V. I.   Lenin

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


8. Some Examples of the Muddle Caused by Municipalisation

What confusion the “municipalisation” programme has created in the minds of Social-Democrats and to what a helpless position it has reduced our propagandists and agitators can be seen from the following curious cases.

Y. Larin is undoubtedly a prominent and well-known figure in Menshevik literature. In Stockholm, as can be seen from the Minutes, he took a most active part in securing the adoption of the programme. His pamphlet, The Peasant Question and Social-Democracy, which was included in the series of pamphlets published by Novy Mir, is almost an official commentary on the Menshevik programme. And here is what this commentator writes. In the concluding pages of his pamphlet he sums up the question of agrarian reform. He foresees three kinds of outcome of these reforms: (1) additional allotments to the peasants as their private property, subject to compensation—“the most unfavourable outcome for the working class, for the lower strata of the peasantry and for the whole development of the national economy” (p. 103). The second outcome is the best, and. the third, although unlikely, is “a paper declaration of compulsory equalised land tenure.” One would have thought that we had the right to expect that an advocate of the municipalisation programme would, have made municipalisation the second outcome. But no! Listen to this:

Perhaps all the confiscated land, or even all the land in general, will be declared the property of the state as a whole and will be turned over to the local self-governing bodies to be distributed gratis [??] for the use of all who are actually cultivating it, without, of course, the compulsory introduction throughout the whole of Russia of equalised land tenure, and without prohibiting the employment of hired labour. Such a solution of the problem, as we have seen, best secures the immediate interests, of the proletariat as well as the general interests of the socialist movement, and will help to increase the productivity of labour, which is the fundamental, vital question for Russia. Therefore, the Social-Democrats should advocate and carry out an   agrarian reform [?] precisely of that character. It will be achieved when, at the highest point of development of the revolution, the conscious elements of social development are strong” (p. 103. Our italics).

If Y. Larin or other Mensheviks believe this to be an exposition of the municipalisation programme, they are labouring under a tragicomical illusion. The transfer of all the land to state ownership is nationalisation of the land, and we cannot conceive of the land being disposed of other wise than through local self-governing bodies acting within the limits of a general state law. To such a programme—not of “reform”, of course, but of revolution—I wholeheartedly subscribe, except for the point about distributing the land “gratis” even to those farmers who employ hired labour, To promise such a thing on behalf of bourgeois society is more fitting for an anti-Semite than for a Social-Democrat. No Marxist can assume the possibility of such an outcome with in the framework of capitalist development; nor is there any reason for considering it desirable to transfer rent to capitalist farmers. Nevertheless, except for this point, which was probably a slip of the pen, it remains an indubitable fact that in a popular Menshevik pamphlet the nationalisation of the land is advocated as the best outcome at the highest point of development of the revolution.

On the question of what is to be done with the privately owned lands, Larin has this to say:

As regards the privately owned lands occupied by big, efficient capitalist farms, Social-Democrats do not propose the confiscation of such lands for the purpose of dividing them among the small. farmers. While the average yield of small peasant farming, either on privately owned or rented land, does not reach 30 poods per dessiatin, the average yield of capitalist agriculture in Russia is over 50 poods” (p. 64).

In saying this, Larin in effect throws overboard the idea of a peasant agrarian revolution, for his average figures of crop yields appertain to all the landlord lands. If we do not believe in the possibility of achieving a wider and more rapid increase in the productivity of labour on small farms after they have been freed from the yoke of serfdom, then all talk about “supporting the revolutionary actions of the peasantry, including the confiscation of the laud from the landlords”, is meaningless. Besides, Larin forgets   that on the question of “the purpose for which Social-Democrats propose the confiscation of capitalist estates”, there is the decision of the Stockholm Congress.

It was Comrade Strumilin who, at the Stockholm Congress, moved an amendment to insert after the words: economic development (in the resolution), the following: “insisting, therefore, that the confiscated big capitalist farms should continue to be exploited on capitalist lines in the interests of the whole of the people, and under conditions that best meet the needs of the agricultural proletariat” (p. 157). This amendment was rejected almost unanimously, it received only one vote (ibid.).

Nevertheless, propaganda is being carried on among the masses that ignores the decision of the Congress! The retention of private ownership of allotment land makes municipalisation such a confusing thing, that commentaries on the programme cannot help running counter to the decision of the Congress.

K. Kautsky, who has been so frequently and unfairly quoted in favour of one or the other programme (unfairly because he has categorically declined to express a definite view on the question and has confined himself to explaining certain general truths), Kautsky, who, curiously enough, was oven cited as being in favour of municipalisation, wrote, it turns out, to M. Shanin in April 1906 as follows:

Evidently, by municipalisation I meant something different from what you, and perhaps Maslov, mean. What I meant was the following: the big landed estates will be confiscated and large-scale agriculture will be continued upon such land, either by the municipalities ii] or by larger organisations, or else the land will be rented out to producers associations. I do not know whether that is possible in Russia or whether it would be acceptable to the peasants. Nor do I say that we should demand it, but ii the demand is raised by others, I think we could easily agree to it. It would be an interesting experiment.”[1]

These quotations should suffice to show how those who were, or are, fully in sympathy with the Stockholm programme, are destroying it by the way they interpret it. The fault here lies in the hopeless muddle in the programme; in theory it is bound up with the repudiation of Marx’s theory of rent, in practice it is an adaptation to the impossible “middle” event of local democracy under a non-democratic central government, and in economics it amounts to introducing petty-bourgeois, quasi-socialist reformism into the programme of the bourgeois revolution.


[1] M. Shanin, Municipalisation or Division for Private Property, Vilna, 1907, p. 4. M. Shanin rightly expresses doubt whether Kautsky may he counted among the supporters of municipalisation and protests against the Mensheviks’ self-advertisement (in the Menshevik Pravda,[2] 1906) in regard to Kautsky. Kautsky himself, in a letter— published by Maslov, bluntly says: “We may leave it to the peasants to decide the forms of property to he adopted on the land confiscated from the big landowners. I would consider it a mistake to impose anything   on them in that respect” (p. 16, The Question of the Agrarian Programme, by Maslov and Kautsky. Novy Mir Publishers, Moscow, 1906). This quite definite statement by Kautsky certainly excludes municipalisation of the land, which the Mensheviks want to impose on the peasants. —Lenin

[2] Pravda (Truth)—a monthly Menshevik magazine dealing with questions of art, literature, and social activities, published in Moscow in 1904-06.

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