V. I.   Lenin

The Question of the (General) Agrarian Policy of the Present Government[1]

Written: Written not later than June 7 (20), 1918
Published: First published in 1930 in the second and third editions of V. I. Lenin’s Collected Works, Vol. XVI. Published according to the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, Volume 19, pages 180-196.
Translated: The Late George Hanna
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

The agrarian policy of the government has radically changed in character since the Revolution of 1905. Formerly, the autocracy followed the line of Katkov and Pobedonostsev and tried to appear in the eyes of the masses of the people as standing “above classes”, safeguarding the interests of the peasant masses, safeguarding them from loss of land and from ruin. Needless to say, this hypocritical “concern” for the muzhik in reality masked a purely feudal policy which the above-mentioned “public men” of old pre-revolutionary Russia were conducting with pig-headed directness in all spheres of public and state life. Autocracy in those days relied entirely on the backwardness, ignorance and lack of class-consciousness on the part of the peasant masses. By posing as a champion of the “inalienability” of the peasants’ allotments, as an advocate of the “village commune”,[2] the autocracy, in the pre-revolutionary period, tried to find support in the economic immobility of Russia, in the deep political slumber of the masses of the peasant population. At that time the land policy was through and through that of the feudal aristocracy.

The Revolution of 1905 caused a change in the entire land policy of the autocracy. Stolypin, punctiliously carrying out the dictates of the Council of the United Nobility, decided, as he himself expressed it, to “bank on the strong”. This means that our government was no longer able to pose as a champion of the weak after the mighty awakening of the proletariat and the broad strata of the democratic peasantry which the Revolution of 1905 brought about in Russia. The people, having succeeded in making the first (though     as yet inadequate) breach in the old feudal state system of Russia, proved thereby that they had so far awakened from their political slumber, that the tale of the government protecting the “village commune” and the “inalienability of allotments”, of the defence of the weak by a government standing above classes—that this tale had finally lost credence among the peasants.

Up to 1905 the government had been able to entertain the hope that the downtrodden state and inertness of the peasants in the mass, of people incapable of ridding them selves of the age-long political prejudices of slavery, patience and obedience, would serve as a prop for it. As long as the peasants remained obedient and downtrodden, the government could pretend that it “banked on the weak”, i.e., was taking care of the weak, although, in fact, it was concerned exclusively with the feudal landowners and the preservation of its own absolute power.

After 1905, the collapse of the old political prejudices was so profound and widespread that the government and the “Council of the United Feudalists” that controlled it saw that they could no longer gamble on the ignorance and the sheep-like obedience of the muzhik. The government saw that there could be no peace between it and the masses of the peasant population it had ruined and reduced to complete destitution and starvation. It was this consciousness of the impossibility of “peace” with the peasants that caused the “Council of the United Feudalists” to change its policy. The Council decided to try at all costs to split the peasantry and to create out of it a stratum of “new landowners”, well-to-do peasant proprietors, who would “conscientiously” protect from the masses the peace and security of the huge landed estates, which, after all, had suffered somewhat from the onslaught of the revolutionary masses in 1905.

Therefore, the change in the entire agrarian policy of the government after the revolution was by no means accidental. On the contrary, from the class point of view, this change was a necessity for the government and for the “Council of the United Feudalists”. The government could find no other way out. The government saw that there could be no “peace” with the masses of the peasants, that the peasantry had awakened from its age-long slumber of serfdom. The government   had no alternative but to try by frantic efforts to split the peasantry, no matter how much this might ruin the villages, to surrender the countryside to “plunder and exploitation” by the kulaks and the well-to-do muzhiks, and to seek support in an alliance between the feudal nobles and the “new landowners”, i.e., an alliance with the rich peasant proprietors, with the peasant bourgeoisie.

Stolypin himself, who served the “Council of the United Feudalists” faithfully and well and carried out their policy, said “Give me twenty years of quiet and I shall reform Russia.” By “quiet” he meant the quiet of a graveyard, the quiet suffering of the countryside silently enduring like sheep the unprecedented ruin and destitution that had overtaken it. By “quiet” he meant the quiet of the land owners who would like to see the peasants utterly inert, down trodden, offering no protest, ready to starve peacefully and amiably, to give up their land, to abandon their villages, to be ruined, as long as it were convenient and pleasing to the landed gentry. By the reform of Russia, Stolypin meant a change that would leave in the villages only contented landowners, contented kulaks and bloodsuckers, and scattered, downtrodden, weak and helpless farm labourers.

Quite naturally and understandably Stolypin, as a land owner, wanted twenty years of this graveyard quiet in Russia, wanted it with all his heart. But we now know, we now all see and feel, that the result of it has been famine affecting thirty million peasants and neither “reform” nor “quiet”, that there has been an unparalleled (unparalleled even in long-suffering Russia) intensification of destitution and ruin, and extremely great bitterness and ferment among the peasantry.

To make clear the causes of the failure of the government’s so-called “Stolypin” agrarian policy, the policy which the State Duma is invited once more to approve by sanctioning the budget (and which undoubtedly will be approved by the landowners’ parties in the Duma), I shall dwell at somewhat greater length on the two principal, so to say, trump cards of our “new” agrarian policy:

First, on the resettlement of the peasants, and, secondly, on the notorious farmsteads.

As far as resettlement is concerned, the Revolution of 1905 revealed to the landowners the political awakening of the peasantry and forced them to “open” the safety valve a little and, instead of hampering migration as they had done before, to try to pack off as many restless peasants as possible to Siberia in an attempt to render the atmosphere less “tense” in Russia.

Did the government achieve success? Did it achieve any pacification of the peasantry, any improvement in the peasants’ conditions in Russia and in Siberia? Just the opposite. The government only brought about a new sharpening and worsening of the conditions of the peasants both in Russia and in Siberia.

I shall prove this to you in a moment.

In the explanatory memorandum of the Minister of Finance on the budget for 1913 we find the usual official optimism and applause for the “successes” of the government’s policy.

The settlers, we are told, transform the unsettled regions into “civilised localities”, the settlers are growing rich, improving their farms, and so on and so forth. The usual official panegyric. The old, old “everything is all right”, “all quiet on Shipka”.[3]

The only pity is that the explanatory memorandum completely ignored the statistics of returned settlers! A strange and significant silence!

Yes, gentlemen, the number of settlers increased after 1905 to an average of half a million a year. Yes, by 1908, the migration wave reached its highest point—665,000 settlers in one year. But later the wave began rapidly to recede, and in 1911 dropped to 189,000. Is it not clear that the highly praised government “arrangements” for the settlers have turned out to be bluff? Is it not clear that only six years after the revolution the government is back where it started?

And the statistics of the number of returned settlers—so prudently ignored by the Minister of Finance in his “explanatory” (or rather, confusing) memorandum—these statistics reveal a monstrous increase in the number of returned settlers—up to 30 or 40 per cent in 1910, and up to 60 per cent in 1911. This gigantic wave of returning settlers reveals the desperate suffering, ruin and destitution of the peasants who   sold everything at home in order to go to Siberia, and who are now forced to come back from Siberia completely ruined and pauperised.

This enormous stream of destitute returned settlers reveals with irrefutable clarity the complete failure of the government’s resettlement policy. To produce tables of figures showing the improvement in the farms of the settlers who remained in Siberia for a long time (as was done in the explanatory memorandum on the estimates of the resettlement administration) and to hush up the complete and utter ruin of tens of thousands of returned settlers simply means distorting the facts! This means presenting the Duma deputies with castles in Spain and fairy-tales about general well being, whereas in fact we observe ruin and destitution.

Gentlemen, the fact that the Minister of Finance’s explanatory memorandum conceals the figures of the returned settlers, their desperate, destitute condition, their utter ruin, signifies frantic attempts on the part of the government to conceal the truth. The attempts are in vain. The truth will out! The truth will have to be admitted. The destitution of the ruined peasants who returned to Russia, the destitution of the ruined old inhabitants of Siberia, will have to be spoken about.

In order to explain graphically the conclusion I have drawn concerning the complete failure of the government’s resettlement policy, I shall quote another opinion, that of a civil servant, who for twenty-seven years—twenty-seven years, gentlemen!—served in the Forestry Department in Siberia, an official who has studied resettlement conditions, an official who was unable to bear all the abominations that are committed in our resettlement administration.

This civil servant is State Councillor A. I. Komarov, who, after serving for twenty-seven years, was compelled to acknowledge that the notorious journey made to Siberia in 1910 by Stolypin and Krivoshein, the Prime Minister and the Chief Administrator of Agriculture and Land Settlement respectively, was a “clownish tour”—such is literally the expression used by a State Councillor, a civil servant of twenty-seven years’ standing! This official resigned the service, lie could not tolerate the deception of all Russia that was being practised by means of such “clownish tours”,   and he published a special pamphlet containing a truthful account of all the thefts and embezzlement of government funds, the utter absurdity, brutality and wastefulness of our resettlement policy.

The pamphlet is entitled The Truth About the Resettlement Scheme and was published in St. Petersburg in the present year, 1913, price sixty kopeks—not expensive, considering the wealth of revealing material it contains. As usual our government, in resettlement, as in all other “affairs” and “branches of administration”, is exerting every effort to conceal the truth, and fears lest “its dirty linen be washed in public”. Komarov had to lie low as long as he was in the service, he had to write his letters of exposure to the news papers under an assumed name, and the authorities tried to “catch” the correspondent. Not all civil servants are able to leave the service and publish pamphlets that reveal the truth! But one such pamphlet enables us to judge what rottenness, what an abomination of desolation reigns in general in this “dark realm”.

The civil servant A. I. Komarov is not a revolutionary, nothing like one. He himself tells us about his loyal hostility to the theories of both the Social-Democrats and the Socialist-Revolutionaries. He is just an ordinary, very loyal, Russian civil servant, who would be quite satisfied with elementary, rudimentary honesty and decency. He is a man who is hostile to the Revolution of 1905 and ready to serve the counter-revolutionary government.

It is all the more significant, therefore, that even such a man has left, has abandoned the service, shaking its dust from his feet. He could not stand “the complete disruption of all hat is called rational forestry” (p. 138) by our resettlement policy. He could not stand the “expropriation of the arable land of the old inhabitants” which leads to the “gradual impoverishment of the old inhabitants” (pp. 137 and 138). He could not stand “state spoilation or, rather, devastation of Siberian lands and forests that makes the plunder of the Bashkirian lands that once took place seem trivial indeed” (p. 3).

The following are Komarov’s conclusions:

Absolute unpreparedness of the Chief Resettlement Administration for work on a large scale ... absolute lack of planning in the work   and its bad quality ... allotment of plots with soil unsuitable for agriculture, where there is no water at all, or with no drinking water” (p. 137).

When the tide of migration rose, the officials were caught napping. They “tore to pieces areas of state forest that had been surveyed only the day before ... took whatever they first laid eyes on, anything so long as they could accommodate, get rid of, the scores of emaciated exhausted people hanging around the resettlement centre and standing for long hours outside the resettlement office...” (p. 11).

Here are a few examples. The Kurinsky area is set apart for settlers. This area consists of land that had been taken from the native population near the Altai salt works. The natives have been robbed. The new settlers get salt water unfit for drinking purposes! The government wastes money endlessly on digging wells—but without success. The new settlers have to drive 7 or 8 (seven or eight!) versts for water! (p. 101).

The Vyezdnoi area in the upper reaches of the River Mann, where thirty families were settled. After seven haard years the new settlers finally became convinced that farming was impossible there. Nearly all of them fled. The few who remained engage in hunting and fishing (p. 27).

The Chuna-Angara region: hundreds of plots are mapped out—900 plots, 460 plots, etc. There are no settlers. Impossible to live there. Mountain ridges, marshes, undrinkable water.

And now the civil servant, A. I. Komarov, tells about those returned settlers whom the Minister of Finance did not mention the truth the government finds unpleasant.

There are hundreds of thousands of them,” writes civil servant Komarov, referring to the ruined and destitute returning settlers. “Those returning are the sort who, in the future revolution, if it takes place, are destined to play a terrible role.... The man who is returning is not the one who all his life has been a farm labourer ... but the one who until recently was a property-owner, a man who never dreamed that he and the land could exist apart. This man is justifiably exasperated, to him it is a mortal offence that he has not been provided for, but, on the contrary, has been ruined—this man is a menace to any political system” (p. 74).

Thus writes Mr. Komarov, a civil servant who is terrified of the revolution. Komarov is mistaken in thinking that   only landowner “political systems” are possible. In the best and most civilised states they manage to get along even without the landowners. Russia could also manage without them to the advantage of the people.

Komarov exposes the ruin of the old inhabitants. “Crop failures”—what he really means is famine—arising from the plunder of the old inhabitants, began to visit even the “Siberian Italy”—Minusinsk Uyezd. Mr. Komarov exposes the way in which the contractors rob the Treasury, the absolute fiction, the falsity of the reports and plans drawn up by the officials, the worthlessness of their work which swallowed up millions, such as the Ob-Yenisei Canal, the waste of hundreds of millions of rubles.

All our resettlement schemes, states this God-fearing modest official, are “nothing but one long and unpleasant anecdote” (p. 134).

Such is the truth concerning the returned settlers that has been hushed up by the Minister of Finance! Such in reality is the complete failure of our resettlement policy! Ruin and destitution both in Russia and in Siberia. Plunder of lands, the destruction of forests, false reports and official mendacity and hypocrisy.

Let us pass on to the question of the farmsteads.

On this question, too, the explanatory memorandum of the Minister of Finance gives us the same, general, meaningless, official, hypocritical data (or rather alleged data) as on the question of migration.

We are informed that by 1912 over one and a half million families had definitely abandoned the village commune; that over a million of these families have been established on farmsteads.

There is not a single truthful word anywhere in the government reports about the real state of the farmsteads!

Yet we know already, from the descriptions given of the new land settlements by honest observers (like the late Ivan Andreyevich Konovalov) and from our own observations of the countryside and of peasant life, that there are farmstead peasants of two altogether different categories. The government, by confusing these categories, by giving data of a general kind, is only deceiving the people.

One category, an insignificant minority, are the well-to-do   peasants, the kulaks, who even before the new land settlement schemes were introduced, lived very well. Such peasants, by leaving the village commune and buying up the allotments of the poor, are undoubtedly enriching them selves at other people’s expense, and still further ruining and enslaving the masses of the population. But, I repeat, there are very few farmstead peasants of this type.

The other category predominates, and predominates to an overwhelming degree—that of the ruined destitute peasants, who set up farmsteads out of sheer need, because they had nowhere else to go. These peasants say: “Nowhere to go, then let us set up a farmstead.” Starving and toiling on their beggarly farms, they clutch at anything for the sake of the resettlement grant, for the sake of the loan they can obtain by settling on a farmstead. On these farmsteads they suffer untold hardships; they sell all their grain in order to pay the bank the instalment on the loan; they are always in debt; they live like beggars in a state of dire distress; they are driven from the farmsteads for defaulting with their instalments and they are finally transformed into vagabonds.

Now, if instead of handing us meaningless pictures of fictitious prosperity, official statistics bad truthfully in formed us of the number of these destitute farmsteaders who are living in dug-outs, who keep cattle in their own miser able quarters, who never have enough to eat, whose children are sick and in rags—then we would hear the “truth about the farmsteads”.

But the point is that the government does its utmost to conceal this truth. Independent, detached observers of peasant life are persecuted and sent out of the villages. Peasants writing to the newspapers come up against tyranny, oppression and persecution by the authorities and the police, of a nature unparalleled even in Russia.

A handful of rich farmsteaders are represented as masses of thriving peasants! The official lie about the kulaks is represented as the truth about the countryside! But the government will not succeed in concealing the truth. The attempts of the government to conceal the truth about the ruined and starving countryside only call forth legitimate anger and indignation among the peasants. The fact that tens of millions of peasants are starving, as was the case   last year and the year before, reveals better than any lengthy argumentation the mendacity and hypocrisy of the tales about the beneficial influence of the farmsteads. This fact shows most clearly that even after the change in the government’s agrarian policy, and after the notorious Stolypin reforms,[4] the Russian countryside is just as much overwhelmed by oppression, exploitation, destitution, lack of human rights as it was under serfdom. The “new” agrarian policy of the Council of the United Nobility left untouched the old serf-owners and the oppression on their estates of thousands and tens of thousands of dessiatines. The “new” agrarian policy enriched the old landowners and a handful of the peasant bourgeoisie, and ruined the masses of the peasants to a still greater extent.

We bank on the strong,” exclaimed the late Stolypin in explanation and justification of his agrarian policy. These words are well worth noting and remembering as extraordinarily truthful, exceptionally truthful words for a minister. The peasants have fully understood and learned through their own bitter experience the truthfulness of these words, which mean that the new laws and the new agrarian policy are laws for the rich and made by the rich, a policy for the rich and carried out by the rich. The peas ants have understood the “simple” game, that the Duma of the master class makes laws for the master class—that the government is the instrument of the will of the feudal landowners and of their rule over Russia.

If Stolypin wanted to teach this to the peasants by means of his “famous” (shamefully famous) dictum, “we bank on the strong”, we are sure he has found and will find apt pupils among the masses of the ruined and embittered who, having learned on whom the government banks, will understand so much the better on whom they themselves should bank—on the working class and on its struggle for freedom.

In order not to make unsupported statements, I shall quote a few examples drawn from real life by so able an observer, one so boundlessly devoted to his work, as Ivan Andreyevich Konovalov. (Ivan Konovalov, Sketches of the Modern Village, St. Petersburg, 1913. Price 1 ruble 50 kopeks. In the quotations the pages are indicated.)

In Livny Uyezd, Orel Gubernia, four estates have been   divided into farmsteads: that of Grand Duke Andrei Vladimirovich—5,000 dessiatines, of Polyakov—900 dessiatines, of Nabokov—400 dessiatines, of Korf—600 dessiatines. The total is about 7,000 dessiatines. The size of the farmsteads is fixed at 9 dessiatines each and only in exceptional cases at 12 dessiatines. Thus, there are in all a little over 600 farmsteads.

In order to explain the significance of these figures more graphically, I shall quote the official statistics of 1905 for Orel Gubernia. Five nobles in this gubernia owned 143,446 dessiatines, i.e., an average of 28,000 dessiatines each. It is obvious that such monstrously big estates are not wholly cultivated by the owners; they only serve for oppression and enslavement of the peasants. The number of former serfs of landowners in Orel Gubernia in 1905 with holdings not exceeding 5 dessiatines per farm was 44,500, owning a total of 173,000 dessiatines of land. The landowner has 28,000 dessiatines and the “landowner’s” muzhik of the poorer class—4 dessiatines.

In 1905, the number of nobles in Orel Gubernia owning 500 dessiatines of land and over was 378, the total amount of land in their possession being 592,000 dessiatines, i.e., an average of over 1,500 dessiatines each; while the number of “former serfs of landowners” in Orel Gubernia having up to 7 dessiatines per household was 124,000 giving them a total of 647,000 dessiatines, i.e., an average of 5 dessiatines per household.

One may judge by this to what extent the Orel peasants are oppressed by the feudal estates and what a drop in the ocean of misery and destitution were the four estates in Livny Uyezd that were divided into farmsteads. But how do the farmstead peasants live on their 9 dessiatine plots?

The land has been valued at 220 rubles per dessiatine. They have to pay 118 rubles and 80 kopeks per annum (i.e., about 20 rubles per dessiatine of sown area). A poor peasant is incapable of paying so much. He lets a part of the land cheaply just to get some ready cash. He sells all his grain to pay the instalment due to the bank. He has nothing left, either for seed or for food. He borrows, enslaves himself again. He has only one horse, he has sold his cow. His implements are old. Improving the farm is out of the question.   “The kids have simply forgotten the colour, let alone the taste, of milk” (p. 198). This sort of farmer falls into arrears with his instalments and is driven off his plot; his ruin is then complete.

In his explanatory memorandum, the Minister of Finance complacently tried to gloss over this ruin of the peasants by the new land settlement, or rather land unsettlement.

On page 57 of the second part of the explanatory memorandum the Minister gives official figures for the number of peasants who had sold their land by the end of 1911. The number is 386,407 families.

And the Minister “consoles” us by saying: the number of buyers (362,840) “is very close to the number of sellers” (385,407). For each seller we get on an average 3.9 dessiatines, for each buyer—4.2 dessiatines (p. 58 of the explanatory memorandum).

What is consoling in this? In the first place, even these official figures show that the number of buyers is less than the number of sellers. This means that the ruin and destitution of the countryside is increasing. And secondly, who does not know that the buyers of allotments evade the law, which forbids the purchase of land above a small number of dessiatines, by buying in the name of wife, relations, or of some other person? Who does not know that the selling of land under the guise of various other transactions, such as a lease, etc., is very widely practised by the peasants out of sheer necessity? Read, for instance, the works of the semi Cadet, semi-Octobrist Prince Obolensky in Russkaya Mysl, and you will see that even this landowner, who is thoroughly imbued with the views of his class, admits the fact that the allotments are bought up to an enormous extent by the rich, and that these purchases are masked by means of evasions of the law in thousands of different ways!

And so, gentlemen, the “new” agrarian policy of the government and the nobles was all the honourable nobles could produce, leaving their property and their revenues intact (often they even increased their revenues by inflating the price of the land for sale and by means of the thousands of favours the Peasant Bank extends to the nobility).

And the “all” of these nobles proved to be nothing. The countryside is even more destitute, even more angered.   Terrible anger reigns in the villages. What is called hooliganism is due mainly to the incredible anger of the peasants, and is their primitive form of protest. No persecution, no increasing of punishments will allay this anger and stop this protest by millions of hungry peasants who are flow being ruined by the “redistribution” of the land with unprecedented rapidity, roughness and brutality.

No, the nobles’ or Stolypin’s agrarian policy is not the way out; it is only a very painful approach towards a new solution of the agrarian problem in Russia. What this solution should be is shown indirectly even by the fate of Ireland where, in spite of a thousand delays, hindrances and obstacles placed in the way by the landowners, the land has after all passed into the hands of the farmers.

The essence of the agrarian problem in Russia is most strikingly revealed by the figures for the big landed estates. These figures are given in the official government statistics of 1905, and anyone who is seriously concerned about the fate of the Russian peasantry and the state of affairs in the entire field of politics of our country should study them with great attention.

Let us consider the big landed estates in European Russia: 27,833 landowners own over 500 dessiatines each, giving them a total of 62,000,000 dessiatines of land! Adding to these the land owned I)y the imperial family and the enormous estates of the manufacturers in the Urals, we get 70,000,000 dessiatines owned by less than 30,000 land owners. This gives on an average over 2,000 dessiatines to each big landed proprietor. The size the biggest estates attain in Russia is seen from the fact that 699 proprietors own more than 10,000 dessiatines each, giving them a total of 20,798,504 dessiatines. On an average these magnates possess almost 30,000 (29,754) dessiatines each!

It is not easy to find in Europe, or even in the entire world, another country where big feudal landownership has been preserved on such a monstrous scale.

And the most important point is that capitalist farming, i.e., the cultivation of the soil by hired labourers with the implements and tools of the owners, is being conducted only on a part of these lands. For the most part, farming is being conducted on feudal lines, i.e., the landowners enslave the   peasants as they did one hundred, three hundred, and five hundred years ago, forcing the peasants to cultivate the estate land with their own horses, with their own implements.

This is not capitalism. This is not the European method of farming, gentlemen of the Right and Octobrists; take note of this, you who are boasting of your desire to “Europeanise” (i.e., refashion in the European way) agriculture in Russia! No, this is not European at all. This is the old Chinese way. This is the Turkish way. This is the feudal way.

This is not up-to-date farming, it is land usury. It is the old, old enslavement. The poor peasant, who even in the best year remains a pauper and is half-starved, who owns a weak, scrawny nag and old, miserable, wretched implements, is becoming the slave of the landowner, of the “master”, because he, the muzhik, has no alternative.

The “master” will neither lease his land, nor give right of way, nor watering-places for animals, nor meadows, nor timber, unless the peasant enslaves himself. If a peasant is caught “illegally” felling wood in the forests, what happens? He is beaten up by the foresters, Circassians, etc., and then the “master”, who in the Duma delivers fervent speeches on the progress of our agriculture and on the necessity of copying Europe—this same master offers the following alternative to the beaten muzhik: either go to prison or cultivate, plough, sow and harvest two or three dessiatines! The same thing happens when the peasants’ cattle trespass on the landowners’ estates. The same for the winter loan of grain. The same for the use of meadows and pastures, and so on without end.

This is not big landowner farming. It is the enslavement of the muzhik. It is feudal exploitation of millions of impoverished peasants-by means of estates of thousands of dessiatines, the estates of the landowners who have been squeezing and stifling the muzhik in all directions.

The farmsteads are helping out a handful of rich peasants. But the masses continue to starve as before. Why is it, you landowning gentlemen, that Europe has not known famine for a long time? Why is it that terrible famines, such as that which raged in our country in 1910–11, occurred in Europe only under serfdom?

Because in Europe there is no serf bondage. There are rich and middle peasants and there are labourers in Europe, but not millions of ruined, destitute peasants, driven to despair by perennial suffering and hard labour, disfranchised, downtrodden, dependent on the “master”.

What is to be done? What is the way out?

There is only one way out: the liberation of the country side from the oppression of these feudal latifundia, the transfer of these seventy million dessiatines of land from the land ed proprietors to the peasants, a transfer that must be effected without any compensation.

Only such a solution can make Russia really resemble a European country. Only such a solution will enable the millions of Russian peasants to breathe freely and recover. Only such a solution will make it possible to transform Russia from a country of perennially starving, destitute peasants, crushed by bondage to the landowner, into a country of “European progress”, from a country of illiterate people into a literate country, from a country of backwardness and hopeless stagnation into a country capable of developing and going forward, from a disfranchised country, a country of slaves, into a free country.

And the party of the working class, knowing that without free, democratic institutions there is not and cannot be a road to socialism, points, as a way out of the blind alley into which the government with its agrarian policy has again led Russia, to the free transfer of all the landed estates to the peasants, to the winning of full political liberty by a new revolution.


[1] Lenin prepared this speech for, a Bolshevik deputy to the Duma. It was delivered by N. B. Shagov on June 9 (22), 1913, during the debate on the Budget Committee’s report on the estimates of the Department of State Lands. The speech aroused shouts from the Right deputies and the speaker was several times warned by the chairman that he would be deprived of the right to speak for breaking the rule prohibiting the reading of speeches. Shagov was forced to leave out a number of passages from Lenin’s text; about half the speech was delivered.

[2] The village commune in Russia was a communal form of peasant land tenure characterised by compulsory crop rotation and undivided   woods and pastures. Its principal features were collective liability (compulsory collective responsibility of the peasants for making their payments in full and on time, and the performance of various services to the state and the landowners), the regular reallotment of the land with no right to refuse the allotment given, the prohibition of its purchase and sale.

The Russian village commune dates back to ancient times and in the course of historical development gradually became one of the mainstays of feudalism in Russia. The landowners and the tsarist government used the village commune to intensify feudal oppression and to squeeze redemption payment and taxes out of the people. Lenin pointed out that the village commune “does not save the peasant from turning into a proletarian, yet in practice acts as a medieval barrier dividing the peasants, who are, as it were, chained to small associations and to categories which have lost all ‘reason for existence’\thinspace”.

The problem of the village commune aroused heated arguments and brought an extensive economic literature into existence. Particularly great interest in the commune was displayed by the Narodniks, who saw in it the guarantee of Russia’s socialist evolution by a special path. By tendentiously selecting facts and falsifying them and employing so-called “average figures”, the Narodniks sought to prove that the commune peasantry in Russia possessed a special sort of “stability”, and that the peasant commune protected the peasants against the penetration of capitalist relations into their lives, and saved them from ruin and class differentiation. As early as the 1880s, G. V. Plekhanov had shown that the Narodnik illusions about “commune socialism” were unfounded, and in the 1890s Lenin completely refuted the Narodnik theories. Lenin brought forward a tremendous amount of statistical material and innumerable facts to show how capitalist relations were developing in the Russian village, and how capital, by penetrating the patriarchal village commune, was splitting the peasantry into two antagonistic classes, the kulaks and the poor peasants.

In 1906 the tsarist Minister Stolypin issued a law favouring the kulaks that allowed the peasants to leave the commune and sell their allotments. This law laid the basis for the official abolition of the village commune system and intensified the differentiation among the peasants. In the nine years following the promulgation of the law, over two million peasant families withdrew from the communes.

[3] This expression originated during the Russo-Turkish War, 1877–78. There was heavy fighting in the Shipka Pass but the headquarters of the Russian Army issued communiqués stating “All quiet on Shipka”. The expression was used ironically in respect of those who tried to hide the true state of affairs.

[4] The Stolypin reforms were agrarian laws promulgated in 1906 and 1907. On November 9 (22), 1906 a law was published giving peasants   the right to withdraw from the communes and giving them the title to their allotment lands. Before this (on August 12 [25]) a law was passed on the sale of some of the crown lands and (August 27 [September 9]) on the sale of state lands through the Peasant Bank. Later, on November 15 (28), a law was passed permitting loans to peasants from the Peasant Land Bank on the security of peasant allotments.

Works Index   |   Volume 19 | Collected Works   |   L.I.A. Index
< backward   forward >