V. I.   Lenin

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


5. The Narodnik Intellectuals

In the speeches of the Narodnik intellectuals, particularly those of the Popular Socialists, i.e., the Narodnik opportunists, two currents must be noted: on the one hand, sincere defence of the interests of the peasant masses—in that respect their speeches, for understandable reasons, are much less impressive than those of the peasants who “do not engage in politics”; on the other hand, a certain Cadet savour, a touch of intellectualist philistinism, an attempt to adopt the state point of view. It goes without saying that, in contrast to the peasants, their commitment to a doctrine is evident: they are fighting not on account of directly felt needs and hardships, but to vindicate a certain theory, a system of views which distorts the real issue of the struggle.

Land for the toilers,” proclaims Mr. Karavayev in his first speech, and he characterises Stolypin’s agrarian legislation under Article 87 as “the destruction of the village commune”, as pursuing a “political aim”, namely, “the formation of a special class of rural bourgeois”.

We know that these peasants are really the major props of reaction, a reliable prop of the bureaucracy; but in counting on this, the government has made a grave mistake: besides this there will be   the peasant proletariat. I do not know which is better, a peasant proletariat, or the present land-hungry peasantry which, if certain measures were taken, could obtain a sufficient amount of land” (722).

This smacks of the reactionary Narodism of Mr. V. V.: “Better” for whom? For the state? For the landlord state, or for the bourgeois state? And why is the proletariat not “better”? Because the land-hungry peasantry “could obtain”, i.e., could more easily be appeased, more easily brought into the camp of order, than the proletariat? That is what it amounts to, according to Mr. Karavayev: it is as if he were offering Stolypin and Co. a more reliable “guarantee” against a social revolution!

If Mr. Karavayev were right in essentials, the Marxists could not support the confiscation of the landlords’ land in Russia. But Mr. Karavayev is wrong, because the Stolypin “way”, by slowing down the development of capitalism— in comparison with the peasant revolution—is creating more paupers than proletarians. Karavayev himself said, and rightly, that the Stolypin policy was enriching (not the new, bourgeois elements, not the capitalist farmers, but) the present landlords, half of whose economies were run on feudal lines. In 1895, the price of land sold through the “Peasant” Bank was 51 rubles per dessiatin; but in 1906, the price was 126 rubles. (Karavayev at the 47th session, May 26, 1907, p. 1189.) And Mr. Karavayev’s party colleagues, Volk-Karachevsky and Delarov, brought out even more vividly the significance of those figures. Delarov showed that “up to 1905, during the twenty odd years of its existence, the Peasant Bank bought up only 7,500,000 dessiatins”; but between November 3, 1905 and April 1, 1907, it bought up 3,800,000 dessiatins. The price of land was 80 rubles per dessiatin in 1900, 108 rubles in 1902, rising to 109 rubles in 1903, before the agrarian movement, and before the Russian revolution. Now it is 126 rubles. “While the whole of Russia was suffering heavy loss as a consequence of the Russian revolution, the Russian big landowners were amassing fortunes. During that period they pocketed over 60,000,000 rubles of the people’s money” (1220—counting 109 rubles as a “fair” price). But Mr. Yolk Karachevsky reckons far more correctly in refusing to regard any price as “fair”, simply noting that after November   3, 1905, the government paid out to the landlords 52,000,000 rubles on account of land purchased by peasants, and 242,000,000 rubles on its own account; in all, “295,000,000 rubles of the people’s money were paid to the landed nobility” (1080. All italics ours). This, of course, is only a fraction of what Junker-bourgeois agrarian evolution is costing Russia; such is the tribute imposed on the growing productive forces for the benefit of the feudal landlords and the bureaucracy! The Cadets too want to preserve this tribute to the landlords for the liberation of Russia’s development (redemption payments). The bourgeois farmers’ republic, on the other hand, would be compelled to use those sums for developing the productive forces of agriculture under the new system.[1]

Lastly, we must certainly place to the credit of the Narodnik intellectuals the fact that, unlike the Bobrinskys and Kutlers, they are aware of the fraud that was perpetrated on the people in 1861 and call that notorious reform not the great reform, but one “carried out in the interests of the landlords” (Karavayev, 1193). Reality, justly observed Mr. Karavayev concerning the post-Reform period, “has exceeded the gloomiest forecasts” of those who championed the interests of the peasantry in 1861.

On the question of peasant ownership of the land, Mr. Karavayev openly challenged the government’s concern for it by putting the question to the peasants: “Gentlemen, peasant deputies, you are the representatives of the people. Your life is the peasants’ life, your mind is their mind. When you were leaving, did your constituents complain that they   were uncertain about the ownership of land? Did they make it your first duty in the Duma, your first demand: ‘Mind you ensure private ownership of the land, otherwise you will not be carrying out our mandate’? No. You will say that you were not given such a mandate” (1185).

Far from repudiating that statement, the peasant deputies confirmed it by the entire content of their speeches. And that, of course, was not because the Russian peasant is devoted to the “village commune”, is an “opponent of private ownership”, but because economic conditions now dictate to him the task of abolishing all the old forms of landownership in. order to create a new system of economy.

To the debit side of the account of the Narodnik intellectuals we must place their loudly voiced arguments about “norms” of peasant landownership. “I. think everybody will agree that in order to settle the agrarian question. properly,” declared Mr. Karavayev, “the following data are needed: first,. the amount of land necessary for subsistence, the subsistence norm; and the amount necessary to absorb all the labour of the household, the labour norm. We must know exactly how much land the peasants possess; that will enable us to calculate how much they are short of. Then we must know how, much land can be given” (1.186).

We emphatically disagree with that opinion. And we assert on the basis of the statements made by the peasants in the Duma that it contains an element of intellectualist bureaucracy that is alien to the peasants. The peasants do not talk about “norms”. Norms are a bureaucratic invention, a hang-over of the feudal Reform of 1861 of accursed memory. Guided by their true class instinct, the peasants place the weight of emphasis on the abolition of landlordism and not on “norms”. It is not a question of how much land is “needed”. “You will not create another world”, as the above-mentioned non-party peasant so aptly expressed it. It is a question of doing away with the oppressive feudal latifundia, which ought to be done away with even if the “norms” are reached without it. The Narodnik intellectual slips into this position: if the “norm” is reached, then, perhaps, there will be no need to touch the landlords. The peasants’ line of reasoning is different: “peasants, throw them off your backs” (meaning the landlords), said the peasant Pyanykb   (S.R) in the Second Duma (16th session, March 26, 1907, p. 1101). The landlords must be thrown off not because there are not enough “norms” to go round, but because the farmer does not want to be burdened with donkeys and leeches. There is a “big difference” between these two arguments.

The peasant does not talk about norms, but with remark able practical intuition he “takes the bull by the horns The question is: Who is to fix the norms? This was excellently put by the clergyman Poyarkov in the First Duma. “It is proposed to fix a norm of land per head,” he said. “Who is to fix this norm? If it is to be fixed by the peasants themselves, then, of course, they will not neglect their own interests; but if the landlords as well as the peasants are to do so, then it is a question as to who will gain the upper hand in working out the norm” (12th session, May 49, 1906, p. 488).

That exactly hits the mark in regard to all the talk about norms.

In the case of the Cadets it is not mere talk, but down right betrayal of the peasants to the landlords. And that kindly village priest Mr. Poyarkov, who has evidently seen liberal landlords in action in his part of the countryside, instinctively perceived where the falsity lay.

Another thing people are afraid of,” said th.e same Poyarkov, “is that there will be a multitude of officials. The peasants will distribute the land themselves!” (488-89.) That is the crux of the matter. “Norms” do, indeed, smack of officialdom. It is different when the peasant speaks: We shall distribute the land on the spot. Hence the idea of setting up local land committees, which expresses the true interests of the peasantry in the revolution and naturally rouses the hatred of the liberal scoundrels.[2] Under such a plan of nationalisation all that is left to the state is to   determine what lands can serve for colonisation or may require special intervention (“forests and waters of national importance”, as our present programme puts it), i.e.. all that is left is what even the “municipalisers” deem necessary to put in the hands of the “democratic state” (they should have said: republic).

Comparing the talk about norms with the economic facts, we see at once that the peasants are men of deeds, whereas the Narodnik. intellectuals are men of words. The “labour” norm would be of real importance if attempts were made to prohibit hired labour. The majority of the peasants have turned down these attempts, and the Popular Socialists have admitted that they are impracticable. That being the case, the question of “norms” does not arise, and there remains division among a given number of farmers. The “subsistence” norm is a poverty norm, and in capitalist society the peasants will always flee from such a “norm” to the towns (we shall deal with this separately later on). Here too, then, it is not at all a matter of a “norm” (which, moreover, changes with every change in the crop and technical methods), but a matter of dividing the land among a given number of farmers, of “sorting out” the real farmers who are capable of “cherishing” the land (with both labour and capital) from the inefficient farmers who must not be retained in agriculture—and, to attempt to retain them in it would be reactionary.

As a curiosity, showing what the Narodnik theories lead to, we shall quote Mr. Karavayev’s reference to Denmark. Europe, you see, “was handicapped by private ownership”, whereas our village communes “help to solve the problem of co-operation”. “In this respect, Denmark provides a splendid example.” It is indeed a splendid example that tells against the Narodniks. In Denmark we see the most typical bourgeois peasantry, which concentrates both dairy cattle (see The Agrarian Question and the “Critics of Marx”, Chapter X[3] ) and the land. Of the total number of crop farms in Denmark, 68.3 per cent occupy up to 1 hartkorn, i.e., up to about 9 dessiatins each. They account for 11.1 per cent of all the land. At the other pole are 12.6 per cent   of the farms with 4 hartkorns and over (36 dessiatins and over) each; they account for 62 per cent of all the land. (N. S., Agrarian Programmes, Novy Mir Publishers, p. 7.) Comment is superfluous.

It is interesting to note that in the First Duma Denmark was put forward as a trump card by the liberal Herzenstein, to which the Right deputies (in both Dumas) retorted: in Denmark there is peasant ownership. We need nationalisation in our country in order to create freedom for the old farms to reorganise “on Danish lines” on the “unfenced” land. As for converting tenancy into ownership, there will be no obstacle to that if the peasants themselves demand it, in such a matter the entire bourgeoisie and the bureaucracy will always support the peasantry. What is more, under nationalisation the development of capitalism (a development “on Danish lines”) will be more rapid as a consequence of the abolition of private ownership of land.


[1] See Kautsky’s The Agrarian Question in Russia on the necessity of spending enormous amounts of capital for the promotion of peasant agriculture. Here the “municipalisers” may protest that the bourgeois republic will spend money on the republic’s armed forces, whereas the democratic Zemstvo ... will have the money taken away from it by the undemocratic central government, most highly esteemed municipalisers! Besides, the very rise of such a Zemstvo is impossible under an undemocratic central government; this is but the pious wish of a petty bourgeois. The only true comparison is that between a bourgeois republic (which spends more than other states on the development of productive forces: North America, for example), and a bourgeois monarchy (which for decades pays tribute to the Junkers: Germany, for example). —Lenin

[2] Workers’ governments in the towns, peasant. committees in the villages (which at a certain moment will he transformed into bodies elected by universal, etc., suffrage)—such is the only possible form of organisation of the victorious revolution, i. e., the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry. It is not surprising that the liberals hate these forms of organisation of the classes that are lighting for freedom! —Lenin

[3] See pp. 171-82 of this volume.—Ed.

  4. The Non-Party Peasants | 6. The Trudovik Peasants (Narodniks)  

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