I am not aware of this being transcribed online; an article by Leon Trotsky from just before Lenin’s death accounting for his position on the peasantry and refuting the ‘rumors’ of his ‘underestimation’ by stressing the practical complexities, and dangers, of Smytschka under the New Economic Policy.
‘On the Peasant Question’ by Leon Trotzky from International Press Correspondence. Vol. 4 No. 1. January 4, 1924.
I am often asked by some party comrades, what are the grounds for my special attitude relative to the peasant question, and wherein they differ from those of comrade Lenin. Other comrades put the question in a more exact and concrete form: they ask if it be true, that I “underestimate” the role of the peasant in our economic development and hence do not accord to the economic and political alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry (Smytschka) the importance, which it warrants. Such questions have been put to me orally as well as written. “Where have you got hold of all this?” I asked with great astonishment, “On what facts do you base these assertions?” The answer was mostly, “we do not possess any facts, it is a question of rumours, which are circulating.”
At first I did not trouble much about these rumours until a letter which I received recently impelled me to think over the matter and to consider the origin of the rumours. And quite by chance it came to me that already four or five years ago such rumours flourished richly in the Soviet soil. At that time they had a more simple form: “Lenin is for the peasants, Trotzky against them.” I looked up the printed material on this question. In my article of 7th February 1919 in the Isvestia as well as that of comrade Lenin of 15th February in the Pravda these rumours were strongly repudiated as falsehoods.
The rumours however apparently still live. There is a French proverb: “If you slander long enough, something will stick in the end”. At present it is no longer the landowners and capitalists who have recourse to such rumours. Their empire is long at an end. In their place, however, have appeared the “Nep” men in the town, the merchant and the rich farmer in the village. There can be no doubt that these circles have great interest in creating confusion and doubt as to the relation of the communist party to the peasantry. It is just the rich farmer, the speculative buyer, the newly established merchant, the city middleman, who seek to set up connections on the market with the peasant as grain producer and buyer of industrial products and to exclude from this combination the authority of the Soviet State. It is just here that the decisive battle is now beginning to develop. Here also politics are serving economic interests. It is easy to see that when the private middleman wants to attach himself to the peasant and gain his confidence, he will gladly furnish up the old lies of the landowners and put them once more into circulation, of course with more caution than the landowner in his day, because since then the Soviet Power has been strengthened.
A clear, simple and exhaustive description of the mutual dependence existing between the peasantry and the proletariat, or in other words between the State industries and agriculture was given by Comrade Lenin in his well known article: “Better little, but good”. The main idea of the article can be summarized as follows: During the coming years we must adapt the Soviet State in every possible way to the necessities, requirements and power of the peasantry, although we retain its character as a Workers State; we must adapt the Soviet industries, which we call State industries that is Socialist industries, on the one hand to the market demands of the peasant and on the other to the taxability of the peasantry. Only in this way shall we be able to maintain equilibrium in the Soviet State so long as the revolution does not disturb the equilibrium in the other capitalistic countries. It is not the reiteration of the word “union” in every possible strain (although in itself it is a good word) but the practical adaptation of industry to the agricultural basis which can give us an effective solution of the central questions in our economy and politics.
This brings us to the problem of the “shears” (In Russia one understands by shears the strong disparity between the gold prices of agricultural and industrial products: this disproportion takes the form of a pair of shears in the graphical representation of the gold price. The expression was originated by Comrade Trotzky. Ed.) The adaptation of industry to the peasant market presents us in the first place with the problem of the unconditional reduction of the cost price of industrial products. The cost price is not only dependent upon the method of manufacture in the factory concerned, but also upon the whole organization of the State industry, the State transport System, State finance and the State commercial apparatus. When there is a disproportion between the various parts of our industries, it means that the State has at its disposal a large amount of dead capital, which burdens the whole industry and raises the price of every piece of calico and every packet of matches.
Under capitalism the natural, and in the end, only economic regulator is the crisis, that is to say it is the only means of bringing the different branches of industry together and the total production of industry into harmony with the market demand. But in our Soviet economic organization, which presents a transitional one between Capitalism and Socialism, industrial trade crises can in no way be regarded as the normal or even the only means by which the single parts of the peoples’ industry can be brought into harmony with one another. The crisis destroys or squanders a certain part of the State resources and a part of this falls into the hands of the jobber, of the speculative buyer, that is to say into the hands of private capital.
Since we received as a heritage from the past an extraordinary disintegrated industry, and moreover, one in which the various parts stood before the war in quite a different relationship with one another to that required today, the regulation of the economic system, the adaption of the parts of the industry to one another -and also in such a way that the whole of industry can, by means of the market, be brought into harmony with agriculture – becomes one of the most difficult problems. Were we do decide to bring about the necessary reconstruction entirely with the help of so fearful a shake-up as is provided by crises, that would soon indicate that we had given a great impetus to private capital, which in any case is aiming at setting up a barrier between us and the villages. Private trading capital today is securing enormous profits. But in addition it is restricting itself more and more to agency operations. It is attempting to organize the small producers, or to lease industrial undertakings from the State. In other words: it is repeating the history of original accumulation – first in the sphere of trade and next in the sphere of industry. It is quite clear that every failure, every loss, which we suffer brings profit to private capital: first in that such losses weaken us and secondly in that a large part of our losses unavoidably pass into the pockets of the new capitalists.
What then are the weapons which we can use under these circumstances in the struggle against private capital? Are there any such weapons at all? Yes, and these are the conscious. deliberate, systematic tackling of the market, and above all the task of economic organization. The most important productive agents, transport and credit, lie in the hands of the Soviet State. We do not need to wait until a universal or a local crisis reveals the disproportion between the various elements in our economic organization. We need not become the blind plaything of economic forces, for the trump cards in the market game lie in our hands. We will – and we must learn to do so – observe with ever greater accuracy the fundamental elements of our economic system, the development of factors which are related to them, and on the strength of our calculations bring all sections of the industry into harmony. We shall learn to understand, quantitatively as well as qualitatively, to adapt them to one another and also to establish the necessary relationship between industry and agriculture. Therein lies the real work in the union of the proletariat and the peasantry. He who maintains that everything lies in the union and not in the plan of production does not understand the essence of the thing, for the way to union leads through the accurate systematic, proportional development and guidance of the industries. There is no other way and there cannot be one. If our planned economics commission (Gossplan) carries out its tasks in the correct manner, it will already be a direct step towards the best and most successful solution of the peasant question – not through abolition of the market but on the basis of the market. The peasant, up till now, does not understand this, but we must understand it, every Communist, every progressive worker must understand it. The peasant will realize sooner or later the effect of the activity of the economic Commission upon his economy. Naturally this problem is very difficult and extraordinarily complicated. We shall not solve it with a stroke of the pen. Its solution demands a continued system and exact and energetic measures.
Not Jess important, of course, is the advancement of agriculture. This process, however, manifests itself in a much more primitive form, and hence in one less dependent upon the influence of the State than the reconstruction of industry. The Soviet State must also support the peasant with agricultural credits (as far as our means will reach!) and help to make easier the placing of the products of agriculture (Corn, Meat, Butter, etc.) upon the world market. The way to the extension of agriculture leads, again, principally through industry – if rot directly, then indirectly. Agricultural machinery and tools, artificial manures, cheap domestic wares must be provided at prices within the reach of the peasant. The introduction and development of an agricultural credit system demand from the State the mobilization of superfluous pecuniary resources. For this it is necessary that the State industries prove profitable, and this is impossible without the establishment of a correct proportion between their parts. In these lie the real, not demonstrative, but practical problems of the union between the working class and the peasantry.
In order to further this union politically, and to be able to meet the lying rumours whose breeding place is provided by the apparatus of private trade, we need an effective peasants’ newspaper, such a newspaper as would really get into the hands of the peasant and which he would understand, and which would strengthen the relationship between him and the proletariat. A newspaper with a circulation of from 50 to 100,000 copies can and would only be a newspaper which perhaps spoke well-wishingly over the peasant, but it would in no way be a peasants’ newspaper because it would not reach him but lie stranded on the way amongst our different authorities. We need for the peasant a weekly newspaper (for a daily paper we have not the necessary money nor the suitable means of distribution), which in the first year would have a circulation of two million copies. Such a newspaper would “teach” and is no sense “demand from” the peasant, and describe what is taking place in the Soviet Union and abroad, with particular attention to that sphere of life with which the peasant comes into near and immediate contact. The new post-revolution peasant will soon acquire a liking for newspaper reading, if we only understand how to provide a suitable one. The circulation of the newspaper would grow from month to month and – be it in the next period only a weekly one – will secure contact between the Soviet State and many millions of peasants. But the newspaper leads us back to industry. Regard must be had to the technical demands. A peasant newspaper must be not only in editorial, but also in typographical respects, a model newspaper, as it would be a pity to place week by week in the peasants’ hands a sample of our city slovenliness.
That is all I wish to say for the time being about the peasant question in reply to the questions put to me. If this answer does not satisfy the comrades who approached me in the matter, I am ready to elucidate it further, supported by exact material obtained from our six-years activity in Soviet enterprise, because this question is of the greatest possible importance.
International Press Correspondence, widely known as”Inprecor” was published by the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI) regularly in German and English, occasionally in many other languages, beginning in 1921 and lasting in English until 1938. Inprecor’s role was to supply translated articles to the English-speaking press of the International from the Comintern’s different sections, as well as news and statements from the ECCI. Many ‘Daily Worker’ and ‘Communist’ articles originated in Inprecor, and it also published articles by American comrades for use in other countries. It was published at least weekly, and often thrice weekly. The ECCI also published the magazine ‘Communist International’ edited by Zinoviev and Karl Radek from 1919 until 1926 monthly in German, French, Russian, and English. Unlike, Inprecor, CI contained long-form articles by the leading figures of the International as well as proceedings, statements, and notices of the Comintern. No complete run of Communist International is available in English. Both were largely published outside of Soviet territory, with Communist International printed in London, to facilitate distribution and both were major contributors to the Communist press in the U.S. Communist International and Inprecor are an invaluable English-language source on the history of the Communist International and its sections.
PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/inprecor/1924/v04n01-jan-04-1924-inprecor.pdf