First Congress of Agricultural Communes

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V. I. Lenin

DECEMBER 4, 1919


Pravda Nos. 273 and 274
December 5 and 6, 1919

Published according
to the Pravda text

From V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, 4th English Edition,
Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965

Vol. 30, pp. 195-204.

Translated from the Russian
Edited by George Hanna

Prepared © for the Internet by David J. Romagnolo, (February 2004)

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DECEMBER 4, 1919

    Comrades, I am very glad to greet your first congress of agricultural communes and agricultural artels on behalf of the government. Of course, from all the activities of the Soviet government you know what tremendous significance we attach to the communes, artels, and all organisations generally that aim at transforming and at gradually assisting the transformation of small, individual peasant farming<"p195a"> into socialised, co-operative, or artel farming. You are aware that the Soviet government long ago allotted the sum of one thousand million rubles to assist efforts of this kind.[66] The Statute on Socialist Agrarian Measures[67] particularly stresses the significance of communes, artels, and all enterprises for the joint cultivation of the land, and the Soviet government is exerting every effort to ensure that this law shall not remain on paper only, but shall really produce the benefits it is intended to produce.

    The importance of all enterprises of this kind is tremendous, because if the old, poverty-stricken peasant farming remains unchanged there can be no question of building up a stable socialist society. Only if we succeed in proving to the peasants in practice the advantages of common, collective, co-operative, artel cultivation of the soil, only if we succeed in helping the peasant by means of co-operative or artel farming, will the working class, which wields state power, be really able to convince the peasant that its policy is correct and thus secure the real and lasting following of the millions

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of peasants. It is therefore impossible to exaggerate the importance of every measure intended to encourage co-operative, artel forms of farming. We have millions of individual farms in our country, scattered and dispersed throughout remote rural districts. It would be absolutely absurd to attempt to reshape these farms in any rapid way, by issuing an order or bringing pressure to bear from without. We fully realise that we can influence the millions of small peasant farms only gradually and cautiously and only by a successful practical example, for the peasants are far too practical and cling far too tenaciously to the old methods of farming to consent to any serious change merely on the basis of advice or book instructions. That is impossible, and it would be absurd. Only when it has been proved in practice, by experience comprehensible to the peasants, that the transition to the co-operative, artel form of farming is essential and possible, shall we be entitled to say that in this vast peasant country, Russia, an important step towards socialist agriculture has been taken. Consequently, the vast importance that attaches to communes, artels, and co-operative farms lays on all of you tremendous state and socialist obligations and naturally makes it imperative for the Soviet government and its representatives to treat this question with especial attention and caution.

    In our law on socialist agrarian measures it is stated that we consider it the absolute duty of all co-operative, artel agricultural enterprises not to isolate and sever themselves from the surrounding peasant population, but to afford them assistance. This is stipulated in the law, it is repeated in the rules of all the communes, artels, and co-operatives; it is constantly stressed in the instructions and rulings of our Commissariat of Agric'ulture and of all Soviet government bodies. But the whole point is to find a really practical method of putting this into effect. I am still not convinced that we have overcome this principal difficulty. And I should like your congress, at which practical workers in collective farming from all parts of Russia have the opportunity of sharing their experience, to put an end to all doubts and to prove that we are mastering, are beginning to master in practice, the task of consolidating the artels, co-operative farms, and communes and every form of enterprise for

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collective and socialised farming generally. But in order to prove this, practical results are required.

    When we read the rules of the agricultural communes, or books devoted to this question, it might appear that we devote too much space in them to propaganda and the theoretical justification of the need to organise communes. Of course, that is necessary, for without detailed propaganda, without explaining the advantages of co-operative farming, and without repeating this idea thousands and thousands of times we cannot expect the broad masses of peasants to take an interest in it and undertake practical tests of the methods of carrying it into effect. Of course, propaganda is necessary, and there is no need to fear repetition, for what may appear to us to be repetition is most likely for hundreds and thousands of peasants not repetition, but a truth revealed for the first time. You may think that we are devoting too much attention to propaganda, but it must be said that we ought to devote a hundred times more. And when I say this, I mean it in the sense that if we go to the peasant with general explanations of the advantages of organising agricultural communes, and at the same time are unable in actual fact to show the practical advantage that will accrue to him from co-operative, artel farms, he will not have the slightest confidence in our propaganda.

    The law says that the communes, artels, and co-operative farms must assist the surrounding peasant population. But the state, the workers' government, is providing a fund of one thousand million rubles for the purpose of assisting the agricultural communes and artels. And, of course, if any commune were to assist the peasants out of this fund I am afraid it would only arouse ridicule among the peasants. And it would be absolutely justified. Every peasant will say: "It goes without saying that if you are getting a fund of one thousand million rubles it means nothing to you to throw a little our way." I am afraid the peasant will only jeer, for he pays considerable attention to this matter, and is very distrustful of it. He has been accustomed for centuries to expect only oppression from the state, and he is therefore in the habit of regarding everything that comes from the state with suspicion. And if the agricultural communes give assistance to the peasants merely for the purpose of

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fulfilling the letter of the law, such assistance will be not only useless but harmful. For the name "agricultural commune" is a great one; it is associated with the conception of communism. It will be a good thing if the communes; show in practice that they are indeed seriously working for the improvement of peasant farming; that will undoubtedly enhance the prestige of the Communists and the Communist Party. But it has frequently happened that the communes have only succeeded in provoking a negative attitude among the peasantry, and the word "commune" has even at times become a call to fight communism. And this happened not only when stupid attempts were made to drive the peasants into the communes by force. The absurdity of this was so obvious that the Soviet government long ago forbade it. And I hope that if isolated examples of such coercion are to be met with now, they are very few, and that you will take advantage of the present congress to see to it that the last trace of this outrage is swept from the face of the Soviet Republic, and that the neighbouring peasant population may not be able to point to a single instance in support of the old opinion that membership of a commune is in one way or another associated with coercion.

    But even if we eliminate this old shortcoming, completely suppress this outrage, it will still be only a small fraction of what has to be done. For it will still be necessary for the state to help the communes, and we would not be Communists and champions of socialist economy if we did not give state aid to every kind of collective agricultural enterprise. We must do so because it is in accordance with all our aims, and because we know perfectly well that these co-operatives, artels, and collective organisations are innovations, and if support is not given them by the working class in power they will not take root. In order that they should take root, and in view of the fact that the state is affording them monetary and every other kind of support, we must see to it that they do not provoke the ridicule of the peasants. What we must be most careful about is that the peasants should not say of members of communes, artels and co-operatives that they are state pensioners, that they differ from the peasants only by the fact that they are receiving privileges. If we are to give land and subsidies for building

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purposes out of the thousand-million-ruble fund, any fool will live somewhat better than the ordinary peasant. What is there communistic here, the peasant will ask, and where is the improvement? What are we to respect them for? If you pick out a few score or a few hundred individuals and give them a thousand million, of course they will work.

    Such an attitude on the part of the peasants is most to be feared, and I should like to draw the attention of the comrades assembled at the congress to this. The problem must be solved practically, so as to enable us to say that we have not only averted this danger, but have also found means whereby the peasant will not be led to think in this way, but will, on the contrary, find in every commune and artel something which the state is assisting, will find in them new methods of farming which show their advantages over the old methods not by books and speeches (that is not worth much) but in practice. That is why the problem is so difficult to solve, and that is why it is hard for us, who have only dry figures before us, to judge whether we have proved in practice that every commune and every artel is really superior to every enterprise of the old system and that the workers' government is here helping the peasant.

    I think that for the practical solution of this problem, it would be very desirable for you, who have a practical acquaintance with a number of neighbouring communes, artels and co-operatives, to work out real, practical methods for the verification of the implementation of the law demanding that the agricultural communes give assistance to the surrounding population, the way the transition to socialist farming is being put into effect and what concrete forms it is taking in each commune, artel and co-operative farm, how it is actually being put into practice, how many co-operatives and communes are in fact putting it into practice, and how many are only preparing to do so, how many cases have been observed when the communes have given assistance, and what character this assistance bears philanthropic or socialist.

    If out of the aid given them by the state the communes and artels set aside a portion for the peasants, that will only give the peasants grounds far believing that they are merely being helped by kind-hearted people, but will not by any means be proof of transition to a socialist system. The

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peasants have for ages been accustomed to regard such "kind-hearted people" with suspicion. We must know how to keep a check on the way this new social order has manifested itself, by what methods it is being proved to the peasants that co-operative, artel cultivation of the soil is better than individual peasant farming, and that it is better not because of state aid. We must be able to show the peasants the practical realisation of this new order even without state aid.

    Unfortunately, I shall not be able to stay till the end of your congress and I shall therefore be unable to take part in elaborating these methods of control. But I am certain that with the aid of the comrades in charge of our Commissariat of Agriculture you will succeed in finding these methods. I have read with great satisfaction an article by the People's Commissar of Agriculture, Comrade Sereda, in which he stresses that the communes and co-operatives must not isolate themselves from the surrounding peasant population but must endeavour to improve the latter's farms. A commune must be organised so that it will serve as a model, and the neighbouring peasants will be attracted to it. We must be able to set them a practical example of how to assist people who are running their farms under the difficult conditions of a shortage of goods and general economic chaos. In order to define the practical methods of effecting this, instructions must be drawn up in the greatest detail and should enumerate all forms of assistance that can be given to neighbouring peasants; the instructions should ask each commune to give an account of what it has done to help the peasants, and indicate methods whereby each of the existing two thousand communes and nearly four thousand artels may become a nucleus capable of strengthening the peasants' conviction that collective farming, as a form of transition to socialism, is something of benefit to them, and not a whim or the ravings of a disordered mind.

    I have already said that the law requires the communes to render assistance to the surrounding peasant population. We could not express ourselves otherwise in the law, or give any practical instructions in it. It was our business to establish the general principles, and to count on politically-conscious comrades in the localities scrupulously applying the law and being able to lind a thousand ways of

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applying it practically in the concrete economic conditions of each given locality. But, of course, every law can be evaded, even under pretence of observing it. And so the law on assisting the peasants, if it is not scrupulously applied, may become a mere game, and lead to results quite contrary to those intended.

    The communes must develop in such a way that peasant farming conditions will begin to change by contact with them and by the economic help they give, so that every commune, artel, and co-operative will be able to make the beginnings of an improvement in these conditions and put them into effect, thereby proving to the peasants in practice that this change can be only of benefit to them.

    Naturally, you may think we shall be told that in order to improve farming we need conditions that differ from the present economic chaos caused by four years of imperialist war and the two years of civil war forced on us by the imperialists. With such conditions as now exist in our country, how can one think of any widespread improvement in farming God grant that we may carry on somehow and not die of starvation!

    It will be only natural for doubts of this kind to be expressed. But if I had to reply to such objections, I would say this: assume that owing to the disorganisation of economic life, to economic chaos, goods shortage, poor transport and the destruction of cattle and implements, an extensive improvement of farming cannot be effected. But there is no doubt that a certain, not extensive, improvement is possible in a number of individual cases. But let us assume that even this cannot be done. Does that mean that the communes cannot produce changes in the life of the neighbouring peasants and cannot prove to the peasants that collective agricultural enterprises are not an artificial hothouse growth, but a new form of assistance to the working peasants on the part of the workers' government, and an aid to the working peasants in their struggle against the kulaks? I am convinced that even if the matter is regarded in this way, even if we grant the impossibility of effecting improvements under the present conditions of economic chaos, a very great deal may nevertheless be accomplished if there are conscientious Communists in the communes and artels.

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    To bear this out, I would refer to what in our cities has been called subbotniks. This is the name given to the several hours' unpaid voluntary work done by city workers over and above the usual working day and devoted to some public need. The subbotniks were initiated in Moscow by the workers of the Moscow-Kazan Railway. One of the appeals of the Soviet government pointed out that the Red Army men at the front are making unprecedented sacrifices, and that, in spite of all the hardships they are obliged to undergo, they are gaining unprecedented victories over our enemies, and at the same time stated that we can clinch our victories only if such heroism and such self-sacrifice are displayed not only at the front, but also in the rear. The Moscow workers responded to this appeal by organising subbotniks. There can be no doubt that the workers of Moscow are experiencing greater privation and want than the peasants. If you were to acquaint yourselves with their conditions of life and give some thought to the fact that in spite of these incredibly hard conditions they were able to organise subbotniks, you would agree that no reference to arduous conditions can serve as an excuse for not doing what can be done under any conditions by applying the method of the Moscow workers. Nothing helped so much to enhance the prestige of the Communist Party in the towns, to increase the respect of non-party workers for the Communists, as these subbotniks when they ceased to be isolated instances and when non-party workers saw in practice that the members of the governing Communist Party have obligations and duties and that the Communists admit new members to the Party not in order that they may enjoy the advantages connected with the position of a governing party, but that they may set an example of real communist labour, i.e., labour performed gratis. Communism is the highest stage in the development of socialism, when people work because they realise the necessity of working for the common good. We know that we cannot establish a socialist order now God grant that it may be established in our country in our children's time, or perhaps in our grandchildren's time. But we say that the members of the governing Communist Party assume the greater burden of the difficulties in the fight against capitalism, mobilise the best Communists for the front, and

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demand of such as cannot be used for this purpose that they take part in subbotniks.

    By organising these subbotniks, which have become wide-spread in every large industrial city, participation in which the Party now demands from every one of its members, punishing non-fulfilment even by expulsion from the Party by applying this method in the communes, artels, and co-operatives, you can, and must, even under the very worst conditions, see to it that the peasant regards every commune, artel, and co-operative as an association which is distinguished not by the fact that it receives state subsidies, but by the fact that within it are gathered some of the best working-class people who not only preach socialism for others, but are themselves capable of realising it, who are capable of showing that even under the worst conditions they can conduct their farms on communist lines and help the surrounding peasant population in every possible way. On this question there can be no such excuses as the goods shortage, or absence of seed, or loss of cattle. This will be a test which, at all events, will enable us to say definitely to what extent the difficult task we have taken on ourselves has been carried out in practice.

    I am certain that this general meeting of representatives of communes, co-operatives and artels will discuss this and will realise that the application of this method will really serve as a powerful instrument for the consolidation of the communes and co-operatives, and will achieve such practical results that nowhere in Russia will there be a single case of hostility towards the communes, artels, and co-operatives on the part of the peasants. But that is not enough. What is required is that the peasants should show a sympathetic attitude towards them. For our part, we representatives of the Soviet government will do everything in our power to help to bring this about and to see to it that state assistance from the thousand-million-ruble fund, or from other sources, shall be forthcoming only in cases when the labour communes or artels have actually established closer contacts with the life of their peasant neighbours. Unless these conditions are fulfilled, we consider any assistance given to the artels and the co-operatives not only useless, but definitely harmful. Assistance given by the communes to

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the neighbouring peasants must not be regarded as assistance which is merely given out of superfluity; this assistance must be socialist assistance, i.e., it must enable the peasants to replace their isolated, individual farming by co-operative farming. And this can be done only by the subbotnik method of which I have here spoken.

    If you learn from the experience of the city workers, who, although living in conditions immeasurably worse than those of the peasants, initiated the movement for subbotniks, I am certain that, with your general and unanimous support, we shall bring about a situation when each of the several thousand existing communes and artels will become a genuine nursery for communist ideas and views among the peasants, a practical example showing them that, although it is still a small and feeble growth, it is nevertheless not an artificial hothouse growth, but a true growth of the new socialist system. Only then shall we gain a lasting victory over the old ignorance, impoverishment and want, and only then will the difficulties we meet in our future course hold out no terrors for us.


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  <"en65">[65] The First Congress of Agricultural Communes and Agricultural Artels was convened by the People's Commissariat of Agriculture and was held December 3-10, 1919 in Moscow. The Congress was attended by 140 delegates, of whom 93 were Communists. Lenin spoke on the second day of the Congress. The Congress adopted the Rules of the All-Russia Association of Agricultural Producers' Collectives (Communes and Artels) which were later endorsed by the People's Commissariat of Agricuiture. The Rules stated that the main objects of the Association were the union of all agricultural collectives in a single producers' association, propaganda of the idea of collective farming and practical help for the neighbouring peasantry, especially the poor peasants and the families of Red Army men.    [p. 195]

  <"en66">[66] The thousand-million-ruble fund was established by a decree of the Council of People's Commissars dated November 2, 1918 "for the purpose of improving and developing agriculture and for its speediest reconstruction on socialist lines". Grants and loans from this fund were given to farming communes, producers' co-operatives and village societies and groups of peasants, provided they went over to collective farming. The People's Commissars of Agriculture and of Finance elaborated detailed rules for granting loans to develop agriculture (see Izvestia No. 42, February 23, 1919).    [p. 195]

  <"en67">[67] The Statute on Socialist Land Settlement and the Measures for the Transition to Socialist Farming was adopted by the All-Russia Central Executive Committee in February 1919. It took for its basis the decisions of the First All-Russia Congress of Land

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Departments, Poor Peasants' Committees and Communes held December 1918. Lenin directly participated in drafting and editing the Statute. It outlined a number of measures for the reconstruction of agriculture on a socialist basis, for raising agricultural productivity and extending the areas under crops. The Statute reads, "In order to put an end to all exploitation of man by man, to reconstruct agriculture on a socialist basis, to apply all the achievements of science and technology, to educate the working masses in the spirit of socialism and to unite the proletariat and poor peasants in their struggle against capital, it is necessary to go over from individual to collective forms of land tenure. Large state farms and communes, collective tilling and other types of collective work are the best ways of attaining this purpose, therefore all forms of individual land tenure should be regarded as transitory and outliving themselves" (Izvestia No. 34, February 14, 1919).    [p. 195]