Vladimir Ilyich Lenin


Chapter IV. The Growth of Commercial Agriculture

IX. Conclusions on the Significance of Capitalism in Russian Agriculture

In chapters II-IV the problem of capitalism in Russian agriculture has been examined from two angles. First we examined the existing system of social and economic relations in peasant and landlord economy, the system which has taken shape in the post-Reform period. It was seen that the peasantry have been splitting up at enormous speed into a numerically small but economically strong rural bourgeoisie and a rural proletariat. Inseparably connected with this “depeasantising” process is the landowners’ transition from the labour-service to the capitalist system of farming. Then we examined this same process from another angle: we took as our starting-point the manner in which agriculture is transformed into commodity production, and examined the social and economic relations characteristic of each of the principal forms of commercial agriculture. It was shown that the very same processes were conspicuous in both peasant and private-landowner farming under a great variety of agricultural conditions.

Let us now examine the conclusions that follow from all the data given above.

1) The main feature of the post-Reform evolution of agriculture is its growing commercial, entrepreneur character. As regards private-landowner farming, this fact is so obvious as to require no special explanation. As regards peasant farming, however, it is not so easily established, firstly, because the employment of hired labour is not an absolutely essential feature of the small rural bourgeoisie. As we have observed above, this category includes every small commodity-producer who covers his expenditure by independent farming, provided the general system of economy is based on the capitalist contradictions examined in Chapter II. Secondly, the small rural bourgeois (in Russia, as in other capitalist countries) is connected by a number of transitional stages with the small-holding “peasant,” and with the rural proletarian who has been allotted a patch of land. This circumstance is one of the reasons for the viability of the theories which do not distinguish the existence of a rural bourgeoisie and a rural proletariat among “the peasantry.”[1]

2) From the very nature of agriculture its transformation into commodity production proceeds in a special way, unlike the corresponding process in industry. Manufacturing industry splits up into separate, quite independent branches, each devoted exclusively to the manufacture of one product or one part of a product. The agricultural industry, however, does not split up into quite separate branches, but merely specialises in one market product in one case, and in another market product in another, all the other aspects of agriculture being adapted to this principal (i.e., market) product. That is why the forms of commercial agriculture show immense diversity, varying not only in different areas, but also on different farms. That is why, when examining the question of the growth of commercial agriculture, we must on no account confine ourselves to gross data for agricultural production as a whole.[2]

3) The growth of commercial agriculture creates a home market for capitalism. Firstly, the specialisation of agriculture gives rise to exchange between the various agricultural areas, between the various agricultural undertakings, and between the various agricultural products. Secondly, the further agriculture is drawn into the sphere of commodity circulation the more rapid is the growth of the demand made by the rural population for those products of manufacturing industry that serve for personal consumption; and thirdly, the more rapid is the growth of the demand for means of production, since neither the small nor the big rural entrepreneur is able, with the old-fashioned “peasant” implements, buildings, etc., etc., to engage in the new, commercial agriculture. Fourthly and lastly, a demand is created for labour-power, since the formation of a small rural bourgeoisie and the change-over by the landowners to capitalist farming presuppose the formation of a body of regular agricultural labourers and day labourers. Only the fact of the growth of commercial agriculture can explain the circumstance that the post-Reform period is characterised by an expansion of the home market for capitalism (development of capitalist agriculture, development of factory industry in general, development of the agricultural engineering industry in particular, development of the so-called peasant “agricultural industries,” i.e., work for hire, etc.).

4) Capitalism enormously extends and intensifies among the agricultural population the contradictions without which this mode of production cannot exist. Notwithstanding this, however, agricultural capitalism in Russia, in its historical significance, is a big progressive force. Firstly, capitalism has transformed the cultivator from a “lord of the manor,” on the one hand, and a patriarchal, dependent peasant, on the other, into the same sort of industrialist that every other proprietor is in present-day society. Before capitalism appeared, agriculture in Russia was the business of the gentry, a lord’s hobby for some, and a duty, an obligation for others; consequently, it could not be conducted except according to age-old routine, necessarily involving the complete isolation of the cultivator from all that went on in the world beyond the confines of his village. The labour-service system—that living survival of old times in present-day economy—strikingly confirms this characterisation. Capitalism for the first time broke with the system of social estates in land tenure by converting the land into a commodity. The farmer’s product was put on sale and began to be subject to social reckoning—first in the local, then in the national, and finally in the international market, and in this way the former isolation of the uncouth farmer from the rest of the world was completely broken down. The farmer was compelled willy nilly, on pain of ruin, to take account of the sum-total of social relations both in his own country and in other countries, now linked together by the world market. Even the labour-service system, which formerly guaranteed Oblomov an assured income without any risk on his part, without any expenditure of capital, without any changes in the age-old routine of production, now proved incapable of saving him from the competition of the American farmer. That is why one can fully apply to post-Reform Russia what was said half a century ago about Western Europe—that agricultural capitalism hag been “the motive force which has drawn the idyll into the movement of history.”[3]

Secondly, agricultural capitalism has for the first time undermined the age-old stagnation of our agriculture; it has given a tremendous impetus to the transformation of its technique, and to the development of the productive forces of social labour. A few decades of “destructive work” by capitalism have done more in this respect than entire centuries of preceding history. The monotony of routine natural economy has been replaced by a diversity of forms of commercial agriculture; primitive agricultural implements have begun to yield place to improved implements and machines; the immobility of the old-fashioned farming systems has been undermined by new methods of agriculture. The course of all these changes is linked inseparably with the above-mentioned phenomenon of the specialisation of agriculture. By its very nature, capitalism in agriculture (as in industry) cannot develop evenly: in one place (in one country, in one area, on one farm) it pushes forward one aspect of agriculture, in another place another aspect, etc. In one case it transforms the technique of some, and in other cases of other agricultural operations, divorcing them from patriarchal peasant economy or from the patriarchal labour-service. Since the whole of this process is guided by market requirements that are capricious and not always known to the producer, capitalist agriculture, in each separate instance (often in each separate area, sometimes even in each separate country), becomes more one sided and lopsided than that which preceded it, but, taken as a whole, becomes immeasurably more many-sided and rational than patriarchal agriculture. The emergence of separate types of commercial agriculture renders possible and inevitable capitalist crises in agriculture and cases of capitalist overproduction, but these crises (like all capitalist crises) give a still more powerful impetus to the development of world production and of the socialisation of labour.[4]

Thirdly, capitalism has for the first time created in Russia large-scale agricultural production based on the employment of machines and the extensive co-operation of workers. Before capitalism appeared, the production of agricultural produce was always carried on in an unchanging, wretchedly small way—both when the peasant worked for himself and when he worked for the landlord—and no “community character” of land tenure was capable of destroying this tremendously scattered production. Inseparably linked with this scattered production was the scattered nature of the farmers themselves.[5] Tied to their allotment, to their tiny “village community,” they were completely fenced off even from the peasants of the neighbouring village community by the difference in the categories to which they belonged (former landowners’ peasants, former state peasants, etc.), by differences in the size of their holdings—by differences in the terms on which their emancipation took place (which terms were sometimes determined simply by the individual attributes of the landlords and by their whims). Capitalism for the first time broke down these purely medieval barriers—and it was a very good thing that it did. Now the differences between the various grades of peasants, between the various categories based on the size of allotment holdings, are far less important than the economic differences within each grade, each category and each village community. Capitalism destroys local seclusion and insularity, and replaces the minute medieval divisions among cultivators by a major division, embracing the whole nation, that divides them into classes occupying different positions in the general system of capitalist economy.[6] The mass of cultivators were formerly tied to their place of residence by the very conditions of production, whereas the creation of diverse forms and diverse areas of commercial and capitalist agriculture could not but cause the movement of enormous masses of the population throughout the country; and unless the population is mobile (as we have said above) there can be no question of developing its understanding and initiative.

Fourthly, and lastly, agricultural capitalism in Russia for the first time cut at the root of labour-service and the personal dependency of the farmer. This system of labour-service has held undivided sway in our agriculture from the days of Russkaya Pravda[7] down to the present day cultivation of the fields of private landowners with the peasants’ implements; the wretchedness and uncouthness of the farmer, degraded by his labour being “semi-free” if not feudal, in character, are inevitable concomitants of this system; if the civil rights of the cultivator had not been impaired (by, for example, his belonging to the lowest social estate; corporal punishment; assignment to public works; attachment to allotment, etc.) the labour-service system would have been impossible. That is why agricultural capitalism in Russia has performed a great historical service in replacing labour-service by hired labour.[8] Summing up what has been said above on the progressive historical role of Russian agricultural capitalism, it may be said that it is socialising agricultural production. Indeed, the fact that agriculture has been transformed from the privileged occupation of the top estate or the duty of the bottom estate into an ordinary commercial and industrial occupation; that the product of the cultivator’s labour has become subject to social reckoning on the market; that routine, uniform agriculture is being converted into technically transformed and diverse forms of commercial farming; that the local seclusion and scattered nature of the small farmers is breaking down; that the diverse forms of bondage and personal dependence are being replaced by impersonal transactions in the purchase and sale of labour-power, these are all links in a single process, which is socialising agricultural labour and is increasingly intensifying the contradiction between the anarchy of market fluctuations, between the individual character of the separate agricultural enterprises and the collective character of large-scale capitalist agriculture.

Thus (we repeat once more), in emphasising the progressive historical role of capitalism in Russian agriculture we do not in the least forget either the historically transient character of this economic regime or the profound social contradictions inherent in it. On the contrary, we have shown above that it is precisely the Narodniks who, capable only of bewailing the “destructive work” of capitalism, give an extremely superficial appraisal of these contradictions, glossing over the differentiation of the peasantry, ignoring the capitalist character of the employment of machinery in our agriculture, and covering up with such expressions as “agricultural industries” and “employments” the emergence of a class of agricultural wage-workers.


[1] The favourite proposition of the Narodnik economists that “Russian peasant farming is in the majority of cases purely natural economy” is, incidentally, built up by ignoring this fact. (The Influence of Harvests and Grain Prices, I, 52.) One has but to take “average” figures, which lump together both the rural bourgeoisie and the rural proletariat—and this proposition will pass as proved!—Lenin

[2] It is to data of this kind that the authors of the book mentioned in the preceding note confine themselves when they speak of “the peasantry.” They assume that every peasant sows just those cereals that he consumes, that he sows all those types of cereals that he consumes, and that he sows them in just that proportion in which they are consumed. It does not require much effort to “deduce” from such “assumptions” (which contradict the facts and ignore the main feature of the post-Reform period) that natural economy predominates.

In Narodnik literature one may also encounter the following ingenious method of argument: each separate type of commercial agriculture is an “exception”—by comparison with agriculture as a whole. Hence, all commercial agriculture in general, it is averred, must be regarded as an exception, and natural economy must be considered the general rule! In college textbooks on logic, in the section on sophisms, numerous parallels of such lines of reasoning are to be found.—Lenin

[3] Misère de la philosophie (Paris, 1896), p. 223; the author contemptuously describes as reactionary jeremiads, the longings of those who thirst for a return to the good old patriarchal life, simple manners, etc, and who condemn the “subjection of the soil to the laws which dominate all other industries.”[9]

We are fully aware that to the Narodniks the whole of the argument given in the text may appear not only unconvincing but positively unintelligible, But it would be too thankless a task to analyse in detail such opinions as, for example, that the purchase-and-sale of the land is an “abnormal” phenomenon (Mr. Chuprov, in the debate on grain prices, p. 39 of the verbatim report), that the inalienability of the peasants’ allotments is an institution that can be defended, that the labour-service system of farming is better, or at all events no worse, than the capitalist system, etc. All that has been said above goes to refute the political and economic arguments advanced by the Narodniks in support of such views.—Lenin

[4] The West-European romanticists and Russian Narodniks strongly emphasise in this process the one-sidedness of capitalist agriculture, the instability created by capitalism, and crises—and on this basis deny the progressive character of capitalist advance as compared with pre-capitalist stagnation.—Lenin

[5] Accordingly, notwithstanding the difference in the forms of land tenure, one can fully apply to the Russian peasant what Marx said of the small French peasant: “The small-holding peasants form a vast mass, the members of which live in similar conditions but without entering into manifold relations with one another. Their mode of production isolates them from one another instead of bringing them into mutual intercourse. The isolation is increased by France’s bad means of communication and by the poverty of the peasants. Their field of production (Produktionsfeld ), the small holding, admits of no division of labour in its cultivation, no application of science and, therefore, no diversity of development, no variety of talent, no wealth of social relationships. Each individual peasant family is almost self-sufficient, it itself directly produces the major part of its consumption and thus acquires its means of life more through exchange with nature than in intercourse with society. A small holding, a peasant and his family; alongside them another small holding, another peasant and another family. A few score of these make up a village, and a few score of villages make up a Department. In this way, the great mass of the French nation is formed by simple addition of homologous magnitudes, much as potatoes in a sack form a sack of potatoes.” (Der achtzehnte Brumaire des Louis Bonaparte, Hmb., 1885, S. 98–99.)[10]Lenin

[6] “The need for association, for organisation in capitalist society, has not diminished but, on the contrary, has grown immeasurably. But it is utterly absurd to measure this need of the new society with the old yardstick. This new society is already demanding firstly, that the association shall not be according to locality, social-estate or category; secondly, that its starting-point shall be the difference in status and interests that has been created by capitalism and by the differentiation of the peasantry.” [V. Ilyin, loc. cit., pp. 91-92 footnote. (See present edition, Vol. 2, “A Characterisation of Economic Romanticism.”—Ed.)—Lenin

[7] Russian Law.—Lenin

[8] One of Mr. N.–on’s innumerable plaints and lamentations over the destructive work of capitalism in Russia deserves special attention: “. . . Neither the strife among the appanage princes nor the Tartar invasion affected the forms of our economic life” (Sketches, p. 284); only capitalism has displayed “contempt for its own historical past” (p. 283). The sacred truth! Capitalism in Russian agriculture is progressive precisely because it has displayed “contempt” for the “age-old”, “time-hallowed” forms of labour-service and bondage, which, indeed, no political storms, the “strife among the appanage princes” and the “Tartar invasion” inclusive, were able to destroy.—Lenin

[9] See Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy, Moscow, p. 180.

[10] Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, Vol. I, Moscow, 1958, p. 334 (The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte).

  VIII. Industrial Vegetable and Fruit Growing; Suburban Farming | X. Narodnik Theories on Capitalism in Agriculture. “The Freeing of Winter Time”  

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