V. I.   Lenin

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


Chapter V

Classes and Parties in the Debate on the Agrarian Question in the Second Duma

We think it will be useful to approach the question of the workers’ party’s agrarian programme in the Russian bourgeois revolution from another and somewhat different angle. The analysis of the economic conditions for the revolution and of the political arguments in favour of this or that programme should be supplemented by a picture of the struggle between the different classes and parties that will as far as possible embrace all the interests and place them in direct contrast to one another. Only such a picture can give us an idea of the thing we are discussing (the struggle for the land in the Russian revolution) as a whole, excluding the one-sided and accidental character of individual opinions, and testing theoretical conclusions by the practical intuition of the persons concerned. As individuals, any representatives of parties and classes may err, but when they come out in the public arena, before the entire population, the individual errors are inevitably rectified by the corresponding groups or classes that are interested in the struggle. Classes do not err; on the whole, they decide their interests and political aims in conformity   with the conditions of the struggle and with the conditions of social evolution.

Excellent material for drawing such a picture is provided by the Stenographic Records of the two Dumas. We shall take the Second Duma because it undoubtedly reflects the struggle of classes in the Russian revolution more fully and with greater maturity: the Second Duma elections were not boycotted by any influential party. The political grouping of the deputies in the Second Duma was much more definite, the various Duma groups were more united and more closely connected with their respective parties. The experience of the First Duma had already provided considerable material which helped all the parties to elaborate a more thought-out policy. For all these reasons it is preferable to take the Second Duma. We shall refer to the debate in the First Duma only in order to supplement, or clarify, statements made in the Second Duma.

To obtain a full and accurate picture of the struggle between the different classes and parties during th.e debate in the Second Duma we shall have to deal separately with each important and specific Duma group and characterise it with the aid of excerpts from the principal speeches delivered on the chief points of the agrarian question. As it is impossible and unnecessary to quote all the minor speakers, we shall mention only those who contributed something new, or threw noteworthy light on some aspect of the question.

The main groups of Duma deputies that stood out clearly in the debates on the agrarian question were the following: (1) the Rights and the Octobrists—as we shall see, no essential difference between them was shown in the Second Duma; (2) the Cadets; (3) the Right and Octobrist peasants, standing, as we shall see, to the Left of the Cadets; (4) the non-party peasants; (5) the Narodniks, or Trudovik intellectuals, standing somewhat to the Right of (6) the Trudovik peasants; then come (7) the Socialist-Revolutionaries; (8) the “nationals”, representing the non-Russian nationalities, and (9) the Social-Democrats. We shall mention the government’s position in connection with the Duma group with which the government is essentially in agreement.


1. The Rights and the Octobrists

The stand taken by the Rights on the agrarian question was undoubtedly best expressed by Count Bobrinsky in the speech he delivered on March 29, 1907 (18th session of the Second Duma). In a dispute with the Left-wing priest Tikhvinsky about the Holy Scriptures, and their commandments to obey the powers that be, and recalling. “the cleanest and brightest page in Russian history” (1289)[1] –the emancipation of the serfs (we shall deal with this later on)—the count approached the agrarian question “with open visor”. “About 100 or 150 years ago the peasants, nearly everywhere in Western Europe, were as poverty-stricken, degraded, and ignorant as our peasants are today. They had the same village communes as we have in Russia, with division of land per head, that typical survival of the feudal system” (1293). Today, continued the speaker, the peasants in Western Europe are well off. The question is, what miracle transformed “the poverty-stricken, degraded peasant into a prosperous and useful citizen who has respect for himself and for others”? “There can be only one answer: that miracle was performed by individual peasant ownership, the form of ownership that is so detested here, on the Left, but which we, on the Right, will defend with all the strength of our minds, with all the strength of our earnest convictions, for we know that in ownership lie, the strength and future of Russia” (1294). “Since the middle of last century agronomic chemistry has made wonderful... discoveries in plant nutrition, and the peasants abroad— small owners equally [??] with big ones—have succeeded in utilising these, scientific discoveries, and by employing artificial fertilisers have achieved a still further increase in crop yield; and today, when our splendid black earth yields only 30 to 35 poods of grain, and sometimes not even enough for seed, the peasants abroad, year after year, get an average yield ranging from 70 to 120 poods, depending on the country and climatic conditions. Here you have the solution of the agrarian problem. This is no dream, no   fantasy. It is an instructive historical example. And the Russian peasant will not follow in the footsteps of Pugachov and Stenka Razin[3] with the cry ‘saryn na kichku![4] [Don’t be too sure of that, Count!] He will follow the only true road, the road that was taken by all the civilised nations, the road taken by his neighbours in Western Europe, and, lastly, the road taken by our Polish brothers, by the West-Russian peasants, who have already realised how disastrous is the commune and homestead strip system of ownership, and in some places have already begun to introduce the khutor system” (1296). Count Bobrinsky goes on to say; and rightly, that “this road was indicated in 1861, when the peasants were freed from serf dependence”. He advises the government not to grudge “tens of millions” for the purpose of “creating a well-to-do class of peasant-proprietors”. He declares: “This, gentlemen, in general outline, is our agrarian programme. It is not. a programme of election and propaganda promises. It is not a programme for breaking up the existing social and juridical norms lit is a programme for forcibly getting rid of millions of peasants]; it is not a programme of dangerous fantasies, it is a quite practicable programme [that is still open to question] and one that has been well-tried [what is true is true]. And it is high time to abandon dreams about some sort of economic exceptionalism of the Russian nation.... But how are we to explain the fact that quite impracticable Bills, like that of the Trudovik Group and that of the Party of People’s Freedom, have been introduced in a serious legislative assembly? No parliament in the world has ever heard of all the land being taken over by the state, or of the land being taken from Paul and given to Peter.... The appearance of these Bills is the result of bewilderment” (a fine explanation!).... “And so, Russian peasants, you have to choose between two roads: one road is broad and looks easy—that is the road of usurpation and compulsory alienation, for which calls have been made here. That road is attractive at first, it runs downhill, but it ends i.n a precipice [for the landlords? 1, and spells ruin to the peasantry and the entire state. The other road is narrow and thorny, and runs uphill, but it leads to the summits of truth, right, and lasting prosperity” (1299).

As the reader sees, this is the government’s programme. This is exactly what Stolypin is accomplishing with his famous agrarian legislation under Article 87. Purishkevich formulated the same programme in his agrarian theses (20th session, April 2, 1907, pp. 1532-33). The same programme was advocated, part by part, by the Octobrists, beginning with Svyatopolk-Mirsky on the first day of the debates on the agrarian question (March 19), and ending with Kapustin (“the peasants need landownership and not land tenure, as is proposed”—24th session, April 9, 1907, p. 1805, speech by Kapustin, applauded by the Right “and part of the Centre”).

In the programme of the Black Hundreds and the Octobrists there is not even a hint about defending pre-capitalist forms of farming, as, for example, by vaunting patriarchal agriculture, and so forth. Defence of the village commune, which until quite recently had ardent champions among the higher bureaucracy and the landlords, has given place to bitter hostility towards it. The Black Hundreds fully take the stand of capitalist development and definitely depict a programme that is economically progressive, European; this needs to be specially emphasised, because a vulgar and simplified view of the nature of the reactionary policy of the landlords is very widespread among us. The liberals often depict the Black Hundreds as clowns and fools, but it must be said that this description is far more applicable to the Cadets. Our reactionaries, however, are distinguished by their extremely pronounced class-consciousness. They know perfectly well what they want, where they are going, and on what forces they can count. They do not betray a shadow of half-heartedness or irresolution (at all events in the Second Duma; in the First there was “bewilderment”—among the Bobrinskys!). They are clearly seen to be connected with a very definite class, which is accustomed to command, which correctly judges the conditions necessary for preserving its rule in a capitalist environment, and brazenly defends its interests even if that entails the rapid extinction, degradation, and eviction of millions of peasants. The Black-Hundred programme is reactionary not because it seeks to perpetuate any pre capitalist relations or system (in that respect all the parties   of the period of the Second Duma. already, in essence, take the stand of recognising capitalism, of taking it for granted), but because it stands for the Junker type of capitalist development in order to strengthen the power arid to increase the incomes of the landlords, in order to place the edifice of autocracy upon a new and stronger foundation. There is no contradiction between what these gentle men say and what they do; our reactionaries, too, are “businessmen”, as Lassalle said of the German reactionaries in contrast to the liberals.

What is the attitude of these people towards the idea of nationalising the land? Towards, say, the partial nationalisation with compensation demanded by the Cadets in the First Duma, leaving, like the Mensheviks, private ownership of small holdings and creating a state land reserve out of the rest of the land? Did they not perceive in the nationalisation idea the possibility of strengthening the bureaucracy, of consolidating the central bourgeois government against the proletariat, of restoring “state feudalism” and the “Chinese experiment”?

On the contrary, every hint at nationalisation of the land infuriates them, and they fight it in such a way that one would think they had borrowed their arguments from Plekhanov. Take the nobleman Vetchinin, a Right land lord. “I think,” he said at the 39th session on May 16, 1907, “that the question of compulsory alienation must be decided in the negative sense from the point of view of the law. The advocates of that opinion forget that the violation of the rights of private owners is characteristic of states that are at a low stage of social and political development. It is sufficient to recall the Muscovy period, when the tsar often took land away from private owners and later granted it to his favourites and to the monasteries. What did that attitude of the government lead to? The consequences were frightful” (619).

Such was the use made of Plekhanov’s “restoration of Muscovy Rus”! Nor is Vetchinin the only one to harp on this string. In the First Duma, the landlord N. Lvov, who was elected as a Cadet and then went over to the Right, and after the dissolution of the First Duma negotiated with Stolypin for a place in the Ministry—that personage   put the question in exactly the same way. “The astonishing thing about the Bill of the 42,” he said concerning the Bill that the Cadets. introduced in the First Duma, “is that it bears the impress of the same old bureaucratic despotism which seeks to put everything on an equal level” (12th session, May 19, 1906, pp. 479-80). He, quite in the spirit of Maslov, “stood up for” the non-Russian nationalities: “How are we to subordinate to it [equalisation] the whole of Russia, including Little Russia, Lithuania, Poland, and the Baltic region?” (479.) “In St. Petersburg,” he warned, “you will have to set up a gigantic Land Office... and maintain a staff of officials in every corner of the country” (480).

These outcries about bureaucracy and serfdom in connection with nationalisation—these outcries of our municipalisers, inappropriately copied from the German model— are the dominant note in all the speeches of the Right. The Octobrist Shidlovsky, for example, opposing compulsory alienation, accuses the Cadets of advocating “attachment to the land” (12th session of the Second Duma, March 19, 1907, p. 752). Shulgin howls about property being in violate, about compulsory alienation being “the grave of culture and civilisation” (16th session, March 26, 1907, p. 1133). Shulgin refers—he might have been quoting from Plekhanov’s Diary,[5] though he does not say so—to twelfth-century China, to the deplorable result of the Chinese experiment in nationalisation (p. 1137). Here is Skirmunt in the First Duma: The state will be the owner! “A blessing, an El Dorado for the bureaucracy” (10th session, May 16, 1906, p. 410). Here is the Octobrist Tantsov, exclaiming in the Second Duma: “With far greater justification, these reproaches [about serfdom] can be flung back to the Left and to the Centre. What do these Bills hold out for the peasants in reality if not the prospect of being tied to the land, if not the old serfdom, only in a different form, in which the place of the landlord will be taken by usurers and government officials” (39th session, May 16, 1907, p. 653).

Of course, the hypocrisy of these outcries about bureaucracy is most glaring, for the excellent idea of setting up local laud committees to be elected by universal, direct, and equal suffrage by secret ballot was advanced by the very   peasants who are demanding nationalisation. But the Black-Hundred landlords are compelled to seize on every possible argument against nationalisation. Their class instinct tells them that nationalisation in twentieth-century Russia is inseparably bound up with a peasant republic. In other countries, where, owing to objective conditions, there can not be a peasant agrarian revolution, the situation is, of course, different—for example, in Germany, where the Kanitzes can sympathise with plans for nationalisation, where the socialists will not even hear of nationalisation, where the bourgeois movement for nationalisation is limited to intellectualist sectarianism. To combat the peasant revolution the Rights had to come before the peasants in the role of champions of peasant ownership as against nationalisation. We have seen one example in the case of Bobrinsky. Here is another—Vetchinin: “This question [of nationalising the land] must, of course, be settled in the negative sense, for it finds no sympathy even among the peasants; they want to have land by right of ownership and not by right of tenancy” (39th session, p. 621). Only landlords and cabinet ministers could speak for the peasants in that manner. This fact is so well known that I regard it as superfluous to quote the speeches of the Gurkos, Stolypins, and other such heroes, who ardently champion private ownership.

The only exception among the flights is the Terek Cossack Karaulov, whom we have already mentioned.[2] Agreeing partly also with the Cadet Shingaryov, Karaulov said that the Cossack troops are a “huge agrarian commune” (1363), that “it is better to abolish private ownership of the land” than to abolish the village communes, and he advocated the “extensive municipalisation of the land, to be converted into the property of the respective regions” (1367). At the same time he complained about the pinpricks of the bureaucracy. “We are not the masters of our own property,” he said (1368). With the significance of these Cossack sympathies for municipalisation we have already dealt above.



[1] Here and elsewhere the figures indicate the pages of Stenographic Record. —Lenin

[2] See p. 336 of this volume.—Ed.

[3] Stepan Razin and Yemelyan Pugachov—leaders of great peasant revolts in Russia in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

[4] Saryn na kichku (literally, “to the prow, lubbers!”)—a cry said to have been used by Volga freebooters ordering the people on a board ed vessel to lie down in the bows and stay there until the looting was over.

[5] Plekhanov’s “Diary”—Dnevnik Sotsial-Demokrata (Diary of a Social-Democrat)—a non-periodical organ published at considerable intervals by Plekhanov in Geneva from March 1905 to April 1912.   In all, sixteen issues were brought out. Publication was resumed in Petrograd in 1916, but only one issue appeared: In the first eight issues (1905-06) Plekhanov expounded extremely Right-wing Menshevik and opportunist views, advocated a bloc between Social-Democracy and the liberal bourgeoisie, rejected the idea of an alliance of the proletariat and the peasantry, and condemned the December uprising. In 1909-12 (Nos. 9-16), he opposed the Menshevik liquidators, who sought to disband the underground Party organisations. On the basic questions of tactics, however, he took a Menshevik stand. Plekhanov’s social-chauvinist views were forcibly expressed in the. issue No. 1 published in 1916.

  8. Some Examples of the Muddle Caused by Municipalisation | 2. The Cadets  

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