V. I.   Lenin

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


Chapter IV

Political and Tactical Considerations in Questions of the Agrarian Programme

As already pointed out, it is considerations of this kind that occupy a disproportionately large place in our Party discussion on the agrarian programme. Our task is to examine these considerations as systematically and briefly as possible and to show the relation between the various political measures (and points of view) and the economic basis of the agrarian revolution.

1. “A Guarantee Against Restoration”

In my Report on the Stockholm Congress I dealt with this argument, citing the debate from memory. Now, we have before us the authentic text of the Minutes.

The key to my position,” exclaimed Plekhanov at the Stockholm Congress, “is that I draw attention to the possibility   of restoration” (p., 115). Let us examine this key a little more closely. Here is the first reference to it in Plekhanov’s first speech:

Lenin says, we shall make nationalisation harmless’, but to make nationalisation harmless we must find a guarantee against restoration; and there is not, nor can there be, any such guarantee. Recall the history of France; recall the history of England; in each of these countries, the wide sweep of the revolution was followed by restoration. The same may happen in our country; and our programme must be such that in the event of its application, the harm that may be caused by restoration may be reduced to a minimum. Our programme must eliminate the economic basis of tsarism; but nationalisation of the land effected during the revolutionary period does not eliminate that basis. There fore, I consider that the demand for nationalisation is an anti-revolutionary demand” (p. 44). What the “economic basis of tsarism” is, Plekhanov tells in the same speech: “The situation in our country was such that the land, together with its cultivators, was held in servitude by the state, and on the basis of that servitude Russian despotism developed. To overthrow despotism, it is necessary to do away with its economic basis. Therefore, I am opposed to nationalisation at present.” (p. 44).

First of all, let us examine the logic of this argument about restoration. First: “there is not, nor can there be, any guarantee against restoration!” Second: “the harm that may be caused by restoration must be reduced to a minimum”. That is to say, we must invent a guarantee against restoration, although there cannot be any such guarantee! And on the very next page, 45 (in the same speech), Plekhanov finally invents a guarantee: “In the event of restoration,” he plainly says, “it [municipalisation] will not surrender the land [listen!] to the political representatives of the old order.” Thus, although “there cannot be” any such guarantee, a guarantee against restoration has been found. A very clever conjuring trick, and the Menshevik press is filled with rapture over the conjurer’s skill.

When Plekhanov speaks he is brilliant and witty, he crackles, twirls, and sparkles like a Catherine-wheel. The   trouble starts when the speech is taken down verbatim and later subjected to a logical examination.

What is restoration? It is the reversion of state power to the political representatives of the old order. Can there be any guarantee against such a restoration? No, there cannot. Therefore, we invent such a guarantee: municipalisation, which “will not surrender the land”.... But we ask: what obstacles does municipalisation raise to the “surrender of the land”? The only obstacle is the law passed by the revolutionary parliament declaring such and such lands (former landlord estates, etc.) to be the property of the Regional Diets. But what is a law? The expression of the will of the classes which have emerged victorious and hold the power of the state.

Can you see now why such a law “will not surrender the land” to “the representatives of the old order” when the latter will have recaptured state power?

And after the Stockholm Congress this unmitigated non sense was preached by Social-Democrats even from the rostrum of the Duma![1]

As to the substance of this famous question of “guarantees against restoration”, we must make the following observation. Since we can have no guarantees against restoration, to raise that question in connection with the agrarian programme means diverting the attention of the audience, clogging their minds, and introducing confusion into the discussion. We are not in a position to call forth at our own will a socialist revolution in the West, which is the only absolute guarantee against restoration in Russia. But a relative and conditional “guarantee”, i.e., one that would raise the greatest possible obstacles to restoration, lies in carrying out the revolution in Russia in the most far-reaching, consistent, and determined manner possible. The more far-reaching the revolution is, the more difficult will it be to restore the old order and the more gains will remain even if restoration does take place. The more deeply the old soil is ploughed up by revolution, the more difficult will it be to restore the old order. In   the political sphere, a democratic republic represents a more profound change than democratic local self-government; the former presupposes (and calls forth) greater revolutionary energy, intelligence, and organisation on the part of the large masses of the people; it creates traditions which it will be far more difficult to eradicate. That is why, for instance, present-day Social-Democrats attach so much value to the great fruits of the French Revolution in spite of all the restorations that have taken place, and in this they differ from the Cadets (and from Cadet-mind ed Social-Democrats?) who prefer democratic Zemstvos under a monarchy as a “guarantee against restoration”.

In the economic sphere, nationalisation in a bourgeois agrarian revolution is; more far-reaching than anything else, because it breaks up all the medieval forms of landowner ship. At the present time the peasant farms his own strip of allotment land, a strip of rented allotment land, a strip of rented landlord’s land, and so on. Nationalisation makes it possible to tear down all the fences of landownership to the utmost degree, and to “clear” all the land for the new system of economy suitable to the requirements of capitalism. Of course, even such a clearing affords no guarantee against a return to the old order; to promise the people such a “guarantee against restoration” would be a swindle. But such a clearing of the old system of landownership will enable the new system of economy to become so firmly rooted that a return to the old forms of landownership would be extremely difficult, because no power on earth can arrest the development of capitalism. Under municipalisation, how ever, a return to the old form of landownership is easier, because municipalisation perpetuates the “pale of settlement”, the boundary that separates medieval landownership from the new, municipalised form. After nationalisation, restoration will have to break up millions of new, capitalist farms in order to restore the old system of landownership. After municipalisation, restoration will not have to break up any farms or to set up any new land boundaries; all it will have to do will be literally to sign a paper transferring the lands owned by the municipality X to the noble landlords Y, Z, etc., or to hand over to the landlords the rent from the “municipalised” lands.

We must now pass from Plekhanov’s logical error on the question of restoration, from the confusion of political concepts, to the economic essence of restoration. The Minutes of the Stockholm Congress fully confirm the statement made in my Report that Plekhanov impermissibly confuses the restoration which took place in France on the basis of capitalism with the restoration of “our old, semi-Asiatic order”. (Minutes of the Stockhholm Congress, p. 116.) Therefore, there is no need for me to add anything to what I have already said on this question in the Report. I shall only deal with the “elimination of the economic basis of despotism”. The following is the most important passage in Plekhanov’s speech pertaining to this:

It is true that the restoration fin France I. did not restore the survivals of feudalism; but the equivalent of these survivals in our own country is our old system of feudal attachment of both land and cultivator to the state, our old peculiar nationalisation of the land. It will he all the more easy for our restoration to return to that [sic!] nationalisation because you yourselves demand the nationalisation of the land, because you leave that legacy of our old semi-Asiatic order intact” (p. 116).

So, after the restoration, the return to that, i. e., semi Asiatic, nationalisation “will be easier” because Lenin (and the peasantry) are now demanding nationalisation. What is this? A historico-materialistic analysis, or a purely rationalistic “wordplay”?[2] Is it the word “nationalisation” or certain economic changes that facilitate the restoration of the semi-Asiatic conditions? Had Plekhanov thought this matter over he would have realised that municipalisation and division eliminate one basis of the Asiatic order, i.e., medieval landlord ownership, hut leave another, i.e., medieval allotment ownership. Consequently, in essence, in the economic essence of the revolution (and not in virtue of the term by which one might designate it), it is nationalisation that far more radically eliminates the economic basis of Asiatic despotism. Plekhanov’s “conjuring trick” lies in that he described medieval landownership with its dependence, its imposts, and its servitude as “peculiar nationalisation”   and skipped the two forms of that system of landownership: allotments and landlordism. As a result of this juggling with words the real historical question as to what forms of medieval landownership are abolished by one or another agrarian measure is distorted. Plekhanov’s fireworks display was very crude after all.

Plekhanov’s almost incredible muddle on the question of restoration is to be explained by two circumstances. First, in speaking about the “peasant agrarian revolution”, Plekhanov completely failed to grasp its peculiar character as capitalist evolution. He confuses Narodism, the theory of the possibility of non-capitalist evolution, with the Marxist view that two types of capitalist agrarian evolution are possible. Plekhanov constantly betrays a vague “fear of the peasant revolution” (as I told him in Stockholm; see pp. 106-07 of the Minutes[3] ), a fear that it may turn out to be economically reactionary and lead, not to the American farmer system, but to medieval servitude. Actually, that is economically impossible. Proof—the Peasant Re form and the subsequent course of evolution. In the Peas ant Reform the shell of feudalism (both landlord feudalism and “state feudalism”, which Plekhanov, followed by Martynov, referred to at Stockholm) was very strong. But economic evolution proved stronger, and it filled this feudal shell with a capitalist content. Despite the obstacles presented by medieval landownership, both peasant and landlord economy developed, although incredibly slowly, along the bourgeois path. If there had been any real grounds for Plekhanov’s fears of a return to Asiatic despotism, the system of landownership among the state peasants (up to the eighties) and among the former state peasants (after the eighties) should have turned out to be the purest type of “state feudalism”. Actually, it proved to be freer than the landlord system, because feudal exploitation had already become impossible in the latter half of the nineteenth century. There was less bondage and a more rapid, development of a peasant bourgeoisie among the state peasants with “large landholdings”.[4] Either a slow and painful   bourgeois evolution of the Prussian, Junker type, or a rapid, free evolution of the American type is possible in Russia now. Anything else is an illusion.

The second reason for the “restoration muddle” in the heads of some of our comrades was the uncertain situation in the spring of 1906. The peasantry, as a mass, had not yet definitely shown itself. It was still possible to assume that the peasant movement and the Peasant Union were not the final expressions of the real aspirations of the overwhelming majority of the peasantry. The autocratic bureaucracy and Witte had not yet finally given up hope that “the muzhik will help us out” (a classic phrase used by Witte’s organ Russkoye Gosudarstvo in the spring of 1906), i. e., that the peasants would go to the Right. Hence the strong representation allowed to the peasantry under the Law of December 11, 1905. Even at that time many Social-Democrats still thought the autocracy capable of playing some trick with the peasants’ idea: “Better all the land be the tsar’s than the gentry’s”. But the two Dumas, the Law of June 3, 1907, and Stolypin’s agrarian legislation were enough to open everybody’s eyes. To save what it could, the autocracy had to introduce the policy of forcibly breaking up the village communes in favour of private ownership of land, i. e., to base the counter-revolution, not on the peasants’ vague talk about nationalisation (the land belongs to the “commune”, and so on), but on the only possible economic basis upon which the power of the landlords could be retained, i.e., capitalist evolution on the Prussian model.

The situation has now become quite clear, and it is high time to put away forever the vague fear of “Asiatic” restoration roused by the peasant movement against the private ownership of land.[5]



[1] Tsereteli’s speech on May 26, 1907. Stenographic Record of the Second Duma, p. 1234. —Lenin

[2] Comrade Schmidt in Stockholm. Minutes, p. 122. —Lenin

[3] See present edition, Vol. 10, p. 283.—Ed.

[4] Of course, our former state peasants can be described as possessing “large landholdings” only in comparison with the former landlords’   peasants. According to the returns for 1905, the former held an average of 12.5 dessiatins of allotted land per household, whereas the latter held only 6.7 dessiatins. —Lenin

[5] I say nothing here about the fact that the bogey of restoration is a political weapon of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat, since everything essential on this subject has been said already in my Report. (See present edition, Vol. 10, p. 339.—Ed.) —Lenin

  8. Does Nationalisation Mean Transition to Division? | 2. Local Self-Government as a “Bulwark Against Reaction”  

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