August 17, 2020

Lenin The Agrarian Programme of Social-Democracy in the First Russian Revolution, 1905-1907

5. A Peasant Revolution Without the Conquest of Power by the Peasantry?

The agrarian programme of Russian Social-Democracy is a proletarian programme in a peasant revolution that is directed against the survivals of serfdom, against all that is medieval in our agrarian system. Theoretically, as we have seen, this thesis is accepted by the Mensheviks as well (Plekhanov’s speech at Stockholm). But the Mensheviks have failed to think out that proposition and to perceive its indissoluble connection with the general principles of Social-Democratic tactics in the Russian bourgeois revolution. And it is in Plekhanov’s writings that this shallow thinking is most clearly revealed.

Every peasant revolution directed against medievalism, when the whole of the social economy is of a capitalist nature, is a bourgeois revolution. But not every bourgeois revolution is a peasant revolution. If, in a country where agriculture is organised on fully capitalist lines, the capitalist farmers, with the aid of the hired labourers, were to carry out an agrarian revolution by abolishing the private ownership of land, for instance, that would be a bourgeois revolution, but by no means a peasant revolution. Or if a revolution took place in a country where the agrarian system had become so integrated with the capitalist economy in general that that system could not be abolished without abolishing capitalism, and if, say, that revolution put the industrial bourgeoisie in power in place of the autocratic bureaucracy—that would be a bourgeois revolution, but by no means a peasant revolution. In other words, there can be a bourgeois country without a peasantry, and there can be a bourgeois revolution in such a country with out a peasantry. A bourgeois revolution may take place in a country with a considerable peasant population and yet not be a peasant revolution; that is to say, it is a revolution which does not revolutionise the agrarian relations that especially affect the peasantry, and does not bring the peasantry to the fore as a social force that is at all active in creating the revolution. Consequently, the general Marxist concept of “bourgeois revolution” contains certain propositions that are definitely applicable to any peasant revolution that takes place in a country of rising capitalism, but that general concept says nothing at all about whether or not a bourgeois revolution in a given country must (in the sense of objective necessity) become a peasant revolution in order to be completely victorious.

The principal source of the error in the tactical line pursued by Plekhanov and his Menshevik followers during The first period of the Russian revolution (i.e., during 1905-07) is their complete failure to understand this correlation between bourgeois revolution in general, and a peas ant bourgeois revolution. The furious outcry usually raised in Menshevik literature over the Bolsheviks’ alleged failure to grasp the bourgeois character of the present revolution is merely a screen to cover the Mensheviks’ own shallow thinking. As a matter of fact, not a single Social-Democrat of either group, either before or during the revolution, has ever departed from the Marxist views concerning the bourgeois nature of the revolution; only “simplifiers”, those who vulgarise disagreements between the groups, could affirm the contrary. But some Marxists, namely, the Right wing, have all the time made shift with a general, abstract, stereotyped conception of the bourgeois revolution, and failed to perceive the special feature of the present bourgeois revolution, namely, that it is a peasant revolution. It was quite natural and inevitable for that wing of Social-Democracy to fail to understand the source of the counter-revolutionary nature of our bourgeoisie in the Russian revolution, to determine clearly which classes are capable of achieving complete victory in this revolution, and to fall into the view that in a bourgeois revolution the proletariat must support the bourgeoisie, that the bourgeoisie must be the chief actor in the bourgeois revolution, that the sweep of the revolution would be weakened if the bourgeoisie deserted it, and so on and so forth.

The Bolsheviks, on the other hand, ever since the beginning of the revolution in the spring and summer of 1905, when the confusion of Bolshevism with boycottism, boyevism, etc., that is now so prevalent among the ignorant or stupid, was still out of the question, clearly pointed to the source of our tactical differences by singling out the concept of peasant revolution as one of the varieties of bourgeois revolution, and by defining the victory of the peasant revolution as “the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry”. Since then Bolshevism won its greatest ideological victory in international Social-Democracy with the publication of Kautsky’s article on the driving forces of the Russian, revolution (“The Driving Forces and Prospects of the Russian Revolution”, Russian translation edited and with a preface by N. Lenin, published by Novaya Epokha Publishers, Moscow; 1907). As is known, at the beginning of the split between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks in 1903, Kautsky sided with the latter. In 1907, having watched the course of the Russian revolution, on the subject of which he wrote repeatedly, he at once saw the mistake made by Plekhanov, who had sent him his famous questionnaire. In that questionnaire, Plekhanov inquired only about the bourgeois nature of the Russian revolution, without specifying the concept of peasant bourgeois revolution, without going beyond general formulas such as “bourgeois democracy”, “bourgeois opposition parties”. In answering Plekhanov Kautsky rectified that mistake by pointing out that the bourgeoisie was not the driving force of the Russian revolution, that in that sense the days of bourgeois revolutions had passed, that “a lasting community of interests during, the whole period of the revolutionary struggle exists only between the proletariat and the peasantry” (op. cit., pp. 30-31), and that “it [this lasting community of interests] should be made the basis of the whole of the revolutionary tactics of Russian Social-Democracy” (ibid., p. 31). The underlying principles of Bolshevik tactics as against those of the Mensheviks are here clearly expressed. Plekhanov is terribly angry about this in his New Letters, etc. But his annoyance only makes the impotence of his argument more obvious. The crisis through which we are passing is “a bourgeois crisis for all that”, Plekhanov keeps on repeating and he calls the Bolsheviks “ignoramuses” (p. 127). That abuse is an expression of his impotent rage. Plekhanov has failed to grasp the difference between a peasant bourgeois revolution and a non-peasant bourgeois revolution. By saying that Kautsky “exaggerates the speed of development of our peasant” (p. 131), and that “the difference of opinion between us [between Plekhanov and Kautsky] can only be one of nuances” (p. 131), etc., Plekhanov resorts to the most miserable and cowardly shuffling, for anyone at all capable of thinking can see that the very opposite is the case. It is not. a question of “nuances” or of the speed of development, or of the “seizure” of power that Plekhanov shouts about, but of the basic view as to which classes are capable of being the driving force of the Russian revolution. Voluntarily or involuntarily, Plekhanov and the Mensheviks are inevitably falling into a position of opportunist support to the bourgeoisie, for they fail to grasp the counter-revolutionary nature of the bourgeoisie in a peasant bourgeois revolution. The Bolsheviks from the outset defined the general and the basic class conditions for the victory of this revolution as the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. Kautsky arrived at substantially the same view in his article, “The Driving Forces”, etc., and he repeat ed it in the second edition of his Social Revolution, in which he says: “It [the victory of Russian Social-Democracy in the near future] can only come as the result of a coalition [einer Koalition] between the proletariat and the peasantry.” (Die soziale Revolution, von K. Kautsky, Zweite Auflage. Berlin, 1907, 5. 62.) (Space does not permit us to deal with another addition Kautsky made to the second edition, in which he sums up the lessons of December 1905, a summing up which differs radically from Menshevism.)

Thus we see that Plekhanov completely evaded the question of the underlying principles of the general Social-Democratic tactics in a bourgeois revolution that can be victorious only as a peasant revolution. What I said at Stockholm (April 1906)[2] about Plekhanov having reduced Menshevism to absurdity by repudiating the conquest of power by the peasantry in a peasant revolution has been completely borne out in subsequent. literature. And that fundamental error in the tactical line was bound to affect the Mensheviks’ agrarian programme. As I have repeatedly pointed out above, municipalisation does not in either the economic or the political sphere fully express the conditions of a real victory of the peasant revolution, for the real conquest of power by the proletariat and the peasantry. In the economic sphere, such a victory is incompatible with the perpetuation of the old system of allotment landowner ship; in the political sphere, it is incompatible with mere regional democracy and incomplete democracy in the central government.