V. I.   Lenin

The Cadets and the Agrarian Question

Published: Nevskaya Zvezda No. 22, August 19, 1912. Signed: W. Frey. Published according to the Nevskaya Zvezda text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1975], Moscow, Volume 18, pages 278-287.
Translated: Stepan Apresyan
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2004). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.README

In their polemics against Pravda, the Cadets were unable, much as they tried, to evade the question whether they are a democratic or a liberal-monarchist party.

This is a highly important question. Its importance goes beyond that of a general question of principle which provides material for elucidating basic political concepts. Moreover, the question of the nature of the Cadet Party, which claims leadership of the entire opposition, is inseparably bound up with all the fundamental questions of the Russian emancipation movement in general. That is why anyone who takes an intelligent interest in the election campaign, and appreciates its significance for the political enlightenment of the masses, is hound to pay the greatest attention to this controversy on the nature of the Cadet Party.

The Cadet Rech is now trying to stifle this controversy, to shut out questions of principle by subterfuges and quarrelsome sallies (“a lie”, “a distortion”, etc.), to rake up some abuse or other which the liquidators flung at us when their personal annoyance, caused by sharp organisational conflicts, was at its highest. All these are familiar and battered methods used by people who realise their weakness in a controversy over principles. And for this reason our reply to the Cadets must be a repeated explanation of questions of principle.

What are the distinctions between democracy and liberalism in general? Both the bourgeois democrat and the liberal (all liberals are bourgeois liberals, but not every democrat is a bourgeois democrat) are opposed to the old order, to absolutism, serfdom, the privileges of the upper social estate, etc; they are for political liberty and a constitutional “legal” system. That is the resemblance between them.

Now for the difference between them. The democrat represents the mass of the population. He shares their petty-bourgeois prejudices, expecting, for example, that a new, “equalised” redivision of all the land would not only abolish all vestiges of serfdom (he would be justified in expecting this), but would also undermine the foundations of capitalism (which is entirely unjustified, for no redivision of the land can do away either with the power of the market and of money, or with the power and omnipotence of capital). But the democrat believes in the movement of the masses, in its strength and justice, and has no fear at all of this movement. He advocates the abolition of all medieval privileges without exception.

The liberal does not represent the mass of the population but a minority of the latter, namely, the big and middle liberal bourgeoisie. The liberal is more afraid of the movement of the masses and of consistent democracy than of reaction. Far from seeking complete abolition of all medieval privileges, he frankly defends some privileges which are, moreover, very substantial ones, and strives to ensure that these privileges are divided between the Purishkeviches and the Milyukovs and not abolished altogether.

The liberal defends political liberty and the constitution—invariably in a curtailed form (such as the two-chamber system and many other things), each curtailment amounting to the preservation of a privilege of the serf-owners. Thus the liberal vacillates continuously between the serf-owners and the democrats; hence the extreme, almost in credible impotence of the liberals in all matters of any importance.

Russia’s democrats are the working class (proletarian democrats) and the Narodniks and Trudoviks of all shades (bourgeois democrats). Russia’s liberals are the Cadet Party, as well as the “Progressists” and most of the non-Russian groups in the Third Duma.

Russian democrats have important victories to their credit, Russian liberals none at all. The former have proved their ability to fight, and their defeats have always been great, historic defeats of the whole of Russia; moreover, even after a defeat some of the democrats’ demands have invariably been met. The latter, i.e., the liberals, have proved   incapable of fighting, and they have nothing to show in Russian history but a constant contemptuous treatment of the liberals by the serf-owners, comparable to the treatment of the serfs by their lords.

Let us test these general considerations and basic theoretical postulates by the Cadets’ agrarian programme. Pravda told the Cadets that their undemocratic nature was evident from the speeches on the agrarian question made by the Cadet Berezovsky the Second in the Third Duma.[1]

The Cadet Reek answered, in its issue No. 208: “The speech of Berezovsky the Second was, as we know, a reaffirmation of the Cadet agrarian programme.”

See how evasive this answer is! We said that the speech of Berezovsky the First[2] was a specimen of undemocratic treatment of the question. Rech knows very well what we consider an indication of liberalism as distinct from democracy. But it has no intention of analysing the question seriously, of stating which precisely are the signs of the distinction between liberalism and democracy that it, i.e., Rech, considers correct, and of ascertaining whether these signs are evident in the speech of Berezovsky the First. Rech does nothing of the kind. It dodges the issue, thus betraying a fundamental weakness and a guilty conscience.

But even Rech could not bring itself to disclaim the responsibility of the entire Cadet Party for the speech delivered by Berezovsky the First. It admitted—it had to admit—this responsibility by describing the speech as a “reaffirmation of the Cadet agrarian programme”.

Splendid. And now we shall quote the main passages from that indisputably and officially Cadet speech by a member of the Third Duma, the Simbirsk landlord A. Y. Berezovsky. We shall see, in analysing the speaker’s arguments, whether his point of view is democratic or liberal. And we shall also see whether the Cadet gentlemen succeed in refuting us in their vast press or at their meetings.

It is my deep conviction, said A. Y. Berezovsky in the Third Duma in October 1908 (we are quoting from the verbatim report published in Rossiya[5]), “that this Bill [the Cadets’ land Bill] is far more beneficial to the landowners as well [and not to the peasants alone], and I say this, gentlemen, because I am familiar with agriculture, having engaged in it all my life and being a landowner myself. For a cultured farming system, the Bill of the party of people’s freedom would undoubtedly be more useful than the present system. One should not seize on the bare fact of compulsory alienation, be come indignant about it, and say that it is violence, but should see and appreciate what the things proposed in our Bill will amount to and how this compulsory alienation is to be effected....”

We have emphasised these truly precious words of Mr. A. Y. Berezovsky’s—precious because of their rare veracity. Anyone who recalls the speeches and articles of the Marxist Bolsheviks against the Cadets at the time of the First Duma, or who takes the trouble to read those articles now, will have to agree that in 1908 Mr. A. Y. Berezovsky brilliantly confirmed the Bolsheviks of 1906. And we venture to predict that any history that is at all impartial will confirm their policy three times over.

In 1906 we said: “Don’t trust the round of that phrase—‘compulsory alienation’.” The point is, who will compel whom. If the landlords compel the peasants to pay for poor lands three times their worth, in the fashion of the notorious compensation of 1861, then this kind of “compulsory alienation” will be a landlord reform beneficial to the landlords and ruinous to the peasants.[3]

The liberals, the Cadets, in raising the question of compulsory alienation, manoeuvred between the landlords and the peasants, between the Black Hundreds and the democrats. In 1906, they addressed themselves to the democrats, trying to make their “compulsory alienation” pass for something democratic. In 1908, they addressed themselves to the diehards in the Third Duma, arguing that one should see “what this compulsory alienation will amount to and how it is to be effected”.

Let us listen then to the official spokesman of the Cadet Party.

Take the Bill of the forty-two members of the First State Duma,” said A. Y. Berezovsky. “It contained only [exactly, Mr. Berezovsky!] the recognition of the necessity of alienating first of all those lands which are not exploited by their owners themselves. Furthermore, the party of people’s freedom favoured the establishment of local committees which would have to ascertain at a certain time which lands are or are not subject to alienation and how much land the peasants require to meet their needs. The committees were to be constituted in such a manner as to ensure that half of the members were peasants and the other half non-peasants.”

Mr. A. Y. Berezovsky omitted a trifle from his statement. Anyone who wishes to look into the agrarian Bill prepared by Kutler (the Cadet Party’s recognised authority on the agrarian question) and published in Volume II of the Cadet publication, The Agrarian Question, will see that, by the terms of the Bill, the chairmen of the committees were to be appointed by the government, i.e., they too were to be representatives of the landlords.

But let us assume even that A. Y. Berezovsky expressed the Cadet views more accurately than Kutler. Let us assume that A. Y. Berezovsky said everything and that the Cadets actually want committees made up of equal numbers of peasants and “non-peasants”, without representatives of the class government. What then? Will anyone dare to assert that such a Bill is democratic?

Democracy is the rule of the majority. Only universal, direct and equal elections can be called democratic. Only such committees are democratic as have been elected by the entire population on the basis of universal suffrage. This follows from the general, basic, elementary truths of democracy so indisputably that it even seems strange to have to explain it to the Cadet gentlemen.

On paper, the Cadets recognise universal suffrage. But in reality, with regard to one of the most important questions of the Russian emancipation movement, the agrarian question, they do not recognise universal suffrage! No subterfuges or reservations remove this fact, which is of prime importance.

And do not imagine that the Cadets merely depart here from the principle of universal suffrage, from the principle of democracy. No. They take as a basis a different principle, the principle of “agreement” between the old and the new,   between the landlord and the peasant, between the Black Hundreds and the democrats. What the Cadets proclaim is: half to one side and half to the other.

This is a typical principle of the vacillating liberal-monarchist bourgeoisie. What this bourgeoisie wants is not the abolition of medieval privileges, but their division between the landlords and the bourgeoisie. Indeed, how can anyone deny that to grant the “non-peasants” (i.e., the land lords, to put it bluntly) equality with the peasants, who make up seven-tenths of the population, means preserving and reaffirming medieval privileges? What else did medieval privileges amount to but that the landlord meant as much in politics as hundreds and thousands of peasants?

From equality of the landlords and the peasants there can be no other outcome but a division of privileges between the landlords and the bourgeoisie. That was precisely the case in 1801, when the landlords ceded one-thousandth of their privileges to the nascent bourgeoisie, while the peas ant masses were doomed to half a century (1861+50=1911) of the agony of disfranchisement, humiliation, slow starvation, extortion of taxes, etc. Besides, it should not be for gotten that in 1861 the landlords, ceding one-thousandth of their political privileges to the bourgeoisie (the Zemstvo, urban and judicial reforms, etc.), began themselves to develop economically into a bourgeoisie by setting up distilleries and sugar refineries, joining the boards of joint-stock companies, and so on.

We shall see in a moment the final outcome of this “equality” of a negligible number of landlords and a huge number of peasants, as pointed out by Mr. A. Y. Berezovsky himself. But first we must stress the great significance of Berezovsky’s statement that the vaunted committees would have to “ascertain which lands are or are not subject to alienation and how much land the peasants require to meet their needs”.

All the talk about various “norms” of allotment for the peasants, etc., is nothing but empty words with which, incidentally, our Narodnik intellectuals, including the most “Left” of them, often lull themselves and the peasants. The only important question is: will all the lands be subject to alienation or not? And, in the latter case, who is to decide “which are not subject”? (I do not speak of who is to determine   the amount of the compensation, for the very idea of compensation for medieval privileges is a liberal-bourgeois principle, one that is radically, at bottom, absolutely un-democratic and anti-democratic).

All the clauses of the Cadets’ land Bills—clauses which have been drafted in detail and bureaucratically polished—are a useless bureaucratic undertaking. The only important question is: who is to determine which lands are to be alienated and on what terms? The most ideal Bill is no more than chicanery if it evades this question.

But how does Mr. Berezovsky decide this sole important question? For it, should be clear that, given equality of the peasants and “non-peasants”, there will be no agreement in most cases, nor, indeed, is it necessary to draft Bills for an amicable settlement between the serf-owners and the serfs of yesterday. The serf-owners are always agreeable to an “amicable settlement” with them, even without any laws.

And Mr. Berezovsky gave a clear answer to the burning question, in speaking to the Third Duma diehards. Listen to what he said next:

In view of this, that general concrete work on the spot would, of course, bring to light both the amount of land ‘available’ [listen to this!] for alienation and the amount of land required for the peas ants [required for what? Would it be for performing services? But that is something the serf-owners have always agreed to! I, and finally, the peasants themselves would see to what extent it was possible to meet their fair [ahem! God save us from lordly anger, lordly love and the landlord’s “fairness”] demands. Then it would all go through the Duma and [mark this well!] the Council of State and, after being recast [ahem!], would be sanctioned in final form [i.e., made law]. This methodical work [it certainly could not be more “methodical”!] would no doubt result in really meeting the true needs of the population and thereby in pacifying and preserving the cultural farms, which the party of people’s freedom has never wanted to demolish unless strictly necessary.”

This was said by a spokesman of the “party of people’s freedom”, which it would be fair to call the party of landlord pacification.

It is perfectly clear from this that the “compulsory alienation” proposed by the Cadets implies compulsion of the peasants by the landlords. Whoever sets out to deny this must prove that in the Council of State the peasants predominate   over the landlords! “Equality” of the landlords and the peasants to begin with, and in the end—unless an amicable settlement is reached—a “recasting” of the draft by the Council of State.

The party of people’s freedom has never wanted to demolish the cultural farms unless strictly necessary,” said the landlord A. Y. Berezovsky, who probably considers his farm “cultural”. But we will ask: who is to decide whose farm is “cultural” and in what sense, and where does “strict necessity” begin? Answer: this will be decided, first by a committee made up of equal numbers of landlords and peasants, and then by the Council of State.

Well then? Are the Cadets a democratic party or a counter revolutionary party of the liberal-monarchist bourgeoisie? Are they a party of “people’s freedom” or of landlord pacification?

Russia’s bourgeois democrats, i.e., the Trudoviks and Narodniks of all shades, have grievously erred in expecting the transfer of the landed estates to the peasants to bring about “equalisation”, the spread of “labour principles”, and so on; they have also erred by obscuring, with empty talk about various “standards” of landownership, the question whether there is to be medieval land tenure or not, but these democrats have helped the new to force out the old and have not drafted Bills to enable the old to retain a number of privileges.

Really, to deny that the Cadets are not a democratic party but a party of the counter-revolutionary, liberal-monarchist bourgeoisie, means simply flying in the face of well-known facts.

In conclusion we shall briefly examine a question which might well be asked by certain naïve Cadets. If the “compulsory alienation” suggested by the Cadets implied compulsion of the peasants by the landlords, why did the majority of the landlords reject it?

This question was answered unintentionally by Mr. Milyukov, in his speech in the Third Duma on October 31, 1908, when he spoke as a historian. Milyukov the historian had to admit that until the end of 1905 both the government and the landlords had regarded the peasantry as a conservative   force. At the Peterhof meeting on July 19–26, 1905—that meeting paved the way for the Bulygin Duma[6]—A. A. Bobrinsky, Naryshkin and other pillars of the future Council of the United Nobility were in favour of giving the peasants a predominant position in the Duma. At that time Witte held that the mainstay of the autocracy should be (and could be) the “peasant democrats”, not the nobility or the bourgeoisie.[4]

Gentlemen,” said Mr. Milyukov, “this is an interesting moment because it is at this moment that the government has conceived the idea of compulsory alienation. (Voices: “It’s Kutler’s idea.”) Yes, Kutler’s, gentlemen.... Kutler is drafting a Bill on compulsory alienation....

He has been working on it, gentlemen; his work continued for a month or two—I cannot say exactly—until the end of 1905. It went on unhampered until the well-known Moscow events took place, after which there was a noticeable change in sentiment.”

On January 4, 1906, the Marshals of the Nobility met in congress. The congress rejected Kutler’s draft, which it knew from hearsay and private reports. It adopted an agrarian programme of its own (the future “Stolypin” programme). In February 1906 Minister Kutler resigned. On March 30, 1906, the Witte Cabinet (with its “peasant” programme) was succeeded by the Gurko-Goremykin Cabinet (with its “Stolypin” programme, a programme of the nobility and the bourgeoisie).

These are the facts which Milyukov the historian had to admit.

The inference from them is obvious. The “Cadet” Bill on compulsory alienation was a Bill prepared by Kutler, Minister in the Witte Cabinet, who dreamed of an autocracy supported by the peasantry! When the peasants’ democratic movement was on the rise, attempts were made to bribe the movement, to corrupt it, to deceive it with a Bill for “peaceful”, “compulsory alienation”, a “second emancipation”, a Bill for a bureaucratic “compulsion of the peasants by the landlords”.

This is what the facts of history tell us. The Cadets’ agrarian Bill is a Witte Minister’s plan for “playing” at peasant Caesarism.

The peasant democrats did not live up to expectations. They showed—probably more clearly in the First Duma than in 1905—that since 1861 they had become politically conscious. With a peasantry such as this, the Kutler-Cadet Bill became an absurdity: the peasants, far from letting themselves be hoodwinked in the old fashion, would have used even the Cadets’ local land committees to organise a new onslaught.

On January 4, 1906, the Marshals of the Nobility correctly decided that the Bill prepared by the liberal landlords (Kutler and Co.) was a hopeless affair, and cast it aside. The civil war had outgrown liberal-bureaucratic scheme-making. The class struggle had dispelled the vision of “social peace” and raised the issue squarely: “either the Stolypin way or the Trudovik way”.


[1] See p. 246 of this volume.—Ed.

[2] Both Pravda and Rech were mistaken in speaking of Berezovsky the Second. The Cadet is Berezovsky the First, Alexander Yeleazarovich, a Simbirsk landlord. —Lenin

[3] See present edition, Vol. 10, pp. 414–47.—Ed.

[4] See Report of the People’s Freedom Group on the Second Session of the Third Duma (St. Petersburg, 1909), p. 43. It is unfortunate—very unfortunate—that the Cadets did not publish Berezovsky’s speech. —Lenin

[5] Rossiya (Russia)—a reactionary, Black-Hundred daily published in St. Petersburg from 1905 to 1914. From 1906 it was the official organ of the Ministry of the Interior.

[6] The Bulygin Duma—an advisory “representative institution” which the tsarist government promised to convene in 1905. The Bill to establish an advisory Duma, and the Regulations on elections to the Duma were drafted by a commission under Bulygin, Minister of the Interior, and made public on August 6 (19), 1905. The Bolsheviks proclaimed and carried out an active boycott of the Bulygin Duma. The government was unable to convene it, and the October general political strike swept it out of existence.

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