On the “Unauthorised Seizure” of Land

"If the peasants sow the fields poorly, they should be helped—and this particularly applies to the poor peasants—by means of collective cultivation of the large estates. There is no other way of helping the poor peasants. And this, unfortunately, is just the remedy which S. Maslov does not propose." Published in Pravda No. 61, June 2 (May 20), 1917.

Izvestia of the All-Russia Soviet of Peasants’ Deputies, in its issue No. 10 for May 19, publishes a report by S. Maslov who discourses on the subject of “land seizures”.

“In some places,” says S. Maslov, “the peasants are endeavouring to assert their right to the land by unauthorised seizure of lands belonging to the local landowners. The question arises: is such a procedure advisable?”

S. Maslov considers it inadvisable, and gives four reasons for thinking so. Let us examine his arguments.

Argument 1. Russia’s lands are distributed unevenly in the various regions and gubernias. In pointing out this incontestable fact, S. Maslov says:

“It is not difficult to imagine how complicated the proper settlement of the land question would become if every gubernia or region laid claim only to its own lands and seized them for its own use. It is not difficult to foresee what would happen if the peasants of some villages seized the land of the local landowners and left the other peasants without any land.”

This argument is an obvious, a gross deviation from the truth. It would hold good against anybody who might take it into his head to advise the peasants to seize the land—and seize it in an unorganised way at that—as private property. Take it, share it—and that’s that.

That would indeed be the height of anarchism, the height of absurdity.

We do not know what party, if any, proposed such nonsense. If that is what S. Maslov had in mind, then he is fighting windmills. It is ludicrous.

Our Party, the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party of the Bolsheviks, has proposed in a carefully worded resolution that property in the land be vested in the people as a whole. Consequently, we are opposed to any seizure of land as private property.

But this is not the question at issue, and S. Maslov has betrayed himself by mentioning what is really the essential and cardinal point, namely, the seizure of the landed estates. That is the crux of the matter. It is on this question that S. Maslov is beating about the bush.

The landed estates must be confiscated immediately, that is, private ownership of them must be abolished immediately and without compensation.

And what about the possession of these lands? Who is to take immediate possession of them and cultivate them? The local peasants are to do this in an organised way, that is, in accordance with the decision of the majority. That is the advice of our Party. The local peasants are to have the immediate use of these lands, which are to become the property of the people as a whole. Ownership will be finally decided by the Constituent Assembly (or the All-Russia Council of Soviets, should the people choose to make it the Constituent Assembly).

What has the uneven distribution of lands in the various regions got to do with this? Obviously, nothing whatever. Pending the convocation of the Constituent Assembly this uneven distribution will remain under all plans, be it the landowners’ plan, S. Maslov’s plan or our own plan.

S. Maslov is simply drawing the attention of the peasants away from the matter in hand. He has screened the real issue behind empty words that have no bearing upon the matter.

And the real issue is that of the landed estates. The land owners are for keeping them. We are for handing them over immediately to the peasants without compensation, free of charge. Maslov is for shelving the question by means of “conciliation chambers”.

That is bad. Stalling tactics are bad. The landowners must submit at once to the will of the peasant majority without attempts at conciliation between this peasant majority and the landowner minority. This conciliation is an unlawful, unjust, undemocratic privilege for the landowners.

Maslov’s second argument is this:

“The peasants are for seizing the land in the hope that if they manage to raise a crop on it they will be able to keep it. But this can be done only by such peasant households as have the necessary number of work hands and horses. Horseless families or families that have given most of their labour-power to the army will not be able to get land by this seizure method. Obviously, those who will gain by this method are those who are the stronger, or even those who are more land-prosperous, and not those who arc most in need of land.”

This argument, too, is a downright falsehood. Again S. Maslov tries to draw the attention of the peasants away from the real issue—that of the landed estates. If the peasants were to take the landed estates not by “seizure” (i.e., free of charge, as we propose), but on lease, that is, paying rent for the land (as the landowners and S. Maslov propose)—would anything be altered? Are not horses and work hands needed to till the land rented from the landowners? Can families that have given their working members to the army lease land on a par with large families?

The difference between our Party, the Bolsheviks, and Maslov on this point is that he proposes the land should be taken from the landowners for payment after a “conciliation” agreement has been arrived at, whereas we propose taking it immediately and free of charge.

The question of rich people among the peasants has nothing to do with it. What is more, to take the land free of charge is more in the interests of the poor. To pay rent is easier for the rich.

What measures are possible and necessary to prevent the rich peasant from wronging the poor one?

1. Majority decision (there are more poor than rich). This is what we propose;

2. A special organisation of poor peasants, where they can specially discuss their own special interests. This is what we propose;

3. Common cultivation of the landed estates by common draft animals and common implements under the direction of the Soviets of Agricultural Labourers’ Deputies. This is what we propose.

These last two measures—the most important—are just the ones the Party of the “Socialist-Revolutionaries” does not support. It’s a great pity.

The third argument is this:

“At the beginning, during the early days of the revolution, when rumours were current among the soldiers that back there, at home, a division of the land was taking place, many of them were eager to go home for fear of being done out of their share. Cases of desertion became more frequent.”

This argument concerns the immediate division of the land as private property. No one has proposed any such thing. S. Maslov is wide of the mark again.

The fourth argument:

“Finally, land seizures simply threaten to reduce the crops. There have been cases when the peasants, after seizing the landed estates, have done the sowing poorly , using insufficient seeds or leaving their own land uncultivated. Now that the country is so badly in need of food such a situation is absolutely intolerable.”

This is such a flimsy argument that people can only laugh at it. We are asked to believe that if the land taken from the landowners is paid for it will be cultivated better!

You ought to be ashamed of yourself to use such arguments, Citizen Maslov!

If the peasants sow the fields poorly, they should be helped—and this particularly applies to the poor peasants—by means of collective cultivation of the large estates. There is no other way of helping the poor peasants. And this, unfortunately, is just the remedy which S. Maslov does not propose.

In all justice it should be said that S. Maslov apparently realises the flimsiness of his arguments, for be hastens to add:

“After what I have said I feel that some of you are ready to protest, saying, how can we be told to leave things as they were when we have suffered so much from this big landownership. I do not claim to propose anything.”

Precisely! From what Maslov said it could be inferred that he wished to leave things as they were (although he does not want that). There is something wrong with his arguments then.

It is for the peasants to decide. It Is for parties to propose. Our Party proposes what I have stated above. These proposals have been clearly elaborated in our resolutions,[1] for which see Supplement to No. 13 of Soldatskaya Pravda, price 5 kopeks.

N. Lenin


Source: Marxist Internet Archive