V. I.   Lenin

To the Rural Poor

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


7. The Class Struggle in the Countryside

What is the class struggle? It is a struggle of one part of the people against the other; a struggle waged by the masses of those who have no rights, are oppressed and engage in toil, against the privileged, the oppressors and drones; a struggle of the wage-labourers, or proletarians, against the property-owners, or bourgeoisie. This great struggle has always gone on and is now going on in the Russian countryside   too, although not everyone sees it, and although not everyone understands its significance. In the period of serfdom the entire mass of the peasants fought against their oppressors, the landlord class, which was protected, defended, and supported by the tsarist government. The peasants were then unable to unite and were utterly crushed by ignorance; they had no helpers and brothers among the urban workers; nevertheless they fought as best they could. They were not deterred by the brutal persecution of the government, were not daunted by punitive measures and bullets, and did not believe the priests, who tried with all their might to prove that serfdom was approved by Holy Scripture and sanctioned by God (that is what Metropolitan Philaret actually said!); the peasants rose in rebellion, now in one place and now in another, and at last the government yielded, fearing a general uprising of all the peasants.

Serfdom was abolished, but not altogether. The peasants remained without rights, remained an inferior, tax-paying, “black” social-estate, remained in the clutches of serf bondage. Unrest among the peasants continues; they continue to seek complete, real freedom. Meanwhile, after the abolition of serfdom, a new class struggle arose, the struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie. Wealth increased, railways and big factories were built, the towns grew still more populous and more luxurious, but all this wealth was appropriated by a very few, while the people became poorer all the time, became ruined, starved, and had to leave their homes to go and hire themselves out for wages. The urban workers started a great, new struggle of all the poor against all the rich. The urban workers have united in the Social-Democratic Party and are waging their struggle stubbornly, staunchly, and solidly, advancing step by step, preparing for the great final struggle, and demanding political liberty for all the people.

At last the peasants, too, lost patience. In the spring of last year, 1902, the peasants of Poltava, Kharkov, and other gubernias rose against the landlords, broke open their barns, shared the contents among themselves, distributed among the starving the grain that had been sown and reaped by the peasants but appropriated by the landlords, and demanded a new division of the land. The peasants could no longer   bear the endless oppression, and began to seek a better lot. The peasants decided—and quite rightly so—that it was better to die fighting the oppressors than to die of starvation without a struggle. But they did not win a better lot for themselves. The tsarist government proclaimed them common rioters and robbers (for having taken from the robber landlords grain which the peasants themselves had sown and reaped!); the tsarist government sent troops against them as against an enemy, and the peasants were defeated; peasants were shot down, many were killed; peas ants were brutally flogged, many were flogged to death; they were tortured worse than the Turks torture their enemies, the Christians. The tsar’s envoys, the governors, were the worst torturers, real executioners. The soldiers raped the wives and daughters of the peasants. And after all this, the peasants were tried by a court of officials, were compelled to pay the landlords 800,000 rubles, and at the trials, those infamous secret trials, trials in a torture chamber, counsels for the defence were not oven allowed to tell how the peasants had been ill-treated and tortured by the tsar’s envoys, Governor Obolensky, and the other servants of the tsar.

The peasants fought in a just cause. The Russian working class will always honour the memory of the martyrs who were shot down and flogged to death by the tsar’s servants. Those martyrs fought for the freedom and happiness of the working people. The peasants were defeated, but they will rise again and again, and will not lose heart because of this first defeat. The class-conscious workers will do all in their power to inform the largest possible number of working people in town and country about the peasants’ struggle and to help them prepare for another and more successful struggle. The class-conscious workers will do all in their power to help the peasants clearly to understand why the first peasant uprising (1902) was crushed and what must be done in order to secure victory for the peasants and workers and not for the tsar’s servants.

The peasant uprising was crushed because it was an up rising of an ignorant and politically unconscious mass, an uprising without clear and definite political demands, i.e., without the demand for a change in the political order. The   peasant uprising was crushed because no preparations had been made for it. The peasant uprising was crushed because the rural proletarians had not yet allied themselves with the urban proletarians. Such were the three causes of the peasants’ first failure. To be successful an insurrection must have a conscious political aim; preparations must be made for it in advance; it must spread throughout the whole of Russia and be in alliance with the urban workers. And every step in the struggle of the urban workers, every Social-Democratic pamphlet or newspaper, every speech made by a class-conscious worker to the rural proletarians will bring nearer the time when the insurrection will be repeated and end in victory.

The peasants rose without a conscious political aim, simply because they could not bear their sufferings any longer, because they did not want to die like dumb brutes, without resistance. The peasants had suffered so much from every manner of robbery, oppression, and torment that they could not but believe, if only for a moment, the vague rumours about the tsar’s mercy; they could not but believe that every sensible man would regard it as just that grain should be distributed among starving people, among those who had worked all their fives for others, had sown and reaped, and were now dying of starvation, while the “gentry’s” barns were full to bursting. The peasants seemed to have forgotten that the best land and all the factories had been seized by the rich, by the landlords and the bourgeoisie, precisely for the purpose of compelling the starving people to work for them. The peasants forgot that not only do the priests preach sermons in defence of the rich class, but the entire tsarist government, with its host of bureaucrats and soldiers, rises in its defence. The tsarist government re minded the peasants of that. With brutal cruelty, the tsarist government showed the peasants what state power is, whose servant and whose protector it is. We need only remind the peasants of this lesson more often, and they will easily understand why it is necessary to change the political order, and why we need political liberty. Peasant uprisings will have a conscious political aim when that is understood by larger and larger numbers of people, when every peasant who can read and write and who thinks for himself becomes   familiar with the three principal demands which must be fought for first of all. The first demand—the convocation of a national assembly of deputies for the purpose of establishing popular elective government in Russia in place of the autocratic government. The second demand—freedom for all to publish all kinds of books and newspapers. The third demand—recognition by law of the peasants’ complete equal ity of rights with the other social-estates, and the institution of elected peasant committees with the primary object of abolishing all forms of serf bondage. Such are the chief and fundamental demands of the Social-Democrats, and it will now be very easy for the peasants to understand them, to understand what to begin with in the struggle for the people’s freedom. When the peasants understand these demands, they will also understand that long, persistent and persevering preparations must be made in advance for the struggle, not in isolation, but together with the workers in the towns— the Social-Democrats.

Let every class-conscious worker and peasant rally around himself the most intelligent, reliable, and fearless comrades. Let him strive to explain to them what the Social-Democrats want, so that every one of them may understand the struggle that must be waged and the demands that must be advanced. Let the class-conscious Social-Democrats begin gradually, cautiously, but unswervingly, to teach the peasants the doctrine of Social-Democracy, give them Social-Democratic pamphlets to read and explain those pamphlets at small gatherings of trustworthy people.

But the doctrine of Social-Democracy must not be taught from books alone; every instance, every case of oppression and injustice we see around us must be used for this purpose. The Social-Democratic doctrine is one of struggle against all oppression, all robbery, all injustice. Only he who knows the causes of oppression and who all his life fights every case of oppression is a real Social-Democrat. How can this be done? When they gather in their town or village, class-conscious Social-Democrats must themselves decide how it must be done to the best advantage of the entire working class. To show how it must be done I shall cite one or two examples. Let us suppose that a Social-Democratic worker has come on a visit to his village, or that some urban Social-Democratic   worker has come to any village. The entire village is in the clutches of the neighbouring landlord, like a fly in a spider’s web; it has always been in this state of bondage and cannot escape from it. The worker must at once pick out the most sensible, intelligent, and trustworthy peasants, those who are seeking justice and will not be frightened by the first police agent who comes along, and explain to them the causes of this hopeless bondage, tell them how the landlords cheated the peasants and robbed them with the aid of the committees of nobles, tell them how strong the rich are and how they are supported by the tsarist government, and also tell them about the demands of the Social-Democratic workers. When the peasants understand all these simple things they must all put their heads together and discuss whether it is possible to put up united resistance to the landlord, whether it is possible to put forward the first and principal demands (in the same way as the urban workers present their demands to the factory owners). If the landlord holds one big village, or several villages, in bondage, the best thing would be to obtain, through trustworthy people, a leaflet from the nearest Social-Democratic committee. In the leaflet the Social-Democratic committee will correctly describe, from the very be ginning, the bondage the peasants suffer from and formulate their most immediate demands (reduction of rent paid for land, proper rates, and not half-rates, of pay for winter hire, or less persecution for damage done by straying cattle or various other demands). From such a leaflet all peasants who can read and write will get to know very well what the issue is, and those who cannot read will have it explained to them. The peasants will then clearly see that the Social-Democrats support them, that the Social-Democrats condemn all robbery. The peasants will then begin to under stand what relief, if only slight, but relief for all that, can be obtained now, at once, if all stand together, and what big improvements for the whole country they must seek to obtain by a great struggle in conjunction with the Social-Democratic workers in the towns. The peasants will then prepare more and more for that great struggle; they will learn how to find trustworthy people and how to stand unitedly for their demands. Perhaps they may sometimes succeed in organising a strike, as the urban workers do.   True, this is more difficult in the countryside than in the towns, but it is sometimes possible for all that; in other countries there have been successful strikes; for instance, in the busy seasons, when the landlords and rich farmers are badly in need of hands. If the rural poor are prepared to strike, if an agreement has long been reached about the general demands, if those demands have been explained in leaflets, or properly explained at meetings, all will stand together, and the landlord will have to yield, or at least put some curb on his greed. If the strike is unanimous and is called during the busy season, the landlord, and even the authorities with their troops, will find it hard to do any thing—time will be lost, the landlord will be threatened with ruin, and he will soon become more tractable. Of course, strikes are a new thing, and new things do not come off well at first. The urban workers, too, did not know. how to fight unitedly at first; they did not know what demands to put forward in common; they simply went out to smash machinery and wreck a factory. But now the workers have learned to conduct a united struggle. Every new job must first be learned. The workers now understand that immediate relief can be obtained only if they stand together; mean while, the people are getting used to offering united resistance and are preparing more and more for the great and decisive struggle. Similarly, the peasants will learn to stand up to the worst robbers, to be united in their demands for some measure of relief and to prepare gradually, persistently, and everywhere for the great battle for freedom. The number of class-conscious workers and peasants will constantly grow, and the unions of rural Social-Democrats will become stronger and stronger; every case of bondage to the land lord, of extortion by the priest, of police brutality and bureaucratic oppression, will increasingly serve to open the eyes of the people, accustom them to putting up united resistance and to the idea that it is necessary to change the political order by force.

At the very beginning of this pamphlet we said that at the present time the urban workers come out into the streets and squares and publicly demand freedom, that they inscribe on their banners and cry out: “Down with the autocracy!” The day will soon come when the urban workers will rise not   merely to march shouting through the streets, but for the great and final struggle; when the workers will declare as one man: “We shall win freedom, or die in the fight!”; when the places of the hundreds who have been killed, fallen in the fight will be taken by thousands of fresh and still more resolute fighters. And the peasants, too, will then rise all over Russia and go to the aid of the urban workers, will fight to the end for the freedom of the workers and peasants. The tsar’s hordes will be unable to withstand that onslaught. Victory will go to the working people, and the working class will march along the wide, spacious road to the liberation of all working people from any kind of oppression. The working class will use its freedom to fight for socialism!


  6. What Improvements are the Social-Democrats Striving to Obtain for all the Peasants? | The Programme of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party Proposed by the Newspaper Iskra in Conjunction with the Magazine Zarya  

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