Translated and Edited by Mike Baker: published by the
Movement for Workers' Councils, London 1990.
Marked up by Jonas Holmgren for the Marxists Internet Archive.
The solution to the agrarian problem adopted in Russia holds little relevance for the development of the agrarian revolution in Western Europe. Agriculture there was still at the pre-capitalist stage of relations, typified by the large landed estates, frequently combined with a self-sufficient domestic economy. It was for this reason that, in Russia, the capitalist slogan "All land to the peasants!" meant the realisation of freedom and equality ... just as it had meant the same thing to the French peasants when they had won those rights in 1789. For them, their significance consisted in the fact that they obtained for themselves a piece of private land, on which they could live in whatever way they wished. The right demanded by the Russian peasant was that of making his appearance on the social stage as a capitalist, as the simultaneous alienator of commodities and beneficiary of production. This, of course, was also the reason why he soon began to agitate against the Soviet government and thereby won for himself full freedom of internal trade.
Therewith began in Russia that capitalist development of agriculture which we here in Western Europe have long since passed. The Russians refer with exaggerated gestures to what they call the growth of communism on the land. By this they mean that the peasants have combined into cooperatives in order to make effective use for themselves of the advantages of modern technology, a common price policy and a collective machinery for bulk purchase and marketing. By these means the Russian peasant, following exactly the path taken by his class comrades in Western Europe, is motivated by the necessity of winning for himself a strong position in the market, in order thereby to attain the highest possible profit. We can see from all this that the agricultural "communism" proclaimed with such a flourish by the Bolsheviks is in fact far further advanced in Western Europe than it is in Russia.
It is therefore no cause for wonder that we can find little of value to learn from the Russians in the question of agrarian economic relations in the communist sense. There is, of course, no question there of any agricultural organisation being entrusted with its own management and administration, if for no other reason than that all property in means of production is still privately owned.
Soviet Hungary offers a totally different picture of the course of development taken by the revolution. Here, small-scale landed property was left untouched, whilst the large and middle holdings were disappropriated by decree without, however, any distribution of the land to the peasants being carried into effect. Matters could take this turn in Hungary because there the peasants were as innocent of any active role in the revolution as newborn babes. Varga describes this as follows:
"In Hungary there was no revolution in the proper sense of the word. Power fell into the lap of the proletarians, so to speak, legally and more or less overnight. In the countryside there was no more than a minuscule revolutionary movement, but on the other hand also no armed resistance. For this reason it was possible to carry out a legal disappropriation of holdings without any opposition, and the large landed estates were retained intact. ... We emphasise the word legal, since it must be openly admitted that, in the majority of cases, disappropriation was carried out by purely legal means, and that in many cases this brought about so little social change that the population in the countryside often possessed no clear understanding that disappropriation had taken place at all ... In those cases in what the former estate owner remained in command of the disappropriated estate as a state-employed manager, for the time being at least no change whatever took place. The former estate owner remained in the same superior dwelling, drove with the same coach-and-four, permitted himself to be addressed as before as 'Sir'. The whole consisted merely in the fact that he no longer possessed the power of his former property as he wished without let or hindrance, but was compelled to follow the directives of the estate administration. Of this, the agricultural worker noticed very little; the sole significance the revolution held for him was that he was now in receipt of a much higher income than before." (E. Varga: Die wirtschaftspolitischen Probleme der proletarischen Diktatur, p. 103).
However, matters did not take the same course everywhere. Some of the large landed estates were declared to be productive associations, in which there was a semblance of management and administration having apparently been placed in the hands of the workers.
"The separate estates were formed into production cooperatives. The cooperatives of a given district were combined under a common district management. All such production cooperatives were combined to form the 'Provincial Management Centre of the Agricultural Production Cooperatives', which then came directly under the control of the Department for Arable Cultivation of the Supreme Economic Council. This particular form of production cooperative was chosen on account of the social backwardness of the agricultural workers. Had we declared the large estates to be simply state property, the wage demands of the workers would have been limitless, whilst the intensity of labour would have fallen to a minimum. By adopting this method, however, the possibility of exerting pressure for a certain level of labour discipline and intensity was obtained, on the grounds the net yield of the estate accrues to the workers themselves. Another result of adopting this method was that the demands of the agricultural workers that legal title of the land should become their own personal property was satisfied to some degree. ... These concessions possessed little significance in practice, since the accounting procedures (book-keeping) were held under central administration. The intention, of course, was that, after a period sufficient for the educational enlightenment of the workers had passed, the disappropriated landed estates would be openly declared to be state property and the workers to be state employees, with exactly the same status as the industrial workers". (E. Varga: ibid, p. 105).
Such a statement criticises itself! Varga states quite openly: "Give the workers no more than the appearance that production is being managed and administered by themselves. In reality this has little significance, since we dispose of the central machinery of administration, and it is this central administration which determines, by means of price policy, just what the net income of the workers shall be". All this offers a clear demonstration of how necessary it is that the relationship of the producers to the social product be determined in the objective production process itself, so as to ensure that a new form of class rule cannot arise behind the mask of democracy.
No purpose is served by discussing in detail the particular features of the agricultural economy in Soviet Hungary. The sole conclusion which it is appropriate to draw is that the examples of "communist" production provided by both Russia and Hungary yield a discouraging picture. In the case of Russia, the peasants acted in a purely capitalistic way. "The peasants distributed the land and carried off the agricultural means of production, whereby it was not the poorest but the most prosperous peasants who received the largest share" (Varga, page 103). In the case of Hungary, they did not act at all, which means that up to the present we have no example of how an agrarian proletariat and the small and middle peasants might behave towards a proletarian revolution under West European conditions. Which ideology would become the predominant one in that case? Would they also participate in the revolution in an organised way, and if so in what form? We do not know. The only course open to us is to examine the attitude they adopted towards the proletarian revolutions of 1918-1923.