V. I.   Lenin

New Economic Developments in Peasant Life

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



Not confining himself to recording the economic strife among the peasantry, Postnikov points to the intensification of this process:

Diversity in the prosperity of the peasant groups is to be found everywhere in this country,” he says, “and has existed from time immemorial. But in the last few decades this differentiation among the peasant population is becoming very marked, and is apparently steadily progressing” (p. 130). The difficult economic conditions of the year 1891[2] should, in the opinion of the author, give new impetus to this process.

The question arises: what are the causes of this phenomenon which is exerting such an immense influence on the entire peasant population?

Taurida Gubernia,” says Postnikov, “is one of the most land-abundant in European Russia, and the one where the peasants’ allotments are largest; communal landownership is universal there, and the land is distributed more or less evenly per head; agriculture is practically the sole pursuit of the rural population, yet the house-to-house census shows that 15% of the population have no draught animals at all, and that about one-third of the population have not enough implements to cultivate their allotments” (p. 106). “On what,” asks the author, “does this wide diversity of the groups depend, and, in particular, what, in a purely agricultural economy, determines the high proportion of householders with no tillage or draught animals that we now find in the region described?” (P. 130.)

Setting out in search of the causes of this phenomenon, Postnikov goes completely astray (fortunately, not for long) and starts to talk about “indolence,” “ drunkenness,” and even about fires and horse-stealing. Nevertheless, he arrives at the conclusion that it is not in these causes that “the most essential aspect of the matter is to be found.” Nor is anything explained by talking about bereavement in families, i.e., absence of adult working members: in the Taurida uyezds, of the total number of non-farming households, i.e., that have no land under crops, bereaved families constitute only 18%.

The chief reasons why households are non-farming,” the author concludes, “must be sought in other factors of the peasants’ economic life” (p. 134). Specifically, Postnikov is of the opinion that “of the enumerated causes contributing to the decline of farming among certain peasants, the one which may be considered the most fundamental, and which, unfortunately, our Zemstvo statisticians have done little to elucidate as yet, is the fragmentation of the allotments and the restricted amount of land in use by the peasant, the diminution in the average size of the peasant farm” (p. 141). “The root cause of Russia’s economic poverty,” the author says, “is the small size of the peasant’s   land and of his farm, which prevents him from making full use of the labour-power of his family” (p. 341).

To explain this proposition, which Postnikov expresses very inaccurately, for he himself has established that the average size of peasant farm (17 to 18 dessiatines under crops) is sufficient to maintain a family in comfort, and that a general, wholesale description of the entire peasantry in terms of the size of the farm is impossible—it should be recalled that he has already established the general law that the productivity of peasant labour grows with the increase in the size of the farm. Full utilisation of the family’s labour-power (and draught animals)-is achieved, according to his estimates, only in the top groups—in the Taurida uyezds, for example, only among the prosperous peasants; the vast majority of the population “pick at the land unproductively” (p. 340), uselessly wasting a vast amount of effort.

Despite the fact that the author has fully demonstrated the dependence of labour productivity on the size of the farm and the extremely low productivity in the bottom peasant groups, this law (Postnikov calls it agricultural over-population in Russia, agricultural over-saturation with labour) should not be regarded as the cause of the break-up of the peasantry—the question, after all, is why the peasantry have broken up into such different groups, whereas agricultural over-population already presupposes the existence of such a break-up; the author arrived at the very concept of over-population by comparing small and large farms and their profitability. Hence, the question—"on what does the wide diversity of the groups depend?"—cannot be answered by talking about agricultural over-population. This, apparently, Postnikov himself realised, but he did not set himself the definite aim of investigating the causes of the phenomenon, so that his observations suffer from a certain scrappiness: side by side with incomplete and inaccurate points, we find true ideas. For example, he says:

It cannot be expected that the fierce struggle now going on in rural life over landownership will help in the future to further the principles of communality and harmony among the population. And this struggle is not a transitory one, the result of chance causes. . . . In our view it is not a   struggle between communal traditions and the individualism that is developing in rural life, but a pure struggle of economic interests, which is bound to end fatally for one section of the population in view of the existing land poverty” (p. XXXII).

It is quite an obvious truth,” says Postnikov elsewhere, “that with this land poverty and the small size of the farms, and the absence of sufficient industries, there can be no prosperity among the peasantry, and all that is economically weak is bound, one way or another, sooner or later, to be ousted from peasant farming” (p. 368).

These remarks contain a much truer answer to the question, and one, moreover, that fully conforms to the above established differentiation of the population. The answer is that the appearance of a mass of non-farming households and the increase in their numbers, are determined by the struggle of economic interests among the peasantry. On what basis is this struggle being waged, and by what means? As to the means, they are not only, and not even so much, the grabbing of land (as might be concluded from Postnikov’s remarks just quoted), as the lower production costs following on the increase in the size of the farms—of which enough has already been said. As for the basis on which this struggle arises, Postnikov points to it quite clearly in the following remark:

There is a definite minimum of farm-service area below which a peasant farm must not drop, because it would then become unprofitable, or even impossible to run. A definite food area is required for the maintenance of family and livestock (?); a farm which has no outside earnings, or where they are small, must possess a certain market area, the produce of which may be sold to provide the peasant family with money for the payment of taxes, for the acquisition of clothing and footwear, for necessary expenditure on farm implements, buildings, etc. If the size of a peasant farm falls below this minimum, farming becomes impossible. In such cases, the peasant will find it more profitable to give up farming and become a labourer, whose expenditure is more limited and whose needs can be more fully satisfied even with a smaller gross income” (p. 141).

If, on the one hand, a peasant finds it profitable to expand   his sown area far beyond his own grain requirements, it is because he can sell his produce. If, on the other hand, a peasant finds it profitable to give up farming and become a labourer, it is because the satisfaction of the greater part of his needs entails cash expenditure, that is, sale;[1] and as, in selling his farm produce, he encounters a rival on the market with whom he cannot compete, the only thing left for him is to sell his labour-power. In a word, the soil in which the above-described phenomena grow is production for sale. The fundamental cause of the struggle of economic interests arising among the peasantry is the existence of a system under which the market is the regulator of social production.

Having concluded his description of the “new economic developments in peasant life” and his attempt to explain them, Postnikov goes on to outline practical measures to solve the “agrarian problem.” We shall not follow the author into this field, firstly, because it does not enter the plan of the present article, and, secondly, because this part of Postnikov’s work is the weakest of all. This will be quite obvious if we recall that most of the contradictions and incomplete statements in the work were to be met with precisely when the author tried to explain economic processes; and unless these are fully and accurately explained, there can be no question of indicating any practical measures.


[1] Cf. the data given above regarding the food and the commercial areas under crops (the income from only these areas goes to cover the needs of the farmer, and not of the farm, that is, represents income in the real sense, and not production costs), and also the data regarding the average cash expenditure of the Taurida peasant in connection with the quantity of grain used for food (two chetverts per person of either sex). —Lenin

[2] Reference is made to the famine of 1891 which was very severe in the eastern and south-eastern gubernias of Russia. This famine was more extensive than any similar natural calamity the country had ever experienced. The working people suffered incredible hardships as a result of the famine, which ruined masses of peasants and at the same time hastened the creation of a home market for the development of capitalism in Russia.

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