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 )


In § VIII of the sixth chapter, Mr. Struve sets forth his ideas about private-landowner farming. He quite rightly shows how closely and directly the forms assumed by this sort of farming depend on the ruin of the peasants. The ruined peasant no longer “tempts” the landlord with “fabulous rental prices,” and the landlord goes over to the employment of farm labourers. Extracts in proof of this are cited from an article by Raspopin, who analysed Zemstvo statistical data on landlord economy, and from a Zemstvo publication on current statistics which notes the “enforced” character of the increase in the cultivation of landlord estates on capitalist lines. In reply to Messrs. the Narodniks, who so willingly hide the fact of capitalism’s present domination   in agriculture beneath arguments about its “future” and its “possibility,” the author makes a precise reference to the actual situation.

We must stop here just to deal with the author’s estimation of this phenomenon, who calls it the “progressive trends in private-landowner farming” (244) and says that these trends are created by the “inexorable logic of economic evolution” (240). We fear that these quite correct propositions, by reason of their abstractness, will be unintelligible to the reader who is not acquainted with Marxism; that the reader will not understand—unless definite reference is made to the succession of such and such systems of economy, such and such forms of class antagonism—why the given trend is “progressive” (from the only viewpoint, of course, from which the Marxist can pose the problem, from the viewpoint of a definite class), why, exactly, is the evolution that is taking place “inexorable.” Let us therefore try to depict this succession (at least in the most general outline) parallel to the Narodnik representation of the matter.

The Narodnik presents the process of the development of the economy of farm labourers as a transition from “independent” peasant farming to dependent farming, and, naturally, considers this to be regression, decline, etc. Such a picture of the process is quite untrue in fact, does not correspond to reality at all, and hence the conclusions drawn from it are also absurd. By presenting things in this optimistic way (optimistic in relation to the past and the present), the Narodnik simply turns his back on the facts established by Narodnik literature itself, and turns his face towards utopias and possibilities.

Let us start from pre-Reform feudal economy.

The main content of the production relations at that time was as follows: the landlord supplied the peasant with land, timber for building, the means of production in general (sometimes even the means of livelihood) for each separate household and, while letting the peasant gain his own livelihood, compelled him to work all the surplus time doing corvée service for him, the landlord. I underscore the words “all the surplus time” in order to note that there can be no question, under this system, of the peasant’s   “independence.”[1] The “allotment” with which the landlord “supplied” the peasant was nothing more than wages in kind, served wholly and exclusively for the exploitation of the peasant by the landlord, to “supply” the landlord with hands and actually never to provide for the peasant himself.[2]

Then, however, came the invasion of commodity economy. The landlord began to produce grain for sale and not for himself. This gave rise to intensified exploitation of peasant labour and then to difficulties with the allotment system, since it had become unprofitable for the landlord to supply members of the rising generation of peasants with allotments, and it was possible to settle accounts in money. It became more convenient to separate the peasants’ land once and for all from that of the landlord (particularly if in the process part of the allotments were cut off and if they were redeemed at a “fair” price) and to use the labour of the very same peasants, placed in materially worse conditions and forced to compete with former manor serfs, “gift-landers,”[3] the more prosperous former state, appanage peasants, etc.

Serfdom collapses.

The system of economy—now serving the market (and this is very important)—changed, but did not do so at once. New features and “principles” were added to the old. These new features consisted of the following: the supplying of the peasant with means of production was no longer made the basis of Plusmacherei, but, on the contrary, it was his “separation” from the means of production, his need of money; the basis was no longer natural economy, natural exchange of “services” (the landlord gives the peasant land, while the peasant provides the products of his surplus labour, grain, linen, etc.), but commodity, “free” money contract. It was this form of economy, which combined old and new features, that has been predominant in Russia since the Reform. The old-time methods of lending out land in return for work (farming in return for cut-off lands, for   example) were supplemented by “winter hire”—the lending of money in return for work when the peasant is in particular need of money and sells his labour for a song, the lending of grain in return for labour service, etc. The social-economic relations in the former “patriarchal estate” were reduced, as you see, to the most ordinary usurer’s deal: they consisted of operations quite analogous to the operations of the buyer-up in relation to the handicraftsmen.

There can be no doubt that this form of economy has become typical since the Reform, and our Narodnik literature has supplied superb descriptions of this particularly unattractive form of Plusmacherei combined with feudal traditions and relations, and with the utter helplessness of the peasant tied to his “allotment.”

But the Narodniks refused, and still refuse, to see the precise economic basis of these relations.

The basis of domination is now not only the possession of the land, as in the old days, but also the possession of money, which the peasant is in need of (and money is a product of the social labour organised by commodity economy), and the “separation” of the peasant from the means of livelihood. Obviously, this is a capitalist, bourgeois relationship. The “new” features are nothing but the initial form of the domination of capital in agriculture, a form not yet freed of the “old-nobility” fetters, a form that has created the class contradiction peculiar to capitalist society, but has not yet finally established it.

With the development of commodity economy, however, the ground slips from under this initial form of the domination of capital: the impoverishment of the peasantry has now developed to the point of utter ruin, the point when the peasants have lost their implements, by which the feudal and the bonded forms of labour were maintained—and the landlord is thus compelled to go over to the use of his own implements, and the peasant to become a farm labourer.

That this transition has begun in post-Reform Russia is again an undoubted fact. This fact shows the line of development of the bonded form, which the Narodniks view in a purely metaphysical way—disregarding connections with the past, disregarding the urge to develop; this same fact shows the further development of capitalism, the further   development of the class contradiction that is peculiar to our capitalist society and that in the preceding epoch was expressed in the relation between the “kulak” and the peasant, and is now beginning to find expression in the relation between the rational farmer and the farm labourer and day labourer.

Now it is this latter change that evokes the despair and horror of the Narodnik, who begins to howl about “deprivation of the land,” “loss of independence,” “installation of capitalism” and the ills “threatening” as a result, etc., etc.

Look at these arguments impartially and you will see, firstly, that they contain a falsehood, even though a well-intentioned one, since the economy of farm labourers is not preceded by peasant “independence” but by other ways of handing the surplus product over to some one who takes no part in its production. Secondly, you will see the superficiality and the pettiness of the Narodnik protest, which make it vulgar socialism, as Mr. Struve aptly puts it. Why is this “installation” merely seen in its second form, and not in both forms? Why is the protest not directed against the basic historical fact that concentrated the means of production in the hands of “private landowners,” instead of merely against one of the methods of utilising this monopoly? Why is the root of the evil not seen in production relations that subordinate labour far and wide to the owner of money, instead of merely in the inequality of distribution that stands out in such relief in the latest form of these relations? It is this basic circumstance—a protest against capitalism based on those same capitalist relations—that makes the Narodniks the ideologists of the petty bourgeoisie, who do not fear bourgeois reality, but merely its accentuation, which alone leads to a fundamental change.


[1] I confine myself exclusively to the economic aspect of the matter. —Lenin

[2] That is why reference to the feudal “allotment of land” as proof of the means of production belonging to the producer “from time immemorial” is false through and through. —Lenin

[3] Gift-landers or gift-land peasants, peasants who were formerly landlords’ serfs and who, at the time of the Reform of 1861, by “agreement” with their landlords received allotments gratis (without having to pay redemption money for them). The gift-lander received a miserable strip, amounting in all to a quarter of the so-called “top” or “statutory” allotment established by law for the given locality. All the rest of the lands that had constituted the peasants’ allotments before the Reform were seized by the landlord, who held his “gift-landers,” forcibly dispossessed of their land, in a state of economic bondage even after serfdom was abolished. The “gift-land” allotment came to be known among the people as a “quarter,” “orphan’s,” “cat’s,” or “gagarin” allotment (the last epithet being derived from the name of the initiator of the law on “gift-land” allotments, Prince P. P. Gagarin). p. 491

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