V. I.   Lenin

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


9. The Social-Democrats

Of the eight Social-Democratic speeches on the agrarian question in the Second Duma only two contained a defence of municipalisation and not merely a reference to it. One was that of Ozol, and the other the second speech of Tsereteli. The rest of the speeches consisted mainly, almost exclusively, of attacks on landlordism in general, and of explanations of the political aspect of the agrarian question. Highly characteristic in this respect was the artless speech delivered by the Right peasant Petrochenko (22nd session, April 5, 1907), which expressed the general impression made on a rural deputy by the spokesmen of the different parties. “I will not waste your time by going over what has been said here; permit me to put it in simple words. Deputy Svyatopolk-Mirsky made a long speech here. Evidently, that speech was meant to prepare us for something. Briefly, it amounts to this: you have no right to take the land which belongs to me, or which I possess, and I will not give it up. In answer to this Deputy Kutler said: ‘Those times have gone, you must give it up, do so and you will be paid for it’. Deputy Dmowski says: ‘Do what you like with the land, but we must have autonomy, without fail’. At the same time Deputy Karavayev says: ‘We need both, but throw everything in one heap and later on we’ll share it out’. Tsereteli says: ‘No, gentlemen, we cannot share it out because the old government still exists and it will not permit it. Better for us to try to seize power and then we can share out as we please’" (p. 1615).

Thus, this peasant grasped what he found to be the only distinction between the speech of the Social-Democrat and that of the Trudovik, namely, that the former explained the necessity of fighting for power in the state, of “seizing power”. He failed to grasp the other distinctions—they   did not seem important to him! In his first speech Tsereteli did, indeed, expose the fact that “our bureaucratic aristocracy is also a landed aristocracy” (725). The speaker showed that “for several centuries the state authority handed out into private ownership land that belonged to the whole state, land that was the property of the whole people” (724). The statement he made at the end of his speech on behalf of the Social-Democratic group, which was a recapitulation of our agrarian programme, was not backed by any argument, and was not contrasted to the programmes of the other “Left” parties. We are saying this not in order to blame anybody; on the contrary, we think that Tsereteli’s first speech, a short, lucid speech which concentrated on explaining the class character of the landlord government, was a very good one. We are saying this in order to explain why the Right peasant (and probably all the peasants) failed to see the specifically Social-Democratic features of our programme.

The second Social-Democratic speech on the agrarian question was delivered at the next “agrarian session” of the Duma (16th session, March 26, 1907) by a worker Fomichov (Taurida Gubernia), who often used the words: “we peasants”. Fomichov made a stinging retort to Svyatopolk-Mirsky, whose famous phrase that the peasants without the landlords are “a flock without a shepherd” did more to stir up the peasant deputies than a number of other Left speeches. “Deputy Kutler, in a lengthy speech, expounds ed the idea of compulsory alienation, but with compensation. We, the representatives of the peasants, cannot agree to compensation because it will be another noose round the necks of the peasants” (1113). Fomichov ended up by demanding that “all the land be handed over to the working people on the terms proposed by Deputy Tsereteli” (1114).

The next speech was delivered by Izmailov, also a worker, who was elected by the peasant curia in Novgorod Gubernia (18th session, March 29, 1907). He replied to the peasant Bogatov, his fellow-deputy from Novgorod, who, in the name of the Novgorod peasants, had agreed to compensation. Izmailov indignantly opposed compensation. He spoke of the terms of the “emancipation” of the Novgorod peasants who, out of ten million dessiatins of arable land,   had received two million dessiatins, and out of six million dessiatins of forest, land had received only one million dessiatins. He described the poverty of the peasants who have been reduced to such a state that not only “have they used the fences round their huts for decades to heat their stoves”, but “saw off the corners of their own huts”; “out of big old huts they build small ones in order, when rebuilding, to save a log or two for firewood” (1344). “In face of these conditions, under which our peasants live, the gentle men on the Right sigh for culture. In their opinion, culture has been killed by the muzhik, you see. But can a cold and hungry peasant think of culture? Instead of land they want to offer him this culture; but I don’t trust them here either, I think they, too, will be glad to sell their land, only they will bargain to make the peasant pay dearly for it. That’s why they agree. In my opinion—and the peasants particularly should know this—it is not a question of the land, gentlemen. I think I shall not be mistaken in saying that there is something else behind this land, some other kind of power, which the feudal nobility are afraid to hand over to the people, are afraid to lose together with the land. I mean political power, gentlemen. They are willing to give up the land, and they will do so, but in such a way that we remain their slaves as of old. If we fall into debt we shall never free ourselves from the power of the feudal landlords” (l345). It is difficult to imagine anything more striking and apt than this exposure by a worker of the essence of the Cadets’ plans!

The Social-Democrat Serov, during the 20th-session, April 2, 1907, mainly criticised the views of the Cadets, as the “representatives of capital” (1492), “representatives of capitalist landownership”. He quoted detailed figures showing what redemption meant in 1861 and rejected the “elastic principle” of a fair Valuation. Serov, from the Marxist standpoint, gave a faultlessly correct answer to Kutler’s argument that it was impossible to confiscate the land without confiscating capital. “We do not at all put forward the argument that the land is nobody’s, that the land is not the creation of human hands” (1497). “having achieved self-consciousness, the proletariat, represented here by the Social-Democratic Party, rejects all forms of exploitation,   both feudal and bourgeois. As far as the proletariat is concerned, the question which of these two forms of exploitation is more just does not exist; the question always before it is: are the historical conditions ripe for emancipation from exploitation?” (1499.) “According to the calculations of the statisticians, if the land is confiscated up to 500,000,000 rubles, representing the unearned incomes of the landlords, will pass to the people. The peasants will, of course, use this income to improve their farms, to expand production, and to increase consumption” (1498).

At the 22nd session of the Duma (April 5, 1907), speeches on the agrarian question were delivered by Anikin and Alexinsky. The former stressed the connection between “the higher bureaucracy and big landownership” and argued that the struggle for freedom could not be separated from the struggle for land. The latter, in a lengthy speech, explained the feudal character of the labour-service system of farming that predominates in Russia. The speaker thus expounded the basis of the Marxist view of the peasants’ struggle against, landlordism, and then showed the dual role played by the village commune (a “survival of olden times” and an “apparatus for influencing the landlords’ estates”), and the purpose of the laws of November 9 and 15, 1906 (to align the kulaks with the landlords as a “main stay”). The speaker gave figures showing that “the peasants’ land hunger means the nobility’s land surfeit” and explained that the Cadets’ scheme for “compulsory” alienation meant “coercing the people for the benefit of the landlords” (1635). Alexinsky quoted the “Cadet organ Rech” (1639), which had admitted the Cadet truth that it wanted the land lords to predominate on the proposed land committees. The Cadet Tatarinov, who spoke at the next session but one after Alexinsky, was thus driven into a corner, as we have already seen.

Ozol’s speech at the 39th session (May 16, 1907) is an example of the arguments, unworthy of Marxists, to which some of our Social-Democrats have been driven by Maslov’s famous “criticism” of Marx’s theory of rent and by his corresponding distortion of the concept of nationalisation of the land. Ozol argued against the S.R.’s as follows: Their “Bill is hopeless, in my opinion, for it proposes to   abolish private ownership of the means of production, in this case of the land, while preserving private ownership of factory buildings, and not only of factory buildings, but also of the dwellings and structures. On page 2 of the Bill we read that all the buildings erected on the land, and exploited on capitalist lines, are to remain private property; but every private owner will say: Be so good as to pay all the expenses for the nationalised lands, for paving the streets, and so forth, and I will receive rent from these houses. This is not nationalisation, but simply an easier means of receiving capitalist income in the most developed capitalist form” (667).

So there it is, this Maslovism! First, it repeats the banal argument of the Rights and the Cadets that it is impossible to abolish feudal exploitation without affecting bourgeois exploitation as well. Secondly, it reveals amazing ignorance of political economy; the “rent” from urban houses, etc., contains the lion’s share of ground rent. Thirdly, our “Marxist”, following Maslov, entirely forgets about (or denies?) absolute rent. Fourthly, it appears as though a Marxist rejects the desirability of “the most developed capitalist form” advocated by a Socialist-Revolutionary! Pearls of Maslov’s municipalisation.

Tsereteli, in a lengthy concluding speech (47th session, May 26, 1907), defended municipalisation more thought fully, of course, than Ozol did; but it was Tsereteli’s pains taking, thoughtful, and lucid defence that most glaringly revealed the utter fallacy of the municipalisers’ chief arguments.

Tsereteli’s criticism of the Right deputies at the beginning of his speech was quite correct from the political angle. His remarks about the charlatans of liberalism, who were trying to scare the people with the bogey of upheavals like the French Revolution, were magnificent. “He [Shingaryov] forgets that it was after the confiscation of the landlords’ estates and because of it that France was regenerated for a new and vigorous life” (1228). Quite correct too was Tsereteli’s chief slogan: “the complete abolition of landlordism and the complete liquidation of the landlord bureaucratic regime” (1224). But as soon as he proceeded to deal with the Cadets, the erroneous position of Menshevism,   made itself felt. “The principle of compulsory alienation of the land,” said Tsereteli, “is, objectively, the principle of the movement for liberation, but not all those who stand for this principle are aware of, or want to admit, all the necessary implications of this principle” (1225). That is the fundamental view of Menshevism, namely, that the “watershed” of the major political divisions in our revolution runs right of the Cadets and not left, as we believe. That this view is wrong is abundantly made clear by Tsereteli’s lucid formula, for after the experience of 1861 it is beyond dispute that compulsory alienation is possible together with the predominance of the landlords’ interests, with the preservation of their rule, with the imposition of a new form of bondage. Still more fallacious was Tsereteli’s statement that “on the question of the forms of land tenure, we [Social-Democrats] are farther removed from them” (the Narodniks) than from the Cadets (1230). The speaker then went on to criticise labour and subsistence “norms”. In this he was a thousand times right, but the stand taken by the Cadets on this question is not a bit better than that of the Trudoviks, for the Cadets misuse “norms” far more. That is not all. The fuss the Cadets are making about the stupid “norms” is a result of their bureaucratic outlook and of their tendency to betray the peasants. As for the peasants, “norms” were brought to them from outside by the Narodnik intellectuals; and we have seen above, from the example of the deputies in the First Duma, Chizhevsky and Poyarkov, how trenchantly the practical people from the rural districts criticise all “norms”. Had the Social-Democrats explained this to the peasant deputies, had they moved an amendment to the Trudovik Bill repudiating norms, had they theoretically explained the significance of nationalisation, which has nothing in common with “norms”, they, the Social-Democrats, would have become the leaders of the peasant revolution as against the liberals. The stand taken by Menshevism, however, is that of subordinating the proletariat to liberal influence. It was particularly strange to say in the Second Duma that we Social-Democrats are farther removed from the Narodniks, since the Cadets declared in favour of restricting the sale and mortgaging of land!

Proceeding to criticise nationalisation, Tsereteli adduced three arguments; (1) “an army of officials”, (2) “gross injustice to the small nationalities”, (3) “in the event of restoration” “a weapon would be placed in the hands of the enemy of the people” (1232). That is a conscientious exposition of the views of those who secured the adoption of our Party programme, and as a Party man, Tsereteli had to expound those views. We have shown above how untenable those views are and how superficial this exclusively political criticism is.

In support of municipalisation Tsereteli adduced six arguments: (1) under municipalisation “the actual expenditure of these resources [i.e., rent] to meet the people’s 1!] needs will be ensured” (sic! p. 1233)—an optimistic assertion; (2) “the municipalities will strive to improve the conditions of the unemployed”—as, for example, in democratic and decentralised America (?); (3) “the municipalities can take over these [big] farms and organise model farms”, and (4) “during an agrarian crisis ... will lease land free of charge to landless, propertyless peas ants” (sic! p. 1234). This is demagogy. worse than that of the S.R.’s; it is a programme of petty-bourgeois socialism in a bourgeois revolution. (5) “A bulwark of democracy”—like Cossack local self-government; (6) “the alienation of allotment land ... may give rise to a frightful counter revolutionary movement”—probably against the will of all the peasants who declared for nationalisation.

Sum and substance of the speeches of the Social-Democrats in the Second Duma: leading role on the question of compensation and of the connection between landlordism and the present state power, and an agrarian programme that slips into Cadetism, betraying failure to understand the economic and political conditions of the peasant revolution.

Sum and substance of the entire debate on the agrarian question in the Second Duma: the Right landlords displayed the clearest understanding of their class interests, the most distinct conception of both the economic and political conditions needed for the preservation of their class rule in bourgeois Russia. In effect, the liberals aligned themselves with these landlords and sought to betray the   peasants to them by the most despicable and hypocritical methods. The Narodnik intellectuals introduced in the peasant programmes a touch of bureaucracy and philistine moralising. The peasants,, in the most vigorous and forth right manner, expressed the spontaneous revolutionariness of their struggle against all the survivals of medievalism, and against all forms of medieval landownership, although they lacked a sufficiently clear conception of the political conditions of this struggle and naïvely idealised the “promised land” of bourgeois freedom. The bourgeois nationals aligned themselves with the peasants’ struggle more or less timidly, being greatly imbued with the narrow views and prejudices that are engendered by the insularity of the small nationalities. The Social-Democrats resolutely championed the cause of the peasant revolution and explained the class character of the present state power, but they were unable to lead the peasant revolution consistently owing to the erroneous character of the Party’s agrarian programme.


  8. The “Nationals” | Conclusion  

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