January 4, 2018

THE PARTY'S THREE FUNDAMENTAL SLOGANS ON THE PEASANT QUESTION

Stalin, Problems of Leninism,
Reply to Yan-sky

I duly received your letter, of course. I am replying after some delay, for which please forgive me.

1) Lenin says that "the main question of every revolution is the question of state power." (See Vol. XXI, p. 142.)[1] In the hands of which class, or which classes, is power concentrated; which class, or which classes, must be overthrown; which class, or which classes, must take power -- such is "the main question of every revolution."

The Party's fundamental strategic slogans, which retain their validity during the whole period of any particular stage of the revolution, cannot be called fundamental slogans if they are not wholly and entirely based on this cardinal thesis of Lenin's.

Fundamental slogans can be correct only if they are based on a Marxist analysis of class forces, if they indicate the correct [1] plan of disposition of the revolutionary forces on the front of the class struggle, if they help to bring the masses to the front of the struggle for the victory of the revolution, to the front of the struggle for the seizure of power by the new class, if they help the Party to form from the broad masses of the people the large and powerful political army which is essential for the fulfillment of this task."One of the Fundamental Questions of the Revolution," September 1917. 

During any particular stage of the revolution there may occur defeats and retreats, failures and tactical errors, but that does not mean that the fundamental strategic slogan is wrong. Thus, for instance, the fundamental slogan at the first stage of our revolution -- "Together with the whole of the peasantry, against the tsar and the landlords, while neutralizing the bourgeoisie, for the victory of the bourgeois-democratic revolution" -- was an absolutely correct slogan, in spite of the fact that the Revolution of 1905 suffered defeat.

Consequently, the question of the fundamental slogan of the Party must not be confused with the question of the successes or failures of the revolution at any particular stage of its development.

It may happen that in the course of the revolution the fundamental slogan of the Party has already led to the overthrow of the power of the old classes, or of the old class, but a number of vital demands of the revolution, arising out of that slogan, have not been achieved, or their achievement has been spread over a whole period of time, or a new revolution may be required for their achievement; but this does not mean that the fundamental slogan was wrong. Thus, for instance, the February Revolution of 1917 overthrew tsardom and the landlords, but did not lead to the confiscation of the landlords' land, etc.; but this does not mean that our fundamental slogan at the first stage of the revolution was wrong.

Or another example: The October Revolution overthrew the bourgeoisie and transferred power to the proletariat, but did not immediately lead to: a) the completion of the bourgeois revolution, in general, and b) the isolation of the kulaks in the countryside, in particular -- these were spread over a certain period of time; but this does not mean that our fundamental slogan at the second stage of the revolution -- "Together with the poor peasantry, against capitalism in town and country, while neutralizing the middle peasantry, for the power of the proletariat" -- was wrong.

Consequently, the question of the fundamental slogan of the Party must not be confused with the question of the time and forms of achieving particular demands arising out of that slogan.

That is why the strategic slogans of our Party must not be appraised from the point of view of episodical successes or defeats of the revolutionary movement in any particular period; still less can they be appraised from the point of view of the time or forms of achieving any particular demands that arise out of those slogans. The strategic slogans of the Party can be appraised only from the point of view of a Marxist analysis of the class forces and of the correct disposition of the revolutionary forces on the front of the struggle for the victory of the revolution, for the concentration of power in the hands of the new class.

Your error consists in overlooking this extremely important methodological question, or not understanding it.

2) You write in your letter:

"Is it correct to assert that we were in alliance with the whole of the peasantry only up to October? No, it is not. The slogan 'Alliance with the whole of the peasantry' was valid before October, during October and in the first period after October, inasmuch as the whole of the peasantry was interested in completing, the bourgeois revolution."

Thus, from this quotation it follows that the strategic slogan of the Party at the first stage of the revolution (1905 to February 1917), when the task was to overthrow the power of the tsar and the landlords and to establish the dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry, did not differ from the strategic slogan at the second stage of the revolution (February 1917 to October 1917), when the task was to overthrow the power of the bourgeoisie and to establish the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Consequently, you deny the fundamental difference between the bourgeois-democratic revolution and the proletarian-socialist revolution. You commit this error because, evidently, you refuse to understand so simple a matter as that the fundamental theme of a strategic slogan is the question of power at the particular stage of the revolution, the question as to which class is being overthrown and into the hands of which class power is being transferred. It scarcely needs proof that on this point you are radically wrong.

You say that at the time of October and in the first period after October we applied the slogan, "Alliance with the whole of the peasantry," inasmuch as the whole peasantry was interested in completing the bourgeois revolution. But who told you that the October uprising and the October Revolution were confined to, or took as their main task, the completion of the bourgeois revolution? Where did you get that from? Is it possible for the overthrow of the power of the bourgeoisie and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat to be effected within the framework of the bourgeois revolution? Does not the achievement of the dictatorship of the proletariat mean going beyond the framework of the bourgeois revolution?

How can it be asserted that the kulaks (who, of course, are also peasants) could support the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the transfer of power to the proletariat?

How can it be denied that the decree on the nationalization of the land, the abolition of private ownership of land, the prohibition of the purchase and sale of land, etc., in spite of the fact that it cannot be regarded as a socialist decree, was put into effect by us in a struggle against the kulaks, and not in alliance with them?

How can it be asserted that the kulaks (who are also peasants) could support the decrees of the Soviet government on the expropriation of mills, factories, railways, banks, etc., or the slogan of the proletariat on transforming the imperialist war into a civil war?

How can it be asserted that the fundamental thing in October was not these and similar acts, not the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, but the completion of the bourgeois revolution?

No one denies that one of the main tasks of the October Revolution was to complete the bourgeois revolution, that without the October Revolution it could not have been completed, just as the October Revolution itself could not have been consolidated without completing the bourgeois revolution; and since the October Revolution did complete the bourgeois revolution it was bound to meet with the sympathy of all the peasants. All that is undeniable. But can it be asserted on these grounds that the completion of the bourgeois revolution was not a derivative phenomenon in the course of the October Revolution but its essence or its principal aim? What then, according to you, has become of the principal aim of the October Revolution, namely, the overthrow of the power of the bourgeoisie, the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the transformation of the imperialist war into a civil war, the expropriation of the capitalists, etc.?

And if the main theme of a strategic slogan is the fundamental question of every revolution, i.e., the question of the transfer of power from one class to another class, is it not clear from this that the question of the completion of the bourgeois revolution by the proletarian power must not be confused with the question of overthrowing the bourgeoisie and achieving this proletarian power, i.e., with the question that is the main theme of the strategic slogan at the second stage of the revolution?

One of the greatest achievements of the dictatorship of the proletariat is that it completed the bourgeois revolution and swept away all the filth of mediaevalism. For the countryside that was of supreme and indeed decisive importance. Without it the combination of peasant wars with the proletarian revolution, of which Marx spoke in the second half of the past century,[48] could not have been brought about. Without it, the proletarian revolution itself could not have been consolidated.

Moreover, the following important circumstance must be borne in mind. The completion of the bourgeois revolution cannot be accomplished at one stroke. Actually, it was spread over a whole period embracing not only parts of 1918, as you assert in your letter, but also parts of 1919 (the Volga area and the Urals) and of 1919-20 (the Ukraine). I am referring to the advance of Kolchak and Denikin, when the peasantry as a whole was faced with the danger of the restoration of the power of the landlords and when the peasantry, precisely as a whole, was compelled to rally around the Soviet power in order to ensure the completion of the bourgeois revolution and to retain the fruits of that revolution. This complexity and diversity of the processes of living reality, this "odd" interweaving of the directly socialist tasks of the proletarian dictatorship with the task of completing the bourgeois revolution, must always be kept in mind in order correctly to understand the passages you quote from the works of Lenin and the mechanics of putting the Party's slogans into effect.

Can it be said that this interweaving indicates that the Party's slogan at the second stage of the revolution was wrong, and that this slogan did not differ from the slogan at the first stage of the revolution? No, it cannot. On the contrary, this interweaving merely confirms the correctness of the Party's slogan at the second stage of the revolution: Together with the poor peasantry, against the capitalist bourgeoisie in town and country, for the power of the proletariat, etc. Why? Because in order to complete the bourgeois revolution it was necessary in October first to overthrow the power of the bourgeoisie and to set up the power of the proletariat, for only such a power is capable of completing the bourgeois revolution. But in order to set up the power of the proletatiat in October it was essential to prepare and organize for October the appropriate political army, an army capable of overthrowing the bourgeoisie and of establishing the power of the proletariat; and there is no need to prove that such a political army could be prepared and organized by us only under the slogan: Alliance of the proletariat with the poor peasantry against the bourgeoisie, for the dictatorship of the proletariat.

It is clear that without such a strategic slogan, which we carried through from April 1917 until October 1917, we could not have had such a political army, and that, therefore, we could not have triumphed in October, we would not have overthrown the power of the bourgeoisie and, consequently, we would not have been able to complete the bourgeois revolution.

That is why the completion of the bourgeois revolution must not be counterposed to the strategic slogan at the second stage of the revolution, a slogan which had the task of ensuring the seizure of power by the proletariat.

There is only one way to avoid all these "contradictions," namely, to recognize the fundamental difference between the strategic slogan of the first stage of the revolution (the bourgeois-democratic revolution) and the strategic slogan of the second stage of the revolution (the proletarian revolution), to recognize that during the first stage of the revolution we marched together with the whole of the peasantry for the bourgeois-democratic revolution, whereas during the second stage of the revolution we marched together with the poor peasantry against the power of capital and for the proletarian revolution.

And this must be recognized because an analysis of the class forces at the first and second stages of the revolution obliges us to do so. Otherwise it would be impossible to explain the fact that until February 1917 we carried on our work under the slogan of a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry, while after February 1917 this slogan was replaced by the slogan of the socialist dictatorship of the proletariat and poor peasantry.

You will agree that this replacement of one slogan by an other in March-April 1917 cannot be explained under your scheme.

This fundamental difference between the two strategic slogans of the Party was already pointed out by Lenin in his pamphlet Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution. He formulated the Party's slogan in preparing for the bourgeois-democratic revolution as follows:

"The proletariat must carry to completion the democratic revolution, by allying to itself the mass of the peasantry in order to crush by force the resistance of the autocracy and to paralyse the instability of the bourgeoisie." (See Vol. VIII, p. 96.)

In other words: Together with the whole of the peasantry, against the autocracy, while neutralizing the bourgeoisie, for a democratic revolution. As to the Party's slogan in the period of preparation for the socialist revolution, he formulated it as follows:

"The proletariat must accomplish the socialist revolution, by allying to itself the mass of the semi-proletarian elements of the population in order to crush by force the resistance of the bourgeoisie and to paralyse the instability of the peasantry and the petty bourgeoisie." (Ibid.)

In other words: Together with the poor peasantry and the semi-proletarian strata of the population in general, against the bourgeoisie, while neutralizing the petty bourgeoisie in town and country, for the socialist revolution.

That was in 1905.

In April 1917, Lenin, characterizing the political situation at that time as the interweaving of the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry with the actual power of the bourgeoisie, said:
"The specific feature of the present situation in Russia consists in the transition from the first * stage of the revolution -- which, owing to the insufficient class consciousness and organization of the proletariat, placed the power in the hands of the bourgeoisie -- to the second stage, which must place the power in the hands of the proletariat and the poor strata * of the peasantry." (See Lenin's April Theses -- Vol. XX, p. 88.)[1] * My italics. -- J. St.
[1] "The Tasks of the Proletariat in the Present Revolution."

At the end of August 1917, when the preparations for the October Revolution were in full swing, Lenin, in a special article entitled "Peasants and Workers," wrote as follows:
"Only the proletariat and the peasantry [*] can overthrow the monarchy -- such was the fundamental definition of our class policy for that time (i.e., 1905 -- J. St.). And that definition was a correct one. February and March 1917 have confirmed this once again. Only the proletariat, leading the poor peasantry [*] (the semi-proletarians, as our programme says), can end the war by a democratic peace, heal the wounds it has caused, and begin to take steps towards socialism, which have become absolutely essential and urgent -- such is the definition of our class policy now." (See Vol. XXI, p. 111.)
That must not be understood to mean that we now have a dictatorship of the proletariat and poor peasantry. That, of course, is not so. We marched towards October under the slogan of the dictatorship of the proletariat and poor peasantry, and in October we put it into effect formally inasmuch as we had a bloc with the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries and shared the leadership with them, although actually the dictatorship of the proletariat already existed, since we Bolsheviks constituted the majority. The dictatorship of the proletariat and poor peasantry ceased to exist formally, however, after the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries' "putsch,"[49] after the rupture of the bloc with the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries, when the leadership passed wholly and entirely into the hands of one party, into the hands of our Party, which does not and cannot share the leadership of the state with another party. That is what we call the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Finally, in November 1918, Lenin, casting a retrospective glance at the path the revolution had travelled, wrote:
"Yes, our revolution is a bourgeois revolution so long as we march with the peasantry as a whole. This has been as clear as clear can be to us; we have said it hundreds and thousands of times since 1905, and we have never attempted to skip this necessary stage of the historical process or abolish it by decrees. . . . But in 1917, beginning with April, long before the October Revolution, before we seized [*] power, we publicly declared and explained to the people: The revolution cannot now stop at this stage, for the country has gone forward, capitalism has advanced, ruin has reached unprecedented dimensions, which (whether one likes it or not) will demand steps forward, to socialism ; for there is no other way of advancing, of saving the country, which is racked by war, and of alleviating the suflierings of the toilers and exploited. Things turned out just as we said they would. The course taken by the revolution confirmed the correctness of our reasoning. First, with the 'whole' of the peasantry against the monarchy, against the landlords, against the mediaeval regime (and to that extent the revolution remains bourgeois, bourgeois-democratic). Then, with the poor peasantry, with the semi-proletarians, with all the exploited, against capitalism, including the rural rich, the kulaks, the profiteers,[*] and to that extent the revolution becomes a socialist one." (See Vol. XXIII, pp. 390-91.)[1]
As you see, Lenin repeatedly emphasized the profound difference between the first strategic slogan, in the period of preparation for the bourgeois-democratic revolution, and the second strategic slogan, in the period of preparation for October. The first slogan was: With the whole of the peasantry, against the autocracy; the second: With the poor peasantry, against the bourgeoisie.

The fact that the completion of the bourgeois revolution was spread over a whole period after October and that, inasmuch as we were completing the bourgeois revolution, the "whole" of the peasantry could not but sympathize with us -- this fact, as I said above, does not in the least shake the fundamental thesis that we marched towards October and achieved victory in October together with the poor peasantry, that we overthrew the power of the bourgeoisie and established the dictatorship * of the proletariat (one of the tasks of which was to complete the bourgeois revolution) together with the poor peasantry, against the resistance of the kulaks (also peasants) and with the middle peasantry vacillating.[1] "The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky."

That is clear, I think.

3) You write further in your letter:
"Is the assertion true that 'we arrived at October under the slogan of alliance with the rural poor, while neutralizing the middle peasant'? No it is not true. For the reasons mentioned above, and from the quotations from Lenin, it will be seen that this slogan could arise only when 'the class division among the peasantry had matured' (Lenin), i.e., 'in the summer and autumn of 1918.'"
From this quotation it follows that the Party adopted the policy of neutralizing the middle peasant, not in the period of preparation for October and during October, but after October, and particularly after 19I8, subsequent to the Poor Peasants' Committees. That is quite wrong.

On the contrary, the policy of neutralizing the middle peasant did not begin, but ended subsequent to the Poor Peasants' Committees, after 1918. The policy of neutralizing the middle peasant was abolished (and not introduced) in our practical work after 1918. It was after 1918, in March 1919, that Lenin, opening the Eighth Congress of our Party, stated:
". . . The best representatives of socialism of the old days -- when they still believed in revolution and served it theoretically and ideologically -- spoke of neutralizing the peasantry, i.e., of turning the middle peasantry into a social stratum which, if it did not actively aid the revolution of the proletariat, at least would not hinder it, would be neutral and not take the side of our enemies. This abstract, theoretical presentation of the problem is perfectly clear to us. But it is not enough.* We have entered a phase of socialist construction * in which we must draw up concrete and detailed basic rules and instructions which have been tested by the experience of our work in the countryside, and by which we must be guided in order to achieve a stable alliance with the middle peasantry." (See Vol. XXIV, p. 114.)
As you see, this amounts to the very opposite of what you say in your letter; you turn our actual Party practice upside down by confusing the beginning of neutralization with its end.

The middle peasant whined and wavered between revolution and counter-revolution while the bourgeoisie was being overthrown and while the power of the Soviets was not consolidated, therefore it was necessary to neutralize him. The middle peasant began to turn towards us when he began to be convinced that the bourgeoisie had been overthrown "for good," that the power of the Soviets was being consolidated, that the kulak was being overcome and that the Red Army was beginning to achieve victory on the fronts of the Civil War. And it was precisely after this turning point that the third strategic slogan of the Party, issued by Lenin at the Eighth Party Congress, became possible, namely: While relying on the poor peasants and establishing a stable alliance with the middle peasants -- forward to socialist construction!

How could you forget this well-known fact?

From your letter it also follows that the policy of neutralizing the middle peasant during the transition to the proletarian revolution and in the first days after the victory of that revolution is wrong, unsuitable and therefore unacceptable. That is quite wrong. The very opposite is the case. It is precisely while the power of the bourgeoisie is being overthrown and before the power of the proletariat has been consolidated that the middle peasant wavers and resists most of all. It is precisely in this period that alliance with the poor peasant and neutralization of the middle peasant are necessary.

Persisting in your error, you assert that the question of the peasantry is very important, not only for our country, but also for other countries "which more or less resemble the economic system of pre-October Russia." This latter statement is, of course, true. But here is what Lenin said in his theses on the agrarian question at the Second Congress of the Comintern[50] regarding the policy of proletarian parties towards the middle peasant in the period when the proletariat is taking power. After defining the poor peasantry, or more precisely, "the toiling and exploited masses in the countryside," as a separate group consisting of agricultural labourers, semi-proletarians, or allotment holders and small peasants, and then passing to the question of the middle peasantry as a separate group in the countryside, Lenin says:
"By 'middle peasants' in the economic sense are meant small cultivators who also hold, either as owners or tenants, small plots of land, but such as, firstly, under capitalism, provide them as a general rule not only with a meager upkeep for their families and households, but also with the possibility of securing a certain surplus, which, at least in the better years, may be converted into capital; and, secondly, fairly frequently (for example, one farm out of two or three) involve resort to the hire of outside labour. . . . The revolutionary proletariat cannot set itself the task -- at least in the immediate future and in the initial period of the dictatorship of the proletariat -- of winning over this stratum, but must confine itself to the task of neutralizing it, i.e., making it neutral in the struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie."* (See Vol. XXV, pp. 271-72.)
How, after this, can it be asserted that the policy of neutralizing the middle peasant "arose" in our country "only " "in the summer and autumn of 1918," i.e., after the decisive successes achieved in consolidating, the power of the Soviets, the power of the proletariat? * My italics. -- J. St.

As you see, the question of the strategic slogan of proletarian parties at the moment of transition to the socialist revolution and the consolidation of the power of the proletariat, as also the question of the neutralization of the middle peasant, is not as simple as you imagine.

4) From all that has been said above, it is evident that the passages from the works of Lenin you quote can in no way be counterposed to the fundamental slogan of the Party at the second stage of the revolution, since these quotations: a) deal not with the fundamental slogan of the Party before October, but with the completion of the bourgeois revolution after October, and b) do not refute, but confirm the correctness of that slogan.

I have already said above, and I must repeat, that the strategic slogan of the Party at the second stage of the revolution, in the period before the seizure of power by the proletariat, the main theme of which is the question of power, must not be counterposed to the task of completing the bourgeois revolution which is effected in the period after the proletariat has taken power.

5) You speak of Comrade Molotov's well-known article in Pravda entitled "The Bourgeois Revolution in Our Country" (March 12, 1927), which, it appears, "induced" you to apply to me for an explanation. I do not know how you read articles. I, too, have read Comrade Molotov's article and I think that it does not in any way contradict what I said in my report at the Fourteenth Congress of our Party on our Party's slogans regarding the peasantry.[51]

In his article, Comrade Molotov does not deal with the Party's fundamental slogan in the period of October, but with the fact that, since the Party after October completed the bourgeois revolution, it enjoyed the sympathy of all the peasants. But I have already said above that the statement of this fact does not refute, but, on the contrary, confirms the correctness of the fundamental thesis that we overthrew the power of the bourgeoisie and established the dictatorship of the proletariat together with the poor peasantry, while neutralizing the middle peasant, against the bourgeoisie of town and country; that without this we could not have completed the bourgeois revolution.

Bolshevik, No. 7-8,
April 15, 1927

J. V. Stalin, Problems of Leninism,
Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1976