Vladimir Ilyich Lenin


Chapter III. The Landowners’ Transition from CorvĂ©e to Capitalist Economy

IX. Wage-Labour in Agriculture

We now pass to the principal manifestation of agricultural capitalism – to the employment of hired labour. This feature of post-Reform economy was marked most strongly in the outer regions of south and east European Russia, in that mass shift of agricultural wage-workers known as the “agricultural migration.” For this reason we shall first cite data concerning this main region of agricultural capitalism in Russia and then examine the data relating to the whole of Russia.

The tremendous movements of our peasants in search of work for hire have long ago been noted in our literature. Reference to them was made by Flerovsky (Condition of the Working Class in Russia, St. Petersburg, 1869), who tried to determine their relative incidence in the various gubernias. In 1875, Mr. Chaslavsky gave a general review of “agricultural outside employments” (Compendium of Political Knowledge, Vol. II) and noted their real significance (“there was formed . . . something in the nature of a semi-vagrant population . . . something in the nature of future farm labourers”). In 1887, Mr. Raspopin gathered together Zemstvo statistics on this phenomenon and regarded them not as “employments” of the peasants in general, but as a process of the formation of a class of wage-workers in agriculture. In the 90s, the works of Messrs. S. Korolenko, Rudnev, Tezyakov, Kudryavtsev and Shakhovskoi appeared, thanks to which a much fuller study of this phenomenon was made.

The principal area to which agricultural wage-workers migrate embraces Bessarabia, Kherson, Taurida, Ekaterinoslav, Don, Samara, Saratov (southern part) and Orenburg gubernias. We confine ourselves to European Russia, but it must be observed that the movement spreads, ever further afield (especially in the recent period), and covers the North Caucasus and the Ural region, etc. Data concerning capitalist agriculture in this area (the area of commercial grain farming) will be given in the next chapter; there, too, we shall point to other localities to which agricultural labourers migrate. The principal area from which agricultural labourers migrate is the central black-earth gubernias: Kazan, Simbirsk, Penza, Tambov, Ryazan, Tula, Orel, Kursk, Voronezh, Kharkov, Poltava, Chernigov, Kiev, Podolia and Volhynia.[1] Thus the movement of workers proceeds from the most thickly-populated to the most thinly populated localities, the ones being colonised; from the localities where serfdom was most developed to those where it was least developed[2]; from localities where labour-service is most developed to localities where it is little developed and capitalism is highly developed. Hence, the workers flee from “semi-free” to free labour. It would be a mistake to think that this flight amounts exclusively to a movement from thickly-populated to thinly-populated areas. A study of the movement of workers (Mr. S. Korolenko, loc. cit.) has revealed the singular and important fact that workers migrate from many areas in such great numbers as to create a shortage of hands in these places, one that is compensated by the arrival of workers from other places. Hence, the departure of workers expresses not only the tendency of the population to spread more evenly over the given territory, but also the tendency of the workers to go to areas where conditions are better. This tendency will become quite clear to us if we recall that in the area of departure, the area of labour-service, agricultural workers’ wages are particularly low, while in the area of attraction, the area of capitalism, wages are far higher.[3]

As to the extent of “agricultural migration,” general data exist only in the above-mentioned book by Mr. S Korolenko, who calculates the surplus of workers (relative to the local demand for them) at 6,360,000 for the whole of European Russia, including 2,137,000 in the above-enumerated 15 gubernias of agricultural emigration, whereas in the 8 gubernias of immigration the shortage of workers is estimated at 2,173,000 persons. Despite the fact that Mr. S. Korolenko’s methods of calculation are by no means always satisfactory, his general conclusions (as we shall see repeatedly below) must be regarded as approximately correct, and the number of migratory workers not only not an exaggeration, but if anything an understatement of the facts. There can be no doubt that part of these two million workers who come to the South are non-agricultural workers. But Mr. Shakhovskoi (loc. cit.) estimates quite arbitrarily, approximately, that industrial workers account for half this number. Firstly, we know from all sources that the workers who migrate to this region are mainly agricultural, and secondly, agricultural workers come there not only from the gubernias mentioned above. Mr. Shakhovskoi himself quotes a figure which confirms Mr. S. Korolenko’s calculations. He states that in 11 black-earth gubernias (which are included in the above-described area from which agricultural workers emigrate) there were issued in 1891 a total of 2,000,703 passports and identity cards (loc. cit., p. 24), whereas according to Mr. S. Korolenko’s calculations the number of workers who left these gubernias was only 1,745,913. Consequently, Mr. S. Korolenko’s figures are not in the least exaggerated, and the total number of migratory rural workers in Russia must obviously be over 2 million.[4] The existence of such a mass of “peasants” who abandon their homes and allotments (where they have homes and allotments) vividly testifies to the tremendous process of the conversion of small cultivators into rural proletarians, of the enormous demand by growing agricultural capitalism for wage-labour.

The question now arises, what is the total number of rural wage-workers in European Russia, both migratory and resident? The only attempt to answer this question that we know is the one made in Mr. Rudnev’s work Peasant Industries in European Russia (Sbornik Saratovskogo Zemstva [Symposium of the Saratov Zemstvo ], 1894, Nos. 6 and 11). This work, an extremely valuable one, gives a summary of the Zemstvo statistics for 148 uyezds in 19 gubernias of European Russia. The total number of “industrialists” is put at 2,798,122, out of 5,129,863 working males (18 to 60 years of age), i.e., 55% of the total number of working peasants.[5] Under “agricultural industries” the author includes only work as hired agricultural labourers (farm labourers, day labourers, herdsmen, stockyard workers). An estimate of the percentage of agricultural workers to the total number of males of working age in various gubernias and districts of Russia, leads the author to the conclusion that in the black-earth belt about 25% of all working males are engaged in hired agricultural labour, and in the non-black-earth area about 10%. This gives us the number of agricultural workers in European Russia as 3,395,000, or, in round numbers, 3 1/2 million (Rudnev, loc. cit., p. 448. This number is about 20% of the total number of males of working age). It must be observed in this connection that, according to Mr. Rudnev, “day labour and agricultural job-work were placed in the category of industries by the statisticians only when they were the chief occupation of the given person or family” (loc. cit., 446).[6]

Mr. Rudnev’s figure should be regarded as the minimum, because, firstly, the Zemstvo census returns are more or less out-of-date, relating to the 80s and at times even to the 70s, and because, secondly, in determining the percentage of agricultural workers, no account whatever was taken of the Baltic and Western gubernias, where agricultural capitalism is highly developed. For want of other data, however, we are obliged to take this figure of 3 1/2 million.

It appears, consequently, that about one-fifth of the peasants have already reached a position where their “chief occupation” is that of wage-labour for rich peasants and landlords. We see here the first group of the entrepreneurs who present a demand for the labour-power of the rural proletariat. These are the rural entrepreneurs, who employ about half of the bottom group of the peasantry. Thus, there is to be observed a complete interdependence between the formation of a class of rural entrepreneurs and the expansion of the bottom group of the “peasantry,” i.e., the increase in the number of rural proletarians. Among these rural entrepreneurs a prominent part is played by the peasant bourgeoisie: for example, in 9 uyezds of Voronezh Gubernia, 43.4% of the farm labourers are employed by peasants (Rudnev, 434). Were we to take this percentage as the standard for all rural workers and for the whole of Russia, it would be seen that the peasant bourgeoisie present a demand for some one and a half million agricultural workers. One and the same “peasantry” throws on to the market millions of workers in search of employers – and presents an impressive demand for wage-workers.


[1] In Chapter VIII , where we examine the movement of wage-workers in Russia as an entire process, we shall describe in greater detail the character and direction of migration from the various localities.—Lenin

[2] In his day Chaslavsky pointed out that in the localities in which workers arrived, serfs constituted from 4 to 15% of the total, and in the localities which workers left, from 40 to 60%.—Lenin

[3] See table of data for 10 years in Chapter VIII, § V: the formation of a home market for labour-power.—Lenin

[4] There is another way of checking Mr. S. Korolenko’s figure. We learn from the above-quoted books of Messrs. Tezyakov and Kudryavtsev that the number of agricultural workers who in their search for “employments” use the railways at least in part, is about 1/10 of the total workers (combining the figures of both authors, we get the result that out of 72,635 workers interrogated, only 7,827 traveled at least part of the journey by rail). Yet the number of workers carried in 1891 by the three principal railways in the direction examined does not exceed 200,000 (170,000 to 189,000) – as we are told by Mr. Shakhovskoi (loc. cit., p. 71, according to railway returns). Consequently, the total number of workers leaving for the South must be about 2 million. Incidentally, the very small proportion of agricultural workers who travel by rail points to the incorrectness of Mr. N.–on’s view when he assumed that the passenger traffic on our railways is in the main that of agricultural workers. Mr. N.–on lost sight of the fact that non-agricultural workers receive higher wages and therefore make greater use of the railways and that the migration season of these workers (for example, builders, navvies, stevedores and many others) is also spring and summer.—Lenin

[5] By “industries,” as Mr. Rudnev also points out, are meant all sorts of occupations by peasants except cultivation on their own, purchased or rented land. Undoubtedly, the majority of these “industrialists” are wage-workers in agriculture or in industry. We therefore call the reader’s attention to the closeness of these figures to our estimate of the number of rural proletarians: in Chapter II, it was assumed that the latter constitute about 40% of the peasants. Here we see that “industrialists” constitute 55%, and of these, in all probability, over 40% are engaged in all sorts of hired labour.—Lenin

[6] This figure does not include, therefore, the mass of peasants for whom hired agricultural labor is not the chief occupation, but one of equal importance with their own farms.—Lenin

  VIII. The Significance of Machinery in Agriculture | X. The Significance of Hired Labour in Agriculture  

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