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Since Lenin Died

Max Eastman

Since Lenin Died

Chapter XIII:
The Peasant Question

THE inevitable grand result of this difference between Trotsky and the bureaucracy – the essence of it, perhaps, from the standpoint of philosophic Marxism – is a divergence upon the fundamental economic question, the question of the peasants. This is not as yet a concrete disagreement, but it is a difference of attitude which becomes continually more clear. It may be defined, I think, by saying that Trotsky regards the recent concessions made to the peasants – the turning over to them of leadership in the rural Soviets – as an expedient, the necessity of which is to be regretted. It is a necessary step backward along the path of the proletarian revolution. He is ready to take such steps, and still further ones, if it becomes necessary to save the revolution, but only after every effort has been made to meet the demands of the peasants by developing and organising and speeding up the industries which produce the goods they need. The triumvirate, on the other hand, do not recognise that these concessions to the peasant are a departure from Marxism, and from the path outlined by Lenin for the proletarian revolution. With the adoption of the new economic policy, Lenin ceased to orient the party upon the poor peasant; he recognised the necessity of supporting the “middle peasant.” The leaders of the party have now established a new category between the “middle peasant” and the “kulak,” and they have named it with a name which may be translated “progressive farmer.” The Bolshevik Party, which started life with the slogan, “Carry the class struggle into the country,” is now officially supporting the progressive farmer. And instead of treating this as a concession from their policy, the leaders of the party treat it as a policy. They call it “Leninism,” and they accuse Trotsky, who has all along insisted upon trying to obviate the necessity of it by a more aggressive and systematic organisation of industry, of representing a “deviation from Lenin” on the peasant question. Trotsky, they say, “underestimates the peasant.”

It is not likely that Trotsky, who organised the peasants in the Red Army – and he is the only Marxian in the world who ever did organise peasants – would be the one to underestimate them. That he does not underestimate them, is proven by the fact that he advocated the essential features of the concession to the peasants involved in the New Economic Policy a full year before Lenin realised the necessity of it. He was able to do this exactly because of his more immediate and realistic knowledge of the peasants. The statement that Trotsky deviated from Lenin on the peasant question is, according to the testimony of Lenin himself, a lie. And there is no better way to dispose of it than to quote this paragraph inserted by him in Pravda for February 15th, 1919:

“Comrade Trotsky says that the rumours of a disagreement between him and me on the question of the peasants is the most monstrous and conscienceless lie, propagated by the landlords and capitalists and their conscious and unconscious servitors. I, upon my side, totally confirm the statement off Comrade Trotsky.”

There is certainly no doubt about the meaning of those words. The reader should remember, however, that this united position of Lenin and Trotsky upon the role of the peasants in the Russian revolution, was arrived at after a long battle. [1] And in that battle it was Trotsky, and not Lenin, who first advanced the formula upon which they subsequently agreed – the dictatorship of the proletariat supported by the peasants. The bureaucracy has raked up all those old passages in which Lenin attacked Trotsky upon this question at a time when Trotsky’s formula was right and Lenin’s was wrong, and they use them without date or explanation in order to prove that Trotsky opposed Lenin at a subsequent time, when Lenin expressly stated that they were agreed. That is their method of argument, and it merely makes more convincing the assertion of Lenin that this story about a disagreement between him and Trotsky on the peasant question is a “monstrous and conscienceless lie.”

The question is, therefore, why have the enemies of Trotsky revived this lie after Lenin’s death, and gradually advanced it into the most prominent place in the attack upon Trotsky, although their attention has been called to the fact that Lenin denounced it? [2] Is there any doubt about the answer? If the bureaucracy declares that Trotsky diverged from Lenin on the peasant question, when Lenin declared that they were in perfect accord, is it not obvious that the bureaucracy is diverging from Lenin and Trotsky on the peasant question, and trying to do this in the name of Lenin? To me this would seem obvious, even if it were not preceded with that long record of opposition to Lenin and suppression of his writings in the name of “Leninism,” which we have examined. As the culmination of such a record, it is not subject to doubt.

Marxism asserts that the interests of the proletariat are identical with the future interests of human civilisation. And Lenin’s fundamental position in the history of the Russian revolution was determined by his assertion that Marxism applies to Russia, and that in spite of the overwhelming numbers of the peasants, the industrial proletariat must occupy the position of leadership. To depart from that proposition will be to depart from the very foundations of Marxism, and of Lenin’s application of it to Russia. It will be to convert the Communist victory embodied in the dictatorship of the proletariat into a democratic victory – the establishment of a peasant’s petty bourgeois republic. And the only conceivable way to avoid this, is for the proletariat to produce in the socialised industries a sufficient quantity of those manufactured goods which are needful to the peasant. Therefore, whether Trotsky is right or wrong in his practical proposals for increasing such production, to oppose him on the ground that he “underestimates the peasants” is itself a fundamental departure from Lenin’s Marxism. Trotsky estimates the peasants adequately, just as Lenin did. And he knows, just as Lenin did, that there is only one way to maintain the proletarian leadership of them. There is only one way to avoid making these gradual concessions which will ultimately convert the dictatorship of the proletariat into an agrarian republic. That is to abandon “abstract agitatorial” methods of talking, and “turn the attention and will of the party toward concrete life problems with the goal of cheapening the price of the State products.”

“Let’s stop chattering about undervaluation of the peasants,” says Trotsky in his New Course, “and achieve in reality a lowering of the valuation of peasant goods.” There is nothing which a sincere Marxian, or a sincere follower of Lenin, can reply to that. It sums up once more the real objective difference between Trotsky and the heads of the bureaucracy. It is the difference between a revolutionary engineer applying the science of Marx in the manner of Lenin, and a group of abstract agitators, capable of basing their policy in the most vital problem of the revolution, on a foundation of unreal and insincere talk.


1. See p.11. [See Chapter 1Transcriber Note]

2. Trotsky’s New Course, p.94.

Since Lenin Died

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Last updated on: 12 October 2009