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V. I. Lenin
SPEECH AT A MEETING OF DELEGATES
FROM THE POOR PEASANTS' COMMITTEES
OF CENTRAL GUBERNIAS
NOVEMBER 8, 1918
Pravda No. 272
December 14, 1918
Published according to
the Pravda text
From V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, 4th English Edition,
Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1966
Vol. 28, pp. 338-48.
Translated from the Russian
Edited by George Hanna
Prepared © for the Internet by David J. Romagnolo, email@example.com (December 1999)
SPEECH TO THE FIRST ALL-RUSSIA CONGRESS
OF LAND DEPARTMENTS,
POOR PEASANTS' COMMITTEES AND COMMUNES
DECEMBER 11, 1918
(Loud applause passing into ovation.) Comrades, the composition of this Congress, in my opinion, is in itself an indication of the profound change that has taken place and the great progress we, the Soviet Republic, have made in building socialism, in particular in agricultural relations, which are of the utmost importance to our country. This Congress consists of representatives of the land departments, the Poor Peasants' Committees and the agricultural communes, a combination which shows that within a short space of time, within a single year, our revolution has made great strides in recasting those relations that are the most difficult to recast and which in all previous revolutions constituted the greatest hindrance to the cause of socialism, but which must be most fully recast to ensure the triumph of socialism.
The first stage in the development of our revolution since October was mainly devoted to defeating the common enemy of all the peasants, the landowners.
Comrades, you are all very well aware that even the February Revolution -- the revolution of the bourgeoisie, the revolution of the compromisers -- promised the peasants victory over the landowners, and that this promise was not fulfilled. Only the October Revolution, only the victory of the urban working class, only the Soviet government could relieve the whole of Russia, from end to end, of the ulcer of the old feudal heritage, the old feudal exploitation, landed estates and the landowners' oppression of the peasants as a whole, of all peasants without distinction.
This fight against the landowners was one in which all the peasants were bound to participate, and participate they did. The fight united the poor peasants, who do not live by exploiting the labour of others. But it also united the most prosperous and even wealthy peasants, who cannot get along without hired labour.
As long as our revolution was occupied with this task, as long as we had to exert every effort for the independent movement of the peasants, aided by the urban workers' movement, to sweep away and completely destroy the power of the landowners, the revolution remained a general peasant revolution and could therefore not go beyond bourgeois limits.
It had still not touched the more powerful and more modern enemy of all working people -- capital. It therefore ran the risk of ending halfway, like the majority of the revolutions in Western Europe, in which a temporary alliance of the urban workers and all the peasants succeeded in sweeping away the monarchy and the survivals of medievalism, in more or less thoroughly sweeping away the landed estates or the power of the landowners, but never succeeded in undermining the actual foundations of the power of capital.
Our revolution began to tackle this much more important and much more difficult task this summer and autumn. The wave of counter-revolutionary uprisings which arose this summer -- when the attack of the West-European imperialists and their Czech hirelings on Russia was joined by all the exploiting and oppressing elements in Russian life -- injected a new spirit and fresh life in the countryside.
In practice, all these revolts united the European imperialists, their Czech hirelings, and all those in Russia who remained on the side of the landowners and capitalists, united them in a desperate struggle against the Soviet government. These revolts were followed by the revolt of all the village kulaks.
The village was no longer united. The peasants, who had fought as one man against the landowners, now split into two camps -- the camp of the more prosperous peasants and the camp of the poor peasants who, side by side with the workers, continued their steadfast advance towards socialism
and changed from fighting the landowners to fighting capital, the power of money, and the use of the great land reform for the benefit of the kulaks. This struggle cut the property-owning and exploiting classes off from the revolution completely; it definitely put our revolution on the socialist road which the urban working class had tried so hard and vigorously to put it on in October, but along which it will not be able to direct the revolution successfully unless it finds firm, deliberate and solid support in the countryside.
There lies the significance of the revolution which took place this summer and autumn even in the most remote villages of Russia, a revolution which was not spectacular, not as striking and obvious as the October Revolution of last year, but whose significance is incomparably deeper and greater.
The formation of the Poor Peasants' Committees in the rural districts was the turning-point; it showed that the urban working class, which in October had united with all the peasants to crush the landowners, the principal enemy of the free, socialist Russia of the working people, had progressed from this to the much more difficult and historically more noble and truly socialist task -- that of carrying the enlightening socialist struggle into the rural districts, and reaching the minds of the peasants as well. The great agrarian revolution -- proclamation in October of the abolition of private ownership of land, proclamation of the socialisation of the land -- would have inevitably remained a paper revolution if the urban workers had not stirred into action the rural proletariat, the poor peasants, the working peasants, who constitute the vast majority. Like the middle peasants, they do not exploit the labour of others and are not interested in exploitation. They are therefore capable of advancing, and have already advanced, beyond the joint struggle against the landowners to the general proletarian struggle against capital, against the rule of the exploiters, who rely on the power of money and property. They have progressed from sweeping Russia clean of landowners to establishing a socialist system.
This, comrades, was an extremely difficult step to take. Those who doubted the socialist character of our revolution
prophesied that this is where we were bound to slip up. Today, however, socialist construction in the countryside depends entirely on this step. The formation of the Poor Peasants' Committees, their wide network throughout Russia, their coming conversion, which in part has already begun, into fully competent rural Soviets that will have to put the fundamental principles of Soviet organisation, the power of the working people, into effect in the rural districts, constitute a real guarantee that we have gone further than the tasks to which ordinary bourgeois-democratic revolutions in West-European countries confined themselves. We have destroyed the monarchy and the medieval power of the landowners, and we are now getting down to the real work of building socialism. This is the most difficult but at the same time the most important and very rewarding work in the countryside. We have got through to the working peasants right in the villages; the wave of capitalist revolts has completely turned them against the capitalist class; the peasants in the Poor Peasants' Committees and in the Soviets which are now undergoing changes are more and more joining forces with the urban workers. In all this we see the sole, yet true and undoubtedly permanent guarantee that socialist development in Russia has now become more stable, and has now acquired a basis among the vast mass of the agricultural population.
There is no doubt that building socialism is a very difficult job in a peasant country like Russia. There is no doubt that it was comparatively easy to sweep away an enemy like tsarism, the power of the landowners, the landed estates. At the centre the job could be done in a few days; throughout the country it could be done in a few weeks. But, by its very nature, the task we are now tackling can be accomplished only by extremely persistent and sustained effort. Here we shall have to fight our way step by step, inch by inch. We shall have to fight for every achievement to win a new, socialist Russia; we shall have to fight for collective farming.
It goes without saying that a revolution of this kind, the transition from small individual peasant farms to collective farming, will take some time and can certainly not be accomplished at one stroke.
We know very well that in countries where small peasant farming prevails the transition to socialism cannot be effected except by a series of gradual, preliminary stages. In the light of this, the first aim set by the October Revolution was merely to overthrow and destroy the landowners' power. The February fundamental law on the socialisation of the land, which, as you know, was passed unanimously both by Communists and the non-Communist partners of the Soviet government, was at the same time an expression of the conscious will of the vast majority of the peasants and proof that the working class, the workers' Communist Party, aware of their task, are persistently and patiently advancing towards the new socialist construction -- advancing by a series of gradual measures, by awakening the working peasants, and forging ahead only in step with that awakening, only insofar as the peasants are independently organised.
We fully realise that such tremendous changes in the lives of tens of millions of people as the transition from small individual peasant farming to collective farming, affecting as they do the most deep-going roots of the peasants' way of life and their mores, can only be accomplished by long effort, and only when necessity compels people to reshape their lives.
After the long and desperate world war, we call clearly discern the beginnings of a socialist revolution all over the world. This has become a necessity for even the more backward countries and -- irrespective of any theoretical views or socialist doctrines -- is emphatically bringing it home to everybody that it is impossible to live in the old way.
The country has suffered tremendous ruin and disruption and we see this disruption spreading all over the world, we see many centuries of man's cultural, scientific and technological achievements swept away in these four years of criminal, destructive and predatory war, and the whole of Europe, not merely Russia alone, returning to a state of barbarism. Now, all common people, particularly the peasants, who have probably suffered most from the war, are coming to realise clearly enough that tremendous efforts are required, that every ounce of energy must be exerted to
get rid of the legacy of this accursed war which has left us nothing but ruin and want. It is impossible to live in the old way, in the way we lived before the war, and the waste of human toil and effort associated with individual small-scale peasant farming cannot continue. The productivity of labour would be doubled or trebled, there would be a double or triple saving of human labour in agriculture and human activity in general if a transition were made from this scattered small-scale farming to collective farming.
The ruination left by the war simply does not allow us to restore the old small-scale peasant farms. Not only have the mass of the peasants been awakened by the war, not only has the war shown them what technical marvels now exist and how these marvels have been adapted for people's extermination, but it has also given rise to the idea that these technical marvels must be used primarily to reshape agriculture, the most common form of production in the country, in which the greatest number of people are engaged, but which at the same time is the most backward. Not only has this idea been provoked, but the monstrous horrors of modern warfare have made people realise what forces modern technology has created, how these forces are wasted in awful and senseless war, and that it is the forces of technology themselves that are the only means of salvation from such horrors. It is our obligation and duty to use these forces to give new life to the most backward form of production, agriculture, to reshape it, and to transform it from production conducted in the old, unenlightened way, into production based on science and technical achievements. The war has made people realise this much more than any of us can imagine. But besides this the war has also made it impossible to restore production in the old way.
Those who cherish the hope that after this war the pre-war situation can be restored, that the old system and farming methods can be resumed, are mistaken and are coming to realise their mistake more and more every day. The war has resulted in such terrible ruin that some small farms now possess no draught animals or implements. We cannot allow the waste of people's labour to continue. The poor peasants, who have borne the greatest sacrifices for the revolution and suffered most from the war, did not take the land from the
landowners for it to fall into the hands of new kulaks. The latest developments are now confronting these peasants with the question of turning to collective farming as the only means of restoring the agriculture that has been ruined and destroyed by the war. This is the only means of escaping from ignorance and oppression to which capitalism doomed the entire rural population, due to which the capitalists were able for four years to burden mankind with war and from which the working people of all countries are now striving with revolutionary energy and fervour to rid themselves at all costs.
These, comrades, are the conditions that were required on a world scale for this most difficult and at the same time most important socialist reform, this crucial and fundamental socialist measure, to come to the forefront, and it has come to the forefront in Russia. The formation of the Poor Peasants' Committees and this joint Congress of land departments, Poor Peasants' Committees and agricultural communes, taken in conjunction with the struggle which took place in the countryside this summer and autumn, go to show that very many peasants have been awakened, and that the peasants themselves, the majority of the working peasants, are striving toward collective farming. Of course, I repeat, we must tackle this great reform gradually. Here, nothing can be done at one stroke. But I must remind you that the fundamental law on the socialisation of the land, whose adoption was a foregone conclusion on the first day after the Revolution of October 25, at the very first session of the first organ of Soviet power, the Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets, did more than abolish private ownership of land forever and do away with landed estates. It also stipulated, among other things, that farm property, draught animals and farm implements which passed into the possession of the nation and the working peasants should become public property and cease to be the private property of individual farms. And on the fundamental question of our present aims, of what tasks of land disposal we want carried out, and what we want from the supporters of the Soviet government, the working peasants, in this respect, Article 11 of the law on the socialisation of the land, which was adopted in February 1918, states that the aim is to develop collective
farming, the most advantageous form of farming from the point of view of economy of labour and products. This will be at the expense of individual farming and with the aim of passing over to socialist farming.
Comrades, when we passed this law, complete agreement did not exist between the Communists and the other parties. On the contrary, we passed this law when the Soviet Government united the Communists and the Left S.R. Party members, who did not hold communist views. Nevertheless, we arrived at a unanimous decision, to which we adhere to this day, remembering, I repeat, that the transition from individual farming to collective farming cannot be effected at one stroke, and that the struggle which developed in the towns was resolved more easily. In the towns thousands of workers had one capitalist to deal with, and it did not take much trouble to remove him. The struggle which developed in the rural districts, however, was much more complex. At first there was the general drive of the peasants against the landowners; at first the power of the landowners was utterly destroyed so that it could never be restored again. This was followed by a struggle among the peasants themselves, among whom new capitalists arose in the shape of the kulaks, the exploiters and profiteers who used their surplus grain to enrich themselves at the expense of the starving non-agricultural parts of Russia. Here a new struggle began, and you know that this summer it led to a number of revolts. We do not say of the kulak as we do of the capitalist landowner that he must be deprived of all his property. What we do say is that we must break the kulak's resistance to indispensable measures, such as the grain monopoly, which he is violating to enrich himself by selling his grain surplus at exorbitant prices, while the workers and peasants in the non-agricultural areas are suffering pangs of hunger. Our policy here has been to wage a struggle as merciless as that waged against the landowners and capitalists. But there also remained the question of the attitude of the poor peasants to the middle peasants. Our policy has always been to form an alliance with the middle peasant. He is no enemy of Soviet institutions. He is no enemy of the proletariat or socialism. He will, of course, hesitate and only consent to socialism when he sees by
definite and convincing example that it is necessary. The middle peasant, of course, cannot be convinced by theoretical arguments or by agitation. And we do not count on that. But he can be convinced by the example and the solid front of the poor peasants. He can be convinced by an alliance of the poor peasants with the proletariat. And here we are counting on a prolonged and gradual process of persuasion and on a number of transitional measures which will bring about agreement between the proletarian, socialist section of the population, agreement between the Communists who are conducting a resolute fight against capital in all its forms, and the middle peasants.
Appreciating this state of affairs and that our task in the rural areas is incomparably more difficult, we present the question in the way it was presented in the law on the socialisation of the land. You know that the law proclaimed abolition of private ownership of land and equal land tenure, and you know that the enforcement of this law was begun in that spirit, and that it has been put into effect in the majority of rural areas. The law, moreover, contains, with the unanimous consent both of Communists and of people who at that time did not yet share communist views, the thesis I have just read to you, which declares that our common task and our common aim is the transition to socialist farming, to collective land tenure and collective farming. As we proceed with our construction, both the peasants who have already settled on the land and the prisoners of war who are now returning from captivity in thousands and millions, ragged and exhausted, are coming to realise more and more clearly the vast scope of the work that must be done to restore agriculture and free the peasant for ever from his old, neglected, downtrodden and ignorant state. It is becoming clearer to them that the only sure way of escape, one that will bring the mass of peasants nearer to a civilised life and put them on a par with other citizens, is collective farming, which the Soviet government is now systematically striving to put into effect by gradual measures. It is for this purpose, for collective farming, that the communes and state farms are being formed. The importance of this type of farming is indicated in the law on the socialisation of the land. In the clause stating who is entitled to the use of the
land, you will find that among the persons and institutions so entitled first place is given to the state, second to public organisations, third to agricultural communes, and fourth to agricultural co-operative societies. I again draw your attention to the fact that these fundamental principles of the law on the socialisation of the land were laid down when the Communist Party was carrying out not only its own will, but when it made deliberate concessions to those who in one way or another expressed the ideas and will of the middle peasants. We made such concessions, and are still making them. We concluded and are concluding agreements of this kind because the transition to the collective form of landownership, to collective farming, to state farms, to communes, cannot be effected at one stroke. It requires the determined and persistent action of the Soviet government, which has assigned one thousand million rubles for the improvement of agriculture on condition that collective farming is adopted. This law shows that we want to influence the mass of middle peasants mainly by force of example, by inviting them to improve farming, and that we count only on the gradual effect of such measures to bring about this profound and crucial revolution in agricultural production in Russia.
The alliance of the Poor Peasants' Committees, agricultural communes and land departments at the present Congress shows us, and gives us full assurance, that by this transition to collective farming we have got things going correctly, on a truly socialist scale. This steady and systematic work must ensure an increase in the productivity of labour. For this purpose we must adopt the best farming methods and enlist the farm specialists of Russia so that we may be able to put the best organised farms at our service, which hitherto served as a source of enrichment for individuals, as the source of capitalist revival, as the source of a new bondage and a new enslavement of wage-labourers, but which now, under the socialisation of land law and the complete abolition of private ownership of land, must serve as a source of agricultural knowledge and culture and of higher productivity for the millions of working people This alliance between the urban workers and the working peasants, the formation of the Poor Peasants' Committees and their merger with the Soviets are a guarantee that
agricultural Russia has taken a path which is being taken by one West-European state after another, later than us, but with greater certainty. It has much harder for them to start the revolution because their enemy is not a rotten autocracy, but a highly cultured and united capitalist class. But, as you know, this revolution has begun. You know that the revolution has not been confined to Russia, and that our chief hope, our chief support, is the proletariat of the more advanced countries of Western Europe, and that this chief support of the world revolution has begun to move: And we are firmly convinced, and the course of the German revolution has shown it in practice, that the transition to socialist farming there, the use of more advanced agricultural techniques and the union of the agricultural population will proceed more rapidly and easily than in our country.
In alliance with the urban workers and the socialist proletariat of the whole world, the working peasants of Russia can now be certain they will overcome all their adversities, beat off all the attacks of the imperialists, and accomplish that without which the emancipation of the working people is impossible -- collective farming, the gradual but steady transition from small individual farms to collective farming. (Loud, prolonged applause.)
<"en143"> The Congress was held in Moscow's Trade Union House on December 11-20, 1918. There were 550 delegates present. Lenin spoke at the evening session on December 11. The Congress was devoted mainly to working out draft regulations on socialist land settlement and measures for transition to socialist farming (the regulations were adopted by the All-Russia Central Executive Committee in February 1919 and published in Izvestia No. 34, February 14, 1919). [p. 338]