Vladimir Ilyich Lenin


Chapter III. The Landowners’ Transition from Corvée to Capitalist Economy

Page 96 from the magazine Nachalo.

From peasant economy we must now pass to landlord economy. Our task is to examine, in its main features, the present social-economic system of landlord economy and to describe the nature of the evolution of this system in the post-Reform epoch.

I. The Main Features of Corvée Economy

As our starting-point in examining the present system of landlord economy we must take the system of that economy which prevailed in the epoch of serfdom. The essence of the economic system of those days was that the entire land of a given unit of agrarian economy, i.e., of a given estate, was divided into the lord’s and the peasants’ land; the latter was distributed in allotments among the peasants, who (receiving other means of production in addition, as for example, timber, sometimes cattle, etc.) cultivated it with their own labour and their own implements, and obtained their livelihood from it. The product of this peasants’ labour constituted the necessary product, to employ the terminology of theoretical political economy; necessary – for the peasants in providing them with means of subsistence, and for the landlord in providing him with hands; in exactly the same way as the product which replaces the variable part of the value of capital is a necessary product in capitalist society. The peasants’ surplus labour, on the other hand, consisted in their cultivation, with the same implements, of the landlord’s land; the product of that labour went to the landlord. Hence, the surplus labour was separated then in space from the necessary labour: for the landlord they cultivated his land, for themselves their allotments; for the landlord they worked some days of the week and for themselves others. The peasant’s allotment in this economy served, as it were, as wages in kind (to express oneself in modern terms), or as a means of providing the landlord with hands. The peasants’ “own” farming of their allotments was a condition of the landlord economy, and its purpose was to “provide” not the peasant with means of livelihood but the landlord with hands.[1]

It is this system of economy which we call Corvée [Russ.: barshchina] economy. Its prevalence obviously presumes the following necessary conditions: firstly, the predominance of natural economy. The feudal estate had to constitute a self-sufficing, self-contained entity, in very slight contact with the outside world. The production of grain by the landlords for sale, which developed particularly in the latter period of the existence of serfdom, was already a harbinger of the collapse of the old regime. Secondly, such an economy required that the direct producer be allotted the means of production in general, and land in particular; moreover, that he be tied to the land, since otherwise the landlord was not assured of hands. Hence, the methods of obtaining the surplus product under Corvée and under capitalist economy are diametrically opposite: the former is based on the producer being provided with land, the latter on the producer being dispossessed of the land.[2] Thirdly, a condition for such a system of economy was the personal dependence of the peasant on the landlord. If the landlord had not possessed direct power over the person of the peasant, he could not have compelled a man who had a plot of land and ran his own farm to work for him. Hence, “other than economic pressure,” as Marx says in describing this economic regime, was necessary (and, as has already been indicated above, Marx assigned it to the category of labour-rent ; Das Kapital, III, 2, 324).[3] The form and degree of this coercion may be the most varied, ranging from the peasant’s serf status to his lack of rights in the social estates. Fourthly, and finally, a condition and a consequence of the system of economy described was the extremely low and stagnant condition of technique, for farming was in the hands of small peasants, crushed by poverty and degraded by personal dependence and by ignorance.


[1] An extremely vivid description of this system of economy is given by A. Engelhardt in his Letters from the Countryside (St. Petersburg 1885, pp. 556-557). The author quite rightly points out that feudal economy was a definite, regular and complete system, the director of which was the landlord, who allotted land to the peasants and assigned them to various jobs.—Lenin

[2] In opposing the view of Henry George, who said that the expropriation of the mass of the population is the great and universal cause of poverty and oppression, Engels wrote in 1887: “This is not quite correct historically. . . . In the Middle Ages, it was not the expropriation of the people from, but on the contrary, their appropriation to the land which became the source of feudal oppression. The peasant retained his land, but was attached to it as a serf or villein, and made liable to tribute to the lord in labour and in produce” (The Condition of the Working-Class in England in 1844, New York, 1887, Preface, p. III).[4]Lenin

[4] See Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, On Britain, Moscow, 1953, p. 10.

[3] Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. III, Moscow, 1959, p. 771.

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