The Need for an Agricultural Labourers’ Union in Russia

"The basic rule, the first commandment, of any trade union movement is not to rely on the “state” but to rely only on the strength of one’s own class."


There is a highly important question which the All-Russia Trade. Union Conference now in session in Petrograd[1] should consider. It is the question of founding an all-Russia union of agricultural labourers.

All classes in Russia are organising. Only the class which is the most exploited and the poorest of all, the most disunited and downtrodden—the class of Russia’s agricultural wage-labourers—-seems to have been forgotten. In some non– Russian border regions, such as the Latvian territory, there are organisations of agricultural wage-labourers. The rural proletariat in the vast majority of the Great-Russian and Ukrainian gubernias has no class organisations.

It is the indisputable and paramount duty of the vanguard of Russia’s proletariat, the industrial workers’ trade unions, to come to the aid of their brothers, the rural workers. The difficulties involved in organising the rural workers are clearly enormous, as is borne out by the experience of other capitalist countries.

This makes it all the more necessary to set about using political liberty in Russia as speedily and vigorously as possible and to immediately found a country-wide union of agricultural labourers. This can and must be done by the trade union conference. It is the more experienced, more developed, more class—conscious representatives of the proletariat gathered at this conference who can and must issue a call to the rural workers, urging the’ latter to join them in the ranks of the independently organising workers, in the ranks of their trade unions. It is the wage-workers at the factories who must take the initiative and use the trade union cells, groups and branches scattered all over Russia to awaken the rural worker to independent action and to active participation in the struggle to improve his position and uphold his class interests.

It may seem to many, and perhaps even to most at the moment, that with the peasants organising throughout Russia and calling for the abolition of private ownership of land and for “equalised” land tenure, this is not the right time to set up a rural workers’ union.

Quite the contrary. This is precisely the time when it is particularly opportune and urgent. Those who share the proletarian class point of view can have no doubt as to the correctness of the proposition which the Mensheviks approved at the Stockholm Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party in 1906 on the initiative of the Bolsheviks, and which has ever since been part of the R.S.D.L,P. programme. That proposition reads:

“The Party should in all eventualities, and whatever the situation with regard to democratic agrarian reforms, consider it as its task to steadfastly strive for independent class organisation of the rural proletariat and explain to it the irreconcilable antithesis between its interests and the interests of the peasant bourgeoisie, to warn it against illusions about the small-holding system, which can never, as long as commodity production exists, do away with the poverty of the masses, and, lastly, to point to the need for a complete socialist revolution as the only means of abolishing all poverty and exploitation.”

Every class-conscious worker, every union member, would agree that these propositions are correct. They must be carried out by the trade unions, since it is a question of independent class organisation of the rural workers.

We hope that at this revolutionary moment, when the urge to express themselves, to chart their own path, to see that life is not shaped anew without the workers themselves independently deciding labour issues, is making itself felt among the working people in general and the workers in particular—that at this time the trade unions will not confine themselves to narrow craft interests and forget their weaker brethren, the rural workers, but will exert all their energy to help them by founding a union of Russia’s rural workers.

In the next article, we shall try to outline some practical steps in this direction.


In the previous article we dealt with the fundamental significance of a rural workers’ union in Russia. Here we shall touch upon certain practical aspects of the question.

A union of Russia’s rural workers should group all who are engaged mainly, or even partly, as labourers at agricultural undertakings.

Experience will show whether or not it will be necessary to subdivide these unions into those of pure agricultural labourers and those of part-time labourers. At any rate, this is not the main thing. The main thing is that the fundamental class interests of all who sell their labour power are identical and that the unity of all who gain at least part of their livelihood by hiring themselves out is absolutely necessary.

The wage-workers in the cities, in the factories, are bound by thousands and millions of ties with the wage-workers in the countryside. A call issued by the former to the latter cannot go unheeded. But issuing a call is not the only thing to be done. The urban workers have far more experience, knowledge, means and forces. Some of their forces should be directly used to help the rural workers on to their feet.

All organised workers should give one day’s wages to promote and strengthen the unity of town and country wage-workers. Let a certain part of this sum be fully used as a contribution from the urban workers to the class unity of the rural workers. Let this fund be drawn on to cover the expenses of putting out a series of the most popular leaflets, of publishing a rural workers’ newspaper—at least a weekly to begin with—and of sending at least a few agitators and organisers to the countryside to immediately set up unions of agricultural labourers in the various Localities.

Only the experience gained by those unions themselves will help find the right method of furthering this work. Each union should first of all try to improve the condition of those who sell their labour power to agricultural under takings and to secure higher pay, better housing conditions, better food, etc.

A most determined war must be declared on the preconceived notion that the coming abolition of private land ownership can “give land” to every farm-hand and day labourer and undermine the very foundations of wage-labour in agriculture. This is a preconceived notion and, moreover, an extremely harmful one. The abolition of private land ownership is a tremendous and unquestionably progressive reform that unquestionably meets the interests of economic development and the interests of the proletariat, a reform which every wage-worker will back to the utmost but which in no way eliminates wage-labour.

You cannot eat land. You cannot farm without livestock, implements, seed, a reserve of produce, or money. To rely on “promises” from anyone—that the wage—workers in the countryside will be “helped” to acquire livestock, implements, etc.—would be the worst kind of error, unpardonable naiveté.

The basic rule, the first commandment, of any trade union movement is not to rely on the “state” but to rely only on the strength of one’s own class. The state is an organisation of the ruling class.

Don’t rely on promises. Rely only on the strength of the unity and political consciousness of your class!

That is why it must be made the immediate task of the rural workers’ trade union not only to fight for better conditions for the workers in general, but in particular to defend their interests as a class during the coming great land reform.

Many peasants and Socialist-Revolutionaries maintain that “labour power must be put at the disposal of the volost committees”. The class of agricultural labourers holds the opposite view—it wants the volost committees to be put at the disposal of labour power! It is clear enough where the master and the labourer stand.

“Land for the whole people.” This is correct. But the people are divided into classes. Every worker knows, sees, feels, experiences this truth which the bourgeoisie deliberately obscure and the petty bourgeoisie always forget.

When alone, a poor man is helpless. No “state” will help the rural wage-worker, the farm-hand, the day-labourer, the poor peasant, the semi-proletarian, if he does not help himself. The first step in this direction is independent class organisation of the rural proletariat.

We hope the all-Russia trade union conference will tackle this task with the greatest energy, will issue a call to all Russia and hold out a helping hand, the mighty hand of the organised vanguard of the proletariat, to the rural workers.


[1] The All-Russia Trade Union Conference was held in Petrograd between June 21 and 28 (July 4–11), 1917. It was attended by 211 delegates, 73 of them being Bolsheviks, and the rest Mensheviks, S.R.s, Bundists and non-party people. Among the items on the agenda were the trade union movement and development and the economic struggle. The Bolsheviks moved resolutions or amendments on all the major issues. The conference carried by a slight majority of 10 or 12 the motions tabled by the defencist Mensheviks. It elected a provisional Central Council of Trade Unions.


Source: Marxist Internet Archive.