V. I.   Lenin

Draft for a Speech on the Agrarian Question in the Second State Duma

*     *

Now let us look at what Mr. Kutler actually did say about his party’s land bill.

In speaking of land, Mr. Kutler first raised objections to the Trudoviks on the question of the “subsistence standard” and on the question of whether land suffices. Mr. Kutler took the “1861 standard” which, he said, is lower than the subsistence standard and informed the Chamber that “according to his approximate calculation” (the Duma had not heard a word about this calculation and knows absolutely nothing about it!) even for the 1861 standard another 30 million dessiatines would be required.

I would remind you, gentlemen, that Deputy Kutler spoke after Karavayev, representative of the Trudovik Group, and raised the objection specifically to him. But Deputy Karavayev stated in the Duma, directly and explicitly, and then made it known to the public in a special letter to the newspaper Tovarishch (March 21), that up to 70 million dessiatines would be required to raise peasant holdings to the subsistence standard. He also said that the total of the state, crown, church and privately-owned lands comes to that figure.

Deputy Karavayev did not indicate the source from which he made his calculation and did not acquaint the Duma with the method employed to arrive at this figure. My calculation, based on a source that I can name exactly and which is, furthermore, the very latest official publication of the Central Statistical Committee, gives a figure that is higher than 70 million dessiatines. Of the privately-owned lands alone, 72 million dessiatines are available to the peasants, while the crown, state, church and other lands provide more than 10 million and up to 20 million dessiatines.

In any case, the fact remains—in raising objections to Deputy Karavayev, Deputy Kutler tried to prove that there is not sufficient land to help the peasants, but could not   prove it since he gave unsubstantiated, and, as I have shown, untrue figures.

In general I must warn you, gentlemen, against abuse of the concepts “labour standard”[3] and “subsistence standard”. Our Social-Democratic Labour Party takes the much more correct line of avoiding all these “standards”. “Standards” introduce something of officialdom, of red tape, into a vital and militant political question. These “standards” confuse people and hide the real nature of the issue. To transfer the dispute to these “standards” or even to discuss them at the present moment is truly a case of dividing up the skin before the bear is killed and, furthermore, dividing that skin up verbally in a gathering of people who will probably not divide up the skin at all when we kill the bear.

Don’t you worry, gentlemen! The peasants will divide up the land themselves once it falls into their hands. The peasants can easily divide it; the thing is to get hold of it. They will not ask anybody how to divide it, nor will they allow anybody to interfere with their division of the land.

All these speeches about how to divide the land are sheer empty talk. We are a political body, not a surveyor’s office or a boundary commission. We have to help the people solve an economic and political problem; we have to help the peasantry in their struggle against the landlords, against a class that lives by feudal exploitation. And this vital, urgent problem is befogged by chatter about “standards”.

Why befogged? Because, instead of the real question of whether or not 72 million dessiatines should be taken from the landowners for the peasantry, the extraneous question of “farming standards” is being discussed, a question that in the final analysis is by no means important. This facilitates evasion of the issue and makes it easy to avoid a real answer. Disputes on subsistence, on labour, or any other standards you like, only serve to confuse the basic issue: should we take 72 million dessiatines of the landlords’ land for the peasants, or not?

Attempts are being made to show whether there is sufficient or insufficient land for one standard or another.

What is this demonstrating for, gentlemen? Why these empty speeches, why this muddy water in which it is easy for some people to fish? Is it not clear enough that there is   no use arguing about that which does not exist, and that the peasants do not want any sort of imaginary land, but the land of the neighbouring landlord that they. are already familiar with? It is not about “standards” that we have to talk, but about landlords’ land, not about any of your standards and whether any of them is sufficient, but about how much landlords’ land there is. Everything else is nothing but evasion, excuses and even attempts to throw dust in the peasants’ eyes.

Deputy Kutler, for instance, avoided the real point at issue. Trudovik Karavayev at least went straight to the point: 70 million dessiatines. And how did Deputy Kutler answer that? He did not answer that point. He confused the issue with his “standards”, i.e., he simply avoided giving an answer to the question of whether he and his party agree to hand over all the landlords’ land to the peasants.

Deputy Kutler took advantage of Deputy Karavayev’s error in not having raised the question clearly and sharply enough, and avoided the point at issue. That, gentlemen, is the hub of our problem. Whoever does not agree to hand over literally all the landlords’ land to the peasants (remember, I made the proviso that each landowner be left with 50 dessiatines so that nobody would be ruined!) does not stand for the peasants and does not really want to help the peasants. For if you allow the question of all the landlords’ land to be befogged or shelved, the whole issue is in doubt. The question then arises—who will determine the share of the landlords’ land that is to be given to the peasants?

Who will decide it? Out of 79 million, 9 million is a “share” and so is 70 million. Who will decide it if we do not, if the State Duma does not decide it clearly and with determination?

It was not without reason that Deputy Kutler kept quiet on this question. Deputy Kutler toyed with the words “compulsory alienation”.

Don’t allow yourselves to be fascinated by words, gentlemen! Don’t fall under the spell of a pretty turn of phrase! Get to the bottom of things!

When I hear the expression “compulsory alienation”, I always ask myself: who is compelling whom? If millions of peasants compel a handful of landlords to submit to the interests of the nation, that is very good. If a handful of   landlords compel millions of peasants to subordinate their lives to the selfish interests of that handful, that is very bad.

That is the insignificant question that Deputy Kutler managed to evade! With his arguments about “impracticability” and “political conditions” he, in actual fact, was even calling on the people to reconcile themselves to their subordination to a handful of landlords.

Deputy Kutler spoke immediately after my comrade Tsereteli. Tsereteli, in the declaration of our Social-Democratic group, made two definite statements that provide a clear solution to precisely this problem, the main, fundamental problem. The first statement—the transfer of the land to a democratic state. “Democratic” means that which expresses the interests of the masses of the people, not of a handful of the privileged. We must tell the people, clearly and forthrightly, that without a democratic state, without political liberty, without a fully authoritative representation of the people, there cannot possibly be any land reform to the advantage of the peasants.

The second statement—the need for a preliminary discussion of the land question in equally democratic local committees.

How did Deputy Kutler answer that? He did not. Silence is a poor answer, Mr. Kutler. You kept silent precisely on the question of whether the peasants will compel the landlords to make concessions to the people’s interests, or whether the landlords will compel the peasants to put a fresh noose of more ruinous compensation round their necks.

You cannot be allowed to ignore such a question.

In addition to the Social-Democrat, the Popular Socialists (Deputy Baskin) and the Socialist-Revolutionaries (Deputy Kolokolnikov) spoke in the Duma on the subject of local committees. The local committees have been spoken of in the press for a long time, they were also spoken of in the First Duma. That is something we must not forget, gentlemen. We must make quite clear to ourselves and to the people why so much has been said on this question and what its present significance is.

The First State Duma discussed the question of local laud committees at its fifteenth session, May 26, 1906. The question was raised by members of the Trudovik Group, who   presented a written statement signed by thirty-five members of the Duma (including two Social-Democrats, I. Savelyev and I. Shuvalov). The statement was first read at the fourteenth session of the Duma on May 24, 1906 (see page 589 of the Verbatim Report of Sessions of the First State Duma); the statement was then printed and discussed two days later. I will read you the most important parts of the statement in full.

“...It is necessary to set up local committees immediately; they should be elected on the basis of universal, equal and direct suffrage, by secret ballot, for the needful preparatory work, such as—the elaboration of subsistence and labour standards of land tenure as applicable to local conditions, the determination of the amount of cultivable land and the amount of it that is rented, tilled with the farmer’s own or with other’s implements, etc. In view of the need to adapt the land law as fully as possible to the multiplicity of local conditions, it is advisable for the committees to take an active part in the general discussion on the very fundamentals of the land reform, detailed in the various bills submitted to the Duma....” The Trudoviks therefore proposed the immediate election of a commission and the immediate elaboration of the necessary bill.

How was this proposal greeted by the various parties? The Trudoviks and the Social-Democrats gave it unanimous support in their periodicals. The so-called “people’s freedom” party spoke categorically in its chief organ Rech, on May 25, 1906 (i.e., the day after the first reading of the Trudovik bill in the Duma), against the Trudovik bill. Rech said straight out that it feared that such land committees might “shift the solution of the agrarian problem to the Left”.[1]

“We shall try, insofar as it depends on us,” wrote Rech, “to preserve the official and specifically business character of the local land committees. And for the same reason,we believe that to choose the committees by universal suffrage would mean to prepare them, not for the peaceful solution of the land question on the spot, but for something very different. The guidance of the general direction to be taken by the reform   must remain in the hands of the state; representatives of state power, therefore, must have their places in the local committees, if not for purposes of making decisions, at least for the purpose of exercising control over the decisions of local bodies. Then, again within the general fundamentals of the reform, there must be represented in the local committees, as far as possible on an equal footing, those conflicting interests that can be reconciled without contravening the state significance of the reform in question, and without converting it into an act of unilateral violence that might end in the complete failure of the whole matter.”

This is quite clear and definite.

The “people’s freedom” party gives an estimate of the proposed measure in substance, and opposes it. The party does not want local committees elected by universal, direct, equal and secret ballot, but committees in which a handful of landlords amid thousands and tens of thousands of peasants would have equal representation. Representatives of state power should participate for reasons of “control”.

Let the peasant deputies give good thought to this statement. Let them realise the essence of the matter, and explain it to the peasants.

Try to get a picture, gentlemen, of what it really means. In the local committees landlords and peasants are represented on an equal footing, and there is a representative of the government to exercise control, to “reconcile” them. That means one-third of time votes for the peasants, one-third for the landlords, and one-third for government representatives. And the highest state dignitaries, all those who have control over state affairs, are themselves among the wealthiest landowners! In this way time landlords will “exercise control over” both the peasants and the landlords! Landowners will “reconcile” peasants and landowners!

Oh yes, there would no doubt be “compulsory alienation”— compulsory alienation of the peasants’ money and labour by the landlords, in exactly the same way as the landlords’ gubernia committees in 1861 cut off one-fifth of the peasants’ land and imposed a price for the land that was double its real value.

An agrarian reform of this type would mean nothing more than selling to the peasants, at exorbitant prices, the worst   lands and those that the landlords do not need, in order to place the peasants in still greater bondage. “Compulsory alienation” of this sort is far worse than a voluntary agreement between landlord and peasant, because one half of the votes would go to the peasants and the other half to the landlords in the case of a voluntary agreement. According to the Cadet idea of compulsory alienation the peasants would have one-third of the votes and the landlords two-thirds—one-third because they are landlords and another third because they are government officials!

Nikolai Gavrilovich Chernyshevsky, the great Russian writer and one of Russia’s first socialists, who was brutally persecuted by the government till his dying day, wrote the following about the “emancipation” of the peasants and the land redemption payments of 1861 of accursed memory: it would have been better for the peasants and landlords to come to a voluntary agreement than to be “emancipated and pay redemption fees for the land” through the gubernia landlords’ committees.[2] In the case of a voluntary agreement on the purchase of land it would not have been possible to extract as much from the peasants as has been extracted by means of the government’s “reconciliation” of peasants and landlords.

The great Russian socialist proved to be right. Today, forty-six years after the famous “emancipation with redemption payments”, we know the results of that redemption operation. The market price of the land that went to the peasants was 648,000,000 rubles, and the peasants were forced to pay 867,000,000 rubles, 219,000,000 rubles more than the land was worth. For half a century the peasants have suffered, have languished in hunger, and have died on those land allotments, weighted down by such payments, oppressed by the government’s “reconciliation” of peasants and landlords— until the peasantry has been reduced to its present in tolerable condition.

The Russian liberals want to repeat this sort of “reconciliation” of peasants and landlords. Beware, peasants! The workers’ Social-Democratic Party warns you—decades of   new torment, hunger, bondage, degradation and abuse are what you will inflict on the people if you agree to this sort of “reconciliation”.

The question of local committees and redemption payments constitutes the keypoint of the agrarian problem. Every care must be taken to ensure that here there should be no obscurity, that nothing should be left unsaid, and that there is no beating about the bush, and no provisos.

When this question was discussed in the First State Duma on May 26, 1906, Cadets Kokoshkin and Kotlyarevsky, who spoke against the Trudoviks, confined themselves to provisos and beating about the bush. They kept harping on the fact that the Duma could not immediately decree such commit tees, although nobody had proposed any such decrees! They said that the question was bound up with a reform of the election law and local self-government; that is, they simply delayed the important and simple matter of setting up local committees to help the Duma solve the agrarian problem. They spoke of the “distortion of the course of legislation”, of the danger of creating “eighty or ninety local Dumas” and said that “actually there was no need to set up such bodies as local committees”, etc., etc.

All these are nothing but excuses, gentlemen, one long evasion of a question that the Duma must decide clearly and definitely: will a democratic government have to solve the agrarian problem, or should the present government? Should the peasants, i.e., the majority of the population, predominate in the local land committees, or should the landlords? Should a handful of landlords submit to the mil lions of the people, or should millions of working people submit to a handful of landlords?

And don’t try to tell me that the Duma is impotent, helpless and without the necessary powers. I know all that very well. I would willingly agree to repeat that and under score it in any Duma resolution, statement or declaration. The rights of the Duma, however, do not enter into the present question, for none of us has even thought of making the slightest suggestion that would contravene the law on the rights of the Duma. The matter in hand is this—the Duma must clearly, definitely and, most important of all,   correctly express the real interests of the people, must tell them the truth about the solution of the agrarian problem, and must open the eyes of the peasantry so that they recognise the snags lying in the way of a solution to the land problem.

The will of the Duma, of course, is still not law, that I am well aware of! But let anybody who likes do the job of limiting the Duma’s will or gagging it—except the Duma itself! And the Duma’s decision, of course, will meet with every known type of counteraction, but that will never he a justification for those who beforehand begin to twist and turn, how and scrape, adapt themselves to the will of others, and make the decision of the people’s representatives fit in with the wishes of just anybody.

In the final analysis, it is not the Duma, of course, that will decide the agrarian question, and the decisive act in the peasants’ struggle for land will not be fought out in the Duma. If we really wish to be representatives of the people, and not liberal civil servants; if we really want to serve the interests of the people and the interests of liberty, we can and must help the people by explaining the question, by formulating it clearly, by telling them the whole truth with no equivocation and no beating about the bush.

To be of real help to the people, the Duma decision must give the clearest possible answer to the three basic aspects of the land problem that I set forth in my speech, and which Deputy Kutler evaded and confused.

Question number one—that of the 79,000,000 dessiatines of landlords’ land and of the need to transfer no less than 70,000,000 of them to the peasants.

Question number two—compensation. The land reform will be of some real advantage to the peasants only if they obtain it without paying compensation. Compensation would be a fresh noose around the neck of the peasant and would be an unbearably heavy burden on the whole of Russia’s future development.

Question number three—that of the democratic state system that is necessary to implement the agrarian reform, including, in particular, local land committees, elected by universal, direct, equal and secret ballot. Without it the land reform will mean compelling the peasant masses to enter   into bondage to the landlords, and not compelling a handful of landlords to meet the urgent demands of the whole people.

I said at the beginning of my speech that Mr. Vasilchikov, the Minister of Agriculture, was reconciling the “Rights” and the “Cadets”. Now that I have made clear the significance of the question of 70,000,000 dessiatines of landlords’ land, of compensation and, most important of all, of the composition of the local land committees, it will be sufficient for me to quote one passage from the minister’s speech:

“Taking this stand,” said the minister, referring to the “inviolability of the boundaries” of landed property and the “shifting” of them only “in the interests of the state”— “taking this stand, and admitting the possibility of the compulsory shifting of boundaries in certain cases, we believe that we are not shaking ... the basic principles of private property....

Have you given proper consideration to these significant words of the minister’s, gentlemen? They are worth pondering over.... You must ponder over them.... Mr. Kutler fully convinced the minister that there is nothing inconvenient for the landlords in the word “compulsory Why not? Because it is the landlords themselves who will do the compelling!


[1] See newspaper Vperyod,[4] No. I for May 26, 1906; leading article—“The Cadets Are Betraying the Peasants”, signed: G. Al—sky.—Lenin

[2] It would be a good thing to find the exact quotation; I think it is from “Letters Unaddressed”, and elsewhere.[5]Lenin

[3] The labour standard was the measure of the amount of land each peasant household should receive under an equalitarian system of land distribution. This utopian ideal had a long history in Russia and was strongly supported by the various Narodnik groups and parties that emerged in the latter half of the nineteenth century after the emancipation of the serfs. The “labour standard” implied the allotment to each peasant household of the maximum amount of land its members could farm without employing hired labour. It was proposed in opposition to the “standard of 1801”, i.e., the amount of land actually allotted to the peasants at the time of the Reform which in many cases was far from sufficient even to feed the peasant and his family so that he had to seek “outside employments” (for details of this feature of Russian peasant life see Volume Three of this edition, “The Development of Capitalism in Russia”). The third standard mentioned in this article is the “subsistence standard”, i.e., the minimum amount of land that would feed the peasant and his family. Needless to say this standard was far below the “labour standard”.

[4] Vperyod (Forward)—a legal Bolshevik daily newspaper published in St. Petersburg from May 26 (Jane 8), 1906, in place of Volna, which had been suppressed by the government, and in continuation of Volna. Lenin played a leading role in the publication of the paper; other active collaborators were M. S. Olminsky, V. V. Vorovsky, and A. V. Lunacharsky. The newspaper carried fifteen articles by Lenin.

Vperyod was subjected to constant persecution; ten of the seventeen issues were sequestered. The Bolsheviks countered police persecution by making preparations to issue their legal newspaper under another name in the event of its being closed down. On June 2 (15) a notice was printed in Vperyod to the effect that the daily workers’ newspaper Ekho would shortly begin publication in St. Petersburg. This notice was printed in each issue until the paper was banned. The publication of Vperyod ceased on June 14 (27), 1906, by order of the St. Petersburg City Court, and Ekho began to appear in its stead.

[5] Lenin is referring to a passage in N. G. Chernyshevsky’s novel Prologue, where the hero, Volgin, replies to the statement that there is a tremendous difference between the Progressists and the landowners’ party. “No,” lie says, “not tremendous, but insignificant. It would he tremendous if the peasants obtained the land without redemption payments. There is a difference between taking a thing from a man and leaving it with him but if you take payment from him it is all the same. The only difference between the plan of the landlords’ party and that of the Progressists is that the former is simpler and shorter. That is why it is even better. Less red tape and, in all probability, less of a burden on the peasants. Those peasants who have money will buy land. As to those who have none—there’s no use compelling them to buy it. It will only ruin them. Redemption is nothing but purchase”. Lenin quotes this passage in his “What the ’Friends of the People’ Are and How They Fight the Social-Democrats” (see present edition, Vol. 1, p. 281).

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