V. I. Lenin

The Theses On The Agrarian Question

Adopted By The Communist Party Of France

delivered: 11 December, 1921
First Published: 1922 in 7h Communist International No. 20 Sign ct] A Russian Communist; Published according to the manuscript
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, 2nd English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, Volume 33, pages 131-137
Translated: David Skvirsky and George Hanna
Transcription\HTML Markup: David Walters & R. Cymbala
Copyleft: V. I. Lenin Internet Archive (www.marx.org) 2002. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

Apropos of the theses on the agrarian question published over the signature of the Central Committee (Le comitè directeur) of the Communist Party of France in La Voix Pagsanne (Peasant Voice)[1] No. 95 of November 19, 1921, I may say the following:

It seems to me that the main ideas of the theses are quite correct, that they correspond to the decisions of the congresses of the Comintern, and that they are very well formulated. These ideas are: (1) that a revolution is necessary if new imperialist wars are to be averted; (2) that the pacifist and Wilson ideology has been defeated; (3) that it is absolutely necessary to draw tip an agrarian “programme of transitional measures” (un programme transitoire) to communism, adapted to the peasants’ voluntary transition to the socialisation of farming, that will, at the same time, ensure an immediate improvement in the condition of the vast majority of the rural population, the hired labourers and small peasants; (4) the immediate confiscation, i. e., expropriation without compensation (sans indemnitè), both of lands lying fallow (les terres arables en friche) and of lands cultivated by the labour of coloni, tenant farmers or hired labourers (les terres mises en valour par les colons, fermiers ou salaries); (5) the transfer of these lands to the whole body of workers who now cultivate them in order that these workers form “producers’ co-operative societies” (cooperatives de production) in conformity with the provisions of the new agrarian legislation; (6) the unconditional permanent (and hereditary) tenure of their lands by the “small proprietors who cultivate their lands themselves” (les petits propriètaires exploitant eux-mernes); (7) the need to ensure “continuous and increasing production” in agriculture (“continuitè et augmentation de la production”); (8) the need for a number of measures for the systematic “communist education of the peasantry” (“education cornmuniste de la classe pagsanne738221;).

Being in complete agreement with these main ideas in the theses, I can only make the following few general observations about them.

1. The first part of the theses deals with the question: ’war or revolution?” Here it says among other things, and quite rightly, that “the events of the last few years have killed the pacifist and Wilson ideology” ,em>(“les événements des derntères années ibt tué l’idéologie pacifiste et wilsonicnne”).

In order to dispel these pacifist illusions completely I think we should speak not only of war in general, but also of the specifically imperialist nature of the war of 1914-18, and of the war now in preparation between America and Japan with the probable participation of Great Britain and France.

There is no doubt that only the proletarian revolution can and certainly will put a stop to all war. But it would be a pacifist illusion to think that a victorious proletarian revolution in one country, say France, could put a stop to all war once and for all.

The experience of Russia has vividly dispelled this illusion. This experience has shown that only by means of a revolution were we able to extricate ourselves from the imperialist war, and that the Russian workers and peasants have gained immensely by their revolution despite the Civil War forced upon them by the capitalists of all countries. Just as reactionary wars, and imperialist wars in particular, are criminal and fatal (and among imperialist wars must be included the war France waged in 1914-18; the Treaty of Versailles has very vividly demonstrated this), so revolutionary wars are legitimate and just-i. e., wars waged against the capitalists in defence of the oppressed classes, wars against the oppressors in defence of the nations oppressed by the imperialists of a handful of countries, wars in defence of the socialist revolution against foreign invaders. The more clearly the masses of workers and peasants of France understand this the less probable and less prolonged will be the inevitable attempts of the French, British and other capitalists to crush the revolution of the workers and peasants of France by means of war. In present-day Europe, after the victory Soviet Russia has achieved over all the capitalist countries which supported Denikin, Kolchak, Wrangel, Yudenich and Pilsudski—in present-day Europe, in view of the outrageous and shameless throttling of Germany by the Treaty of Versailles, a civil war waged by the French capitalists against a victorious socialist revolution in France can only be of very short duration and a thousand times less arduous for the French workers and peasants than the Civil War was for the Russians. Nevertheless, it is absolutely necessary to distinguish clearly between imperialist wars, wars for the division of capitalist loot, wars to strangle small and weak nations-and revolutionary wars-wars of defence against the counter-revolutionary capitalists, wars to throw oil the capitalist yoke.

In the light of the foregoing considerations I think that instead of what is said in the theses about “war or revolution”, it would be more correct to say approximately the following.

The events of the last few years have revealed the utter falsity and fraud of the pacifist and Wilson ideology. This fraud must be thoroughly exposed. The war of 1914-18 was an imperialist, predatory and reactionary war not only on the part of Germany, but also on the part of France. This has been most vividly demonstrated by the Treaty of Versailles, which is even more brutal and revolting than the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. The new war now in preparation between America and Japan (or Great Britain), and which is unavoidable if capitalism continues to exist, will inevitably involve capitalist France, for she is implicated in all the imperialist crimes, atrocities and villainies of the present imperialist era. Either another war or series of wars to “defend” French imperialism, or a socialist revolution cthere is no other choice before the workers and peasants of France. They will not allow themselves to be intimidated by the tales of the counter-revolutionary capitalists about the hardships of the Civil War which they forced upon Soviet Russia. The workers and peasants of France proved that they were capable of waging a legitimate, just and revolutionary war against their feudal aristocracy when the latter wanted to crush the great French Revolution of the eighteenth century. They will be able to wage a similarly legitimate just and revolutionary war against the French capitalists, when the latter become émigrés and organise foreign invasion against the French Socialist Republic. It will be easier for the French workers and peasants to crush their exploiters because the whole of Europe, exhausted, tormented and Balkanised by the atrocious Treaty of Versailles, will, directly or indirectly, be on their side.

2. 1 think that the statement in the next part of the theses that “the impending revolution in France (cette révolution que nous devons faire) will in a way be a premature revolution” (sera en quelque sorte tine révolution avant terine) is wrong, as is also the following statement:

“The concentration of property proclaimed by Marxist theoreticians did not proceed according to rule in agriculture” (La concentration de la propriété annoncée par Its théoriclens du marxisme ne s’est pas produite avec régularité dons l’agriculture).

That is wrong; and it is not the view of Marx or of Marxism, but the view of those “theoreticians” of quasi-“Marxism” who were responsible for the shameful breakdown of the Second International in 1914. It is the view of the pseudo-Marxists who in 1914 deserted to the side of “their” national bourgeoisie, and who were derided long ago by none other than Juice Guesde when he opposed Millerand in the press and said that the future Millerands would be on the side of “their” capitalists in the impending war for the division of the capitalist loot.

Marx did not regard concentration in agriculture as a simple and straightforward process. Proof of this will be found in Volume III of Capital, and in the article Engels wrote in the 1890s in opposition to the French agrarian programme[2] of that time. Marx did not consider that the proletarian revolution would be “opportune” only when the last Peasant had been expropriated. Let us leave it to the Hyndmans, Renaudols, Vanderveldes and Südekums, to Messieurs Turati and Serrati to interpret Marx’s view in this way.

My advice would be to delete these statements for they are incorrect, unnecessary, and discredit the French Communists. They are not needed to prove the practically and theoretically important and correct main idea that the immediate application (l’application immédiate) of integral communism to small-peasant farming (by no means in France only, but in all countries where small-peasant husbandry exists) would be a profound error.

Instead of making these incorrect statements it would be better to explain in greater detail why the wealth the French peasants accumulated during the war cannot be lasting, why the money they accumulated during the war is depreciating, why the oppression of both the workers and the peasants of France by the big banks is increasing, what forms this increased oppression is taking, and so forth.

3. The theses go on to say that according to pm-war statistics there were in France 5,700,000 farms (exploitations rurales), of which 4,850,000 were small farms (up to 10 hectares) and 850,000 had over 10 hectares of land each. These figures show, state the theses, how unevenly the land is distributed in France. And they go on to say: “But these figures do not give us an exact idea (“mais ils [ces chiffres] ne fournissent aucune precision…”) of the ratio between the area of the lands cultivated by their owners and the lands that serve as a source of capitalist profit” (..."stir it rapport qui existe entre l’endue des terres travaillées par leurs propriétaires et des terres source do profit eapitaliste").

Firstly, in France (as in every other capitalist country) the lands cultivated by their owners also serve as a “source of capitalist profit”. Theoretically it would have been more correct, and punctually more useful to have explained in the theses of the Communist Party of France the forms this profit takes rather than to have said that the concentration of property does not proceed “according to rule” ("avec réguiarité—) in agriculture.

Secondly, it is true that French farming statistic are poor, inferior to the German, U.S, Swiss and Danish, and that they do not give an exact idea of the area of land cuivated on capitalist lines. It is also true, as is stated further—theses, that farms with less than 10 hectares of land sometimes employ hired labour and that peasant owners sometimes cultivate by their own efforts ’farms of 20, 30 and more hectares of land” (“des fermes de 20, 30 hectares et au-dessus”).

- Although from the French agrarian statistics one cannot get an idea of the exact area of land cultivated on capitalist lines, one can, nevertheless, obtain an approximation. I have neither Compere-Morel’s book, nor any other sources at hand; but I remember that in the French statistics farms with 40 and more hectares of land are given separately. It would be very useful to quote these figures to show the small peasants of France more strikingly what a vast amount of land the French capitalists and landowners have grabbed (from the workers and from them). In the agrarian theses one can (and must, in my opinion) demonstrate more vividly with the aid of French agrarian statistics (and the statistics compiled by Compère-Morel—when he was still a socialist and not a champion of the capitalists and of their predatory war of 1914-18 and of their predatory Treaty of Versailles) that the vast majority of the rural population of France would gain at once, immediately and very considerably from a proletarian revolution.

4. My last observation concerns the points of the theses which speak of the need to increase the output of agricultural produce and the importance of modern machines (des machines modernes), particularly threshing machines (des batteuses), tractor ploughs (les charrues à tracteur), etc.

All these statements in the theses are undoubtedly correct and necessary from the practical point of view. I think, however, that we should not confine ourselves to the ordinary capitalist technique, but should take a step beyond that. A few words should have been said about the need for planned and complete electrification of the whole of France, and to show that it is absolutely impossible to do this for the benefit of the workers and peasants unless bourgeois rule is overthrown and power is seized by the proletariat. French literature contains no little data on the importance of electrification for France. I know that a small part of this data is quoted in the plan for the electrification of Russia that was drawn up by order of our government, and that since the war considerable progress has been made in France towards the technical solution of the problem of electrification.

In my opinion it is extremely important both from the theoretical and from the practical propaganda point of view to say in the theses (and generally to enlarge on it in our communist literature) that modern advanced technology imperatively calls for the electrification of the whole country and of a number of neighbouring countries—under a single plan; that this is quite feasible at the present time; that agriculture, and particularly the peasantry, stand to gain most from this; that as long as capitalism and private ownership of the means of production exist, the electrification of a whole country, or a series of countries, firstly, cannot be carried out speedily and according to plan, and secondly, cannot benefit the workers and peasants. Under capitalism, electrification will inevitably lead to increased oppression of the workers and peasants by the big banks. Even before the war, not a narrow-minded Marxist”, but none other than Lysis—who is now patriotically licking the boots of the capitalists-had proved that France was actually governed by a financial oligarchy.

France possesses splendid opportunities for electrification. After the victory of the proletariat in France, the small peasants particularly will benefit enormously from electrification carried out according to plan and unhindered by the private property of big landowners and capitalists. If the capitalists remain in power, however, electrification cannot possibly be planned and rapid; and in so far as it is carried out at all, it will be a means of imposing new fetters on the peasants, a new means of enslaving the peasants to the ’financial oligarchy” which is robbing them today.

These are the few observations I am able to make on the French agrarian theses, which on the whole are, in my opinion, quite correct.

December 11, 1921


[1] La Voix Paysanne—weekly organ of the Central Association of Working peasants, was published in Paris by the Communist Party of France

[2] Lenin refers to Engel’s article “The Peasant Question n France and German