V. I.   Lenin

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


4. The Non-Party Peasants

The non-party peasants are of special interest as the spokesmen of the least politically conscious and least organised rural masses. We shall, therefore, quote, passages from the speeches of all the non-party peasants,[1] especially as there are not many of them: Sakhno, Semyonov, Moroz, and Afanasyev.

Gentlemen, people’s representatives,” said Sakhno (Kiev Gubernia), “it is difficult for peasants’ deputies to get up on this rostrum and oppose tile rich landed gentry. At the present time the peas ants are living very poorly because they have no land.... The peasant has a lot to put up with at the hands of the landlord; he suffers be cause the landlord sorely oppresses him.... Why can a landlord own a lot of land, while the peasant has only the kingdom of heaven?... And so, gentlemen, when the peasants sent me here they instructed me to champion their needs, to demand land and freedom for them, to demand that all state, crown, private, and monastery lands be compulsorily alienated without compensation.... I want you to know, gentlemen, people’s representatives, that a hungry man cannot keep quiet when he sees that, in spite of his suffering, the government is   on the side of the landed gentry. He cannot help demanding land, even if it is against the law; want compels him to demand it. A hungry man is capable of anything, for want makes him reckless, being hungry and poor” (1482-86).

Just as artless, and just as powerful in its simplicity was the speech of the non-party peasant Semyonov (Podolsk Gubernia, peasant deputy):

...“Bitter is the lot of those peasants who have been suffering for ages without land. For two hundred years they have been waiting or fortune to drop from the skies, but it has not come. Fortune is in the pockets of the big landed gentry who obtained this land together with our grandfathers and fathers; but the earth is the Lord’s, not the landlords’.... I know perfectly well that the land belongs to the whole of the working people who till the land.... Deputy Purishkevich says: ‘Revolution! Help!’ What does that mean? Yes, if the land is taken from them by compulsory alienation, they will be the revolution, but not we, we shall all be fighters, the kindest of people.... Have we got 150 dessiatins like the priest? And what about the monasteries and the churches? What do they want it for? No, gentlemen, it is time to stop collecting treasure and keeping it in your pockets; it is time to live reasonably. The country will under stand, gentlemen, I understand perfectly, we are honest citizens, we do not engage in politics, as one of the preceding speakers said.... They [the landlords] only go about and grow fat on our sweat and blood. We shall not forget them, we shall do them no harm, we shall even give them land. If you figure it out, we shall get 16 dessiatins per household, but the big landed gentry will still have 50 dessiatins each.... Thousands, millions of people are suffering, but the gentry are feasting.... When it comes to military service we know what happens: if a man falls sick they say: ‘He has land at home’. But where is his home? He has no home! He has a home only in the roster which says where he was born, where he is registered, what his religion is— but he has no land. Now I say: the people asked me to demand that the church, monastery, state, and crown lands, and the land compulsorily alienated from the landlords, should be handed over to the working people who will till the land; and it should be handed over locally: they will know what to do. I tell you that the people sent me here to demand land and freedom and all civil liberties; and we shall live, arid we shall not point and say, these are gentry and those are peasants; we shall all be human, and each will be a gentleman in his place” (1930-34).

When one reads this speech of a peasant who “does not engage in politics” it becomes palpably clear that the implementation not only of Stolypin’s but also of the Cadets’ agrarian programme requires decades of systematic violence against the peasant masses, of systematic flogging, extermination   by torture, imprisonment, and exile of all peasants who think and try to act freely. Stolypin is aware of this and is acting accordingly. The Cadets, with the obtuseness characteristic of liberal bureaucrats and professors, are either unaware of it or else hypocritically conceal it, “shame facedly remain silent” about it, just as they do about the punitive expeditions of 1861 and of subsequent years. If this systematic and unchecked violence is shattered by some internal or external obstacle, the honest non-party peasant who “does not engage in politics” will convert Russia into a peasant republic.

The peasant Moroz, in a short speech, simply said: “The land must be taken away from the clergy and the landlords” (1955), and then quoted the Gospel (this is not the first time in history that bourgeois revolutionaries have taken their slogans from the Gospel).... “Unless you bring the priest some bread and a half bottle of vodka he won’t baptise a child for you.... And yet they talk about Holy Gospel and read: ‘Ask and it shall be given you; knock and it will be opened unto you.’ We ask and ask, but it is not given us; and we knock, but still it is not given us. Must we break down the door and take it? Gentlemen, don’t wait until the door is broken down; give voluntarily, and then there will be freedom, liberty, and it will be good for you and for us” (1955).

Take the non-party peasant Afanasyev, who appraises Cossack “municipalisation” not from the Cossack point of view, but from that of “almost a newcomer”. “In the first place, gentlemen, I must say that I represent the peasants of the Don region, numbering over a million, and yet I was the only one elected. That alone shows that we are almost newcomers there... I am infinitely surprised: does St. Petersburg feed the countryside? No, on the contrary, in the past I worked in St. Petersburg for twenty odd years, and I noticed even then that it was not St. Petersburg that fed the countryside, but the countryside that fed St. Peters burg. And I notice the same thing now. All this beautiful architecture, all these edifices and buildings, all these fine houses, they are all built by peasants, as they were twenty-five years ago.... Purishkevich gave the example of a Cossack who has over twenty dessiatins of land, and he   is also starving.... Why didn’t he tell us where that land is? There is land, there is land in Russia, too, but who owns it? If he knew there is so much land there, but did not say where, it shows that he is an unjust man; but if he didn’t know, he should not have started talking about it. And if he really didn’t know, then permit me, gentlemen, to tell him where that land is, how much there is of it, and who owns it. If you reckon it up you will find that in the Don Cossack Region there are 753,546 dessiatins used as private stud-farms. I will also mention the Kalmyk stud-farms, what are called nomad camps; they take up in all 165,708 dessiatins. Then there are 1,055,919 dessiatins temporarily leased by rich people. All that land belongs not to the people Purishkevich mentioned, but to kulaks, to the rich, who oppress us; when they get cattle—they skin us of half, we have to pay a ruble per dessiatin, another ruble for the animal we plough with, but we have to feed our children, and the Cossack wives and children as well. That is why we are starving.” He went on to say that leaseholders get 2,700 dessiatins each for supplying eight horses “for the cavalry”; the peasants could supply more. “I will tell you that I wanted to convince the government that it was making a great mistake in not doing this. I wrote a letter to Selsky Vestnik and asked them to publish it, but they answered that it was not our business to teach the government.” Thus, on “municipalised” land transferred to the ownership of a region, the “central undemocratic government” is de facto creating new landlords: municipalisation is, as Plekhanov revealed, a guarantee against restoration....

The government opened the doors wide for us to acquire land through the Peasant Bank—that is the yoke that was put on us in 1861. It wants to make us settle in Siberia ... but would it not be better to send there the man who owns thousands of dessiatins? Look how many people could live off the land he would leave behind!” (Applause on the Left; voices from the Right: “That’s stale, that’s stale.”) ... “During the Japanese war I led my recruits through those [landlords’] lands that I have mentioned here. It took us over forty-eight hours to get to the assembly place. The men asked me: ‘Where are you taking us?’ I answered: ‘Against Japan.’ ‘What for?’ ‘To defend our country.’ Being a soldier myself, I felt it was our duty to defend our country, but the men said: ‘This is not our country— the land belongs to the Lisetskys, Bezulovs, and Podkopailovs. There is nothing here that is ours!’ They said things to me that I have been   unable to wipe out from my heart for more than two years.... Consequently, gentlemen ... to sum up, I must say that as regards all those rights that exist in our Russia, from the princes to the nobles, Cossacks, burghers, not mentioning the word peasant, all must be Russian citizens and have the use of land, all those who till the land, who put their labour into it, who cherish and love it. Work, sweat, and benefit from it. But if you do not want to live on the land, if you do not want to till it, if you do not want to put your labour into it, you have no right to benefit from it” (1974) (26th session, 12.IV.1907).

Not mentioning the word peasant!” That splendid utterance “from the depths of the heart” burst from a peasant who wants to do away with the social estate character of landownership (“all those rights that exist in our Russia”), who wants to abolish the very name of the lowest estate, the peasantry. “Let all be citizens.” Equal right to land for the toilers is nothing else than the farmer’s point of view applied with the utmost consistency to the land. There must be no other basis for the ownership of land (like that “for service” among the Cossacks, etc.), no other reasons, no other relations, except the right of the farmer to the land, except the reason that he “cherishes” it, except the relation that he “puts his labour” into it. That must he the point of view of the farmer who stands for free farming on free land, for the removal of everything that is extraneous, obstructive, and obsolete, the removal of all the old forms of landownership. Would it not be the stupid application of a thoughtless doctrine if Marxists were to dissuade such a farmer from nationalisation and teach him the benefits of private ownership of allotment land?

In the First Duma, the peasant Merkulov (Kursk Gubernia) expressed the same idea about the nationalisation of peasant allotment land as that which we quoted above from the reports of the congresses of the Peasant Union. “They try to scare us;” said Merkulov, “by saying that the peasants themselves will refuse to part with the patch of land they now possess. To that I say: Who is going to take it from them? Even with complete nationalisation, only that part of the land will be taken which the owner does not cultivate by himself, but with hired labour” (18th session, May 30, 1906, p. 822).

That was said by a peasant who, as he himself admitted, owns 60 dessiatins of land. Of course, the idea of abolishing   or of prohibiting wage-labour in capitalist society is childish, but we must scotch wrong ideas at the point where they begin to go wrong, namely, beginning with “socialisation” and the prohibition of wage-labour,[2] and not with nationalisation.

This same peasant Merkulov opposed the Cadet Bill of the 42, which coincides With municipalisation in that allotment land is to remain private property and landlords’ land is to be given out in tenure. This is “a kind of transitional stage from one system to the other”... “instead of one we have two forms of ownership: private ownership and renting, i.e., two forms of landownership that not only do not hang together, but are the very opposite of each other” (823).


[1] In determining the group or party to which the deputies in the Second Duma belong we have consulted the official publication of the State Duma: list of deputies according to parties and groups. Some deputies passed from one party to another, but it is impossible to keep track of these changes from newspaper reports. Moreover, to consult different sources on this matter would only cause confusion, —Lenin

[2] There is no need for us to “scotch” this wrong idea, for the “sober minded” Trudoviks, headed by the “sober-minded” Peshekhonovs, have already scotched it. —Lenin

  3. The Right Peasants | 5. The Narodnik Intellectuals  

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