V. I.   Lenin

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


2. Local Self-Government as a “Bulwark Against Reaction”

... “In the shape of local self-government bodies which will possess the land,” said Plekhanov at Stockholm, “it [municipalisation] will create a bulwark against reaction. And a very powerful bulwark it will be. Take our Cossacks for example” (p. 45). Well, we shall “take our Cossacks” and see what the reference to them is worth. But first of all, let us examine the general grounds for this opinion that local self-government is capable of being a bulwark against reaction. That view has been propounded by our municipalisers on innumerable occasions, and it will be sufficient to quote a passage from John’s speech to supplement Plekhanov’s formula. “What is the difference between nationalisation and municipalisation of the land if we admit that both are feasible and equally bound up with the democratisation of the political system? The difference is that municipalisation is better able to consolidate the gains of the revolution, the democratic system, and will serve as the basis for its further development, whereas nationalisation will merely consolidate the power of the state” (p. 112).

The Mensheviks actually deny the possibility of guarantees against restoration, and in the very same breath produce “guarantees” and “bulwarks” like conjurers. doing a trick in front of an audience. Just think a little, gentle men! How can local self-government be a bulwark against reaction, or consolidate the gains of the revolution? There can be only one bulwark against reaction and one means of consolidating the gains of the revolution, namely, the class-consciousness and organisation of the masses of the proletariat and the peasantry. And in a capitalist state which is centralised, not by the arbitrary will of the bureaucracy, but by the inexorable demands of economic development, that organisation must find expression in a single force welded together throughout the state. Without a centralised peasant movement, without a centralised nation wide political struggle of the peasantry led by a centralised proletariat, there can be no serious “revolutionary gains” worthy of “consolidation”; there can be no “bulwark against reaction”.

Local self-government that is at all really democratic is impossible unless landlord rule is completely overthrown and landlordism is abolished. While admitting this in words, the Mensheviks, with amazing light-mindedness, refuse to consider what it implies in deeds. In deeds, it cannot be attained unless the revolutionary classes conquer political power throughout the state; and one would have thought that two years of revolution would have taught even the most obdurate “man in the muffler” that these classes in Russia can only be the proletariat and the peasantry. To be victorious, the “peasant agrarian revolution” of which you gentlemen speak must, as such, as a peasant revolution, become the central authority throughout the state.

The democratic self-governing bodies can be only particles of such a central authority of the democratic peasantry. Only by combating the local and regional disunity of the peasantry, only by advocating, preparing, and organising a nation-wide, all-Russian, centralised movement, can real service be rendered to the cause of “peasant agrarian revolution”, and not to the encouragement of parochial backwardness and local provincial stupefaction of the peasantry. It is precisely this stupefaction that you, Mr. Plekhanov and Mr. John, are serving when you advocate the preposterous and arch-reactionary idea that local self government can become a “bulwark against reaction”, or that it can “consolidate the gains of the revolution”. For the experience of the two years of the Russian revolution has plainly demonstrated that it was precisely this local and regional disunity of the peasant movement (the soldiers’ movement is part of the peasant movement) that was most of all responsible for the defeat.

To present a programme of a “peasant agrarian revolution and associate it only with the democratisation of local self-government and not of the central government, to hold the former up as a genuine “bulwark” and “consolidation”, is in reality nothing but a Cadet deal with reaction.[1] The   Cadets lay stress on local “democratic” self-government because they do not want, or dare, to touch upon more important questions. The Mensheviks did not realise what a big word they uttered when they admitted that the “peas ant agrarian revolution” is the task of the day, and in their political commentary to this agrarian programme they displayed the acme of provincial narrow-mindedness.

Here is a sample of John’s reasoning, if you please:

Comrade Lenin is afraid that the reaction will wrest the confiscated lands from the local self-government bodies; if that can be said of the lands which may pass into the hands of the state, it cannot possibly be said of municipalised lands. Even the autocratic Russian Government could not take away tile land from the local government bodies of Armenia, as that called forth strong resistance on the part of the population” (p. 113).

Superb, is it not? The whole history of the autocracy is one of wholesale grabbing of local, regional, and national lands; and our wiseacres try to reassure the people who are becoming stupefied in their provincial isolation by arguing that “even the autocracy” did not take away the land from the Armenian churches, although it had begun to do so, and was in fact prevented from doing so only by the all-Russian revolution.... In the centre autocracy, and in the provinces “Armenian lands” which “it dares not take away”.... How has so much philistine stupidity penetrated our Social-Democratic movement?

And here are Plekhanov’s Cossacks:

Take our Cossacks. They behave like downright reactionaries; yet if the [autocratic] government dared to lay hands on their land, they would rise against it to a man. Consequently, the merit of municipalisation lies precisely in that it will prove of use even in the event of restoration (p. 45).

Consequently”, indeed! If the autocracy rose against the defenders of the autocracy, then the defenders of the autocracy would rise against the autocracy. What profundity! Cossack landownership, however, is of use not only in the event of restoration, but also as a means of upholding what must be overthrown before it can be restored. Speaking in opposition to Plekhanov, Schmidt called attention to this interesting aspect of municipalisation. He said:

Let me remind you that the autocracy had granted certain privileges to the Cossacks a month ago. Consequently, it is not afraid of municipalisation, for the Cossacks’ lands even now are managed in a manner which greatly resembles municipalisation..,. It [municipalisation] is going to play a counter-revolutionary role” (pp. 123-24).

Plekhanov became so excited over that speech that he interrupted the speaker (on quite an unimportant point. to ask him whether he was speaking about the Orenburg Cossacks) and tried to upset the standing orders by demanding the floor out of his turn to make a statement. Subsequently he submitted the following written statement:

Comrade Schmidt misquoted my reference to the Cossacks. I made no reference to:the Orenburg Cossacks at all. I said: look at the Cossacks; they are behaving like arch-reactionaries; nevertheless, if the government tried to lay hands on their land, they would rise against it to a man. And so would, more or less, all the regional bodies to whom the confiscated landlords’ land would be transferred by the revolution, if any such attempt were made. And such behaviour on their part would be one of the guarantees against reaction in the event of restoration” (p. 127).

It is a brilliant plan, of course, to overthrow the autocracy without touching the autocracy: to take certain regions away from it and leave it to regain them if it can! It is almost as brilliant as the idea of expropriating capitalism through the savings-banks. But that is not the point just now. The point is that regional municipalisation, which “should” play a wonderful role after the victorious revolution, is now playing a counter-revolutionary role. And that is the point that Plekhanov evaded!

At the present time the Cossack lands represent real municipalisation. Large regions belong to separate Cossack troops—the Orenburg, Don, and others. The Cossacks possess an average of 52 dessiatins per household, the peasants an average of 11 dessiatins. In addition, the Orenburg Cossacks own 1,300,000 dessiatins of “army lands”; the Don Cossacks, 1,900,000 dessiatins, etc. This “municipalisation” is the breeding-ground of purely feudal relations. This actually existing municipalisation involves the caste and regional isolation of the peasants, who are split up by differences in the size of holdings, amount of taxes paid, and terms of medieval land tenure as a reward for service, and so forth. “Municipalisation” does not assist the general democratic movement, it serves to disintegrate it, to split up into regions and thus weaken what can be victorious only as a centralised force; it serves to alienate one region from another.

And in the Second Duma we find the Right Cossack Karaulov speaking in support of Stolypin (asserting that Stolypin in his declaration also agreed to the compulsory shifting of land boundaries), denouncing nationalisation no less strongly than Plekhanov, and openly declaring in favour of municipalisation by regions (18th session, March 29, 1907, Stenographic Record, p.1366).

The Right-wing Cossack Karaulov grasped the crux of the matter a thousand times more correctly than Maslov and Plekhanov. The division into regions is a guarantee against revolution. If the Russian peasantry (with the aid of a centralised, not “regional”, proletarian movement) fails to break the bounds of its regional isolation and organise an all-Russian movement, the revolution will always be beaten by the representatives of the various privileged regions which the centralised authority of the old regime will use in the struggle as, necessity requires.

Municipalisation is a reactionary slogan, which idealises the medieval isolation of the regions, and dulls the peasantry’s consciousness of the heed for a centralised agrarian revolution.



[1] I have dealt more fully with this in the Report. (See present edition, Vol. 10, pp. 337-38.—Ed.) Here I shall add an extract from a speech by the Menshevik Novosedsky, which I did not hear (see the Report) at the Congress, but which corroborates this most strikingly.   Opposing the amendment to substitute. the words “democratic republic” for “democratic state”, Novosedsky said: ... “In the event, of truly democratic local self-government being established, the programme now adopted may be carried into effect even with a degree of democratisation of the central government which cannot be described as the highest degree of Its democratisation. Even under democratisation of a comparative degree, so to speak, municipalisation will not be harmful, but useful.” (p. 138. Our italics.) That is as clear as clear can he. A peasant agrarian revolution without the overthrow of the autocracy—such is the highly reactionary idea The Mensheviks advocate. —Lenin

  1. “A Guarantee Against Restoration” | 3. The Central Authority and the Consolidation of the Bourgeois State  

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