ATTITUDE OF PROLETARIAT TO MIDDLE PEASANTRY.
LENIN'S REPORT TO EIGHTH CONGRESS OF RUSSIAN COMMUNIST PARTY (EXTRACTS). [Petrograd Pravda, Apr. 5, 1919.]
It is quite clear that the following question is fundamental, very complicated, but no less vital: How to define exactly the attitude of the proletariat to the middle peasantry. Comrades, for Marxists this question does not present difficulties from the theoretical point of view, which the overwhelming majority of workmen have now acquired. I recall for example that in Kautsky's book on the agrarian question written when Kautsky still correctly presented the teachings of Marx and was recognized as an unquestioned authority in this field, in this book on the agrarian question he speaks of the passing from capitalism to socialism:
"The task of the socialist party is the neutralization of the peasantry; that is, to handle the situation so that the peasantry remains neutral in the struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, that the peasantry does not give any
active assistance to the bourgeoisie against us." During the long period of the bourgeois rule the peasant has always supported the bourgeois authority and was on the side of the bourgeoisie. This is understandable if one takes into account the economic strength of the bourgeoisie and the political methods of its rule. We can not expect the middle peasant to come over to our side immediately. But if we direct our policy correctly, then after a certain period hesitation will cease and the peasant may come over to our side. Engels, who, together with Marx, laid the foundations of scientific Marxism, that is, of the doctrine which our party follows constantly and particularly in time of revolution - Engels already established the fact that the peasantry is differentiated with respect to their land holdings into small, middle, and large; and this differentiation for the overwhelming majority of the European countries exists to-day. Engels said: "Perhaps it will not be necessary to suppress by force even the large peasantry in all places." And no sensible socialist ever thought that we might ever apply violence to the middle peasantry (the smaller peasantry is our friend). This is what Engels said in 1894, a year before his death, when the agrarian question was the burning question of the day. This point of view shows us that truth which is sometimes forgotten, though with which we have always theoretically been in accord. With respect to landlords and capitalists our task is complete expropriation. But we do not permit any violence with respect to the middle peasant. Even with respect to the rich peasant we do not speak with the same determination as with regard to the bourgeoisie: "Absolute expropriation of the rich peasantry." In our program this difference is emphasized. We say: "The suppression of the resistance of the peasantry, the suppression of its counter-revolutionary tendencies. " This is not complete expropriation.
The fundamental difference in our attitude toward the bourgeoisie and toward the middle peasantry is complete expropriation of the bourgeoisie, but union with the middle peasantry that does not exploit others. This fundamental line in theory is recognized by all. In practice this line is not always observed strictly, and local workers have not learned to observe it at all. When the proletariat overthrew the bourgeois authority and established its own, and set about to create a new society, the question of the middle peasantry came into the foreground. Not a single socialist in the world has denied the fact that the establishment of communism will proceed differently in those countries where there is large land tenure. This is the most elementary of truths and from this truth it follows that as we approach the tasks of construction our main attention should be concentrated to a certain extent precisely on the middle peasantry. Much will depend on how we have defined our attitude toward the middle peasantry. Theoretically, this question has been decided, but we know from our own experience the difference between the theoretical decision of a question and the practical carrying out of the decision. We have come to that difference which was so characteristic of the old French revolution when the French Convention made wide plans but did not have the proper support to carry them out and did not even know on what class it should rely in order to put through this or that measure. We find ourselves in a much more favorable condition. Thanks to a whole century of development we know on what class we rely and we know also that this class has had a quite inadequate amount of practical experience. The fundamental thing for the working class, and for the socialist party, was clear - to overthrow the authority of the bourgeoisie and turn over authority to the workmen.
But how to accomplish this? All remember with what difficulty, and after how many months we passed from workmen's control to workmen's administration of industry, and that was development within our class, within the proletarian class, with which we had always had relations. But now we must define our attitude toward a new class, toward a class which the city workmen do not know. We must define our attitude toward a class which does not have a definite steadfast position. The proletariat as a mass is for socialism; the bourgeoisie is against socialism; it is easy to define the relations between two such classes. But when we come to such a group as the middle peasantry, then it appears that this is such a kind of class that it hesitates. The middle peasant is part property owner and part toiler. He does not exploit other representatives of the toilers. For decades he has had to struggle hard to maintain his position and he has felt the exploitation of the landlord-capitalists. But at the same time he is a property owner.
Therefore our attitude toward this class presents enormous difficulties. On the basis of our experience of more than a year and of proletariat work in the village for more than a year and in view of the fact that there has already taken place a class differentiation in the village, we must be most careful not to be hasty, not to theorize without understanding, not to consider ready what has not been worked out. In the resolution which the committee proposes to you, prepared by the agrarian section, which one of the next speakers will read to you, you will find many warnings on this point. From the economic point of view it is clear that we must go to the assistance of the middle peasant. On this point theoretically there is no doubt. But with our level of culture, with our lack of cultural and technical forces which we could offer to the village, and with that helplessness with which we often go to the villages, comrades often apply compulsion, which spoils the whole cause. Only yesterday one comrade gave me a small pamphlet entitled "Instructions for party activity in the Province of Nizhnenovgorod," a publication of the Nizhnenovgorod Committee of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks), and in this pamphlet I read, for example, on page 41: "The decree on the extraordinary revolutionary tax should fall with its whole weight on the shoulders of the village rich peasant speculators, and in general on the middle elements of the peasantry." Now here one may see that people have indeed "understood," or is this a misprint? But it is not admissible for such misprints to appear. Or is this the result of hurried, hasty work, which shows how dangerous haste is in a matter like this? Or have we here simply a failure to understand, though this is the very worst supposition which I really do not wish to make with reference to our comrades at Nizhnenovgorod? It is quite possible that this is simply an oversight. Such instances occur in practice, as one of the comrades in the commission has related. The peasants surrounded him and each peasant asked: "Please define, am I a middle peasant. or not? I have two horses and one cow. I have two cows and one horse," etc. And so this agitator who was traveling over entire districts had to use a kind of thermometer in order to take each peasant and tell
him whether he was a middle peasant or not. But to do this he had to know the whole history and economic life of this particular peasant and his relations to lower and higher groups, and of course we can not know this with exactness.
Here one must have practical experience and knowledge of local conditions, and we have not these things as yet. We are not at all ashamed to admit this; we must admit this openly. We have never been utopists and have never imagined that we could build up the communistic society with the pure hands of pure communists who would be born and educated in a pure communistic society. Such would be children's fables. We must build communism on the ruins of capitalism, and only that class which has been tempered in the struggle against capitalism can do this. You know very well that the proletariat is not without the faults and weaknesses of the capitalistic society. It struggles for socialism, and at the same time against its own defects. The best and most progressive portion of the proletariat which has been carrying on a desperate struggle in the cities for decades was able to imitate in the course of this struggle all the culture of city life, and to a certain extent did acquire it. You know that the village even in the most progressive countries was condemned to ignorance. Of course the cultural level of the village will be raised by us, but that is a matter of years and years. This is what our comrades everywhere forget, and this is what every word that comes to us from the villages portrays with particular clearness, when the word comes not from local intellectuals and local officials but from people who are watching the work in the village from a practical point of view. All these voices are of special value to us in the agrarian section. These voices will be of particular value at the present moment, I am convinced of this, and for this party congress inasmuch as they are taken not from books, not from decrees, but from life itself.
This is what impels us to work in this spirit, in order to make more clear our relations to the middle peasantry. This is very difficult because in life we do not have this clarity. This question not only is not solved but it can not be solved if one wishes to solve it at a stroke and immediately. There are people who say: "It was not necessary to write such a quantity of decrees," and they criticise the Soviet government because it gave attention to the writing of decrees without knowing how to carry them out in actual life. These people do not see how they are really galloping over to the White-Guardists. If we had expected that the whole life of the village could be changed by the writing of thousands of decrees we certainly would have been complete idiots; but if we had failed to indicate the road in decrees we would have been traitors to socialism. These decrees which in actual practice could not be carried out immediately and fully have played an enormous rôle for propaganda. If at first we carried on a propaganda by general truths, now we are carrying on a propaganda by actual work. This also is preaching, but it is preaching by acts, and not in the sense of independent acts of certain upstarts at whom we used to laugh in the period of anarchists and the old socialism. Our decree is an appeal, but not an appeal in the former spirit: "Workmen, rise, overthrow the bourgeoisie." No, it is an appeal to the masses, an appeal for practical action. The decrees are instructions calling for mass action of a practical character. This is what is important. It does not matter that in these decrees there is much that is worth nothing, much that will not be realized. The aim of a decree is to teach practical methods, to those hundreds, thousands and millions of people who listen to the voice of the Soviet authority. This is the test of practical action in the field of socialist construction in the villages. If we shall take this view, then we shall derive very much from the total sum of our laws, decrees and ordinances. We shall not look upon them as absolute norms which must be carried out at any cost, immediately and at one stroke.
(At another session of the congress Lenin spoke on the same subject. From Petrograd Pravda, Apr. 9, 1919.)
We have solved so far only the first fundamental task of the socialist revolution, the task of victory over the bourgeoisie. We have solved this task in a fundamental manner although now begins a dangerously difficult half year, during which the imperialists of the whole world are making the last efforts to suppress us. We can say now without exaggeration that they themselves have understood that after this next half year their cause will be absolutely suppressed. Either they must now take advantage of our exhaustion and conquer one country, namely Russia, or we will be the victors, and not only with reference to our own country. During this half year, when the food supply and transportation crises have become more acute and the imperialistic powers are trying to attack on several fronts, our position is extremely difficult, but this is the last difficult half year. One must as before concentrate all efforts on the struggle with the foreign enemy who is attacking us.
When we speak of the tasks in connection with work in the villages, in spite of all difficulties, in spite of the fact that our knowledge has been directed to the immediate suppression of exploiters, we must nevertheless remember and not forget, that in the villages with relation to the middle peasantry the task is of a different nature. All conscious workmen, of Petrograd, Ivanovo-Voznesensk and Moscow, who have been in the villages, tell us of instances of many misunderstandings, of misunderstandings that could not be solved it seemed, and of conflicts of the most serious nature, all of which were, however, solved by sensible workmen who did not speak according to the book but in language which the people could understand, and not like an officer allowing himself to issue orders though unacquainted with village life, but like a comrade explaining the situation and appealing to their feelings as toilers. And by such explanation one attained what could not be attained by thousands who conducted themselves like commanders or superiors.
The resolution which we now present for your attention is drawn up in this spirit. I have tried in this report to emphasize the main principles behind this resolution, and its general political significance. I have tried to show, and I trust I have succeeded, that from the point of view of the interests of the revolution as a whole, we have not made any changes. We have not altered our line of action. The White-Guardists and their assistants shout and will continue to shout that we have changed. Let them shout. That does not disturb us. We are developing our aims in an absolutely logical manner. From the task of suppressing the bourgeoisie we must now transfer our attention to the task of building up the life of the middle peasantry. We must live with the middle peasantry in peace. The middle
peasantry in a communistic society will be on our side only if we lighten and improve its economic conditions. If we to-morrow could furnish a hundred thousand first-class tractors supplied with gasoline and machinists (you know of course that for the moment this is dreaming) then the middle peasant would say: "I am for the Commune." But in order to do this we must first defeat the international bourgeoisie, we must force them to give us these tractors, or we must increase our own production so that we can ourselves produce them. Only thus is the question stated correctly.
The peasant needs the industries of the cities and can not live without them and the industries are in our hands. If we approach the situation correctly then the peasant will thank us because we will bring him the products from the cities, implements and culture. It will not be exploiters who will bring him these things, not landlords, but his own comrades, workers whom he values very deeply. The middle peasant is very practical and values only actual assistance, quite carelessly thrusting aside all commands and instructions from above.
First help him and then you will secure his confidence. If this matter is handled correctly, if each step taken by our group in the village, in the canton, in the food-supply detachment, or in any organization, is carefully made, is carefully verified from this point of view, then we shall win the confidence of the peasant, and only then shall we be able to move forward. Now we must give him assistance. We must give him advice and this must not be the order of a commanding officer, but the advice of a comrade. The peasant then will be absolutely for us.
And this is what our resolution contains, and this is what it seems to me should be the decision of the congress. If we accept this resolution and if it defines all the activity of our party organizations, then we shall solve the second great task that is before us. We learned how to overthrow the bourgeoisie and suppress it and we are very proud of what we have done. We have not yet learned how to regulate our relations with the millions of middle peasants and how to win their confidence. We must say this frankly; but we have understood the task and we have undertaken it and we say to ourselves with full hope, complete knowledge and entire decision: We shall solve this task and then socialism will be absolute, invincible.