An Open Letter to the Delegates to the All-Russia Congress of Peasants’ Deputies
Comrades, peasant deputies,
The Central Committee of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party (Bolsheviks), to which I have the honor to belong, wanted me to represent our Party at the Peasant Congress, but illness has prevented me from carrying out this commission. I therefore take the liberty of addressing this open letter to you in order to greet the all-Russia union of the peasantry and briefly to point out the deep-seated differences that divide our Party on the one hand and the party of the Socialist-Revolutionaries and the Menshevik Social-Democrats on the other.
These profound differences concern the three most important issues: the land, the war, and state organization.
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 organised a way as possible, under no circumstances allowing damage to 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.
Only local bodies are able preliminarily to take charge of the land. 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 organised way, of plowing 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.
The second question is the question of the war.
This war is a war of conquest. It is being waged by the capitalists of all countries with predatory aims, to increase their profits. To the working people this war can spell only ruin, suffering, devastation, and brutalization. That is why our Party, the party of class-conscious workers and poor peasants, emphatically and unqualifiedly condemns this war, refuses to justify the capitalists of the one country as against the capitalists of another, refuses to support the capitalists of any country whatever, and is working for the speediest termination of the war through the overthrow of the capitalists in all countries, through a workers’ revolution in all countries.
In our new Provisional Government, there are ten ministers belonging to the landowner and capitalist parties and six to the Narodnik (Socialist-Revolutionary) and Menshevik Social-Democratic parties. In our opinion the Narodniks and Mensheviks have made a grave and fatal mistake in joining the capitalist government and in general agreeing to support it. Men like Tsereteli and Chernov are hoping to induce the capitalists to bring the present predatory war to a speedy and more honorable end. But these leaders of the Narodnik and Menshevik parties are mistaken: they are, in effect, helping the capitalists to prepare an offensive by the Russian troops against Germany, that is, to drag out the war, to add to the incredibly enormous sacrifices the Russian people have made in the war.
We are convinced that the capitalists in all countries are deceiving the people by promising an early and just peace when they are actually prolonging the war of conquest, The Russian capitalists, who controlled the old Provisional Government and continue to control the new one, did not even wish to publish the secret predatory treaties ex-Tsar Nicholas Romanov concluded with the capitalists of Britain, France, and other countries with the object of wresting Constantinople from the Turks, Galicia from the Austrians, Armenia from the Turks, and so on. The Provisional Government has confirmed these treaties.
Our Party maintains that these treaties are just as criminal and predatory as the treaties the German brigand-capitalists and their brigand-Emperor Wilhelm have with their allies.
The blood of the workers and peasants must not be shed for the sake of such predatory aims of the capitalists.
This criminal war must be brought to a speedy end, not by a separate peace with Germany, but by a universal peace, not by a capitalist peace, but by a peace of the working masses against the capitalists. There is only one way to do this, and that is by transferring all state power to the Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’, and Peasants’ Deputies both in Russia and in other countries. Only such Soviets will be able effectively to prevent the capitalists from deceiving the peoples, and prevent the war being dragged on by the capitalists.
This brings me to the third and last of the questions I have mentioned: the question of state organization.
Russia must become a democratic republic. Even the majority of the landowners and capitalists, who have always stood for the monarchy but now see that the people of Russia will on no account allow it to be restored, are in agreement with this. The capitalists now have directed all their efforts at making the Russian republic as much like a monarchy as possible so that it might be changed back into a monarchy with the least difficulty (this has happened time and again in many countries). For this purpose the capitalists want to preserve the bureaucracy, which stands above the people, to preserve the police and the standing army, which is separated from the people and commanded by non-elective generals and other officers. And the generals and other officers, unless they are elected, will almost invariably be landowners and capitalists. That much we know from the experience of all the republics in the world.
Our Party, the party of class-conscious workers and poor peasants, is therefore working for a democratic republic of another kind. 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.
We want a republic where all state power, from the bottom up, belongs wholly and exclusively to the Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’, Peasants’, and other Deputies.
The workers and peasants are the majority of the population. The power must belong to them, not to the landowners or the capitalists.
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.
Such are our views, comrade peasant deputies. We are firmly convinced that experience will soon show the broad masses how erroneous the policy of the Narodniks and Mensheviks is. Experience will soon show the masses that compromise with the capitalists cannot save Russia, which, like Germany and other countries, is standing on the brink of disaster, cannot save the war-wearied peoples. The transfer of all state power directly to the majority of the population alone can save the peoples.
Petrograd, May 7 [May 20 – modern calendar], 1917