V. I.   Lenin

Revision of the Agrarian Programme of the Workers’ Party



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

At the present time, in addition to the resolution of the “Bolshevik” conference already referred to, we have on this question two finished drafts of an agrarian programme— those of Comrades Maslov and Rozhkov—and comments and views of Comrades Finn, Plekhanov and Kautsky, which are incomplete, i.e., offer no finished draft of a programme.

Let us briefly outline the views of these authors.

Comrade Maslov offers us Comrade X.’s draft, slightly modified. Specifically, he deletes the progressive tax on ground-rent, and amends the demand for transfer of the private   lands to the Zemstvos. Maslov’s amendment consists, first, in that he deletes X.’s phrase: “and all the land, if possible” (i.e., to transfer all the land to the Zemstvos). Secondly, he deletes from X.’s draft all reference to the “Zemstvos”; and for the phrase “large self-governing public organisations (the Zemstvos)”, he substitutes the phrase “large regional organisations”. The whole clause as amended by Maslov reads as follows:

The transfer of private lands (big estates) to large self- governing regional organisations. The minimum size of land holdings to be alienated shall be determined by the regional popular representative body.” Thus Maslov emphatically rejects complete nationalisation, tentatively proposed by X., and demands “municipalisation”, or, to be precise, “provincialisation”. Against nationalisation, Maslov advances three arguments: (1) nationalisation would be an encroachment on the self-determination of nationalities; (2) the peasants, and particularly, homestead peasants, will not agree to the nationalisation of their land; (3) nationalisation will strengthen the bureaucracy inevitable in a bourgeois-democratic class state.

Maslov criticises the division of the landed estates (“dividing up”) merely as a pseudo-socialist utopia of the Socialist-Revolutionaries, but does not give his opinion of this measure as compared with “nationalisation”.

As for Rozhkov, he wants neither division nor nationalisation. All he wants is deletion of the clause about cut-off lands and the substitution of a clause like the following:

Transfer to the peasants without redemption of all lands that serve as instruments for their economic enslavement” (see Comrade N. Rozhkov’s article in the symposium The Present Situation,[7] p. 6). Comrade Rozhkov demands the confiscation of church and other lands, but says nothing about their “transfer to the democratic state” (which Comrade Maslov proposes).

The next is Comrade Finn, who in his unfinished article (in Mir Bozhy,[8] 1906) rejects nationalisation and evidently is inclined to support the demand that the landed estates be divided up among the peasantry as their private property.

Nor does Comrade Plekhanov say anything at all in his Dnevnik, No. 5, about making definite changes in our agrarian   programme. In criticising Maslov, he merely advocates “flexible tactics” in general, rejects “nationalisation” (using the old arguments advanced in Zarya), and appears to be in favour of dividing the landed estates among the peasantry.

Lastly, K. Kautsky, in his splendid essay “The Agrarian Question in Russia”, sets forth the general principles of the Social-Democratic views on the subject, expresses his complete sympathy with the idea of dividing up the landed estates and apparently admits the possibility of nationalisation too, in certain conditions; but he says absolutely nothing at all either about the old agrarian programme of the R.S.D.L.P. or about the proposals to amend it.

Summing up the opinions which exist in our Party on the agrarian programme of the R.S.D.L.P., we obtain the following four main types:

(1) The agrarian programme of the R.S.D.L.P. should demand neither nationalisation nor confiscation of the landed estates (a view held by advocates of the present programme, or of slight amendments, like those proposed by Comrade N. Rozhkov);

(2) The agrarian programme of the R.S.D.L.P. should demand confiscation of the landed estates, but not nationalisation of the land in any form (this view is evidently support ed by Comrade Finn, and perhaps by Comrade Plekhanov, though his opinion is not clear);

(3) Alienation of the landed estates, together with a peculiar and restricted sort of nationalisation (“Zemstvo-isation” and “provincialisation”, as proposed by X., Maslov, Groman and others);

(4) Confiscation of the landed estates and, in definite political conditions, nationalisation of the land (the programme proposed by the majority of the committee appoint ed by the Joint Central Committee of our Party; this programme, which this writer advocates, is given at the end of the present pamphlet).[1]

Let us examine these opinions.

The supporters of the present programme, or of a programme like that proposed by Comrade Rozhkov, start out   either with the idea that confiscation of the big estates, which will result in their division into small ones, is altogether indefensible from the Social-Democratic point of view, or with the idea that confiscation should not appear in the programme, that its place is in the resolution on tactics.

Let us begin by examining the first opinion. We are told that the big estates represent an advanced capitalist type. Their confiscation and division would be a reactionary measure, a step backward to small-scale production. Social-Democrats cannot support such a measure.

We think that this opinion is wrong.

We must take into account the general and ultimate result of the present peasant movement, and not lose sight of it over individual cases and particulars. Taken as a whole, the landed estate in Russia today rests on a system of feudal bondage rather than on the capitalist system. Those who deny this cannot explain the present breadth and depth of the revolutionary peasant movement in Russia. Our mistake in putting forward the demand for the restitution of cut-off lands was that we did not sufficiently appraise the breadth and depth of the democratic, that is, the bourgeois-democratic movement among the peasantry. It would be unwise to persist in this mistake now that the revolution has taught us so much. The advantages of the confiscation of all the landed estates for the development of capitalism would far outweigh the disadvantages that would ensue from dividing up the big capitalist farms. Division will not destroy capitalism, and will not throw back its development but will to a very great extent clear the ground for it and provide a more general, extensive and firm basis for its (capitalism’s) further development. We have always said that it is not by any means the business of the Social-Democrats to restrict the scope of the peasant movement: and at the present time to reject the demand for confiscation of all the landed estates would obviously mean restricting the scope of a social movement which has taken definite shape.

Hence those comrades who are at present opposing the demand for confiscation of all the landed estates are committing the same mistake as those British miners who, working less than eight hours a day, are opposing the enactment of an eight-hour day for the whole country.

Other comrades make a concession to the “spirit of the times”. They say: In the programme, let us have the cut-off lands, or alienation of the lands which serve as instruments of enslavement. In the resolution on tactics, let us have confiscation. The programme must not be mixed up with tactics.

Our reply to this is that the attempt to draw a hard and fast line between programme and tactics can only result in scholasticism and pedantry. The programme defines the general and basic relations between the working class and other classes. Tactics define particular and temporary relations. This is quite true, of course. But we must not forget that the entire struggle we are waging against the survivals of serfdom in the countryside is a particular and temporary task in comparison with the general socialist aims of the proletariat. If a “constitutional regime” á la Shipov lasts in Russia for ten or fifteen years, these survivals will disappear; they will cause the population untold suffering, but nevertheless they will disappear, die out of themselves. Anything like a powerful democratic peasant movement will then become impossible, and it will no longer be possible to advocate any sort of agrarian programme “with a view to abolishing the survivals of the serf-owning system”. Thus the distinction between programme and tactics is only a relative one. But a mass party which is now operating more openly than before would be put to a very great disadvantage if the programme contained a particular, limited and restricted demand, while the resolution on tactics contained a general, broad and all-embracing demand. Whatever the case may be—whether the Dubasov-Shipov “Constitution” becomes firmly established or whether the peasants’ and workers’ insurrection is victorious—we shall have to revise our Party’s agrarian programme again fairly soon just the same. So we need be in no particular hurry to build a house for all time.

Let us now examine the second type of opinion. We are told: confiscation and division of the landed estates—yes, but no nationalisation in any circumstances. Kautsky is quoted in support of division, and the arguments formerly advanced by all Social-Democrats (cf. Zarya, No. 4) against nationalisation are reiterated. We fully and absolutely   agree that, on the whole, division of the landed estates would, at the present time, be a decidedly progressive measure, both economically and politically. We also agree that in bourgeois society, the small proprietor class is, in certain conditions, “a stauncher pillar of democracy than the class of tenant farmers dependent on a police-controlled. class state, even if it is a constitutional state” (Lenin, “Reply to X.”, p. 27[2] )

But we think that if we confine ourselves to these considerations at the present stage of the democratic revolution in Russia, if we confine ourselves to advocating the old position we took up in 1902, it will certainly mean that we are discounting the material changes that have taken place in the social-class and political situation. In August 1902, Zarya pointed out (see Plekhanov’s article in No. 4, p. 36) that Moskovskiye Vedomosti [9] was advocating nationalisation, and expressed the undoubtedly correct opinion that the demand for nationalisation of the land is far from everywhere, and certainly not always, a revolutionary demand. This is true, of course; but in the same article Plekhanov says (p. 37) that “in a revolutionary period” (Plekhanov’s italics), the expropriation of the big landowners may be essential in Russia, and in certain circumstances this question will have to be raised.

Undoubtedly, the present situation is substantially different from what it was in 1902. The revolution rose to a high pitch in 1905, and is now gathering force for a new rise. That Moskovskiye Vedomosti should advocate nationalisation of the land (at all seriously) is out of the question. Quite the reverse: the keynote of the speeches delivered by Nicholas II and of the howling of Gringmut[10] & Co. has been defence of the inviolability of private landed property. The peasant uprising has already shaken up old serf-ridden Rus, and the dying autocracy is now placing its hopes entirely on the possibility of a deal with the landlord class, which has been scared to death by the peasant movement. Not only Moskovskiye Vedomosti, but Slovo too, the organ of the Shipovites, is attacking Witte and Kutler’s[11] “socialist” draft, which proposes not nationalisation of the land, but only   compulsory redemption payments for part of the land. The savage suppression of the Peasant Union by the government, and the savage “dragonnades” against the turbulent peasantry, show as clearly as anything can show that the peasant movement has definitely assumed a revolutionary-democratic character.

This movement, like every profoundly popular movement, has already roused the peasantry to tremendous revolutionary enthusiasm and revolutionary energy and is continuing to do so. In their struggle against the private ownership of large estates, against landlordism, the peasants necessarily arrive, and through their foremost representatives have already arrived, at the demand for the abolition of all private ownership of land in general.[3]

There cannot be the slightest doubt that the idea that the land should belong to the whole people is now very wide spread among the peasantry. Nor can there be any doubt that, in spite of all the ignorance of the peasantry, in spite of all the reactionary-utopian elements in its aspirations, this idea on the whole is revolutionary-democratic in character.[4]

Social-Democrats must cleanse this idea of its reactionary and petty-bourgeois socialist distortions—there is no question about that. But they would be committing a serious error if, failing to perceive its revolutionary-democratic side, they were to throw this demand entirely over board. We must very frankly and emphatically tell the peasants that land nationalisation is a bourgeois measure, that it is useful only in definite political circumstances; but it would be a short-sighted policy for us socialists to come before the masses of the peasants and baldly repudiate this measure. And it would not only be a short-sighted policy, but also a theoretical distortion of Marxism, which has very definitely established that nationalisation of the land is possible and conceivable even in bourgeois society; that it will not retard, but stimulate, the development of capitalism, and that it is the maximum bourgeois-democratic reform in the sphere of agrarian relations.

And how can anyone deny that it is our duty at the present time to come before the peasantry, advocating the maximum bourgeois-democratic reforms? How can anyone still fail to see the connection between the radicalism of the peasants’ agrarian demands (abolition of private ownership of land) and the radicalism of their political demands (a republic, etc.)?

The only stand Social-Democrats can take on the agrarian question at the present time, when the issue is one of carrying the democratic revolution to its conclusion, is the following: against landlord ownership and for peasant ownership, if private ownership of land is to exist at all. Against private ownership of land and for nationalisation of the land in definite political circumstances.

This brings us to the third type of opinion: the “Zemstvo isation” or “provincialisation” proposed by X., Maslov and others. In answering Maslov, I must to some extent repeat what I said in 1903 in answering X., namely, that his was “an inferior and contradictory formulation of the demand for the nationalisation of the land” (Lenin, “Reply to X.”, p. 42[5] ). And I went on to say: “The land should (generally speaking) preferably be transferred to a democratic state,   and not to small public organisations (like the present or future Zemstvos).”

What does Maslov propose? He proposes a hodge-podge of nationalisation plus Zemstvo-isation, plus private owner ship of land, but he does not indicate at all the different political circumstances in which this or that agrarian system would benefit (relatively) the proletariat. Indeed, in Point 3 of his draft Maslov demands the “confiscation” of church and other lands and their “transfer to the democratic state”. This is nationalisation pure and simple. Why, one may ask, did he make no reservation about the political circumstances that would make nationalisation innocuous in bourgeois society? Why did he not propose here Zemstvo-isation instead of nationalisation? Why did he choose a formulation that precludes the sale of the confiscated land?[6] Maslov has replied to none of these questions.

In proposing the nationalisation of church, monastery and crown lands, and yet arguing against nationalisation in general, Maslov defeats his own purpose. His arguments against nationalisation are partly incomplete and inexact, and partly very feeble. First argument: nationalisation encroaches on the self-determination of nationalities. The authorities in St. Petersburg should not control the land in Transcaucasia. This is not an argument, but a sheer misunderstanding. In the first place, our programme recognises the right of nationalities to self-determination, and there fore, Transcaucasia, too, “has a right” to self-determination by secession from St. Petersburg. Maslov does not object to the four points[12] on the ground that “Transcaucasia” may not agree, does he? In the second place, our programme recognises extensive local and regional self-government as a general principle, and so it is positively ridiculous to talk about “the St. Petersburg bureaucracy controlling the land of the mountaineers” (Maslov, p. 22). Thirdly, it is in any case the St. Petersburg constituent assembly that will have   to pass a law for the “Zemstvo-isation” of the land in Transcaucasia, for surely Maslov does not agree to any of the border territories having the right to preserve the landed estates. Consequently, Maslov’s whole argument falls to the ground.

Second argument: “Nationalisation of the land presupposes the transfer of all the land to the state. But will the peasants, and particularly the homestead peasants, voluntarily agree to transfer their land to anybody?” (Maslov, p. 20).

First, Maslov is juggling with words, or else is confusing terms. Nationalisation means transferring to the state the right of ownership of the land, the right to draw rent, but not the land itself. Nationalisation does not by any means imply that all the peasants will be forced to transfer their land to anyone at all. We will explain this to Maslov by the following example. The socialist revolution implies the transfer to the whole of society, not only of property in the land, but of the land itself as an object of economic activity; but does that mean that the socialists want to deprive the small peasants of their land against their will? No, not a single sensible socialist has ever proposed anything so stupid.

Does anybody think it is necessary to make a special reservation about this in the section of the socialist programme which deals with the substitution of public owner ship for private ownership of land? No, not a single Social-Democratic Party makes such a reservation. We have all the less reason to invent imaginary horrors about nationalisation. Nationalisation means transferring rent to the state. The majority of the peasants receive no rent from land. Consequently they will not have to pay anything when the land is nationalised; and the democratic peasant state (tacitly implied in Maslov’s vaguely formulated proposal for Zemstvo-isation) will in addition introduce a progressive income tax and reduce payments by the small proprietors. Nationalisation will facilitate the mobilisation of the land, but it does not in the least imply that the small peasants will be forcibly deprived of their land.

Secondly, if the argument against nationalisation hinges on the homestead peasants’ “voluntary consent”, then we ask Maslov: will the peasant proprietors “voluntarily consent”   to the “democratic state”—in which the peasants will be a force—only renting the best land, that is, the landlord, church and crown land, to them? Why, that would be just like saying to them: “You may own the bad, allotment land; as for the good, landed estates, you can only rent them. Black bread you may get free; for white bread, pay up in hard cash.” The peasants will never agree to this. One of two things, Comrade Maslov: either economic relations necessitate private ownership of land, and the latter is advantageous—in that case we must speak of dividing up, or confiscating altogether, the landed estates. Or nationalisation of all the land is possible and advantageous—in that case there is no need whatever to make any exception for the peasants. To combine nationalisation with provincialisation, and provincialisation with private ownership, is evidence of utter confusion. We can be quite sure that such a measure would be impracticable even if the democratic revolution achieved the most complete victory.


[1] See pp. 194-95 of this volume.—Ed.

[2] See present edition, Vol. 6, p. 439.—Ed.

[3] See Resolutions of the Congresses of the Peasant Union, August 1 and November 6, 1905, St. Petersburg, 1905, p. 6, and Minutes of the Inaugural Congress of the All-Russian Peasant Union (St. Petersburg, 1905), passim.—Lenin

[4] In his Dnevnik, No. 5, Comrade Plekhanov warns Russia not to repeat the experiments of Wang Hang-che (a Chinese reformer of the eleventh century who unsuccessfully introduced nationalisation of the land), and tries to show that the peasants’ idea of land nationalisation is of reactionary origin. The far-fetched nature of this argument is only too obvious. Truly, qui prouve trop, ne prouve rien (he who proves too much, proves nothing). If twentieth-century Russia could he compared with eleventh-century China, probably Plekhanov and I would hardly he talking either about the revolutionary-democratic character of the peasant movement or about capitalism in Russia. As for the reactionary origin (or character) of the peasants’ idea of land nationalisation, well, even the idea of a general redistribution of the land has undoubted features not only of a reactionary origin, but also of its reactionary character at the present time. There are reactionary elements in the whole peasant movement, and in the whole peasant ideology; but this by no means disproves the general revolutionary-democratic character of this movement as a whole. That being so, Comrade Plekhanov by his exceedingly far-fetched argument has not proved his thesis (that Social-Democrats cannot, in certain political conditions, put forward the demand for nationalisation of the land) and has, indeed, weakened it very considerably.—Lenin

[5] See present edition, Vol. 6, p. 452.—Ed.

[6] Cf. Lenin, “Reply to X.”, p. 27: “It would be wrong to say that, under all circumstances and at all times, the Social-Democrats will be opposed to the sale of the land.” (See present edition, Vol. 6, p. 439.—Ed.) It is both illogical and unwise to assume that private ownership of land has not been abolished, yet commit oneself against the sale of the land.—Lenin

[7] The symposium “The Present Situation” appeared in Moscow early in 1906. Compiled by the group of writers and lecturers under the Moscow Committee of the R.S.D.L.P., it expressed chiefly the Bolshevik point of view. It was confiscated shortly after its publication.

[8] Mir Bozhy (The Wide World; literally, God’s World)—a monthly literary and popular-scientific magazine, liberal in trend; it was published in St. Petersburg from 1892 to 1906. During the first Russian revolution its contributors were Mensheviks. In October 1906 it changed its title to Souremenny Mir (Contemporary World).

[9] Moskovskiye Vedomosti (Moscow Recorder)—a newspaper founded in 1756. From the 1860s onwards it expressed the ideas of the more   reactionary monarchist landlords and clergymen, and in 1905 it became an important mouthpiece of the Black Hundreds. During the first Russian revolution its editor was V. A. Gringmut, founder of the Black-Hundred “Russian Monarchist Party”. The paper was closed shortly after the October Revolution of 1917.

[10] Gringmut, V. A. (1851-1907)—Russian reactionary journalist, editor of the monarchist newspaper Moskovskiye Vedomosti from 1897 to 1907. During the revolution of 1905-07 he was one of the founders and leaders of the Black-Hundred “Union of the Russian People”.

[11] Kutler, N. N. (1859-1924)—tsarist statesman, member of the Second and Third Dumas, a prominent Cadet.

[12] The reference is to the democratic electoral system providing for universal, equal and direct suffrage by secret ballot.

  A Brief Historical Survey of the Evolution of Russian Social-Democratic Views on the Agrarian Question | Comrade Maslov’s Principal Mistake  

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