V. I.   Lenin

To the Rural Poor

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


4. What Path Should the Middle Peasant Take? Should He Take the Side of the Property-Owners and the Rich or the Side of the Workers and the Poor?

All property-owners, the entire bourgeoisie, try to win over the middle peasant by promising him all sorts of ways to improve his farm (cheap ploughs, agricultural banks, the introduction of grass sowing, cheap livestock and fertilisers, and so on) and also by inducing the peasant to join all sorts of agricultural societies (co-operatives, as they are called in books) which unite all kinds of farmers with the object of improving farming methods. In this way the bourgeoisie try to keep the middle and even the small peasant, even the semi-proletarian, from uniting with the workers, and try to induce them to side with the rich, with the bourgeoisie, in their fight against the workers, the proletariat.

To this the Social-Democratic workers reply: improved farming is an excellent thing. There is no harm in buying cheaper ploughs; nowadays even a merchant, if he is not a fool, tries to sell more cheaply to attract customers. But when a poor or a middle peasant is told that improved farming and cheaper ploughs will help all of them to escape from poverty and to get on their feet, without touching the rich, this is deception. All these improvements, lower prices, and co-operatives (societies for the sale and purchase of goods) benefit the rich far more than anybody else. The rich grow stronger and oppress the poor and middle peasants more and more. As long as the rich remain rich, as long as they own most of the land, livestock, implements, and money—as long as all this lasts, not only the poor but even the middle peasants will never be able to escape from want. One or two middle peasants may be able to climb into the ranks of the rich with the aid of all these improvements and co-operatives, but the people as a whole, and all the middle peasants, will sink deeper and deeper into poverty. For all middle peasants to become rich, the rich themselves must be turned out, and they can be turned out only if the urban workers and the rural poor are united.

The bourgeoisie say to the middle (and even to the small) peasant: we will sell you land at a low price, and ploughs   at a low price, but in return you must sell yourselves to us and give up fighting all the rich.

The Social-Democratic worker says: if you are really offered goods at a low price, why not buy them, if you have the money; that is sound business. But you should never sell yourselves. To give up the fight in alliance with the urban workers against the entire bourgeoisie would mean remaining in poverty and want for ever. If goods become cheaper, the rich will gain still more and become richer. But those who never have money to spare will gain nothing from cheaper goods until they take that money from the bourgeoisie.

Let us take an example. Those who support the bourgeoisie make much ado about all sorts of co-operatives (societies for buying cheap and selling profitably). There are even people who call themselves “Socialist-Revolutionaries,” who, echoing the bourgeoisie, also talk loudly about the peasant needing nothing so much as co-operatives. All sorts of co-operatives are beginning to spring up in Russia, too, although there are still very few of them here, and there will not be many until we enjoy political liberty. Take Germany: there the peasants have many co-operatives of all kinds. But see who gains most from these co-operatives. In all Germany, 140,000 farmers belong to societies for the sale of milk and dairy products, and these 140,000 farmers (we again take round figures for the sake of simplicity) own 1400,000 cows. It is calculated that there are four million poor peasants in Germany. Of these, only 40,000 belong to co-operatives: thus, only one out of every hundred poor peasants enjoys the benefits of these co-operatives. These 40,000 poor peasants own only 100,000 cows in all. Further, the middle farmers, the middle peasants, number one million; of these, 50,000 belong to co-operatives (that is to say, five out of every hundred) and they own a total of 200,000 cows. Finally, the rich farmers (i.e., both land lords and rich peasants) number one-third of a million; of these, 50,000 belong to co-operatives (that is to say, seven teen out of every hundred!) and they own 800,000 cows!

That is whom the co-operatives help first and foremost. That is how the peasant is deceived by those people who talk loudly about saving the middle peasant by means   such societies for buying cheap and selling profitably. It is, indeed, at a very low price that the bourgeoisie want to “buy off” the peasant from the Social-Democrats, who call upon both the poor and the middle peasant to join them.

In our country, too, co-operative cheese dairies and amalgamated dairies are beginning to be formed. In our country, too, there are plenty of people who shout: artels, the mir, and co-operatives—that is what the peasant needs. But see who gains by these artels, co-operatives, and renting by the mir. Out of every hundred households in our country, at least twenty own no cows at all; thirty own only one cow each: these sell milk from dire need, their own children have to go without milk, starve, and die off like flies. The rich peasants, however, own three, four and more cows each, and these rich peasants own half the total number of cows owned by peasants. Who, then, gains from co-operative cheese dairies? Obviously, the landlords and the peasant bourgeoisie gain first of all. Obviously, it is to their advantage that the middle peasants and the poor should follow in their wake and that they should believe that the means of escaping from want is not the struggle of all the workers against the entire bourgeoisie, but the striving of individual small farmers to climb out of their present position and get into the ranks of the rich.

This striving is fostered and encouraged in every way by all the champions of the bourgeoisie, who pretend to be the champions and friends of the small peasant. And many simple-minded people fail to see the wolf in sheep’s clothing, and repeat this bourgeois deception in the belief that they are helping the poor and middle peasants. For instance, they argue in books and in speeches that small-scale farming is the most profitable, most remunerative form of farming, that small-scale farming is flourishing, and that Is why, they say, there are so many small producers in agriculture everywhere, and why they cling to their land (and not because all the best lands are owned by the bourgeoisie, and all the money, too, while the poor have to live in drudgery all their lives crowded on tiny patches of land!). The small peasant does not need much money, these smooth tongued people say; the small and the middle peasants are more thrifty and more industrious than the big farmers, and   know how to live a simpler life; instead of buying hay for their cattle, they are content to feed them on straw. Instead of buying an expensive machine, they get up earlier and toil longer and do as much as a machine does; instead of paying money to strangers for doing repairs, the peasant himself takes his hatchet on a Sunday and does a bit of carpentry—and that is much cheaper than the way a big farmer goes about it; instead of feeding an expensive horse or an ox, he uses his cow for ploughing. In Germany all the poor peasants use cows to haul their ploughs, and in our country, too, the people have become so impoverished that they are beginning to use not only cows, but men and women to pull ploughs! How profitable, how cheap all this is! How praiseworthy of the middle and small peasants to be so industrious, so diligent, to live such simple lives, and not to waste their time on nonsense, not to think of socialism, but only of their farms, not to strive towards the workers who organise strikes against the bourgeoisie, but towards the rich and try to join the ranks of respectable folk! If only all were so industrious and so diligent, and lived frugally, and did not drink, and saved more money, and spent less on calico, and had fewer children—all would be happy and there would be no poverty and no want!

Such are the sweet songs the bourgeoisie sings to the middle peasant, and there are simpletons who believe these songs and repeat them![1] Actually, all these honeyed words are nothing but deceit and mockery of the peasant. What these smooth-tongued people call cheap and profitable farming is the want, the dire need, which forces the middle and small peasant to work from morning till night, to begrudge himself a crust of bread, to grudge every penny he spends. Of course, what can be “cheaper” and “more profitable” than to wear   the same pair of trousers for three years, go about barefoot in summer, repair one’s wooden plough with a piece of rope, and feed one’s cow on rotten straw from the roof! Put a bourgeois or a rich peasant on such a “cheap” and “profitable” farm, and he will soon forget all this honeyed talk!

The people who extol small-scale farming sometimes want to help the peasant, but actually they only do him harm. With their honeyed words they deceive the peasant in the same way as people are deceived by a lottery. I shall tell you what a lottery is. Let us suppose I have a cow, worth 50 rubles. I want to sell the cow by means of a lottery, so I offer everyone tickets at a ruble each. Everyone has a chance of getting the cow for one ruble! People are tempted and the rubles pour in. When I have collected a hundred rubles I proceed to draw the lottery: the one whose ticket is drawn gets the cow for a ruble, the others get nothing. Was the cow “cheap” for the people? No, it was very dear, because the total money they paid was double the value of the cow, because two persons (the one who ran the lottery and the one who won the cow) gained without doing any work, and gained at the expense of the ninety-nine who lost their money. Thus, those who say that lotteries are advantageous to the people are simply practising deceit on the people. Those who promise to deliver the peasants from poverty and want by means of co-operatives of every kind (societies for buying cheap and selling profitably), improved farming, banks, and all that sort of thing, are deceiving them in exactly the same way. Just as in a lottery where there is one winner and all the rest are losers, so it is with these things: one middle peasant may manage to get rich, but ninety-nine of his fellow peasants bend their backs all their lives, never escape from want, and even sink more deeply into poverty. Let every villager examine his commune and the whole district a little more closely: are there many middle peasants who become rich and forget want? And how many are there who can never rid themselves of want? How many are ruined and leave their villages? As we have seen, it has been calculated that in the whole of Russia there are not more than two million middle peasant farms. Suppose there were ten times as many societies of all kinds for buying cheap and selling profitably as there are   now. What would the result be? It would be a big figure if a hundred thousand middle peasants succeeded in raising themselves to the level of the rich. What would that mean? It would mean that out of every hundred middle peasants, five would become rich. But what about the other ninety-five? They would be in the same straits as ever, and many of them would be in even greater difficulties I And the poor would only be Impoverished all the more!

Of course, the bourgeoisie want nothing more than that the largest possible number of middle and small peasants should strive to get rich, believe in the possibility of escaping from poverty without fighting the bourgeoisie, place their hopes in diligence and frugality and in becoming rich, and not in uniting with the rural and urban workers. The bourgeoisie do all they can to foster this deceptive faith and hope in the peasant, and try to lull him with honeyed words.

To expose the deception practised by these smooth-tongued people it is sufficient to ask them three questions.

Question one: can the working people rid themselves of want and poverty when, in Russia, a hundred million dessiatines out of two hundred and forty million dessiatines of arable land belong to private landowners? When sixteen thousand very big landowners possess sixty-five million dessiatines?

Question two: can the working people rid themselves of want and poverty when one and a half million rich peasant households (out of a total of ten million) have concentrated in their hands half of all peasants’ land under crops, half the total number of horses and livestock owned by peasants, and much more than half the total peasant stocks and savings? When this peasant bourgeoisie is growing richer and richer, oppressing the poor and middle peasants, making money out of the labour of others, of the farm-hands and day labourers? When six and a half million households consist of poor peasants, destitute, always starving, and reduced to winning a miserable crust of bread by all kinds of wage-labour?

Question three: can the working people rid themselves of want and poverty when money has become the ruling power, when everything can be bought for money—factories and land, and even men and women can be bought to serve as wage-workers, wage-slaves? When no one can live   or run a farm without money? When the small farmer, the poor peasant, has to wage a struggle against the big farmer to get money? When a few thousand landlords, merchants, factory owners, and bankers have concentrated in their hands hundreds of millions of rubles, and, moreover, control all the banks, where thousands of millions of rubles are deposited?

No honeyed words about the advantages of small-scale farming or of co-operatives will enable you to evade these questions. To these questions there can be only one answer: the real “co-operation” that can save the working people is the union of the rural poor with the Social-Democratic workers in the towns to fight the entire bourgeoisie. The faster this union grows and becomes strong, the sooner will the middle peasant realise that the promises of the bourgeoisie are all lies, and the sooner will the middle peasant come over to our side.

The bourgeoisie know this, and that is why, in addition to honeyed words, they spread all sorts of lies about the Social-Democrats. They say that the Social-Democrats want to deprive the middle and small peasants of their property. That is a lie. The Social-Democrats want to deprive of their property only the big proprietors, only those who live on the labour of others. The Social-Democrats will never take away the property of the small and middle farmers who do not hire labourers. The Social-Democrats defend and champion the interests of all the working people, not only the interests of the urban workers, who are more class-conscious and more united than the others, but also of the agricultural workers, and of those small artisans and peasants who do not hire workers, do not strive towards the rich, and do not go over to the side of the bourgeoisie. The Social-Democrats are fighting for all improvements in the conditions of the workers and peasants which can be introduced immediately, when we have not yet destroyed the rule of the bourgeoisie, and which will help them in the struggle against the bourgeoisie. But the Social-Democrats do not deceive the peasant; they tell him the whole truth, plainly tell him in advance that no improvements will rid the people of want and poverty as long as the bourgeoisie is in power. To enable all the people to know what the Social-Democrats are and what   they want, the Social-Democrats have drawn up a programme. A programme is a brief, clear, and precise statement of all the things a party is striving and fighting for. The Social-Democratic Party is the only party that advances a clear and precise programme for all the people to know and see, and for the party to consist only of people who really want to fight for the emancipation of all the working people from the yoke of the bourgeoisie, and who properly understand who must unite for this fight and how the fight must be conducted. Furthermore, the Social-Democrats believe that they must explain in their programme, in a direct, frank, and precise way, the causes of the poverty and want among the working people, and why the unity of the workers is becoming wider and stronger. It is not enough to say that life is hard and to call for revolt; every tub-thumper can do that, but it is of little use. The working people must clearly under stand why they are living in such poverty and with whom they must unite in order to fight to liberate themselves from want.

We have already stated what the Social-Democrats want; we have explained the causes of the working people’s want and poverty; we have indicated whom the rural poor must fight and with whom they must unite for this fight.

We shall now explain what improvements we can win at once by fighting for them, improvements in the lives of the workers and in the lives of the peasants.


[1] In Russia these simpletons who wish the peasant well, but who every now and then start this sort of honeyed talk, are called “Narodniks” or the “advocates of small-scale farming.” The “Socialist-Revolutionaries”, for lack of understanding, follow in their footsteps. In Germany also there are many smooth-tongued people. One of them, Eduard David, has recently written a big book, in which he says that small farms are infinitely more profitable than large ones, because the small peasant does not spend money needlessly, keeps no horses for ploughing, and is content to use his cow instead, from which be also gets milk. —Lenin

  3. Riches and Poverty, Property-Owners and Workers in the Countryside | 5. What Improvements are the Social-Democrats Striving to Obtain for the Whole People and for the Workers?  

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