Eugen Varga
Fourth Congress of the Communist International

Report on the Agrarian Question

November 24, 1922

Source: Published in Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922 (, pp. 739-750
Translation: Translation by John Riddell
HTML Markup: David Walters for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018
Copyright: John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission.

Comrades, the agrarian question was thoroughly examined at the Second Congress of the Communist International. Theses were adopted there that still constitute the foundation of our work. The action programme presented to you by the agrarian commission does not signify any change in these theses; it expands on them.[1] This supplement became necessary because of the historical shift that has taken place in the last two years.

Comrades, at the Second Congress we were all convinced that the revolution would very rapidly advance further toward the West. It was the moment when the Russian armies were moving victoriously into Poland, and the Communist movement was expanding across all Europe. Under the impact of this ascending revolutionary movement, the Second Congress theses were worked out from a point of view concerned with an immediate conquest of power. At this time we cannot project that the seizure of power in European countries is an imminent prospect. It is necessary to draw in the broad masses as auxiliary troops to expand the Communist Party’s attacking army.

This idea is at the root of the united front tactic, and it also forms the basis of the proposed agrarian action programme. If we want to achieve a decisive victory in Europe through the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, we need above all else the active support of broad layers of the rural population, while other layers must be neutralised. For we must recognise, comrades, that we are not the only ones to have learned from the Russian revolution – the bourgeoisie has learned a great deal as well.

When the Bolsheviks seized power, the bourgeoisie was convinced that the proletarian dictatorship could only be a passing phenomenon. But now they have learned from the example of the Russian dictatorship the true dimensions of the danger that threatens them, and they are on their guard around the world. We can no longer think in terms of a small revolutionary group overpowering the bourgeoisie by a surprise attack.

Given our goal of winning the layers that are accessible to us and neutralising other layers, we must above all specify the methods of our work. These methods must consist of linking up with the real daily interests of the relevant layers of the rural population within capitalism. And I want to stress particularly that these layers cannot be won simply through advancing a programme. By and large, these layers regard the Communist Party with suspicion. If we want to reach them, it is not enough to adopt a good programme. It is absolutely necessary to win these layers through actions, through participation in their daily struggles, and thus remove the suspicion against the Communist Party.

To this end, it is above all necessary to win the layers of the rural proletariat, plus the poor peasants, that is, the peasants who do not have enough land to sustain them and are forced in part to rely on labouring for wages, as well as the poorer layers of the middle peasants. To be able to win them, we snatch them away from the ideological influence of the large peasants and large landowners.

In Europe this is a challenging task, because the European peasantry is not an amorphous mass similar to the Russian peasantry before the revolution. The rural population in Europe has its political, economic, and cooperative organisations, which are everywhere led by the large peasants. Our approach must be to link up with the interests of the poorer layers and pull them away from the leadership of the large peasants. This task is immensely difficult, and the problems are rooted above all in the character of the Communist parties in Europe.

All these parties, almost without exception, lack forces on the scale needed to carry through such a campaign. In the case of many of the parties, their forces are insufficient even for adequate work with the industrial proletariat. Few resources are left for work in the countryside, and this can lead to a situation where the Communist party in a country is entirely cut off from contact with the rural population.

Here is an example of this. I asked the comrade assigned by the Romanian delegation to the agrarian commission a question: What are the political results of the fact that a major land redistribution is now taking place among the peasant population?

He had to reply, ‘We do not know’. I do not want to reproach the Romanian party. We all know the immensely harsh conditions in which it has been working in the recent period. I only wish to point out that in many countries the forces of the Communist parties have not been sufficient to carry out extensive work in the countryside. Of course the solution is not to renounce work in the countryside. Rather we must strive to attract leaders, agitators, and party workers from the rural population itself, from the rural proletariat, to give them special education and then throw them back into the movement.

This work, comrades, this process of linking up with the real interests of different layers of rural working people faces great objective difficulties. The greatest of them, in my opinion, is the indistinctness of the class character of these layers. In industry the class divisions are much more clearly defined. You know exactly: here is an industrial worker, here is a craftsman, and here is an employer, and the transition from one layer to another is difficult and rare. Of course, in capitalism’s present period of decline we often see that an industrial worker also engages in small, speculative trade on the side, or that he produces certain things at home. But on the whole the layers are clearly defined.

With the agricultural population the situation is entirely different. Here there is constant transition from the true agricultural proletarian, without any land or property, to the rich peasant. There is a constant transition from one layer to another. The class divisions are also not fixed over time. Through a cultural change, someone who was, let us say, previously a small peasant, can become an employer. Then he may be forced by some other external change to carry out wage labour to some degree. Thus the class divisions do not merely flow into each other but are also not fixed over time.

In addition I want to stress the qualitative difference between agriculture and industry with regard to the weight of the middle layers. In our agitation in the cities, we generally do not need to pay particular attention to the petty-bourgeois, vacillating layers of small masters, small traders, and so on. By contrast, there are many countries where the actual agricultural proletariat is quite small in numbers, and where the small and middle peasants, with their semi-peasant mode of life, make up the overwhelming majority of the population. As a result, we must devote much more attention to these layers in our work in the countryside than we do in our work in the cities.

I will refer briefly to the economic reason why class division is so indistinct in the countryside. It is a fact that the most important means of agricultural production, the land, is readily divisible. It can be divided without causing any particular decline in production. Comrades, it is quite inconceivable that an industrial worker would come upon the idea of dividing a railway line, an electrical generating station, a large shipyard, or a factory producing machinery. Obviously this would be idiotic: production would be destroyed. But in agriculture the chief means of production, the land, can be divided, without reducing the yield to any significant extent. If the small peasant is sufficiently intelligent, the division of the land has no negative consequences for production. Pieces of land can be sold back and forth. The farm can grow larger or, through division of an inheritance, it may become smaller. The foundation of production is itself divisible, and, as a result, the layer resting on this foundation is also undefined and changeable.

Finally I want to refer to the great difficulties that flow from the variability of conditions in each region and each country. With the industrial proletariat, its problems and the conditions in which it lives are essentially the same everywhere. But in agriculture the differences are immense. I will identify only three main variants. First is the colonial countries, with an oppressed native peasant population. I think for example of the situation in Egypt or India, where the peasant is subjugated by foreign robbers who are closely linked to the feudal large landowner of the district in question and to the great princes who are allies of British imperialism. In these territories the struggle against imperialism is simultaneously a social struggle of the oppressed and subjugated peasantry against its own landlords. Here the national liberation struggle is also a struggle of the peasants for freedom from long-established social enslavement.

A second pattern is found in countries where there are still strong vestiges of feudalism, where the bourgeois revolution has not carried its work through to completion. Even in Germany significant relics of feudalism are still present, and as we move further to the east, into Poland, the Balkans, Romania, and Asia Minor, we more and more encounter a pattern of agriculture that approximates feudalism.

The third pattern is found in the purely capitalist states, such as the United States, where agriculture is a branch of capitalist production, as well as in the British settler colonies such as Canada and Australia and in Britain itself. Here we have a simple relationship between exploited and exploiters.

The degree to which relationships are confused is shown, for example, in the small country of Yugoslavia, where we find in the newly added territories of Bosnia and Herzegovina an almost entirely feudal relationship between the rural workers and the former Turkish large landowners. The former Serbia is a pure, democratic peasant country. In the territories added from Hungary – that is southern Hungary [Vojvodina] and Croatia – we find fully developed capitalist agriculture, large farms with modern equipment. So in this small territory, three quite different social and political patterns are present. This naturally makes our work in the countryside much more difficult, since the slogans linking to immediate demands must be quite different in old Serbia, in Bosnia, and in capitalist Croatia or the districts annexed from Hungary.

The second great difference is the land question. There are countries where the rural population’s full attention is focused on the hunger for land. There are also countries where the land question plays hardly any role. In Poland and Hungary, for example, or also in certain parts of Germany, the land question is overriding. This is not the case in the United States or the settler colonies, for example, because enough land is available there. In France it is also less of a question, because the population is growing very slowly there. In the war 1.5 million peasant sons were killed, so for the moment one cannot speak of an acute hunger for land. In Bulgaria, by contrast, there is certainly a hunger for land, but great estates that could be divided are quite lacking, and the hunger for land is therefore, so to speak, abstract.

I identified the unclear and changeable character of rural class relations as the dominant characteristic of the poorer social layers in the countryside. This fact also determines their political role, which is wavering. Just as their economic position is variable, so too their political position is always wavering. Sometimes they feel closer to the proletariat; at other times, in better economic conditions, they feel closer to the large peasants. In general they are a very changeable force, which must be analysed intensively and always in terms of the current situation.

In this regard I must refer to the changes that the war has produced in the class structure and political outlook of the peasant population. I will summarise it in this way: the division of income between agriculture and industry, between the countryside and the city, shifted during the war in favour of agriculture. This enabled various layers of the peasantry that before the war had stood closer to the proletariat to rise and draw nearer to the large peasantry.

I would say that, as a result of the war, the line defining layers approachable in terms of proletarian revolution has been drawn somewhat lower. After the war we could reach a more restricted range than was possible before the war. Also, as a result of the war, the division between the layers that we could approach and the layers we could not became somewhat sharper. The countryside was enriched during the war by the fact that the price of food rose more sharply than the price of other goods. As a result the layers of peasants capable of marketing surplus production grew richer.

On the other hand, the forces that had to earn their living in part through wage labour became poorer during the war, and the division became sharper, although not nearly as sharp as in industry.

I would also like to add that in the last year or two there has been a new deterioration. Consider the great agrarian crisis in the United States and Argentina, and the fact that as a result of the more rapid increases in industrial prices, the peasant no longer enjoys the advantage of selling his foodstuffs for a high price and buying industrial goods at relatively low prices. This recent worsening in the position of the peasantry is reflected in a number of countries in the present increase in their indebtedness.

Comrades, the variable class position of the bourgeois layers in the countryside, which I have emphasised as their chief distinguishing feature, explains why, wherever there is an agricultural proletariat, we must view the agricultural proletariat as the central factor in the revolutionary movement. These landless agricultural workers, true proletarians, must become our party’s steadfast and ever reliable comrades in struggle. This is clearly stated in the action programme, comrades.[2]

I must now point out that an incomprehensible error appears in the French text of the theses – one could almost call it a forgery. In the German text, Point 6 states quite clearly, ‘It is the most important factor in the revolutionary movement’. The French text inexplicably reads, ‘One of the most important factors’.

I ask the comrades editing the translation to take note of the fact that the German, signed text is final and definitive.

How do we reach these agricultural proletarians? I believe there is no need to speak of this at length. We reach them by linking up with their real immediate demands as wage workers, as proletarians, by supporting their struggles for wage increases, improvements in working conditions, extension of social legislation, and the like. Indeed, we do not just support these struggles but unify them, place ourselves at their head, and strive to link them with those of the industrial proletariat, and in this way provide proof that the Communist Party is really the party of the proletariat. I believe there is no need to say more. It’s set out in the programme itself.

I will now take up our work among the semi-peasant layers,[3] and here I will point out the dangers arising from this work. Dangers threaten us, so to speak, from both right and left. The danger from the right is that in countries where the semi-peasantry and small peasantry is numerically large, there might be no clear and principled distinction between the work of the Communist Party and that of a radical peasants’ party. Let me refer to two examples of this kind.

First, in France, the approach of Comrade Renaud Jean in this work seems to represent a certain danger of this type. The interests of semi-peasants and small peasants are stressed, but in the process those of the true landless proletarians are forgotten. I also see an indication of this type in the report of the American delegation, which demands nothing less than a government-guaranteed floor price for agricultural products, for the so-called staples, which clearly runs counter to the interests not only of the agricultural population but to those of the industrial proletariat in the cities as consumers. Here I see dangers from the right.

On the other hand, comrades, I see certain dangers from the left. Some comrades display a fear of the peasants, a certain sectarian attachment to the idea that only true proletarians in industry and agriculture can be active fighters for revolution, while the layers of poor peasants cannot be won for a real revolution. In my opinion, that is just as great an error, because there is a large number of countries where, without active support from these layers, a proletarian revolution is impossible. I would say that with the exception of Britain, there is no European country where our dictatorship can be maintained if the bourgeoisie, the rich peasants, the middle peasants, and the small-peasant layers are all against us.

The fear of peasant support, the suspicion of the possibility that broad peasant layers may become revolutionary, is in my opinion a political error similar to the neglect of the interests of rural workers. It’s very clear that only the rural proletariat can provide us with secure and steady contingents of struggle. But when a revolutionary movement arises, the broadest layers of rural working people must be drawn in. Without this, in many countries, the seizure of power is impossible, and without this active support, our dictatorship cannot be maintained in these countries.

The question is therefore how we can reach out to the different layers of the peasantry. Our action programme indicates the various forms of peasant dependency on capitalism:

Perhaps some of you comrades have read the very interesting novel by Norris,[4] in which he explains that in the United States, the railroad company changes their rates every week or every other week. A poor fellow, who has worked his way up through heavy labour as a proletarian to become a small-scale grower of hops, asks the railway director, ‘Tell me, just how do you actually decide on these rates?’

The director responds, ‘We set them at the highest rate your business can bear’. In other words, they take everything beyond a bare wage for the farmer’s labour.

In addition we must consider the peasants’ struggle against the capitalist state, which confronts the peasants as an antagonist with its taxes and with its wars, which are a tax in blood.

In my opinion, our actual work must consist of taking up and supporting these individual demands of the peasant population against capitalism. Here, in my opinion, lies the key to the very difficult matter of our stand on the price question. Of course we cannot say that the peasants should receive high prices. But we can turn the question of prices into a struggle by the peasants against capitalism. We must say that capitalism should be compelled to provide the peasants with inexpensive productive equipment, machines, and fertiliser, in order to make it possible for the peasants to sell foodstuffs at low prices. We must not say we want a specific high price. We must say that the capitalists should provide all industrial goods that the peasants need for production at a low price.

But the focus of our work, comrades, must be our stand on the land question. The hunger for land is the most compelling driving force for all rural revolutionary movements. The question is clearly posed whether or not the Communist Party should support the movement of poor peasants to obtain more land within capitalism. Should we oppose this or be in favour? There is no evading this question. In most countries the question is so sharply posed that the Communist Party must answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.

In my opinion, comrades, the Communist Party must respond everywhere with a clear ‘Yes’. It must actively support all efforts of the working peasants to obtain more land. Our policy must consist of sharply and constantly counterposing to every bourgeois agrarian reform our revolutionary solution to the agrarian question, and of leading the actions of these layers toward our slogans.

The land-hungry peasants – for example, the sharecroppers and poor tenant farmers – demand that rents be lowered. The Communist Party cannot say we are against this. Rather it must say that yes, we support this, but we also say that this is no solution. What is needed is to expropriate these fields that you are now renting. Revolutionary confiscation can provide a solution.

The land-hungry peasants want to buy land; they want the state to provide it to them at a low price. The Communist Party must not oppose this. Instead, it must say we are in favour, but we want you to receive this land at no cost. We struggle with you now so that you can receive it at a low price, but we go further, so that you can receive it at no cost, including the buildings, the livestock, the machines, and so on.

In this way, comrades, and only in this way is it possible to achieve active contact with these layers, which are today, we can say, almost cut off from the Communist Party, and bring them into our sphere of activity and our campaigns, and unite their revolutionary movements with those of the urban proletariat.

At this point an objection can be raised. When the bourgeois governments see that the [peasant] movement has grown truly revolutionary, they try to subdue the movement by distributing land to its leading elements, to the most active forces in the peasantry. This has already taken place in all the countries surrounding Russia: in Finland, Estonia – in Poland it has only been promised, not carried out – and in Romania. A quite clear account of this with regard to Romania appears in the 22 October 1922, issue of the British Economist:

It is obvious that it was fear, not economic considerations, that led to the agrarian reform in Romania. This was simply the price that the ruling classes have paid in order to protect the country from Bolshevism.

That is quite clear and correct. This could lead to the idea that if this is the case, why should we support such movements, which at a certain point could become counter-revolutionary in their effects? But I must say the question is sharply posed, and the Communist Party must answer either ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. And it cannot say ‘No’ in these countries. It must say ‘Yes’, and must take upon itself the danger that partial success will lead the revolutionary movement to wither away.

For the revolutionary movement, the ideal situation would of course be that the struggle of the urban workers and the revolutionary movement of the land-hungry peasants would rise side by side to the point where the industrial proletariat takes power in the cities and the agricultural proletariat and the land-hungry peasants simultaneously occupy the land. The ideal is that the rural population receive the land from the proletarian dictatorship, as happened in Russia; that it is not the bourgeoisie that distributes the land but the proletariat that has just taken power. That would be the ideal path of events. But we are not alone on the battlefield. The bourgeoisie is also struggling, and it may have occasion to distribute the land earlier, precisely in order to avert a generalised revolutionary movement.

If it does this, we must begin again. We must immediately show up all the deficiencies in a bourgeois agrarian reform. We must indicate immediately that such a reform is limited by its bourgeois character. A bourgeois reform offers nothing to the totally landless proletarians, because it distributes land in return for payments or the assumption of debt. It cannot give land to people who do not have the means of production, the livestock, the seeds, the machines, the stalls, and so on. If they try that regardless, as was the case for example in Yugoslavia, where, in the territories newly acquired from Hungary, land was distributed to soldiers entirely without means, this achieves nothing, for the soldiers just rent out their land and that’s the end of the matter.

To sum up: We must consciously assume the danger of a bourgeois agrarian reform, and if this takes place, immediately shift our policies to show up all the deficiencies of such a reform.

The social result of such a bourgeois agrarian reform is the following:

Comrades, as I said earlier, our agitation must always advance our programme: the confiscation of the land and of all means of production linked to it and the transfer of this land with all related equipment to the landless proletarians and the land-hungry peasants. In order to win the neutral middle layers, we must always emphasise that the proletarian revolution will abolish the mortgages and rents. Everyone who has previously rented a field now receives it for use without payment. And we must again and again clearly demonstrate the difference between bourgeois agrarian reform and proletarian agrarian reform.

In conclusion, I would like to say a few words about the organisational measures provided for in the proposed action programme. It is obvious, comrades, that where the true agricultural proletariat is not yet organised in trade unions, our task must be to organise them, to build Communist cells in these agricultural unions, and bring them under our leadership. But it must also be pointed out that it is in our interest to organise the agricultural unions in industrial federations in such a manner that all the industrial workers who have steady employment in agriculture – for example, locksmiths, blacksmiths, woodworkers, construction workers, and machinists in the big estates – are organised in the unions of agricultural workers, so that we have a better footing in these unions.

It is also desirable, comrades, for Communists living in rural areas to join the Yellow, bourgeois, fascist, or other counter-revolutionary trade unions in rural areas, to build cells there and work to disrupt them by showing that these unions cannot achieve their supposed goals and cannot conduct a struggle against the employers. In addition, the Communists should enter the different small-peasant organisations – economic organisations, cooperatives – build cells there, and bring them under the leadership of the Communist Party.

Obviously, the Communist Party must strive to win the leadership of actions by the poor peasants. It must try to influence the struggle and provide it with slogans that are ever more revolutionary – of course as shaped by the tactical situation at any given time – in order in this way to provide the agricultural population, including proletarians and land-hungry peasants, with a demonstration in life that the Communist Party represents the interests of these working and impoverished rural layers not only in its programme but in its activity. Wherever there is the slightest opportunity, we must strive to link the struggle of the agricultural proletarians and the land-hungry peasants with that of the industrial proletariat through mutual support in struggle. That is no utopia. In Germany we are aware of cases in which the poor peasants supported, for example, the metalworkers’ strike in southern Germany through rather significant donations of food, and certainly there are occasions in which industrial workers can support the struggle of land-hungry peasants. We must strive to unify these two types of movements, which until now have proceeded side by side but without any real connection. Where there is a strong factory council movement, estate councils can be built on the great estates as well as councils of small peasants, so that a common factory council movement can arise embracing both agricultural and industrial enterprises. In this way, small peasants can find points of support in the industrial council movement, and so forth. Of course I do not have time to enumerate every case, and can only provide examples.

Comrades, I will now conclude my presentation. The action programme before you, which was adopted unanimously by the commission, does not signify that there were no disagreements on this in individual delegations. Such differences arise as a result of the complexity of the subject matter and the confusion of social relations in the countryside, examined objectively.

One comrade – I believe from Poland – used a quite striking formulation: the agrarian programme is a bus and everyone can climb aboard. That is quite true, comrades. It could not be otherwise. Precisely because the distinctions in agriculture are not clear and sharp and the class divisions are changeable, our action programme must be so constructed that, while stressing the primacy of the genuine agricultural proletarians, it also gives all layers of rural working people a chance to take part actively, on the basis of this programme, in the revolutionary movement of the Communist Party. (Loud applause)



1. Varga’s opening remarks respond to the opinion of Lenin, expressed in a letter to Trotsky, Zinoviev, Bukharin, and Radek, that Varga’s draft theses ‘gives virtually nothing new in comparison with the resolution of the Second Congress of the Comintern’ and ‘is of very doubtful value’. (Lenin Collected Works, vol. 45, pp. 593 – 4) For the Second Congress resolution, which was drafted by Lenin, see Riddell (ed.), Workers of the World and Oppressed Peoples, Unite! Proceedings and Resolutions of the Second Congress, 1920 (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1991), vol. 2, 660 – 70.

2. See ‘Agrarian Action Programme’, in Toward the United Front, pp. 954-60.

3. ‘Semi-peasant’ here translates the German word Halbbauer (half-peasant), which refers to peasants holding half-size plots of land, that is, too small to sustain the peasant family.

4. Varga is referring to Frank Norris’s novel, Octopus: A California Story, which portrays a conflict over land between wheat growers and a railway company. The novel is based on a historical conflict of farmers with the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1880, which led to the ‘Mussel Slough Tragedy’, in which seven people died.