V. I.   Lenin

The Agrarian Programme of Social-Democracy in the First Russian Revolution, 1905-1907


8. The Mistake Made by M. Shanin and Other Advocates of Division

M. Shanin, approaching the question in his pamphlet[1] from a somewhat different angle, involuntarily provided another argument for the nationalisation which he detests so much. By citing the example of Ireland, by his analysis of the conditions of bourgeois reform in the domain of agriculture, M. Shanin has proved only one thing, viz., that the principles of private ownership of the land are incompatible with public or state ownership of the land (but that incompatibility has to be proved also by a general theoretical analysis, of which Shanin did not even think). If he has proved anything else it is that private ownership must be recognised wherever the state carries out any reforms in the sphere of agriculture developing on capitalist lines. But all these arguments of Shanin’s are wide of the mark: of course, under the conditions of bourgeois reform only private ownership of land is conceivable; of course, the preservation of private ownership of the bulk of the land in the United Kingdom left no other way open for part   of it than private ownership. But what has that to do with the “peasant agrarian revolution” in Russia? M. Shanin has pointed out the correct path, if you like, but it is the correct path of a Stolypin agrarian reform, and not of a peasant agrarian revolution.[2] The difference between the two ways is entirely lost upon M. Shanin, and yet unless this difference is clearly realised, it is ridiculous, to talk about a Social-Democratic agrarian programme in the Russian revolution. And when M. Shanin, prompted, of course, by the very best motives, defends confiscation against redemption payments, he loses all sense of historical perspective. He forgets that in bourgeois society confiscation, i.e., expropriation without compensation, is as utterly incompatible with reform as land nationalisation. To speak of confiscation while admitting the possibility of a reformist and not a revolutionary solution of the agrarian question is like petitioning Stolypin to abolish landlordism.

Another aspect of Shanin’s pamphlet is its heavy emphasis on the agricultural character of our agrarian crisis, on the absolute necessity of adopting higher forms of economy, of improving agricultural technique, which is so incredibly backward in Russia, and so forth. Shanin elaborates these correct theses in such an incredibly one-bided fashion, and he so completely ignores the abolition of the feudal latifundia and the changing of agrarian relationships as a condition for that technical revolution, that an utterly   false perspective is drawn. For Stolypin’s agrarian reform too leads to technical,progress in agriculture, and does so in a correct way from the standpoint of the landlords’ interests. The forcible break-up of the village communes by the laws of November 9, 1906, etc., the setting up of khutors and the subsidising of otrubs, are not a mirage, as frivolous, prattling democratic journalists sometimes declare them to be; they are tile realities of economic progress based on the preservation of the power and interests of the landlords. It is an incredibly slow and incredibly painful road for the broad masses of the peasantry and for the proletariat, but it is the only possible road for capitalist Russia if the peasant agrarian revolution is not victorious.

Look at the question which Shanin raises from the stand point of such a revolution. Modern agricultural technique demands that all the conditions of the ancient, conservative, barbarous, ignorant, and pauper methods of economy on peasant allotments be transformed. The three-field system, the primitive implements, the patriarchal impecuniosity of the tiller, the routine methods of stock-breeding amid crass naïve ignorance of the conditions amid requirements of the market must all be thrown overboard. Well, then, is such a revolutionising of agriculture possible if the old system of landownership is preserved? The division of the land among the present allotment owners would mean preserving half[3] of the medieval system of landownership. Division of the land might be progressive if it consolidated modern farming, modern agricultural methods, and scrapped the old. But division cannot give an impetus to modern agricultural methods if it is based on the old system of allotment ownership. Comrade Borisov,[5] an advocate of division, said in Stockholm: “Our agrarian programme is a programme for the period of developing revolution, the period of the break-up of the old order and the organisation of a new social-political   order. That is its fundamental idea. Social-Democracy must not bind itself by decisions which pledge it to support any particular form of economy. In this struggle of the new social forces against the foundations of the old order, it is necessary to cut the tangled knot with a decisive stroke” (p. 125 of the Minutes). All that is quite true and splendidly stated. And it all speaks in favour of nationalisation, because the latter alone really “breaks up” the old medieval system of landownership, really cuts the tangled knot, and allows full freedom for the new farms to develop on the nationalised land.

The question arises by what criterion are we to deter mine whether the new system of agriculture has already developed sufficiently to have the division of the land adapt ed to it, and not to have a division that will perpetuate the old obstacles to the new farming? There can be but one criterion, that of practice. No statistics in the world can assess whether the elements of a peasant bourgeoisie in a given country have “hardened” sufficiently to enable the system of landownership to be adapted to the system of farming. This can be assessed only by the mass of the farmers themselves. The impossibility of assessing this at the present moment has been proved by the fact that the mass of the peasants have come forward in our revolution with a programme of land nationalisation. The small farmer, at all times and throughout the world, becomes so attached to his farm (if it really is his farm and not a piece of the landlord’s estate let out on labour-service, as is frequently the case in Russia) that his “fanatical” defence of private ownership of the land is inevitable at a certain historical period and for a certain space of time. If in the present epoch the mass of the Russian peasants are not displaying the fanaticism of private property owners (a fanaticism which is fostered by all the ruling classes, by all the liberal-bourgeois politicians), but are putting forward a widespread and firmly held demand for the nationalisation of the land, it would be childishness or stupid pedantry to attribute it to the influence of the publicists of Russkoye Bogatstvo[6] or Mr. Chernov’s pamphlets. It is due to the fact that the real conditions of life of the small cultivator, of the small farmer in the village, confront him with the economic problem,   not of consolidating the new agriculture, which has already taken shape, by means of dividing the land as private property, hut of clearing the ground for the creation of a new agriculture (out of the existing elements) upon “free”, i. e., nationalised, land. The fanaticism of the private property owner can and should assert itself, in due time, as a demand of the newly-hatched free farmer for the assured possession of his farm. Nationalisation of the land had to become the demand of the peasant masses in the Russian revolution as the slogan of farmers who want to break the shell of medievalism. Therefore, for Social-Democrats to preach division of the land to the mass of the peasants, who are inclined towards nationalisation, and who are only just beginning to enter the conditions for the final “sorting out” that should produce free farmers capable of creating capitalist agriculture, is glaring historical tactlessness, and reveals inability to take stock of the concrete historical situation.

Our Social-Democratic “divisionists”—Comrades Finn, Borisov, and Shanin—are free from the theoretical dualism of the “municipalisers”, including the latters’ vulgar criticism of Marx’s theory of rent (with this we shall deal later on), but they make a mistake of a different kind, a mistake of historical perspective. While taking a generally correct stand in theory (and in this they differ from the “municipalisers”), they repeat the mistake of our cut-off lands programme of 1903. That mistake was due to the fact that while we correctly defined the trend of development, we did not correctly define the moment of that development. We assumed that the elements of capitalist agriculture had already taken full shape in Russia, both in landlord farming (minus the cut-off lands and their conditions of bondage—hence the demand that the cut-off lands be re turned to the peasants) and in peasant farming, which seemed to have given rise to a strong peasant bourgeoisie and therefore to be incapable of bringing about a “peasant agrarian revolution”. The erroneous programme was not the result of “fear” of the peasant agrarian revolution, but of an over-estimation of the degree of capitalist development in Russian agriculture. The survivals of serfdom appeared to us then to be a minor detail, whereas capitalist agriculture   on the peasant allotments and on the landlords’ estates seemed to be quite mature and well-established.

The revolution has exposed that mistake; it has confirmed the trend of development as we had defined it. The Marxist analysis of the classes in Russian society has been so brilliantly confirmed by the whole course of events in general, and by the first two Dumas in particular, that non-Marxist socialism has been shattered completely. But the survivals of serfdom in the countryside have proved to be much stronger than we thought: they have given rise to a nation-wide peasant movement and they have made that movement the touchstone of the bourgeois revolution as a whole. Hegemony in the bourgeois liberation movement, which revolutionary Social-Democracy always assigned to the proletariat, had to be defined more precisely as leader ship which rallied the peasantry behind it. But leading to what? To the bourgeois revolution in its most consistent and decisive form. We rectified the mistake by substituting for the partial aim of combating the survivals of the old agrarian system, the aim of combating the old agrarian system as a whole. Instead of purging landlord economy, we set the aim of abolishing it.

But this correction, made under the impact of the imposing course of events, did not make many of us think out to its logical conclusion our new evaluation of the degree of capitalist development in Russian agriculture. If the demand for the confiscation of all the landlord estates proved to be historically correct—and that undoubtedly was The case—it meant that the wide development of capitalism calls for new agrarian relationships, that the beginnings of capitalism in landlord economy can and must be sacrificed to the wide and free development of capitalism on the basis of renovated small farming. To accept the demand for the confiscation of the landlord estates means admitting the possibility and the necessity of the renovation of small farming under capitalism.

Is that admissible? Is it not a gamble to support small farming under capitalism? Is not the renovation of small farming a vain dream? Is it not a demagogic “trap for the peasants”, a Bauernfang? That, undoubtedly, was what many comrades thought. But they were wrong. The renovation   of small farming is possible even under capitalism if the historical aim is to fight the pre-capitalist order. That is the way small farming was renovated in America, where the slave plantations were broken up in a revolutionary manner and the conditions were created for the most rapid and free development of capitalism. In the Russian revolution the struggle for the land is nothing else than a struggle for the renovated path of capitalist development. The consistent slogan of such a renovation is—nationalisation of the land. To exclude allotment land from nationalisation is economically reactionary (we shall deal separately with the politically reactionary aspect of that exclusion). The “divisionists” are skipping the historical task of the present revolution; they assume that the objectives of the peasants’ mass struggle have already been achieved, whereas that struggle has only just begun. Instead of stimulating the process of renovation, instead of explaining to the peasantry the conditions for consistent renovation, they are already designing a dressing-gown for the appeased, renovated farmer.[4]

Everything in good season.” Social-Democracy cannot undertake never to support division of the land. In a different historical situation, at a different stage of agrarian evolution, this division may prove unavoidable. But division of the land is an entirely wrong expression of the aims of the bourgeois-democratic revolution in Russia in 1907.



[1] M. Shanin, Municipalisation or Division for Private Property, Vilna, 1907. —Lenin

[2] Shanin’s reference to the example of Ireland, showing that private ownership preponderates over renting (and not over the nationalisation of the whole land), is not new either. In exactly the same way, the “liberal” Professor A. I. Chuprov cites Ireland to prove that peasant ownership of land is preferable. (The Agrarian Question, Vol. 11, p. 11.) The real nature of this “liberal” and even “Constitutional Democrat” is revealed on page 33 of his article. Here Mr. Chuprov, with incredible brazenness, the brazenness of a liberal that is possible only in Russia, proposes that on all the land-surveying commissions the peasants be subordinated to a majority of landlords! Five members representing the peasants and five representing the landlords, with a chairman “appointed by the Zemstvo Assembly”, i. e., by an assembly of landlords. An allusion to Ireland was also made in the First Duma by the Right-wing deputy, Prince Drutsky-Lyubetsky, as proof of the necessity for private ownership of land and as an argument against the Cadet Bill. (Sitting of May 24, 1906, p 626 of Stenographic Record.) —Lenin

[3] I have pointed out above that out of 280,000,000 dessiatins of tile land available for distribution in European Russia, one half—- 138,800,000 dessiatins—consists of allotment land. (See p. 221 of this volume.—Ed.) —Lenin

[4] The advocates of division frequently cite the words of Marx: “The free ownership of the self-managing peasant is evidently the most normal form of landed property for small-scale operation.... Ownership of the land is as necessary for full development of this mode of production as ownership of tools is for free development of handicraft production” (Des Kapital, III, 2, 341).[7] From this it merely follows that the complete triumph of free peasant agriculture may call for private ownership. But present-day small-scale farming is not free. State landownership is “an instrument in the hands of the land lord rather than of the peasant, an instrument for extracting labour rent rather than an instrument of free labour of the peasant”. The destruction of all forms of feudal landownership and free settlement in all parts of the country are needed for the promotion of free small— scale farming. —Lenin

[5] Borisov—S. A. Suvorov.

[6] Russkoye Bogatstvo (Russian Wealth)—a monthly magazine, published in St. Petersburg from 1876 to the middle of 1918. In the early nineties it became the organ of the liberal Narodniks. From 1906 it was virtually the organ of the semi-Cadet Popular Socialist Party.

[7] Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. III, Moscow, 1959, p. 787.

  7. The Peasants and the Narodniks on the Nationalisation of Allotment Land | 1. What is Nationalisation of the Land?  

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