V. I.   Lenin

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


7. Municipalisation of the Land and Municipal Socialism

These two terms were made equivalent by the Mensheviks themselves, who secured the adoption of the agrarian programme at Stockholm. We need only mention the names of two prominent Mensheviks, Kostrov and Larin. “Some comrades,” said Kostrov at Stockholm, “seem to be hearing about municipal ownership for the first time. Let me remind them that in Western Europe there is a whole political trend [!precisely!] called ‘municipal socialism’ [England], which advocates the extension of ownership by urban and rural municipalities, and which is also supported by our comrades. Many municipalities own real estate, and that does not contradict our programme. We now have the possibility of acquiring [!] real estate for the municipalities gratis [!!] and we should take advantage of it. Of course, the confiscated land should be municipalised” (p. 88).

The naive idea about “the possibility of acquiring property gratis” is magnificently expressed here. But in citing the example of this municipal socialism “trend” as a special trend mainly characteristic of England, the speaker did not stop to think why this is. an extremely opportunist trend. Why did Engels, in his letters to Sorge describing this extreme intellectual opportunism of the English Fabians, emphasise the petty-bourgeois nature of their “muncipalisation” schemes?[2]

Larin, in unison with Kostrov, says in his comments on the Menshevik programme: “Perhaps in some areas the people’s local self-governing bodies will themselves be able to run these large estates, as the horse tramways or slaughter-houses are run by municipal councils, and then all [!!] the profits obtained from them will be placed at the disposal   of the whole [!] population”[1] –and not of the local bourgeoisie, my dear Larin?

The philistine illusions of the philistine heroes of West-European municipal socialism are already making them selves felt. The fact that the bourgeoisie is in power is for gotten; so also is the fact that only in towns with a high percentage of proletarian population is it possible to obtain for the working people some crumbs of benefit from municipal government! But all this is by the way. The principal fallacy of the “municipal socialism” idea of municipalising the land lies in the following.

The bourgeois intelligentsia of the West, like the English Fabians, elevate municipal socialism to a special “trend” precisely because it dreams of social peace, of class conciliation, and seeks to divert public attention away from the fundamental questions of the economic system as a whole, and of the state structure as a whole, to minor questions of local self-government. In the sphere of questions in the first category, the class antagonisms stand out most sharply; that is the sphere which, as we have shown, affects the very foundations of the class rule of the bourgeoisie. Hence it is in that sphere that the philistine, reactionary utopia of bringing about socialism piecemeal is particularly hopeless. Attention is diverted to the sphere of minor local questions, being directed not to the question of the class rule of the bourgeoisie, nor to the question of the chief instruments of that rule, but to the question of distributing the crumbs thrown by the rich bourgeoisie for the “needs of the population”. Naturally, since attention is focused on such questions as the spending of paltry sums (in comparison with the total surplus value and total state expenditure of the bourgeoisie), which the bourgeoisie itself is willing to set aside for public health (Engels pointed out in The Housing Question that the bourgeoisie itself is afraid of the spread of epidemic diseases in the towns[3]), or for education (the bourgeoisie must have trained workers able to adapt themselves to a high technical level!), and so on, it is possible, in the sphere of such minor questions, to hold   forth about “social peace”, about the harmfulness of the class struggle, and so on. What class struggle can there be if the bourgeoisie itself is spending money on the “needs of the population”, on public health, on education? What need is there for a social revolution if it is possible through the local self-governing bodies, gradually, step by step, to extend “collective ownership”, and “socialise” production: the horse tramways, the slaughter-houses referred to so relevantly by the worthy Y. Larin?

The philistine opportunism of that “trend” lies in the fact that people forget the narrow limits of so-called “municipal socialism” (in reality, municipal capitalism, as the English Social-Democrats properly point out in their controversies with the Fabians). They forget that so long as the bourgeoisie rules as a class it cannot allow any encroachment, even from the “municipal” point of view, upon the real foundations of its rule; that if the bourgeoisie allows, tolerates, “municipal socialism”, it is because the latter does not touch the foundations of its rule, does not interfere with the Important sources of its wealth, but extends only to the narrow sphere of local expenditure, which the bourgeoisie itself allows the “population” to manage. It does riot need more than a slight acquaintance with “municipal socialism” in the West to know that any attempt on the part of socialist municipalities to go a little beyond the boundaries of their normal, i. e., minor, petty activities, which give no substantial relief to the workers, any attempt to meddle with capital, is invariably vetoed in the most emphatic manner by the central authorities, of the bourgeois state.

And it is this fundamental mistake, this philistine opportunism of the West-European Fabians, Possibilists, and Bernsteinians that Is taken over by our advocates of municipalisation.

Municipal socialism” means socialism in matters of local government. Anything that goes beyond the limits of local interests, beyond the limits of state administration, i. e., anything that affects the main sources of revenue of the ruling classes and the principal means of securing their rule, anything that affects not the administration of the state, but the structure of the state, thereby goes beyond   the sphere of “municipal socialism”. But our wiseacres evade this acute national issue, this question of the land, which affects the vital interests of the ruling classes in the most direct way, by relegating it to the sphere of “local government questions”. In the West they municipalise horse trains and slaughter-houses, so why should we not municipalise the best half of all the land?—argues the Russian petty intellectual. That would serve both in the event of restoration and in the event of incomplete democratisation of the central government!

And so we get agrarian socialism in a bourgeois revolution, a socialism of the most petty-bourgeois kind, one that counts on blunting the class struggle on vital issues by relegating the latter to the domain of petty questions affecting only local government. In fact, the question of the disposal of one half of the best land in the country is neither a local question nor a question of administration. It is a question that affects the whole state, a question of the structure, not only of the landlord, but of the bourgeois state. And to try to entice the people with the idea that “municipal socialism” can be developed in agriculture be fore the socialist revolution is accomplished is to practise the most inadmissible kind of demagogy. Marxism permits nationalisation to be included in the programme of a bourgeois revolution because nationalisation is a bourgeois measure, because absolute rent hinders the development of capitalism; private ownership of the land is a hindrance to capitalism. But to include the municipalisation of the big estates in the programme of the bourgeois revolution, Marxism must be remodelled into Fabian intellectualist opportunism.

It is here that we see the difference between petty-bourgeois and proletarian methods in the bourgeois revolution. The petty bourgeoisie, even the most radical—our Party of Socialist-Revolutionaries included—anticipates that after the bourgeois revolution there will be no class struggle, but universal prosperity and peace. Therefore, it “builds its nest” in advance, it introduces plans for petty-bourgeois reforms in the bourgeois revolution, talks about various “norms” arid “regulations” with regard to landownership, about strengthening the labour principle and small farming,   etc. The petty-bourgeois method is the method of building up relations making for the greatest possible degree of social peace. The proletarian method is exclusively that of clearing the path of all that is medieval, clearing it for the class struggle. Therefore, the proletarian can leave it to the small proprietors to discuss “norms” of landownership; the proletarian is interested only in the abolition of the landlord latifundia, the abolition of private ownership of land, that last barrier to the class struggle in agriculture. In the bourgeois revolution we are interested not in petty-bourgeois reformism, not in a future “nest” of tranquil used small farmers, but in the conditions for the proletarian struggle against all petty-bourgeois tranquillity on a bourgeois basis.

It is this anti-proletarian spirit that municipalisation introduces into the programme of the bourgeois agrarian revolution; for, despite the deeply fallacious opinion of the Mensheviks, municipalisation does not extend and sharpen the class, struggle, but,. on the contrary, blunts it. It blunts it, too, by assuming that local democracy is possible without the complete democratisation of the centre. It also blunts it with the idea of “municipal socialism”, because the latter is conceivable in bourgeois society only away from the high road of the struggle, only in minor, local, unimportant questions on which even the bourgeoisie may yield, may reconcile itself to without losing the possibility of preserving its class rule.

The working class must give bourgeois society the purest, most consistent and most thorough-going programme of bourgeois revolution, including the bourgeois nationalisation of the land. The proletariat scornfully rejects petty- bourgeois reformism in the bourgeois revolution; we are interested in freedom for the struggle, not in freedom for philistine bliss.

Naturally, the opportunism of the intelligentsia in the workers’ party takes a different line. Instead of the broad revolutionary programme of bourgeois revolution, attention is focused on a petty-bourgeois utopia: to secure local democracy with incomplete democratisation at the centre, to secure for petty reformism a little corner of municipal activity away from great “turmoil”, and to evade the extraordinarily   acute conflict over the land by following the recipe of the anti-Semites, i. e., by relegating an important national issue to the domain of petty, local questions.


[1] The Peasant Question and Social-Democracy, p. 66. —Lenin

[2] K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, p. 537.

[3] K. Marx and F.Engels, Selected Works, Vol. 1, 1955; p. 578.

  6. Is Land Nationalisation a Sufficiently Flexible Method? | 8. Some Examples of the Muddle Caused by Municipalisation  

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