Minutes of the Second Congress of the Communist International: Theses

Theses on the Agrarian Question

1. Only the urban industrial proletariat, led by the Communist Party, can save the toiling masses in the countryside from the yoke of capital and landlordism, from dissolution and from imperialist wars, inevitable as long as the capitalist regime endures. There is no salvation for the peasants except to join the Communist proletariat, to support with heart and soul its revolutionary struggle to throw off the yoke of the landlords and the bourgeoisie.

On the other hand the industrial workers will be unable to carry out their universal historic mission, and liberate humanity from the bondage of capital and war, if they shut themselves within their separate crafts, their narrow trade interests, and restrict themselves complacently to a desire for the improvement of their sometimes tolerable bourgeois conditions of life. That is what happens in most advanced countries possessing a ‘labour aristocracy’, which forms the basis of the would-be parties of the Second International, who are in fact the worst enemies of Socialism, traitors to it, bourgeois jingoes, agents of the bourgeoisie in the labour movement. The proletariat becomes a truly revolutionary class, truly socialist in its actions, only by acting as the vanguard of all those who work and are being exploited, only as their leader in the struggle for the overthrow of the oppressors; and this cannot be achieved without carrying the class struggle into the agricultural districts, without rallying the toiling masses of the country around the Communist Party of the urban proletariat, without the peasants being educated by the urban proletariat.

2. The toiling and exploited masses in the countryside, which the urban proletariat must lead on to the fight, or at least win over to its side, are represented in all capitalist countries by the following groups:

In the first place, the agricultural proletariat, the hired labourers (seasonal, migrant and casual) making their living by wage labour in capitalist agricultural or industrial establishments. The independent organisation of this class, separated from the other groups of the country population (in a political, military, trade, co-operative, educational sense), and energetic propaganda among it, in order to win it over to the side of the Soviet Power and of the dictatorship of the proletariat – such is the fundamental task of the Communist Parties in all countries.

In the second place the semi-proletarians or smallholders, those who make their living partly by working for wages in agricultural and industrial capitalist establishments, partly by toiling on their own or on a rented piece of land, yielding but a part of the food needed for their families. This class of the toiling rural population is fairly numerous in all capitalist countries, but its existence and its peculiar position is hushed up by the representatives of the bourgeoisie and the yellow ‘socialists’ affiliated to the Second International. Some of these people intentionally cheat the workers, but others follow blindly the average petty-bourgeois view and mix up this special class with the whole mass of the ‘peasantry’. Such a method of bourgeois deception of the workers is to be observed more particularly in Germany and France, and to a lesser extent in America and other countries. Provided that the work of the Communist Party is well-organised, this group is sure to side with the Communists, the conditions of life of these half-proletarians being very hard; the advantage the Soviet Power and the dictatorship of the proletariat would bring them being enormous and immediate. In some countries there is no clear-cut distinction between these two groups; it is therefore permissible under certain circumstances not to form them into separate organisations.

In the third place the small peasants, the farmers who possess by right of ownership, or rent, small portions of land which satisfy the needs of their family and of their farming without requiring any additional wage labour. This part of the population gains everything by the victory of the proletariat, which brings with it: a) liberation from the payment of rent, or a part of it, with crops to the owners of large estates (for instance, the métayers in France, the same arrangements in Italy, etc.); b) abolition of all mortgages; c) abolition of many forms of dependence on the owners of large estates (the use of forests and pastures, etc.); d) immediate help from the proletarian state for farm work (permitting use by peasants of the agricultural implements and part of the land on the big capitalist estates expropriated by the proletariat, immediate transformation by the proletarian state power of all consumer and agricultural co-operatives, which under capitalist rule were chiefly supporting the wealthy and powerful peasant, into institutions primarily for support of the poor peasant; that is to say, the proletarians, semi-proletarians, small peasants etc.).

At the same time the Communist Party should be thoroughly aware that during the transitional period leading from capitalism to communism, i.e., during the dictatorship of the proletariat, at least some partial hesitations are inevitable in this class, in favour of unrestricted free trade and free use of the rights of private property. For this class, being a seller of commodities (although on a small scale), is necessarily demoralised by profit-hunting and habits of proprietorship. And yet, provided there is a consistent proletarian policy. and the victorious proletariat deals relentlessly with the owners of the large estates and the big peasants, the hesitations of the class in question will not be .considerable, and cannot change the fact that on the whole this class will side with the proletarian revolution.

3. All these three groups taken together constitute the majority of the agrarian population in all capitalist countries. This guarantees in full the success of the proletarian revolution, not only in the towns, but in the country as well. The opposite view is very widely spread, but it persists only because of a systematic deceit on the part of bourgeois scientists and statisticians. They hush up by every means any mention of the deep chasm which divides the rural classes we have indicated, between exploiting landowners and capitalists on the one hand and half-proletarians and small peasants on the other. This arises from the incapacity and the failure of the heroes of the yellow .Second International and the ‘labour aristocracy’, demoralised by imperialist privileges, to do genuine propaganda work on behalf of the proletarian revolution, or to conduct organising work among the poor in the country. All the attention of the opportunists was given and is being given now to the arrangement of theoretical and practical agreements with the bourgeoisie, including the landed and middle peasantry, and not to the revolutionary overthrow of the bourgeois government and the bourgeois class by the proletariat.

Finally, this view persists because of the force of inveterate prejudice connected with all bourgeois-democratic and parliamentary prejudices, and the incapacity to grasp a simple truth fully proven by the Marxian theory and confirmed by the practice of the proletarian revolution in Russia. This truth consists in the fact that the peasant population of the three classes we have mentioned above, being extremely oppressed, scattered and doomed to live in half-civilised conditions in all countries, even in the most advanced, is economically, socially and morally interested in the victory of Socialism; but that, with the exception of the agricultural workers, who already support the revolution, it will finally support the revolutionary proletariat only after the proletariat has taken the political power, after it has done away with the owners of the large estates and the capitalists, after the oppressed masses are able to see in practice that they have an organised leader and helper sufficiently powerful and firm to support, to guide and to show the right way.

The ‘middle peasantry’, in the economic sense, consists of small landowners who possess, according to the right of ownership or rent, portions of land, which, although small, nevertheless may usually yield under capitalist rule, not only a provision for the family and the needs of the farming, but also the possibility to accumulate a certain surplus, which, at least in the best years, could be transformed into capital; these farmers are often also in a position to hire outside labour. A group with farms of from 5 to 10 hectares of land in the German statistics of 1907 can serve as an example of the middle peasantry in an advanced capitalist country, where the number of agricultural wage labourers employed came to about a third of the number of farms in the group. In France, the country of a greater development of intensive culture, for instance of the vineyards, requiring special treatment and care, the corresponding group employs outside wage labour probably in a somewhat larger proportion.

4. The revolutionary proletariat cannot make it its aim, at least for the near future, and during the beginning of the period of proletarian dictatorship, to win this class over to its side. The proletariat will have to content itself with neutralising this class, i.e., preventing it from giving active aid to the bourgeoisie in the struggle between it and the proletariat. The vacillation of this class is unavoidable, and in the beginning of the new epoch its predominating tendency in the advanced capitalist countries will be in favour of the bourgeoisie, for the ideas and sentiments of private property are characteristic of the owners. The victorious proletariat will immediately improve the lot of this class by abolishing the system of rent and mortgage, and by the introduction of machinery and electrical appliances into agriculture. The proletarian state power cannot at once abolish private property in most of the capitalist countries, but must do away with all duties and levies imposed on this class of people by the landlords. In any case, the proletarian regime will guarantee the small and middle peasants not only the retention of their land, but also its increase by all the land they hitherto rented (by the abolition of rent).

The combination of such measures with a relentless struggle against the bourgeoisie guarantees the full success of the neutralisation policy. The. transition to collective agriculture must be managed with much circumspection and step by step, and the proletarian state power must proceed by the force of example, by the provision of machinery, the introduction of technical improvements and electrification, without any violence towards the middle peasantry.

5. The large peasants are capitalists in agriculture, managing their lands usually with several hired labourers. They are connected with the ‘peasantry’ only by their standard of culture, their way of living, and their personal manual labour on the land. This is the most numerous element of the bourgeois class, and the decided enemy of the revolutionary proletariat. The chief attention of the Communist Party in the rural districts must be given to the struggle against this element, to the liberation of the labouring and exploited majority of the rural population from the moral and political influence of these exploiters.

After the victory of the proletariat in the towns this class will inevitably oppose it by all means, from sabotage to open armed counter-revolutionary resistance. The revolutionary proletariat must therefore immediately begin, theoretically and organisationally, to prepare the necessary force for the disarmament of this class, and together with the overthrow of the capitalists in industry, the proletariat must deal a relentless, crushing blow to this class. To that end it must arm the rural proletariat and organise soviets in the country, with no room for exploiters and a preponderant place reserved to the proletarians and semi-proletarians.

But the expropriation even of the large peasants can by no means be an immediate object of the victorious proletariat, considering the lack of material, particularly of technical-material and further, of the social conditions necessary for the socialisation of such lands. In some, probably exceptional cases, parts of their estates will be confiscated if they are leased in small parcels, or if they are specifically needed by the small-peasant population. A free use must be also secured to this population, on definite terms, of a part of the agricultural machinery of the large peasants, etc. As a general rule, however, the state power can leave the large peasants in possession of their land, confiscating it only in case of resistance to the government of the labouring and exploited peasants. The experience of the Russian proletarian revolution, whose struggle against the landed peasants became very complicated and, prolonged owing to a number of particular circumstances, nevertheless shows that this class, if it is taught a lesson for even the slightest resistance, will be quite willing to serve loyally the aims of the proletarian state. It begins even to be permeated, although very slowly, by a respect for the government which protects every worker and deals relentlessly with the idle rich.

The specific conditions which made the struggle of the Russian proletariat against the large peasantry peculiarly difficult after the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, consist mainly in the fact that after the coup d'état of October 25 (November 7) 1917, the Russian revolution traversed a stage of ‘general democratic’ (in fact, bourgeois-democratic) struggle of the peasantry as a whole against the landowners. The urban proletariat was culturally and numerically weak and, with the extremely bad communications, the long distances created great difficulties. The revolutionary proletariat in Europe and America must energetically prepare and carry out a much more rapid and complete victory over the resistance of the large peasantry, depriving them of all possibility of resistance. This is of the utmost importance, considering that until a complete, absolute victory is won, the proletarian state power cannot be regarded as secure and capable of resisting its enemies.

6. The revolutionary proletariat must proceed to an immediate and unconditional confiscation of the estates of the landowners and big landlords, that is of all those who systematically employ wage labour, directly or through their tenants, exploit all the small (and not infrequently also the middle) peasantry in their neighbourhood, and do not do any actual manual work. To this element belong the majority of the descendants of the feudal lords (the nobility of Russia, Germany and Hungary, the restored seigneurs of France, the Lords in England, the former slave owners m America) or financial magnates who have become particularly rich, or a mixture of those classes of exploiters and idlers.

No propaganda can be admitted in the ranks of the Communist Parties in favour of compensation to be paid to the owners of large estates for their expropriation. In the present conditions prevailing in Europe and America this would mean treason to socialism and the imposition of a new tax on the labouring and exploited masses, who have already suffered from the war – the war which increased the number of millionaires and multiplied their wealth.

In the advanced capitalist countries the Communist International considers that it is correct to preserve the large agricultural establishments and manage them on the lines of the ‘Soviet farms’ in Russia. It is also advisable to encourage collective establishments, co-operative estates, communes.

As a result of the economic backwardness of the country it was necessary in Russia to proceed to distribute the land among the peasants for their use. Only in comparatively few cases was it possible to use the land for the establishment of a so-called Soviet Farm, managed by the proletarian state on its own account. The previous wage-labourers are then transformed into both employees of the state and members of the soviets that administrate the state.

The preservation of large landholdings serves best the interests of the revolutionary elements of the rural population, namely, the land less agricultural workers and semi-proletarian small land-holders, who get their livelihood mainly by working on the large estates. Besides, the nationalisation of large land-holdings makes the urban population, at least in part, less dependent on the peasantry for their food.

In those places, however, where relics of the feudal system still prevail, the landlord’s privileges give rise to special forms of exploitation, such as serfdom and share-cropping, it may under certain conditions be necessary to hand over part of the land of the big estates to the peasants.

In countries and areas where large landholdings are insignificant in number, while a great number of small tenants are in search of land, there the distribution of the large holdings can prove a sure means of winning the peasantry for the revolution, while the preservation of the large estates can be of no value for the provisioning of the towns. The first and most important tasks of the proletarian state is to secure a lasting victory. The proletariat must not flinch from a temporary decline of production so long as it makes for the success of the revolution. Only by persuading the middle peasantry to maintain a neutral attitude, and by gaining the support of a large part, if not the whole, of the small peasantry, can the lasting maintenance of the proletarian power be secured.

At any rate, where the land of the large owners is being distributed, the interests of the agricultural proletariat must be a primary consideration.

The implements of large estates must be converted into state property, absolutely intact, but on the unfailing condition that these implements be put at the disposal of the small peasants free of charge, subject to conditions worked out by the proletarian state.

If, just after the proletarian coup d'état, the immediate confiscation of the big estates becomes absolutely necessary, and moreover also the banishment or internment of all landowners as leaders of the counter-revolution and relentless oppressors of the whole rural population, the proletarian state, in proportion to its consolidation not only in the towns, but in the country as well, must systematically strive to take advantage of men of the bourgeoisie who possess valuable experience, learning, organising ability, and must use them under special supervision of reliable communist workers and the control of the estate Soviets, to organise large-scale agriculture on socialist principles.

7. Socialism will not finally have vanquished capitalism and securely established itself for ever until the proletarian state power, after having finally subdued all resistance of the exploiters and secured for itself a complete and absolute submission, will reorganise the whole of industry on the basis of scientific large-scale production and the most modern achievements of technique (electrification of the whole economy). This alone will afford a possibility of such radical help in the technical and the social sense, accorded by the town to the backward and dispersed country, that this help will create the material base for an enormous increase of the productivity of agriculture and general farming work, and will incite the small farmers by force of example and for their own benefit, to change to large collective machine agriculture.

Most particularly in the rural districts a real possibility of successful struggle for socialism requires that all Communist Parties inculcate in the industrial proletariat the consciousness of the necessity of sacrifice on its part for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the establishment of proletarian power; for the dictatorship of the proletariat is based not only on its ability to organise and to lead the working and exploited masses, but also on the vanguard being ready for the greatest efforts and most heroic sacrifice for this goal. The possibility of success requires that the labouring and most exploited masses in the country experience an immediate and great improvement of their position caused by the victory of the proletariat, and at the expense of the exploiters. Unless this is done, the industrial proletariat cannot depend on the support of the rural districts, and cannot secure the provisionment of the towns with foodstuffs.

8. The enormous difficulty of the organisation and education for the revolutionary struggle of the agrarian labouring masses placed by capitalism in conditions of particular oppression, dispersion, and often a medieval dependence, require from the Communist Parties a special care for the strike movement in the rural districts. It requires powerful support and wide development of mass strikes of the agrarian proletarians and half-proletarians. The experience of the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917, confirmed and enlarged now by the experience of Germany, Poland, Italy, Britain and other advanced countries, shows that only the development of mass strike struggle (under certain conditions the small peasants are also to be drawn into these strikes) will be able to arouse the slumbering village and awaken the consciousness of the necessity of the class organisation in the exploited masses in the country, and show the obvious practical use of a union with the town workers. From this standpoint the promotion of the unionization of agricultural workers and the co-operation of communists in the land and forest workers’ unions are of great importance. The communists must likewise support the co-operative organisations formed by the exploited agricultural population closely connected with the revolutionary labour movement. A vigorous agitation is likewise to be carried on among the small peasants.

The Congress of the Communist International denounces as traitors those socialists – unfortunately there are such not only in the yellow Second International but also among the three most important European parties which have left the Second International – who manage not only to be indifferent towards the strike struggle in the rural districts, but who oppose it (like the trades union bureaucracy, the Scheidemanns and the Kautskys) on the ground that it might cause a falling-off of the production of foodstuffs. No programmes and no solemn declarations have any value if the fact is not in evidence, testified by actual deeds, that the Communists and the workers’ leaders know how to put above all the development of the proletarian revolution and its victory, and are ready to make the utmost sacrifices for the sake of this victory. Unless this is a fact there is no issue, no escape from starvation, dissolution and new imperialist wars.

The Communist Parties must make all efforts possible to start as soon as possible setting up Soviets in the country, and these soviets must be chiefly composed of hired labourers and half-proletarians. The formation of Soviets of small peasants must also be propagated. Only in connection with the mass strike struggle of the most oppressed class will the soviets be able to serve fully their ends, and become sufficiently firm to dominate the small peasants and later bring them into their ranks in alliance with the soviets of agricultural workers. But if the strike struggle is not yet developed, and the ability to organise the agrarian proletariat is weak because of the strong oppression of the landowners and the landed peasants, and also because of the want of support from the industrial workers and their unions, the organisation of the soviets in the rural districts will require a long preparation by means of creating Communist cells, however small; of intensive propaganda expounding in a most popular form the demands of the Communists and illustrating the reasons for these demands by specially convincing cases of exploitation; by systematic agitational excursions of industrial workers into the country, etc.