V. I. Lenin

Session Of The First Congress Of

Farm Labourers Of Petrograd Gubernia[1]

March 13, 1919

Delivered: 13 March, 1919
First Published: Part 1: Brief report published in Severnaya Kommuna No. 58, March 14, 1919; First published in full in the journal Rabotnik Zemli i Lesa No. 4-5, 1923; Published according to the verbatim report, verified with the text in the journal; Part 2: 1926; Published according to the verbatim report
Source: Lenin’s Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1972 Volume 29, pages 38-46
Translated: George Hanna
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters & Robert Cymbala
Copyleft: V. I. Lenin Internet Archive (www.marx.org) 2002. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.


Speech On The Organisation Of A Farm Labourers’ Union

Comrades, I am very glad to be able on behalf of the Council of People’s Commissars to greet this Congress of Farm Labourers, the object of which is to form a farm labourers’ union.

Comrades, the Central Committee of our Party and the All-Russia Council of Trade Unions have on more than one occasion held joint conferences with Comrade Schmidt, People’s Commissar for Labour, members of the All-Russia Council of Trade Unions and others, to discuss how to set about organising farm labourers. Nowhere in the world, even in the most advanced capitalist countries, where trade unions have existed not only for decades but for centuries, have farm labourers succeeded in forming anything like permanent trade unions. You know how the conditions of life of the peasants and farm labourers hamper this and the fact that they are scattered and disunited is a great obstacle, so that it is far more difficult for them than for urban workers to unite in a trade union.

The workers’ and peasants’ government, however, has set to work all along the line to build communist society. It has not only set out to make a clean sweep of the landowners and capitalists—this has been almost completely achieved—but has set out to build a society in which there will never again be landowners and capitalists. There has been more than one instance in the history of revolutions where, soon after the old landowners and capitalists were swept away, new capitalists sprang up from the ranks of the kulaks, the wealthy peasants, profiteers, who, in many cases, exploited the workers more than the old landowners and capitalists did. The task that confronts us is to sweep away the old capitalists and to make it impossible for new ones to emerge; to see to it that power remains fully, entirely and exclusively in the hands of those who work, who live by their own labour. How can this be done? There is only one way, and that is by organising the rural workers, the proletarians. This organisation must be permanent. Only in a permanent, mass organisation can farm labourers learn the business of managing large-scale farms; for if they do not learn to do this themselves, nobody will do it for them. You remember the words to this effect in our anthem, the Internationale. The most the Soviet government can do is to give such an organisation every assistance. The capitalist organisations did everything in their power, resorted to every lawful means, various ruses, police devices, honest and dishonest schemes to prevent labourers from organising. To this day in Germany, the most advanced country in Europe, farm labourers are deprived of the right to organise. There, the ancient master and servant law is still in force, and farm labourers continue to have the status of servants. Quite recently I had a conversation with a prominent Englishman who came to Russia during the war. In the past he sided with capitalism, but in the course of our revolution he developed splendidly, first into a Menshevik and later into a Bolshevik. During our conversation we discussed labour conditions in England—there are no peasants in England, there are only big capitalists and farm workers—and he said, “I am not hopeful, because our farm labourers live under feudal and not capitalist conditions; they are so overburdened, crushed and ground down by toil, that it is difficult for them to unite.” And this is in a most advanced country, where a certain farm labourer attempted to form a farm labourers’ union quite half a century ago. This is what progress amounts to in the free capitalist countries! Our government, however, decided to help to organise the rural and other workers as soon as it came into being. We must render every assistance. I am particularly pleased to note that here, in Petrograd, where there are so many beautiful buildings, palaces, which were not built for the right purposes, our comrades have quite properly converted them into premises for meetings, congresses and conferences of precisely those classes of the population which worked to build them, which have built them for centuries, but which were never allowed to come within a mile of them! (Applause.) I think, comrades, that now that nearly all the palaces in Petrograd have been converted into meeting halls and premises for unions of workers—primarily urban, but also rural workers, the working section of the peasantry—I think that we may regard this as a first step towards providing the working people, the formerly exploited section of the population, with the opportunity to organise. I repeat, the Soviet government will do all in its power immediately and unconditionally to help such an organisation to remould rural life and leave no room for kulaks or profiteers, so that co-operative labour, labour in common, may become the general rule in the countryside. This is the task we have all set ourselves. You know perfectly well how difficult this task is, that it is impossible to change all the conditions of rural life by means of decrees, laws and ordinances. It was possible by means of ordinances and decrees to overthrow the landowners and capitalists, it is possible by this means to curb the kulaks. But if the millions of farm labourers will not have their own organisation, if they do not learn in this organisation, step by step, to manage their own affairs, political and economic—and the economic affairs are most important—if they do not learn to manage large-scale farms and transform them—since they enjoy a number of privileges which other farms do not—from models of exploitation where formerly the workers had their sweat and blood squeezed out of them, into model co-operative farms, the working people themselves will be to blame for it. The old farms cannot now be restored. It is impossible for us to provide ten good horses and ten good ploughs for every hundred dessiatines of land (if we take ten small farms of ten dessiatines each). We have not that number of horses or ploughs left. But if the same hundred dessiatines are cultivated on a large scale on the basis of co-operative or common tillage, or as a voluntary agricultural commune, we shall need, probably, not ten horses and ploughs, but only three. This is how a saving in human labour and better results can be achieved. But there is only one way to achieve this, and that is by an alliance of urban and rural workers. The urban workers have taken power in the cities. All the best that has been created in the cities in the shape of palaces, fine buildings and culture, the workers place at the disposal of the rural population, for they know that their power in the cities cannot be durable unless a sound alliance is established with the farm workers. Only such an alliance, the foundations of which you are here laying down, can make a permanent change possible. The middle peasants, too, will voluntarily join this alliance. It will entail a vast amount of effort, of course, but nothing can be done at one stroke. If your union is formed, if it grows, develops and spreads all over Russia, if it maintains the closest contact with the urban workers’ union, we shall fulfil this difficult task by the joint efforts of millions of organised farm and urban workers and thus extricate ourselves from the state of ruin into which we and all other nations were plunged by the four years’ war. We shall emerge from this state, but we shall not go back to the old system of individual and scattered production—this system of production condemns man to ignorance, poverty, disunity; we shall organise collective, large-scale, co-operative production. For this, all that human knowledge, human skill and human invention have achieved, all the knowledge of the specialists, must be devoted to the service of the united workers. The workers must become the masters in all fields; they must learn to be managers and to direct those who up to now, like many agronomists, for example, acted as stewards for the capitalists against the workers. This is no easy problem, but in the towns very much has been done to solve it. You are now taking the first steps towards solving this problem in the rural districts. Permit me to conclude by repeating my greetings from the Council of People’s Commissars and to express once again the firm conviction that the union of which you are here laying the foundations will in the near future grow into a united All-Russia Farm Labourers’ Union. This union will serve as a genuine bulwark of Soviet power in the rural districts, as the vanguard in the struggle to remould rural life in such a way as to prevent the revival of any exploitation, of the rule of the rich over the poor, on the basis of common, united, co-operative labour. This is what I wish you, comrades. (Applause.)


Replies To Written Questions

Two notes have been handed up, both asking whether workers in state farms are allowed to keep their own small livestock, vegetable plots and poultry. I have just asked for a copy of the act we recently discussed in the Council of People’s Commissars and which was passed by the Central Executive Committee. This act is entitled “Statute on Socialist Land Settlement and the Measures for the Transition to Socialist Farming”. I don’t know whether a copy of this act is available here. I helped to draft it and delivered a report on it to the Commission set up by the Central Executive Committee. If my memory does not betray me—we have so many laws that one cannot remember them all, and many more acts have been passed since then—I think this act contains a clause which prohibits workers in state farms from keeping their own livestock and holding separate vegetable plots. I should like to have a copy of that act and consult it. (A copy of the act is handed to Lenin.) Here is Clause 46: “No worker or office employee in a state farm shall have the right to keep his own livestock, poultry, or vegetable plot.” Thus, it turns out that not all of you were aware of the existence of this act. One of the comrades in the Presidium told me that there was a heated debate on this question at this Congress. I do not quite understand why. I have just been handed a copy of Izvestia containing this act entitled “Statute on Socialist Land Settlement and the Measures for the Transition to Socialist Farming”. Why was this clause inserted in the act? To introduce labour in common on a common farm. If private vegetable plots, animals, poultry, and so forth, were permitted again, we should revert to the small farming that had existed hitherto. If that were the case, would it be worth while to have all this bother. Would it be worth while establishing state farms? It goes without saying that if you discuss this question and, knowing as you do the conditions prevailing in Petrograd Gubernia—I am told that this Congress consists solely of representatives of Petrograd Gubernia—if on the basis of your experience of what has been done in Petrograd Gubernia, and in spite of all the arguments in favour of common production, you arrive at the conclusion that a temporary exception should be made for this gubernia, we shall re-examine the question. Only, you must try to prove to us that such an exception is really necessary, that special conditions, absent in other gubernias, prevail in Petrograd Gubernia, otherwise, all the others will demand the same exception. Then you must explain that you regard the measure you recommend to the government, or on which you insist, as a temporary one, for there can hardly be any dispute about the fact that a state farm deserving the name must be run on the basis of common labour. We have had the old system of labour whereby each peasant toiled on his own strip of land, had his own farm-house, his own cattle, poultry, harrow, wooden plough, and so forth, for many years, for many centuries. We know perfectly well that in Russia and in other countries this resulted in the peasants remaining ignorant and poverty-stricken with the rich oppressing the poor, for the problems that have to be faced in agriculture cannot be solved on individual lines. If we attempt it, it will only result in a reversion to the former poverty, from which only one in a hundred, or perhaps, five out of a hundred, climb into the ranks of the more well-to-do, while the rest live in want. That is why our task is now to go over to the collective tillage of the land, to large-scale farming in common. But the Soviet government must not under any circumstances resort to coercion. There is no law which makes this compulsory. Agricultural communes are established on a voluntary basis; the adoption of collective tillage must be voluntary; the workers and peasants’ government must refrain from exercising the slightest compulsion, and the law prohibits this. If anyone of you here knows of cases of compulsion, then please regard it as an abuse of power, an infringement of the law, which we shall do our utmost to rectify, which we shall rectify. Organised farm labourers must help us; only with the aid of their organisation shall we be able to prevent such abuses. The state farms, however, are something different. They were never in the hands of individual small farmers. The Soviet government takes them over and says that we shall send the available agronomists to them and transfer to them all the farm implements that have remained intact. If we succeed in bringing the war to a close and conclude peace with America, we shall order a shipload of up-to-date implements and supply the state farms with them so that these large-scale farms may by common labour produce better than before, at lower cost than before, and more than before. It will be the function of the state farms gradually to teach the rural population to work out for themselves the new system, the system of common labour, which will prevent the resurgence of a handful of rich men to exploit tha masses of the poor as was always the case in the rural districts, not only in this country but also in the most free of republics. You know perfectly well that there are still large numbers of peasant profiteers in the rural districts who piled up hundreds of thousands of rubles during the war, who are hoarding Kerensky notes in anticipation of being able to in vest them again and so exploit the poor peasants. What measures can be taken to combat this? None, except the adoption of collective farming. Agricultural communes must be formed on an entirely voluntary basis; there must be no coercion whatever. The same applies to collective tillage of the land. State farms are established on nationalised land. You know that on the demand of the vast majority of the peasants the private ownership of land was entirely abolished on October 26, 1917, on the first night after our Soviet revolution. These large-scale farms established on nationalised land are called state farms. Can we allow the old system of small farming to revive on state farms? I think you will all agree that we cannot, and must not do so. If the economic conditions prevailing in Petrograd Gubernia, the conditions of practical work with which you are closely familiar, and which we, of course, could not take into account as we were not aware of them—if, after thoroughly discussing the matter from all angles you arrive at the conclusion that these conditions make an exception necessary in the case of Petrograd Gubernia, that for a time it should be exempted, then, in order that we may revise our decision you must try to submit the most definite proof possible that this is necessary, and if you do I promise that we shall discuss this matter again in the Council of People’s Commissars, in the light of the decision of your Congress, and examine it again in the Central Executive Committee. We shall discuss whether Petrograd Gubernia should be exempted for a time, and under certain conditions, from the operation of Clause 46, which prohibits the possession of vegetable plots, small livestock, poultry, and so forth by state farm employees. Although we agree that it is necessary to adopt farming in common, and although all the work will be conducted on these lines, nevertheless, on the recommendation of people who are familiar with the practical side of the work; we shall make an exception—we shall not refuse to do so, for sometimes it is necessary to make exceptions. We trust that by working on these lines good progress will be made, and that we shall succeed in laying the foundations of real socialist agriculture. (Applause.)


[1] This Congress was held in Petrograd, March 11-13, 1919, and was attended by about 200 delegates. The Congress discussed urgent problems, the work of the Organising Bureau and current agricultural policy, and heard reports from localities. The Congress adopted the Rules of the Farm Labourers’ Union and elected its executive.