V. I.   Lenin

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


4. The Scope of the Political and of the Agrarian Revolutions

A difficult “choice”, we said, meaning of course not the subjective choice (which is the more desirable), but the objective outcome of the struggle of the social forces that are deciding the historical issue. Those who say that my agrarian programme, which links the republic with nationalisation, is optimistic, have never thought out what the “difficulty” involved in a favourable outcome for the peasantry really is. Here is Plekhanov’s argument on the subject:

Lenin evades the difficulty of the question by means of optimistic assumptions. That is the usual method of utopian thinking. The anarchists, for instance, say: ‘there is no need for any coercive organisation’, and when we retort that the absence of coercive organisation would enable individual members of the community to injure the community if they so desired, the anarchists reply: ‘that cannot be’. In my opinion, that means evading the difficulty of the question by means of optimistic assumptions. And that is what Lenin does. He raises a whole series of optimistic ‘ifs’ around the possible consequences of the measure he proposes. To prove this, I shall quote the reproach which Lenin levelled at Maslov. On page 23 or his pamphlet[1] be says: ‘Maslov’s draft tacitly assumes a situation in which the demands of our political minimum programme have not been carried out in full, the sovereignty of the people has not been ensured, the standing army has not been abolished, officials are not elected, and so forth. In other words, it assumes that our democratic revolution, like most of the democratic revolutions in Europe, has not reached its complete fulfilment and that it has been curtailed, distorted, “rolled back”, like all the others. Maslov’s draft is especially intended for a half-way, inconsistent, incomplete, or curtailed democratic revolution, “made innocuous” by reaction.’ Assuming that the reproach Lenin levelled at Maslov is justified, the passage quoted still shows that Lenin’s own draft programme will be good only in the event of all his ‘ifs’ coming true. But if those ‘ifs’ are not realised, the implementation of his draft[2] will prove harmful. But we have no need of such drafts. Our draft programme must be armed at all points, i. e., ready to meet unfavourable ‘ifs’.” (Minutes of the Stockholm Congress, pp. 44-45.)

I have quoted this argument in full because it clearly indicates Plekhanov’s mistake. He has completely failed to understand the optimism which scares him. The “optimism” is not in assuming the election of officials by the people, etc., but In assuming the victory of the peasant agrarian revolution. The real “difficulty” lies in securing the victory of the peasant agrarian revolution in a country which, at least since 1861, has been developing along Junker-bourgeois lines; and since you admit the possibility of this fundamental economic difficulty, it is ridiculous to regard the difficulties of political democracy as all but anarchism. It is ridiculous to forget that the scope of the agrarian and of the political changes cannot fail to correspond, that the economic revolution presupposes a corresponding political superstructure. Plekhanov’s cardinal mistake on this question lies in this very failure to understand the root of the “optimism” of our common, Menshevik and Bolshevik, agrarian programme.

Indeed, picture to yourselves concretely what a “peasant agrarian revolution”, involving confiscation of the landlords’ estates, means in contemporary Russia. There can be no doubt that during the past half-century capitalism has paved the way for itself through landlord farming, which now, on the whole, is unquestionably superior to peasant farming, not only as regards yields (which can be partly ascribed to the better quality of the land owned by the landlords), but also as regards the wide use of improved implements and crop rotation (fodder grass cultivation).[3] There is no doubt that landlord farming is bound by a thou sand ties not only to the bureaucracy, but also to the bourgeoisie. Confiscation undermines a great many of the interests of the big bourgeoisie, while the peasant revolution, as Kautsky has rightly pointed out, leads also to the bankruptcy of the state, i.e., it damages the interests not only of the Russian, hut of the whole international bourgeoisie. It stands to reason that under such conditions the victory of the peasant revolution, the, victory of the petty   bourgeoisie over both the landlords and the big bourgeoisie, requires an exceptionally favourable combination of circumstances; it requires what, from the standpoint of the philistine, or of the philistine historian, are very unusual “optimistic” assumptions; it requires tremendous peasant initiative, revolutionary energy, class-consciousness, organisation, and rich narodnoye tvorchestvo (the creative activity of the people). All that is beyond dispute, and Plekhanov’s philistine jokes at the expense of that last phrase are only a cheap way of dodging a serious[4] issue. And since commodity production does not unite or centralise the peasants, but disintegrates and disunites them, a peasant revolution in a bourgeois country is possible only under the leadership of the proletariat—a fact which is more than ever rousing the opposition of the most powerful bourgeoisie in the world to such a revolution.

Does that mean that Marxists must abandon the idea of a peasant agrarian revolution altogether? No. Such a deduction would be worthy only of those whose philosophy is nothing but a liberal parody of Marxism. What it does mean is only, first, that Marxism cannot link the destiny of socialism in Russia with the outcome of the bourgeois democratic revolution; second, that Marxism must reckon with the two possibilities in the capitalist evolution of agriculture in Russia and clearly show the people the conditions and significance of each possibility, arid third, that Marxism must resolutely combat the view that a radical agrarian revolution is possible in Russia without a radical political revolution.

(1) The Socialist-Revolutionaries, in common with all the Narodniks who are at all consistent, fail to understand the bourgeois nature of the peasant revolution and Link   with it the whole of their own quasi-socialism. A favour able outcome of the peasant revolution, in the opinion of the Narodniks, would mean the triumph of Narodnik socialism in Russia. Actually, such an outcome would be the quickest and most decisive bankruptcy of Narodnik (peas ant) socialism. The fuller and the more decisive the victory of the peasant revolution, the sooner will the peasantry be converted into free, bourgeois farmers, who will “give the sack” to Narodnik “socialism”. On the other hand, an unfavourable outcome would prolong the agony of Narodnik socialism for some time, making it possible to some extent to maintain the illusion that criticism of the land lord-bourgeois variety of capitalism is criticism of capitalism in general.

Social-Democracy, the party of the proletariat, does not in any way link the destiny of socialism with either of the possible outcomes of the bourgeois revolution. Either out come implies the development of capitalism and the oppression of the proletariat, whether under a landlord monarchy with private ownership of land, or under a farmers’ republic, even with the nationalisation of the land. Therefore, only an absolutely independent and purely proletarian party is able to defend the cause of socialism “whatever the situation of democratic agrarian reforms”[5] may be, as time concluding part of my agrarian programme declares (that part was incorporated in the resolution on tactics of the Stockholm Congress).

(2) But the bourgeois nature of both possible outcomes of the agrarian revolution by no means implies that Social-Democrats can be indifferent to the struggle for one or the other outcome. It is undoubtedly in the interests of the working class to give the most vigorous support to the peasant revolution. More than that: it must play the leading part in that revolution. In fighting for a favourable outcome of the revolution we must spread among the masses a very clear understanding of what keeping to the land lord path of agrarian evolution means, what incalculable hardships (arising not from capitalism, but from the inadequate development of capitalism) it has in store for all   the toiling masses. On the other hand, we must also explain the petty-bourgeois nature of the peasant revolution, and the fallacy of placing any “socialist” hopes in it.

Moreover, since we do not link the destiny of socialism with either of the possible outcomes of the bourgeois revolution, our programme cannot be identical for both a favourable and “unfavourable case”. When Plekhanov said that we do not need drafts specially providing for both the one and the other case (that is, drafts built upon “ifs”), he said it simply without thinking; for it is precisely from his standpoint, from the standpoint, of the probability of the worst outcome, or of the necessity of reckoning with it, that it is particularly necessary to divide the programme into two parts, as I did. It needs to be said that on the present path of landlord-bourgeois development the workers’ party stands for such and such measures, while at the same time it helps the peasantry with all its might to abolish landlordism entirely and thus create the possibility for broader and freer conditions of development. I dealt with this aspect of the matter in detail in my Report (the point about rent, the necessity of including that point in the programme in the “worst case”; and its omission in Maslov’s draft).[6] I shall merely add that Plekhanov’s mistake is more obvious than ever at the present moment, when the actual conditions for Social-Democratic activity give least grounds for optimistic assumptions. The Third Duma can in no way induce us to give up the struggle for the peas ant agrarian revolution; but for a certain space of time we shall have to work on the basis of agrarian relations which entail the most brutal exploitation by the landlords. Plekhanov, who was particularly concerned about the worst case, now finds himself with no programme to meet it.

(3) Since we set ourselves the task of assisting the peas ant revolution, we must clearly see the difficulty of the task and realise that the political and agrarian changes must correspond. Otherwise we shall get a scientifically unsound and, in practice, reactionary combination of agrarian “optimism” (confiscation plus municipalisation or   division) with political “pessimism” (Novosedsky’s democratisation “of a comparative degree” at the centre).

The Mensheviks, as if in spite of themselves, accept the peasant revolution, but do not want to give the people a clear and definite picture of it. One can detect in what they say the opinion expressed with such inimitable naïveté by the Menshevik Ptitsyn at Stockholm: “The revolutionary turmoil will pass away, bourgeois life will resume us usual course, and unless a workers’ revolution takes place in the West, the bourgeoisie will inevitably come to power in our country. Comrade Lenin will not and cannot deny that” (Minutes, p. 91). Thus, a superficial, abstract conception of the bourgeois revolution has obscured the question of one of its varieties, namely, the peasant revolution! All of this last is mere “turmoil”, and the only thing that is real is the “usual course”. The philistine point of view and failure to understand what the struggle is about in our bourgeois revolution could hardly be expressed in clearer terms.

The peasantry cannot carry out an agrarian revolution without abolishing the old regime, the standing army and the bureaucracy, because all these are the most reliable mainstays of landlordism, bound to it by thousands of ties. That is why the idea of achieving a peasant revolution by democratising only the local institutions without completely breaking up the central institutions is scientifically unsound. In practice it is reactionary because it plays into the hands of petty-bourgeois obtuseness and petty-bourgeois opportunism, which sees the thing in a very “simple” way: we want the land; as to politics, God will take care of that! The peasant agrees that all the land must be taken; but whether all political power has to be taken as well, whether all political power can be taken, and how it should be taken, are things he does not bother about (or did not bother until the dissolution of two Dumas made him wiser). Hence, the extremely reactionary standpoint of the “peasant Cadet” Mr. Peshekhonov, who already in his Agrarian Problem wrote: “Just now it is far more necessary to give a definite answer on the agrarian question than, for instance, on the question of a republic” (p. 114).   And that standpoint of political imbecility (the legacy of the arch-reactionary Mr. V. V.) has, as we know, left its mark on the whole programme and tactics of the “Popular-Socialist” Party. Instead of combating the short sightedness of the peasant who fails to see the connection between agrarian radicalism and political radicalism, the P.S.’s (“Popular Socialists”) adapt themselves to that short-sightedness. They believe it is “more practical that way”, but in reality it is the very thing which dooms the agrarian programme of the peasantry to utter failure. Need less to say, a radical political revolution is difficult, but so is an agrarian revolution; the. latter is impossible apart from the former, and it is the duty of socialists not to conceal this from the peasants, not to throw a veil over it (by using rather vague, semi-Cadet phrases about the “democratic state”, as is done in our agrarian programme), but to speak out, to teach the peasants that unless they go the whole way in politics it is no use thinking seriously of confiscating the landlords’ land.

It is not the “ifs” that are important here in the programme. The important thing is to point out in it that the agrarian and the political changes must correspond. Instead of using the word “if”, the same idea can be put differently: “The Party explains that the best method of taking possession of the land in bourgeois society is by abolishing private ownership of land, nationalising the land, and transferring it to the state, and that such a measure can neither be carried out nor bear real fruit without complete democratisation not only of the local institutions, but of the whole structure of the state, including the establishment of a republic, the abolition of the standing army, election of officials by the people, etc.”

By failing to include that explanation in our agrarian programme we have given the people the false idea that confiscation of the landlords’ estates is possible without the complete democratisation of the central government. We have sunk to the level of the opportunist petty bourgeoisie, i.e., the “Popular Socialists”; for in both Dumas it so happened that their programme (the Bill of the 104) as well as ours linked agrarian changes with democratisation only of the local institutions. Such a view is philistine   obtuseness, of which the events of June 3, 1907, and the Third Duma should have cured many people, the Social Democrats above all.


[1] See present edition, Vol. 10, p. 187.—Ed.

[2] In that case it would not be my draft! Plekhanov is illogical! —Lenin

[3] See the new and comprehensive data on the superiority of landlord over peasant farming because of the more extensive cultivation of grass in Kaufman’s The Agrarian Question, Vol. II. —Lenin

[4] Narodnoye tvorchestvo is narodovolchestvo,[7] Plekhanov said mockingly at Stockholm. It is the sort o criticism with which The Adventures of Chichikov is criticised, by making fun of the hero’s name: “Chichikov.... Chi... chi... how funny!”[8] Only those who think that the in here admission of the possibility of a peasant revolution against the bourgeoisie and the landlords is narodovolchestvo can seriously regard as narodovolchestvo the idea that it is necessary to ronse the “creative activity of the people”, that it is necessary to find new forms of struggle arid new ways of organising the peasantry in the Russian revolution. —Lenin

[5] See present edition, Vol. 10, p. 195.—Ed.

[6] See present edition, Vol. 10, pp. 342-43.—Ed.


[7] See present edition, Vol. 10, p. 341.

[8] The words in inverted commas “Chi ... chi ... etc.," are a paraphrase of a passage from Chernyshevsky’s Essays on the Gogol Period in Russian Literature. This passage, ridiculing a controversial trick used by the journalist Senkovsky (“Baron Brambeus”) reads as follows: “A witty comment of Dead Souls might be written in the following manner: After giving the title of the book, ‘The Adventures of Chichikov, or Dead Souls’, the commentator might start straight off with: ‘The bad dentures of Chi! chi! kov—don’t think that I have sneezed, dear reader ... etc., etc.’ Some twenty years ago there may have been readers who would think that witty.”

  3. The Central Authority and the Consolidation of the Bourgeois State | 5. A Peasant Revolution Without the Conquest of Power by the Peasantry?  

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