V. I.   Lenin

To the Rural Poor

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


5. What Improvements are the Social-Democrats Striving to Obtain for the Whole People and for the Workers?

The Social-Democrats are fighting for the liberation of all the working people from all robbery, oppression, and in justice. To become free the working class must first of all become united. And to become united it must have freedom to unite, have the right to unite, have political liberty. We have already said that autocratic government means enslavement of the people by the officials and the police. Political liberty is therefore needed by the whole people, except a handful of courtiers and a few money-bags and high   dignitaries who are received at Court. But most of all, political liberty is needed by the workers and the peasants. The rich can escape the self-will and the tyranny of officials and the police by buying them off. The rich can make their complaints heard in the highest places. That is why the police and the officials take much fewer liberties with the rich than with the poor. The workers and the peasants have no money to buy off the police or the officials; they have no one to complain to and are not in a position to sue them in court. The workers and the peasants will never rid themselves of the extortions, tyranny, and insults of the police and the officials as long as there is no elective government, as long as there is no national assembly of deputies. Only such a national assembly of deputies can free the people from enslavement by the officials. Every intelligent peasant must support the Social-Democrats, who first and foremost demand of the tsarist government the convocation of a national assembly of deputies. The deputies must be elected by all, irrespective of social-estate, irrespective of wealth or poverty. The elections must be free, without any interference on the part of the officials; they must be carried out under the supervision of such that enjoy the people’s confidence, and not of police officers or the rural superintendents. Under such conditions, deputies representing the entire people will be able to discuss all the needs of the people, and introduce a better state of affairs in Russia.

The Social-Democrats demand that the police be deprived of the power to imprison anyone without trial. Officials must be severely punished for arbitrarily arresting anyone. To put an end to their self-assumed power, they must be chosen by the people, and everyone must have the right to lodge a complaint against any official directly in a court. What is the use of complaining to the rural superintendent about a police officer, or to the governor about the rural superintendent? The rural superintendent will, of course, always protect the police officer and the governor will always protect the rural superintendent, while the complainant will get into trouble. He runs a fair chance of being put into prison or deported to Siberia. The officials will be curbed only. when everyone in Russia (as in all other countries) has the right to complain both to the national assembly and to the   elected courts, and to speak freely of his needs, to write about them in the newspapers.

The Russian people are still in feudal dependence upon the officials. Without permission from the officials the people cannot call meetings, or get books and newspapers printed. Is that not feudal dependence? If meetings cannot be freely called, or books freely printed, how can one obtain redress against the officials, or against the rich? Of course, the officials suppress every book, every utterance that tells the truth about the people’s poverty. The present pamphlet, too, has to be printed by the Social-Democratic Party secretly and circulated secretly: anyone who is found in possession of this pamphlet will make the acquaintance of courts and prisons. But the Social-Democratic workers are not afraid of this: they print more and more, and give the people more and more truthful books to read. And no prisons, no persecution can halt the fight for the people’s freedom!

The Social-Democrats demand that the social-estates be abolished, and that all the citizens of the state enjoy exactly the same rights. Today the social-estates are divided into tax-paying and non-tax-paying, into privileged and non-privileged; we have blue blood and common blood; even the birch has been retained for the common people. In no other country are the workers and peasants in such a position of inferiority. In no country except Russia are there different laws for different social-estates. It is time the Russian people, too, demanded that every muzhik should possess all the rights possessed by the nobility. Is it not a disgrace that the birch should still be used and that a tax paying social-estate should be in existence more than forty years after the abolition of serfdom?

The Social-Democrats demand that the people shall have complete freedom of movement and occupation. What does freedom of movement mean? It means that the peasant should be free to go wherever he pleases, to move to whatever place he wants to, to live in any village or town he chooses with out having to ask for permission from anyone. It means that passports should be abolished in Russia too (in other countries passports were abolished long ago), that no local police officer or rural superintendent should dare to hinder any   peasant from settling or working wherever he pleases. The Russian peasant is still so much the serf of the officials that he is not free to move to a town, or to settle in a new district. The minister issues orders that the governors should not allow unauthorised settlement! A governor knows better than the peasant what place is good for the peasant! The peas ant is a little child and must not move without permission of the authorities! Is that not feudal dependence? Is it not an insult to the people when any profligate nobleman is allowed to lord it over grown-up farmers?

There is a book called Crop Failure and the Distress of the People (famine), written by the present “Minister of Agriculture” Mr. Yermolov. This book says in so many words: the peasant must not change residence as long as their worships the landlords need hands. The minister says this quite openly, without the least embarrassment: he thinks the peas ant will not hear what he is saying and will not understand. Why allow people to go away when the landlords need cheap labour? The more crowded the people are on the land the more that is to the landlords’ advantage; the poorer the peasants are, the more cheaply can they be hired and the more meekly will they submit to oppression of every kind. Formerly, the bailiffs looked after the landlord’s interests, now the rural superintendents and governors do that. Formerly, the bailiffs ordered the flogging of peasants in the stables; now the rural superintendent in the volost administration office orders the flogging.

The Social-Democrats demand that the standing army be abolished and that a militia be established in its stead, that all the people be armed. A standing army is an army that is divorced from the people and trained to shoot down the people. If the soldier were not locked up for years in barracks and inhumanly drilled there, would he ever agree to shoot down his brothers, the workers and the peasants? Would he go against the starving peasants? A standing army is not needed in the least to protect the country from attack by an enemy; a people’s militia is sufficient. If every citizen is armed, Russia need fear no enemy. And the people would be relieved of the yoke of the military clique. The upkeep of this clique costs hundreds of millions of rubles a year, and all this money is collected from the people; that is why the taxes   are so heavy and why it becomes increasingly difficult to live. The military clique still further increases the power of the officials and police over the people. This clique is needed to plunder foreign peoples, for instance, to take the land from the Chinese. This does not ease but, on the contrary, increases the people’s burden because of greater taxation. The substitution of the armed nation for the standing army would enormously ease the burden of all the workers and all the peasants.

Similarly, the abolition of indirect taxation, which the Social-Democrats demand, would be an enormous relief. Indirect taxes are such taxes that are not imposed directly on land or on a house but are paid by the people indirectly, in the form of higher prices for what they buy. The state imposes taxes on sugar, vodka, kerosene, matches, and all sorts of articles of consumption; these taxes are paid to the Treasury by the merchant or by the manufacturer, but, of course, he does not pay it out of his own pocket, but out of the money his customers pay him. The price of vodka, sugar, kerosene, and matches goes up, and every purchaser of a bottle of vodka or of a pound of sugar has to pay the tax in addition to the price of the goods. For instance, if, say, you pay fourteen kopeks for a pound of sugar, four kopeks (approximately) constitute the tax: the sugar-manufacturer has already paid the tax to the Treasury and is now exacting from every customer the sum he has paid. Thus, indirect taxes are taxes on articles of consumption, taxes which are paid by the purchaser in the form of higher prices for the articles he buys. It is sometimes said that indirect taxation is the fairest form of taxation: you pay according to the amount you buy. But this is not true. Indirect taxation is the most unfair form of taxation, because it is harder for the poor to pay indirect taxes than it is for the rich. The rich many s income is ten times or even a hundred times as large as that of the peasant or worker. But does the rich man need a hundred times as much sugar? Or ten times as much vodka, or matches, or kerosene? Of course not! A rich family will buy twice, at most, three times as much kerosene, vodka, or sugar as a poor family. But that means that the rich man will pay a smaller part of his income in taxes than the poor man. Let us suppose that the poor peasant’s income is two   hundred rubles a year; let us suppose he buys sixty rubles’ worth of such goods as are taxed and which are consequently dearer (the tax on sugar, matches, kerosene, is an excise duty, i.e., the manufacturer pays the duty before placing the goods on the market; in the case of vodka, a state monopoly, the State simply raises the price; cotton goods, iron and other goods have risen in price because cheap foreign goods are not admitted into Russia unless a heavy duty is paid on them). Of these sixty rubles twenty rubles will constitute the tax. Thus, out of every ruble of his income the poor peas ant will pay ten kopeks in indirect taxes (exclusive of direct taxes, land redemption payments, quit-rent, land tax, Zemstvo, volost and mir taxes). The rich peasant has an income of one thousand rubles; he will buy one hundred and fifty rubles’ worth of taxed goods and pay fifty rubles in taxes (included in the one hundred and fifty rubles). Thus, out of every ruble of his income the rich peasant will pay only five kopeks in indirect taxes. The richer the man, the smaller Is the share of his income that he pays in indirect taxes. That is why indirect taxation is the most unfair form of taxation. Indirect taxes are taxes on the poor. The peas ants and workers together form nine-tenths of the population and pay nine-tenths or eight-tenths of the total indirect taxation. And, in all probability, the income of the peasants and workers amounts to no more than four-tenths of the whole national income! And so, the Social-Democrats demand the abolition of indirect taxation and the introduction of a progressive tax on incomes and inheritances. That means that the higher the income the higher the tax. Those who have an income of a thousand rubles must pay one kopek in the ruble; if the income is two thousand, two kopeks in the ruble must be paid, and so on. The smallest incomes (let us say incomes of under four hundred rubles) do not pay anything at all. The richest pay the highest taxes. Such a tax, an income-tax, or more exactly, a progressive income-tax, would be much fairer than indirect taxes. And that is why the Social-Democrats are striving to secure the abolition of indirect taxation and the introduction of a progressive income-tax. Of course, all the property-owners, all the bourgeoisie, object to this measure and resist it. Only through a firm alliance between the rural poor and   the urban workers can this improvement be won from the bourgeoisie.

Finally, the free education of children, which the Social-Democrats demand, would be a very important improvement for the whole of the people, and for the rural poor in particular. Today there are far fewer schools in the country side than in the towns, and everywhere it is only the rich classes, only the bourgeoisie, who are in a position to give their children a good education. Only free and compulsory education for all children can get the people, at least to some extent, out of their present state of ignorance. The rural poor suffer most from this ignorance and stand in particular need of education. But, of course, we need real, free education, and not the sort the officials and the priests want to give.

The Social-Democrats further demand that everybody shall have full and unrestricted right to profess any religion he pleases. Of the European countries Russia and Turkey are the only ones which have retained shameful laws against persons belonging to any other faith than the Orthodox, laws against schismatics, sectarians, and Jews. These laws either totally ban a certain religion, or prohibit its propagation, or deprive those who belong to it of certain rights. All these laws are as unjust, as arbitrary and as disgraceful as can be. Everybody must be perfectly free, not only to profess whatever religion he pleases, but also to spread or change his religion. No official should have the right even to ask anyone about his religion: that is a matter for each person’s conscience and no one has any right to interfere. There should be no “established” religion or church. All religions and all churches should have equal status in law. The clergy of the various religions should be paid salaries by those who belong to their religions, but the state should not use state money to support any religion whatever, should not grant money to maintain any clergy, Orthodox, schismatic, sectarian, or any other. That is what the Social-Democrats are fighting for, and until these measures are carried out without any reservation and without any subterfuge, the people will not be freed from the disgraceful police persecution of religion, or from the no less disgraceful police hand-outs to any one of those religions.

*     *

We have seen what improvements the Social-Democrats are out to achieve for all the people, and especially for the poor. Now let us see what improvements they strive to achieve for the workers; not only for factory and urban workers, but for agricultural workers too. The factory workers live in more cramped conditions; they work in large workshops, so it is easier for them to avail themselves of the assistance of educated Social-Democrats. For all these reasons the urban workers started the struggle against the employers much earlier than the others and have achieved more considerable improvements; they have also obtained the passing of factory laws. But the Social-Democrats are fighting for the extension of these improvements to all the workers: to handicraftsmen both in town and country, who work for employers at home; to the wage-workers employed by petty masters and artisans; to workers in the building trades (carpenters, bricklayers, etc.); to lumbermen and unskilled labourers, and also the agricultural labourers. All over Russia, all these workers are now beginning to unite, following the example of, and aided by, the factory workers, to unite for the struggle for better conditions of life, for a shorter working day, for higher wages. And the Social-Democratic Party has set itself the task of supporting all workers in their struggle for a better life, of helping them to organise (to unite) the most resolute and reliable workers in strong unions, of helping them by circulating pamphlets and leaflets, by sending experienced workers to those new to the movement, and in general helping all the workers in every possible way. When we have won political liberty, we shall have our people in a national assembly of deputies, worker deputies, Social-Democrats, and, like their comrades in other countries, they will demand laws for the benefit of the workers.

We shall not enumerate here all the improvements the Social-Democratic Party is striving to obtain for the workers: they have been set out in our programme and explained in detail in the pamphlet, The Workers’ Cause in Russia. Here it will be sufficient to mention the most important of those improvements. The, working day must not be longer   than eight hours. One day a week must always be a day of rest. Overtime must be absolutely banned, and so must night-work. Children up to the age of sixteen must he given free education and, consequently, must not be allowed to work for hire until that age. Women must not work in trades injurious to their health. The employer must compensate the workers for all injury caused during work, for example, for injury caused when working on threshing-machines, winnowing-machines, and so forth. All wage-workers must always be paid weekly, and not once in two months or once in a quarter as is often the case with agricultural labourers. It is very important for the workers to be paid regularly every week and, moreover, to be paid in cash, and not in goods. Employers are very fond of making the workers accept all sorts of worthless goods at exorbitant prices in payment of wages; to put an end to this disgraceful practice. the payment of wages in goods must be absolutely prohibited by law. Further, aged workers must receive state pensions. By their labour the workers maintain all the rich classes, and the whole state, and that gives them as much right to pensions as government officials, who get pensions. To prevent employers from taking advantage of their position to disregard regulations introduced to protect the workers, inspectors must be appointed to supervise, not only the factories, but also the big landlord farms and, in general, all enterprises where wage-labour is employed. But those inspectors must not be government officials, or be appoint ed by ministers or governors, or be in the service of the police. The inspectors must be elected by the workers; the state must pay salaries to persons who enjoy the confidence of the workers and whom they have freely elected. These elected deputies of the workers must also see to it that the workers’ dwellings are kept in proper condition, that the employers dare not compel the workers to live in what is like pigsties or in mud huts (as is often the case with agricultural labourers), that the rules concerning the workers’ rest are observed, and so on. It must not be forgotten, however, that no elected workers’ deputies will be of any use as long as there is no political liberty, as long as the police are all-powerful, and are not responsible to the people. Everyone knows that at present the police will arrest   without trial, not only workers’ deputies but any worker who will dare speak in the name of all his fellow workers, expose breaches of the law, or call on the workers to unite. But when we have political liberty, the workers’ deputies will be of very great use.

All employers (factory owners, landlords, contractors, and rich peasants) should be absolutely forbidden to make any arbitrary deductions from the wages of their workers, for example, deductions for defective goods, deductions in the form of fines, etc. It is unlawful and tyrannical for employers arbitrarily to make deductions from workers’ wages. The employer must not reduce a worker’s wage by means of any deductions, or in any way whatsoever. The employer should not be allowed to pass and execute judgement (a fine sort of judge, who pockets the deductions from the worker’s wages!); he should appeal to a proper court, and this court must consist of deputies elected by the workers and the employers in equal numbers. Only such a court will be able to judge fairly all the grievances of the employers against the workers and of the workers against the employers.

Such are the improvements the Social-Democrats are striving to obtain for the whole of the working class. The workers on every landed estate, on every farm, in the employ of every contractor, must meet and discuss with trustworthy persons what improvements they must strive to obtain and what demands they should advance (for the demands of the workers will, of course, be different at different factories, on different estates, and with different con tractors).

All over Russia Social-Democratic committees are helping the workers to formulate their demands in a clear and precise way, and are helping them to issue printed leaflets where these demands are set out, so that they may be known to all workers, and to the employers and the authorities. When the workers unite as one man in support of their demands, the employers always have to give way and agree to them. In the towns the workers have already obtained many improvements in this way, and now handicraftsmen, artisans, and agricultural labourers are also beginning to unite (to organise) and fight for their demands. As long as we have no political liberty, we carry on the fight in   secret, hiding from the police, who prohibit the publication of all leaflets and associations of workers. But when we have won political liberty, we shall carry on the fight on a wider scale and openly, so that working people all over Russia may unite and defend themselves more vigorously from oppression. The larger the number of workers who unite in the workers’ Social-Democratic Party, the stronger will they be, the sooner will they be able to achieve the complete emancipation of the working class from all oppression, from all wage-labour, from all toil for the benefit of the bourgeoisie.

*     *

We have already said that the Social-Democratic Labour Party is striving to obtain improvements, not only for the workers, but also for all the peasants. Now let us see what improvements it is striving to obtain for all the peasants.


  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? | 6. What Improvements are the Social-Democrats Striving to Obtain for all the Peasants?  

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