Lenin: Architect of the Worker-Peasant Alliance
THE famous Hungarian Marxist and author of History and Class Consciousness, Gyorgy Lukacs, called Lenin “the only theoretician equal to Marx yet produced by the struggle for the liberation of the proletariat.” Lenin, whose death centenary we commemorate this year, was an extremely rare combination of theory and practice, of movement and organisation. His supreme achievement was, of course, to lead the first successful socialist revolution in the world, defend it against all odds, and build a Communist Party that would achieve this task.
Among the many seminal theoretical contributions made by Lenin to Marxism was his pioneering of the concept of the worker-peasant alliance for a socialist revolution. Not only did he theoretically propound this concept; but he also practically worked to make it a reality for the success of the October Revolution in Russia, and maintained it for building socialism.
EVOLUTION OF THE CONCEPT
Marx and Engels in their rich writings mainly concentrated their attention on the proletariat – the working class – in the then relatively advanced industrial capitalist countries of Europe. The proletariat, they declared, would provide leadership to the struggle for a radical social transformation from capitalism to socialism. They, of course, took account of both the positive and negative aspects of the role of different strata of the peasantry.
The experience of the heroic Paris Commune of 1871 showed that one of the main reasons for its defeat was that the French bourgeoisie was able to obtain the support of the peasantry against the Commune that was led by the working class. This support was mustered by creating in the peasantry the fear that the working class attack on bourgeois property would rebound into an attack on peasant property as well.
However, Marx and Engels were also aware of the positive potential of the peasantry. This comes through clearly in a letter written by Marx to Engels on April 16, 1856, where he says, “The whole thing in Germany will depend on the possibility of backing the proletarian revolution by some second edition of the Peasant War. Then the affair will be splendid…” Lenin took serious note of this observation very early on, and again repeated it in one of the last articles in his life called Our Revolution, first published in Pravda on May 30, 1923.
At the young age of 26, Lenin wrote The Development of Capitalism in Russia in 1896. In that book he underlined the revolutionary potential of both the proletariat and the peasantry. As early as 1901, in his article The Workers’ Party and the Peasantry, Lenin spoke of the revolutionary aim of working class struggles and then wrote, “Can this aim be achieved without sowing the seeds of the class struggle and political consciousness among the many millions of the peasantry? Let no one say it is impossible to sow these seeds! It is already being done in a thousand ways that escape our attention and influence.” In 1903, Lenin greatly expanded on this theme through his book To the Rural Poor, which still retains its relevance.
DUAL AIM OF THE WORKER-PEASANT ALLIANCE
The first Russian Revolution of 1905, which was crushed by the Tsarist regime, yielded valuable lessons. It was then that the Bolshevik Party gave the slogan for a “revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry.” This was a valuable enrichment of Marxism.
The basic analysis and argument for this new slogan that Lenin advanced, on the basis of the concrete analysis of concrete conditions, was as follows. There was a great difference between early capitalism and late capitalism. The French Revolution of 1789 led by the bourgeoisie, representing early capitalism, had smashed feudalism and had redistributed the lands of the feudal estates among the peasantry. But the bourgeoisie in late capitalism, in Russia and elsewhere, had lost its earlier vigour, was incapable of striking such mortal blows to feudalism, was in fact trying to strike compromises with the feudal order which frustrated the democratic aspirations of the peasantry, and was itself being threatened by the emerging working class. The bourgeoisie was terrified that if it attacked feudal property, this would lead to a rebound attack by the working people on bourgeois property as well.
It was in such a situation that Lenin put forward the conception of a worker-peasant alliance, led by the working class, which would not only complete the democratic (anti-feudal) revolution, but then would also move forward to a socialist (anti-capitalist) revolution. Thus, the following conclusion was drawn by Lenin in his celebrated book Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution written in 1905, “The proletariat must carry the democratic revolution to completion, allying to itself the mass of the peasantry in order to crush the aristocracy’s resistance by force and paralyse the bourgeoisie’s instability. The proletariat must accomplish the socialist revolution, allying to itself the mass of semi-proletarian elements of the population, so as to crush the bourgeoisie’s resistance by force and paralyse the instability of the peasantry and the petit bourgeoisie.”
Based on the cardinal principle of strengthening the worker-peasant alliance, Lenin and the Bolshevik Party consistently took several vigorous policy positions and practical steps until and especially after the October Revolution, when it was in power.
The classic rallying slogan of the Russian Revolution itself, “Peace! Land! Bread!”, reflected this unity. Soviets of workers, peasants, and soldiers were elected, and their deputies came together in conferences. Towards the end of his last article dated March 2, 1923, called Better Fewer, But Better, which deals with the tasks of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection, Lenin wrote, “We must strive to build up a state in which the workers retain the leadership of the peasants, in which they retain the confidence of the peasants, and by exercising the greatest economy remove every trace of extravagance from our social relations.”
IMPERIALISM AND NEW CHALLENGES
Lenin made a brilliant analysis of imperialism in 1916 in his book of the same name. Today, after more than a century, the basic character of imperialism outlined by Lenin – its exploitation, loot, inequalities, wars, destruction – have further accentuated. International finance capital is on the rampage. Millions have been killed in wars and famines. Planet earth is itself in grave danger due to global warming and environmental degradation.
The theory and practice of the worker-peasant alliance pioneered by Lenin has led to victorious socialist revolutions not only in Russia, but also in China, Vietnam, Korea, and Cuba. In each of these countries, the victorious revolutionary forces had to battle against the bourgeois-landlord ruling classes, and also against imperialism which backed them to the hilt.
In the new era of imperialist globalisation and neoliberalism, with neo-fascist, chauvinist, communal, and racist tendencies raising their ugly heads, the cardinal importance of forging and strengthening the worker-peasant alliance in each country has grown exponentially. Because in addition to feudalism and its remnants, the working class and the peasantry are today facing the even bigger assault of neoliberalism and its attendant evils. This can only be repulsed by a much greater unity of both these productive, and exploited, classes.
As Prabhat Patnaik writes, “The prospect of a revolution over much of the third world depends crucially upon the successful building of a worker-peasant alliance. Without such an alliance any revolutionary transcendence of capitalism is not possible, just as the October Revolution itself would not have been possible without such an alliance.
“The necessity for such an alliance arises today not just for completing the anti-feudal democratic revolution, but also for overcoming the acute agrarian crisis, and in general the crisis of petty production, that contemporary globalisation has unleashed over much of the third world. It has entailed an elimination of State support for petty production which the post-colonial dirigiste regimes had provided in varying degrees, in keeping with the promises of the anti-colonial struggle, and has exposed this sector to encroachment by globally mobile big capital and to the vicissitudes of world market price fluctuations.
“Since the growth in demand for labour in the capitalist sectors of these economies has been woefully inadequate, falling short even of the natural growth of the work-force, this encroachment by big capital on petty production has brought acute distress to millions of working people, including to workers employed within the capitalist sector itself. In India for instance more than four lakh peasants have committed suicide over the last three decades.”
RECENT EFFORTS IN INDIA
The CPI(M) Programme updated in 2000, says in Para 7.6,“The core and basis of the people’s democratic front is the firm alliance of the working class and the peasantry. This alliance is the most important force in defending national independence, accomplishing far-reaching democratic transformations, and ensuring all round social progress. The role of the other classes in carrying out the revolution crucially depends on the strength and stability of the worker-peasant alliance.”
Worker-peasant unity in India had been manifested in various glorious instances in our anti-imperialist freedom struggle, and also in the earlier historic struggles of the working class and the peasantry. In recent years, conscious efforts have been made in this direction through the large joint countrywide actions of the CITU, AIKS, and AIAWU since 2018 up to 2023. A very significant watershed was achieved in the iconic and victorious one year long nationwide farmers’ struggle in 2020-21 against the three hated farm laws. It was led by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), and it received the unstinted support of the working class under the leadership of the Central Trade Unions (CTUs). Similarly, CTUs-led nationwide strikes received the full support of the SKM. This joint struggle by the two class combines is continuing in 2024.
However, all this is still only a very small beginning. Vastly more extensive and intensive agitational, political, ideological, and organisational steps must be taken to achieve the immediate goal of defeating the present corporate-communal-Manuwadi-authoritarian RSS-BJP government in India. And immensely greater efforts must be made by Left and democratic forces in India to build the worker-peasant alliance of Lenin’s dreams, which alone can succeed in achieving a truly revolutionary social transformation in our country.