V. I.   Lenin

New Economic Developments in Peasant Life

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



In the previous chapter, data showing the property status of the different groups of peasants and the size of their farms were summarised. We must now sum up data indicating the character of the farming of the various groups of peasants and their methods and systems of farming.

Let us first dwell on Postnikov’s proposition that “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” (p. X). The author demonstrates this proposition by calculating the number of workers and draught animals per given area under crops in the different economic groups. In so doing, however, it is impossible to use the data of family composition, as “the bottom economic groups release part of their working members for outside employment as farm labourers, while the top groups take labourers into employment” (p. 114). The Taurida Zemstvo statistics do not give the number of labourers hired or released for hire, and Postnikov estimates it approximately by taking the Zemstvo statistical data for the number of households which hired people and by calculating how many working people were needed for the given cultivated area. Postnikov admits that he can lay no claim to perfect accuracy for these estimates, but he believes that it is only in the two top groups that his calculations may considerably change the family composition, as the number of hired labourers in the other groups is small. By comparing the data on family composition given above with the following table the reader can test the correctness of this view:

In the three uyezds of Taurida Gubernia
Working persons Average per household
Hired Released for hired Difference
Number in family Working persons[1]
(with hired labourers)
Cultivating up to 5 dess.
" 5 to 10 "
"10 to 25 "
"25 to 50 "
” over 50 "

- 838
- 543
Total 18,079 10,242 +7,837

Comparing the last column with the data of family composition, we see that Postnikov has somewhat understated the number of workers in the bottom and overstated it in the top groups. As his purpose was to prove that the number of workers per given area under crops decreases as the size of the farm increases, his approximate estimates succeeded in minimising rather than exaggerating this decrease.

Having made this preliminary calculation, Postnikov gives the following table showing the relation between the crop area and the number of working persons, draught animals, and then population generally for different groups of peasants (p. 117):

Per 100 dess. of crop area
Area under
crops per
pair of
Households Persons Workers Number
(with hired
Cultivating up to 5 dess.
” 5 to 10 “
"10 to 25 “
"25 to 50 “
” over 50 “
7.1 dess.
8.2 ”
10.2 ”
12.5 ”
14.5 ”
Average 10.9 dess. 5.4 36.6 9 18.3

Thus, with the increase in the size of the farm and in the area cultivated by the peasant, the expenditure on the maintenance of labour-power, human and animal, that prime item of expenditure in agriculture, progressively decreases, and among the groups that cultivate large areas, drops to nearly one-half per dessiatine under crops of what it is among the groups with small cultivated areas” (p,. 117).

The proposition that the maintenance of working persons and draught animals is the predominant item of expenditure in agriculture is confirmed by the author later when he cites the detailed budget of a Mennonite[4] farm: of the total expenditure, 24.3% is general expenditure on the farm; 23.6% is expenditure on draught animals and 52.1% on working persons

Postnikov attributes great importance to his conclusion that the productivity of labour increases with the increase   in the size of the farm (as is shown from the above quotation, taken from his preface); and, indeed, one cannot but admit its importance—firstly, for a study of the economic life of our peasantry and the character of the farming of the various groups; and, secondly, in connection with the general question of the relation between small-scale and large-scale farming. This latter question has been greatly confused by many writers, the chief cause of the confusion being that comparison was made between dissimilar farms, existing in different social conditions and differing in the type of farming; for example, farms whose income was derived from the output of agricultural produce were compared with farms whose income was derived from exploiting other households’ need of land (e.g., peasant and landlord farms in the period immediately following the Reform of 1861).[5] Postnikov is entirely free of this error and does not forget the first rule of all comparisons, namely, that the things compared must be of a similar order.

The author gives a more detailed proof of his proposition in respect of the Taurida uyezds, and cites data, firstly, for each uyezd separately and, secondly, for the Russian population separately, or, rather, for its most numerous group, the former state peasants (pp. 273-74).

Dessiatines under crops per pair of draught animals
For the uyezds in general In the group of former state peasants
Berdyansk Melitopol Dnieper Berdyansk Melitopol Dnieper
Cultivating up to 5 dess.
” 5 to 10 “
"10 to 25 “
"25 to 50 “
” over 50 “




Average 10.7 11.3 10.1

The conclusion reached is the same, that “on the small-scale farm the relative number of draught animals per given crop area is one and a half times or double the number on the ’full’ peasant farm. The same law is revealed by the   house-to-house census in the case of all the other, smaller, groups—former landlords’ peasants, tenant farmers, etc.—and in all localities, even in the smallest, confined to one volost or even one village” (p. 274).

The relation between size of crop area and farm expenditure is also found to be unfavourable for the small farms in respect of another type of expenditure—the maintenance of implements and productive animals.

We have already seen how rapidly both these items increase per farm as we proceed from the bottom group to the top one. If we calculate the quantity of implements per given crop area, we find that it decreases from the bottom to the top group (p. 318):

Per 100 dessiatines of crop area
Iron ploughs
and drill ploughs
Cultivating up to 5 dess.
” 5 to 10 “
"10 to 25 “
"25 to 50 “
” over 50 “
42 head
28.8 "
24.9 "
23.7 "
25.8 "

For the three uyezds
25.5 head

This table shows that as the crop area per household increases, the biggest implements (for cultivation and cartage) progressively decrease in number per given crop area, and, consequently, on the farms of the top groups the cost of maintaining cultivation and cartage implements should be relatively less per dessiatine. The group with up to 10 dessiatines per household under crops constitutes an exception: there are comparatively fewer farm implements than in the next group, with its 16 dessiatines per household under crops, but that is only because many of the peasants do not work with their own implements, but with hired ones, which does not, however, in any way reduce the expenditure on implements” (p. 318).

Zemstvo statistics,” says Postnikov, “prove incontrovertibly that the larger the size of a peasant farm, the smaller the number of implements, workers and draught animals employed on a given cultivated area” (p. 162).

In previous chapters,” says Postnikov further on, “it has been shown that in the Taurida uyezds this phenomenon occurs in all the groups of peasants and in all localities. It can be seen in peasant farming, as the Zemstvo statistics show, in other gubernias as well, where agriculture is also the main branch of peasant economy. This phenomenon, therefore, is widespread and assumes the form of a law, economically of great importance, for it robs small crop farming, to a considerable degree, of all economic sense” (p. 313).

This last remark of Postnikov’s is somewhat premature: to prove the inevitability of small farms being ousted by large ones, it is not enough to demonstrate the greater advantage of the latter (the lower price of the product); the predominance of money (more precisely, commodity) economy over natural economy must also be established; under natural economy, when the product is consumed by the producer himself and is not sent to the market, the cheap product does not encounter the more costly product on the market, and is therefore unable to oust it. But of that more anon.

To prove that the above-established law is applicable to all Russia, Postnikov takes those uyezds for which the Zemstvo statistics contain a detailed economic classification of the population, and calculates the cultivated area per pair of draught animals and per working person in the various groups. The conclusion is the same: “where the peasant farm is a small one the cultivated area has to bear a cost of maintaining labour-power one and a half times to twice as large as when the farm is of a more adequate size” (p. 316). This is true for both Perm (p. 314) and Voronezh gubernias, for both Saratov and Chernigov gubernias (p. 315), so that Postnikov has undoubtedly proved this law to be applicable to all Russia.

Let us now pass to the question of the “incomes and expenditures” (Chapter IX) of the different groups of peasant farms and of their relation to the market.

The territory of every farm that is an independent unit,” says Postnikov, “consists of the following four parts: one part produces food for the sustenance of the working family and of the labourers who live on the farm; this, in the   narrow sense, is the food area of the farm. Another part provides fodder for the cattle working on the farm, and may be called the fodder area. A third part consists of the farm yard, roads, ponds, etc., and of that part of the crop area that produces seed; it may be called the farm-service area, as it serves the needs of the whole farm without distinction. Lastly, the fourth part produces grain and plants destined, either raw or processed, for sale on the market; this is the market or commercial area of the farm. The division of the territory into these four parts is determined in each separate farm, not by the crops grown, but by the immediate purpose of their cultivation.

The cash income of the farm is determined by the commercial part of its territory, and the larger the latter and the greater the relative value of the produce obtained from it, the greater the demand made by the farmers on the market and the larger the amount of labour the country can maintain outside of agriculture within the vicinity of its market; the greater, too, is the state (fiscal) and cultural importance of agriculture to the country, and the greater, too, are the net income of the cultivator himself and the resources at his disposal for farm expenses and for improvements” (p. 257).

This argument of Postnikov’s would be perfectly true, if one, fairly substantial, correction were made: the author speaks of the importance of the farm’s commercial area to the country in general, whereas this can obviously be said only of a country where money economy predominates, where the greater part of the produce assumes the form of commodities. To forget this condition, to consider it self-evident, and to omit a precise investigation of how far it is applicable to the given country, would be to fall into the error of vulgar political economy.

To single out the market area from the farm as a whole is very important. For the home market it is by no means the producer’s income in general (by which the level of his prosperity is determined) that is significant, but exclusively his income in cash. The producer’s possession of monetary resources is not determined by his degree of prosperity: the peasant who obtains from his plot of land sufficient produce to satisfy his own requirements fully, but who engages   in natural economy, is well-off, but he possesses no monetary resources; on the other hand, the half-ruined peasant who obtains from his plot of land only a small part of the grain he needs and who secures the rest (although in a lesser amount and of poorer quality) by casual earnings, is not well-off, but possesses monetary resources. It is clear from this that no discussion on the importance to the market of peasant farms and the incomes they yield can be of any value if not based on a calculation of the cash part of the income.

In order to determine the size of these four parts of the crop area on the farms of the different groups of peasants, Postnikov first estimates the annual consumption of grain, taking the round figure of two chetverts[2] of grain per head (p. 259), which means two-thirds of a dessiatine per head out of the crop area. He then estimates the fodder area at one and a half dessiatines per horse, and the seed area at 6% of the total under crops, and arrives at the following results[3] :

100 dess. under drops consist of Cash income
Food Fodder Com-
Per dess.
Cultivating up to 5 dess.
” 5 to 10 "
"10 to 25 "
"25 to 50 "
” over 50 "



The difference indicated in the cash income of the various groups,” says Postnikov, “is sufficient to illustrate the importance of the size of the farms; but, actually, this difference between the incomes of the various groups from cropping should be even greater, for it must be assumed that the top groups obtain larger harvests per dessiatine and secure better prices for the grain they sell.

In this record of income obtained, we have included the cultivated, and not the total area of the farm, for we have no precise data on the way in which the peasant farms of the Taurida uyezds make use of other farmland for various kinds of livestock; but inasmuch as the cash income of the South-Russian peasant, whose sole pursuit is cropping, is almost entirely determined by the crop area, the above figures fairly accurately depict the difference in the cash income from farming between the various groups of peasants. These figures show how markedly this income changes with the size of the area under crops. A family with 75 dessiatines under crops obtains a cash income of as much as 1,500 rubles a year; a family with 34 1/2 dessiatines under crops obtains 574 rubles a year, whereas one with 16 1/3 dessiatines under crops obtains only 191 rubles. A family which cultivates 8 dessiatines obtains only 30 rubles, a sum insufficient to cover the cash expenditure of the farm without outside earnings. Of course, the figures quoted do not show the net income of the farms; to obtain this we have to deduct the expenditure of the household on taxes, implements, buildings, the purchase of clothing, footwear, etc. But such expenditure does not increase proportionately as the size of the farm increases. Expenditure on maintaining the family increases in proportion to its size, and the latter, as the table shows, increases far more slowly than the crop area of the various groups. As to total farm expenditure (payment of land tax and rental, repair of buildings and implements), they, at any rate, do not increase more than proportionately to the size of farms, whereas the gross cash income from the farm, as the previous table shows, increases in more than direct proportion to the size of the crop area. What is more, all these expenses are very small compared with the main item of farm expenditure, the maintenance of labour-power. We are thus able to formulate the rule that, in peasant economy, the net proceeds per dessiatine from cropping grow progressively smaller as the size of the farm decreases” (p. 320).

We thus see from Postnikov’s figures that peasant farming in the different groups varies substantially with respect to the market: the top groups (with more than 25 dessiatines under crops per household) conduct what is   already commercial farming; they grow grain for the income it provides. In the bottom groups, on the contrary, cropping does not cover the family’s essential needs (this applies to those who cultivate up to 10 dessiatines per household); if we make an exact calculation of all farm expenditure we shall most certainly find that in these groups the farm is run at a loss.

It is also very interesting to make use of data cited by Postnikov to settle the problem of the relationship between the splitting of the peasantry into different groups and the extent of the market demand. We know that the extent of this demand depends on the size of the commercial area and that the latter becomes greater as the size of the farm increases; but parallel to this increase in the size of the farm in the top groups there is a decrease in its size in the bottom groups. As to the number of farms, the bottom groups contain twice as many as the top: the former constitute 40% in the Taurida uyezds, the latter only 20%. Do we not get the result, in general, that the above-mentioned economic split decreases the extent of the market demand? Properly speaking, we are entitled to answer this question in the negative on purely a priori grounds: the fact is that in the bottom groups, the farm is so small that the family’s needs cannot be fully covered by agriculture; to avoid dying of starvation, the members of these bottom groups have to take their labour-power to the market, where its sale provides them with monetary resources and thus counterbalances (to some degree) the lesser demand due to the smaller size of the farms. But Postnikov’s data enable us to give a more precise answer to the problem raised.

Let us take some crop area, say, 1,600 dessiatines, and let us imagine it divided in two ways: firstly, among an economically homogeneous peasantry, and, secondly, among peasants split up into different groups such as we find in the Taurida uyezds today. In the first case, assuming that an average peasant farm has 16 dessiatines under crops (as is actually the case in the Taurida uyezds), we get 100 farms that fully cover their needs by agriculture. The demand made on the market will equal 191 x 100 = 19,100 rubles. Second case: the 1,600 dessiatines under crops are divided among the 100 households differently, exactly as the crop area is actually   divided among the peasants of the Taurida uyezds: 8 households have no crop area at all; 12 cultivate 4 dessiatines each; 20—8 dessiatines each; 40—16 dessiatines each; 17—34 dessiatines each, and 3—75 dessiatines (a total of 1,583 dessiatines, i.e., even a little less than 1,600 dessiatines). With such a distribution, a very considerable section of the peasants (40%) will not be in a position to derive a sufficient return from their land to cover all their needs. The extent of the monetary demand made on the market, counting only the farms with over 5 dessiatines under crops per household, will be as follows: (20 x 30) + (40 x 191) + (17 x 574) + (3 x 1,500) = 21,350 rubles. We thus find that, despite the omission of 20 households [undoubtedly these also have a cash income, but it is not obtained from the sale of their produce], and despite the reduction of the crop area to 1,535 dessiatines, the total monetary demand on the market is higher.[6]

It has already been said that the peasants of the bottom economic groups are forced to sell their labour-power; the members of the top groups, on the contrary, have to buy it, for the workers in their own families are inadequate for the cultivation of their large crop areas. We must now dwell in greater detail on this important fact. Postnikov apparently does not class it under the “new economic developments in peasant life” (at least, he does not mention it in his preface, where he sums up the results of his work), but it is deserving of far more attention than the introduction of machines or the extension of cropping by the well-to-do peasants.

The more affluent peasantry in the Taurida uyezds,” the author says, “generally employ hired labourers to a considerable extent and farm an area that far exceeds the working capacity of the families themselves. Thus, in the three uyezds the percentage of families in all categories of peasants employing hired labourers is as follows:

Cultivating no land
" up to 5 dess .
" 5 to 10 "
" 10 to 25 "
" 25 to 50 "
" over 50 "
Average 12.9%

These figures show that it is mostly the well-to-do farmers with the larger cultivated areas that employ hired labourers” (p. 144).

Comparing the data already given on family composition by groups without hired labourers (for the three uyezds separately) and with hired labourers (for the three uyezds together), we find that by hiring labourers, farmers who sow from 25 to 50 dessiatines per household increase the number of hands on their farms by about one-third (from 1.8 or 1.9 working persons per family to 2.4), while farmers with over 50 dessiatines under crops per household almost double the number of their workers (from 2.3 to 5); even more than double according to the estimate of the author, who considers that they have to hire 8,241 workers (p. 115), while they have only 7,129 of their own. That the bottom groups have to release workers on the side in very large numbers is clear from the very fact that cropping cannot provide them with the amount of produce which they need for their own subsistence. Unfortunately, we have no precise data as to the number of persons released for outside work. An indirect indication of this number may be found in the number of householders who lease their allotments; above we have cited Postnikov’s statement to the effect that about one-third of the inhabitants of the Taurida uyezds do not exploit their allotment land to the full.


[1] Working persons—this somewhat un-English term is used for “working members, men and women of a peasant family or household” as opposed to hired labourers. Ed. Eng. ed. —Lenin

[2] A chetvert equals about six bushels.—Ed. Eng. ed.

[3] To determine the cash income Postnikov proceeded as follows: he assumed that the entire commercial area is sown to the dearest kind of grain—wheat—and, knowing the average crop and prevailing prices, he calculated the value of the produce obtainable from this area. —Lenin

[4] Mennonites—members of a religious sect who came to Russia from West Europe at the end of the eighteenth century. Their name was derived from that of their founder, the Dutchman Menno Simons. They settled mainly in the Yekaterinoslav and Taurida gubernias.   The farms of the Mennonite colonists were mostly prosperous, kulak farms.

[5] The Peasant Reform of 1861, which abolished serfdom in Russia was effected by the tsarist government in the interests of the serf-owning landlords. The Reform was made necessary by the entire course of Russia’s economic development and by the growth of a mass movement among the peasantry against feudal exploitation. The “peasant Reform” was feudal in character, but by force of the economic development that had drawn Russia on to the capitalist path the feudal form was given a capitalist content, and “this was the more evident the less the land was filched from the peasants the more fully the land of the peasants was separated from that of the landlords, the less the tribute (i.e., “redemption”) paid to the serf owners.” (See present edition, Vol. 17, The “Peasant Reform” and Proletarian-Peasant Revolution.) The “peasant Reform” marked a step towards Russia’s transformation into a bourgeois monarchy. On February 19, 1861, Alexander II signed a Manifesto and “Regulations” for the peasants, who were being released from serf dependence. In all, 22,500,000 serfs, formerly belonging to landlords, were “ emancipated.” Landed proprietorship, however, remained, the peasants’ lands were declared the property of the landlords and the peasant could only get a land allotment of the size established by law (and even then by agreement with the landlord) for which he had to pay (redeem). The peasants made their redemption payments to the tsarist government, which had paid the established sums to the landlords. Approximate estimates show that after the Reform, the nobility possessed 71,500,000 dessiatines of land and the peasants 33,700,000 dessiatines. Thanks to the Reform the landlords cut off and appropriated from one to two-fifths of the lands formerly cultivated by the peasants.

The Reform merely undermined but did not abolish the old corvée system of farming. The landlords secured possession of the best parts of the peasants’ allotments (the “cut-off lands,” woods, meadows, watering-places, grazing grounds, and so on), without which the peasants could not engage in independent farming. Until the redemption arrangements were completed the peasants were considered to be “temporarily bound,” and rendered services to the landlord in the shape of quit-rent and corvée service. To compel the peasants to redeem their own allotments was sheer plunder on the part of the landlords and the tsarist government. The peasants were given a period of 49 years in which to pay off the debt, with an interest of 6%. Arrears grew from year to year. The former landlords’ peasants alone paid the tsarist government a total of 1,900 million rubles in redemption money, whereas the market price of the land that passed into their possession did not exceed 544 million rubles. The peasants had to pay hundreds of millions of rubles for what was actually their own land; this ruined their farms and resulted in the impoverishment of the peasant masses.

The Russian revolutionary democrats, headed by N. G. Chernyshevsky, criticised the “peasant Reform” for its feudal character.   V. I. Lenin called the “peasant Reform” of 1861 the first mass act of violence against the peasantry in the interests of nascent capitalism in agriculture—the landlords were “clearing the estates” for capitalism.

[6] The manuscript contained some slight inaccuracies in the figures used to illustrate Lenin’s argument. The total area under crops should be 1,651 dessiatines; the volume of the money demand on the market, reckoning only farms with over 5 dessiatines per household under crops—22,498 rubles. The total area under crops, reckoning farms with over 5 dessiatines per household under crops should be 1,603 dessiatines. The general conclusions, however, are not affected by these inaccuracies.

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