V. I.   Lenin

New Economic Developments in Peasant Life

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



It can be seen from the data given above that Postnikov has fully proved his point on the “tremendous diversity” in the economic status of the various households. This diversity applies not only to the property status of the peasants and the size of the areas they cultivate, but even to the character of the farming in the different groups. That is still not all. It turns out that the terms “diversity” and “differentiation” are inadequate for a full description of the phenomenon. When one peasant owns one draught animal and another 10, we call that differentiation; but when one rents scores of dessiatines of land above the allotment that satisfies his needs, with the sole object of deriving profit from   its exploitation, thus depriving another peasant of the opportunity of renting land which he requires in order to feed his family, we obviously are faced with something much bigger; we have to call that sort of thing “strife” p. 323), a “struggle of economic interests” (p. XXXII). Although he employs these terms, Postnikov does not fully appreciate their importance; nor does he see that the terms themselves are inadequate. To rent allotment land from the impoverished section of the population, and to hire as a labourer the peasant who has ceased to run his own farm is something more than mere strife—it is downright exploitation.

Recognising the profound economic strife among the peasantry of today, we can no longer restrict ourselves to just dividing the peasants into several strata according to the property they possess. Such a division would suffice if the diversity mentioned above amounted to mere quantitative differences. But that is not so. If, in the case of one section of the peasants, the aim of agriculture is commercial profit and the result is a large cash income, whereas in the case of another, agriculture cannot cover even the family’s essential needs; if the top peasant groups base their improved farming on the ruin of the bottom groups; if the prosperous peasantry employ hired labour on a considerable scale, while the poor are compelled to resort to the sale of their labour-power—these are undoubtedly qualitative differences, and our task must now be to classify the peasantry according to differences in the character of the farming itself (meaning by character of farming peculiarities not of a technical but of an economic order).

Postnikov has devoted too little attention to these latter differences. Therefore, while he recognises the need for a “more general division of the population into groups” (p. 110) and attempts to make such a division, this attempt, as we shall soon see, cannot be considered quite successful.

To achieve a more general division of the population into economic groups,” says Postnikov, “we shall adopt a different criterion which, although not of uniform economic significance in all localities, is more in conformity with the division into groups made by the peasants themselves and that has also been noted in all uyezds by the Zemstvo   statisticians. This division is made according to the degree of the farmers’ independence in the conduct of their farms, depending on the number of draught animals owned” (p. 110).

At the present time the peasants of the South-Russian region may be divided, according to the degree of their economic independence and at the same time their methods of farming, into the three following main groups:

“1) Peasant households owning a full team of animals, i.e., with enough animals to work a plough or some other ploughing implement and who can cultivate their land with their own animals without having to hire or to yoke[13] with other peasants. When the implement used is a plough or a drill plough the peasant has two, three or more pairs of draught animals and, correspondingly, three or at least two adult workers and a part-time worker in the household.

“2) Peasants with insufficient animals, or yokers, i.e., peasants who yoke with one another for field work because their own animals do not suffice for independent harnessing. Such peasants have one or one and a half, in some cases even two pairs of draught animals and, correspondingly, one or two adult workers. Where the soil is heavy and a plough (or a drill plough) needs three pairs of draught animals the peasants invariably yoke with each other, even if they have two pairs of draught animals of their own.

“3) ’Footers,’ or householders who have no animals whatever or have one (more often than not a horse, as oxen are generally kept in pairs and harnessed only in pairs). They work by hiring animals from others, or let their land for a part of the harvest and have no cultivated land of their own.

This classification of the peasants according to an economic criterion fundamental to peasant life, such as in the present instance the number of draught animals and the manner of harnessing them, is usually made by the peasants themselves. But there are considerable variations of it, both within the bounds of each separate group enumerated above, and in the division of the groups themselves” (p. 121).

These groups constitute the following percentages of the total number of households (p. 125):

with own
on yoking
with hired
With no
land under
Berdyansk Uyezd
Melitopol "
Dnieper "

Side by side with this table, the author gives a classification of households according to the number of draught animals they own, in order to show how the animals are distributed in the uyezds described:

Percentage of total number of households
Draught animals (per household)
4 or more 2 or 3 one
Berdyansk Uyezd
Melitopol "
Dnieper "

Consequently, in the Taurida uyezds, a full team consists of no less than four draught animals.

This classification, as made by Postnikov, cannot be considered altogether happy, first of all because marked differences are to be observed within each of the three groups:

In the group of householders owning a team of draught animals,” the author says, “there is considerable diversity evident in South Russia: side by side with the large numbers of animals of the well-to-do peasants there are the small teams of the poorer peasants. The former, in their turn, may be subdivided into those with full working teams (6 to 8 or more animals) and those with less than a full team (4 to 6 animals). . . . The category of ‘footer’ householders also presents considerable variety in degree of affluence” (p. 124).

Another inconvenience in the division adopted by Postnikov is, as we have already indicated, that the Zemstvo statistics do not classify the population according to the number of draught animals owned, but according to cultivated area. In order, therefore, to be able to express   accurately the property status of the various groups, this classification according to cultivated area has to be used.

On this basis Postnikov also divides the population into three groups: householders who are small cultivators—with up to 10 dessiatines under crops, or none at all; middle cultivators—with 10 to 25 dessiatines; and large cultivators—with over 25 dessiatines per household under crops. The author calls the first group “poor,” the second middle, and the third well-to-do.

In respect of the size of these groups, Postnikov says:

In general, among the Taurida peasants (excluding the colonists), the large cultivators constitute about one-sixth of the total number of households; those with medium-sized crop areas about 40%, while the households with small crop areas and those with none at all constitute a little over 40%. Taking the population of the Taurida uyezds as a whole (including the colonists), the large cultivators constitute one-fifth, or about 20%, the middle 40%, and the small cultivators and those with no tillage about 40%” (p. 112).

Hence, the composition of the groups is altered very slightly by the inclusion of the German colonists, so that no error will arise from using the general data for a whole uyezd.

We now have to describe as accurately as possible the economic status of each of these groups separately, and to try to ascertain the extent and causes of the economic strife among the peasantry.

Postnikov did not set himself this task; that is why the data he quotes are markedly very scattered and his general observations on the groups are not definite enough.

Let us begin with the bottom group, the poor peasants, to which two-fifths of the population of the Taurida uyezds belong.

The number of draught animals (the chief instrument of production in agriculture) owned by this group is the best indication of how poor they really are. In the three uyezds of Taurida Gubernia, out of a total of 263,589 draught animals, the bottom group possess (p. 117) 43,625, or 17% in all, which is 2 1/3 times less than the average. The data on the percentage of households possessing no draught animals   were given above (80%, 48% and 12% for the three subdivisions of the bottom group). On the basis of these data, Postnikov arrived at the conclusion that “the percentage of householders who possess no animals of their own is considerable only in the groups with no land under crops or with crop areas of up to 10 dessiatines per household” (p. 135). The crop area of this group corresponds to the number of animals: on their own land they cultivate 146,114 dessiatines out of the total of 962,933 dessiatines (in the three uyezds), that is, 15%. The addition of rented land raises the sown area to 174,496 dessiatines; but since the sown area of the other groups also increases and does so to a larger extent than in the bottom group, the result is that the area cultivated by the bottom group constitutes only 12% of the total; in other words, there is only one-eighth of the cultivated area to more than three-eights of the population. If we remember that it is the medium-sized area cultivated by the Taurida peasant which the author regards as normal (i.e., covering all the family’s needs) we can easily see how this group, with a sown area 3 1/3 times less than the average, is deprived of its just share.

It is quite natural that, under these circumstances, the farming of this group is in a very bad way. We have already seen that 33% to 39% of the population in the Taurida uyezds—consequently, the overwhelming majority of the bottom group—have no ploughing implements whatever. Lack of implements compels the peasants to give up the land, to lease their allotments: Postnikov estimates that such lessors (whose farms are undoubtedly already utterly ruined) comprise about one-third of the population, that is, again a considerable majority of the poor group. Let us note in passing that this practice of “selling” allotments (to borrow the customary expression of the peasants) has been reflected in Zemstvo statistics everywhere, and on a very large scale. The periodicals which have drawn attention to this fact have already managed to invent a remedy for it—the inalienability of allotments. Postnikov quite rightly questions the effectiveness of such measures, which reveal in their authors a purely bureaucratic faith in the power of the decrees of the authorities. “There can be no   doubt,” he says, “that merely to prohibit the leasing of land will not eliminate it when it is so deeply rooted in the present economic structure of peasant life. A peasant who has no implements and means with which to run his own farm is virtually unable to make use of his allotment and has to lease it to other peasants who are in a position to farm it. The direct prohibition of the leasing of land will force the peasant to do it surreptitiously, without control, and most likely on terms that are worse for the lessor than at present, since he is forced to lease his land. Furthermore, allotments will increasingly be leased through the village courts[14] in payment of taxation arrears, and such leasing is the least advantageous for the poor peasant” (p. 140).

Absolute economic decline is to be observed in the case of all the members of the poor group.

At bottom,” says Postnikov, “there is no great difference in economic status between the householders who sow nothing and those who sow little, cultivating their land with hired animals. The former lease the whole of their land to their fellow villagers, the latter only part; but both groups either serve as labourers for their fellow villagers, or engage in outside employments, mostly agricultural, while continuing to live at home. Hence, both these categories of peasants—those who sow nothing and those who sow little—may be examined together ; both belong to the class of peasants who are losing their farms, who in most cases are ruined or on the verge of ruin, and are without the livestock and implements with which to work their farms” (p. 135).

While the non-farming, non-cultivating households are in most cases those that are already ruined,” says Postnikov a little later on, “those that cultivate little, that lease their land, are candidates for membership of that category. Every severe harvest failure, or chance calamity such as fire, loss of horses, etc., drives some of the householders out of this group into the category of non-farming peasants and farm labourers. A householder who, from one cause or another, loses his draught animals, takes the first step along the road to ruin. Cultivating the land with hired animals is too casual and unsystematic, and usually leads to a reduction of cropping. Such a muzhik is refused credit by the village loan-and-savings societies and by his fellow villagers”   [a footnote says: “In the Taurida uyezds there are very many loan-and-savings societies in the big villages, operating with funds borrowed from the State Bank; but it is only the rich and well-to-do householders who obtain loans from them”]; “ when he does get a loan, it is usually on worse terms than those obtained by the ’thriving’ peasants. ’How can you lend him anything if he has nothing to pay with?’ the peasants say. Once he gets involved in debt, the first stroke of ill luck robs him of his land too, especially if he is also in arrears with his taxes” (p. 139).

The extent of the decline of farming among the peasants of the poor group can best be seen from the fact that the author does not even attempt to answer the question of exactly how they run their farms. In the case of farms that cultivate less than 10 dessiatines per household, he says, “the conditions of farming are too fortuitous for it to be described by any definite system” (p. 278).

The characteristics of peasant farming in the bottom group that have been cited are, despite their considerable number, still quite inadequate; they are exclusively negative in character, although there surely must be positive characteristics. All we have heard so far is that the peasants of this group cannot be regarded as independent agriculturists, because their farms are in absolute decline, their cultivated area is far too inadequate and because, lastly, their farms are run haphazardly. “ Only the prosperous and well-to-do farmers, who are not in need of seed,” remark the statisticians in describing Bakhmut Uyezd, “can observe any sort of system in sowing crops; but the poor peasants sow whatever happens to be on hand, any where and anyhow” (p. 278). Nevertheless, the existence of all this mass of the peasantry embraced by the bottom group (in the three Taurida uyezds, over 30,000 households and over 200,000 persons of both sexes) cannot be accidental. If they do not live on the produce of their own farms, how do they live? Chiefly by the sale of their labour-power. We have seen above that Postnikov says of this group of peasants that they live by farm-labouring and other outside earnings. In view of the almost total absence of handicraft industries in the South, such earnings are mostly agricultural which means, in fact, that the peasants are hiring   themselves for farm work. To prove in greater detail that the chief feature of the economy of the bottom group of peasants is the sale of their labour-power, let us proceed to examine this group according to the categories into which they are divided in the Zemstvo statistics. As to the non-farming householders, nothing need be said of them: they are farm labourers pure and simple. In the second category we have cultivators with crop areas of up to 5 dessiatines per household (the average is 3.5 dessiatines). The division of the cultivated area, given above, into farm-service, fodder, food and commercial, shows us that an area of this size is altogether inadequate. “The first group, with a cultivated area up to 5 dessiatines per household,” says Postnikov, “ have no market, or commercial, area at all; they can only exist with the help of outside earnings, obtained by working as farm labourers, or by other means” (p. 319). There remains the last category—the farmers with 5 to 10 dessiatines of cultivated land per household. The question is: what, among the peasants of this group, is the relation of independent farming to the so-called “earnings”? For a precise answer to this question, we should have several typical peasant budgets relating to the farmers of this group. Postnikov fully admits the need for and importance of budget data, but points out that the “collection of such data is extremely difficult, and in many cases simply beyond the power of the statisticians” (p. 107). We find it very difficult to agree to this view: Moscow statisticians have collected several extremely interesting and detailed budgets (see Statistical Returns for Moscow Gubernia. Section on Economic Statistics, Vols. VI and VII); in several uyezds of Voronezh Gubernia, as the author himself indicates, budget data have even been collected on a house-to-house basis.

It is a great pity that the budget material Postnikov himself gives is very inadequate: he cites the budgets of seven German colonists and of only one Russian peasant; moreover, all are those of big cultivators (the minimum—in the case of the Russian—is 39 1/2 dessiatines sown), that is, all belong to a group of whose economy one may obtain a clear enough idea from the facts contained in the Zemstvo statistics. Expressing his regret that he was “unable during his   tour to gather a larger number of peasant budgets,” Postnikov says that “to give an exact appreciation of these budgets is, in general, no easy matter. The Tauridians are quite frank in giving economic information, but often enough they themselves do not know the exact figures of their income and expenditure. The peasants recall with greater accuracy the general amount of their expenditure, or the biggest items of income and expenditure, but small amounts almost invariably escape their memory” (p. 288). It would, however, be better to collect a few budgets, even without minor details, than, as the author has done, to collect “about 90 descriptions and an evaluation” of the economic situation, which is elucidated with sufficient clarity in the Zemstvo house-to-house censuses.

In the absence of budgets, only two kinds of data are at our disposal for determining the character of the economy of the group under review: firstly, Postnikov’s estimates of the cultivated area per household necessary to feed an average family; and, secondly, data on the division of the cultivated area into four parts, and on the average cash expenditure (per family per year) of the local peasants.

On the basis of detailed estimates of the cultivated area required for a family’s food, for seed and for fodder, Postnikov arrives at the following final conclusion:

A peasant family of average size and well-being, living exclusively by farming and balancing its income and expenditure without deficit, needs, given average harvests, 4 dessiatines to feed 6 1/2 members of the family, 4 1/2 dessiatines to feed 3 draught horses, 1 1/2 dessiatines for seed supply, and 6 to 8 dessiatines for the production of grain for sale, or in all, 16 to 18 dessiatines under crops. . . . The average Tauridian has about 18 dessiatines under crops per household, but 40% of the population of the three Taurida uyezds have less than 10 dessiatines per household; and if they are nevertheless able to engage in farming, it is only because part of their income is derived from outside employments and by leasing part of their land. The economic position of this section of the population is abnormal and insecure, because in the majority of cases they are unable to accumulate the reserve to tide them over a difficult period” (p. 272).

As the average cultivated area per household in the group under review is 8 dessiatines, i.e., less than half the area required (17 dessiatines), we are entitled to conclude that the peasants of this group derive the greater part of their income from “employments,” i.e., from the sale of their labour.

Here is another calculation: according to Postnikov’s data, quoted above, on the division of the cultivated area, out of 8 dessiatines under crops, 0.48 dessiatines will go for seed; 3 dessiatines for fodder (in this group there are 2, not 3, draught animals per household); and 3.576 dessiatines for the food of the family (its size is also below the average—about 5 1/2 persons, not 6 1/2); so that less than one dessiatine (0.944) remains for the commercial area, the income from which the author estimates at 30 rubles. But the amount of a Tauridian’s essential cash expenditure is much greater. It is much easier to collect information on the amount of cash expenditure than on budgets, says the author, because the peasants themselves often make calculations of this sort. These calculations show that:

In the case of a family of average size, i.e., consisting of the working husband, the wife and 4 young children or adolescents, if they farm their own land (roughly about 20 dessiatines) and do not resort to renting, the essential cash expenditure, as estimated by the Tauridians, amounts to between 200 and 250 rubles per annum. A cash expenditure of 150 to 180 rubles is considered to be the minimum that a small family must make, even if they stint themselves in everything. An annual income of less than this amount is considered quite inadequate, for in these parts a working man and his wife can, by farm-labouring, earn 120 rubles a year, with board and lodging, without incurring the expense of maintaining livestock, implements and so forth, and, in addition, can get ’extras’ from land leased to fellow villagers” (p. 289). As the group under examination is below the average, we take the minimum, not the average, cash expenditure, and the lowest figure of this minimum at that—150 rubles—which has to be derived from “employments.” According to this calculation, a peasant of the group under examination derives from his own farming a total of 117.5   rubles (30+87.5[1] ), and from the sale of his labour-power 120 rubles. Consequently, we again find that by independent farming the peasants of this group can only cover less than half of their minimum expenditure.[2]

Thus an examination of the character of the economy in all the subdivisions of the bottom group leads us to the unquestionable conclusion that although the majority of the peasants do cultivate small plots, the sale of their labour power is their principal source of livelihood. All the peasants of this group are hired labourers rather than independent farmers.

Postnikov did not raise this question of the character of the economy of the bottom group of peasants, and did not elucidate the relation of outside employments to the peasant’s own farming—and that is a big defect in his work. As a result, he does not adequately e plain the, at first glance, strange fact that although the peasants of the bottom group have too little land of their own, they abandon it, lease it; as a result the important fact, that the means of production (i. e., land and implements) possessed by the bottom group of peasants are quantitatively far below the average, is not linked up with the general character of their   farming. Since the average quantity of means of production, as we have seen, is only just enough to satisfy the essential needs of the family, it necessarily and inevitably follows from this fact—the fact of the poor peasants being deprived of their fair share—that they must seek means of production belonging to others to which to apply their labour, i.e., they must sell themselves.

Let us now pass to the second group—the middle one, also embracing 40% of the population. Under this category come farmers with a cultivated area of from 10 to 25 dessiatines per household. The term “middle” is fully applicable to the members of this group, with the reservation, however, that their means of production are somewhat (slightly) below the average: the cultivated area per household is 16.4 dessiatines, as against the average of 17 dessiatines for all peasants; livestock—7.3 head per household, as against an average of 7.6 (draught animals—3.2, as against an average of 3.1); total tillage per household—17 to 18 dessiatines (allotment, purchased, and rented), as against an average of 20 to 21 dessiatines for the uyezds. A comparison of the number of dessiatines under crops per household with the norm given by Postnikov, shows that the farming of their own land by this group yields them only just enough for their subsistence.

All these facts, it would seem, should lead us to think that the farming of this group of peasants is the most stable: the peasant covers all his expenses by it; he works not for profit but only to satisfy primary needs. As a matter of fact, however, we see the very opposite: the farming of this group of peasants is distinguished by its very considerable instability.

Firstly, an average cultivated area of 16 dessiatines is shown to be adequate. Consequently, peasants with 10 to 16 dessiatines under crops do not cover all their expenses by farming and are also obliged to resort to outside employments. From Postnikov’s approximate estimates quoted above, we see that this group hires 2,846 workers, whereas it releases 3,389, or 543 more. Hence, about half the farms in the group are not fully provided for.

Further, in this group the number of draught animals per household is 3.2, whereas, as we have seen, the number needed for a team is four. Consequently, a large number   of the households in this group have insufficient animals of their own with which to cultivate their land, and have to resort to yoking. The yokers in this group likewise constitute no less than one-half of the total: we may draw this conclusion from the fact that the proportion of households owning working teams is about 40%, of which 20% go to the prosperous upper group, the remaining 20% belonging to the middle group, so that no less than half of the middle group do not own a working team. Postnikov does not give the exact number of yokers in this group. Turning to the Zemstvo statistical abstracts we find the following data (for two uyezds):[3]

Total in group
cultivating 10
to 25 dess.
Distribution of the number of dessiatines cultivated
With own animals By yoking With hired animals By other means
Hseholds Dess. Hseholds Dess. Hseholds Dess. Hseholds Dess. Hseholds Dess.






















Thus, in the middle group of the two uyezds, a minority of the households cultivate their land with their own animals: in Melitopol Uyezd less than one-third of the households; in Dnieper Uyezd less than one-half. Hence, the number of yokers estimated above for all the three uyezds (one-half) is, if anything, too low and certainly not exaggerated. Of course, the peasant’s inability to farm with animals of his own is in itself sufficiently indicative of the instability of his farm; but, as an illustration, let us quote   the description of the yoking system given by Postnikov, who, unfortunately, pays too little attention to this phenomenon, interesting as it is economically and from the standpoint of life and customs.

Among the peasants who work on a yoking basis,” says Postnikov, “the standard working area is lower [than among the peasants who work with their own animals] by virtue of the law of mechanics which says that three horses harnessed together do not pull three times as much as one horse. Those who arrange to yoke may live at different ends of the village (they are usually relatives); furthermore, the number of plots belonging to the two householders (sometimes three householders yoke) is twice that of one. All this increases the time spent on travelling from one section to another.” [A footnote says: “When the land is divided, each household receives for its members an unbroken patch in a particular field; hence small families receive smaller patches. The conditions of yoking in Taurida Gubernia vary considerably. If one of the yokers has a drill plough, he gets an extra dessiatine ploughed—e.g., one gets 10 dessiatines, the other 11—or the one who has no drill plough of his own has to bear all the expenses of repairing it while in use. Similarly, when the number of yoked animals is unequal, one gets an extra day’s ploughing done, etc. In the village of Kamenka, the owner of a drill plough receives from three to six rubles in cash for the spring. Quarrels among the yokers are generally very frequent.”] “Some time is also spent in coming to terms, and it may happen that the yokers fall out before the work is finished. The yokers sometimes do not have enough horses for harrowing, in which case the drill plough horses are unharnessed: some go off for water, while the others harrow. In the village of Yuzkui, I was told that yokers often plough no more than one dessiatine a day, which is half the normal rate” (p. 233).

There is a shortage of implements in addition to the shortage of animals. From the table given above, showing the number of implements per household in the various groups, we see that in the middle group, in all the uyezds, there is not less than one ploughing implement per household. Actually, however, the distribution of implements even within the group is by no means uniform. Unfortunately, Postnikov   does not give any data on this subject, and we have to turn to the Zemstvo statistical abstracts. In Dnieper Uyezd, 1,808 households out of 8,227 have no ploughing implements at all; in Melitopol Uyezd 2,954 out of 13,789 in the former uyezd the ill-provided households constitute 21.9% of the total; in the latter 21.4%. There can be no doubt that the householders who have no ploughing implements approximate the bottom group in economic status, where those who have more than one such implement per household approximate the top group. The number of householders who have no ploughs is even higher: 32.5% in Dnieper Uyezd and 65.5% in Melitopol. Lastly, the peasants of this group own an insignificant number of reaping machines (they are of very great importance in South-Russian peasant farming because of the shortage of workers for hand reaping and the long-tract system,[15] which drags out grain removal for months): in Dnieper Uyezd the whole group owns 20 mowing and reaping machines (one per 400 households); in Melitopol Uyezd, 178 1/2 (one per 700 households).

The general system of peasant farming in this group is described by Postnikov as follows:

Householders having less than four draught animals invariably yoke together for the cultivation of their fields and for sowing. The householders of this category have either two working members or only one. The lower relative working capacity of such farmers is due to the smaller size of the farms, the yoking system, and the shortage of implements. The yokers mostly plough with small, three-share drill ploughs, which work more slowly. If such peasants harvest their grain with machines hired from neighbours, they get them only after the latter have cut their own crops. Harvesting by hand takes longer, in some cases necessitates the hiring of day labourers, and is more expensive. For single-handed peasants any urgent household matter, or the performance of public duties, interrupts the work. If the single-handed peasant goes to work in a distant field, where the peasants usually spend the whole week until the ploughing and sowing are completed, he has to return to the village more often to see how the family at home is faring” (p. 278). Such single-handed peasants (one working member in the   family) constitute the majority in the group under examination, as will be seen from the following table given by Postnikov and showing the number of working members in the families in the different crop-sowing groups in all the three uyezds of Taurida Gubernia (p. 143):

Per 100 households
With no
With 1
With 2
With 3
or more
Cultivating no land
" up to 5 dess.
" 5 to 10 "
" 10 to 25 "
" 25 to 50 "
" over 50 "
Average 4.3 60.6 24.6 10.5

It will be seen from this table that three-fifths of the families in the middle group have one working member each or none at all.[4]

To illustrate the relation of the middle to the top group, and the stability of its farms in general, let us quote data from Statistical Returns for Dnieper Uyezd showing how all the land at the peasants’ disposal, and the cultivated area[5] in particular, is distributed among the groups. We get the following table:[6]

% of
Allotment land Purchased land Rented land Leased
Total land in
use by group
Sown area
Dess. % Dess. % Dess. % Dess. % Dess. %







































Total 100 221,082.9 100 33,910 100 137,882.45 100 32,901.5 359,973.85 100 326,397.45 100

This table shows that the middle group held more allotment arable than the others: 46.5% of the total. The peasants were forced by the inadequacy of their allotments to resort to renting, as a result of which the area cultivated by them increased all in all by more than 50%. The amount of land in the hands of the middle group also increased absolutely, but decreased relatively—to 41.2% of the total area and 43% of the cultivated area; first place was occupied by the top group Hence, not only the bottom group, but the middle one, too, feels the direct pressure of the top group, which deprives them of the land.

All that has been said entitles us to describe the economic status of the middle group as follows. It comprises peasants who live exclusively on the returns from the land they cultivate themselves; the area of the latter is almost equal to the average area cultivated by the local peasantry (or somewhat less) and barely covers the family’s essential needs. But the insufficiency of animals and implements, and their uneven distribution, render the farming of this group of peasants unstable, precarious, especially in view of the menacing tendency of the top group to squeeze out the bottom and middle groups.

Let us now turn to this top group, which comprises the affluent peasantry. In the Taurida uyezds it embraces one-fifth of the population, with a cultivated area of over 25 dessiatines per household. Sufficient facts have already been cited to show the extent to which this group is really richer than the others in draught animals, implements, and allotment and other land. To show how much better off the peasants of this group are than the middle peasants, we shall cite only the following data of crop areas: in Dnieper Uyezd, the well-to-do group have 41.3 dessiatines under crops per household, whereas the average for the uyezd is 17.8 dessiatines, or less than half as much. Generally speaking, this aspect of the matter—the greater prosperity of the big cultivators—has been sufficiently brought out by Postnikov, but he pays practically no attention to another and far more important question: what part is played by this group’s farming in the total agricultural production of the region, and what price is paid by the other groups for the thriving condition of the top group.

The fact of the matter is that this group is numerically very small—in the most prosperous region of the South, Taurida Gubernia, it constitutes only 20% of the population. It might therefore be thought that its relative importance to the locality’s general economy is not great.[7] Actually, however, we find the contrary to be true: this well-to-do minority plays a predominant part in the total output of agricultural produce. In the three Taurida uyezds, out of a total of 1,439,267 dessiatines under crops 724,678 dessiatines, or more than half, are in the hands of the well to-do peasants. These figures, of course, are a far from accurate expression of the predominance of the top group, inasmuch as the well-to-do peasants’ harvests are much larger than those of the poor and the middle peasants, who, as shown in Postnikov’s description quoted above, do not run their farms on proper lines.

Thus, the principal grain producers are the top group of peasants, and hence (a fact of the utmost importance, and one particularly often ignored) all the various descriptions of agriculture and talk about agricultural improvements and so on, relate primarily and mostly (sometimes even exclusively) to the prosperous minority. Let us take, for example, the data relating to the distribution of improved implements.

Postnikov speaks of the Taurida peasant’s implements as follows:

With few exceptions, the implements of the peasant are the same as those of the German colonist, but less varied, sometimes of poorer quality, and therefore cheaper. An exception is the south-western, less densely populated part of Dnieper Uyezd, where the primitive Little-Russian implements, the heavy wooden plough and wooden iron tipped drill plough, are still in vogue. In the rest of the Taurida uyezds, the ploughs used by the peasants are everywhere of an improved type, made of iron. Side by side with the iron plough the drill plough is everywhere of primary importance in the cultivation of the soil and in many cases   is the only ploughing implement used by the peasants. But most frequently the drill plough is used side by side with the iron plough. . . . The harrows everywhere are of wood, with iron teeth, and are of two types: two-horse harrows, with a 10-foot stretch, and one-horse harrows, with a stretch of about 7 feet. . . . The drill plough is an implement with 3, 4 or 5 shares. . . . Very often a small seed-drill is attached to the front of the drill plough and is operated by its wheel. It plants the seed while the drill plough fills in the drills. Of the other implements used by the peasants in cultivating the soil we meet, although not often, with the wooden roller, used to roll the soil after sowing. Reaping-machines have spread among the peasants particularly in the last 10 years. In the more prosperous villages, the peasants relate, almost half the households possess them. . . . Mowing-machines are far more rarely met with among the peasants than reapers. . . . Horse rakes and threshers are equally rare. The use of winnowing-machines is universal. . . . For carting purposes, the German farm waggon and mazhara[8] are used exclusively; they are now built in many of the Russian villages. . . . Stone toothed rollers of various sizes are universally used for threshing” (pp. 213-15).

To learn how these implements are distributed, we have to turn to the Zemstvo statistical abstracts, although their data are not complete either: the Taurida statisticians registered only ploughs and drill ploughs, reapers and mowers, and vehicles (waggons and mazharas). If we combine the data for Melitopol and Dnieper uyezds we shall find that of the total number (46,522) of ploughs and cultivators the top group owns 19,987, or 42.9%; waggons, 23,747 out of 59,478, or 39.9%; and, finally, reapers and mowers, 2,841 out of 3,061, or 92.8%.

Data have already been cited to show that labour productivity in the top groups of the peasantry is considerably higher than in the bottom and middle groups. Let us now see what peculiarities of technique determine this specific feature of the economy of the big cultivators.

The amount of land held and used by the peasants,” says Postnikov, “largely determines the system and character of farming. Unfortunately, the dependence of one on the   other has so far been little studied by our investigators of peasant farming, who not infrequently conceive it to be of the same type among all sections of the rural population. Leaving aside the system of farming, I shall endeavour briefly to summarise the peculiarities in the farming technique of different peasant groups insofar as I have been able to ascertain them during my visits to the Taurida uyezds.

Householders who work with their own animals and do not resort to yoking, own four, five, six or more draught animals.[9] Their economic status, however, varies considerably. A four-share drill plough requires a team of four animals, a five-share implement a team of five animals. Ploughing is followed by harrowing, and if the farmer has no extra horse, he cannot harrow immediately behind the plough, but only when the ploughing is finished, that is, the seed is covered when the soil is already slightly dry, a circumstance that does not favour germination. If the ploughing is done at a distance from the village, necessitating the carting of water and fodder, the absence of an extra horse also interrupts the work. In all such cases, the lack of a full complement of working animals leads to loss of time and delays the sowing. Given a larger number of draught animals and a multi-share drill plough, the peasants are able to plant their fields more quickly, to make the most of favourable weather, and to cover the seed with moister soil. Thus it is the “ full” farmer, the one with six, or, better still, seven draught animals, that has the advantage in the technique of spring sowing. With seven horses, a five-share drill plough and two harrows can function simultaneously. Such a farmer, the peasants say, ’carries on without a stop.’

Even more important is the difference in the status of the farmers in the period immediately following the reaping, when in a good harvest year the utmost exertion of labour power is demanded on the farm. A farmer with six draught animals can thresh the grain as it is carted and does not need to stack it, thus, of course, saving time and manpower” (p. 277).

To complete the description of the big cultivator’s economy, it should be mentioned that farming in the case of this group of cultivators is a “commercial” enterprise, as   Postnikov puts it. The data given above showing the size of the commercial area fully bear out the author’s description, inasmuch as the greater part of the cultivated area yields produce for the market—52% Or the total area on farms with from 25 to 50 dessiatines under crops, and 61% on farms with over 50 dessiatines under crops. Further evidence of this is the amount of the cash income: even the minimum in the case of the well-to-do group—574 rubles per household—is more than double the essential cash expenditure (200 to 250 rubles), thus forming a surplus which is accumulated and serves for the farm’s expansion and improvement. “In the case of the more affluent peasants, those with over 50 dessiatines under crops per household,” even “one branch of animal husbandry—the breeding of coarse-fleece sheep—assumes a market character,” as Postnikov informs us (p. 188).

Let us now pass to another question, one that is also inadequately treated (in fact, left practically untouched) by Postnikov: how does the economic success of the minority of the peasants affect the majority? Undoubtedly, the effect is completely negative: the data cited above (especially those relating to the renting of land) are sufficient proof of this, so that we may here confine ourselves merely to summing up. In all three uyezds of Taurida Gubernia, the peasants rent a total of 476,334 dessiatines of land (non-allotment and allotment), of which 298,727 dessiatines, or more than three-fifths (63%), are taken by the prosperous group. Only 6% falls to the share of the poor group, and 31% to that of the middle group. If we bear in mind that it is the two bottom groups that are most–if not exclusively–in need of rented land (the data given above regarding the distribution of land among the peasant groups in Dnieper Uyezd show that in the case of the top group the allotment arable alone is almost sufficient for a sown area of “normal” size), it will be obvious how severely they must suffer from lack of land due to the commercial expansion of the tillage of prosperous peasants.[10]

The distribution of the renting of allotment land, data for which have been given above, leads to exactly the same conclusions. To show the importance of the renting of allotment land to the different groups of peasants, let us quote the description of this type of renting given in Chapter IV of Postnikov’s work.

Allotment land,” he says, “is now an object of extensive speculation among the South-Russian peasants. Land is used as security for loans on promissory notes, these latter circulating very widely here among the Taurida peasants, the proceeds from the land going to the money-lender until the debt is cleared. The land is leased or ’sold’ for one or two years, and longer periods—8, 9 or 11 years. Such allotment leases are officially registered in the volost or village administration offices. On Sundays and holidays, I have seen large animated crowds in big villages standing in front of the village administration offices. In answer to my inquiry as to why the people were assembled, I was told that refreshments were being consumed and allotments ’sold,’ the ’sales’ being registered in the books of the village authorities. . . . The ’sale’ of allotments is practised both in villages where the land is divided according to the number of registered persons in each family and no fundamental redistribution of the land takes place, and in villages where the land is divided according to the number of actual members in each family and is subject to periodical redistribution; only, in the latter case, the transactions are usually for shorter periods, until the next redistribution date, which in these parts has recently in most cases been determined in advance by the community’s decision on land redistribution. Nowadays, these allotment-land transactions in the South-Russian villages are bound up with the most vital interests of the local prosperous peasants, who are so numerous here, especially in the Taurida uyezds. They are, incidentally, one of the principal conditions for the extensive cultivation of land practised by prosperous Taurida peasants, and of considerable economic advantage to them. That is why the prosperous peasants are so sensitive nowadays to every change in their manner of life which might deprive them of this renting of land that is mostly cheap and is, moreover, situated near by” (p. 140). He   then goes on to tell of how the Melitopol Uyezd Board of Peasants’ Affairs[16] demanded that each separate case of allotment leasing should be sanctioned by the village assembly, how the peasants were inconvenienced by this order and how “its only effect so far has been the disappearance of the land transaction records from the village courts, although they are probably still being kept unofficially” (p. 140).

Despite the large amount of land they rent, the prosperous peasants are also practically the only purchasers of land: in Dnieper Uyezd they own 78% of all the purchased land, and in Melitopol Uyezd 42,737 dessiatines out of a total of 48,099 dessiatines, or 88%.

Lastly, it is exclusively this category of peasants to whom credits are available. To supplement the author’s remarks already cited on the village loan-and-savings societies in the South, we shall quote the following description of them.

The village loan-and-savings societies now to be found here and there in our country—they are very numerous in the Taurida villages, for example—chiefly assist prosperous peasants, and, it is to be presumed, quite substantially. I have on several occasions heard peasants in the Taurida villages where these societies function saying: ’Thank God, we’ve got rid of the Jews!’ But it is the prosperous peasants who say this. The economically weak peasants cannot find guarantors and do not get loans” (p. 368). There is nothing surprising in this monopoly of credit: the credit transaction is nothing more than deferred-payment purchase. Quite naturally, payment can only be made by those who have the means, and among the South-Russian peasants it is only the well-to-do minority that have them.

To complete the description of the economy of this group, which surpasses all the other groups taken together in the fruits of its productive activity, we have only to recall that it resorts “to a considerable extent” to hired labour, of which members of the lower group are perforce the suppliers. It should be remarked in this regard that it is a matter of immense difficulty to calculate exactly the hired labour employed in agriculture, a difficulty which, it seems, has not yet been overcome by our Zemstvo statistics. As agriculture does not require a constant and   steady supply of labour all year round, but only an extra supply for a definite season, the registration of regular hired labourers alone will by no means indicate the degree of exploitation of hired labour, while the calculation of the number of seasonal (often casual) labourers is extremely difficult. In making a rough estimate of the number of hired labourers in each group, Postnikov sets the labour norm in the prosperous group at 15 dessiatines under crops per working member.[11] From Chapter VII of his book, where the author examines in detail the actual size of the area cultivated, we learn that this norm is achieved only when the crop is machine harvested. Yet the number of harvesting-machines is not very large even in the prosperous group—in Dnieper Uyezd, for example, it is about one per 10 households—so that even if we bear in mind the author’s statement that when they have completed their own harvesting, the owners of the machines hire them out, we shall nevertheless find that the majority of the peasants have to go without machines, and, consequently, have to hire day labourers. The employment of hired labour in the top group must therefore be on a larger scale than the author estimates, so that the big money income obtained by the peasants of this group largely (if not entirely) represents income from capital, in the specific meaning of that term given to it by scientific political economy.

Summing up what has been said about the third group, we arrive at the following description of it: the prosperous peasants, who possess considerably more than the average quantity of means of production, and whose labour, as a consequence, is more productive, are the principal growers of agricultural produce in the district, and predominate over the remaining groups; this group’s farming is commercial in character, and is very largely based on the exploitation of hired labour.

The brief survey we have made of the political-economic differences in the economy of the three groups of the population of this area has been based on a systematisation of   the material contained in Postnikov’s book on South-Russian peasant farming. This survey, it seems to me, proves that a study of peasant farming (from the political-economic standpoint) is quite impossible unless the peasants are divided into groups. Postnikov, as has already been indicated, recognises this, and even flings the reproach at the Zemstvo statisticians that they do not do this, that the summaries they make, despite the abundance of figures given, are “unclear,” and that “they do not see the wood for the trees” (p. XII). Postnikov is hardly entitled to cast this reproach at the Zemstvo statisticians, for he himself has not made a systematic division of the peasants into “clear” groups, but the correctness of his demand is beyond question. Once it is admitted that there are not only quantitative, but also qualitative[12] differences between the various farms, it becomes absolutely essential to divide the peasants into groups differing, not in “affluence,” but in the social and economic character of their farming. One is justified in hoping that it will not be long before this is done by the Zemstvo statisticians.


[1] A food area of 3 1/2 dessiatines will yield 25 rubles in produce per dessiatine (25 x 3.5 = 87.5)—Postnikov’s calculation, p. 272. —Lenin

[2] The calculations made by Mr. Yuzhakov in Russkaya Mysl,[17] No. 9, 1885 (“Quotas for People’s Landownership”) fully corroborate this conclusion. He considers that the food norm, i.e., the lowest norm in Taurida Gubernia, is an allotment of 9 dessiatines under crops per household. But Mr. Yuzhakov sees the allotment as covering only the cereal foods and taxation and assumes that the other expenditures will be covered by outside earnings. The budgets given in the Zemstvo statistics show that the latter expenditures constitute over half the total. For example, in Voronezh Gubernia the average expenditure of a peasant family is 495.39 rubles, reckoning expenditure both in cash and kind. Of this sum, 109.10 rubles go for the maintenance of livestock [N. V. Yuzhakov sees the maintenance of livestock as coming from hay-fields and other grounds, and not from arable land], 135.8 rubles for vegetable food and taxes, and 250.49 rubles for other expenditure—clothing, implements, rent, various household requirements, etc. [24 budgets in Statistical Returns for Ostrogozhsk Uyezd ]. In Moscow Gubernia, the average annual expenditure per family is 348.83 rubles, of which 156.03 go for cereal foods and taxes, and 192.80 for other expenditure. [Average of 8 budgets collected by Moscow statisticians—loc. cit.] —Lenin

[3] Statistical Returns for Melitopol Uyezd (Appendix to Returns for Taurida Gubernia, Vol. I) Simferopol, 1885, p. B 195. Statistical Returns for Dnieper Uyezd (Returns for Taurida Gubernia, Vol. II), Simferopol, 1886, p. B 123. —Lenin

[4] In support of his point about the considerable advantages in farming enjoyed by the large-family householders (i.e., those with many working members) over the single-handed householders, Postnikov cites Trirogov’s well-known book The Village Community and the Peasant Tax. —Lenin

[5] The data relate to the entire Dnieper Uyezd, including villages not counted in the volosts. The figures in the “Total land in use” column I have calculated myself, by adding together the amounts of allotment, rented and purchased land and subtracting the amount leased. Dnieper Uyezd has been chosen because it is inhabited almost exclusively by Russians. —Lenin

[6] See table on p. 60.—Ed.

[7] This mistake, for example, is made by Mr. Slonimsky, who in an article on Postnikov’s book says: “The well-to-do group of peasants is lost in the mass of the poor, and in some areas would seem to be altogether non-existent.” (Vestnik Yevropy,[18] 1893, No. 3, p. 307.) —Lenin

[8] Mazhara—a long heavy farm cart with a light framework of poles for its sides.—Ed. Eng. ed.

[9] The peasants of the prosperous group own 6 to 10 draught animals per household (see above). —Lenin

[10]The German colonist presses hard upon the local peasant ... in depriving him of adjacent land, which he could otherwise rent or purchase,” says Postnikov (p. 292) Obviously, in this respect the Russian well-to-do peasant stands closer to the German colonist than to his poor compatriot. —Lenin

[11] For 1.8 to 2.3 working members it is 27 to 34.5 dessiatines; but, as we know, the peasants of the prosperous group sow 34.5 to 75 dessiatines Hence, the general characteristic of this group is that the size of the farm far exceeds the family labour norm. —Lenin

[12] Character of farming: self-consumer or commercial, character of exploitation of labour: sale of labour-power as the chief source of livelihood, or purchase of labour-power as the necessary consequence of the expansion of the cultivated area beyond the family’s working capacity. —Lenin

[13] Yoking—an old elementary form of joint work by the village poor. Several peasant households combined their working animals and other means of production for farm work. V. I. Lenin, in the second chapter of The Development of Capitalism in Russia, calls yoking “the co-operation of tottering farms which are being ousted by the peasant bourgeoisie.” (See present edition, Vol. III.)

[14] Village court (in Russian: rasprava )—a special court for state owned peasants founded in tsarist Russia according to the Regulation of 1838, and consisting of the village elder (chairman) and two elected peasants. The village court, being a court of first instance examined unimportant civil cases and misdemeanours, imposed fines, passed sentences of hard labour or flogging. The village court of second instance was the volost (district) court. In 1858 these courts were abolished, but the term rasprava continued to be used as referring to the primary village courts.

[17] Russkaya Mysl (Russian Thought )—a monthly magazine, liberal Narodnik in trend; appeared in Moscow from 1880 onwards. In the 1890s, during the polemics between the Marxists and the liberal Narodniks, the Narodnik editors of the magazine occasionally allowed articles by Marxists to be published in its columns. Items by the progressive writers A. M. Gorky, V. G. Korolenko, D. N. Mamin-Sibiryak, G. I. Uspensky, A. P. Chekhov, and others, were published in the magazine’s literature section.

After the 1905 Revolution, Russkaya Mysl became the organ of the Right wing of the Cadet party, and was edited by P. B. Struve. It was closed down in the middle of 1918.

[15] Long-tract system—peasant allotments that stretched in a narrow tract for many miles on either side of the village, some of them being 15-20 miles away in one direction or another. The long-tract system was common in the southern and the eastern steppe regions of Russia, where big villages prevailed, each embracing several hundred peasant households.

[18] Vestnik Yevropy (European Messenger )—a monthly magazine devoted to politics, history and literature, bourgeois liberal in trend, that appeared in St. Petersburg from 1866 to 1918. It published articles directed against the revolutionary Marxists.

[16] Uyezd Boards of Peasants’ Affairs were established in tsarist Russia in 1874 to supervise the village and volost “peasant public administration” bodies. The Boards were directed by Uyezd Marshals of the Nobility and consisted of police chiefs, justices of the peace, and chairmen of Uyezd Zemstvo Boards. The Uyezd Boards of Peasants’ Affairs were subordinate to the Gubernia Boards, which were headed by the governors.

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