J. V. Stalin
Source: Works, Vol. 6, January-November, 1924, pp. 327-334
Publisher: Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1954
First Published: The Peasant Question, J. V. Stalin, Moscow and Leningrad, 1925
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2008). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
Comrades, since the preceding speakers have dealt with work in the countryside in fairly great detail, I shall have to confine myself to a few remarks about the specific features of the present situation.
What are the specific features of the present situation as regards the conditions of the peasants?
The first specific feature is that the old capital, the moral capital, that we acquired in the struggle to emancipate the peasants from the landlords is already beginning to run out. Some comrades say: “Why is all this fuss being made about work among the peasantry? We have discussed the peasantry on many occasions, we have never forgotten the peasants, why all this fuss about them?” But these comrades, apparently, fail to understand that the old moral capital that our Party accumulated in the period of October and in the period of the abolition of the surplus-appropriation system is already running out. They fail to understand that we now need new capital. We must acquire new capital for the Party under the conditions of a new struggle. We must win over the peasantry anew. That is the point. That we helped them to throw off the landlords and to obtain land, that we ended the war, that there is now no tsar, and that, together with the tsar, all the other tsarist scorpions were swept away—the peasants have already forgotten about all this. We cannot go on living much longer on this old capital. Whoever fails to understand this understands nothing about the new situation, about the new conditions created by the NEP. We are winning over the peasantry anew—this is the first specific feature of our internal situation.
From this it follows, however, that, far from being superfluous, the new talk about the peasantry is even somewhat belated.
The second specific feature is that during this period our principal classes—the workers and the peasants—have changed, they have become different. Formerly, the proletariat was declassed, scattered, while the peasants were filled with the desire to retain the land which had been taken from the landlords and to win the war against the landlords. That was the situation before. Now it is different. There is no war. Industry is growing. Agriculture is developing. The present-day proletariat is no longer a declassed working class, but a full-blooded proletariat, whose culture and requirements are growing day by day. As regards the peasantry, it is no longer the old peasantry, downtrodden, terrified lest they lose the land, and ready to make every sacrifice in order to be freed from the landlords. It is a new class, free and active, which has already forgotten the landlords and is now concerned about receiving cheap commodities and selling its grain at the highest possible price. Its characteristic feature is its growing political activity. It is no longer possible to say “The Party will settle everything,” “The Party will arrange everything for everybody,” The peasants, not, to speak of the workers, would not understand such talk now. We must now go deeper among the masses, we must now explain, elucidate and convince more than we did before. We must now win anew the confidence of the millions of non-Party people and hold it by organisational means, primarily through the Soviets. The enhanced political activity of the masses demands this.
But it is not only the classes that have changed. The battle-field has changed too, for it has become different, quite different. What was the issue in the struggle before? Whether the surplus-appropriation system was necessary or not. Earlier than that the issue was whether landlords were necessary or not. These questions already belong to the past, for now there are no landlords and no surplus-appropriation system. The issue now is not the landlords, or the surplus-appropriation system, but the price of grain. This is an entirely new battle-field, a very wide and intricate one, which calls for serious study and arduous struggle. Even taxes are not now the issue, for the peasants would pay the tax if the price of grain was “sufficiently high,” and if the price of textiles and other urban manufactures was “sufficiently” reduced. The principal question now is that of the market and the price of urban manufactures and agricultural produce.
Here is what the secretary of the Gomel Gubernia Committee writes to the Central Committee:
“In three volosts there was a mass refusal to accept the tax forms. Receipts are coming in at only a third of the rate that they should come in. The non-Party volost conferences that were held were so stormy that some of them had to be closed, and at some of them amendments were carried requesting the centre to reduce the tax and to raise the price of grain. I do not know what the situation is in other gubernias, but in our gubernia it does not coincide with the conclusions that you (meaning me) draw in your last confidential letter. The mood among our local officials is rather bad. The countryside is like a disturbed beehive; everybody is talking about the tax and the price of grain.”
The Central Committee has received similar communications from Siberia, the South-East, and the Kursk, Tula, Nizhni-Novgorod, Ulyanovsk and other gubernias.
The meaning of all these communications is that the peasant finds our price policy irksome, and he would like to weaken, or even get rid of, the levers with which this price policy is operated, and without which our industry would not be able to advance a single step. The peasant, as it were, says to us: “You are afraid to reduce the price of urban manufactures to the utmost, you fear an influx of foreign goods, and so you have set up all sorts of tariff barriers to protect our young industry from foreign competition; but I don’t care about your industry, I want cheap goods, no matter where they come from.” Or: “You are afraid to raise the price of grain because you fear this may undermine wages, and so you have invented all sorts of procurement bodies, you have established a monopoly of foreign trade, and so forth; but I don’t care about your barriers and levers, I want a high price for grain.”
Such is the meaning of the struggle in the sphere of price policy.
A particularly striking illustration of this is provided by the recent revolt in Georgia. Of course, this revolt was stage-managed, but in some uyezds, particularly the Guria Uyezd, it undoubtedly bore a mass character. What did the peasants in Guria want? Cheap commodities and a high price for maize. Guria lies on the border of the West, it sees that foreign goods are cheaper than our Soviet goods and it would like the prices of our goods to be reduced at least to the level of foreign prices, or the price of maize to be raised high enough to make it pay to buy Soviet goods. That is the economic basis of the Guria revolt in Georgia. And precisely for that reason, that revolt is indicative of the new conditions of the struggle all over the Soviet country. That is why the revolt in Georgia must not be put on a par with that in Tambov, where the issue was not the price of manufactures and of agricultural produce, but the abolition of the surplus-appropriation system.
This new struggle in the market and in the countryside against the Soviet price policy is inspired by the kulaks, the profiteers and other anti-Soviet elements. Those elements are striving to divorce the vast masses of the peasantry from the working class and thus undermine the dictatorship of the proletariat. Hence, our task is to isolate the kulaks and profiteers, to wrest the toiling peasants from them, to draw the toiling peasants into constructive Soviet work and thereby give them an outlet for their political activity. We can do this, and we are already doing it, for it is in the interest of the toiling masses of the peasantry, and of the rural poor in particular, to maintain the alliance with the workers, to maintain the proletarian dictatorship and, consequently, to maintain those economic levers by which the dictatorship is upheld.
What is needed for this? First of all we must set to work to create around the Party in the countryside numerous non-Party peasant cadres who could link our Party with the millions of peasants. Unless we do this it will be useless to talk about wresting the peasantry from the kulaks and profiteers, about winning and keeping the tens of millions of peasants for the Party. This is a difficult matter, of course. But difficulty must not be an insuperable barrier for us. We must send into the countryside to help our Party units hundreds, and perhaps even thousands (it is not a matter here of the number), of experienced Party workers who are familiar with the countryside and who are capable of initiating and forming an active of non-Party peasants. In this we must bear in mind the peasants’ natural distrust of towns-folk, a distrust which still exists in the countryside, and which will probably not be dispelled quickly. You know how the peasants welcome a townsman, especially if he is rather young: “Here’s another one of those good-for-nothings from the town. He wants to pull the wool over our eyes, that’s certain.” This is because the peasants have most confidence in people who themselves engage in farming and know something about it. That is why I think that in our work in the countryside we must now focus our attention on creating an active from among the peasants themselves, from which the Party could recruit new forces.
But how is that to be done? In my opinion, the first thing to be done for this purpose is to revitalise the Soviets. All the active, honest, enterprising and politically conscious elements, particularly ex-Red Army men, who are the most politically conscious and enterprising among the peasants, must be drawn into the work of the Soviets. Why the Soviets? Because, firstly, the Soviets are organs of government, and it is the immediate task of the Party to draw the toiling peasantry into the work of governing the country. Because, secondly, the Soviets are organs of the bond between the workers and peasants, organs through which the workers lead the peasants, and leadership of the peasants by the workers is now more necessary than ever before. Because, thirdly, the Soviets draw up the local budgets, and the budget is a vital matter for the peasantry. Because, lastly, the Soviets are the surest barometer of the mood of the peasantry, and it is our bounden duty to heed the voice of the peasantry. In the countryside there are also other extremely important non-Party organisations, such as the peasant committees, the co-operatives, and the organisations of the Young Communist League. But there is a danger that, under certain circumstances, these organisations may become purely peasant associations, which may become divorced from the workers. To prevent this happening, the activities of these organisations must be coordinated in the Soviets, the very structure of which ensures the leadership of the peasants by the workers. That is why, at the present time, when peasant organisations are springing up like mushrooms, the revitalising of the Soviets is a task of prime importance.
Recently, at a conference of village units, I called upon the comrades ruthlessly to criticise the defects in our Party work in the countryside.* This caused some displeasure. It appears that there are Communists who are afraid of criticism, who do not want to expose the defects in our work. That is dangerous, comrades. I will say more: fear of self-criticism, or of criticism by non-Party people, is a most dangerous disease at the present time. For, either one thing or the other: either we criticise ourselves and allow non-Party people to criticise our work—in which case we can hope that our work in the countryside will make progress; or we do not permit such criticism—in which case we shall be criticised by events like the revolts in Kronstadt, in Tambov and in Georgia. I think that criticism of the first kind is preferable to criticism of the second kind. That is why we must not fear criticism, whether from Party people or, especially, from non-Party people.
1. The plenum of the Central Committee of the R.C.P.(B.) took place on October 25-27, 1924. It discussed economic questions and a report by V. M. Molotov “Immediate Tasks in the Countryside.” The plenum adopted a resolution on “Immediate Tasks in the Countryside,” containing supplementary instructions to the Party organisations in furtherance of the decisions of the Thirteenth Party Congress on work in the countryside. J. V. Stalin directed the proceedings of the plenum and at the sitting on October 26 spoke on “The Party’s Tasks in the Countryside. ”
* See this volume, pp. 315-326.—Ed.