Agrarian Program of Social Democracy in the First Russian Revolution

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Agrarian Program of Social Democracy in the First Russian Revolution of 1905–07


a work on the agrarian question by V. I. Lenin in which the theoretical, economic, and political principles of the Bolshevik agrarian program in the bourgeois-democratic revolution are developed. Written November-December 1907. It was to be included in the second part of the second volume of Lenin’s work, During Twelve Years, which Zerno Publishing House planned to publish in 1908 in Petersburg. The work was composed, but it was confiscated at the printing plant and the type destroyed; it was published as a separate book in 1917 in Petersburg by Zhizn’ i Znanie Publishing House with an afterword by the author. It was included in the 13th volume of the fourth edition of Lenin’s Works and in the 16th volume of the fifth edition. In this work, Lenin sums up the experience of two years of the first Russian revolution and continues his study of the laws of capitalist agrarian evolution which he began in his works The Development of Capitalism in Russia, Capitalism in Agriculture, The Agrarian Question and the “Critics of Marx,” and so on.

In working out the agrarian program Lenin proceeded from the fact that the agrarian question was the basis and national peculiarity of the bourgeois revolution in Russia. The acuteness of the agrarian question in tsarist Russia arose from the fact that an enormous quantity of land was concentrated in great landlord latifundia while the mass of peasant farms suffered from a shortage of land. On the average, one landlord latifundium in the European section of Russia had 2,333 desiatinas (1 desiatina = 1.09 hectares) of land, while one peasant household had 7–15 desiatinas. Backward agricultural techniques, the downtrodden peasant masses, and diverse forms of semifeudal serflike exploitation completed the picture. The essence of an agrarian revolution had to consist in the elimination of latifundia and the transfer of lands to the peasants and in the liquidation of the vestiges of serfdom as a condition for the free development of capitalism.

Lenin proceeded from the fact that two types of capitalist agrarian revolution were objectively possible in Russia: the landlord (Prussian) and the peasant (American) types. The first path meant a slow development of large landlord farms into capitalist farms, the slow and agonizing process of expropriating the peasantry which is accompanied by the creation of a small minority of “grossbauers” (kulaks). The second path presupposed the absence of landlords or their elimination by revolution; small peasant farms lead the process of development and the patriarchal peasant evolves into a capitalist farmer. The first path requires continuous, systematic violence against the peasantry and proletariat. The second path also involves a violent break, but it is carried out in the interests of the peasantry, and capitalism develops more freely and more rapidly, in connection with an enormous growth in the internal market.

Lenin shows that both types of capitalist agrarian revolution are clearly evident in Russia’s economic history: in the center of the country, development proceeded by the Prussian path, while in the border areas, it developed along American lines. Class struggle between the landlords and peasants was objectively a struggle for one or another of the types of capitalist agrarian evolution. He proves this by analyzing the programs of all the political parties and classes and the struggle over the land question in the First State Duma (1906) and especially the Second Duma (1907). All the parties of the landlords and the bourgeoisie—from the Black Hundreds to the Cadets—supported the reformist landlord path of development. The representatives of the proletariat and peasantry defended the revolutionary peasant path. Peasant deputies from all areas of Russia supported nationalization of the land in the Duma. The populist (narodnik) parties also included this demand in their program. Lenin pointed out the error of their pseudo-socialist views; at the same time, he believed that their petit-bourgeois democratism was progressive for that time, since they reflected the struggle of the peasantry against the latifundia.

Lenin considered the agrarian programs of Russian Social-Democracy in their historical development: he analyzed the agrarian project of the Emancipation of Labor group, the program dealing with otrezki (cut-off lands) of the RSDLP of 1903, and especially the struggle over the agrarian question at the Fourth (Unity) Congress of the RSDLP in 1906. Defending the Bolshevik agrarian program of struggle for the nationalization of land, Lenin criticized the project of the razdelisti (apportionists) and attacked in the sharpest terms the program of municipalization of the land put forward by the Mensheviks and adopted at the Congress. He shows that the Menshevik program is reactionary since it proposes to maintain allotment land tenure while privately held land passes to organs of local self-government—thereby reinforcing the splintered character of the peasant movement. The demands of the popular masses are expressed most fully in the peasant and populist projects. The demand to abolish private property in land was spontaneous in nature among the peasants; the populists clothed their projects in quasi-socialist forms. The Bolshevik agrarian program, on the other hand, was scientifically grounded.

Lenin points out that the scientific concept of the nationalization of the land is indissolubly bound up with the theory of capitalist land rent. Differential rent is independent of private land property; the nationalization of the land does not mean its abolition, but rather its transfer to the state. Private property in land engenders absolute rent. It prevents the free application of capital to agriculture. The nationalization of the land, which abolishes private property in land, abolishes absolute rent as well; it means the abolition of the monopoly which restricts the development of capitalism. Consequently, the nationalization of the land is not merely the only means of completely liquidating the Middle Ages but also the best conceivable land system under capitalism.

Examining the question of land property in a historical context, Lenin shows that the nationalization of land in capitalist society is most feasible in the era of bourgeois revolution: later the bourgeois can no longer embark on a path of radical agrarian transformations because he is afraid of the struggle of the proletariat against all private property, and land property is no longer feudal but has become bourgeois in character. Lenin stressed that precisely such a favorable combination of conditions existed in Russia and that it had become possible to nationalize the land as a measure of bourgeois progress; the Russian revolution in its bourgeois-democratic stage was a peasant revolution. Working out the question of the bourgeois revolution of the peasant type and of its motive forces, Lenin showed that it could triumph only under the leadership of the proletariat. The extent and depth of agrarian transformations depended on the breadth and depth of the political revolution. The agrarian program of the Bolsheviks envisioned the complete conclusion of the bourgeois-democratic revolution under the leadership of the proletariat, the establishment of the revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry which would carry out the nationalization of the land. In the afterword to the book published in September 1917, Lenin points out that in the new period, when the development of the contradictions of capitalism puts socialist revolution on the agenda, the nationalization of the land becomes not only the “last word” of the bourgeois revolution but also a step toward socialism. Lenin notes that the most important questions of agrarian policy which arise during that period are laid out in his works A Letter on Tactics and The Tasks of the Proletariat in Our Revolution.

Lenin’s work The Agrarian Program of Social-Democracy in the First Russian Revolution of 1905–1907 is of enormous international importance as a great contribution to Marxist agrarian theory; it helps the communist and workers’ parties of all countries to take concrete historical conditions into account in working out their agrarian programs and tactics with respect to the peasantry. The work has been translated into the languages of the peoples of the USSR and into foreign languages.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.