V. I.   Lenin

Socialism and the Peasantry

Published: Proletary, No. 20, October 10 (September 27), 1905. Published according to the text in Proletary.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 9, pages 307-315.
Translated: The Late Abraham Fineberg and Julius Katzer
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
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The revolution Russia is going through is a revolution of the entire people. The interests of the whole people have come into irreconcilable conflict with those of a handful of men constituting the autocratic government or backing it. The very existence of present-day society, which is based on commodity production and wherein the interests of the various classes and population groups are extremely varied and conflicting, calls for the destruction of the autocracy, the establishment of political liberty, and the open and direct expression of the dominating classes’ interests in the organisation and administration of the state. Bourgeois in its social and economic essence, the democratic revolution cannot but express the needs of all bourgeois society.

However, this society, which now seems a united whole in the struggle against the autocracy, is itself irremediably split by the chasm between capital and labour. The people that have risen against the autocracy are not a united people. Employers and wage-workers, the insignificant number of the rich ("the upper ten thousand”) and the tens of millions of those who toil and own no property—these are indeed “two nations”, as was said by a far-sighted Englishman as long ago as the first half of the nineteenth century.[3] The struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie stands on the order of the day throughout Europe. This struggle has long spread to Russia as well. In present-day Russia it is not two contending forces that form the content of the revolution, but two distinct and different social wars: one waged within the present autocratic-feudal system, the other within the future bourgeois-democratic system, whose birth we are already witnessing. One is the struggle of the entire people   for freedom (the freedom of bourgeois society), for democracy, i.e., the sovereignty of the people; the other Is the class struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie for a socialist organisation of society.

An arduous and formidable task thus devolves on the socialists—to wage two wars simultaneously, wars that are totally different in their nature, their aims, and the composition of the social forces capable of playing a decisive part in either of them. The Social-Democratic movement has explicitly set itself this difficult task, and has definitely coped with it thanks to its having based its entire programme on scientific socialism, i.e., Marxism, and thanks to its having become one of the contingents of the army of world Social-Democracy, which has verified, confirmed, explained, and developed in detail the principles of Marxism on the basis of the experience of so many democratic and socialist movements in the most diverse countries of Europe.

Revolutionary Social-Democracy has long indicated and proved the bourgeois nature of Russian democratism, ranging from the liberal-Narodnik to the Osvobozhdeniye varieties. It has always pointed out that it is inevitable for bourgeois democratism to be half-hearted, limited, and narrow. For the period of the democratic revolution it has set the socialist proletariat the task of winning the peasant masses over to its side, and, paralysing the bourgeoisie’s instability, of smashing and crushing the autocracy. A decisive victory of the democratic revolution is possible only in the form of a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. But the sooner this victory is achieved, and the fuller it is, the faster and the more profoundly will fresh contradictions and a fresh class struggle develop within the fully democratised bourgeois system. The more completely we achieve the democratic revolution, the closer shall we approach the tasks of the socialist revolution, the more acute and incisive will be the proletariat’s struggle against the very foundations of bourgeois society.

The Social-Democrats must wage a relentless struggle against any departure from this presentation of the revolutionary-democratic and socialist tasks of the proletariat. It is absurd to ignore the democratic, i.e., essentially bourgeois, nature of the present revolution, and hence it is absurd to   bring forward such slogans as the one calling for the establishment of revolutionary communes. It is absurd and reactionary to belittle the tasks of the proletariat’s participation— and leading participation at that—in the democratic revolution, by shunning, for instance, the slogan of a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. It is absurd to confuse the tasks and prerequisites of a democratic revolution with those of a socialist revolution, which, we repeat, differ both in their nature and in the composition of the social forces taking part in them.

It is on this last mentioned mistake that we propose to dwell in detail. The undeveloped state of the class contradictions in the people in general, and in the peasantry in particular, is an unavoidable phenomenon in the epoch of a democratic revolution, which for the first time lays the foundations for a really extensive development of capitalism. This lack of economic development results in the survival and revival, in one form or another, of the backward forms of a socialism which is petty-bourgeois, for it idealises reforms that do not go beyond the framework of petty-bourgeois relation ships. The mass of the peasants do not and cannot realise that the fullest “freedom” and the “justest” distribution even of all the land, far from destroying capitalism, will, on the contrary, create the conditions for a particularly extensive and powerful development of capitalism. Whereas Social-Democracy singles out and supports only the revolutionary-democratic substance of these peasant aspirations, petty-bourgeois socialism elevates to a theory this political backwardness of the peasants, confusing or jumbling together the prerequisites and the tasks of a genuine democratic revolution with those of an imaginary socialist revolution.

The most striking expression of this vague petty-bourgeois ideology is the programme, or rather draft programme, of the “Socialist-Revolutionaries”, who made the more haste to proclaim themselves a party, the less developed among them were the forms and prerequisites for a party. When analysing their draft programme (see Vperyod, No. 3[1] ) we already had occasion to point out that the Socialist-Revolutionaries’ views are rooted in the old Russian Narodnik ideas.   However, as the entire economic development of Russia, the entire course of the Russian revolution, is remorsely and ruthlessly cutting the ground from under the foundations of pure Narodism day by day and hour by hour, the views of the Socialist-Revolutionaries inevitably tend to become eclectic. They are trying to patch up the rents in the Narodnik ideas with bits of fashionable opportunist “criticism” of Marxism, but this does not make the tattered garment wear any the better. All in all, their programme is nothing but an absolutely lifeless and self-contradictory document, which is merely an expression of a stage in the history of Russian socialism on the road from the Russia of serfdom to bourgeois Russia, the road “from Narodism to Marxism This definition, which typifies a number of more or less small streams of contemporary revolutionary thought, is also applicable to the latest draft agrarian programme of the Polish Socialist Party (P.S.P.), published in No. 6-8 of Przed&whatthe;wit.[2]

The draft divides the agrarian programme into two parts. Part I sets forth “reforms for the realisation of which social conditions have already matured”; Part II—“formulates the consummation and integration of the agrarian reforms set forth in Part I”. Part I, in its turn, is subdivided into three sections: A) labour protection—demands for the benefit of the agricultural proletariat; B) agrarian reforms (in the narrow sense, or, so to say, peasant demands), and C) protection of the rural population (self-government, etc.).

This programme takes a step towards Marxism in attempting to single out something in the nature of a minimum from the maximum programme—then in providing a wholly independent formulation of demands of a purely proletarian nature; further, the preamble to the programme recognises that it is wholly inadmissible for socialists to “flatter the proprietory instincts of the peasant masses”. As a matter of fact, if the truth contained in this latter proposition had been given sufficient thought and carried to its logical conclusion, that would have inevitably resulted in a strictly Marxist programme. The trouble is that the P.S.P. which draws its ideas just as willingly from the fount of opportunist criticism   of Marxism is not a consistently proletarian party. “Since it has not been proved that landed property tends to concentrate,” we read in the preamble to the programme, “it is inconceivable to champion this form of economy with absolute sincerity and assurance, and to convince the peasant that the small farms will inevitably disappear.”

This is nothing but an echo of bourgeois political economy. Bourgeois economists are doing their utmost to instil in the small peasant the idea that capitalism is compatible with the well-being of the small independent farmer. That is why they veil the general question of commodity production, the yoke of capital, and the decline and degradation of small peasant farming by stressing the particular question of the concentration of landed property. They shut their eyes to the fact that large-scale production in specialised branches of agriculture producing for the market is also developing on small and medium-sized holdings, and that ownership of this kind is deteriorating because of greater leasing of land, as well as under the burden of mortgages and the pressure of usury. They obscure the indisputable fact of the technical superiority of large-scale production in agriculture and the fall in the peasant’s living standards in his struggle against capitalism. There is nothing in the P.S.P. statements but a repetition of these bourgeois prejudices, resurrected by the present-day Davids.[4]

The unsoundness of theoretical views affects the practical programme as well. Take Part I—the agrarian reforms in the narrow sense of the term. On the one hand, you read in Clause 5: “The abolition of all restrictions on the purchase of land allotments,” and in 6: “The abolition of szarwark[5] and obligatory cartage (compulsory services).” These are purely Marxist minimum demands. By presenting them (especially Clause 5) the P.S.P. is making a step forward in comparison with our Socialist-Revolutionaries, who in company with Moskovskiye Vedomosti have a weakness for the vaunted “in alienability of land allotments”. By presenting these demands the P.S.P. is verging on the Marxist idea regarding the struggle against remnants of serfdom, as the basis and content of the present-day peasant movement. Although the P.S.P. verges on to this idea, it is far from fully and consciously accepting it.

The main clauses of the minimum programme under consideration read as follows: "1) nationalisation through confiscation of the royal and state demesnes[6] as well as estates belonging to the clergy; 2) nationalisation of the big landed estates in the absence of direct heirs; 3) nationalisation of forests, rivers, and lakes.” These demands have all the defects of a programme whose main demand at present is the nationalisation of the land. So long as full political liberty and sovereignty of the people do not exist, whilst there is no democratic republic, it is both premature and inexpedient to present the demand for nationalisation, since nationalisation means transference to the state, and the present state is a police and class state; the state of tomorrow will in any case be a class state. As a slogan meant to lead forward towards democratisation, this demand is quite useless, for it does not place the stress on the peasants’ relations to the landlords (the peasants take the land of the landlords) but on the landlords’ relations to the state. This presentation of the question is totally wrong at a time like the present, when the peasants are fighting in a revolutionary way for the land, against both the landlords and the landlords’ state. Revolutionary peasant committees for confiscation, as instruments of confiscation—this is the only slogan that meets the needs of such a time and promotes the class struggle against the landlords, a struggle indissolubly bound up with the revolutionary destruction of the landlords’ state.

The other clauses of the agrarian minimum programme in the draft programme of the P.S.P. are as follows: "4) limitation of property rights, inasmuch as they become an impediment to all improvements in agriculture, should such improvements be considered necessary by the majority of those concerned; ... 7) nationalisation of insurance of grain crops against fire and hail, and of cattle against epidemics; 8) legislation for state assistance in the formation of agricultural artels and co-operatives; 9) agricultural schools.”

These clauses are quite in the spirit of the Socialist-Revolutionaries, or (what amounts to the same thing) of bourgeois reformism. There is nothing revolutionary about them. They are, of course, progressive—no one disputes that—but progressive in the interests of property-owners. For a socialist to advance them means nothing but flattering proprietory   instincts. To advance them is the same as demanding state aid to trusts, cartels, syndicates, and manufacturers’ associations, which are no less “progressive” than co-operatives, insurance, etc., in agriculture. All this is capitalist progress. To show concern for that is not our affair, but that of the employers, the entrepreneurs. Proletarian socialism, as distinct from petty-bourgeois socialism, leaves it to the Counts de Rocquigny, the land-owning Zemstvo members, etc., to take care of the co-operatives of the landowners, big and little—and concerns itself entirely and exclusively with wage-workers’ co-operatives for the purpose of fighting the landowners.

Let us now consider Part II of the programme. It consists of only one point: “Nationalisation of the big landed estates through confiscation. The arable land and pastures thus acquired by the people must be divided up into allotments and turned over to the landless peasants and those with small holdings, on guaranteed long-term leases.”

A fine “consummation”, indeed! Under the guise of “consummation and integration of agrarian reforms” a party calling itself socialist proposes what is by no means a socialist organisation of society, but rather an absurd petty-bourgeois utopia. Here we have a most telling example of complete con fusion of the democratic and the socialist revolutions, and complete failure to understand the difference in their aims. The transfer of the land from the landlords to the peasants may be—and in fact has in Europe everywhere been—a component part of the democratic revolution, one of the stages in the bourgeois revolution, but only bourgeois radicals can call it “consummation” or “final realisation”. The redistribution of land among the various categories of proprietors, among the various classes of farmers, may be advantageous and necessary for the victory of democracy, the complete eradication of all traces of serf-ownership, for raising the living standards of the masses, accelerating the development of capitalism, etc.; the most resolute support of a measure like that may be incumbent upon the socialist proletariat in the epoch of a democratic revolution, but only socialist production and not petty peasant production, can constitute a “consummation and final realisation”. “Guaranteeing” small-peasant leaseholds whilst commodity production and   capitalism are preserved, is nothing but a reactionary petty-bourgeois utopia.

We see now that the P.S.P.’s fundamental error is not peculiar to that Party alone, is not an isolated instance or some thing fortuitous. It expresses in a clearer and more distinct form (than the vaunted “socialisation” of the Socialist-Revolutionaries, which they themselves are unable to understand) the basic error of all Russian Narodism, all Russian bourgeois liberalism and radicalism in the agrarian question, including the bourgeois liberalism and radicalism that found expression in the discussions at the recent (September) Zemstvo Congress in Moscow.

This basic error may be expressed as follows:

In the presentation of immediate aims the programme of the P.S.P. is not revolutionary. In its ultimate aims it is not socialist.

In other words: a failure to understand the difference between a democratic revolution and a socialist revolution leads to a failure to express the genuinely revolutionary aspect of the democratic aims, while all the nebulousness of the bourgeois-democratic world outlook is brought into the socialist aims. The result is a slogan which is not revolutionary enough for a democrat, and inexcusably confused for a socialist.

On the other hand, Social-Democracy’s programme meets all requirements both of support for genuinely revolutionary democratism and the presentation of a clear socialist aim. In the present-day peasant movement we see a struggle against serfdom, a struggle against the landlords and the landlords’ state. We give full support to this struggle. The only correct slogan for such support is: confiscation through revolutionary peasant committees. What should be done with the confiscated land is a secondary question. It is not we who will settle this question, but the peasants. When it comes to being settled a struggle will begin between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie within the peasantry. That is why we either leave this question open (which is so displeasing to the petty-bourgeois projectors) or merely indicate the beginning of the road to be taken, by demanding the return of the cut off lands[7] (in which unthinking people see an obstacle to the movement, despite the numerous explanations given by the Social-Democrats).

There is only one way to make the agrarian reform, which is unavoidable in present-day Russia, play a revolutionary- democratic role: it must be effected on the revolutionary initiative of the peasants themselves, despite the landlords and the bureaucracy, and despite the state, i.e., it must be effected by revolutionary means. The very worst distribution of land after a reform of this sort will be better from all standpoints than what we have at present. And this is the road we indicate when we make our prime demand the establishment of revolutionary peasant committees.

But at the same time we say to the rural proletariat: “The most radical victory of the peasants, which you must help with all your force to achieve, will not rid you of poverty. This can be achieved only by one means: the victory of the entire proletariat—both industrial and agricultural— over the entire bourgeoisie and the formation of a socialist society.”

Together with the peasant proprietors, against the land lords and the landlords’ state; together with the urban proletariat, against the entire bourgeoisie and all the peasant proprietors. Such is the slogan of the class-conscious rural proletariat. And if the petty proprietors do not immediately accept this slogan, or even if they refuse to accept it altogether, it will nevertheless become the workers’ slogan, will inevitably be borne out by the entire course of the revolution, will rid us of petty-bourgeois illusions, and will clearly and definitely indicate to us our socialist goal.


[1] “From Narodism to Marxism”, 1905. See present edition, Vol. 8, pp. 83-89.—Ed.

[2] The DawnEd.

[3] The reference is to Benjamin Disraeli.

[4] David, Eduard—German economist and adherent of Bernstein. A criticism of his views is given by Lenin in The Agrarian Question and the “Critics of Marx”.

[5] Szarwark—statute labour for the repair and construction of roads, bridges and other, mostly military, structures, imposed on the peasants in Poland.

[6] Demesnes—lands belonging to members of the tsar’s family.

[7] Cut-off lands (otrezki)—land which the landlords “cut off”, i.e., took away from the peasants, when serfdom was abolished in Russia in 1861.

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