The agrarian question is the basis of the bourgeois revolution in Russia and determines the specific national character of this revolution.
The essence of this question is the struggle of the peasantry to abolish landlordism and the survivals of serfdom in the agricultural system of Russia, and, consequently, also in all her social, and political institutions.
Ten and a half million peasant households in European Russia own 75,000,000 dessiatins of land. Thirty thousand, chiefly noble, but partly also upstart, landlords each own over 500 dessiatins— altogether 70,000,000 dessiatins. Such is the main background of the picture. Such are the main reasons for the predominance of feudal landlords in the agricultural system of Russia and, consequently, in the Russian state generally, and in the whole of Russian life. The owners of the latifundia are feudal landlords in the economic sense of the term: the basis of their landownership was created by the history of serfdom, by the history of land-grabbing by the nobility through the centuries. The basis of their present methods of farming is the labour-service system, i. e., a direct survival of the corvée, cultivation of the land with the implements of the peasants and by the virtual enslavement of the small tillers in an endless variety of ways: winter hiring, annual leases, half-share métayage, leases based on labour rent, bondage for debt, bondage for cut-off lands, for the use of forests, meadows, water, and so on and so forth, ad infinitum. Capitalist development in Russia has made such strides during the last half-century that the preservation of serfdom in agriculture has become absolutely impossible, and its abolition has assumed the forms of a violent crisis, of a nation-wide revolution. But the abolition of serfdom in a bourgeois country is possible in two ways.
Serfdom may be abolished by the feudal-landlord economies slowly evolving into Junker-bourgeois economies, by the mass of the peasants being turned into landless husbandmen and Knechts, by forcibly keeping the masses down to a pauper standard of living, by the rise of small groups of Grossbauern, of rich bourgeois peasants, who inevitably spring up under capitalism from among the peasantry. That is the path that the Black-Hundred landlords, and Stolypin, their minister, have chosen. They have realised that the path for the development of Russia cannot be cleared unless the rusty medieval forms of landownership are forcibly broken up. And they have boldly set out to break them up in the interests of the landlords. They have thrown overboard the sympathy for the semi-feudal village commune which until recently was widespread among the bureaucracy and the landlords. They have evaded all the “constitutional” laws in order to break up the village communes by force. They have given the kulaks carte blanche to rob the peasant masses, to break up the old system of landowner ship, to ruin thousands of peasant farms; they have handed over the medieval village to be “sacked and plundered” by the possessors of money. They cannot act otherwise if they are to preserve their class rule, for they have realised the necessity of adapting themselves to capitalist development and not fighting against it. And in order to preserve their rule they can find no other allies against the mass of the peasants than the “upstarts”, the Razuvayevs and Kolupayevs. They have no alternative but to shout to these Kolupayevs: Enrichissez-vous! — enrich yourselves! We shall make it possible for you to gain a hundred rubles for every ruble, if you will help us to save the basis of our rule under the new conditions. That path of development, if it is to be pursued successfully, calls for wholesale, systematic, unbridled violence against the peasant masses and against the proletariat. And the landlord counter-revolution is hastening to organise that violence all along the line.
The other path of development we have called the American path of development of capitalism, in contrast to the former, the Prussian path. It, too, involves the forcible break-up of the old system of landownership; only the obtuse philistines of Russian liberalism can dream of the possibility of a painless, peaceful outcome of the exceedingly acute crisis in Russia.
But this essential and inevitable break-up may be carried out in the interests of the peasant masses and not of the landlord gang. A mass of free farmers may serve as a basis for the development of capitalism without any land lord economy whatsoever, since, taken as a whole, the latter form of economy is economically reactionary, whereas the elements of free farming have been created among the peasantry by the preceding economic history of the country. Capitalist development along such a path should proceed far more broadly, freely, and swiftly owing to the tremendous growth of the home market and of the rise in the standard of living, the energy, initiative, and culture of the entire population. And Russia’s vast lands available for colonisation, the utilisation of which is greatly hampered by the feudal oppression of the mass of the peasantry in Russia proper, as well as by the feudal-bureaucratic handling of the agrarian policy—these lands will provide the economic foundation for a huge expansion of agriculture and for increased production in both depth and breadth.
Such a path of development requires not only the abolition of landlordism. For the rule of the feudal landlords through the centuries has left its imprint on all forms of landownership in the country, on the peasant allotments as well as upon the holdings of the settlers in the relatively free borderlands: the whole colonisation policy of the autocracy is permeated with the Asiatic interference of a hide-bound bureaucracy, which hindered the settlers from establishing themselves freely, introduced terrible confusion into the new agrarian relationships, and infected the border regions with the poison of the feudal bureaucracy of central Russia. Not only is landlordism in Russia medieval, but so also is the peasant allotment system. The latter is incredibly complicated. It splits the peasantry up into thousands of small units, medieval groups, social categories. It reflects the age-old history of arrogant interference in the peasants’ agrarian relationships both by the central government and the local authorities. It drives the peasants, as into a ghetto, into petty medieval associations of a fiscal, tax-levying nature, into associations for the ownership of allotment land, i. e., into the village communes. And Russia’s economic development is in actual fact tearing the peasantry out of this medieval environment—on the one hand, by causing allotments to be rented out and abandoned, and, on the other hand, by creating a system of farming by the free farmers of the future (or by the future Grossbauern of a Junker Russia) out of the fragments of the most diverse forms of landownership: privately owned allotments, rented allotments, purchased property, land rented from the land lord, land rented from the state, and so on.
In order to establish really free farming in Russia, it is necessary to “unfence” all the land, landlord as well as allotment land. The whole system of medieval landownership must be broken up and all lands must be made equal for free farmers upon a free soil. The greatest possible facilities must be created for the exchange of holdings, for the free choice of settlements, for rounding off holdings, for the creation of new, free associations, instead of the rusty, tax-levying village communes. The whole land must be “cleared” of all medieval lumber.
The expression of this economic necessity is the nationalisation of the land, the abolition of private ownership of the land, and the transfer of all the land to the state, which will mark a complete break with the feudal relations in the countryside. It is this economic necessity that has turned the mass of Russian peasants into supporters of land nationalisation. The mass of small owner cultivators declared in favour of nationalisation at the congresses of the Peasant Union in 1905, in the First Duma in 1906, and in the Second Duma in 1907, i. e., during the whole of the first period of the revolution. They did so not because the “village commune” had imbued them with certain special “rudiments”, certain special, non-bourgeois “labour principles”. On the contrary, they did so because life required of them that they should seek emancipation from the medieval village commune and from the medieval allotment system. They did so not because they wanted or were able to build a socialist agriculture, hut because they have been wanting and have been able to build a really bourgeois small-scale farming, i. e., farming freed as much as possible from all the traditions of serfdom.
Thus, it was neither chance nor the influence of this or that doctrine (as some short-sighted people think) that determined this peculiar attitude towards private ownership of the land on the part of the classes that are fighting in the Russian revolution. This peculiar attitude is to be explained by the conditions of the development of capitalism in Russia and by the requirements of capitalism at this stage of its development. All the Black-Hundred landlords, all the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie (including the Octobrists and the Cadets) stand for private ownership of the land. The whole of the peasantry and the proletariat are opposed to the private ownership of the land. The re formative path of creating a Junker-bourgeois Russia pre supposes the preservation of the foundations of the old system of landownership and their slow adaptation to capitalism, which would be painful for the mass of the population. The revolutionary path of really overthrowing the old order inevitably requires, as its economic basis, the destruction of all the old forms of landownership, together with all the old political institutions of Russia. The experience of the first period of the Russian revolution has conclusively proved that it can be victorious only as a peasant agrarian revolution, and that the latter cannot completely fulfil its historical mission unless the land is nationalised.
Social-Democracy, as the party of the international proletariat, the party which has set itself world-wide socialist aims, cannot, of course, identify itself with any epoch of any bourgeois revolution, nor can it tie its destiny to this or that outcome of this or that bourgeois revolution. What ever the outcome, we must remain an independent, purely proletarian party, which steadfastly leads the working masses to their great socialist goal. We cannot, therefore, under take to guarantee that any of the gains of the bourgeois revolution will be permanent, because impermanence and inherent contradiction are immanent features of all the gains of the bourgeois revolution as such. The “invention” of “guarantees against restoration” can only be the fruit of shallow thinking. We have but one task: to rally the proletariat for the socialist revolution, to support every fight against the old order in the most resolute way, to fight for the best possible conditions for the proletariat in the developing bourgeois society. From this it inevitably follows that our Social-Democratic programme in the Russian bourgeois revolution can only be nationalisation of the land. Like every other part of our programme, we must connect it with definite forms and a definite stage of political reform, because the scope of the political revolution and that of the agrarian revolution cannot but be the same. Like every other part of our programme, we must keep it strictly free from petty-bourgeois illusions, from intellectualist-bureaucratic chatter about “norms”, from reactionary talk about strengthening the village communes, or about equalised land tenure. The interests of the proletariat do not demand that a special slogan, a special “plan” or “system” shall be invented for this or that bourgeois revolution, they only demand that the objective conditions for this revolution shall be consistently expressed and that these objective, economically unavoidable conditions be stripped of illusions and utopias. Nationalisation of the land is not only the sole means for completely eliminating medievalism in agriculture, but also the best form of agrarian an relationships conceivable under capitalism.
Three circumstances have temporarily deflected the Russian Social-Democrats from this correct agrarian programme. First, P. Maslov, the initiator of “municipalisation” in Russia, “revised” the theory of Marx, repudiated the theory of absolute rent, and revived the semi-decayed bourgeois doctrines about the law of diminishing returns, its connection with the theory of rent, etc. To repudiate absolute rent is to deny that private landownership has any economic significance under capitalism, and, consequently, this inevitably led to the distortion of Marxist views on nationalisation. Secondly, not having before them visible evidence that the peasant revolution had begun, Russian Social-Democrats could not but regard its possibility with caution, because the possible victory of the revolution requires a number of especially favourable conditions and an especially favourable development of revolutionary consciousness, energy, and initiative on the part of the masses. Having no experience to go on, and holding that it is impossible to invent bourgeois movements, the Russian Marxists naturally could not, before the revolution, present a correct agrarian programme. But even after the revolution had begun, they committed the following mistake: instead of applying the theory of Marx to the special conditions prevailing in Russia (Marx and Engels always taught that their theory was not a dogma, but a guide to action), they uncritically repeated the conclusions drawn from the application of Marx’s theory to foreign conditions, to a different epoch. The German Social-Democrats, for instance, have quite naturally abandoned all the old programmes of Marx containing the demand for the nationalisation of the land, because Germany has taken final shape as a Junker-bourgeois country, and all movements there based on the bourgeois order have become completely obsolete, and there is not, nor can there be, any people’s movement for nationalisation. The preponderance of Junker-bourgeois elements has actually transformed the plans for nationalisation into a plaything, or even into an instrument of the Junkers for robbing the masses. The Germans are right in refusing even to talk about nationalisation. But to apply this conclusion to Russia (as is done in effect by those of our Mensheviks who do not see the connection between municipalisation and Maslov’s revision of the theory of Marx) is to reveal an inability to think of the tasks each Social-Democratic party has to perform in special periods of its historical development.
Thirdly, the municipalisation programme obviously reflects the erroneous tactical line of Menshevism in the Russian bourgeois revolution, namely, a failure to understand that only “an alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry can ensure the victory of this revolution, a failure to understand the leading role the proletariat plays in the bourgeois revolution, a striving to push the proletariat aside, to adapt it to a half-way outcome of the revolution, to convert it from a leader into an auxiliary (actually into a drudge and servant) of the liberal bourgeoisie. “Never enthusing, adaptation using, forward then slowly, ye workers so lowly”—these words of Nartsis Tuporylov against the “Economists” (=the first opportunists in the R.S.D.L.P.), fully express the spirit of our present agrarian programme.
Combating the “enthusiasm” of petty-bourgeois socialism should lead not to the contraction, but to the expansion of the scope of the revolution and its aims as determined by the proletariat. It is not “regionalism” that we should encourage, no matter how strong it may be among the back ward strata of the petty bourgeoisie or the privileged peasantry (Cossacks), not the exclusiveness of various nationalities—no, we should make the peasantry see how important unity is if victory is to be achieved, we should advance slogans that will widen the movement, not narrow it, and that will place the responsibility for the incomplete bourgeois revolution on the backwardness of the bourgeoisie and not on the lack of understanding of the proletariat. We should not “adapt” our programme to “local” democracy; we should not invent a rural “municipal socialism”, which is absurd and impossible under an undemocratic central government; we should not adjust petty-bourgeois socialist reformism to the bourgeois revolution, but concentrate the attention of the masses on the actual conditions for the victory of the revolution as a bourgeois revolution, on the need for achieving not only local, but “central” democracy, i.e., the democratisation of the central government of the state—and not merely democracy in general, but the absolutely fullest, highest forms of democracy, for otherwise the peasant agrarian revolution in Russia will become utopian in the scientific sense of the term.
And let it not be thought that at the present moment of history, when the Black-Hundred die-hards are howling and raging in the Third Duma, when the nec plus ultra of rampant counter-revolution has been reached and reaction is perpetrating savage acts of political vengeance upon the revolutionaries in general and the Social-Democratic deputies in the Second Duma in particular—let it not be thought that this moment is “unsuitable” for “broad” agrarian programmes. Such a thought would be akin to the backsliding, despondency, disintegration, and decadence which have spread among wide sections of the petty-bourgeois intellectuals who belong to the Social-Democratic Party, or sympathise with this Party in Russia. The proletariat can only gain by having this rubbish swept clean out of the ranks of the workers’ party. Yes, the more savagely reaction rages, the more does it actually retard the inevitable economic development, the more successfully does it prepare the wider upsurge of the democratic movement. And we must take advantage of the temporary lulls in mass action in order critically to study the experience of the great revolution, verify this experience, purge it of dross, and pass it on to the masses as a guide for the impending struggle.
 Mr. A. Kaufman, in his Migration and Colonisatian (St. Petersburg, 1905), gives an outline of the history of Russian colonisation policy. Like a good “liberal”, he is excessively deferent to the feudal landlord bureaucracy. —Lenin
 That is how Kautsky expressed it in the second edition of his pamphlet Social Revolution. —Lenin
 Razuvayev and Kolupayev—types of capitalist sharks portrayed by Saltykov-Shchedrin, the Russian satirist.
 Nartsis Tuporylov (Narcissus Blunt-Snout)—the pseudonym under which Y. 0. Martov published his satirical poem “Hymn of the Contemporary Russian Socialist”, which appeared in Zarya, No. 1, April 1901.