V. I.   Lenin

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


3. The Central Authority and the Consolidation of the Bourgeois State

It is the central state authority that the municipalisers dislike above all else. Before we proceed to examine their arguments, we must first ascertain what nationalisation means from the political and legal standpoint (its economic content we have ascertained above).

Nationalisation is the transfer of all the land to the ownership of the state. State ownership means that the state is entitled to draw the rent from the land and to lay down-general rules governing the possession and use of the land for the whole country. Under nationalisation such general rules certainly include prohibition of any sort of intermediary, i.e., the prohibition of sub-letting, or the transfer of land to anyone except the direct tiller, and so on. Furthermore, if the state in question is really democratic (not in the Menshevik sense à la Novosedsky), its ownership of the land does not at all preclude, but, on the contrary, requires that the land be placed at the disposal of the local and regional self-governing bodies within the limits of the laws of the country. As I have already pointed out in my pamphlet Revision, etc.,[1] our minimum programme directly demands this when it calls for the self-determination of nationalities, for wide regional self-government, and so on. Hence the detailed regulations, corresponding to local differences, the practical allotment, or distribution of land among individuals, associations, etc.—all this inevitably passes into the hands of the local organs of the state, i. e., to the local self-governing bodies.

Any misunderstandings on this score, if they could, arise, would be due either to a failure to understand the difference between the concepts of ownership, possession, disposal, and use, or to demagogical flirting with provincialism and federalism.[2] The basis of the difference between   municipalisation and nationalisation is not in the apportionment of rights as between the central and provincial authorities, and still less in the “bureaucracy” of the central authority—only utter ignoramuses can think and talk like that—the essential difference is that under municipalisation, private ownership is retained for one category of land, whereas under nationalisation it is completely abolished. The essential difference lies in the “agrarian bimetallism”, which is implied in the first programme, and eliminated in the second.

If, however, you approach the present programme from the standpoint of possible arbitrary action by the central authority, etc. (a standpoint which the vulgar advocates of municipalisation often fall back upon), you will see that the present programme is confused and vague in the extreme. It suffices to point out that the present programme transfers “to the possession of the democratic state” both the “lands, required for colonisation”, and “forest and water areas of national importance”. Obviously, these terms are very indefinite and provide an abundant source for conflicts. Take, for instance, Mr. Kaufman’s latest contribution in Volume 11 of The Agrarian Question, published by the Cadets (“On Norms of Supplementary Allotments”), in which a computation is made of the land reserves available in 44 gubernias for the purpose of additional allotments for the peasants at the highest norms of 1861. The “non-allotment distributable land” is first estimated with out forest land and then with forest land (over 25 per cent of forest). Who is to determine which of these forests are of “national importance”? Only the central state authority, of course. Hence, it is in the hands of this central state authority that the Menshevik programme places a gigantic   area of 57,000,000 dessiatins in 44 gubernias (according to Kaufman). Who is to determine what the lands available for “colonisation” are? Only the bourgeois central authority, of course. It alone will determine, for instance, whether the 1,500,000 dessiatins of “army lands” of the Orenburg Cossacks, or the 2,000,000 dessiatins of the Don Cossack lands can or cannot serve as “colonisation lands” for the whole country (because the Cossacks have 52.7 dessiatins per household). Clearly, the question is not as it is put by Maslov, Plekhanov, and Co. It is not a question of protecting the local regional self-governing bodies from the encroachments of the central government by means of paper resolutions; that cannot be done either with paper, or even with guns; for the trend of capitalist development is to wards centralisation, towards the concentration of such a force in the hands of the central bourgeois government as the “regions” will never be able to stand up against. The point is that one and the same class should have political power both centrally and locally, that democracy should be quite consistently applied in both cases to an absolutely equal degree, a degree sufficient to ensure the complete supremacy of, let us say, the majority of the population, i. e., the peasantry. That alone can serve as a real guarantee against “excessive” encroachments of the centre, against infringements of the “lawful” rights of the regions. All other guarantees invented by the Mensheviks are downright foolishness; they are foolscaps donned by provincial philistines to protect themselves from the power of the central authority which has been concentrated by capitalism. That is exactly the kind of philistine foolishness that Novosedsky is guilty of, as also the whole of the present programme, which conceives the possibility of complete democracy in local self-government and a “lower” degree of democracy at the centre. Incomplete democracy means that power at the centre is not in the hands of the majority of the population, not in the hands of those elements which predominate in the local self-governing bodies; and that means not only the possibility but the inevitability of conflicts, out of which, by virtue of the laws of economic development, the non-democratic central authority must emerge victorious!

Municipalisation” from this angle, regarded as a means of “securing” something for the regions against the central authority, is sheer philistine nonsense. If that can be called a “fight” against the centralised bourgeois authority, it is the sort of “fight” that the anti-Semites are waging against capitalism, that is, the same extravagant promises, which attract the dull and ignorant masses and the same economic and political impossibility of fulfilling these promises.

Take the stock argument of the advocates of municipalisation against nationalisation, namely, nationalisation will strengthen the bourgeois state (or as John so admirably put it: “will strengthen only the state power”), and will increase the revenues of the anti-proletarian, bourgeois government; whereas—this is exactly what they say—where as municipalisation will yield revenues for the needs of the population, for the needs of the proletariat. This kind of argument makes one blush for Social-Democracy, for it is sheer anti-Semitic stupidity and anti-Semitic demagogy. We shall not quote the “small fry” who have been led astray by Plekhanov and Maslov; we shall quote Maslov “himself”:

Social-Democracy,” he instructs the readers of Obrazovaniye, “always makes its calculations in such a way that its plans and aims will be vindicated even under the worst circumstances.... We must assume that the bourgeois system with all its negative features will predominate in all spheres of social life. Self-government will have the same bourgeois character as the whole state system; the same acute class struggle will go on in it as in the municipalities of Western Europe.

What is the difference, then, between local self-government and the state authority? Why does Social-Democracy seek to transfer the land not to the state, but to the local self-governing bodies?

To define the functions of the state and of local self-government, let us compare their budgets.” (Obrazovaniye, 1907, No. 3, p. 102.)

Then follows a comparison: in one of the most democratic republics—the United States of America—42 per cent of the budget is spent on the army and navy. The same applies to France, England, etc. The “landlord Zemstvos” in Russia spend 27.5 per cent of their budgets on public health, 17.4 per cent on education, 11.9 per cent on roads.

This comparison of the respective budgets of the most democratic states with the least. democratic local self-governing bodies shows that the former, by their functions, serve the interests of the ruling classes, that the state funds are spent on means of oppression, on means of suppressing, democracy; on the other hand, we find that the most undemocratic, the very worst type of local self-government is compelled, however badly, to serve democracy, to satisfy local requirements” (p. 103).

Social-Democrats must not be so naive as to accept nationalisation of the land on the grounds, for instance, that the revenues from nationalised lands would go towards the maintenance of republican troops.... It will be a very naive reader who believes Olenov when he says that Marx’s theory ‘permits’ the inclusion in the programme only of the demand for the nationalisation of the land, i. e., the expenditure of ground rent [irrespective of whether it is called absolute or differential rent?] on the army and navy, and that this theory does not permit the inclusion of municipalisation of the laud, i.. e., the expenditure of rent on the needs of the population” (p. 103).

Clear enough, one would think. Nationalisation—for the army and navy; municipalisation—for the needs of the people! A Jew is a capitalist; down with the Jews means down with the capitalists!

Good Maslov fails to see that the high percentage of expenditure on cultural needs in the budgets of local self-governing bodies is a high percentage of secondary items of expenditure. Why is that? Because the jurisdiction and financial powers of local self-governing bodies are determined by the central authority and determined in such a manner that it takes vast sums for the army, etc., and gives only farthings for “culture”. Is such a division unavoidable in bourgeois society? Yes, it is; for in bourgeois society the bourgeoisie could not rule if it did not spend vast sums on making its class rule secure and thus leave only farthings for cultural, purposes. One must boa Maslov to conceive this brilliant idea: if I declare this new source of vast sums to be the property of the Zemstvos, I get round the rule of the bourgeoisie! How easy the task of the proletarians would be if they reasoned like Maslov: all we have to do is to demand that the revenues from the railways, post, telegraph, and the liquor monopoly should not be “nationalised”, but “municipalised”, and all those revenues will be spent not on the army and navy, but for cultural purposes. There is no need whatever to   overthrow the central authority, or to change it radically; all we have to do is simply to secure the “municipalisation” of all the big items of revenue, and the trick is done. Oh, wiseacres!

In Europe, and in every bourgeois country, municipal revenues are those revenues—and let the good Maslov remember this!—which the bourgeois central authority is willing to sacrifice for cultural purposes, because they are secondary items of revenue, because it is inconvenient for the central authority to collect them, and because the principal, cardinal, fundamental needs of the bourgeoisie and of its rule have already been met by the vast sums of revenue. Therefore, to advise the people to secure new vast sums, hundreds of millions from the municipalised lands, and to make sure the money is spent for cultural purposes by handing it over to the Zemstvos and not to the central authority, is the advice of a charlatan. The bourgeoisie in a bourgeois state can give nothing but farthings for real cultural purposes, for it requires the large sums to secure is rule as a class. Why does the central authority appropriate nine-tenths of the revenues from taxes on land, commercial bodies, etc., and allow the Zemstvos to keep only one-tenth? Why does it make it a law that any additional taxes imposed by the Zemstvos shall not exceed a certain low percentage? Because the large sums are needed to ensure the class rule of the bourgeoisie, which by its very bourgeois nature cannot allow more than farthings to be spent for cultural purposes.[3]

The European socialists take this distribution of the large sums and the farthings for granted; they know quite well that it cannot be otherwise in bourgeois society. Taking this distribution for granted, they say: we cannot participate in the central government because it is an instrument of oppression; but we may participate in municipal governments because there the farthings are spent for cultural purposes. But what would these socialists think of a man who advised the workers’ party to agitate in favour of the European municipalities being given property rights in the really large revenues, the total rent from local land, the whole revenue from the local post offices, local rail ways, and so on? They would certainly think that such a man was either crazy or a “Christian Socialist” who had found his way into the ranks of Social-Democracy by mistake.

Those who, in discussing the tasks of the present (i. e., bourgeois) revolution in Russia, argue that we must not strengthen the central authority of the bourgeois state reveal a complete inability to think. The Germans may and should argue in that way because they have before them only a Junker-bourgeois Germany; there can be no other Germany until socialism is established. In our country, on the other hand, the whole content of the revolutionary mass struggle at the present stage is whether Russia is to be a Junker-bourgeois state (as Stolypin and the Cadets desire), or a peasant-bourgeois state (as the peasants arid the workers desire). One cannot take part in such a revolution without supporting one section of the bourgeoisie, one type of bourgeois evolution, against the other. Owing to objective economic causes, there is not and cannot be any other “choice” for us in this revolution than that between a bourgeois centralised republic of peasant-farmers and a bourgeois centralised monarchy of Junker-landlords. To   avoid that difficult “choice” by fixing the attention of the masses on the plea: “if only we could make the Zemstvos a little more democratic”, is the most vulgar philistinism.


[1] See present edition, Vol. 10, pp. 181-83.—Ed.

[2] We see that kind of flirting on the part of Maslov. ...“Perhaps,” he writes in an article in Obrazovaniye, 1907, No. 3, p. 104, “in some places, the peasants would agree to share their lands; hut the refusal of the peasants in a single large area (e.g., Poland) to share their lands would he enough to make the proposal to nationalise all the land an absurdity.” That is,a sample of vulgar argumentation in which there is no trace of thought, but a mere jumble of words. The “refusal” of   an area that occupies an exceptional position cannot alter the general programme, nor make it absurd: some areas may also “refuse” to municipalise the land. That is not the point. What is important is the fact that in a united capitalist state, the private ownership of land and nationalisation on a large scale cannot exist side by side as two separate systems. One of them will have to get the upper hand, It is up to the workers’ party to advocate the superior system, the one that facilitates the rapid development of the productive forces and freedom to wage the class struggle. —Lenin

[3] A study of R. Kaufmann’s highly comprehensive work, Die Kommunalfinanzen, 2 Bände, Lpz. 1906, II. Abt., 5. Band des Handund Lehrbuches der Staatswissenschaften, begr. von Frankenstein, fortges. von Heckel, will show that the division of local and central state expenditures in England is more in favour of the local government bodies than it is in Prussia and France. Thus, in England, 3,000 million marks are expended by the local authorities, and 3,600 million by the central government; in France, the respective figures are 1,100 million as against 2,900; in Prussia, 1,100 and 3,500. Let us now take the cultural expenditure, for instance, the expenditure on education in the country most favourably situated (from the, standpoint of the advocates of municipalisation), i. e., England. We find that out of the total local expenditure of £ 151,600,000 (in 1902-03) £ 16,500,000 were spent on education, i. e., slightly over one-tenth. The central government, under   the 1908 Budget (see Almanach de Gotha) spent for educational purposes £ 16,900,O00 out of a total of £ 198,000,000, i.e., less than one tenth. Army and navy expenditure for the same year amounted to £ 59,200,000; add to this the expenditure of £ 28,500,000 on the national debt, £ 3,800,000 on law courts and police, £ 1,900,000 on foreign affairs and £ 19,800,000 on cost of tax collection, and you will see that the bourgeoisie spends only farthings on education, and vast sums on the maintenance of its rule as a class. —Lenin

  2. Local Self-Government as a “Bulwark Against Reaction” | 4. The Scope of the Political and of the Agrarian Revolutions  

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