Leon Trotzky

In Soviet Russia

The relations between Proletariat
and Peasantry in Russia

(9 May 1923)

Source: International Press Correspondence, Vol. 3 No. 36 [18], 9 May 1923, pp. 327–328.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2021. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

The European proletariat, which threw itself spontaneously upon the bourgeoisie in 1918 and 1919, is now beginning to inquire in its great masses what it still lacks in order to seize power and to carry out the social transformation. Two facts exist which have a counteractive effect on one another: The bourgeoisie feels itself politically strengthened, and the working class has passed through the retreat movement of the last three years. These two facts are of the greatest significance. Marx has taught us that a class does not always know what it is. A class may be rendered powerful by its position with regard to production, and not be aware of it. And a class may have lost half or three-quarters of its economic power, and still maintain its position thanks to its experience, to the inactivity of others, and to its usual methods of government. This is the situation to be observed in Europe at the present time. After the experiences of 1918 and 1919 the bourgeoisie deems itself much stronger than it actually is. In reality the bourgeoisie is unable to restore economic life; the decay of capitalism continues, and the propertied classes have no other methods at hand than violence, conquest, and destruction. Look at the Ruhr area. But a class which cannot control production is condemned to decay. The proletariat, on the other hand, after its experiences of 1918/19, deems itself, despite its overwhelming majority, to be much weaker that it really is. Just as Russia passed through the period of apparent strength of the autocracy, as embodied in Stolypin, before it arrived at the Kerensky period, so the Europe of today is the victim of similar illusions.

Here the key to the situation lies: In the discrepancy between the objective power of the classes and their consciousness thereof.

The events now occurring in Europe may drive the official policies of the various states towards the Right, towards an imperialist monopoly held by a few extreme cliques of the bourgeoisie. But this movement will widen the chasm between bourgeoisie and proletariat, between the bourgeois state and the elementary needs of national economic life; thus the path for the inevitable revolutionary catastrophe is prepared. This catastrophe approaches in the West and in the East alike, though it is true that it approaches mote slowly than we had hoped in 1918. In politics time plays an important role. The backward peoples of Asia and the advanced proletariat of Europe alike require more time to prepare revolutions than we had believed. Hence the necessity to revise our tasks and methods, as we have done at the 10th Party Conference of the C.P. of Russia, and at the 3rd Congress of the Communist International.

As we shall thus have to dispense with the aid of French and German technics in Russia for the present, we must devote our utmost attention to the relation of forces in our own country, to the state of agriculture, and the efficiency of the peasant. This explains the new economic policy. Do the results of the past year induce us to revise this policy? No! The re-grouping of forces which began with the defeat of the Italian workers in 1919, and which continued with our retreat before Warsaw in 1920 and the defeat of the premature offensive of the German proletariat – this re-grouping of forces, which closed the first spontaneous advance of revolution, has undergone no change. We have often repeated Lenin's characterization of the period following that of War-Communism as an armistice. But this armistice, which we expected would be of brief duration, seems to grow into an historic interval. We do not vet know if months or years will pass before it ends. If I had to prophesy I should say that if we count the interval in months, there will be many of them, if in years, probably not so many, but in any case it is undoubtedly no mere pause for breath, but an historical epoch.

We have still a long journey before us in our poor Russian farm cart. Is it in good condition, will it stand the stress? This is the decisive question. Will our resources and methods hold out during this epoch? Let us first examine into the relations between our proletariat and peasantry. These relations also include production, for our industry is based on our agriculture. Let us further examine into the relations between the working class and the nationalities formerly oppressed, in reality this is only a question derived from the first one. The relations between the Party and the working class are also to be examined, and finally those between the Party and the state mechanism, which last is extremely imperfect in Russia. But in reality the whole is completely dependent on the relations between proletariat and peasantry. If the Nep phase lasts longer, its dangers increase, and its problems will require more effectual solutions. In the future we must not speak of new protective measures against possible dangers, but of the regulation and systematization of the methods which contribute to the solution of the difficulties of the present epoch.

Lenin, in his last articles on labor inspection, expressed our task in the following concentrated form: “Go forward, but not too hastily; remember that in the new world period, with the Nep at home, our industry and state have no other support than our backward agriculture, from which we can demand but a limited aid.“ What kind of aid? This must be very accurately considered. Those comrades who are of the opinion – with Larin – that we ask too little from the peasant masses, are certainly mistaken. We must not ask more of the peasant than he can really give us. We must see to it that the next year is more abundant than the present year. This is a formula which he can understand, and which must therefore become the basis of our home policy, It is entirely different from the formula of War-Communism. At that time we demanded from the peasants that they deliver up their whole surplus, only retaining what they needed for themselves; but no enterprise can keep on working without a surplus, it will collapse. Today we say to the peasant: A surplus is necessary for improving your undertaking; keep the surplus, for unless agriculture makes progress there will be no progress in industry either. Here we wish to act as go-between, we want unreservedly that the proletariat come to an understanding with the peasantry:

The question of the extent of taxation is then solved in principle. The question of for best way of collecting taxes remains. The farmer lives with foe seasons. It must be possible to calculate and determine exactly his work beforehand. If he finds himself confronted by an incalculable and complicated taxation policy, he suffers. It is therefore necessary to lend a uniformity to all the various taxes and levies. The taxes must be made comprehensible to the peasants and easily payable; it must be made possible for the butts in kind to be paid in money on occasion.

Our taxation policy is one of the most important factors in the relations between proletariat and peasantry. The next immediate question is that of export. For if we are agreed that we must leave to the farmer his surplus, we must also leave him the possibility of selling it. For this the home markets do not suffice, for here we find an immense disproportion between the prices of agricultural products and those of industrial products. This is not so much the result of the condition of our industry as of the isolation of our agriculture from die world market. Hence it is necessary to give the peasants the possibility of selling a part of their produce on the world market. No speculator is to act as go-between between our peasants and the foreign buyers; the Soviet power will have to play the part of intermediary. The simplification and regulation of our taxation policy will further the export of Russian grain. The monopoly of foreign trade, this unqualified prerequisite of the proletarian dictatorship, gives us the possibility of regulating the grain export on a uniform plan. Our foreign trade must be adapted to the development of our agriculture and duly consider the growing possibilities of grain export, but at the same time it must take into account the necessity of protecting our industry. We are unreservedly in favor of a socialist protectionism (protective duty system), without which foreign capital would plunder our economy.

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Last updated on: 16 October 2021