V. I.   Lenin

The Agrarian Programme of Russian Social-Democracy



The fifth clause in our draft agrarian programme is closely bound up with the fourth. Clause 5 demands “empowerment of courts to reduce exorbitant rents and declare null and void all contracts entailing bondage.” Like Clause 4, it is directed against bondage; unlike Clause 4 it demands, not a single act of revision and reform of the agrarian system, but constant revision of civic rights. This is entrusted to the “courts,” weaning, of course, not those miserable parodies of courts which form the “institute” of rural superintendents[2] (or even the Justices of the Peace, who are elected by the propertied classes from among property holders), but those courts referred to in § 16 of the preceding section of our draft programme.This § 116 demands that “industrial courts be set up in all branches of the national economy.. ." (hence in agriculture as well) "... with equal representation of workers and employers.” Such composition of the courts would be a guarantee both of their democratic nature and free expression of the different class interests of the various sections of the rural population. Class antagonism would not be covered up with the fig   leaf of rotten bureaucratism—that whited sepulchre for the remains of popular liberties—but would stand out openly and clearly to the general view, thereby rousing the country folk from their patriarchal slumber. The election of judges from among the local inhabitants would guarantee their being familiar with agrarian life in general and its local features in particular. For the masses of the peasants, who could not come under the heading of “workers” or “employers,” special rules would naturally be established to ensure equal representation of all elements of the rural population. Moreover, we, Social-Democrats, would categorically insist under all circumstances, first, on separate representation for the agricultural wage-workers, however few they may be, and, secondly, that economically weak peasants and prosperous peasants should if possible be represented separately (for confusion of these two categories, not only results in false statistics, but leads to the oppression and constraint of the former by the latter in all fields of life).

The competence of these courts would be twofold: firstly, they would be empowered to reduce rents where they are “exorbitant.” This very wording in the programme recognises in oblique fashion how widespread this phenomenon is. The fact that the question of the level of rent would be examined by courts in open session and with both parties represented would be of enormous benefit, irrespective of what the court might decide. Reductions of rent (even though these reductions might be infrequent) would play their part in removing the remnants of serf-ownership: it is well known that in our countryside rent is more often of a serf-owning than a bourgeois nature; it is much more “money” rent (i.e., a modified form of feudal rent) than capitalist rent (i.e., the surplus over and above the profit of the employer). Reductions of rent would therefore directly help to replace serf-owning forms of farming by capitalist forms.

Secondly, the courts would be empowered “to declare null and void all contracts entailing bondage.” The meaning of “bondage” is not defined here, since it would be wholly undesirable to hamper the elected judges in the application of this clause. The Russian muzhik knows only too well what bondage is! From the scientific standpoint this concept covers all contracts which entail elements of usury (winter   hiring, etc.) or serfdom (labour rent for damage done by straying cattle, etc.).

Clause 3, on the restitution of redemption payments to the people, is of a somewhat different nature. Here the doubts that Clause 4 evokes on the score of small property do not arise. On the other hand, the objectors point to both the practical infeasibility of this demand and the absence of a logical connection between this clause and the general section of our agrarian programme (=“the eradication of the remnants of the serf-owning system and the free development of the class struggle in the countryside”). Nevertheless, no one will deny that it is precisely the remnants of the serf-owning system that in their aggregate are the cause of the constant famines which affect millions of peasants and at once set Russia apart from all civilised nations. Even the autocracy has therefore been obliged more and more frequently to institute a special fund (utterly trifling, of course, and going more to line the pockets of embezzlers of state property and bureaucrats than for the relief of the famine-stricken) “for the cultural and charitable needs of the village communes.” We, too, cannot but demand, among other democratic reforms, that such a fund be established. That can scarcely be disputed.

The question now arises, from what source should the sum required for this fund be obtained? So far as we can judge, a progressive income-tax might be suggested to us: the rates of taxation on the incomes of the rich should be raised for the purpose, and the sums obtained thereby used for this fund. It would be only fair for the country’s wealthiest citizens to contribute most for the maintenance of the famine-stricken and for expenditures on the greatest possible alleviation of calamities caused by famines. We would have nothing against such a measure either, which need not be specially mentioned in the programme since it is fully covered by the demand for a progressive income-tax, which is a separate item in the programme. But why confine oneself to this source? Why not try, in addition, to return to the people at least part of the tribute which yesterday’s slave- owners extracted, and are still extracting, from the peasants with the assistance of the police state? Is not this tribute most closely bound up with the present-day famines? And would not the demand to return this tribute render us the   greatest service in spreading and intensifying the revolutionary indignation of the peasants against all feudal landlords and against bondage of every kind?

But, then—the objection is raised—this tribute cannot be returned in full. Quite so (just as the cut-off lands cannot be restituted in full). But if one cannot get the whole debt back, why not take part of it? What objection can there be to a special land-tax on the big landed nobility who received land redemption loans? The number of such owners of latifundia (which occasionally even become entailed estates) is quite considerable in Russia, and it would be only fair to make them bear a special responsibility for famines among the peasantry. It will be even fairer to confiscate in full monasterial property and royal demesnes, as property most thoroughly steeped in traditions of serf-ownership and serving to enrich the most reactionary and socially most harmful drones, and at the same time to withdraw no small amount of land from civil and commercial circulation. Confiscation of such estates would therefore be wholly in the interests of all social development[1] ; it would be precisely the sort of partial bourgeois nationalisation of the land that could under no circumstances lead to the hocus-pocus of “state socialism.” It would be of direct and enormous political importance in strengthening the democratic institutions of the new Russia; and at the same time it would also provide additional funds for famine relief.


[1] With regard to the leasing of these confiscated estates, the Social-Democrats should by no means pursue a specifically peasant policy, but should at once pursue the policy outlined by us above In our objections to Nadezhdin. —Lenin

[2] Rural superintendent (Zemsky Nachalnik)—an administrative post instituted by the tsarist government in 1889 to strengthen the authority of the landlords over the peasants. The rural superintendents were appointed from among the local landed nobility and were granted extensive powers, not merely administrative but also judicial.

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