernias of European Russia. Let those who regard the clause on the cut-off   lands as a purely artificial, “laboured” and wily invention try to dispute this fact!

Here is what the labour-rent system of farming means. In actual fact, i.e., not according to ownership but according to economic utilisation, the landlords’ and the peasants’ lands have not been divided up completely, but remain merged; part of the peasants’ land, for example, feeds cattle required for the cultivation not of the peasants’ land but of the landlords’ land; part of the landlords’ land is absolutely indispensable to the neighbouring peasant farm as it is run at present (watering places, grazing grounds, etc.). This actual interlinking of land tenures inevitably engenders the same (or, more precisely, preserves the thousand-year-old) relationships between muzhik and landlord that existed under the serf-owning system. The muzhik re mains a serf de facto, working with the same antiquated implements, on the basis of the old three-field system, for the same old “lord of the manor.” What else do you want, if the peasants themselves everywhere bluntly call this labour rent “panshchina” and “barshchina,”[3] if the landlords themselves say when they describe their farms: my land is worked by “my former...” (that is, not only former, but present as well!) “...peasants” with their own implements in exchange for the use of my pasture land?

Whenever it becomes necessary to solve any complex and entangled social and economic problem, it is an elementary rule that one should take the most typical case to begin with, the case that is freest of all extraneous complicating influences and circumstances, and use the solution reached in this case as a premise for further procedure, while taking stock of these extraneous and complicating circumstances, one by one. Take a case that is most “typical” in this respect: the children of the former serfs are working for the sons of the former serf-owners to pay for the use of the latter’s pasture lands. Labour rent makes for stagnation in cultivation techniques and for stagnation in all social and economic relationships in the countryside, since this labour rent hampers the development of money economy and the   differentiation of the peasantry, disembarrasses the landlord (comparatively) of the stimulus of competition (instead of raising the technical level, he reduces the share of the share cropper; incidentally, this reduction has been recorded in a number of localities for many years of the post-Reform period), ties the peasant to the land, thereby checking the progress of migration, outside employment, etc.

The question arises whether any Social-Democrat will doubt that in this “pure” case the expropriation of the corresponding part of the landlords’ land in favour of the peas ants is wholly natural, desirable, and achievable. This expropriation will rouse Oblomov[6] from his slumber and force him to introduce more advanced methods of farming on his smaller estate; this expropriation will undermine (I will not say destroy, but precisely undermine) the labour-rent system, encourage the spirit of independence and democracy among the peasantry, raise their standard of living, and give a powerful impulse to the further development of money economy and capitalist progress in agriculture.

And in general: once it is generally acknowledged that the cut-off lands are one of the principal roots of the labour-rent system—and this system is a direct survival of serf-ownership, which retards the development of capitalism— how can one doubt that the restitution of the cut-off lands will undermine the labour-rent system and accelerate social and economic progress?


[1] We note the inconsistency (or is it reservation?) of Nadezhdin, who has apparently adopted Iskra’s idea of peasant committees in his outline of the agrarian programme, but formulates this idea most lamely when he says: “The institution of a special court of people’s representatives to examine peasant complaints and statements with regard to all the transactions attending the ’Emancipation.’" (TheEve of the Revolution, p. 65. Italics mine.) One can complain only about a breach of the law. The “Emancipation” of February 19, with all its “transactions,” itself constitutes a law. The establishment of special courts to examine complaints about the injustice of a given law is senseless until that law is repealed, or new legislative standards have been set up to replace this law (or to annul it in part). The “court” should be invested not only with the right to receive “complaints” about lands cut off from pastures but also the right to return (resp. redeem, etc.) that pasture land—but in that case, first, a “court” authorised to make laws would no longer be a court; secondly, it is necessary to indicate definitely just what rights of expropriation, redemption, etc., this “court” would have. But however inapt Nadezhdin’s formulation may be, he has grasped the need for a democratic revision of the Peasant Reform much better than Martynov has. —Lenin

[2] For instance, Martynov levels a charge of “phrase-mongering” against Iskra, which has given him both the general principles of its agrarian policy (“the introduction of the class struggle into the countryside”) and a practical answer to the question of concrete programme demands. Without replacing these general principles with any others, without giving even the slightest thought to these principles, or making any attempt to draw up a definite programme, Martynov dismisses the whole matter with the following grandiloquent words: "...We must demand their [the peasants’ as petty proprietors] protection ... against various obsolete forms of economic bondage..." Isn’t that getting off rather cheaply? Couldn’t you try to point out to us at least one protective measure against at least one (let alone “various”!) obsolete form of bondage? (Evidently there are also “forms of bondage” that are not obsolete!!) After all, the small credit associations, the amalgamated dairies, the mutual aid societies, the associations of small farmers, the peasant banks, and the Zemstvo agronomists are likewise all “protective measures against various obsolete forms of economic bondage.” Does it follow that you propose that “we must demand” all this?? You had better do some thinking first, my good friend, and then speak of programmes! —Lenin

[3] Panshchina and barshchina are two equivalent terms, with roughly the meaning of the corvée system .—Ed.

[4] Lenin has in mind the gubernia committees set up in 1857-58 in all the gubernias of European Russia (with the exception of Archangel Gubernia) to draw up drafts for the emancipation of the peasants from serfdom. The committees consisted of persons elected from among the nobility (hence the name “committees of nobles”) and, in the main, they were engaged in seeking ways and means of carrying out the “Peasant Reform” in a way to give the nobility the greatest benefit from it.

[5] The Valuyev Commission—the “Commission to Investigate the Condition of Russian Agriculture,” which functioned under the chairmanship of the tsars minister P. A. Valuyev. In the years 1872-73 the commission collected a large amount of material dealing with the condition of agriculture in post-Reform Russia: governors’ reports, statements and depositions of landlords, Marshals of the Nobility, Zemstvo administrations, volost boards, grain merchants, village priests, kulaks, statistical and agricultural societies and other bodies connected with agriculture. This material was published in Papers of the Commission of Inquiry into the Condition of Russian Agriculture, St. Petersburg, 1873.

[6] Oblomov—a landowner, the chief character in a novel of the same name by the Russian writer I. A. Goncharov. Oblomov was the personification of routine, stagnation, and incapacity for action. The name is used here in a generic sense to signify the Russian land owner.

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