Vladimir Ilyich Lenin


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

III. Description of the Labour-Service System

Labour-service, as has already been observed above, is of exceedingly varied types. Sometimes peasants undertake for a money payment to cultivate with their own implements the fields of the landowner – so-called “job-hire,” “dessiatine employments,”[1] cultivation of “cycles”[2] [10] (i.e., one dessiatine of spring crop and one of winter crop), etc. Sometimes the peasant borrows grain or money, under taking to work off either the entire loan or the interest on it.[3] Under this form a feature peculiar to the labour-service system in general stands out with great clarity – the bondage, the usurious character of this sort of hire of labour. In some cases the peasants work “for trespass” (i.e., undertake to work off the legally established fine for cattle trespass), or work simply “out of respect” (cf. Engelhardt, loc. cit., 56), i.e., gratis, or just for a drink, so as not to lose other “employments” by the landowner. Lastly, labour-service in return for land is very widespread in the shape either of half-cropping or directly of work for land rented, for grounds used, etc.

Very often the payment for rented land assumes the most diverse forms, which sometimes are even combined, so that side by side with money rent we find rent in kind and “labour-service.” Here are a couple of examples: for every dessiatine, 1 1/2 dess. to be cultivated + 10 eggs + 1 chicken + 1 day’s female labour; for 43 dess. of spring crop land 12 rubles per dess., and 51 dess. of winter-crop land 16 rubles per dess. in cash + threshing of so many stacks of oats, 7 stacks of buckwheat and 20 stacks of rye + manuring of not less than 5 dessiatines of rented land with manure from own animals, at the rate of 300 cart-loads per dessiatine (Karyshev, Rentings, p. 348). In this case even the peasant’s manure is converted into a constituent part of the private landowner’s farm! The widespread and varied character of labour-service is indicated by the abundance of terms used for it: otrabotki, otbuchi, otbutki, barshchina, basarinka, posobka, panshchina, postupok, viyemka, etc. (ibid., 342). Sometimes the peasant pledges himself to perform “whatever work the owner orders” (ibid., 346), or in general to “pay heed,” “give ear” to him, to “help out.” Labour-service embraces the “whole cycle of jobs in rural life. It is as labour-service that all operations relating to field-cultivation and grain and hay harvesting get done, firewood is stocked and loads are carted” (346-347), roofs and chimneys are repaired (354, 348), and the delivery-of poultry and eggs is undertaken (ibid.). An investigator of Gdov Uyezd, St. Petersburg Gubernia, quite justly remarks that the types of labour-service to be met with are of the “former, pre-Reform, Corvée character” (349).[4]

Particularly interesting is the form of labour-service for land, so-called labour-service renting and rent payment in kind.[5] In the preceding chapter we have seen how capitalist relations are manifested in peasant renting of land; here we see “renting” which is simply a survival of Corvée economy,[6] and which sometimes passes imperceptibly into the capitalist system of providing the estate with agricultural workers by alloting patches of land to them. Zemstvo statistics establish beyond doubt this connection between such “renting” and the lessors’ own farming. “With the development of their own farming on the private landowners’ estates, the owners had to guarantee themselves a supply of workers at the required time. Hence, there develops in many places the tendency among them to distribute land to the peasants on the labour-service basis, or for a part of the crop together with labour-service. . . .” This system of farming “. . . is fairly widespread. The more frequently the lessors do their own farming, the smaller the amount of land available for leasing and the greater the demand for such land, the more widely does this form of land renting develop” (ibid., p. 266, cf. also 367). Thus, we have here renting of a very special kind, under which the landowner does not abandon his own farm, but which expresses the development of private-landowner cultivation, expresses not the consolidation of the peasant farm by the enlargement of area held, but the conversion of the peasant into an agricultural labourer. In the preceding chapter we have seen that on the peasant’s farm the renting of land is of contradictory significance: for some it is a profitable expansion of their farms; for others it is a deal made out of dire need. Now we see that on the landlord’s farm, too, the leasing of land is of contradictory significance: in some cases it is the transfer of the farm to another person for a payment of rent; in others it is a method of conducting one’s own farm, a method of providing one’s estate with manpower.

Let us pass to the question of the payment of labour under labour-service. The data from various sources are at one in testifying to the fact that the payment of labour where it is hired on a labour-service and bonded basis is always lower than under capitalist “free” hire. Firstly, this is proved by the fact that rent in kind, i.e., on the basis of labour-service and half-cropping (which, as we have just seen, is merely labour-service and bonded hire), is every where, as a general rule, more costly than money rent, very much more costly (ibid., p. 350), sometimes twice as much (ibid., 356, Rzhev Uyezd, Tver Gubernia). Secondly, rent in kind is developed to the greatest degree among the poorest groups of peasants (ibid., 261 and foll.). This is renting from dire need, “renting” by the peasant who is no longer able to resist his conversion, in this way, into an agricultural wage-worker. The well-to-do peasants do what they can to rent land for money. “The tenant takes advantage of every opportunity to pay his rent in money, and thus to reduce the cost of using other people’s land” (ibid., 265) – and we would add, not only to reduce the cost of renting the land, but also to escape bonded hire. In Rostovon-Don Uyezd the remarkable fact was even observed of money rent being abandoned in favour of skopshchina,[11] as rents went up, despite a drop in the peasants’ share of the harvest (ibid., p. 266). The significance of rent in kind, which utterly ruins the peasant and turns him into a farm labourer, is quite clearly illustrated by this fact.[7] Thirdly, a direct comparison between the price of labour in the case of labour-service hire and of capitalist “free” hire shows the latter to be greater. In the above-quoted publication of the Department of Agriculture, Hired Labour, etc., it is calculated that the average pay for the complete cultivation, with the peasant’s own implements, of a dessiatine of land under winter grain is 6 rubles (data for the central black-earth belt for the 8 years, 1883-1891). If, however, we calculate the cost of the same amount of work on a hired labour basis, we get 6 rubles 19 kopeks for the work of the labourer alone, not counting the work of the horse (the pay for the horse’s work cannot be put at less than 4 rubles 50 kopeks, loc. cit., 45). The compiler rightly considers this to be “absolutely abnormal” (ibid.). We would merely observe that the fact that payment for labour under purely capitalist hire is greater than under all forms of bondage and under other pre-capitalist relations has been established not only in agriculture, but also in industry, and not only in Russia, but also in other countries. Here are more precise and more detailed Zemstvo statistics on this question (Statistical Returns for Saratov Uyezd, Vol. I, Pt. III, pp. 18-19. Quoted from Mr. Karyshev’s Rentings, p. 353). (See Table on p. 203.)

Thus, under labour-service (just as under bonded hire combined with usury) the prices paid for labour are usually less than half those under capitalist hire.[8] Since labour Average price paid for cultivating one dessiatine.
service can only be undertaken by a local peasant, and one who must be “provided with an allotment,” the fact of the tremendous drop in pay clearly indicates the importance of the allotment as wages in kind. The allotment, in such cases, continues to this day to serve as a means of “guaranteeing” the landowner a supply of cheap labour. But the difference between free and “semi-free”[9] labour is far from exhausted by the difference in pay. Of enormous importance also is the circumstance that the latter form of labour always presupposes the personal dependence of the one hired upon the one who hires him, it always presupposes the greater or lesser retention of “other than economic pressure.” Engelhardt very aptly says that the lending of money for repayment by labour-service is explained by the greater security of such debts: to extract payment from the peasant on a distraint order is a difficult matter, “but the authorities will compel the peasant to perform the work he has undertaken to do, even if his own grain remains ungathered” (loc. cit., 216). “Only long years of slavery, of serf labour for the lord, have been able to produce the indifference” (only apparent) with which the cultivator leaves his own grain in the rain to go carting somebody else’s sheaves (ibid., 429). Without one or other form of binding the population to their domiciles, to the “community,” without a certain lack of civic rights, labour-service as a system would be impossible. It stands to reason that an inevitable consequence of the above-described features of the labour-service system is low productivity of labour: methods of farming based on labour-service can only be the most stereotyped; the labour of the bonded peasant cannot but approximate, in quality, to the labour of the serf.

The combination of the labour-service and the capitalist systems makes the present system of landlord farming extremely similar in its economic organisation to the system that prevailed in our textile industry before the development of large-scale machine industry. There, part of the operations was done by the merchant with his own implements and with wage-workers (fixing the yarn, dyeing and finishing the fabric, etc.), and part with the implements of peasant handicraftsmen who worked for him, using his material. Here, part of the operations is performed by wage-workers, using the employer’s implements, and another part by the labour and the implements of peasants working on the land of others. There, combined with industrial capital was merchant’s capital, and the handicrafts man, besides being weighed down by capital, was burdened with bondage, the operations of the subcontractor, the truck system, etc. Here, likewise, combined with industrial capital is merchant’s and usurer’s capital accompanied by all forms of pay reduction and intensification of the producer’s personal dependence. There, the transitional system lasted for centuries, being based on a primitive hand-labour technique, and was smashed in some three decades by large-scale machine industry; here, labour-service has continued almost since the rise of Rus (the landowners forced the villeins into bondage as far back as the time of Russkaya Pravda[12]), perpetuating routine technique, and has begun rapidly to give way to capitalism only in the post-Reform epoch. In both cases, the old system merely implies stagnation in the forms of production (and, consequently, in all social relations), and the domination of the Asiatic way of life. In both cases, the new, capitalist forms of economy constitute enormous progress, despite all the contradictions inherent in them.


[1] Statistical Returns for Ryazan Gubernia.—Lenin

[2] Engelhardt, loc. cit.—Lenin

[3] Statistical Returns for Moscow Gubernia, Vol. V, Pt 1, Moscow, l879, pp, 186-189. We give these references only as an illustration. A mass of similar information is to be found in all the literature on peasant and private-landowner farming.—Lenin

[4] It is noteworthy that the enormous variety of forms of labour-service in Russia, and of forms of land renting with all sorts of supplementary payments, etc., are covered in their entirety by the main forms of pre-capitalist relations in agriculture indicated by Marx in Chapter 47, Vol. III of Capital. In the preceding chapter, we have indicated that there are three main forms: 1) labour-rent, 2) rent in kind, and 3) money rent. It is, therefore quite natural that Marx should want specifically Russian data as illustrations for the section dealing with ground-rent.—Lenin

[5] According to Results of Zemstvo Statistical Investigations (Vol. II), of all the land rented by peasants, 76% is paid for in money; 3 to 7% by labour-service, 13 to 17% with part of the product and, finally, 2 to 3% by a combination of methods.—Lenin

[6] Cf. examples given in footnote to pp. 194-195. When Corvée economy existed, the landlord gave the peasant land so that the peasant might work for him. When land is leased on the labour-service basis, the economic aspect of the matter is obviously the same.—Lenin

[7] The summary of the latest data on land renting (Mr. Karyshev in the book: The Influence of Harvests, etc., Vol 1) has fully confirmed the fact that it is only want that compels peasants to rent land on a half-crop or a labour-service basis, and that the well-to-do peasants prefer to rent land for money (pp. 317-320), as rent in kind is everywhere incomparably more costly for the peasant than in cash (pp. 342-346). All these facts, however, have not prevented Mr. Karyshev from presenting the situation as though “the poor peasant . . . is better able to satisfy his need for food by slightly extending his crop area to other people’s land on a half-crop basis” (321). Such are the fantastic ideas to which a bias in favour of “natural economy” can lead one! It has been proved that the payment of rent in kind is more costly than payment in cash, that it constitutes a sort of truck-system in agriculture, that the peasant is completely ruined and turned into a farm labourer – and yet our economist talks of improving “food”! Half-crop payment for rent, if you please, “helps . . . the needy section of the rural population to obtain” land by renting it (320). Our economist here calls it “help” to obtain land on the worst conditions, on the condition that the peasant is turned into a farm labourer. The question arises: what is the difference between the Russian Narodniks and the Russian agrarians, who always have been and always are ready to render the “needy section of the rural population” this kind of “help”? By the way, here is an interesting example. In Khotin Uyezd, Bessarabia Gubernia, the average daily earnings of a half cropper are estimated at 60 kopeks, and a day labourer in the summer at 35 to 50 kopeks. “It seems that the earnings of a half-cropper are, after all, higher than the wages of a farm labourer ” (344; Mr. Karyshev’s italics). This “after all” is very characteristic. But, unlike the farm labourer, the half-cropper has his farm expenses, has he not? He has to have a horse and harness, has he not? Why was no account taken of these expenses? Whereas the average daily wage in the summer in Bessarabia Gubernia is 40 to 77 kopeks (1883-1887 and 1888-1892) the average wage of a labourer with horse and harness is 124 to 180 kopeks (1883-1887 and 1888-1892). Does it not rather “seem” that the farm labourer “after all” earns more than the half-cropper? The average daily wage of a labourer working without a horse of his own (average for a whole year) is estimated at 67 kopeks for Bessarabia Gubernia in the period 1882-1891 (ibid., 178)—Lenin

[8] After this, what can one do but describe as reactionary the criticism of capitalism made, for instance, by a Narodnik like Prince Vasilchikov? The very word “hired,” he exclaims pathetically, is contradictory, for hire presupposes non-independence, and non-independence rules out “freedom.” This Narodnik-minded landlord forgets, of course, that capitalism substitutes free non-independence for bonded non-independence.—Lenin

[9] An expression employed by Mr. Karyshev, loc. cit. It is a pity Mr. Karvshev did not draw the conclusion that half-crop renting “helps” the survival of “semi-free” labour!—Lenin

[10] Cultivation of cycles – an enslaving form of labour-service rendered to the landlord by the peasant as rental for land obtained from him in post-Reform Russia. The landlord lent the peasant land or made him a loan in cash or kind for which the peasant undertook to cultivate a “cycle,” using his own implements and draught animals; this meant cultivating one dessiatine of spring crops and one of winter crops, occasionally supplemented by reaping a dessiatine of crops.

[11] Skopshchina – the name given in the southern parts of Russia to the payment of land rent in kind, on terms of bondage, the tenant paying the landowner “s kopny” (from the corn-shock) a portion of the harvest (a half, and sometimes more), and usually fulfilling miscellaneous labour services in addition.

[12] Villeins – feudally dependent peasants in ancient Rus (9th-13th centuries) who performed Corvée service for the princes and other temporal and clerical lords and also paid rent in kind. The feudal lords seized the land of the villeins and compelled them to work on the feudal estates.

Russkaya Pravda (Russian Law ) – the first written codification of laws and princes’ decrees (11th-12th centuries). The statutes of the Russkaya Pravda protected the lives and property of the feudal lord and are indicative of the bitter class struggle between peasants in feudal bondage and their exploiters.

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