‘The Work in the Villages’ Speech by Nikolai Lenin from Soviet Russia (New York). Vol. 2 No. 6. February 7, 1920.

‘Agitator,’ by Ivan Vladimirov, 1920.

A great speech delivered at the First All-Russian Conference on the Work in the Villages in November, 1919 on which Lenin recognizes the danger War Communism and the Civil War have placed the alliance of workers and poor peasants and cautions Party workers on exacerbating the situation at the same time ensuring that Russia’s workers had bread to eat.

‘The Work in the Villages’ Speech by Nikolai Lenin from Soviet Russia (New York). Vol. 2 No. 6. February 7, 1920.

COMRADES, the question of the work in the village still appears before us as the fundamental problem of socialist reconstruction. As far as concerns the work among the workers for the unification of the proletariat and the raising of their consciousness, political communism was fully justified, defined itself and achieving, undoubtedly, solid results. We had to fight against the lack of consciousness of common interests and with separate appearances of syndicalism. We have to fight even now against a lack of discipline in the new labor forms constructed on communist principles. You all remember, I think, the great stages which our policy went through. Recruiting more and more tens of thousands of people to the administration, we afforded a possibility for acquaintance with the common interests, and we achieved the goal that now the policy of the communist activity of the proletariat has been finally molded into a solid form. Here we are on the right path of movement, and we must continue on it.

As to the work in the village, there are greater difficulties. Only in the current year, the question of the relation of the poor peasant to the middle peasant became clear in its entirety. In the village, as in the city, there can be representatives only of those workers and poor peasants, who suffered most, who bore by themselves alone the pressure of the land-owner and the capitalist; they alone could be the solid foundation of communist reconstruction. Naturally, from that time, when the achievements permitted us at once to sweep away the power of the landowner and to abolish private property, since that time the peasants have accomplished an absolute equality in land holdings and considerably raised the standard of the peasants most exploited by capitalism to the standard of the middle peasant. To provide each peasant, who has a sufficient amount of land, with seeds, cattle and machinery, requires gigantic means, which our country does not possess. Besides that, even if we assume the greatest success of our industries (the production of iron etc), the providing of everyone will remain an impossibility, and to the highest degree irrational. Besides, that mass of peasants, who were suppressed by capitalism, naturally know now, how far we have advanced from that order of things.

Peasants are mostly conservative. With difficulty they forget the past. With greater tenacity than others do they resist the possibility of changes and breaks. The experiment made by Kolchak and Denikin compels us to consider very carefully if the peasant has gained anything, because the landowner, though beaten, is not eliminated, and waits for an opportunity to restore the old autocracy. International capital has its defenders and allies, and although our international situation has greatly improved, it is undoubtedly stronger than we are. Capitalism can not declare war on us, as it thought of doing a year ago. Its wings are already clipped. Not long ago the imperialists said, “perhaps it would not be bad to make peace with Russia”; many a time they said they were willing to make peace. They have also to understand, that if they cherished the thought a year ago to enslave Russia, they will have to bid that thought good-bye. But, however that may be, international capital is still stronger than we are, and the peasants feel and see this perfectly. And the mass of peasants know with what they are threatened by the least weakening of the peasants’ power. It threatens to restore capitalism. Therefore the masses that bore the burden cannot forget it, and this vivid memory makes the peasants the best supporters of the Soviet power. I have in mind those peasants who felt on their shoulders the burden of the landowner.

But the case with the ”Kulaks” is, naturally, entirely different, who themselves hired workers, who themselves invested money for profits, who grew rich on the toil of others. They stand for capital- ism in a single body. En masse they are dissatisfied with the change that has occurred. Their interests were the interests of the exploiters, they grew rich on the labor of the poor, and we must understand clearly that against these peasants, although they are in the minority, we shall have to carry on a long and persistent struggle.

Between the peasants who bore the burden of capitalism and those peasants who exploited others, stands the mass of me peasantry. And here our task is the most difficult. Socialists have always pointed out that the transition to socialism will bring to the foreground the question of the relations of the working class to the middle peasant.

‘In Search of An Escaped Kulak,’ by Ivan Vladimirov, 1920.

From the comrades-communists, who work in the village, we must ask, more than anything else, attention and ability to approach this complicated and difficult problem, which cannot be solved at one stroke. The middle peasantry is undoubtedly accustomed to individual farming; the middle peasantry — these are the peasant-owners. Although these peasants have no land in their possession, although private property on land is abolished, yet, the economy remains in the hands of the peasant, and, mainly, the peasant remains the owner in regard to the means of sustenance. Being the owner of the remainder of the grain, he becomes the exploiter of those who have no bread at all. He becomes the exploiter of the worker. Here lies the fundamental contradiction. The peasant, being a toiler, being a man who lives on his own labor, the man who bore all the burdens of the landowner and capitalist, stands with the worker. He understands more and more every day that only in unity with the working class will he be able to get rid of the capitalist And the peasant as an owner, who has in his possession the remainder of the bread, thinks that he can sell that bread on his own conditions.

And to sell the excess of bread in a starving land means to become a speculator, because a starving man will give away for bread all his money, everything he has, even his life, for what is life to him when he has no bread?

Here is developing the greatest of struggles, which demands from us representatives of the Soviet power and especially from the comrades- communists who are working in the village, the most thoughtful consideration and the greatest attention.

We tell the middle peasant that in no case do we want to force upon him the change to socialism. This was solemnly declared by the 8th convention of our party. The election of Comrade Kalinin as chairman of the Central Executive Committee was a result of the calculation that we must try to bring together directly the Soviet authorities with people who came from the peasantry and who know the peasant life. Thanks to Comrade Kalinin and his tours, our work in the village has made a considerable advance and the peasantry have had an opportunity to get into indirect contact with the Soviets. Thanks to his tours, it has become easier to correct the errors of the work of the Soviets in the village.

In this case we determined our policy firmly. We say to the middle peasantry, in a language which they understand best, that there will be no attempt to force a transition to communal economy.

In the socialist sense it will be possible to act only by force of successful examples. We can and must begin trying to influence only with examples the middle peasant, to show him the advantage of communal economy. And example requires that we ourselves organize such enterprises successfully. This is a very difficult task.

The movement to organize communes and societies was very strong during the last two years, and remains very strong, but, looking at things soberly, we must admit that many comrades who began to organize communes and societies started their work with insufficient knowledge of conditions, only with a readiness to apply their labor, but without knowledge of conditions of agricultural and peasant life in all details. Therefore, many mistakes, hasty steps, incorrect starts were made.

‘Requisitioning,’ by Ivan Vladimirov. c. 1920.

In all the Soviet communes old exploiting landowners got in; they are overthrown and conquered, but not eliminated, and they cannot be eliminated by the very nature of the case. First of all, they are to be driven out of the places where they hide themselves; secondly, it is necessary to know how to put them under the control of the real representatives of the proletariat.

This problem stands before us in all spheres of life, for instance in the Red Army. You are now hearing of the glorious victories of the Red Army. Kolchak is smashed at Omsk, ten generals and a thousand officers were taken prisoners, his whole staff, so to say, was imprisoned. Yudenich is destroyed. And this is being done, notwithstanding the fact that not a month passes without a treacherous act on the part of a military specialist We would be unable to create an army capable of fighting regularly, and conquering, if we should not have taken ten thousand officers from our former enemies and compelled them to serve in the Red Army.

It is impossible to construct communism without science, knowledge, culture, and this reserve is in the hands of the bourgeois specialists, who are accustomed to living with the capitalists and working in their interests. Among them, many do not sympathize with the Soviets. And without them, we can not build up communism. It is necessary to disarm them with the work of the commissars, with the work of the communists, with the environments of comradeship, with the friendly workers’ and peasant’s activity, to make them work in accord with the worker-peasant army.

Take the Soviet economies — there are all over landowners, capitalists and their adherents. Among the peasants are very often to be observed extraordinary disaffections, which reach the stage sometimes of repudiations of the entire system of the Soviet economies.

Soviet economies are not necessary, we are being told — let everyone work for himself. But we say: no, if we shall not learn how to manage on the new forms, we shall never get out of poverty and darkness, and for the purpose of learning how to manage along the new lines, we have to hire the old specialists.

‘Looking for bread in the gutter,’ by Ivan Vladimirov. 1919.

How is this to be done? The same way we did with the Red Army. Those who will in any way violate the statutes of the Soviets, who will not submit to us, we will prosecute without mercy. And the majority of them we will force into submission and they will work in our interests, as we forced tens of thousands of officers, colonels and generals, who were used to work for the Czar. Here is a very difficult and complicated problem. It is necessary to have organization, discipline, consciousness of the workers, close contact with the peasants, the ability to explain to the peasants and show them that all abuses, all errors will be eliminated.

We say this: people who possess knowledge of agriculture we must retain in our service, in the service of the communal economy, as with small private economy we shall not get out of darkness and poverty. And toward the specialists in rural economy we will act in the same way as we did toward the specialists in the Red Army. We will be beaten a hundred times, and the hundred-and-first time we will win. So we will be beaten a hundred times by the bourgeois specialists, landowners and capitalists, and the hundred-and-first time WE WILL BEAT THEM. For it is necessary that the work in the village should be conducted in a disciplined manner, like the work in the Red army. But we do not plan to conduct this work with force, to bring about the change forcibly. This is the work we have to do in the village economy, here lies the difficulty of the transition to socialism and this will secure the final victory of the Soviets. This even the most conservative peasants understood. Kolchak, Denikin and Yudenich helped them understand it. Only in alliance with the revolutionary worker will the peasant be fully liberated from the yoke of the landowners and capitalists.

The victory over Denikin, which is now not remote, will not be the final destruction of capitalism. This is understood by everybody. They will make more than one attempt yet to throw the noose about the throat of Soviet Russia. The peasant, therefore, has no alternative: either he will help the worker, — and then we shall conquer capitalism — or the least little wavering will bring again the shackles of capitalism.

To diffuse this consciousness widely among the peasants — this is our very first task.

The peasant who lives by his own labor, he is the friend of the worker. To this friend the worker will give all his assistance, him he regards as an equal. For such an ally the workers’ power does everything possible, and there is no sacrifice which the Soviets would not readily make to satisfy the peasant-toiler, who lives by his own labor.

‘Shooting of the peasants by White Cossacks,’ Ivan Vladimirov.

But the peasant who exploits, who has a surplus of grain, and sells it to the starving population at profiteering prices, he is our enemy. The peasants do not all understand that unbridled trading in grain is a crime against the state. The peasants reasons this way: “I produced the grain, I worked on it, the grain is in my hands, and I have a right to trade with it.” This is the reasoning of the peasant with the old habit of an owner.

And we said that this was a crime, when the worker is starving. To trade freely with bread, with the surplus of the grain — that means to enrich the rich and to ruin the poor and hungry, and this means a return to capitalism. And here we will fight with all our might We will carry on a state distribution. We know that not all the surplus of the bread can be taken, but if is distributed in the right way, we will emerge from poverty and hunger, which exist in the cities up to the present time, where the worker has thus far been languishing in distress, because the bread is not distributed right.

With a right distribution of bread all will be satisfied, and then we will be able to get out of all difficulties. And to have a correct distribution it is necessary that the peasants should assist in every way. Here there will be no indulgence on the part of the Soviets. The peasant must give the surplus of grain to the state in the form of a loan. At present we can give no commodities to the peasants, because we do not have them; there is no coal, the railroads and the factories are stopping. To reconstruct the destroyed economy it is necessary that the peasant should, from the first, give his surplus products as a loan to the state. Only with such loans will we be able to get out of all difficulties.

Every peasant will agree that when a worker is dying from starvation, it is necessary to give him bread on credit; and yet when it comes to millions of workers and millions of peasants they do not understand it. And the peasant resorts again and again to the old form of exploitation.

‘Famine,’ by Ivan Vladimirov.

I do not know if I have succeeded in this short speech in explaining this question — a most difficult question. I have tried to emphasize that here we have the most complicated and important problem of socialist reconstruction. Only wen will the Soviet and socialist power be finally solidified, when the peasant is in unquestioning alliance with the worker. Experience will show, and the peasant will learn from experience who helped the peasant find out the truth? Denikin and Kolchak, who showed that there was no choice, that we have to help the worker, with conscience, and bear the burden of these hard times, otherwise the least weakness here means a return to capitalism, to the landowner.

On this account the task of the workers in the village becomes a double one: to give every support to the peasant, to introduce the most considerate relations and not in the least attempt to impose, but persistently to fight against any attempt to return to speculation and business.

Here a struggle will be necessary. It is necessary to get rid of the old idea of trading individually, the old idea of capitalism. When our Red Army began to be built, there were only guerilla fighters, incapable of any coherent action. You remember how many victims there were on the Eastern front, how many there were on the Petrograd front, because there was no discipline and no unity. Two years of fighting, however, have now brought us to this point: we have now overcome all difficulties, and in the place of the old partisan bands we have created a Red Army of a million men, whose discipline is better than that of any other army, and which is victorious over the best forces of the reactionary Czarist generals, as well as of the Entente Allies. If we have achieved all this in the comparatively short period of two years, in so difficult and important a matter as a military campaign, we shall surely be able to achieve results of equal excellence in other fields.

‘Saturday,’ by Ivan Vladimirov, 1923.

I am convinced that we will, in our most difficult task of regulating the team work of the peasants and the workers, as well as in the realization of a proper food policy, attain the same result, the same final and decisive victory as we have already attained on the field of battle.

Soviet Russia began in the summer of 1919, published by the Bureau of Information of Soviet Russia and replaced The Weekly Bulletin of the Bureau of Information of Soviet Russia. In lieu of an Embassy the Russian Soviet Government Bureau was the official voice of the Soviets in the US. Soviet Russia was published as the official organ of the RSGB until February 1922 when Soviet Russia became to the official organ of The Friends of Soviet Russia, becoming Soviet Russia Pictorial in 1923. There is no better US-published source for information on the Soviet state at this time, and includes official statements, articles by prominent Bolsheviks, data on the Soviet economy, weekly reports on the wars for survival the Soviets were engaged in, as well as efforts to in the US to lift the blockade and begin trade with the emerging Soviet Union.

PDF of full issue: (large file): https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/srp/v4-5-soviet-russia%20Jan-Dec%201921.pdf

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