V. I.   Lenin

Revision of the Agrarian Programme of the Workers’ Party


Everybody now admits that it is necessary to revise the agrarian programme of the workers’ party. This urgent question was formally brought up at the last conference of the “Majority” (December 1905), and it has now been placed on the agenda of the Unity Congress.

We propose first of all to make a very brief survey of how the agrarian question has been posed in the history of the Russian Social-Democratic movement, then to review the various draft programmes now proposed by Social-Democrats, and lastly, to present a rough draft of our own.



A Brief Historical Survey of the Evolution of Russian Social-Democratic Views on the Agrarian Question

Ever since it came into being, the Russian Social-Democratic movement has recognised the vast importance of the agrarian question in Russia and of the peasant question in particular, and in all its policy documents has included an independent analysis of this question.

The contrary opinion, often spread by the Narodniks[9] and the Socialist-Revolutionaries, is based either on complete ignorance or on deliberate distortion of the facts.

The very first draft programme of the Russian Social Democrats, published by the Emancipation of Labour group in 1884, contained the demand for the “radical revision of agrarian relations” and the abolition of all feudal relations in the countryside (not having at hand the old Social-Democratic literature that was published abroad at the time, we   are compelled to quote from memory, so that we can vouch for the general sense, but not for the actual wording of the quotations).

Later Plekhanov, both in the magazine Sotsial-Demokrat[10] (late 1880s), as well as in the pamphlets: Russia’s Ruin and The Tasks of the Socialists in Fighting the Famine in Russia (1891-92), repeatedly, and in the most emphatic terms, stressed the vast importance of the peasant question in Russia. He even pointed out that in the impending democratic revolution a “general redistribution”[11] was possible, and that the Social-Democrats did not fear or shrink from such a prospect. He argued that while by no means a socialist measure, a “general redistribution” would give a powerful impetus to the development of capitalism, to the growth of the home market, to an improvement in the conditions of the peasantry, to the disintegration of the village community, to the development of class contradictions in the countryside and to the eradication of all vestiges of the old, feudal bondage system in Russia.

Plekhanov’s reference to a “general redistribution” is of special historical importance to us, for it clearly shows that the Social-Democrats adopted from the very outset the theoretical formulation of the agrarian question in Russia to which they have adhered up to the present day.

Ever since they founded their Party, the Russian Social-Democrats have maintained the following three propositions. First. The agrarian revolution will necessarily be a part of the democratic revolution in Russia. The content of this revolution will be the liberation of the countryside from the relations of semi-feudal bondage. Second. In its social and economic aspect, the impending agrarian revolution will be a bourgeois-democratic revolution; it will not weaken but stimulate the development of capitalism and capitalist class contradictions. Third. The Social-Democrats have every reason to support this revolution most resolutely, setting themselves immediate tasks, but not tying their hands by assuming commitments, and by no means refusing to support even a “general redistribution

Those who are unaware of these three propositions, who have not noticed them in all the Social-Democratic literature on the agrarian question in Russia, are either ignorant   of the subject or evade its essence (as the Socialist-Revolutionaries always do).

Reverting to the history of the evolution of Social-Democratic views on the peasant question, we may also mention, among the literature of the late 1890s, “The Tasks of the Russian Social-Democrats” (1897),[1] where the opinion that Social-Democrats are “indifferent” to the peasantry is emphatically denied, and the general views of the Social-Democrats on this subject are reiterated—and also the newspaper Iskra.[12] The third issue of that paper, published in the spring (March and April) of 1901, that is, twelve months before the first major peasant uprising in Russia, contained an editorial entitled “The Workers’ Party and the Peasantry”,[2] which re-emphasised the importance of the peasant question and, among a series of other demands, put forward the demand for restitution of the cut-off lands.

This article may be regarded as the first rough draft of the agrarian programme of the R.S.D.L.P. that was published in the name of the editors of Iskra and Zarya[13] in the summer of 1902, and which was adopted by the Second Congress of our Party (August .1903) as the official Party programme.

In this programme the whole struggle against the autocracy is regarded as a struggle waged by the bourgeois order against feudalism, and the imprint of Marxist principles is very distinctly seen in the main proposition of its agrarian section: “With a view to eliminating the survivals of serfdom which are a direct and heavy burden upon the peasantry, and for the purpose of facilitating the free development of the class struggle in the countryside, the Party demands....”

The critics of the Social-Democratic programme nearly all evade this main proposition: they overlook the obvious.

In addition to demands that raised no controversy (abolition of the social-estate taxation of the peasantry, reduction of rents, freedom to use land at will), the agrarian programme adopted at the Second Congress also contained a number of clauses demanding the refunding of land redemption   payments, and the establishment of peasant committees for the restitution of cut-off lands and for the abolition of survivals of serfdom.

The last clause about cut-off lands gave rise to most criticism among Social-Democrats. It was criticised by the Social-Democratic Borba Group, which proposed (if I remember rightly) the expropriation of all the landed estates,[14] and also by Comrade X.[15] (whose criticism, together with my reply,[3] was published in pamphlet form in Geneva, in the summer of 1903, just before the Second Congress. The delegates to that Congress had copies of it). Comrade X. proposed substituting, for the clause about cut-off lands and the refunding of land redemption payments, (1) the confiscation of church, monastery and crown lands, to be “transferred to the democratic state”, (2) “the imposition of a progressive tax on ground-rent drawn by the big landowners, so that this form of revenue should go to the democratic state for the needs of the people”, and (3) “the transfer of part of the private land (big estates), and of all the land, if possible, to large self-governing public organisations (the Zemstvos)”.

I criticised this programme and said that it was an “inferior and contradictory formulation of the demand for nationalisation of the land”; I stressed that the demand for peasant committees was important as a fighting slogan to rouse the oppressed social-estate; that the Social-Democrats must not tie their hands by pledging themselves to oppose even the “sale” of the confiscated land; that the restitution of cut-off lands does not in the least restrict the aims of Social-Democracy, but merely restricts the possibility of the rural proletariat and the peasant bourgeoisie advancing common aims. I stressed that “if the demand for all the land is a demand for the nationalisation of the land or its transference to the land-holding peasants of today, we shall appraise this demand from the standpoint of the proletariat’s interests, taking all factors into consideration [our italics]; we cannot, for instance, say in advance whether, when the revolution awakens them to political life, our   land-holding peasants will come out as a democratic revolutionary party, or as a party of order” (pp. 35-36).[4]

The same idea—that the cut-off lands will restrict neither the magnitude of the peasant movement nor our sup port for it, if it develops further—I also expressed in my pamphlet To the Rural Poor (published in 1903, before the Second Congress), where I say that cut-off lands are not a “barrier” but a “door”,[5] and where, far from rejecting the idea of all the land going to the peasantry, I even welcome it in certain political conditions.

As regards the “general redistribution”, I wrote the following in August 1902 (Zarya, No. 4, p. 176) in defending the draft agrarian programme:

The demand for general redistribution contains the reactionary utopian idea of generalising and perpetuating small-scale peasant production, but it also contains (in addition to the utopian idea that the ’peasantry’ can serve as the vehicle of the socialist revolution) a revolutionary element, namely, the desire to sweep away by means of a peasant revolt all the remnants of the serf-owning system.”[6]

Thus, reference to the literature of 1902-03 irrefutably proves that the authors of the demand about cut-off lands never regarded it as restricting the peasant movement, or our support of it. Nevertheless, the course of events proved that this part of the programme was unsatisfactory, because the peasant movement was growing in breadth and depth with tremendous speed, and our programme was giving rise to bewilderment among the broad masses. Yet the party of the working class must reckon with the broad masses and cannot keep on referring only to commentaries, which explain a programme that is obligatory for all by arguments that are not obligatory for the Party.

The necessity for revising the agrarian programme was growing. At the beginning of 1905, one of the issues of the “Bolshevik” Social-Democratic newspaper Vperyod (published weekly in Geneva from January to May 1905) contained proposals for amending the agrarian programme,   among which was the proposal for deleting the clause about cut-off lands and substituting for it “support for the peasant demands, up to and including confiscation of all the landed estates”.[7]

However, at the Third Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. (May 1905), and at the “conference” of the “Minority” held at the same time, the question of revising the programme as such was not raised. Matters did not go beyond the adoption of a resolution on tactics, both sections of the Party agreeing to support the peasant movement, including confiscation of all the landed estates.

Strictly speaking, those resolutions predetermined the question of revising the agrarian programme of the R.S.D.L.P. The last conference of the “Majority” (December 1905) accepted my proposal to suggest deleting clauses about cut-off lands and about the refunding of land redemption payments, and replacing them by the statement that we support the peasant movement to the point of confiscation of all the landed estates.[8]

With this we may conclude our brief historical outline of the evolution of the views of the R.S.D.L.P. on the agrarian question.


[1] See present edition, Vol. 2, pp. 323-51.—Ed.

[2] See present edition, Vol. 4, pp. 420-28.—Ed.

[3] See present edition, Vol. 6, pp. 438-53.—Ed.

[4] See present edition, Vol. 6, pp. 446-47.—Ed.

[5] Ibid., p. 420.—Ed.

[6] Ibid., p. 139.—Ed.

[7] See present edition, Vol. 8, p. 235.—Ed.

[8] The resolution was published in Rus, Nasha Zhizn and Pravda[16] (see p. 88 of this volume.—Ed.)—Lenin

[9] Narodniks—adherents of a petty-bourgeois trend that arose in the Russian revolutionary movement in the sixties and seventies of   the nineteenth century. They sought the abolition of the autocracy and the transfer of the landed estates to the peasants. On the other hand, they denied that the development of capitalist relations and the growth of a proletariat in Russia was a law-governed process, and hence regarded the peasantry as the chief revolutionary force. Seeing the village community as the embryo of socialism, they went to the country (“went among the people”) and tried to rouse the peasants to the struggle against the autocracy. Taking an erroneous view of the role of the class struggle in historical development, they believed that history was made by heroes passively followed by the masses of the people. In their struggle against tsarism, the Narodniks used the tactics of individual terrorism.

In the 1880s and 1890s, the Narodniks took the path of conciliation with tsarism. At that period they expressed the interests of the kulaks and waged a bitter struggle against Marxism.

[10] Sotsial-Demokrat (Social-Democrat)— a non-periodical literary and political collection published by the Emancipation of Labour group. Its only issue appeared in 1888.

[11] General redistribution”—a slogan popular among the peasants of tsarist Russia. It expressed their desire for a general redistribution of the land.

[12] Iskra (The Spark)—the first all-Russian illegal Marxist newspaper. Founded by Lenin in 1900, it played the decisive role in building the Marxist revolutionary party of the working class in Russia.

It was impossible to publish a revolutionary newspaper in Russia on account of police persecution, and while still in exile in Siberia, Lenin evolved a plan for its publication abroad. When his exile ended (January 1900), Lenin immediately set about putting his plan into effect. In February, in St. Petersburg, he negotiated with Vera Zasulich (who had come from abroad illegally) on the participation of the Emancipation of Labour group in the publication of the newspaper. At the end of March and the beginning of April a conference was held—known as the Pskov Conference— with V. I. Lenin, L. Martov, A. N. Potresov, S. I. Radchenko, and the “legal Marxists” P. B. Struve and M. I. Tugan-Baranovsky participating, which discussed the draft declaration, drawn up by Lenin, of the editorial board of the all-Russian newspaper (Iskra) and the scientific and political magazine (Zarya) on the programme and the aims of these publications. During the first half of 1900 Lenin travelled to a number of Russian cities (Moscow, St. Petersburg, Riga, Smolensk, Nizhni-Novgorod, Ufa, Samara, Syzran) and established contact with Social-Democratic groups and individual Social-Democrats, obtaining their support for Iskra. In August 1900, when Lenin arrived in Switzerland, he and Potresov conferred with the Emancipation of Labour group on the programme and the aims of the newspaper and the magazine, on possible contributors, and on the editorial board and its location. The conference almost ended in failure (see present edition, Vol. 4, pp. 333-49), but an agreement was finally reached on all disputed questions.

The first issue of Lenin’s Iskra was published in Leipzig in December 1900; the ensuing issues were published in Munich; from July 1902 the paper was published in London, and from the spring of 1903 in Geneva. Considerable help in getting the newspaper going (the organisation of secret printing-presses, the acquisition of Russian type, etc.) was afforded by the German Social-Democrats Clara Zetkin, Adolf Braun, and others; by Julian Marchlewski a Polish revolutionary residing in Munich at that time; and by Harry Quelch, one of the leaders of the British Social-Democratic Federation.

The editorial board of Iskra consisted of V. I. Lenin, G. V. Plekhanov, L. Martov, P. B. Axelrod, A. N. Potresov, and V. I. Zasulich. The first secretary of the hoard was I. G. Smidovich-Leman; the post was then taken over, from the spring of 1901, by N. K. Krupskaya, who also conducted the correspondence between Iskra and the Russian Social-Democratic organisations. Iskra concentrated on problems.of the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat and all working people of Russia against the tsarist autocracy, and devoted much space to major international events, above all developments in the working-class movement. Lenin was in actuality editor-in-chief and the leading figure in Iskra, to which be contributed articles on all basic questions of Party organisation and the class struggle of the proletariat in Russia.

Iskra became the centre unifying Party forces, and gathering and training Party workers. In a number of Russian cities (St. Petersburg, Moscow, Samara, and others), groups and committees of the R.S.D.L.P. were organised on Leninist Iskra lines, and a conference of Iskra supporters held in Samara in January 1002 founded the Russian Iskra organisation. Iskra organisations sprang up and worked under the direct leadership of Lenin’s disciples and comrades-in-arms: N. F. Bauman, I. V. Babushkin, S. I. Gusev, M. I. Kalinin, P. A. Krasikov, C. M. Krzhizhanovsky, F. V. Lengnik, P. N. Lepeshinsky, I. I. Radchenko, and others.

On the initiative and with the direct participation of Lenin, the Iskra editorial hoard drew up a draft programme of the Party (published in Iskra, No. 21) and made preparations for the Second Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. By the time the Congress was convened, most of the local Social-Democratic organisations in Russia had adopted the Iskra position, approved its programme, organisational plan and tactical line, and recognised tile newspaper as their Leading organ. A special resolution of the Congress noted Iskra’s exceptional role in the struggle to build the Party, and made the newspaper tile Central Organ of the R.S.D.L.P.

Shortly after the Congress the Mensheviks, backed by Plekhanov, took Iskra into their own hands and turned it into an organ fighting against Marxism and the Party, into a platform for the advocacy of opportunism. Beginning with issue No. 52, Iskra ceased to be a militant organ of revolutionary Marxism.

[13] Zarya (Dawn)—a Marxist scientific and political magazine, legally published in Stuttgart in 1901-02 by the Iskra editorial board. Four issues (three books) appeared in all.

Zarya criticised international and Russian revisionism, and defended the theoretical principles of Marxism. It published Lenin’s writings: “Casual Notes”, “Time Persecutors of the Zemstvo and the Hannibals of Liberalism”, “Messrs. the ’Critics’ on the Agrarian Question” (the first four chapters of The Agrarian Question and “The Critics of Marx”), “Review of 1-mine Affairs”, and “The Agrarian Programme of Russian Social-Democracy”.

[14] The Borba (Struggle) group consisting of D. B. Ryazanov, Y. M. Steklov and B. L. Gurevich, emerged in Paris in the summer of 1900. It assumed its name in May 1901. Seeking to reconcile the revolutionary and the opportunist trends in Russian Social-Democracy, the group undertook in June 1901 to call in Geneva a conference of representatives of the Social-Democratic organisations abroad—the editorial boards of Iskra and Zarya, tile organisation called “Sotsial-Demokrat”, the Foreign Committee of the Bund, and the Union of Russian Social-Democrats Abroad—and participated in the work of the “unity” congress of the organisations abroad of the R.S.D.L.P. in Zurich on September 21-22 (October 4-5), 1901. In November 1901 the group issued a programmatic “Advertisement of the Publications of the Social-Democratic Borba Group”. Its publications—“Materials for the Drafting of a Party Programme” (issues I-III), “Leaflet of the Borba Group”, etc.— distorted revolutionary Marxist theory, which they interpreted in a doctrinaire and scholastic spirit, and took a stand against Lenin’s principles of Party organisation. In view of its departure from Social-Democratic concepts and tactics, its disruptive actions and its lack of contact with the Social-Democratic organisations in Russia, the group was not admitted to the Second Congress of the R.S.D.L.P., and was dissolved by decision of the Congress.

[15] X—pseudonym of the Menshevik P. P. Maslov.

[16] Pravda (The Truth)—a Social-Democratic monthly magazine of art, literature and public affairs, published in Moscow between 1904 and 1906, with the Mensheviks as the main contributors.

  | Four Trends Among Social-Democrats on the Question of the Agrarian Programme  

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