V. I.   Lenin

To the Rural Poor

An Explanation for the Peasants of What the Social-Democrats Want


2. What Do the Social-Democrats Want?

The Russian Social-Democrats are first and foremost striving to win political liberty. They need political liberty in order to unite all the Russian workers extensively and openly in the struggle for a new and better socialist order of society.

What is political liberty?

To understand this the peasant should first compare his present state of freedom with serfdom. Under the serf-owning system the peasant could not marry without the land lord’s permission. Today the peasant is free to marry without anyone’s permission. Under the serf-owning system the peasant had unfailingly to work for his landlord on days fixed by the latter’s bailiff. Today the peasant is free to decide which employer to work for, on which days, and for what pay. Under the serf-owning system the peasant could not leave his village without the landlord’s per mission. Today the peasant is free to go wherever he pleases—if the mir allows him to go, if he is not in arrears with his taxes, if he can get a passport, and if the governor or the police chief does not forbid his changing residence. Thus, even today the peasant is not quite free to go where he pleases; he does not enjoy complete freedom of movement; the peasant is still a semi-serf. Later on we shall explain in detail why the Russian peasant is still a semi-serf and what he must do to escape from this condition.

Under the serf-owning system the peasant had no right to acquire property without the landlord’s permission; he could not buy land. Today the peasant is free to acquire any kind of property (but even today he is not quite free to leave the mir; he is not quite free to dispose of his land as he pleases). Under the serf-owning system the peasant could be flogged by order of the landlord. Today the peas ant cannot be flogged by order of the landlord, although he is still liable to corporal punishment.

This freedom is called civil liberty—freedom in family matters, in private matters, in matters concerning property. The peasant and the worker are free (although not quite) to arrange their family life and their private affairs, to dispose of their labour (choose their employer) and their property.

But neither the Russian workers nor the Russian people as. a whole are yet free to arrange their public affairs. The people as a whole are the serfs of the government officials, just as the peasants were the serfs of the landlords. The Russian people have no right to choose their officials, no right to elect representatives to legislate for the whole country. The Russian people have not even the right to arrange meetings for the discussion of state affairs. We dare not even print newspapers or books, and dare not even speak to all and for all on matters concerning the whole state without permission from officials who have been put in authority over us without our consent, just as the landlord used to appoint his bailiff without the consent of the peasants!

Just as the peasants were the slaves of the landlords, so the Russian people are still the slaves of the officials. Just as the peasants lacked civil freedom under the serf-owning system, so the Russian people still lack political liberty. Political liberty means the freedom of the people to arrange their public, state affairs. Political liberty means the right of the people to elect their representatives (deputies) to a State Duma (parliament). All laws should be discussed and passed, all taxes should be fixed only by such a State Duma (parliament) elected by the people them selves. Political liberty means the right of the people themselves to choose all their officials, arrange all kinds of meetings for the discussion of all state affairs, and publish whatever papers and books they please, without having to ask for permission.

All the other European peoples won political liberty for themselves long ago. Only in Turkey and in Russia are the people still politically enslaved by the sultan’s government and by the tsarist autocratic government. Tsarist autocracy means the unlimited power of the tsar. The people have no voice in determining the structure of the state or in running it. All laws are made and all officials are appointed   by the tsar alone, by his personal, unlimited, autocratic authority. But, of course, the tsar cannot even know all Russian laws and all Russian officials. The tsar cannot even know all that goes on in the country. The tsar simply endorses the will of a few score of the richest and most high-born officials. However much he may desire to, one man cannot govern a vast country like Russia. It is not the tsar who governs Russia—it is only a manner of speech to talk about autocratic, one-man rule! Russia is governed by a handful of the richest and most high-born officials. The tsar learns only what this handful are pleased to tell him. The tsar cannot in any way go against the will of this handful of high-ranking nobles: the tsar himself is a landlord and a member of the nobility; since his earliest childhood he has lived only among these high-born people; it was they who brought him up and educated him; he knows about the Russian people as a whole only that which is known to these noble gentry, these rich landlords, and the few very rich merchants who are received at the tsar’s Court.

In every volost administration office you will find the same picture hanging on the wall; it depicts the tsar (Alexander III, the father of the present tsar) speaking to the volost headmen who have come to his coronation. “Obey your Marshals of the Nobility!” the tsar is ordering them. And the present tsar, Nicholas II, has repeated those words. Thus, the tsars themselves admit that they can govern the country only with the aid of the nobility and through the nobility. We must well remember those words of the tsar’s about the peasants having to obey the nobility. We must clearly understand what a lie is being told the people by those who try to make out that tsarist government is the best form of government. In other countries—those people say—the government is elected; but it is the rich who are elected, and they govern unjustly and oppress the poor. In Russia the government is not elected; an autocratic tsar governs the whole country. The tsar stands above everyone, rich and poor. The tsar, they tell us, is just to everyone, to the poor and to the rich alike.

Such talk is sheer hypocrisy. Every Russian knows the kind of justice that is dispensed by our government. Everybody knows whether a plain worker or a farm labourer   in our country can become a member of the State Council. In all other European countries, however, factory workers and farm-hands have been elected to the State Duma (parliament); they have been able to speak freely to all the people about the miserable condition of the workers, and call upon the workers to unite and fight for a better life. And no one has dared to stop these speeches of the people’s representatives; no policeman has dared to lay a finger on them.

In Russia there is no elective government, and she is governed not merely by the rich and the high-born, but by the worst of these. She is governed by the most skilful intriguers at the tsar’s Court, by the most artful tricksters, by those who carry lies and slanders to the tsar, and flatter and toady to him. They govern in secret; the people do not and cannot know what new laws are being drafted, what wars are being hatched, what new taxes are being introduced, which officials are being rewarded and for what services, and which are being dismissed. In no country is there such a multitude of officials as in Russia. These officials tower above the voiceless people like a dark forest—a mere worker can never make his way through this forest, can never obtain justice. Not a single complaint against bribery, robbery or abuse of power on the part of the officials is ever brought to light; every complaint is smothered in official red tape. The voice of the individual never reaches the whole people, but is lost in this dark jungle, stifled in the police torture chamber. An army of officials, who were never elected by the people and who are not responsible to the people, has woven a thick web, and men and women are struggling in this web like flies.

Tsarist autocracy is an autocracy of officials. Tsarist autocracy means the feudal dependence of the people upon the officials and especially upon the police. Tsarist autocracy is police autocracy.

That is why the workers come out into the streets with banners bearing the inscriptions: “Down with the autocracy!”, “Long live political liberty!” That is why the tens of millions of the rural poor must also support and take up this battle-cry of the urban workers. Like them, undaunted by persecution, fearless of the enemy’s threats and   violence, and undeterred by the first reverses, the agricultural labourers and the poor peasants must come forward for a decisive struggle for the freedom of the whole of the Russian people and demand first of all the convocation of the representatives of the people. Let the people themselves all over Russia elect their representatives (deputies). Let those representatives form a supreme assembly, which will introduce elective government in Russia, free the people from feudal dependence upon the officials and the police, and secure for the people the right to meet freely, speak freely, and have a free press!

That is what the Social-Democrats want first and fore most. That is the meaning of their first demand: the demand for political liberty.

We know that political liberty, free elections to the State Duma (parliament), freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, will not at once deliver the working people from poverty and oppression. There is no means of immediately delivering the poor of town and country from the burden of working for the rich. The working people have no one to place their hopes in and no one to rely upon but themselves. Nobody will free the working man from poverty if he does not free himself. And to free themselves the workers of the whole country, the whole of Russia, must unite in one union, in one party. But millions of workers cannot unite if the autocratic police government bans all meetings, all workers’ newspapers, and the election of workers’ deputies. To unite they must have the right to form unions of every kind, must have freedom to unite; they must enjoy political liberty.

Political liberty will not at once deliver the working people from poverty, but it will give the workers a weapon with which to fight poverty. There is no other means and there can be no other means of fighting poverty except the unity of the workers themselves. But millions of people cannot unite unless there is political liberty.

In all European countries where the people have won political liberty, the workers began to unite long ago. Throughout the whole of Europe, workers who own no land and no workshops, and work for other people for wages all their lives are called proletarians. Over fifty years ago   the call was sounded for the working people to unite. “Workers of all countries, unite!"—during the past fifty years these words have circled the whole globe, are repeated at tens and hundreds of thousands of workers’ meetings, and can be read in millions of Social-Democratic pamphlets and newspapers in every language.

Of course, to unite millions of workers in one union, in one party, is an extremely difficult task; it requires time, persistence, perseverance, and courage. The workers are ground down by poverty and want, benumbed by cease less toil for the capitalists and landlords; often they have not even the time to think of why they remain perpetual paupers, or how to be delivered from this. Everything is done to prevent the workers from uniting: either by means of direct and brutal violence, as in countries like Russia where there is no political liberty, or by refusing to employ workers who preach the doctrines of socialism, or, lastly, by means of deceit and bribery. But no violence or persecution can stop the proletarian workers from fighting for the great cause of the emancipation of all working people from poverty and oppression. The number of Social-Democratic workers is constantly growing. Take our neighbouring country, Germany; there they have elective government. Formerly, in Germany, too, there was an unlimited, autocratic, monarchist government. But long ago, over fifty years ago, the German people destroyed the, autocracy and won political liberty by force. In Germany laws are not made by a handful of officials, as in Russia, but by an assembly of people’s representatives, by a parliament, by the Reichstag, as the Germans call it. All adult males take part in electing deputies to this assembly. This makes it possible to count how many votes were cast for the Social-Democrats. In 1887 one-tenth of all votes were cast for the Social-Democrats. In 1898 (when the most recent elections to the Reichstag took place) the Social-Democratic vote increased nearly threefold. This time more than one-fourth of all the votes were cast for the Social-Democrats. Over two million adult males voted for Social-Democratic candidates to parliament. Among the farm labourers of Germany socialism is not yet widespread but it is now making very rapid progress among them. And when the masses   of farm-hands, day laborers and poor, pauperised peasants unite with their brothers in the towns, the German workers will win and establish an order under which the working people will suffer neither poverty nor oppression.

By what means do the Social-Democratic workers want to deliver the people from poverty?

To know this, one must clearly understand the cause of the poverty of the vast masses of the people under the present social order. Rich cities are growing, magnificent shops and houses are being built, railways are being constructed, all kinds of machines and improvements are being introduced in industry and agriculture, but millions of people remain iii poverty, and continue to work all their lives to provide a bare subsistence for their families. That is not all: more and more people are becoming unemployed. Both in town and country there are more and more people who can find no work at all. In the villages they starve, while in the towns they swell the ranks of the “tramps” and “down-and-outs,” find refuge like beasts in dug-outs on the outskirts of towns, or in dreadful slums and cellars, such as those in the Khitrov Market in Moscow.

Why is this? Wealth and luxury are increasing, and yet the millions and millions who by their labour create all this wealth remain in poverty and want! Peasants are dying of starvation, workers wander about without employment, and yet merchants export millions of poods of grain from Russia to foreign countries, factories are standing idle because the goods cannot be sold, for there is no market for them!

The cause of all this is, first of all, that most of the land, and also the factories, workshops, machines, buildings, ships, etc., belong to a small number of rich people. Tens of millions of people work on this land and at these factories and workshops, but they are all owned by a few thousand or tens of thousands of rich people, landlords, merchants, and factory owners. The people work for those rich men for hire, for wages, for a crust of bread. All that is produced over and above what is required to provide a bare subsistence for the workers goes to the rich; this is their profit, their “income.” All the benefits arising from the use of machines and from improvements in methods   of production go to the landowners and capitalists: they accumulate wealth untold, while the workers get only a miserable pittance. The workers are brought together for work; on large estates and at big factories several hundred and sometimes even several thousand workers are employed. When labour is united in this way, and when the most diverse kinds of machines are employed, work becomes more productive: one worker produces much more than scores of workers did working separately and without the aid of machines. But the benefits of this more productive labour go not to all the working people, but to an insignificant number of big landowners, merchants, and factory owners.

One often hears it said that the landlords and merchants “provide work” for the people, that they “provide” the poor with earnings. It is said, for instance, that a neighbouring factory or a neighbouring landlord “maintains” the local peasants. Actually, however, the workers by their labour maintain themselves and also all those who do not work themselves. But for permission to work on the landlord’s land, at a factory, or on a railway, the worker gives the owner gratis all he produces, while the worker himself gets only enough for a bare subsistence. Actually, therefore, it is not the landlords and the merchants who give the workers employment, but the workers who by their labour maintain everybody, surrendering gratis the greater part of their labour.

Further. In all present-day states the people’s poverty is due to the fact that the workers produce all sorts of articles for sale, for the market. The factory owner and the artisan, the landlord and the well-to-do peasant produce various goods, raise cattle, sow and harvest grain for sale, in order to obtain money. Money has everywhere become the ruling power. All the goods produced by human labour are exchanged for money. With money you can buy anything. With money you can even buy a man, that is to say, force a man who owns nothing to work for another who has money. Formerly, land used to be the ruling power—that was the case under the serf-owning system: whoever possessed land possessed power and authority. Today, however, money, capital, has become the ruling power. With money you can buy as much land as you like. Without money you will   not be able to do much even if you have land: you must have money to buy a plough or other implements, to buy livestock, to buy clothes and other town-made goods, not to speak of paying taxes. For the sake of money nearly all the landlords have mortgaged their estates to the banks. To get money the government borrows from rich people and bankers all over the world, and pays hundreds of millions of rubles yearly in interest on these loans.

For the sake of money everyone today is waging a fierce war against everyone else. Each tries to buy cheap and to sell dear, each tries to get ahead of the other, to sell as many goods as possible, to undercut the other, to conceal from him a profitable market or a profitable contract. In this general scramble for money the little man, the petty artisan or the small peasant, fares worse than all: he is always left behind by the rich merchant or the rich peasant. The little man never has any reserves; he lives from hand to mouth; each difficulty or accident compels him to pawn his last belongings or to sell his livestock at a trifling price. Once he has fallen into the clutches of a kulak or of a usurer he very rarely succeeds in escaping from the net, and in most cases he is utterly ruined. Every year tens and hundreds of thousands of small peasants and artisans lock up their cottages, surrender their holdings to the commune gratis and become wageworkers, farm-hands, unskilled workers, proletarians. But the rich grow richer and richer in this struggle for money. They pile up millions and hundreds of millions of rubles in the banks and make profit not only with their own money, but also with the money deposited in the banks by others. The little man who deposits a few score or a few hundred rubles in a bank or a savings-bank receives interest at the rate of three or four kopeks to the ruble; but the rich make millions out of these scores and use these millions to increase their turnover and make ten and twenty kopeks to the ruble.

That is why the Social-Democratic workers say that the only way to put an end to the poverty of the people is to change the existing order from top to bottom, throughout the country, and to establish a socialist order, in other words, to take the estates from the big landowners, the   factories from the factory owners, and money capital from the bankers, to abolish their private property and turn it over to the whole working people throughout the country. When that is done the workers’ labour will be made use of not by rich people living on the labour of others, but by the workers themselves and by those elected by them. The fruits of common labour and the advantages from all improvements and machinery will then benefit all the working people, all the workers. Wealth will then grow at a still faster rate because the workers will work better for them selves than they did for the capitalists; the working day will be shorter; the workers’ standard of living will be higher; all their conditions of life will be completely changed.

But it is not an easy matter to change the existing order throughout the country. That requires a great deal of effort, a long and stubborn struggle. All the rich, all the property-owners, all the bourgeoisie[1] will defend their riches with all their might. The officials and the army will rise to defend all the rich class, because the government it self is in the hands of the rich class. The workers must rally as one man for the struggle against all those who live on the labour of others; the workers themselves must unite and help to unite all the poor in a single working class, in a single proletarian class. The struggle will not be easy for the working class, but it will certainly end in the workers’ victory because the bourgeoisie, or those who live on the labour of others, are an insignificant minority of the population, while the working class is the vast majority. The workers against the property-owners means millions against thousands.

The workers in Russia are already beginning to unite for this great struggle in a single workers’ Social-Democratic Party. Difficult as it is to unite in secret, hiding from the police, nevertheless, the organisation is growing and gaining strength. When the Russian people have won   political liberty, the work of uniting the working class, the cause of socialism, will advance much more rapidly, more rapidly than it is advancing among the German workers.


[1] Bourgeois means a property-owner. The bourgeoisie are all the property-owners taken together. A big bourgeois is the owner of big property. A petty bourgeois is the owner of small property. The words bourgeoisie and proletariat mean the same as property-owners and workers, the rich and the poor, or those who live on the labour of others end those who work for others for wages. —Lenin

  1. The Struggle of the Urban Workers | 3. Riches and Poverty, Property-Owners and Workers in the Countryside  

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