V. I.   Lenin

The Economic Content of Narodism and the Criticism of it in Mr. Struve’s Book

(The Reflection of Marxism in Bourgeois Literature)


( How Mr. Struve Explains Some Features of Russia’s Post-Reform Economy )

( Chapter IV )


Let us now pass to the second part of Chapter VI, which is devoted to the problem of the break-up of the peasantry. This part is directly and immediately connected with the previous part, and serves as additional material on the problem of capitalism in agriculture.

Indicating the rise in the prices of agricultural produce during the first 20 years following the Reform, and to the extension of commodity production in agriculture, Mr. Struve quite rightly says that “in the main it was the landowners and prosperous peasants who benefited” from it (214). “Differentiation among the peasant population had to increase, and its first successes relate to this epoch.” The author cites the remarks of local investigators to the effect that the building of railway lines merely raised the living standard of the prosperous part of the peasantry, that the renting of land gives rise to a “regular battle” among the peasants, which always leads to the victory of the economically strong elements (216-17). He cites V. Postnikov’s research, according to which the farms of the prosperous peasants are   already so far subordinated to the market that 40% of the sown area yields produce for sale, and, adding that at the opposite pole the peasants “lose their economic independence and, by selling their labour-power, are on the verge of becoming farm labourers,” rightly concludes: “Only the penetration of exchange economy explains the fact that the economically strong peasant farms can derive benefit from the ruin of the weak households” (223). “The development of money economy and the growth of the population,” says the author, “lead to the peasantry splitting into two parts: one that is economically strong and consists of representatives of a new force, of capital in all its forms and stages, and the other, consisting of semi-independent peasants and real farm labourers” (239).

Brief as they are, the author’s remarks on this “differentiation” nevertheless enable us to note the following important features of the process under examination: 1) It is not confined just to the creation of property inequality: a “new force” is created—capital. 2) The creation of this new force is accompanied by the creation of new types of peasant farms: firstly, of a prosperous, economically strong type that engages in developed commodity economy, crowds out the peasant poor in the renting of land, and resorts to the exploitation of the labour of others;[1] secondly, of a “proletarian” peasantry, who sell their labour-power to capital. 3) All these phenomena have grown directly and immediately on the basis of commodity production. Mr. Struve himself has pointed out that without commodity production they were impossible, but with its penetration into the countryside they became necessary. 4) These phenomena (the “new force,” the new types of peasantry) relate to the sphere of production, and are not confined to the sphere of exchange, commodity circulation: capital is manifested in agricultural production; the same is true of the sale of labour-power.

It would seem that these features of the process are a direct indication that we have to do with a purely capitalist phenomenon, that the classes typical of capitalist society, bourgeoisie and proletariat, are taking shape within the peasantry. Moreover, these facts bear witness not only to the domination of capital in agriculture, but also to capital having already taken a second step, if one may put it that way. From merchant’s it turns into industrial capital, from a dominant force on the market into a dominant force in production; the class antithesis between the rich buyer-up and the poor peasant turns into the antithesis between the rational bourgeois employer and the free seller of free hands.

Even here Mr. Struve cannot get along without his Malthusianism; in his view only one side of the matter finds expression in the process mentioned (“only the progressive side”), but in addition to it he sees another, the “technical irrationality of all peasant economy”: “in it expression is given, so to speak, to the retrogressive side of the whole process,” it “levels” the peasantry, smooths out inequality, operating “in connection with the growth of the population” (223-24).

The only thing that is clear in this rather hazy argument is that the author prefers extremely abstract propositions to concrete statements, that he tacks on to everything the “law” that increases in population conform to the means of subsistence. I say “tacks on” because, even if we confine ourselves strictly to the facts cited by the author himself, we can find no indication of any concrete features of the process that do not fit in with the “doctrine” of Marxism and that require the recognition of Malthusianism. Let us go over this process once again: we start with natural producers, peasants more or less of one type.[2] The penetration of commodity production into the countryside makes the wealth of the individual peasant household dependent on the market, thus   creating inequality by means of market fluctuations and accentuating it by concentrating free money in the hands of some, and ruining others. This money naturally serves for the exploitation of the propertyless, turns into capital. Capital can exploit peasants in the grip of ruin as long as they retain their farms, and, letting them carry on as before, on the old, technically irrational basis, can exploit them by purchasing the product of their labour. But the peasant’s ruin finally develops to such a degree that he is compelled to give up his farm altogether: he can no longer sell the product of his labour; all he can do is to sell his labour. Capital then takes charge of the farm, and is now compelled, by virtue of competition, to organise it on rational lines; it is enabled to do so thanks to the free monetary resources previously “saved”; capital no longer exploits the peasant farmer but a farm labourer or a day labourer. One can well ask: what are the two sides the author finds in this process? How does he find it possible to draw the monstrous Malthusian conclusion that “the technical irrationality of the farm, and not capitalism” [note the “and not”] “is the enemy that deprives our peasantry of their daily bread” (224). As though this daily bread ever went in its entirety to the producer, and was not divided into the necessary product and the surplus, the latter being acquired by the landlord, the kulak, the “strong” peasant, the capitalist!

One must, however, add that on the question of “levelling” the author gives some further explanation. He says that the “result of the levelling referred to above” is the “decline or even the disappearance of the middle section of the peasant population noted in many places” (225). Citing a passage from a Zemstvo publication which notes “a still greater increase in the distance separating the rural rich from the landless and horseless proletariat,” he concludes: “The levelling in the present case is, of course, at the same time differentiation, but on the basis of such differentiation only bondage develops, which can be nothing more than a brake on economic progress” (226). And so it now turns out that the differentiation created by commodity economy should not be contrasted to “levelling,” but to differentiation as well, only differentiation of another kind, namely,   bondage. But since bondage is a “brake” on “economic progress,” the author calls this “side” “regressive.”

The argument is based on extremely strange methods that are not Marxist at all. A comparison is made between “bondage” and “differentiation” as between two independent, special “systems”; one is praised for assisting “progress”; the other is condemned for being a brake on progress. What has become of Mr. Struve’s demand for an analysis of class contradictions, for lack of which he so rightly attacked Mr. N. —on; of the theory of the “spontaneous process” of which he spoke so well? Why, this bondage which he has now demolished as retrogressive is nothing but the initial manifestation of capitalism in agriculture, of that very same capitalism which leads later to sweeping technical progress. And what, indeed, is bondage? It is the dependence of the peasant who owns his means of production, and is compelled to work for the market, on the owner of money—a dependence that, however differently it may express itself (whether in the form of usury capital or of the capital of the buyer-up, who monopolises marketing)—always leads to an enormous part of the product of labour falling into the hands of the owner of money and not of the producer. Hence, it is purely capitalist in essence,[3] and the entire peculiarity consists in the fact that this initial, embryonic form of capitalist relations is totally enmeshed in the feudal relations of former times: here there is no free contract, but a forced deal (sometimes by order of “those at the top,” sometimes by the desire to keep their undertakings, sometimes by old debts, etc.); the producer is here tied to a definite place and to a definite exploiter: as against the impersonal character   of the commodity deal that is peculiar to purely capitalist relations, here the deal always has the personal character of “aid,” “benefaction,”—and this character of the deal inevitably places the producer in a position of personal, semi-feudal dependence. Such of the author’s expressions as “levelling,” “brake on progress,” “regression,” mean nothing but that capital first takes hold of production on the old basis, and subordinates the technically backward producer. The author’s remark that the presence of capitalism does not entitle us “to blame it for all misfortunes” is true in the sense that our peasant who works for others suffers not only from capitalism, but also from the insufficient development of capitalism. In other words, among the huge mass of the peasantry there are now practically none who produce independently for themselves; in addition to work for “rational” bourgeois farmers we only see work for the owners of money capital, i.e., also capitalist exploitation, but exploitation which is undeveloped and primitive, and because of this it, firstly, worsens the conditions of the labouring peasant tenfold, involving him in a network of specific and additional encumbrances, and, secondly, prevents him (and his ideologist, the Narodnik) from understanding the class character of the “annoyances” inflicted on him and from regulating his activities in accordance with this character of the annoyances. Consequently, the “progressive side” of “differentiation” (to use the language of Mr. Struve), is that it brings into the light of day the contradiction hidden behind the bondage and deprives the former of its “old-nobility” features. Narodism, which stands for levelling out the peasants (before ... the kulak), is “regressive” because it desires to keep capital within those medieval forms that combine exploitation with scattered, technically backward production and with personal pressure on the producer. In both cases (in the case of “bondage” and of “differentiation”) the cause of oppression is capitalism and the author’s statements to the contrary, that it is “not capitalism” but “technical irrationality,” that “it is not capitalism that is to blame for the poverty of the peasants,” etc., merely show that Mr. Struve has been carried too far in his support of the correct idea that developed capitalism is to be preferred to undeveloped, and as a result of the abstractness of his propositions he has   contrasted the former to the latter not as two successive stages of the development of the given phenomenon, but as two separate cases.[4]


[1] Mr. Struve makes no mention of this feature. It is also expressed in the use of wage-labour, which plays no small part on the farms of the prosperous peasants, and in the operations of the usury and merchant’s capital in their hands, which likewise deprives the producer of surplus-value. In the absence of this feature we cannot speak of “capital.” —Lenin

[2] Working for the landlord. This aspect is set aside, in order that the transition from natural to commodity economy may stand out in greater relief. It has already been said that the remnants of the “old-nobility” relations worsen the conditions of the producers and make their ruin particularly onerous. —Lenin

[3] All the features are here present: commodity production as the basis; monopoly of the product of social labour in the form of money as the result; the turning of this money into capital. I do not in the least forget that in some cases these initial forms of capital were encountered even before the capitalist system came into being. The point, however, is that in contemporary Russian peasant economy they are not isolated cases but the rule, the dominant system of relations. They have now linked up (through commercial deals and the banks) with large-scale factory machine capitalism and have there by shown their tendency; they have shown that the representatives of this “bondage” are merely rank-and-file soldiers of the army of the bourgeoisie, one and indivisible. —Lenin

[4] On what grounds, the reader will possibly ask, does this relate only to Mr. Struve’s being carried away? On the ground that the author quite definitely recognises capitalism to he the main background against which all the phenomena described take place. He quite clearly pointed to the rapid growth of’ commodity economy, to the splitting-up of the peasantry, and to the “spread of improved implements” (245), etc., on the one hand—and to the “separation of the peasants from the land, the creation of a rural proletariat” (238), on the other. He himself, finally, characterised it as the creation of a new force—capital, and noted the decisive importance of the appearance of the capitalist between the producer and the consumer. —Lenin

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