V. I.   Lenin

New Economic Developments in Peasant Life

(On V. Y. POSTNIKOV’S Peasant Farming in South Russia)



V. Y. Postnikov’s Peasant Farming in South Russia (Moscow, 1891, pp. XXXII + 391), which appeared two years ago, is an extremely detailed and thorough description of peasant farming in the Taurida, Kherson and Yekaterinoslav gubernias,[1] but chiefly in the mainland (northern) uyezds of Taurida Gubernia. This description is based firstly—and primarily—on the Zemstvo[5] statistical investigations of the three gubernias mentioned; and, secondly, on the author’s personal observations made partly in his official capacity,[2] and partly for the special purpose of studying peasant farming in 1887-1890.

An attempt to combine into one whole the Zemstvo statistical investigations for an entire region and to set forth the results in systematic form is in itself of tremendous interest, since the Zemstvo statistics provide a mass of detailed material on the economic conditions of the peasantry, but they do so in a form that renders these investigations practically useless to the public: the Zemstvo statistical abstracts comprise whole volumes of tables (a separate   volume is usually devoted to each uyezd), the mere summarising of which under sufficiently definite and comprehensive headings is a labour in itself. The need to summarise and analyse Zemstvo statistical data has long been felt. It is for this purpose that the publication of the Results of Zemstvo Statistical Investigations was recently undertaken. The plan of this publication is as follows: a particular question related to peasant farming is taken, and a special investigation is carried out, bringing together all the data on this question contained in the Zemstvo statistics; data are brought together relating to the black-earth South of Russia and to the non-black-earth North, to the exclusively agricultural gubernias and to the gubernias where there are handicraft industries. The two published volumes of Results have been compiled according to this plan; the first is devoted to the “peasant community” (V. V.), the second to “peasant rentings of non-allotment land” (N. Karyshev).[6] It is quite reasonable to doubt the correctness of this method of summarising: firstly, data relating to different economic regions with different economic conditions have to be placed under one heading (the separate characterisation of each region involves tremendous difficulties due to the incompleteness of the Zemstvo investigations and the omission of many uyezds. These difficulties were already evident in the second volume of Results ; Karyshev’s attempt to assign the data contained in the Zemstvo statistics to definite regions was unsuccessful); secondly, it is quite impossible to give a separate description of one aspect of peasant farming without touching on others; the particular question has to be artificially abstracted, and the completeness of the picture is lost. Peasant rentings of non-allotment land are divorced from the renting of allotment land, from general data on the economic classification of the peasants and the size of the crop area; they are regarded only as part of peasant farming, whereas actually they are often a special method of private-landowner farming. That is why a summary of Zemstvo statistical data for a given region where the economic conditions are uniform would, I think, be preferable.

While expressing, in passing, my views on a more correct way of summarising Zemstvo statistical investigations,   views to which I am led by comparing the Results with Postnikov’s book, I must, however, make the reservation that Postnikov did not, in fact, aim at summarising materials: he pushes the figures into the background and concentrates his attention on a full and clear description.

In his description, the author pays almost equal attention to questions of an economic, administrative-legal character (forms of land tenure) and of a technical character (boundaries, farming system, harvests), but with the intention of keeping questions of the first kind in the foreground.

I must confess,” says Mr. Postnikov in the Preface, “that I devote less attention to the technique of peasant farming than I might have done; but I take this course because, in my view, conditions of an economic character play a much more important part in peasant farming than technique. In our press... the economic aspect is usually ignored.... Very little attention is paid to investigating fundamental economic problems, such as the agrarian and boundary problems are for our peasant farming. It is to the elucidation of these problems, and of the agrarian problem in particular, that this book is chiefly devoted” (Preface, p. IX).

Fully sharing the author’s views on the relative importance of economic and technical questions, I intend to devote my article only to that part of Mr. Postnikov’s work in which peasant farming is subjected to political-economic investigation.[3]

In his preface the author defines the main points of the investigation as follows:

The considerable employment of machines that has recently become evident in peasant farming and the marked increase in the size of farms belonging to the well-to-do   section of the peasantry, constitute a new phase in our agrarian life, the development of which will undoubtedly receive a new stimulus from the severe economic conditions of the present year. The productivity of peasant labour and the working capacity of the family rise considerably with the increase in the size of the farm and the employment of machines, a point hitherto overlooked in defining the area that a peasant family can cultivate....

The employment of machines in peasant farming causes substantial changes in peasant life: by reducing the demand for labour in agriculture and rendering the existing agricultural over-population still more acute for the peasants, it helps to increase the number of families which, having become superfluous in the villages, are forced to seek outside employment and virtually become landless. At the same time, the introduction of large machines in peasant farming raises the peasant’s living standard, even under the prevailing methods and extensive character of agriculture, to a level hitherto undreamt of. Therein lies the guarantee of the strength of the new economic developments in peasant life. To draw attention to and elucidate these developments among the peasantry of South Russia is the immediate purpose of this book” (Preface, p. X).

Before proceeding to outline what, in the opinion of our author, these new economic developments are, I must make two reservations.

Firstly, it has been said above that Postnikov provides data for Kherson, Yekaterinoslav and Taurida gubernias; data in sufficient detail are given only for the latter gubernia, however, and then not for the whole of it; the author gives no data for the Crimea, where the economic conditions are somewhat different, and confines himself exclusively to the three northern, mainland uyezds of Taurida Gubernia—Berdyansk, Melitopol and Dnieper uyezds. I shall confine myself to the data for these three uyezds.

Secondly, in addition to Russians, Taurida Gubernia is inhabited by Germans and Bulgarians, whose numbers, however, are small compared with the Russian population: in Dnieper Uyezd, there are 113 households of German colonists out of 19,586 households in the uyezd, i.e., only 0.6%; in Melitopol Uyezd, there are 2,159   (1,874 + 285) German and Bulgarian households out of 34,978, i.e., 6.1%. Lastly, in Berdyansk Uyezd, 7,224 households out of 28,794, i.e., 25%. Taken together, in all the three uyezds, the colonists account for 9,496 households out of 83,358, i.e., about one-ninth. Consequently, the number of colonists is, on the whole, very small, and in the Dnieper Uyezd is quite insignificant. The author describes the colonists’ farming in detail, always separating it from that of the Russians. All these descriptions I omit, confining myself exclusively to the farming of the Russian peasants. True, the figures given combine the Russians and the Germans, but, owing to the small number of the latter, their addition cannot change the general picture, so that it is quite permissible, on the basis of these data, to describe Russian peasant farming. The Russian population of Taurida Gubernia, who have settled in this region during the past 30 years, differ from the peasantry of the other Russian gubernias only by their greater affluence. Community land tenure in these areas is, in the words of our author, “typical and stable.”[4] In a word, if the colonists are omitted, peasant farming in Taurida Gubernia does not differ fundamentally from the general type of Russian peasant farming.


[1] Administrative divisions : the biggest territorial division in tsarist Russia was the gubernia (literally—governor’s province); each gubernia had its capital city which was the seat of the governor. The gubernia was divided in uyezds (counties), each with its administrative centre and these, in turn, were divided into volosts (rural districts) containing a number of villages. —#8212;Ed. Eng. ed.

[2] The author was an official in the Government Land Department of Taurida Gubernia. —Lenin

[3] It seems to me that such an exposition is worth while inasmuch as Mr. Postnikov’s book, one of the most outstanding in our economic literature of recent years, has passed almost unnoticed. This may partly be explained by the fact that although the author recognises the great importance of economic problems, he treats them too fragmentarily and encumbers his exposition with details relating to other problems. —Lenin

[4] Individual land tenure prevails in only 5 villages. —Lenin

[5] Zemstvos—local self-governmnt bodies, in which the nobility dominated. The Zemstvos were established in 1894 in the central gubernias of tsarist Russia, their competence being confined to purely local economic affairs (hospital and road building, statistics, insurance, etc.). They functioned under the control of the Gubernia   Governors and the Minister of Home Affairs, who could invalidate decisions undesirable to the government.

The statistical sections, bureaus, and commissions of Gubernia and Uyezd Zemstvo Boards, engaged in statistical research (house to-house censuses of peasant farms and handicraft establishments, determination of profitability of lands, revaluations of land and property liable to Zemstvo taxation, study of peasant budgets, etc.) and issued numerous reviews and statistical abstracts covering uyezds or gubernias, and containing a wealth of factual material.

Lenin had a high opinion of the Zemstvo statistical data, and pointed out that “a close study of Russian Zemstvo statistics by Europeans would no doubt give a strong impetus to the progress of social statistics in general.” (The Agrarian Question and the “Critics of Marx.” See present edition, Vol. 5.) At the same time Lenin criticised the methods of analysing and grouping statistical data used by the Zemstvo statisticians. “This is the greatest weakness of our Zemstvo statistics, that are magnificent in the thoroughness and detail with which they are compiled,” wrote Lenin. (The Tasks of Zemstvo Statistics. See present edition, Vol. 20.) The Zemstvo statisticians, many of whom were Narodniks in outlook, were frequently biased in their approach to the statistical data. In their treatment of these data, essential differences and features of the various peasant groups formed in the course of capitalist development were hidden behind columns of figures.

Lenin studied, checked and analysed Zemstvo statistical data made his own calculations, drew up tables and summaries, and gave a Marxist analysis and scientific classification of data on peasant farms and handicraft establishments. He used the wealth of material contained in the Zemstvo statistics to expose the far-fetched schemes of the Narodniks, and drew a real picture of Russia’s economic development. He made extensive use of the data in his writings, and especially in his book The Development of Capitalism in Russia. (On Zemstvo statistics see V. I. Lenin’s paper The Tasks of Zemstvo Statistics, written in 1914.)

[6] Reference is made to the collection entitled Results of the Economic Investigation of Russia According to Zemstvo Statistical Data, of which Vol. I is: V. V.—The Peasant Community ; Vol. II: N. Karyshev—Peasant Rentings of Non-Allotment Land, Dorpat, 1892. Both the books expressed liberal-Narodnik views. V. V. was the pseudonym of V. P. Vorontsov, an ideologist of liberal Narodism of the 1880s and 1890s.

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