V. I.   Lenin

The Unity Congress of the R.S.D.L.P.

April 10 (23)-April 25 (May 8), 1906



Speech in Reply to the Debate on the Agrarian Question[1]

I advance two main theses: (1) the peasants will never agree to municipalisation; (2) without a democratic republic, with out the fully guaranteed sovereignty of the people and with out the election of government officials, municipalisation would be harmful. In developing these theses, I will first deal with the more serious objections raised against nationalisation. Undoubtedly, the most important objection is the one raised by Comrade Plekhanov. Comrade Plekhanov said literally the following, I took down his words: “We can not under any circumstances be in favour of nationalisation.” This is a mistake. I venture to assert that if a peasant revolution is really brought about in Russia, and if the political revolution that will accompany it reaches the point of creating a really democratic republic, Comrade Plekhanov will consider it possible to support nationalisation; and if a democratic republic is really brought about in Russia in the forthcoming revolution, then not only the Russian but the entire international situation of the movement will push things towards nationalisation. But if this condition does not arise, municipalisation will still prove to be a fiction; in those circumstances it can be carried out only as possibly a new form of compensation. Comrade John[2] uses the term alienation instead of confiscation, and, as was evident from his speech, he did not choose this term by chance. Yet it is a purely Cadet term: it can be taken to mean anything you please, and the compensation scheme proposed by the Cadets fits in with it completely. To go on. “What guarantee is there against restoration?” asked Comrade Plekhanov. I don’t think this question has any close and inseparable bearing on the programme we are discussing; but since it has been raised, a definite and unambiguous answer must be given to it. If we mean a real, fully effective, economic guarantee against restoration, that is, a guarantee that would create the economic conditions precluding restoration, then we shall have to say: the only guarantee against restoration is a socialist revolution in the West. There can be no other guarantee in the real and full sense of the term. Without this condition, in which ever other way the problem is solved (municipalisation, division of the land, etc.), restoration will be not only possible, but positively inevitable. I would formulate this proposition as follows: the Russian revolution can achieve victory by its own efforts, but it cannot possibly hold and consolidate its gains by its own strength. It cannot do this unless there is a socialist revolution in the West. Without this condition restoration is inevitable, whether we have municipalisation, or nationalisation, or division of the land: for under each and every form of possession and property the small proprietor will always be a bulwark of restoration. After the complete victory of the democratic revolution the small proprietor will inevitably turn against the proletariat; and the sooner the common enemies of the proletariat and of the small proprietors, such as the capitalists, the landlords, the financial bourgeoisie, and so forth are overthrown, the sooner will this happen. Our democratic republic has no other re serve than the socialist proletariat in the West. And in this connection we must not lose sight of the fact that the classical bourgeois revolution in Europe, namely, the Great French Revolution of the eighteenth century, took place in an international situation that was entirely different from the one in which the Russian revolution is taking place. France at the end of the eighteenth century was surrounded by feudal and semi-feudal states. Russia in the twentieth century, accomplishing her bourgeois revolution, is surround ed by countries in which the socialist proletariat stands fully prepared on the eve of the final battle with the bourgeoisie. If such relatively insignificant events as the tsar’s promise of freedom in Russia on October 17 gave the powerful impetus it did to the proletarian movement in Western Europe, if a telegram from St. Petersburg announcing the issue of the   notorious Constitutional Manifesto was sufficient to make the Austrian workers pour into the streets, to lead to a number of demonstrations and collisions with the troops in the largest industrial towns of Austria, you can imagine what the international socialist proletariat will do when it receives news from Russia, not of promises of freedom, but of its actual achievement, and the complete victory of the revolutionary peasantry. If, however, the question of a guarantee against restoration is put on a different basis, that is, if we mean a conditional and relative guarantee against restoration, then we shall have to say: the only conditional and relative guarantee against restoration is that the revolution should be effected in the most drastic manner possible, effected by the revolutionary class directly, with the least possible participation of go-betweens, compromisers and all sorts of conciliators; that this revolution should really be carried to the end. In this respect, my draft provides the maximum as regards guarantees against restoration.

My draft proposes the formation of peasant committees as the direct levers of the revolutionary peasant movement, and as the most desirable form of that movement. Translated into simple language, peasant committees mean calling upon the peasants to set to work immediately and directly to settle accounts with the government officials and the land lords in the most drastic manner. Peasant committees mean calling upon the people who are being oppressed by the survivals of serfdom and the police regime to eradicate these survivals “in a plebeian manner”,[3] as Marx put it. Comrade Plekhanov thinks that this premise of a revolution carried to the end, of a revolution which introduces the election of government officials by the people, is reminiscent of anarchism, which is abhorrent to him, just as to all of us, of course. But it is extremely strange that the question of the people electing the government officials should remind anyone of anarchism, or should, at a time like the present, bring a smile to the lips of any Social-Democrat, except Bernstein, perhaps. It is at the present time that this slogan—the election of government officials by the people—assumes direct and immense practical significance. All our activity, our propaganda and agitation among the masses of the peasantry should consist largely in propagating, spreading and   explaining this slogan. To advocate a peasant revolution, to speak of an agrarian revolution at all seriously,, and at the same time to say nothing about the need for real democracy, which, among other things, includes the election of government officials by the people, is a crying contradiction. This reproach about anarchism in this connection only reminds me of the German Bernsteinians who not long ago, in controversy with Kautsky, accused him of advocating anarchism.

We must plainly and definitely say to the peasants: if you want to carry the agrarian revolution to the end, you must also carry the political revolution to the end; for unless the political revolution is carried to the end there will be no durable agrarian revolution, and perhaps none at all. Without a complete democratic revolution, without the election of government officials by the people, we shall have either peasant disturbances, or Cadet agrarian reforms. We shall not have what would deserve the lofty title used by Plekhanov—a peasant revolution. To go on. Municipalisation provides a wide arena for the class struggle, said Plekhanov. I have tried to use his own words as nearly as possible, and I must say emphatically that what he says is definitely wrong. It is wrong both in the political and in the economic sense. Other things being equal, a municipality and municipal landownership undoubtedly allow a narrower arena for the class struggle than the whole nation, and the nationalisation of the land. In a democratic republic, nationalisation of the land would undoubtedly provide the widest field for the class struggle—the widest field possible and thinkable under capitalism. Nationalisation means the abolition of absolute rent, a reduction in the price of grain, the maximum freedom for competition and the free penetration of capital into agriculture. Municipalisation, on the contrary, narrows the field of the nation-wide class struggle, for it does not free all production relations in agriculture from absolute rent, and it cuts up our general demands into particular demands. At all events, municipalisation obscures the class struggle. From this point of view, only one answer can be given to Comrade Plekhanov’s question. From this point of view municipalisation does not hold water. Municipalisation means narrowing and obscuring the class struggle.

Plekhanov’s next objection concerns the question of seizing power. He perceives in my draft o.f the agrarian programme the idea of seizing power. I must admit that my draft does, indeed, contain the idea of the seizure of power by the revolutionary peasantry; but it is a great mistake to put this on a par with the Narodnaya Volya[4] idea of seizing power. In the 1870s and 1880s, when the idea of seizing power was fostered by the Narodnaya Volya, the latter consisted of a group of intellectuals, and there was no really mass revolutionary movement of any extent to speak of. Seizure of power was the desire, or the phrase of a handful of intellectuals, but not the inevitable next step of an already developing mass movement. Now, after October, November and December 1905, after the broad masses of the working class, the semi-proletarian elements and the peasantry have shown the world forms of the revolutionary movement such as have not been witnessed for a long time; after we have had the struggle of the revolutionary people for power flaring up in Moscow, in the South and in the Baltic Provinces, to put the idea of the revolutionary people winning political power on a par with the ideas of the Narodnaya Volya means being fully twenty-five years behind the times, means striking out a whole vast period of Russian history. Plekhanov said we must not be afraid of an agrarian revolution. But this fear that the revolutionary peasantry will win power is fear of an agrarian revolution. Agrarian revolution is an empty phrase if its victory does not presuppose the winning of power by the revolutionary people. Without this latter condition, it will not be an agrarian revolution but a peasant revolt, or a Cadet agrarian reform. In concluding the examination of this point, I should like to remind you that even the resolution of the comrades of the Minority, published in the second issue of Partiiniye Izvestia, says that we are already being confronted with the task of wresting power from the government.

Comrade Plekhanov thinks that the expression “the creative activity of the people”, which I don’t think you will find in our resolutions, but which, if we are to trust Comrade Plekhanov’s memory, I used in my speech, is reminiscent of old acquaintances—the Narodnaya Volya and the Socialist-Revolutionaries. I think that this recollection of   Comrade Plekhanov’s is also twenty-five years behind the times. Recall what happened in Russia in the last quarter of 1905—strikes, Soviets of Workers’ Deputies, insurrections, peasant committees, railwaymen’s committees, and so forth. All this shows that the popular movement was passing into the form of insurrection, and these bodies were undoubtedly rudimentary organs of revolutionary authority. And what I said about the creative activity of the people had a very definite and concrete meaning: it referred precisely to these historic days of the Russian revolution, and it characterised this method of fighting not only against the old regime, but by means of a revolutionary authority, a method employed for the first time by the broad masses of the Russian workers and peasants in the famous October and December days. If our revolution has been buried, then so have these rudimentary forms of the revolutionary authority of the peasants and workers. But if your reference to a peasant revolution is not a mere phrase, if we have a real agrarian revolution in the true sense of the word, then we shall undoubtedly see a repetition of the October and December events on a much greater scale. A revolutionary authority, not of intellectuals, not of a group of conspirators, but of the workers and peasants, has already existed in Russia, has already been put into effect in the course of our revolution. It was crushed by the triumph of reaction; but if there are real grounds for our conviction that the revolution will revive, then we must also anticipate the inevitable revival, development and success of new organs of revolutionary authority that will be even more resolute and more closely connected with the peasantry and the proletariat than the preceding ones. Hence, by raising this battered and ridiculous bogy of the Narodnaya Volya, Plekhanov has merely dodged the task of analysing the October and December forms of the movement.

Lastly, let us examine the question whether my programme is flexible and “well shod on all four hoofs”. I think that in this respect, too, my agrarian programme is more satisfactory than all the others. What if things go badly with the revolution? What if it turns out to be impossible to carry through to the end our democratic revolution unless all the “ifs” I have put in my draft are met? In that case, we shall certainly have to reckon with the conditions of   peasant farming and of peasant land tenure that already exist. In this connection I will mention the extremely important factor of rented land. If we can conceive of things going badly with the revolution, of it not being carried through to the end, we must undoubtedly reckon with the existence and persistence of this factor. And in my draft, the Party’s tasks in the event of this worst contingency arising, in the event of all the allegedly utopian “ifs” being absent, are formulated more fully, more precisely and much more soberly than in Comrade Maslov’s draft. Thus my programme provides practical slogans both for the present conditions of peas ant farming and peasant land tenure, and for the contingency that capitalism will have the best possible prospects of development. Comrade John tried to be witty and said that my programme contains too many programmes, that it provides for both confiscation and the renting of land, and that the one precludes the other. But his joke fell flat, because confiscation of the landed estates does not preclude the renting of land: this takes place on the peasants’ land as well. Hence Comrade Plekhanov was particularly wrong when he advanced his particularly slashing argument against me. He implied that it was easy to draw up a programme for the contingency that everything will go off splendidly. Anybody can draw up a programme like that; but try to draw up a programme for the contingency that the best conditions don’t exist. In answer to this argument, I assert that it is precisely having in view the contingency of the worst possible course or outcome of our revolution that my programme is particularly realistic and particularly “well shod”, for it speaks of the confiscation of the landed estates and makes provision for questions such as that of renting land. But Comrade John’s draft, which says nothing about these worst conditions, that is, about the absence of complete political democracy, merely provides for municipalisation; and municipalisation without the election of government officials by the people, without the abolition of the standing army, and so forth, is as dangerous as nationalisation, and even more so. That is why I insist on retaining all the “ifs” that Plekhanov has so unjustly condemned.

And so, the peasants will not accept municipalisation. Comrade Kartvelov[5] said that in the Caucasus the peasants   are fully in agreement with the Socialist-Revolutionaries, but they ask whether they will have the right to sell the land they obtain as a result of division, or of socialisation. Quite right, Comrade Kartvelov! Your observations fully coincide with the peasants’ interests in general, and with the peasants’ conception of their interests. But it is precisely because the peasants regard every agrarian reform from the point of view of whether they will have the right to sell the extra land they obtain that they will undoubtedly be opposed to municipalisation, or Zemstvo-isation. The peasants still confuse the Zemstvo with the rural superintendent, and they have much more reason to do so than is assumed by the haughty Cadet professors of law who scoff at the ignorance of the peasants. That is why, before speaking about municipal isation, it is necessary, absolutely necessary, to speak about the election of government officials by the people. At present, however, until this democratic demand is carried out, it is appropriate to speak only of confiscation in general, or of division of the land. That is why, to simplify matters for the Congress on this fundamental question, I propose the following: as Comrade Borisov’s[6] programme has a number of features in common with mine and is based on the principle of division and not of nationalisation, I withdraw my programme and leave it to the Congress to express its opinion on the question of division or municipalisation. If you reject division—or perhaps it would be more correct to say “when” you reject division—I, of course, shall have to withdraw my draft for good, as hopeless. If, however, you accept division, I will submit my programme in its entirety as an amendment to Comrade Borisov’s draft. I would also remind you, in reply to the reproach that I want to foist nationalisation on the peasants, that my programme contains “Variant A”, which expressly speaks of removing any idea of foisting anything upon the peasants against their will. Hence the substitution of Borisov’s draft for mine in the preliminary voting will not affect the substance of the matter in the least, and will only make it easier and simpler for us to as certain what the Congress really wants. In my opinion, municipalisation is wrong and harmful; division is wrong, but not harmful.

I will refer briefly to the difference between the two.   The “divisionists” rightly interpret the facts, but they have forgotten what Marx said about the old materialism: “The materialists interpreted the world; the point, however, is not only to interpret the world, but to change it.”[7] The peasant says: “The land is God’s, the land is the people’s, the land is nobody’s.” The “divisionists” tell us that the peasant says this without realising what he is saying; that he says one thing and means another. All that the peasants are really striving for, they tell us, is additional land; they want to enlarge their small farms, and no more. All this is quite true. But our disagreement with the “divisionists” does not end here, it only begins. We must use what the peasants say, even if it is economically unsound or meaningless, as a hook for our propaganda. We must say to them: You say that everybody ought to have the right to use the land? You want to transfer the land to the people? Excellent! But what does transferring the land to the people mean? Who controls the people’s wealth and the people’s property? The government officials, the Trepovs. Do you want to transfer the land to Trepov and to the government officials? No. Every peasant will say that it is not to them that he wants to transfer the land. Do you want to transfer the land to the Petrunkeviches and Rodichevs,[8] who, perhaps, will sit on the municipal councils? No. The peasant will certainly not want to transfer the land to these gentle men. Hence—we will explain to the peasants—if the land is to be transferred to the whole people in a way that will benefit the peasants, it is necessary to ensure that all government officials without exception are elected by the people. Hence my proposal for nationalisation, with the proviso that a democratic republic is fully guaranteed, suggests the right line of conduct to our propagandists and agitators; for it clearly and vividly shows them that discussion of the agrarian demands of the peasantry should serve as a basis for political propaganda in general, and for propaganda in favour of a republic in particular. For example, the peasant Mishin, who was elected to the Duma by the Stavropol peasants, brought with him an instruction from his electors which has been published in full in Russkoye Gosudarstvo.[9] In this instruction, the peasants demand the abolition of Zemstvo officials, the erection of elevators, and the transfer of all the   land to the state. This last demand is undoubtedly a reactionary prejudice, for in constitutional Russia today and tomorrow the state is and will be a police and military despotism. But we must not simply reject this demand as a harmful prejudice; we must “hook on” to it in order to explain to Mishin and his like how things really stand. We must tell Mishin and his like that. the demand for the transfer of the land to the state expresses, although very badly, an idea that is extremely important and useful for the peasants. The transfer of the land to the state can and will be very useful for the peasants only when the state becomes a fully democratic republic, when all government officials are elected by the people, when the standing army is abolished, and so forth. For all these reasons I think that if you reject nationalisation, you will cause our practical workers, our propagandists and agitators, to make the same mistakes as we brought about by our mistaken demand for restitution of the cut-off lands in our programme of 1903. Just as our demand for the restitution of the cut-off lands was interpreted in a narrower sense than it was meant by its authors, so now rejection of nationalisation and its replacement by the demand for division, to say nothing of the utterly con fused demand for municipalisation, will inevitably lead to so many mistakes by our practical workers, our propagandists and agitators, that very soon we shall regret having adopted the “division” or the municipalisation programme.

I will conclude by repeating my two main theses: first, the peasants will never agree to municipalisation; secondly, without a democratic republic, without the election of govern ment officials by the people, municipalisation would be harmful.



[1] Lenin’s report on the agrarian question at the Fourth (Unity) Congress of the Party was not recorded in the Congress minutes and has so far not been found. Nor is there in the Congress minutes, edited chiefly by Mensheviks, any record of Lenin’s report on the current situation or of his speech in reply to the debate on the attitude to the Duma. His speeches on other questions were not recorded In full in the minutes.

[2] John—the Menshevik P. P. Maslov.

[3] Lenin is referring to the following passage in Marx’s article published in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, N6. 169, on December 15, 1848: “The whole French terrorism was nothing but a plebeian manner of settling accounts with the enemies of the bourgeoisie, with absolutism, feudalism and philistinism.” (Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. I, Moscow, 1958, p. 67.)

[4] Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will)—a secret political organisation of Narodnik terrorists, came into being in August 1879 as a result of a split in the Narodnik organisation known as Zemlya i Volya (Land and Freedom). The Narodnaya Volya was headed by an Executive Committee made up of A. I. Zhelyabov, A. D. Mikhailov, M. F. Frolenko, N. A. Morozov, V. N. Figner, S. L. Perovskaya, A. A. Kwiatkowski and others. While upholding the views of Narodnik utopian socialism, its members began a political struggle above all with the aim of overthrowing the autocracy and winning political freedom. Their programme envisaged the organisation of a “permanent people’s representative assembly” elected by universal suffrage, the proclamation of democratic freedoms, the transfer of the land to the people, and the elaboration of measures for the transfer of the factories to the workers. “The Narodnaya Volya members made a step forward when they took up the political struggle, but they failed to connect it with socialism,” wrote Lenin (present edition, Vol. 8, p. 72).

The Narodnaya Volya fought heroically against the tsarist autocracy. However, proceeding from the fallacious theory of “active” heroes and a “passive” crowd, they expected to bring about the reorganisation of society by their own efforts—through individual terrorism, through intimidation and disorganisation of the government—without the participation of the people. After March 1, 1881, when Alexander II was assassinated, the government routed the Narodnaya Volya through cruel reprisals, including executions. Throughout the eighties members of the Narodnaya Volya made fruitless attempts to revive their organisation. In 1886, for exam pie, a group was formed under the leadership of A. I. Ulyanov (a brother of Lenin’s) and P. Y. Shevyryov, which shared the traditions of the Narodnaya Volya. In 1887, following an abortive at tempt to organise the assassination of Alexander III, the group was discovered, and its more active members were put to death.

Lenin, while criticising the erroneous, utopian programme of the Narodnaya Volya, spoke very highly of the selfless struggle which its members waged against tsarism, as well as of their secrecy techniques and strictly centralised organisation.

[5] Kartvelov—N. G. Chichinadze, a Caucasian Menshevik.

[6] Borisov—S. A. Suvorov, who at the Fourth (Unity) Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. adhered to the Bolsheviks.

[7] Lenin is quoting Karl Marx’s “Theses on Feuerbach” (see Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. II, Moscow, 1958, p. 405).

[8] Petrunkevich, I. I., and Rodichev, F. I.—landlords, prominent Cadets and Zemstvo officials.

[9] Russkoye Gosudarstvo (The Russian State)—a government newspaper published in St. Petersburg from February 1 (14) to May 15 (28), 1906.

  | Speech in Reply to the Debate on the Present Situation and the Class Tasks of the Proletariat  

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