V. I.   Lenin

The Agrarian Programme of Russian Social-Democracy



There are nevertheless very many who have doubted this, and we shall now proceed to consider the arguments advanced by the doubters. All these arguments may be classified in the following groups: a) Is the demand for the restitution of the cut-off lands consistent with the basic theoretical principles of Marxism and with the principles of the Social-Democratic programme? b) Is it wise, from the viewpoint of political expedience, to advance the demand for redressing a historical injustice, the significance of which is diminishing with every step in economic development? c) Can this demand be realised in practice? d) Admitting that we   can and must advance such a demand and include in our agrarian programme not the minimum but the maximum, is the demand for the restitution of the cut-off lands consistent from this point of view? Is such a demand actually a maximum?

As far as I can judge, all objections “against the cut-off lands” fit into one or another of these four groups; moreover, most of the objectors (including Martynov) have answered all four questions in the negative, considering the demand for the restitution of the cut-off lands wrong in principle, politically inexpedient, practically unattainable, and logically inconsistent.

Let us consider all these questions in their order of importance.

a) The demand for the restitution of the cut-off lands is considered wrong in principle for two reasons. In the first place, we are told that it will “affect” capitalist agriculture, i.e., hold up or delay the development of capitalism; in the second place, we are told that it will not only fortify but actually multiply small property. The first of these arguments (particularly emphasised by Martynov) is absolutely untenable, because, on the contrary, typical cut-off lands retard the development of capitalism, and their restitution will stimulate this development; as for non-typical cases (quite apart from the fact that exceptions are always and everywhere possible and only go to prove the rule), a reservation was made both in Iskra and in the programme (“... the land cut off... and now used as a means of bondage...”). This objection is due simply to ignorance of the real importance of the cut-off lands and labour rent in the economy of the Russian countryside.

The second argument (which was developed in particular detail in several private letters) is much more serious and is in general the strongest argument against the programme we are defending. Generally speaking, it is not at all the task of the Social-Democrats to develop, support, consolidate, let alone, multiply, small-scale farming and small property. That is quite true. But the point is that what confronts us here is not a “general” but an exceptional case of small-scale farming, and this exceptional character is clearly expressed in the preamble to our agrarian programme: “the destruction   of the remnants of the serf-owning system and the free development of the class struggle in the countryside.” Generally speaking, it is reactionary to support small property because such support is directed against large-scale capitalist economy and, consequently, retards social development, and obscures and glosses over the class struggle. In this case, however, we want to support small property not against capitalism but against serf-ownership; in this case, by supporting the small peasantry, we give a powerful impulse to the development of the class struggle. Indeed, on the one hand, we are thus making a last attempt to fan the embers of the peasants’ class (social-estate) enmity for the feudal-minded landlords. On the other hand, we are clearing the way for the development of the bourgeois class antagonism in the countryside, because that antagonism is at present masked by what is supposedly the common and equal oppression of all the peas ants by the remnants of the serf-owning system.

There are two sides to all things in the world. In the West, the peasant proprietor has already played his part in the democratic movement, and is now defending his position of privilege as compared with the proletariat. In Russia, the peasant proprietor is as yet on the eve of a decisive and nation-wide democratic movement with which he cannot but sympathise. He still looks ahead more than he looks back. He is still more of a fighter against the privileges of the former serf-owners as a social-estate, privileges which are still so strong in Russia, than a defender of his own privileged position. In a historic moment like the present, it is our direct duty to support the peasants and to try to direct their as yet vague and blind discontent against their real enemy. And we shall not be in the least contradicting ourselves if we delete from our programme the struggle against the remnants of the serf-owning system in the subsequent historical period when the special features of the present social and political “juncture” will have disappeared, when the peas ants, let us suppose, will have been satisfied by insignificant concessions made to an insignificant number of property-owners and begin definitely to “snarl” at the proletariat. Then, we shall probably also have to delete from our programme the struggle against the autocracy, for it is quite inconceivable that the peasants will succeed in ridding themselves   of the most repulsive and grievous form of feudal oppression before political liberty has been attained.

Under the capitalist system of economy, small property retards the development of the productive forces by tying the worker to a small plot of land, by legalising old-fashioned techniques, and by making it difficult to bring land into the trade turnover. Where the labour-rent system predominates, small landed property, by ridding itself of labour rent, stimulates the development of the productive forces, releases the peasant from the bondage that tied him down to one particular place, relieves the landlord of “gratuitous” servants, makes it impossible for him to prefer unlimited intensification of “patriarchal” exploitation to technical improvements, and facilitates land being brought into the trade turnover. In a word, the contradictory position of the small peasant on the boundary between serf economy and capitalist economy fully justifies this exceptional and temporary support of small property by the Social-Democrats. We repeat: this is not a contradiction in the wording or in the formulation of our programme, but a contradiction in real life.

It may be argued: “However slowly the labour-rent farming may be yielding to the pressure of capitalism, still it is yielding; it is, moreover, doomed to disappear completely; large-scale labour-rent farming is giving way to, and will be directly replaced by, large-scale capitalist farming. What you want is to accelerate the elimination of serf-owning by a measure which in essence amounts to the splitting-up (partial, but nevertheless splitting-up) of large-scale farms. Are you not thereby sacrificing the interests of the future for the interests of the present? For the sake of the problematic possibility of a peasant revolt against serf-owning in the immediate future, you are placing obstacles in the way of a revolt of the agricultural proletariat against capitalism in the more or less distant future !"

This argument, however convincing it may seem at first glance, is very one-sided: in the first place, the small peasantry is also yielding—slowly no doubt, but nevertheless yielding—to the pressure of capitalism, and is likewise ultimately doomed to inevitable elimination; in the second place, large scale labour-rent farming too is not always “directly” re placed by large-scale capitalist farming; it quite often gives   rise to a section of semi-dependent peasants—semi-farm labourers, semi-proprietors. And yet, such a revolutionary measure as the restitution of the cut-off lands would render a tremendous service precisely by substituting, at least once, the “method” of open revolutionary transformation for the “method” of gradual and imperceptible transformation of serf dependence into bourgeois dependence: this could not fail to exert the profoundest influence on the spirit’ of protest and the independent struggle of the entire rural working population. In the third place, we, Russian Social-Democrats, will also try to make use of the experience of Europe, and begin to attract the “country folk” to the socialist working-class movement at a much earlier stage and much more zealously than was done by our Western comrades, who after the conquest of political liberty, continued for a long time to “grope” for the road the industrial workers’ movement should follow: in this sphere we shall take much that is ready-made “from the Germans,” but in the agrarian sphere we may perhaps evolve something new. And in order to facilitate for our farm labourers and semi-farm labourers the subsequent transition to socialism, it is highly important that the socialist party begin to “stand up” at once for the small peas ants, and do “everything possible” for them, never refusing a hand in solving the urgent and complex “alien” (non-proletarian) problems, and helping the working and exploited masses to regard the socialist party as their leader and representative.

To proceed. b) The demand for the restitution of the cut off lands is considered politically inexpedient, since, it is argued, it is imprudent to switch the attention of the Party from the fundamental and imminent issue of the struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie over to the redressing of all sorts of historical injustices, which are already beginning to lose immediate significance. As Martynov sarcastically puts it, this amounts to “re-emancipating the peasants forty years too late.”

This argument too appears plausible, but only at first glance. Historical injustices are of different kinds. There are such which, as it were, keep aloof from the mainstream of history, do not check that stream or hinder its course, and do not prevent the proletarian class struggle from extending and   from striking deeper roots. It would certainly be unwise to try to redress historical injustices of this kind. As an example, we shall mention the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine by Germany. No Social-Democratic party would think of including in its programme the redress of a wrong of this kind, although, on the other hand, not one would shirk its duty of protesting against this injustice and of condemning all the ruling classes for having perpetrated it. If we had motivated our demand for the restitution of the cut-off lands only on the ground that an injustice had been committed and should be redressed, that would have been no more than a hollow democratic phrase. However, we do not make any plaint over a historical injustice the motivation of our demand, but rather the need to abolish the remnants of the serf-owning system and to clear the road for the class struggle in the countryside, i. e., a very “practical” and very pressing need for the proletariat.

We have here an example of a different kind of historical injustice, one which still directly retards social development and the class struggle. A refusal to attempt to redress historical injustices of this kind would mean “defending the knout on the ground that it is a historical knout.” The problem of freeing our countryside from the burden of the remnants of the “old regime” is one of the most urgent questions of the day, one that is put forward by all trends and parties (except that of the former serf-owners), so that the reference to our being late is pointless in general and simply ludicrous when voiced by Martynov. It is the Russian bourgeoisie who were “late” with what is really their task of sweeping away all the remnants of the old regime, and we must and shall rectify this omission until it has been rectified, until we have won political liberty, as long as the position of the peas ants continues to foster dissatisfaction among practically the whole of educated bourgeois society (as is the case in Russia), instead of fostering a feeling of conservative self satisfaction among it on account of the “indestructibility” of what is supposed to be the strongest bulwark against socialism (as is the case in the West where this self-satisfaction is displayed by all the parties of Order, ranging from the Agrarians and Conservatives pur sang, through the liberal and free-thinking bourgeois, to even as far—without offence to Messrs. the Chernovs and the Vestnik Russkoi Revolutsii!—to   even as far as the fashionable “critics of Marxism” in the agrarian question). Then, of course, those Russian Social-Democrats who trail along in the rear of the movement as a matter of principle, and who are concerned only with questions “promising palpable results,” were also “late,” and, because they were late in giving definite directives on the agrarian question as well, these “tail-enders” have succeeded only in providing the non-Social-Democratic revolutionary trends with a highly potent and reliable weapon.

As for c) the practical “infeasibility” of the demand that the cut-off lands should be restituted, this objection (which has been particularly stressed by Martynov) is of the feeblest. In conditions of political liberty, the question of determining in which concrete cases expropriation, redemption, exchange, demarcation, etc., should be carried out and exactly how this should be done would be solved by the peasant committees ten times more easily than by the committees of nobles, which consisted of representatives of a minority and acted in the interests of that minority. Only those who are used to underestimating the revolutionary activity of the masses can attach any importance to this objection.

At this point the fourth and last objection is raised. If we are to count on the revolutionary activity of the peasants and offer them a maximum and not a minimum programme, we must be consistent and demand either a peasant “General Redistribution”[3] or bourgeois nationalisation of the land! “If,” writes Martynov, “we wanted to find a genuine (sic!) class slogan for the mass of the small peasantry, we should have to go further and advance the demand for a ’General Redistribution,’ but then we should have to part with the Social—Democratic programme.

This reasoning betrays the “economist” most strikingly, and reminds us of the saying about those who, if they are compelled to pray, do it with such zeal that they bang their foreheads against the ground.

You have pronounced yourselves in favour of one of the demands which satisfy certain interests of a certain section of the small producers: hence it follows that you must desert your own standpoint and adopt the standpoint of that section!! Nothing of the sort follows; only “tail-enders,” who confuse the drawing-up of a programme conforming   to a class’s broadly conceived interests with subservience to that class, can reason in this way. Although we represent the proletariat, we will nevertheless condemn outright the prejudiced idea of backward proletarians that one must fight only for demands “promising palpable results.” While supporting the progressive interests and demands of the peasants, we will decisively reject their reactionary demands. The “General Redistribution,” one of the most outstanding slogans of the old Narodniks, represents a combination of just such revolutionary and reactionary features. The Social-Democrats have stated dozens of times that they do not at all discard the whole of Narodism, with the forthrightness of a certain foolish bird, but select and take for their own its revolutionary and general democratic elements. The demand for “General Redistribution” contains the reactionary Utopian idea of generalising and perpetuating small-scale peasant production, but it also contains (in addition to the Utopian idea that the “peasantry” can serve as the vehicle of the socialist revolution) a revolutionary element, namely, the desire to sweep away by means of a peasant revolt all the remnants of the serf-owning system. In our opinion, the demand for the restitution of the cut-off Lands singles out from all the peasant’s two-way and contradictory demands precisely that which can have a revolutionary effect only in the direction along which society’s entire development is proceeding, and consequently deserves the proletariat’s support. In actual fact, Martynov’s invitation to “go further” only lands us in the absurd position of having to define the “genuine” class slogan of the peasantry from the standpoint of the existing prejudices of the peasantry, and not from that of the properly understood interests of the proletariat.

Nationalisation of the land is a different matter. This demand (if it is interpreted in the bourgeois sense, and not in the socialist) does actually “go further” than the demand for the restitution of the cut-off lands, and in principle we fully endorse it. It goes without saying that, when the revolutionary moment comes, we shall not fail to advance it. But our present programme is being drawn up, not only for the period of revolutionary insurrection, not even so much for that period, as for the period of political slavery, for the   period that precedes political liberty. However, in this period the demand for the nationalisation of the land is much less expressive of the immediate tasks of the democratic movement in the meaning of a struggle against the serf-owning system. The demand for the establishment of peasant committees and for the restitution of the cut-off lands kindles this class struggle in the countryside directly and, consequently, cannot give occasion for any experiments in state socialism. The demand for the nationalisation of the land, on the other hand, to a certain extent diverts attention from the most striking manifestations and most outstanding survivals of serf-ownership. That is why our agrarian programme can and must be advanced at once as a means of stimulating the democratic movement among the peasants. However, to advance the demand for nationalisation of the land under the autocracy or even under a semi-constitutional monarchy would be quite wrong. For, while we lack firmly established and deep-rooted democratic political institutions, this demand will be much more likely to distract our minds towards absurd experiments in state socialism than to provide a stimulus “for the free development of the class struggle in the countryside.”[1]

That is why we think that, on the basis of the present social system, the maximum demand in our agrarian programme should not go beyond the democratic revision of the Peasant Reform. The demand for nationalisation of the land, while quite valid in principle and quite suitable at certain moments, is politically inexpedient at the present moment.

It is interesting to note that, in his desire to reach just such a maximum as nationalisation of the land, Nadezhdin has gone astray (partly owing to his decision to confine him self in the programme “to demands which the muzhik understands and needs”). Nadezhdin formulates the demand for nationalisation of the land as follows: “the conversion of   state, royal, church, and landlords’ lands into public property, into a national fund to be allocated to the working peasantry on long-term leases and on the most advantageous terms.” The “muzhik” will, no doubt, understand this demand, but the Social-Democrat will probably not. The demand for nationalisation of the land is a demand of the Social-Democrat programme which is valid in principle only as a bourgeois and not as a socialist measure, for, as socialists, we demand the nationalisation of all the means of production. So long as we remain on the basis of bourgeois society we can demand only the transfer of ground rent to the state—a transfer which in itself far from retarding would accelerate the capitalist evolution of agriculture. It follows that, in the first place, a Social-Democrat, while supporting bourgeois nationalisation of the land, must by no means exclude the peasants’ land, as Nadezhdin has done. If we preserve a private system of economy on the land, merely abolishing private ownership of land, it would be utterly reactionary to exclude the small proprietor in this connection. In the second place, if such nationalisation took place, a Social-Democrat would resolutely oppose the leasing of national land “to the working peasantry” in preference to the agrarian capitalists. This preference would also be reactionary, given domination or preservation of the capitalist mode of production. If a democratic country undertook to carry out bourgeois nationalisation of the land, it would be the duty of that country’s proletariat to show no preference either for small or big leaseholders, but to demand unconditionally that every leaseholder observe the labour protection laws (on the maximum working day, health regulations, etc., etc.) and the laws governing rational cultivation of the land and care of livestock. In practice, the proletariat’s adoption of such a policy in the event of bourgeois nationalisation would of course be tantamount to hastening the victory of large-scale production over small-scale (in the same way as factory legislation speeds up that victory in industry).

The desire to be “understood by the muzhik” at all costs has driven Nadezhdin into the jungle of a reactionary petty-bourgeois Utopia.[2]  

Thus, an analysis of objections to the demand for restitution of the cut-off lands convinces us that these objections are groundless. We must put forward the demand for the democratic revision of the Peasant Reform, or, to be precise, for the revision of the agrarian reforms contained in it. To determine the precise character, limits, and manner of carrying out this revision, we must demand the establishment of peasant committees which shall have the right to expropriate, redeem, exchange, etc., those cut-off lands in which survivals of the serf-owning system of economy are rooted.


[1] Kautsky very rightly remarked in one of his articles against Vollmar: “In Britain the advanced workers may demand nationalisation of the land. But what would he the outcome if, in a militarist and police state like Germany, all the land became state property (eine Domäne)? This sort of state socialism has been realised, at least, to a considerable degree, in Mecklenburg.” (“Vollmar und der Staatssozialimus”, Neue Zeit, 1891-92, X. 2, S. 710.) —Lenin

[2] As for Nadezhdin, he has in our opinion acted very inconsistently by demanding, in his outline of an agrarian programme, the conversion   into “public property” of all kinds of land, except peasants’ land, and allocations from a “national (land) fund” for “long-term leases to the working peasantry.” In the first place, a Social-Democrat could not exclude peasant holdings from the general nationalisation of the land. Secondly, he would advocate nationalisation of the land only as a transition to large-scale communist, and not small individual, farming. Nadezhdin’s mistake is probably due to his decision to limit the programme to “demands which the muzhik understands (italcis [sic.] mine) and needs.”[4]Lenin

[3] “General Redistribution”—a slogan popular among the peasants of tsarist Russia and expressing their desire for a general redistribution of the land.

[4] The criticism of Nadezhdin’s opportunist views given on pages 140-41 of this volume (beginning with the words: “It is interesting to note that, in his desire to reach just such a maximum as nationalisation of the land, Nadezhdin has gone astray...” and ending with the words: “The desire to be ’understood by the mushik’ at all costs has driven Nadezhdin into the jungle of a reactionary petty-bourgeois Utopia”) was omitted by the Editorial Board when the article was first published in Zarya, No 4. Nor did Zarya print the footnote which Lenin wrote to replace the omitted text.

In the present edition the text and footnote are given according to Lenin’s manuscript.

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