Minutes of the Second Congress of the Communist International
Zinoviev: The session is open. Comrade Balabanova has the floor to make an announcement.
Balabanova: Comrades, unfortunately we are in the sad position of having to make an announcement that is as distressing for you as it is for us. The day before yesterday, when one of our best and most active comrades, Comrade Augusta Aasen, who comes from Norway, and who has been active in the movement for twenty years, visited the aerodrome to see our Red Air Force, an accident occurred to which she fell victim. We do not need to tell you how terribly and how deeply we feel this great loss. We ask you to rise to honour this comrade’s memory. [The assembly rises from its seats.] I thank you. We ask all comrades to take home with them the assurance that the Russian proletariat will not forget the comrade who has died, and even if her death was due to an accident, then it is still true that she came here and died in the struggle for the proletariat and out of love for the Communist International.
Zinoviev: The Bureau proposes, on behalf of the Congress, to express our deepest sympathy for our sister party in Norway. We will now proceed with the agenda. The agrarian question will be dealt with. The reporter, Comrade Meyer, has the floor.
Meyer: Comrades, since the real reporter on this question, Comrade Marchlewski, is prevented from speaking here in connection with the gratifying advances of the Red Army, I must make a substitute report in his place, bringing together briefly Comrade Lenin’s Theses and the work of the Commission.
The agrarian question has been placed on the agenda by the revolution in Eastern and Central Europe, and demands not only theoretical but also practical solution. The preparatory work for this has up until now been very slight, and the Second International has done as good as nothing in this area. In general one was satisfied with sketching beautiful pictures of the agricultural production of the future after the introduction of socialism. But how the rural population can be won for the proletarian revolution, and what struggles must be carried out to achieve this ideal goal – on that the Second International said very little, nor did it do anything to prepare something in practice.
The best elements of the Second International were satisfied with polemicising against the opportunist wing, which, on the basis of an incorrect reading of the statistical data, claimed in general that there was no question of the socialisation of landed property, and over and above that, that the social revolution could not take root in the countryside. On the basis of German statistics, the revisionists tried to prove that Marxist theories did not apply to the countryside, and on the basis of these theories they rejected the social struggle and rejected the social revolution. Those who did oppose these reformists did so like Kautsky – essentially for the purpose simply of proving that Marxist theory did apply after all in this field. Further practical conclusions were not however drawn from this.
The attitude of the Communist International to this question is a different one. For us it is a question of really revolutionising the countryside. For there can be no doubt about this, that without the active participation of broad layers of the rural population, it is impossible to secure and establish the dictatorship of the proletariat. For us, for the Communist International, the securing of the revolution comes first, and all the questions connected with the agrarian question can only be considered and answered from this angle.
The task of the Communist International with relation to the agrarian question can be briefly summarised in the question: ‘How do we take the class struggle, the revolutionary struggle, out into the countryside?’ The revolutionising of the rural population, whose needs can only be satisfied by the revolution, stands on the agenda of history. Even the few experiences that it was possible to make here in Russia, the experiences that were made with agrarian reforms in Central Europe, confirm the thesis that forms the guiding star of the discussions of the whole Congress: bourgeois democracy is incapable of solving this question, and a satisfactory solution can only be achieved by the revolution and by the dictatorship of the proletariat. The parties that allegedly represent the interests of the rural population, like for example the Socialist Revolutionaries in Russia and the peasant-bourgeois parties in Europe, betrayed their own programmes when they had power in their hands and were able to turn their programme into deeds. Bourgeois democracy is incapable of solving this question.
It is not only the practical activity of the Socialist Revolutionaries in the Russian border states that proves this. In the other countries too all attempts at agrarian reform amount to destroying and dividing up a portion of large landed property, in order thus to create a new proletarian or semi-proletarian element that is to provide a cheap object of exploitation for existing large landed property. Whatever smallholding laws have been passed in Germany have remained on paper, or consist of creating elements of exploitation for large landed property. The single exception of a somewhat more serious looking agrarian reform has perhaps been created in Bohemia; but that too is only because the national differences between the Czech, Jewish and German elements have been emphasised, so that the Czech peasants have in part been satisfied by the expropriation of the other elements.
The Communist International must go beyond what bourgeois democracy has done and must especially strive to cancel the opposition between town and country, to forge together the urban and rural proletarian population for the common struggle, for the proletarian revolution. That happens, among other things, by making sure that the rural workers share all the advantages that are available to the urban workers, and further by raising the urban workers’ consciousness of the necessity of rural work.
The question of how the proletarian revolution can be taken out into the countryside, into the village, can only be solved if a detailed and precise analysis of the various layers of the rural population is drawn up. The Theses before you make the attempt to classify the rural population into various layers: first the agricultural proletarians, the wage-workers, secondly the semi-proletarians and small-holders, thirdly the small-peasants, fourthly the middle peasants, fifthly the large peasants, and sixthly the large landowners. Of course, this way of formulating the Theses only gives a general scheme. Given the variegated character of the composition of the rural population in the various countries, the conditions in every country must be studied accurately in order to be able to determine in detail where the revolutionising of the rural population can start. Here at the Congress only general outlines for judging the situation of the rural population and for working over by the Communist Parties can be given.
The group that comes into question for the proletarian revolution in the first place and completely is the rural workers, the forestry workers, and further the workers who are active in industrial enterprises that are connected with agriculture, such as dairies, distilleries, etc. The big market-gardening concerns, which employ a large number of wage-labourers, also come into question. The social position of this layer of the rural population is very difficult and bad, but also so wen known that we do not need to talk about it in greater detail. Their bad economic position, low wages and bad housing conditions, are connected with the political and social pressure exerted by the Junkers, so that this proletarian element will join the revolution without any further ado. This layer is among the most active elements within the proletarian revolution and, despite all the bad experiences of the past, its organisational ability is at the moment very great.
I only need to remind you that the agricultural workers union in Germany is today one of the biggest free trades unions and counts 500,000 members. In so small a country as Italy the agricultural workers’ union has over 800,000 members. That proves what importance this layer has for the social revolution and at the same time how relatively easy it will be to incorporate these layers in our ranks. This organisation must not be limited to the trade union field, but equally and even more these layers must be embraced by our political organs, by the Communist Parties. Over and above that, everything must be done in every other respect to win these layers, through educational work, etc.
I should like to add here something about activity among women in the countryside. That applies not only to women servants but also to the wives of small peasants who are forced to go to work by the war and by today’s social conditions. The fact that they do these jobs promises us success and can by no means be neglected. The questions that have already been settled by the Congress, work in the trades unions and in parliament, take on a special importance seen from this angle. When it is said by the opponents of activity in the trades unions that one has opportunity enough to organise the proletariat and carry out agitation, then this objection could perhaps apply to the industrial proletariat.
Getting a grip on the rural proletariat, on the other hand, can be done most easily through the work of communists in the agricultural workers’ unions and through participation in election campaigns. Big layers of the rural population can be brought into the sphere of revolutionary activity comparatively easily in both ways. The success of systematic agitation is very great.
Take the experiences in Russia and in Germany. In the March action, in replying to the Kapp putsch, Germany’s rural population behaved well and boldly. The landowners were chased out or locked up, agricultural concerns were maintained. The agricultural workers delivered the surplus of food to the towns without any further ado. Over and above that the rural workers got together and provided revolutionary fighting cadres for the proletariat in the towns. Not only during this struggle before the seizure of power, but also after the seizure of power the rural proletariat will be one of the strongest supports of soviet power. The question is to give an organisational form to this mainly, or provisionally, elemental movement of the rural proletariat. The formation of estate councils is the best way to bring the turbulent, elemental forces together.
The second layer of the rural population, the semi-proletarians and small-holders,, can also be won for the proletarian revolution in a similar way, if not so easily as the agricultural workers. This layer too is dependent upon the big landowners. They suffer the same difficulties as the agricultural workers. Indeed, their position is perhaps even more difficult, for the small-holders have in addition their own personal worries about their little piece of land. In most countries it would be to the point to enrol these semi-proletarian elements in the organisations of the actual agricultural labourers. The question is more difficult in the case of the small peasants and tenant farmers who are able to earn their keep by working their land, but do not employ any outside labour. Among them are also the small fruit and vegetable farmers and market gardeners. They are not revolutionary-minded, but nevertheless they come partially under consideration for our fighting ranks. The question is to educate them about the necessity of the social revolution and about their own interests.
In reality these small peasants are suffering greatly under present conditions. They too, even if usually indirectly, are dependent on the big landowners and on capital. They too perform unpaid labour in the way that they meet the interest payments on mortgages, pay inflated prices for agricultural machinery, and so on. The living standard of this layer is often purely proletarian. The pressure of taxes, deposit money and so forth, the general price increase under which this layer suffers, these are all questions that we must bring home to them through systematic agitation. It is not excluded that a professional organisation can be created within this layer also. Only last year an association of rural labourers and small peasants was set up in this way in Germany. It then emerged that there was no purpose in forming such an association outside the trades unions, and the association was dissolved. Nevertheless the small peasants in South Germany asked us to maintain it and to continue to publish our paper for it, saying that they had especial interest in our ideas. And so we have reached the point in Germany of forming an organisation for the peasants which, however loose, nevertheless has its importance.
In just the same way we encourage the small peasants in Germany to form themselves together in councils of small peasants in order not only to pursue economic interests, but also to take up the political and social struggle. I must add that this work has not as yet had any success. We have had estate councils in very many villages. The participation of small peasants has not yet been obtained. Nevertheless we are not backing down in this agitation. We have partially succeeded in convincing small peasants that a division of the land would bring no special advantages to them, and that it would be more to the point to form themselves together in councils of small peasants and co-operatives to run in common the large landed estates that are to be expropriated.
Admittedly, it must be emphasised that in many countries, particularly in the small western democracies, the small peasants are very reactionary, and in general therefore it must be assumed that during the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat a vacillation will make itself manifest in this layer, now to the side of private property, now to the side of communism. These small proprietors are demoralised by views of a private capitalist kind. In order to remove these vacillations and win support for ourselves we must bring them to an understanding that they too are suffering under the present system, and tell them what advantages they will enjoy in the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat and after the establishment of the proletarian state power.
We must assure them that they will be able to keep their little landed property, as there would be no sense in expropriating this little landed property, since at the time of the struggle neither the political nor the technical possibility would exist of farming this little property in common against the will of its proprietor. We must not only assure them that they will be able to keep their property, but we must also do everything to remove the usury under which these small peasants suffer. Liberation from the pressure of taxes, from rents, from the mortgage burden and from deposit money are advantages that must be granted to the small peasants by the proletariat without any further ado. Furthermore their rights to common grazing land and woods must be freed from dependence upon the big landowners. What is more, they must be promised help through being given buildings, machines, equipment and seeds which will be taken from the big landowners.
Finally they must be told that the co-operatives, which today in almost every country stand at the disposal of the rich peasants, must be transformed into organisations that exclusively serve the interests of the small peasants. In countries where there are certain limitations to free trade, and the obligation to make deliveries in kind, they must also be told that these forced deliveries of food must be maintained, but that the organisational apparatus necessary to carry them out will be taken from the bureaucracy and placed in the hands of the small peasants themselves. The small peasants must be made aware that they will obtain advantages from the socialisation of big firms and the cheapening of agricultural machinery. For that reason, systematic educational work must be carried out among the small peasants. They must be enlightened about their social position. If agitation is carried out in this way it is to be expected that the peasants will in part go with the proletariat, or at least will not become opponents of the proletarian dictatorship. Taken together, the groups of agricultural workers, semi-proletarians and small-holders form a splendid field for Communist Party work, and after the conquest of power by the proletariat all three layers will become clear that affiliation to the proletarian state is the best means to satisfy their own interests.
The question is even more difficult in the case of the middle peasants than it is in that of the small peasants. In part they use outside labour power and have large enough holdings to be able to produce a surplus of food. This layer is by no means small. It is pointed out in the Theses that this middle layer, with holdings of from 5 to 10 hectares, includes over half a million people in Germany. It is clear that it is impossible to drive this layer from its landholdings, as that would mean a cut in food production. What comes into question therefore is treating this layer differently. The attempt must be made to neutralise them. Kautsky pointed out that it is necessary to treat the peasantry in such a way that they do not give the bourgeoisie any active help. With these middle peasants too there is no question of the immediate abolition of private property. It will even be possible to give the middle peasants even more land, insofar as it is a question of land already rented by them, and in the process the middle peasants will also have the further advantage that for them too rents will be abolished.
Of course, all these advantages can only be granted to the middle peasants on condition they recognise soviet power, make food deliveries and offer no resistance. Here too experience in Russia shows that with such treatment it is possible to bring the middle peasants to a loyal attitude towards soviet power. This treatment of the middle peasants, maintaining private property, is necessary for the attitude of this layer of peasants amounts more or less to what one of the Russian peasants expressed in the bad joke: ‘We are for soviet power but against communism.’ The Russian example shows that these peasants will adapt and come to terms with proletarian state power if they are treated properly. In the Red Army a great-number of middle peasants are doing their duty against external enemies.
The peasants on the other hand, who as a rule employ outside labour power, are among the most numerous and determined opponents of soviet power, and it is to be expected that not only now, but also later, after the setting up of soviet power, they will carry out all sorts of sabotage and even offer military resistance. This danger must be clearly faced, and all preparations must be made to thwart this resistance and beat it down wherever it shows itself. The disarming of the large peasants must be carried out. But even with these large peasants there is no question of expropriation as an immediate task of the revolution. The rented land that is needed for small and middle peasants must be taken from them, and they will be completely expropriated without any further ado if they offer obstinate resistance. But should this condition not be present we will let the big peasants keep their land. It is important to eliminate the political and military resistance of this layer. And here too, experience in Russia shows that it is possible to call forth such a half-way loyal attitude in this layer. As soon as the victory of the proletarian revolution has been assured, it will emerge that the large peasants too will come to terms with the new conditions.
The big landowners, who in part even during the war undertook big land purchases, must immediately be expropriated without exception and without compensation. There can be no question of their being paid compensation for the expropriation, as Kautsky and other Independents propose. What happens with the land that has been expropriated? The simplest and most appropriate thing to do is to hand it over in common to the agricultural workers who previously worked on it. Soviet farms must be set up which run these estates on behalf of and as organs of proletarian state power, maintain themselves, and deliver the surplus to the soviet power. Under certain circumstances it will be possible to create collective enterprises that work the land co-operatively.
These two solutions are the best not only for the agricultural workers and the semi-proletarians, but also for the urban population, which will thus become partially independent of the peasantry in the question of supplies. It is a precondition for this solution that the rural proletariat has collected a certain wealth of technical experience. Since this precondition is not everywhere present, one must reckon with the fact that in special cases exceptions must be made. Such exceptions have been made in Russia, where big landed properties have in part been divided up. This exception is not the infringement of the principles of Communism that Kautsky tried to make out; for the main task of proletarian power consists in securing itself and the proletarian revolution, creating the foundations for Communism. All other questions must take second place to this main historical consideration. Even cuts in production, which can indeed have a painful effect even today, must take second place to this question.
When is it permissible to divide up big landed property? A division can only come into question when it is leased to small peasants, that is to say when this big landed property is not farmed as a unit. In this case the division does not at all mean relinquishing large-scale operation. Further, this division is possible when the big property is scattered in small peasant settlements. Here land hunger is so great that under certain conditions it has to be satisfied for the security of the revolution. In Southern Germany it is conceivable that the few big estates that exist will be divided up. And finally a division among the experienced peasants comes into question where the rural proletariat is too backward. The most important thing in any case is that the landowners should not be left on their estates, that they must be driven out, and if large-scale enterprise cannot be maintained without them, then the peasants must be won to working this land. After the establishment of proletarian power it will become possible to win bourgeois experts for this work under the control of soviet power.
The precondition for the winning of the rural proletariat is a determined struggle by the urban proletariat for the social revolution, without flinching at sacrifice, and in this the Communist Parties must be in the forefront as a vanguard. In order to win the layers that are still vacillating or are accessible to communist ideas, they must be granted economic advantages immediately after the victory of the proletarian revolution. The semi-proletarians; and the small and middle peasants must feel that they themselves gain advantages in the new order, and moreover these advantages must be granted at the expense of the exploiters.
In order to encourage the movement in the countryside it is necessary to establish relations with the economic struggle on the land, in the first place with the strike movement. Big strike movements have started on the land in almost every country, and these must be utilised by the Communist Parties in order to convince the rural proletariat that a real improvement of its position cannot be achieved by the granting of higher wages, but only by the victory of the proletarian revolution. In connection with these economic struggles the Communist Parties must also win the rural proletariat for themselves, and must create their own organisations. The rural proletariat must be convinced that they themselves must organise for the liberation struggle in the form of estates’ councils. A particular role falls to the industrial workers in the countryside, who mainly originate from the urban proletariat, in strengthening this movement. The Communist Parties must turn to them to carry the movement out into the countryside and strengthen it with their help. Special agitation among the small peasants is also necessary. It must be carried out by every available means. In the Theses further suggestions are made about how, through agitation, meetings, through the collaboration of the trades unions and the treatment of the agrarian question in parliament, the countryside can be revolutionised.
These, then, are briefly the tasks put before the Congress by the Theses. The Commission occupied itself, in several sessions, with the Theses, and undertook a large number of amendments, particularly a large number of stylistic amendments in the German edition. These Theses are intended only as a general framework for the activity of the Communist Parties in the countryside. It would be appropriate for the communists of every country to create their own agrarian programme, containing particular proposals. I should like to point out that in Germany for example such an agrarian programme of the KPD already exists.
As far as material amendments are concerned, in paragraph 2, on page 33, add: ‘The industrial rural workers, the forestry workers.’ after ‘wage labour in the capitalist. ...'
On page 34 add: ‘that a common organisation of agricultural workers ...’.
On page 38, point 4, several sentences have been deleted in which the interests of the middle peasants are opposed to those of the wage labourers. Where it says: ‘for the world outlook...’, to: ‘the victorious proletariat’, on page 39, add: ‘that there is no question of an immediate abolition of private property in the case of the middle peasants, on the contrary...'
The biggest amendments have been undertaken in paragraph 6. In the original version there is too much emphasis on the exception to the rule that the land cannot be divided up. The Commission deleted the sentence in the paragraph which says that it would be a mistake not to undertake the division of the land, and inserted a new sentence’... the principle that large-scale production must be maintained.’ The amendments are so numerous that I shall not read out the whole of the new version. The amendment corresponds almost word for word with a proposal from Comrade Marchlewski. In the German version on page 43, everything is deleted from the place where the section starts: ‘It would however be a great mistake...’, to the section on page 45: ‘the inventory of the large-scale concerns,’ and replaced by a new version. From then on the old text has been retained with few amendments. And then on page 46, a polemic against the Second International, against the German and English Independents, and against the French Longuetists has been deleted because the same thought has been expressed in another place.
Those are the essential amendments. In concluding I should like to point out how important it is for the Communist Parties to take the social revolution out into the countryside. It is impossible to secure the victory of the revolution, particularly in Central and Western Europe, without lining the rural proletariat up in the ranks of the urban proletariat. The particularly favourable conditions that existed in Russia through the fact that the peasantry has an interest in proletarian power through the question of ‘peace and land’, are in part missing in Central and Western Europe. That makes it all the more necessary for the Communist Parties to base themselves in the countryside on those parts of the rural proletariat that suffer in the same way as the urban proletariat, and in part even worse under present conditions. And the Commission hopes that the initiatives taken here will also bear fruit in the practice of the various Communist Parties in the various countries.
Graziadei: Comrades, I shall speak for myself, personally. First of all I should like to state that in general I accept the Theses that have been proposed to us by Comrade Lenin, particularly after the very interesting amendments that the Commission introduced especially in Thesis 6.
There exists a very striking similarity between Comrade Lenin’s Theses on the national and colonial question and the Theses on the agrarian question, even if the subject is a very different one. It is the same method, which is applied in different questions, and which consists in assessing the opponents and making concessions according to the requirements of the moment, or to what the people to whom one is making the concessions demand.
That is a method that one can define as the method of the minimum of effort, a method that aims at structuring the conquest of power more easily and quickly and creating conditions for the maintenance of power after its conquest.
I shall content myself with pointing out that this tendency reveals a danger that one could characterise as the danger of an opportunism from the left.
But the fact that these Theses and their application are entrusted to such comrades as Comrade Lenin and other Russian comrades can give us the certainty that this danger remains theoretical. However, I assure you that there are other countries and other situations where I would not be able to evince such confidence.
In order to facilitate the conquest of political power by the proletariat, Comrade Lenin’s Theses have a look at the peasant masses, divide them – analysing them all quite correctly – into various groups, and say: ‘We can take part of them with us, another part can be neutralised. But there is a further section among them that will always remain hostile to us, and we must fight indefatigably against it.'
The second part of Comrade Lenin’s Theses deals with the question of what is to be done after the conquest o f power. With the corrections proposed these Theses can be adopted. I must however make some practical comments.
In the Thesis on the petty and middle proprietors, Comrade Lenin shows himself to be very original. He tries to avoid two opposite errors which socialists have up till now made.
Many socialists believed that they could get round the great question of the petty and middle proprietors by saying: ‘In reality their fate is to disappear in bourgeois society, consequently we do not need to interest ourselves in them.’ That is a completely erroneous conception, since above all it is by no means true that the law of the concentration of capital is everywhere carried out as Marx described it. In any case, the form in which the attempt was made to apply the law of the concentration of capital to the petty proprietors, was simply nonsensical. Furthermore we recognise that, if we declare that the small peasants are condemned to disappear, we open ourselves to two dangers: our attention is directed away from the small peasants and they are driven into the arms of our opponents. Then it is obvious that, if we tell the small peasants that they have to disappear and that we want to abolish them artificially, we will turn millions of people into our opponents through such policies.
The other mistake – the opposite of the first – which our socialists committed was their belief that, since the small peasants were not fated to disappear, they would have to be organised, and that the revolution could not be carried out until this was done. That would mean a postponement of the revolution until the Greek Calends. That is not possible.
Between these two errors, which are diametrically opposed, Comrade Lenin proposes an attitude which I find pretty exact and acceptable. He says that we must show the small peasants that if they go with us they have everything to gain. That is good. But I have some reservations about the part that deals with the forms of organisation and struggle that have to be applied during the period preceding the conquest of political power.
In the Thesis before last, i.e. Thesis 8, there is talk about the strike of agricultural workers in which, in certain cases, the small peasants could also join. I am far from denying the importance of the revolutionary factor in these rural strikes. In Italy we had considerable rural strikes, and these broad movements had deep effects. But I must nevertheless make two objections. I do not understand why it is said that in certain cases the small peasants could participate in the strikes. I do not believe that they can. On the other hand it is also an error to think that the strike is the main weapon in every country, for there are countries where the organisations of the agricultural wage-labourers have achieved such strength that they can prepare the revolution and even start a policy of realising the proletarian dictatorship in bourgeois society itself.
In Italy we have workers’ organisations that directly take on public works. Similarly there are co-operatives which buy or rent land in order to cultivate it in common. Here lies a force of struggle and construction that has great significance and which we cannot ignore. That is why I wanted to propose to add the following at the end of Thesis 8:
‘Only at an advanced level of organisation, under certain conditions and in certain countries can the exploited rural masses organise themselves in co-operatives (to carry out public works, to cultivate bought or rented land in a completely or partially collective way, etc.). The Communists must take an interest in these organisations and try to lead them – with the goal, among others, that these organisations should not become involved in political compromises.'
I shall also turn to the question of the small peasants. In many countries the petty proprietors are already organised in co-operatives for purchasing and marketing and for the processing of their products (co-operative societies). It also often happens that they are organised by our opponents. The main aim of the socialists is not to organise the small peasants, but if they have a tendency to organise themselves we must intervene in these organisations, for one must go into every organisation where there are workers. I therefore propose to add the following at the end of Thesis 8:
‘As far as the small peasants are concerned, the Communists must enter their co-operative organisations for purchasing and marketing (co-operative societies) with the aim of awakening opposed tendencies here and giving them a character as little as possible limited to private property.'
I must make a further remark. I accept the conception, with the Commission’s amendments, on what the proletarian government must do as soon as it is in a position to deal with the agrarian question. But to fill it out I would make a small insertion in the 6th Thesis at the end of the second paragraph.
It is very correct not to permit compensation to be paid to the former big landowners. I think it is very good to remind socialists and communists that that would be an anti-socialist and anti-communist action. And I think it is strange that the proposal to give compensation was supported by the comrades from Italy, Austria and Germany.
That would mean burdening the rural masses with an enormous weight. But since one should always facilitate the revolution within the bounds of possibility, one should try after the first period of the struggle, to make use of the abilities of certain proprietors. This situation must be taken into account. I therefore propose the following insertion at the end of the second paragraph of Thesis 6:
‘If the question of compensation money absolutely must be touched on, then it must be pointed out in this question that the former big landowners must be granted a personal pension if their age no longer permits them to work and to get used to the new conditions of life quickly.
‘Of course this will depend on their personal attitude, for it would be ridiculous to grant anything to counter-revolutionaries. But if they submit to the new order, one must bring about some alleviation of their fate.'
Finally, I am of the opinion that in the 3rd Thesis, line 2, one should not say ‘in every capitalist country’, but that one should say ‘in almost every capitalist country’, for it is not quite right to say: ‘In every capitalist country the rural masses form the majority of the population’. In Britain, for example, the rural masses form the minority.
Shablin: Comrades, in the towns of Bulgaria there are important industries. In the villages the predominant form of ownership is that of petty landed property. The workers are concentrated in the towns, and it is from there that the Communist Party draws its main forces. But thanks to the fact that the process of the proletarianisation of the small peasants is proceeding very quickly, and that the position of the small peasants who are able to hang on to a bit of land has become very poor because of the consequences of the war, the influence of the Communist Party is beginning to spread to the countryside too.
The predominant form of ownership in the countryside in Bulgaria is petty landed property. In Bulgaria there are 495,000 landowners and the average area of each property is 0.9 hectares. But these holdings are shared out in the following way:
1. less than 5 hectares 225,000
2. less than 10 hectares 175,000
3. less than 100 hectares 95,000
4. more than 100 hectares 936
The first category, which is also the most numerous, consists of semi-proletarians, whose land is not even enough to satisfy their own needs. For a good part of the year they are obliged to work for the rich peasants or in mines, factories and towns. This category forms the largest part of our cadre in the countryside. The second category is the petty proprietors, whose land is scarcely sufficient to satisfy their family’s needs. They do not exploit the labour of others, and cultivate their land themselves. The Communist Party works among this layer, where it has marked up some remarkable results. As a consequence of the significant reduction of the productivity of agriculture, which was a result of the destruction of the stock of farm animals during the war, the economic position of this category has in fact become very insecure. These two semi-proletarian and small peasant categories embrace approximately four fifths of the whole peasant population of Bulgaria. All they can expect from the bourgeoisie and the bourgeois state is an increase in their financial burdens in order to cover the cost of the war and as a result an increase of their poverty.
The Communist Party is carrying out strong agitation and intensive propaganda among them. Our Party does not hide its maximum programme, that is to say the nationalisation of the land, from the semi-proletarians and small peasants. The profitability of small landholdings is so small in our country, the poverty of the semi-proletarians and the small landowners is so great, that the idea of increasing agricultural productivity through the common ownership of the land is gaining ground every day. But at the same time we explain to them that when the proletariat takes power it will carry out the expropriation of the big landowners, and not that of the small peasants and semi-proletarians, and that even the middle peasants will be left the right of free possession of their land. The semi-proletarians and the small landowners will come to the idea of the collective possession and cultivation of the land by themselves if by its actions the proletarian state shows them the advantages of the new socialist government; they themselves will come to the idea that the use of advanced agricultural machinery, the electrical cultivation of the land and the development of agricultural knowledge will make the collective possession and the collective cultivation of the land economically possible.
That is the direction that our agitation essentially follows, which takes into account the true position of the semi-proletarians and the petty landowners. We also make efforts to tear the toiling mass of the peasant population free from the influence of the bourgeoisie in the towns and in the countryside, from the influence of the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois parties, and to win them for the cause of the proletarian revolution.
I must particularly stress here that in this respect we have already marked up significant successes. The Communist Party has established a communist newspaper for the peasants; it has in the countryside almost a thousand communist organisations and groups which embrace 25,000 agricultural workers, semi-proletarians and small landowners whom it is preparing for the revolution. The slogan of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Councils is greeted with enthusiasm by these masses, who have lost their confidence in the bourgeoisie, the bourgeois state and the bourgeois parliament. We are working to have the majority of these masses with us at the moment of the revolution and with their help to paralyse the attempts of the bourgeoisie through the peasantry to drown the revolutionary proletariat in the towns in blood, the proletariat which – I must note here – is already completely won over to communist ideas.
The middle peasants, that is to say those who sell their agricultural products on the market, have piled up not a few banknotes during the war, and many among them have become rich. They represent the reactionary class in the countryside, but in our country they form a numerically weak and unimportant layer. Even fewer in number are the big landowners who, together with the middle peasants, form the peasant reaction on which the power of the bourgeoisie rests today. In our country – just as in the other capitalist states – the peasant bourgeoisie (the middle and big landowners has quite a large influence and, because of its overwhelming role in the market for agricultural products, whose prices have undergone an enormous increase, plays a significant political role. This peasant bourgeoisie stands in the camp of reaction and of counter-revolution. Today they are in league with the bourgeoisie in the towns for the purpose of speculation and for the exploitation of the masses, not only through the banks and the limited liability companies, but also through their bloodthirsty policy of stifling the proletarian revolution through the cruellest means that the bourgeois dictatorship uses.
But it must be repeated: in our country the peasant bourgeoisie only forms a very weak layer of the rural population, and if we succeed in winning the majority of the semi-proletarians and small peasants to us, we will be able to break the resistance of the peasant bourgeoisie at the moment of the revolution. For that reason we are making the greatest efforts as far as the organisation of agricultural workers (who are united in a trade union) is concerned: but what we want above all is to attract to us the semi-proletarians and small peasants in the countryside, who form the overwhelming majority of the rural population, and win them for communism.
We also recognise clearly the necessity of working towards neutralising the middle peasants for the revolution. We do not terrify them with the idea of expropriating their land, for in fact, with the technical means at our disposal at the moment, we cannot immediately organise collective agricultural production in the place of private agricultural production. Our aim is the expropriation of the big landowners. If we succeed in neutralising the middle peasants, then we shall have split the force of the reactionary block into two parts, and then it will be much easier to defeat it.
As far as the question of the creation of peasants’ councils is concerned, we think that it is closely connected with the creation of workers’ councils in the towns. When the revolutionary struggle has reached its climax and the working class and the class of the poor decides during the growth of the movement to proceed to the creation of soviets and the armed uprising – for in order for the workers’ and peasants’ councils to exist as revolutionary organs for the conquest and exercise of proletarian power, they must be defended by the workers and peasants with arms in hand – only then will it be possible and permissible to proceed to the creation of peasants’ councils which will be formed by the poor, the proletarians and semi-proletarians in the countryside.
Therefore the Bulgarian delegation accepts the Theses presented by the Executive Committee with the Commission’s amendments and submitted to the Congress by the reporter, Comrade Meyer, and supports them.
Serrati: I have asked for the floor in order to do Comrade Wijnkoop a favour and not be forced to make a statement in the last second before the vote. In my opinion this question does not interest the Congress. This is a Congress of comrades who come from industrial countries and do not know how interesting this question is. As far as I am concerned, I am merely making a statement. I think that it will not be possible to discuss this question thoroughly until the next Congress, when more experience will have been collected.
I shall abstain from voting. Personally I am against the Theses, which do not seem to correspond sufficiently to the necessities of the revolution in the Western countries. Our Party has not yet finally decided on this very serious question, and I do not think that I have the right to place my own personal will in the place of that of the comrades who delegated me to the Congress.
In general it seems to me that the necessities of the postrevolutionary period, during which the proletarian state will necessarily have to adapt to certain necessities, are being confused with the pre-revolutionary period, during which the Communists must adopt an exact and definite attitude towards all bourgeois and petty bourgeois parties.
These Theses, just like the Theses on the colonial and national question, take no account of the fact that the concessions made to various social layers in order to influence them in our favour or to neutralise them can be very dangerous for the proletarian layers in the moment of the revolutionary fray, and can lead them into a more and more opportunist path of concessions. In general the small peasants of Western Europe are very greedy for profit, and know very well what their political attitude must be to defend their interests. It is not sufficient to make them declarations of sympathy; they want something practical. They are in favour of protective tariffs, against the industrialisation of the land, for autonomy in the administration. And the parties in which they are organised have promised them that. Will they believe us? Furthermore it is necessary to remember that in the advanced countries the peasants – small and medium proprietors already have their parties, and they are reactionary parties. The small and medium proprietors and the tenant farmers in those countries are in struggle against the agricultural workers, who already want to expropriate them. In Italy this struggle has already been going on for twenty years, and from time to time it has had bloody consequences. Can we go to them and say: ‘We were mistaken?'
Petty proprietorship is an economic form whose existence is justified in certain places, particularly in the mountains. The Communists must not do any harm to the small peasants. During and after the revolution they must find certain inevitable solutions. They must understand and make understood the fact that, after the overthrow of the bourgeois regime, agreement must be possible even with the middle peasants; but before the revolution the Communists have the particular duty of not making concessions to the rural petty bourgeoisie, in order not to harm the interests of the proletarian masses.
For these reasons, and because I am not sufficiently acquainted with the views of my Party on this subject, I shall abstain from voting.
Sokolnikov: Comrade Graziadei tells us that he considers Marxist theory in its application to the agrarian question to be a piece of childishness.
Graziadei: I did not say that. I said that the law of the concentration of capital has not worked out in practice everywhere in the way Marx dealt with it in Capital. I said that it is childishness on the part of some comrades to start from the law of the concentration of capital and to try to reach the conclusion that all petty proprietors would have to disappear in the bourgeois world.
Sokolnikov: The word is not of great importance. Comrade Graziadei says that Marxist theories are erroneous as far as the concentration of capital in the area of agriculture is concerned.
Comrade Graziadei is, if I am not mistaken, an excellent professor of political economy. But in the present case, which touches on Marxist theory, I really think that it is he that is wrong, and that he is following the example of the professors of political economy who have often declared that Marxist theory in general is of no value when it is applied to a specific point. If it really were true that Marxist theory does not work out in practice, in the field of agriculture, then one would have to draw the necessary conclusions, one would then have to admit that the whole of socialist and communist construction would have to collapse, if one admits that Marxist theory cannot stand up in the field of agriculture.
If it is impossible to organise socialist production in agriculture on the basis given by capitalist development, that obviously means the collapse of the socialist regime in industry. Moreover, I believe that Comrade Graziadei has spoken against the application of Marxist theories in agriculture without establishing that the centres of agricultural production have shifted. Central Europe has ceased to be the granary of Europe. Large-scale agricultural production is now sited on the other side of the Atlantic. It is North America, and in recent years South America, which feed European industry and make possible the provisioning of the masses of European workers.
That forces us to talk about the changes that have taken place in Europe and America in the course of the war and of the last few years. I should also like to comment about Comrade Serrati’s remark that the war did not proletarianise, but on the contrary enriched the peasant. He quoted the example of the Italian peasants, who have their woollen sock full of gold. I believe that there is an error here.
Certainly part of the peasants, those who were able to sell their corn, the products of their little holdings, enriched themselves, but in a completely conventional way. I shall return to this point, but I should like to remark straight away that on the contrary a large part of the peasants were ruined by the war. The war tore hundreds of thousands from the mass of the peasants, and that means a terrible blow, a death-blow for all small proprietors. They are condemned to black poverty. Countless peasants want to emigrate or work in factories. There is no doubt that the war delivered a terrible blow to the small proprietors and peasants by ruining them.
If one now considers the mass of those who were able to sell their agricultural products, one can be sure that they put a lot of money by in woollen socks. But I doubt very much whether it is gold. It is banknotes, paper. And that is a form of the expropriation of peasant property by the imperialist war. In reality they became propertyless, and their holdings were expropriated. For their real commodities they received paper, which is only worth a little, and whose devaluation is increasing.
You quoted the example of Switzerland, which did not take part in the war, and is a little country. It is undeniable that in France, Germany and Russia the war was a form of the expropriation of the small peasants. If Comrade Serrati tells us that he does not believe in the true worth of the general change. in our tactics in relation to the small peasants, then I must establish that there is nevertheless a change in our tactics. There is no change in the policy of the Communist Party, but there is a change in the position of the small peasant. You cannot compare the position of a small peasant in Europe at the time of Napoleon’s coup d'état in 1801 with the present position of a small peasant in Europe. A great task has been achieved during the development of capitalism. The small peasant has been proletarianised in quite specific forms, and has fallen into great dependency upon capitalism.
The big banks, the export companies, the capitalist organisations, have in different ways brought the small peasant, the petty proprietor, into a position which is not far removed from that of a proletarian. And on the basis of this change in the position of the small peasant the latter has become the slave and enemy of capitalism. For these reasons the Communist Party turns today to these petty proprietors, these small peasants, with great prospects of success.
The position of the small peasant has been changed by the development of capitalism in the last few years. The war transformed it yet more profoundly. Hence the proletarianisation of the peasants that we are now establishing. The war was the cause of the expropriation of the small peasant. Therefore the Communist Party can today count on the fact that the small peasants, the semi-proletarians, will enter its ranks and, together with the workers in the towns, will fight against capitalism for the social revolution.
Lefebvre: Comrades, I have asked for the floor to speak about some statements by Serrati, who has supplied proof of his irreconcilable position on opportunist considerations and has claimed that the tactics of the communists are based purely and simply on an alliance with the agricultural workers against the small peasants, since, if the communists immediately after the seizure of power tell the peasants: I you will retain your privileges and even gain new ones’, they will not believe us.
It seems to me (please excuse me for the expression) to be careless demagogy only to defend and support a thing in so far as we hope that it is of momentary propaganda value. We did not, however, only come here to prepare momentary propaganda for the purpose of seizing power, but also in order to clarify under what conditions we can organise communist society back home. Moreover, Serrati spoke in the name of Western Europe. He seemed to be saying that the situation in Western Europe was such that the tactics proposed in the Theses were not sufficient for the requirements of propaganda there.
I do not share this view. I believe on the contrary that they meet the situation in France in a satisfactory way (I can only speak of France, as I know France relatively well). On the one hand it seems almost impossible to start anything if we have the whole mass of French peasants against us. On the other hand, without going so far as Sokolnikov, and without sharing his optimism, I believe that nonetheless something can soon be done in France. What I mean by that is that, even if the war did not proletarianise the petty proprietors in France, it nevertheless did have a great effect.
Apparently, the small French peasants were enriched by the war. But in a society that is victim to decay, fortunes disappear as quickly as they have arisen, and we can already say in advance for what reasons and as the result of what process of development petty proprietorship has suffered since the war.
The bourgeoisie in France, for electoral reasons, appeared to support the interests of the small peasants. Now however, since this law was debated about a month and a half ago, the big bourgeoisie has dropped the interests of the small peasants in the corn question in such a way that the position of the small peasants in our country will in a short time be extremely serious.
Sokolnikov is right when he claims that the wealth of the peasants is only paper wealth. We must add that the petty bourgeoisie benefited previously from the war in the sense that they freed themselves from their mortgage debts by means of this paper. The settlement of mortgages has been completed in our country, and the paper is in the land banks. The French peasants know now exactly how much this paper is worth, for they cannot get rid of it.
Our peasants (and I believe it is the same all over the world) despise all those who get into debt. Thus the peasant is led to despise the capitalist state, since the only policies in France are the policies of continual indebtedness. For this reason communist propaganda too is failing on fruitful ground in our country. Where previously it encountered no sympathy it is met nowadays in a completely different way. Policies on the other hand that would lead to making this class into one’s enemy can only bring disaster. Moreover, it would be impossible to organise agricultural production after the conquest of power without the co-operation of the small peasants.
I am not protesting against the standpoint of Comrade Graziadei, who wants to insert an addendum favouring big landowners in the Theses. It goes without saying that those who submit to the soviet government must be involved in common work. But it us not necessary to insert an addendum referring to it in the Theses, since that could easily be interpreted as something they receive by right.
Meyer: Comrades, I can be brief. I am glad that the Italian comrades have taken part in the discussion and have told us something about the agrarian question in Italy. Unfortunately they were not represented in the Commission for factional reasons. I hope that they will make further information available to the Agrarian Commission. I propose to refer Comrade Graziadei’s proposals to the Commission for consideration. I take the same point of view as Comrade Lefebvre that the compensation of the former big landowners does not need to be mentioned. The Agrarian Commission will be glad to adopt the other additions on the co-operatives in some form or another, since the Commission itself has already discussed this question.
Now, as far as the role of the small peasants is concerned, I agree with what Comrade Sokolnikov has said. It is correct that during the war, not only in the belligerent states, but also in the neutral ones, a section of the small peasants not only covered their own needs out of their production, but also converted a surplus into capital. That happened, and is continuing to happen partially even today. Meanwhile, however, the prices for all articles of consumption, particularly for clothing and agricultural equipment, have risen so sharply, and furthermore the burden of taxation has become so much heavier for the less prosperous layers, that the previous advantages have been wiped out for the small peasants too. If that has not shown itself in every country, it will and must emerge to a much sharper degree in the coming period. I am of the same opinion as Comrade Sokolnikov that we must make the small peasants aware now of the sharpening of their own living conditions that must be expected.
There is no breach with the socialist programme in the Theses. Comrade Serrati is against the Theses because he thinks that the Communist International has given up the idea that the big enterprises are to be nationalised. That is by no means correct. It has merely been pointed out that at this time it is practically impossible to socialise small landed property. That is because the rural proletariat in general is not sufficiently prepared for common enterprise and the technical resources are also lacking. That is why we are making the concession that for the time being private property will be retained for the small and middle peasants and a section of the big peasants.
Provision is made for meeting all the preparations to overcome this transitional stage, to influence the small and middle peasants mentally in the sense of co-operative enterprise, and to show them the advantages of collective enterprise. Secondly the technical preparations for the extension of large-scale enterprise must take place, even if that involves concessions to individual layers of the rural population. The proletarian state power must establish itself so firmly that it dominates large-scale industry entirely, so that it is in a position to produce more agricultural machinery. As soon as these technical prerequisites are present it will be possible to weld together the small and middle peasants.
There is therefore no breach with our earlier programme, but we are being shown in detail the ways in which we will attain the socialisation of agriculture. That is the sense of the Theses. In this way I think I have answered the questions that have been raised here in the discussion. I propose the adoption in principle of the Theses and the reference of the proposals Comrade Graziadei has made to the Commission. No further essential changes will then be made.
Zinoviev: We come now to the vote on the Theses. [The Theses are adopted with one abstention. The session is closed at 4 o'clock.]