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V. I. Lenin
THE NEW AGRARIAN POLICY
Proletary, No. 22
February 19 (March 3), 1908
to the text in Proletary
From V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, 4th English Edition,
Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1972
First printing 1962
Second printing 1972
Vol. 13, pp. 455-59.
Translated from the Russian by Bernard Isaacs
Edited by Clemens Dutt
Prepared © for the Internet by David J. Romagnolo, email@example.com (October 2001)
THE NEW AGRARIAN POLICY
On Wednesday, February 13, Nicholas II received 307 deputies of the Third Duma. The tsar's amiable conversation with the Black-Hundred reactionaries Bobrinsky and Chelyshev was a comic aspect of the new ceremonial kiss of the autocracy and its gang of allies. Far more serious was the statement by Nicholas that the Duma was shortly to pass new agrarian laws, and that all thought of compulsory alienation must be dismissed, since he, Nicholas II, would never sanction such a law. "The tsar's speech," reports the correspondent of Frankfurter Zeitung, "had a depressing effect on the peasants."
To be sure, the agitational value of this "agrarian statement" made by the tsar himself is very important, and we can but congratulate the talented agitator. But, apart from its agitational significance, this ominous thrust at compulsory alienation is highly important as conclusive proof that the landlord monarchy has embarked on a new agrarian policy.
The famous extra-Duma ukases under Article 87 of November 9, 1906, and successive dates, ushered in the era of this new agrarian policy of the tsarist government. Stolypin confirmed it in the Second Duma; the Right and the Octobrist deputies approved it; the Cadets (frightened by rumours picked up in lobbies of the camarilla that the Duma was going to be dissolved) refrained from denouncing it openly. Now, in the Third Duma, the Land Committee has recently accepted the basic thesis of the law of November 9, 1906, and has gone a step further by recognising the proprie-
tary rights of the peasants to their holdings in all village communes which had not carried out any reallotment in the course of twenty-four years. At the reception given on February 13, the head of feudal-landlord Russia gave his public blessing to that policy with the added threat, obviously for the benefit of the non-party peasants, that he would sanction no law for compulsory alienation in favour of the peasantry.
The fact that the government of the tsar, of the landlords, and of the big bourgeoisie (the Octobrists) has definitely given its support to the new agrarian policy is of tremendous historical importance. The destinies of the bourgeois revolution in Russia -- not only the present revolution, but possible future democratic revolutions as well -- depend most of all on the success or failure of this policy.
Wherein lies the essence of this change? It lies in the fact that up to now the sanctity of the old, medieval allotment landownership by the peasants and their "primordial" village communes had its most ardent supporters in the master classes of reactionary Russia. The serf-owning landlords, being the ruling class in pre-Reform Russia, the politically predominating class throughout the nineteenth century, pursued, by and large, a policy of preserving the old communal system of peasant landownership.
The development of capitalism completely undermined this system by the twentieth century. The old village commune with its social estate basis, the attachment of the peasant to the soil, the routinism of the semi-feudal countryside came into the sharpest conflict with the new economic conditions. The dialectics of history were such that the peasantry, who in other countries with a more or less well ordered (from the point of view of the requirements of capitalism) agrarian system are a pillar of the regime, came forward in Russia during the revolution with the most destructive demands, including the confiscation of the landlords' estates and the nationalisation of the land (the Trudoviks in the First and Second Dumas).
These radical demands, which were even tinctured with the ideas of petty-bourgeois socialism, were by no means the result of muzhik "socialism", but were due to the economic necessity of cutting the tangled knot of feudal land
ownership, of clearing the way for the free farmer (the agricultural entrepreneur) on land freed from all medieval partitions.[*]
Capitalism has already irrevocably sapped all the foundations of the old agrarian system in Russia. It can make no further progress unless it breaks up that system, and it certainly and inevitably will break it up; no power on earth can prevent this. But this system can be broken up in the landlord way or the peasant way, to clear the path for landlord or peasant capitalism. The landlord way of breaking up the old order involves the forcible destruction of tha village commune and the accelerated ruination and extermination of the mass of impoverished owners for the benefit of a handful of kulaks. The peasant way involves the confiscation of the landlords' land, and the transfer of all the land to free proprietors from among the peasantry (the Narodniks' "equal right to the land" means, in effect, the farmers' right to the land with the destruction of all medieval partitions).
The government of the counter-revolution understood this position. Stolypin had a correct grasp of the matter: unless the old system of landownership was broken up Russia could not develop economically. Stolypin and the landlords boldly took the revolutionary path, ruthlessly breaking up the old order, handing over the peasant masses as a whole to the mercy of the landlords and kulaks. <"p457">
The liberals and petty-bourgeois democrats, beginning with the semi-Octobrist "Meons" followed by the Russkiye Vedomosti people, and ending with Mr. Peshekhonov of Russkoye Bogatstvo, are now raising a big outcry about the destruction of the village communes by the government, which they accuse of revolutionism! Never has the betwixt and between position of the bourgeois liberals in the Russian revolution stood out so sharply. No, gentlemen, whining over the destruction of the ancient foundations will not mend matters. Three years of revolution have shattered illusions <"fnp457">
* The views here set forth are closely bound up with the criticism of our Party programme. In issue No. 21 of Proletary this criticism was touched on as a private opinion; in subsequent issues the question will be dealt with in detail.
of conciliation and compromise. The question is clear. Either a bold call for a peasant revolution, even including a republic, and the thorough ideological and organisational preparation of such a revolution in alliance with the proletariat. Or useless whining, political and ideological impotence in face of the Stolypin-landlord-Octobrist attack on the village commune.
Make your choice -- those who still have left in them a particle of civic courage and sympathy for the peasant masses! The proletariat has already made its choice, and the Social-Democratic Labour Party, now more firmly than ever before, will explain, propagate, spread among the masses the slogan of a peasant uprising in alliance with the proletariat as the only possible means of thwarting the Stolypin method of "renovating" Russia.
We will not say that this method is impracticable -- it has been tested more than once in Europe on a smaller scale -- but we shall make it clear to the people that it can be realised only by endless acts of violence of the minority over the majority in the course of decades and by the mass extermination of the progressive peasantry. We shall not devote ourselves to patching up Stolypin's revolutionary projects, or attempting to improve them, weaken their effect, and so on. We shall respond by intensifying our agitation among the masses, especially among those sections of the proletariat that have ties with the peasantry. The peasant deputies -- even though sifted through a number of police sieves, even though elected by landlords, even though intimidated by the Duma die-hards -- have quite recently shown what their true strivings are. A group of non-party peasants, some of them from the Right wing, have declared, as we know from the newspapers, for compulsory alienation of the land and for local land institutions elected by the whole population ! No wonder one Cadet stated in the Land Committee that a Right-wing peasant was more Left than the Cadets. Yes, on the agrarian question the stand of the "Right" peasants in all three Dumas has been more Left than the Cadets', thereby proving that the monarchism of the muzhik is naïveté that is dying out, in contrast to the monarchism of the liberal businessmen, who are monarchists through class calculation.
The tsar of the feudal-minded gentry shouted at the non-party peasants that he would not stand for compulsory alienation. Let the working class in reply shout to the millions of "non-party" peasants that it calls them to the mass struggle for the overthrow of tsarism and for the confiscation of the landlords' lands.
<"en159"> Lenin is referring to his article "Political Notes" published in the newspaper Proletary, No. 21, February 13 (26), 1908. The question of the Party programme was dealt with more fully in the article "Pyotr Maslov Corrects Karl Marx's Rough Notes" (Proletary, No. 33, July 23 [August 5] , 1908). (See present volume, p. 300, Section 2 of Chapter III of The Agrarian Programme of Social Democracy in the First Russian Revolution, 1905-1907.) [p. 457]
<"en160"> Meons -- Russian abbreviation for members of the Peaceful Renovation Party. [p. 457]