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the agrarian programme of the Socialist-Revolutionaries.

Lenin, Revolutionary Adventurism

September 1, 1902

Collected Works, Volume 6, pages 186-207.

In the next article we shall deal with the agrarian programme of the Socialist-Revolutionaries.


The Socialist-Revolutionaries’ attitude to the peasant movement is of particular interest. It is precisely in the agrarian question that representatives of the old Russian socialism, their liberal-Narodnik descendants, and also adherents of opportunist criticism who are so numerous in Russia and so vociferously pass assurances that on this score Marxism has already been conclusively disproved by the “critics,” have always considered themselves especially strong. Our Socialist-Revolutionaries too are tearing Marxism to shreds, so to speak: “dogmatic prejudices... outlived dogmas long since refuted by life ... the revolutionary intelligentsia has shut its eyes to the countryside, revolutionary work among the peasantry was forbidden by orthodoxy,” and much else in this vein.

It is the current fashion to kick out at orthodoxy. But to what subspecies must one relegate those of the kickers who did not even manage to draw up an outline for an agrarian programme of their own before   the commencement of the peasant movement? When Iskra sketched its agrarian programme as early as in No. 3,[See present edition, Vol. 4, pp. 420-28.—Ed.] Vestnik Russkoi Revolutsii could only mutter: “Given such a presentation of the question, still another of our differences is fading away”—what happened here is that the editors of Vestnik Russkoi Revolutsii had the mishap of utterly failing to understand Iskra’s presentation of the question (the “introduction of the class struggle into the country side”). Revolutsionnaya Rossiya now belatedly refers to the pamphlet entitled The Next Question, although it contains no programme whatever, but only panegyrics on such “celebrated” opportunists as Hertz.

And now these same people—who before the commencement of the movement were in agreement both with Iskra and with Hertz—come out, on the day following the peasant uprising, with a manifesto “from the peasant league [!] of the Socialist-Revolutionary Party,” a manifesto in which you will not find a single syllable really emanating from the peasantry, but only a literal repetition of what you have read hundreds of times in the writings of the Narodniks, the liberals, and the “critics.” ... It is said that courage can move mountains. That is so, Messrs. the Socialist-Revolutionaries, but it is not to such courage that your garish advertisement testifies.

We have seen that the Socialist-Revolutionaries’ greatest “advantage” lies in their freedom from theory; their greatest skill consists in their ability to speak without saying anything. But in order to present a programme, one must nevertheless say something. It is necessary, for instance, to throw overboard the “dogma of the Russian Social-Democrats of the late eighties and early nineties to the effect that there is no revolutionary force save the urban proletariat.” What a handy little word “dogma” is! One need only slightly twist an opposing theory, cover up this twist with the bogy of “dogma”—and there you are!

Beginning with the Communist Manifesto, all modern socialism rests on the indisputable truth that the proletariat alone is a really revolutionary class in capitalist society. The other classes may and do become revolutionary only in   part and only under certain conditions. What, then, must one think of people who have “transformed” this truth into a dogma of the Russian Social-Democrats of a definite period and who try to convince the naive reader that this dogma was “based entirely on the belief that open political struggle lay far in the future”?

To counter Marx’s doctrine that there is only one really revolutionary class in modern society, the Socialist-Revolutionaries advance the trinity: “the intelligentsia, the proletariat, and the peasantry,” thereby revealing a hopeless confusion of concepts. If one sets the intelligentsia against the proletariat and the peasantry it means that one considers the former a definite social stratum, a group of persons occupying just as definite a social position as is occupied by the wage-workers and the peasants. But as such a stratum the Russian intelligentsia is precisely a bourgeois and petty-bourgeois intelligentsia. With regard to this stratum, Mr. Struve is quite right in calling his paper the mouthpiece of the Russian intelligentsia. However, if one is referring to those intellectuals who have not yet taken any definite social stand, or have already been thrown off their normal stand by the facts of life, and are passing over to the side of the proletariat, then it is altogether absurd to contrapose this intelligentsia to the proletariat. Like any other class in modern society, the proletariat is not only advancing intellectuals from its own midst, but also accepts into its ranks supporters from the midst of all and sundry educated people. The campaign of the Socialist-Revolutionaries against the basic “dogma” of Marxism is merely additional proof that the entire strength of this party is represented by the handful of Russian intellectuals who have broken away from the old, but have not yet adhered to the new.

The Socialist-Revolutionaries’ views on the peasantry are even more muddled. To take just the posing of the question: “What social classes in general [!] always !!! cling to the existing... The autocratic only? or bourgeois in general?... order, guard it and do not yield to revolutionisation?" As a matter of fact, this question can be answered only by another question: what elements of the intelligentsia in general always cling to the existing chaos of ideas,   guard it and do not yield to a definite socialist world out look? But the Socialist-Revolutionaries want to give a serious answer to an insignificant question. To “these” classes they refer, first, the bourgeoisie, since its “interests have been satisfied.” This old prejudice that the interests of the Russian bourgeoisie have already been satisfied to such a degree that we neither have nor can have bourgeois democracy in our country (cf. Vestnik Russkoi Revolutsii, No. 2, pp. 132-33) is now shared by the “economists” and the Socialist-Revolutionaries. Again, won’t Mr. Struve teach them some common sense?

Secondly, the Socialist-Revolutionaries include among these classes the “petty-bourgeois strata” “whose interests are individualistic, undefined as class interests, and do not lend themselves to formulation in a reformative or revolutionary socio-political programme.” Whence this has come, the Lord alone knows. It is common knowledge that the petty bourgeoisie does not always and in general guard the existing order, but on the contrary often takes revolutionary action even against the bourgeoisie (specifically, when it joins the proletariat) and very often against absolutism, and that it almost always formulates programmes of social reform. Our author has simply come out with a “noisier” declaration against the petty bourgeoisie, in accordance with the “practical rule,” which Turgenev expressed through an “old fox” in one of his “Poems in Prose”: “Cry out most loudly against those vices you yourself feel guilty of.”[5] And so, since the Socialist-Revolutionaries feel that the only social basis of their position between two stools can be perhaps provided only by certain petty-bourgeois sections of the intelligentsia, they therefore write about the petty bourgeoisie as if this term does not signify a social category, but is simply a polemical turn of speech. They likewise want to evade the unpleasant fact of their failure to understand that the peasantry of today belongs, as a whole, to the “petty-bourgeois strata.” Won’t you try to give us an answer on this score, Messrs. the Socialist-Revolutionaries? Won’t you tell us why it is that, while repeating snatches of the theory of Russian Marxism (for example, about the progressive significance of peasant outside employment and tramping), you turn a blind eye to the fact that this same Marxism has   revealed the petty-bourgeois make-up of Russian peasant economy? Won’t you explain to us how it is possible in contemporary society for “proprietors or semi-proprietors” not to belong to the petty-bourgeois strata?

No, harbour no hopes! The Socialist-Revolutionaries will not reply; they will not say or explain anything bearing upon the matter, for they (again like the “economists”) have thoroughly learned the tactic of pleading ignorance when it comes to theory. Revolutsionnaya Rossiya looks meaningly towards Vestnik Russkoi Revolutsit—that is their job, they say (cf. No. 4, reply to Zarya), while Vestnik Russkoi Revolutsii informs its readers of the exploits of the opportunist critics and keeps on threatening to make its criticism ever sharper. That is hardly enough, gentlemen!

The Socialist-Revolutionaries have kept themselves pure of the baneful influence of modern socialist doctrines. They have fully preserved the good old methods of vulgar socialism. We are confronted by a new historical fact, a new movement among a certain section of the people. They do not examine the condition of this section or set themselves the aim of explaining its movement by the nature of that section and its relation to the developing economic structure of society as a whole. To them, all this is an empty dogma, outlived orthodoxy. They do things more simply: what is it that the representatives of the rising section themselves are speaking about? Land, additional allotments, redistribution of the land. There it is in a nutshell. You have a “semi-socialist programme,” “a thoroughly correct principle,” “a bright idea,” “an ideal which already lives in the peasant’s mind in embryo form,” etc. All that is necessary is to “brush up and elaborate this ideal,” bring out the “pure idea of socialism.” You find this hard to believe, reader? It seems incredible to you that this Narodnik junk should again be dragged into the light of day by people who so glibly repeat whatever the latest book may tell them? And yet this is a fact, and all the words we have quoted are in the declaration “from the peasant league” published in No. 8 of Revolutstonnaya Rossiya.

The Socialist-Revolutionaries accuse Iskra of having prematurely tolled the knell of the peasant movement by describing it as the last peasant revolt. The peasantry,   they inform us, can participate in the socialist movement of the proletariat as well. This accusation testifies to the confusion of thought among the Socialist-Revolutionaries. They have not even grasped that the democratic movement against the remnants of serf-ownership is one thing, and the socialist movement against the bourgeoisie is quite another. Since they have failed to understand the peasant movement itself, they have likewise been unable to understand that the words in Iskra, which frightened them so, refer only to the former movement. Not only has Iskra stated in its programme that the small producers (including the peasants), who are being ruined, can and should participate in the socialist movement of the proletariat, but it has also defined the exact conditions for this participation. The peasant movement of today, however, is not at all a socialist movement directed against the bourgeoisie and capitalism. On the contrary, it unites the bourgeois and the proletarian elements in the peasantry, which are really one in the struggle against the remnants of the serf-owning system. The peasant movement of today is leading—and will lead—to the establishment, not of a socialist or a semi-socialist way of life in the countryside, but of a bourgeois way of life, and will clear away the feudal debris cluttering up the bourgeois foundations that have already arisen in our countryside.

But all this is a sealed book to the Socialist-Revolutionaries. They even assure Iskra in all seriousness that to clear the way for the development of capitalism is an empty dogma, since the “reforms” (of the sixties) “did clear ! full !! I space for the development of capitalism.” That is what can be written by a glib person who lets a facile pen run away with him and who imagines that the “peasant league” can get away with anything: the peasant won’t see through it! But kindly reflect for a moment, my dear author: have you never heard that remnants of the serf-owning system retard the development of capitalism? Don’t you think that this is even all but tautological? And haven’t you read somewhere about the remnants of serf-ownership in the present-day Russian countryside?

Iskra says that the impending revolution will be a bourgeois revolution. The Socialist-Revolutionaries object:   it will be “primarily a political revolution and to a certain extent a democratic revolution.” Won’t the authors of this pretty objection try to explain this to us— does history know of any bourgeois revolution, or is such a bourgeois revolution conceivable, that is not “to a certain extent a democratic revolution”? Why, even the programme of the Socialist-Revolutionaries themselves (equalitarian tenure of land that has become social property) does not go beyond the limits of a bourgeois programme, since the preservation of commodity production and toleration of private farming, even if it is conducted on common land, in no way eliminates capitalist relationships in agriculture.

The greater the levity with which the Socialist-Revolutionaries approach the most elementary truths of modern socialism, the more easily do they invent “most elementary deductions,” even taking pride in the fact that their “programme reduces itself” to such. Let us then examine all three of their deductions, which most probably will long remain a monument to the keen wit and profound socialist convictions of the Socialist-Revolutionaries.

Deduction No. 1:

 “A large portion of the territory of Russia now already belongs to the state—what we need is that all the territory should belong to the people.” Our teeth are “now already” on edge from the touching references to state ownership of land in Russia contained in the writings of the police Narodniks (à la Sazonov, etc.) and the various Katheder-reformers.[6] “What we need” is that people who style themselves socialists and even revolutionaries should trail in the rear of these gentlemen. “What we need” is that socialists should lay stress on the alleged omnipotence of the “state” (forgetting even that a large share of the state land is concentrated in the uninhabited marginal regions of the country), and not on the class antagonism between the semi-serf peasantry and the privileged handful of big landowners, who own most of the best cultivated land and with whom the “state” has always been on the best of terms. Our Socialist-Revolutionaries, who imagine that they are deducing a pure idea of socialism, are in actual fact sullying this idea by their uncritical attitude towards the old Narodism.

Deduction No. 2:

 “The land is now already passing from capital to labour—what we need is that this process be completed by the state.” The deeper you go into the forest, the thicker the trees.[A Russian saying.—Ed.] Let us take another step towards police Narodism; let us call on the (class!) “state” to extend peasant landownership in general. This is remarkably socialistic and amazingly revolutionary. But what can one expect of people who call the purchase and lease of land by the peasants a transfer “from capital to labour” and not transfer of land from the feudal-minded landlords to the rural bourgeoisie? Let us remind these people at least of the statistics on the actual distribution of the land that is “passing to labour”: between six- and nine-tenths of all peasant-purchased land, and from five- to eight-tenths of all leased land are concentrated in the hands of one-fifth of the peasant households, i.e., in the hands of a small minority of well-to-do peasants. From this one can judge whether there is much truth in the Socialist-Revolutionaries’ words when they assert “we do not at all count” on the well-to-do peasants but only on the “labouring sections exclusively.”

Deduction No. 3:

“The peasant already has land, and in most cases on the basis of equalitarian land distribution—what we need is that this labour tenure should be carried through to the end ... and culminate in collective agricultural production through the development of co-operatives of every kind.” Scratch a Socialist-Revolutionary and you find Mr. V. V.![7] When it came to action, all the old prejudices of Narodism, which had safely preserved themselves behind shifty phrasing, crept to the surface at once. State ownership of the land—the completion by the state of the transference of the land to the peasantry—the village commune—co-operatives—collectivism— in this magnificent scheme of Messrs. Sazonov, Yuzov, N.—on,[8] the Socialist Revolutionaries, Hofstetter, Totomiants, and so on, and so forth—in this scheme a mere trifle is lacking. It takes account neither of developing capitalism, nor of the class struggle. But then how could this trifle enter the minds of people whose entire ideological luggage consists of Narodnik rags and smart patches of fashionable   criticism? Did not Mr. Bulgakov himself say that there is no place for the class struggle in the countryside? Will the replacement of the class struggle by “co-operatives of every kind” fail to satisfy both the liberals and the “critics,” and in general all those to whom socialism is no more than a traditional label? And is it not possible to try to soothe naive people with the assurance: “Of course, any idealization of the village commune is alien to us,” although right next to this assurance you read some colossal bombast about the “colossal organisation of the mir peasants,” then bombast that “in certain respects no other class in Russia is so impelled towards a purely III political struggle as the peasantry,” that peasant self-determination (!) is far broader in scope and in competence than that of the Zemstvo, that this combination of “broad” ... (up to the very boundary of the village?) ... “independent activity” with an absence of the “most elementary civic rights” “seems to have been deliberately designed for the purpose of ... rousing and exercising H] political instincts and habits of social struggle.” If you don’t like all this, you don’t have to listen, but....

“One has to be blind not to see how much easier it is to pass to the idea of socialising the land from the traditions of communal land tenure.” Is it not the other way round, gentlemen? Are not those people hopelessly deaf and blind who to this very day do not know that it is precisely the medieval seclusion of the semi-serf commune, which splits the peasantry into tiny unions and binds the rural proletariat hand and foot, that maintains the traditions of stagnation, oppression, and barbarism? Are you not defeating your own purpose by recognising the usefulness of outside employment, which has already destroyed by three-quarters the much-vaunted traditions of equalitarian land tenure in the commune, and reduced these traditions to meddling by the police?

The minimum programme of the Socialist-Revolutionaries, based as it is on the theory we have just analysed, is a real curiosity. This “programme” includes two items: 1) “socialisation of the land, i.e., its conversion into the property of the whole of society, to be used by the working people”; 2) “the development among the peasantry of all possible types of public associations and economic co-operatives...   [for a “purely” political struggle?].. .for the gradual emancipation of the peasantry from the sway of money capital ... [and subjugation to industrial?] ... and for the preparation of collective agricultural production of the future." Just as the sun is reflected in a drop of water, so is the entire spirit of the present-day “Social-Revolutionarism” reflected in these two items. In theory, revolutionary phrase mongering instead of a considered and integral system of views; in practice—helpless snatching at this or that modish petty expedient instead of participation in the class struggle—that is all they have to show. We must admit that it has required rare civic courage to place socialisation of the land alongside of co-operation in a minimum programme. Their minimum programme: Babeuf, on the one hand, and Mr. Levitsky, on the other.[9] This is inimitable.

If it were possible to take this programme seriously, we should have to say that, in deceiving themselves with grandiloquent words, the Socialist-Revolutionaries are also deceiving the peasants. It is deception to assert that “co-operatives of every kind” play a revolutionary role in present-day society and prepare the way for collectivism rather than strengthen the rural bourgeoisie. It is deception to assert that socialisation of the land can be placed before the “peasantry” as a “minimum,” as something just as close at hand as the establishment of co-operatives. Any socialist could explain to our Socialist-Revolutionaries that today the abolition of private ownership of land can only be the immediate prelude to its abolition in general; that the mere transfer of the land “to be used by the working people” would still not satisfy the proletariat, since millions and tens of millions of ruined peasants are no longer able to work the land, even if they had it. And to supply these ruined millions with implements, cattle, etc., would amount to the socialisation of all the means of production and would require a socialist revolution of the proletariat and not a peasant movement against the remnants of the serf owning system. The Socialist-Revolutionaries are confusing socialisation of the land with bourgeois nationalisation of the land. Speaking in the abstract, the latter is conceivable on the basis of capitalism too, without abolishing wage labour. But the very example of these same Socialist-Revolutionaries   is vivid confirmation of the truth that to advance the demand for nationalisation of the land in a police state is tantamount to obscuring the only revolutionary principle, that of the class struggle, and bringing grist to the mill of every kind of bureaucracy.

Not only that. The Socialist-Revolutionaries descend to outright reaction when they rise up against the demand of our draft programme for the “annulment of all laws restricting the peasant in the free disposal of his land.” For the sake of the Narodnik prejudice about the “commune principle” and the “equalitarian principle” they deny to the peasant such a “most elementary civic right” as the right freely to dispose of his land; they complacently shut their eyes to the fact that the village commune of today is hemmed in by its social-estate reality; they become champions of the police interdictions established and supported by the “state” ... of the rural superintendents! We believe that not only Mr. Levitsky but Mr. Pobedonostsev[10] too will not be very much alarmed over the demand for socialisation of the land for the purpose of establishing equalitarian land tenure, once this demand is put forth as a minimum demand alongside of which such things figure as co-operatives and the defence of the police system of keeping the muzhik tied down to the official allotment which supports him.

Let the agrarian programme of the Socialist-Revolutionaries serve as a lesson and a warning to all socialists, a glaring example of what results from an absence of ideology and principles, which some unthinking people call freedom from dogma. When it came to action, the Socialist-Revolutionaries did not reveal even a single of the three conditions essential for the elaboration of a consistent socialist programme: a clear idea of the ultimate aim; a correct understanding of the path leading to that aim; an accurate conception of the true state of affairs at the given moment or of the immediate tasks of that moment. They simply obscured the ultimate aim of socialism by confusing socialisation of the land with bourgeois nationalisation and by confusing the primitive peasant idea about small-scale equalitarian land tenure with the doctrine of modern socialism on the conversion of all means of production   into public property and the organisation of socialist production. Their conception of the path leading to socialism is peerlessly characterised by their substitution of the development of co-operatives for the class struggle. In their estimation of the present stage in the agrarian evolution of Russia, they have forgotten a trifle: the remnants of serf-ownership, which weigh so heavily on our country side. The famous trinity which reflects their theoretical views—the intelligentsia, the proletariat, and the peasantry—has its complement in the no less famous three-point “programme”—socialisation of the land, co-operatives, and attachment to the allotment.

Compare this with Iskra’s programme, which indicates to the entire militant proletariat one ultimate aim, without reducing it to a “minimum,” without debasing it so as to adapt it to the ideas of certain backward sections of the proletariat or of the small producers. The road leading to this aim is the same in town and countryside—the class struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie. But besides this class struggle, another struggle is going on in our countryside: the struggle of the entire peasantry against the remnants of serf-ownership. And in this struggle the party of the proletariat promises its support to the entire peasantry and strives to provide its revolutionary ardour with a real objective, and guide its uprising against its real enemy, considering it dishonest and unworthy to treat the muzhik as though he were under tutelage or to conceal from him the fact that at present and immediately he can achieve only the complete eradication of all traces and remnants of the serf-owning system, and only clear the way for the broader and more difficult struggle of the entire proletariat against the whole of bourgeois society.

[5] The reference is to one of Turgenev’s Poems in Prose—“A Rule of Life” (see I. S. Turgenev, Collected Works, Russ. ed., Vol. 8, 1956, p. 464).

[6] Katheder-reformers, Katheder-Socialists—representatives of a trend in bourgeois political economy, which arose in Germany in the seventies and eighties of the nineteenth century. Under the guise of socialism the Katheder-Socialists advocated from the university chairs (Katheder in German) bourgeois-liberal reformism. Katheder-Socialism was motivated by the exploiting classes’ fear of the spread of Marxism and the growth of the working-class movement, and also by the efforts of bourgeois ideologists to find fresh means of keeping the working people in subjugation.

Representatives of Katheder-Socialism (Adolf Wagner, Gustav Schmoller, Lorenz Brentano, Werner Sombart, and others) asserted that the bourgeois state stands above classes and is capable of reconciling the hostile classes and of gradually introducing “socialism,” without affecting the interests of the capitalists and, as far as possible, with due account of the working people’s demands. They proposed giving police regulation of wage-labour the force of law and reviving the medieval guilds. Marx, Engels and Lenin exposed the reactionary nature of Ketheder-Socialism, which in Russia was spread by the “legal Marxists.”

[7] V. V. (pseudonym of V. P. Vorontsov)—one of the ideologists of liberal Narodism in the eighties and nineties of the nineteenth century.

[8] N.—on or Nikolai—on (pseudonym of N. F. Danielson)—one of the ideologists of liberal Narodism in the eighties and nineties of the nineteenth century.

[9] Babeuf (1760-1797)—revolutionary Communist and leader of the French bourgeois revolution at the end of the eighteenth century. He organised a secret society, which in 1796 tried to over throw the power of the exploiting classes.

Levitsky—liberal Narodnik, founder of agricultural artels in Kherson Gubernia in the nineties of the nineteenth century.

[10] Pobedonostsev—reactionary tsarist statesman, Procurator-General of the Synod, actually head of the government and chief inspirer of the savage feudal reaction under Alexander III. He continued to play a prominent part under Nicholas II.

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