Eugen Varga
Fourth Congress of the Communist International

Summary of Discussion on the Agrarian Question

November 25, 1922

Source: Published in Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922 (, pp. 780-783
Translation: Translation by John Riddell
HTML Markup: David Walters for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018
Copyright: John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission.

Comrades, in my opinion the debate that has taken place here has not quite hit the mark. What was needed, in my opinion, was for comrades of the different countries that are actually carrying out work among the population in the countryside to report on the methods they use, the barriers they face, and the results they achieve in this work, so that everyone could learn from their experiences. Instead of that, the debate has followed a more general path.

Looking through and summarising these points of view, I find that the dangers from right and left that I referred to in my report are fully evident. The fact is that many comrades are quite unfamiliar with this entire question. This reflects the reality that the Communist Party grew up above all in the cities as the party of the industrial proletariat. This results in a pattern of thought that nestles very close to the interests of the proletariat and asserts, in a quite indistinct manner, that the industrial proletariat, that is in fact called on to decisively influence state policies during the period of our dictatorship, can also make the revolution on its own, without the assistance of the broad masses of the rural population. That, of course, is an error. There is not a single country on the continent of Europe where we can carry out a successful revolution without the assistance of the rural proletariat or of broad layers of the poor peasants, the semi-proletarians in the countryside, the peasants with tiny holdings, the tenant farmers, and the poorer layers of small peasants. It is just as impossible to maintain ourselves in power without their help.

There was a strange confrontation of viewpoints around the question whether the peasants are revolutionary or counter-revolutionary. This question came to a head in the debate over France between Comrade Renaud Jean and Comrade Rieu. Overall I would say that the question cannot be addressed in this fashion. We cannot approach the matter in this rigid, unhistorical, and non-dialectical way, as Comrade Rieu did, claiming that Renaud Jean is wrong, that the French peasant is not revolutionary but conservative and counter-revolutionary. That is not correct. The most characteristic feature of the peasant population is that its class position is not clear. It is constantly shifting from one social layer to another, changing over time from one to another. There are moments in history when it is counter-revolutionary. But it cannot be said once and for all, as Comrade Rieu has done, that the French peasant is conservative or counter-revolutionary.

To assert this is a denial of our own revolutionary openings for work. How can we reach out to the rural population when we ourselves say there is nothing to be done, these people are counter-revolutionary or conservative, and the best we can do is merely to neutralise the poor peasants. That conception is completely unhistorical and, I would say, obstructs our own work. I am therefore not of the opinion that this fear of the peasants and suspicion of the poor peasantry is in any way justified. We must understand that although the peasantry cannot provide the revolution’s elite detachments, as Comrade Kostrzewa has quite correctly stressed, there are certain moments in history in which it provides the great reservoir of revolutionary forces from which we can expand our forces and draw on all the resources that can be accessed.

For this reason I would like for my part to underline the remarks of Comrade Kostrzewa, who said that we cannot undertake to win the broad rural masses without an ongoing and detailed analysis. If we fail in this, we wind up with very fixed conceptions such as those of Comrade Rieu and also, to a degree, Comrade Renaud Jean, one saying that the peasant is revolutionary and the other saying he is conservative. We cannot proceed in this way. The conditions of the rural population must be constantly studied and analysed, and at every moment when they can be reached politically they must be drawn into movements.

For this reason I am not at all in favour of condemning the work of Comrade Renaud Jean as some comrades here are inclined to do. Of course, in the views of Comrade Renaud Jean, there are certain aspects that are not entirely communist. But we must say that he works among the rural masses, he wins people for the revolution, he organises layers that are difficult to reach, and that is important work. In addition, what he said on the level of theory – that the peasant emerged from the war with a different psychology – is very important. We must not be rigid, saying the peasant has always been like that, is so now, and always will be. Rather we must grapple with the facts and understand the situation historically.

I would like to touch on the different presentations only briefly, and take up only the speech of the British comrade, who said essentially the following: The cause of revolution is made more difficult for us by the fact that Britain can survive only a few months without the importation of foodstuffs. In response, I would like to say that the situation in Britain in this regard is not at all as grave as might be thought on the basis of the statistical data.

A study by a German professor, Oppenheimer, once showed that if Britain were cut off from all foreign food supplies it would not at all necessarily starve. He referred above all to the fact that there are large regions in Britain that are not cultivated – a situation that can be changed within a year. He showed that there are always immense supplies of food in Britain, that its livestock represent a large reserve of food, and that it has an unlimited capacity to expand its food supplies through fishing. If Britain were cut off, it could feed itself quite adequately, not at the present level of nourishment in Britain, but with a norm similar to the level that we see in Italy. And that is why I say it is dangerous to spread the legend in Britain that revolution is excluded because it could not feed itself.

Radek: It couldn’t do that anyway.

Varga: If a dictatorship [of the proletariat] in Britain was left for a period to its own resources, there would be severe hunger, of course, but the people of England would not die of starvation.

The Romanian comrade is the only one who raised certain objections to the action programme. He stated that in the commission we did not want to take a stand on his idea of opposing the Romanian government’s export tax. I was strongly opposed, because what would it mean to say in Romania that we do not want the state to levy taxes when it exports food from the country?

I will not address the economic and theoretical question of who pays this tax – the foreign purchaser or the vendor inside the country. But I maintain that in either case it is impossible for the proletariat to take a stand against this tax. For if we take the case that the tax is paid by the foreign purchaser into the Romanian state treasury, the abolition of this tax means that the Romanian state will extract more taxes from the workers. In the other case, if it reduces the prices within the country, this reduces the income of the large peasants and large landowners from grain sales, but this does not reduce the income of workers or of those layers of peasants who have only a small surplus of food to sell.

Comrades, I will not take much of your time. In conclusion, I want only to repeat what I said at the outset. The fact that we have drafted an action programme in itself does not take us far.

The programme will become a reality when the various parties become aware that for the revolution to succeed it is absolutely necessary to win broad layers of the rural population. The advice given in the programme must not be adopted mechanically but must be linked to an ongoing analysis of the political situation and the conditions of the rural population. The programme must be applied in a manner appropriate to these conditions, with an approach that is practical rather than theoretical. In this way the Communist Party’s gains among the urban working class can be accompanied in the shortest possible time with a great success in organising, influencing, and revolutionising the rural masses. (Applause)