May 22, 2017
The following articles continue our series on the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, taken from the words of participants.
The February 1917 revolution and the fall of tsarism produced an enormous echo in the Russian peasantry, lifting their hopes that their aspirations might finally be satisfied. The poor peasants wanted to divide the land, but they grew impatient because the Provisional Government blocked this agrarian reform. To head off the expropriation of their lands, the nobles partitioned them and sold them to the rich peasants, the kulaks. A congress of peasant delegates met in Petrograd from May 11 to May 17 (May 24-30 by our calendar). Lenin addressed it to say to the poor peasants that only the workers and the Bolshevik Party supported their desire to get the land and that, for their demands to be realized, it was necessary to give all power to the soviets.
“Comrades, peasant deputies,
... All the land must belong to the people. All the landed estates must be turned over to the peasants without compensation. This is clear. The dispute here is whether or not the peasants in the local areas should take all the land at once, without paying any rent to the landowners, or wait until the Constituent Assembly meets.
“Our party believes that they should, and advises the peasants locally to take over all the land without delay, and to do it in as organized a way as possible, under no circumstances allowing damage to the property and exerting every effort to increase the production of grain and meat since the troops at the front are in dire straits. In any case, although the final decision on how to dispose of the land will be made by the Constituent Assembly, a preliminary settlement now, at once, in time for the spring sowing, can be made only by local bodies, inasmuch as our Provisional Government, which is a government of the landowners and capitalists, is putting off the convocation of the Constituent Assembly and so far has not even fixed a date for it.
“... The fields must be sown to crops. Most of the peasants in the local areas are quite capable of making use of the land in an organized way, of ploughing and putting it all under crops. This is essential if the supply of food to the soldiers at the front is to be improved. Hence, to wait for the Constituent Assembly is out of the question. We by no means deny the right of the Constituent Assembly finally to institute public ownership of the land and to regulate its disposal. In the meantime, however, right now, this spring the peasants themselves must decide locally what to do with it. The soldiers at the front can and should send delegates to the villages.
“Further. For all the land to pass over to the working people, a close alliance of the urban workers and the poor peasants (semi-proletarians) is essential. Unless such an alliance is formed, the capitalists cannot be defeated. And if they are not defeated, no transfer of the land to the people will deliver them from poverty. You cannot eat land, and without money, without capital, there is no way of obtaining implements, livestock, or seed. The peasants must trust not the capitalists or the rich muzhiks (who are capitalists too), but only the urban workers. Only in alliance with the latter can the poor peasants ensure that the land, the railways, the banks, and the factories become the property of all the working people; if this is not done, the mere transfer of the land to the people cannot abolish want and pauperism.
“Workers in certain localities in Russia are already beginning to establish their supervision (control) over the factories. Such control by the workers is to the peasants’ advantage, for it means increased production and cheaper products. The peasants must give their fullest support to this initiative on the part of the workers and not believe the slander which the capitalists spread against the workers....
“Russia must become a democratic republic.... We want a republic where there is no police that browbeats the people; where all officials, from the bottom up, are elective and displaceable whenever the people demand it, and are paid salaries not higher than the wages of a competent worker; where all army officers are similarly elective and where the standing army separated from the people and subordinated to classes alien to the people is replaced by the universally armed people, by a people’s militia....
“The workers and peasants are the majority of the population. The power and the functions of administration must belong to their Soviets, not to the bureaucracy....”