Vladimir Ilyich Lenin


Chapter IV. The Growth of Commercial Agriculture

V. Continuation. The Differentiation of the Peasantry in the Dairy-Farming Area

In the literature dealing with the effect of dairy farming on the conditions of the peasantry, we constantly come up against contradictions: on the one hand reference is made to progress in farming, the enlargement of incomes, the improvement of agricultural technique and the acquisition of improved implements; on the other hand, we have statements about the deterioration of food, the creation of new types of bondage and the ruin of the peasants. After what was stated in Chapter II, we should not be surprised at these contradictions: we know that these opposite opinions relate to opposite groups of the peasantry. For a more precise judgement of the subject, let us take the data showing the classification of peasant households according to the number of cows per household.[1]

Classification of peasant households according to number of cows.

Thus, the distribution of cows among the peasants in the non-black-earth belt is found to be very similar to the distribution of draught animals among the peasants in the black-earth gubernias (see Chapter II). Moreover, the concentration of dairy cattle in the area described proves to be greater than the concentration of draught animals. This clearly points to the fact that it is with the local form of commercial farming that the differentiation of the peasantry is closely connected. The same connection is evidently indicated by the following data (unfortunately, not sufficiently complete). If we take the aggregate Zemstvo statistics (given by Mr. Blagoveshchensky; for 122 uyezds of 21 gubernias), we get an average of 1.2 cows per household. Hence, in the non-black-earth belt the peasantry evidently own more cows than in the black-earth belt, and in Petersburg Gubernia they are better off than in the non-black earth belt in general. On the other hand, in 123 uyezds of 22 gubernias the cattleless households constitute 13 %, while in the 18 uyezds we have taken, they amount to 17%, and in the 6 uyezds of Petersburg Gubernia 18.8%. Hence, the differentiation of the peasantry (in the respect we are now examining) is most marked in Petersburg Gubernia, followed by the non-black-earth belt in general. By this indication, commercial farming is the principal factor in the differentiation of the peasantry.

The data show that about half the peasant households (those having no cows, or one cow) can take only a negative part in the benefits of dairy farming. The peasant with one cow will sell milk only out of need, to the detriment of his children’s nourishment. On the other hand, about one-fifth of the households (those with 3 cows and more) concentrate in their hands probably more than half the total dairy farming since the quality of their cattle and the profitableness of their farms should be higher than in the case of the “average” peasant.[2] An interesting illustration of this conclusion is provided by the data on a locality where dairy farming and capitalism in general are highly developed. We refer to Petersburg Uyezd.[3] Dairy farming is particularly widely developed in the summer residential part of the uyezd, inhabited mainly by Russians; here the most widely cultivated crops are: grasses (23.5% of the allotment arable, as against 13.7% for the uyezd), oats (52.3% of the arable) and potatoes (10.1%). Agriculture is directly influenced by the St. Petersburg market, which needs oats, potatoes, hay, milk and horse traction (loc. cit., 168). The families of the registered population are 46.3% engaged “in the milk industry.” Of the total number of cows 91% provide milk for the market. The income from this industry amounts to 713,470 rubles (203 rubles per family, 77 rubles per cow). The nearer the locality is to St. Petersburg, the higher is the quality of the cattle and the better the attention they receive. The milk is sold in two ways: 1) to buyers-up on the spot and 2) in St. Petersburg to “dairy farms,” etc. The latter type of marketing is much more profitable, but “the majority of the farms having one or two cows, and sometimes more, are not . . . able to deliver their milk to St. Petersburg direct”—they have no horses, it does not pay to cart small quantities, etc. The buyers-up of the milk include not only specialist merchants, but individuals with dairies of their own. The following data are for two volosts in the uyezd:

Distribution of benefits of dairy farming.

One can judge from this how the benefits of dairy farming are distributed among all the peasants in the non-black earth belt, among whom, as we have seen, the concentration of dairy cattle is even greater than among these 560 families. It remains for us to add that 23.1% of the peasant families in St. Petersburg Uyezd hire workers (most of whom, here, as everywhere in agriculture, are day labourers). “Bearing in mind that agricultural workers are hired almost exclusively by families having fully-operating farms” (constituting only 40.4% of the total number of families in the uyezd) “the conclusion must be that more than half of such farms do not manage without hired labour” (158).

Thus, at opposite ends of Russia, in the most varying localities, in St. Petersburg and, say, Taurida gubernias, the social and economic relations within the “village community,” prove to be absolutely identical. The “muzhik-cultivators” (Mr. N.–on’s term) in both places differentiate into a minority of rural entrepreneurs and a mass of rural proletarians. The specific feature of agriculture is that capitalism subjugates one aspect of rural economy in one district, and another aspect in another, which is why identical economic relations are manifested in the most varied forms of agronomy and everyday life.

Having established the fact that in the area described, too, the peasantry splits up into opposite classes, we shall easily achieve clarity about the contradictory opinions usually expressed as to the role of dairy farming. Quite naturally, the well-to-do peasantry receive an incentive to develop and improve their farming methods and as a result grass cultivation is widespread and becomes an essential part of commercial stock-farming. The development of grass cultivation is observed, for example, in Tver Gubernia; in Kashin Uyezd, the most progressive in that gubernia, as many as one-sixth of all peasant households plant clover (Returns, XIII, 2, p. 171). It is interesting, moreover, to note that on the purchased lands a larger proportion of arable is occupied by herbage than on the allotments: the peasant bourgeoisie naturally prefer private ownership of land to communal tenure.[4] In the Survey of Yaroslavl Gubernia (Vol. II, 1896) we also find numerous references to the increase in grass cultivation, and again mainly on purchased and rented lands.[5] In the same publication we find references to the spread of improved implements: iron ploughs, threshing machines, rollers, etc. Butter and cheese making, etc., are developing very considerably. In Novgorod Gubernia it was noted as far back as the beginning of the 80s that along with a general deterioration and diminution of peasant stock breeding, there was an improvement in certain individual localities where there was a profitable market for milk and where the milk-feeding of calves was an old-established industry (Bychkov: An Essay in the House-to-House Investigation of the Economic Position and Farming of the Peasants in Three Volosts of Novgorod Uyezd, Novgorod, 1882). The milk-feeding of calves, which is also a type of commercial livestock farming, is, generally speaking, a fairly widespread industry in the Novgorod and Tver gubernias and in other places not far from the big cities (see Hired Labour, etc., published by the Department of Agriculture). “This industry,” says Mr. Bychkov, “by its very nature, brings an income to the already well-provided peasants possessing considerable numbers of cows, since with one cow, and sometimes even with two of poor yield, the milk-feeding of calves is unthinkable” (loc. cit., 101).[6]

But the most outstanding index of the economic successes of the peasant bourgeoisie in the area described is the hiring of labourers by peasants. The local landowners feel that they are being confronted by competitors, and in their communications to the Department of Agriculture they sometimes even attribute the shortage of workers to the fact that these are snatched up by the well-to-do peasants (Hired Labour, 490). The hiring of labourers by peasants is noted in the Yaroslavl, Vladimir, St. Petersburg and Novgorod gubernias (loc. cit., passim ). A mass of such references is also scattered throughout the Survey of Yaroslavl Gubernia.

This progress of the well-to-do minority, however, is a heavy burden upon the mass of the poor peasants. In Koprin Volost, Rybinsk Uyezd, Yaroslavl Gubernia, for example, one finds the spread of cheese making—on the initiative of “V. I. Blandov, the well-known founder of cheese-making artels.”[7] “When the poorer peasants, with only one cow each, deliver . . . their milk (to the cheese factory) they do so, of course, to the detriment of their own nourishment”; whereas the well-to-do peasants improve their cattle (pp. 32-33). Among the types of wage-labour undertaken, one finds employment away from home, at cheese-making establishments; from among the young peasants a body of skilled cheese makers is arising. In the Poshekhonye Uyezd “the number . . . of cheese and butter establishments is increasing from year to year,” but “the benefits accruing to peasant farming from cheese and butter making hardly compensate for the disadvantages to peasant life resulting from our cheese and butter establishments.” On the peasants’ own admission they are often compelled to starve, for with the opening of a cheese or butter factory in some locality, the milk is sent there and the peasants usually drink diluted milk. The system of payment in kind is coming into vogue (pp.43, 54, 59 and others), so that it is to be regretted that our “people’s” petty production is not covered by the law prohibiting payment in kind in “capitalist” factories.[8]

Thus, the opinions of people directly acquainted with the matter confirm our conclusion that the majority of the peasants play a purely negative part in the progress of local agriculture. The progress of commercial farming worsens the position of the bottom groups of peasants and forces them out of the ranks of the cultivators altogether. Be it noted that reference has been made in Narodnik literature to this contradiction between the progress of dairy farming and the deterioration of the peasants’ nourishment (for the first time, I think, by Engelhardt). But it is precisely this example that enables one to see the narrowness of the Narodnik appraisal of the phenomena occurring among the peasantry and in agriculture. They note a contradiction in one form, in one locality, and do not realise that it is typical of the entire social and economic system, manifesting itself everywhere in different forms. They note the contradictory significance of one “profitable industry,” and strongly urge the “implanting” among the peasantry of all sorts of other “local industries.” They note the contradictory significance of one form of agricultural progress and do not understand that machines, for example, have exactly the same political and economic significance in agriculture as in industry.


[1] Zemstvo statistics taken from Mr. Blagoveshchensky’s Combined Returns.[9] About 14,000 households in these 18 uyezds are not classified according to the number of cows owned: the total is not 289,079 households, but 303,262. Mr. Blagoveshchensky cites similar data for two other uyezds in the black-earth gubernias, but these uyezds are evidently not typical. In 11 uyezds of Tver Gubernia (Statistical Returns, XIII, 2) the percentage of allotment households owning no cows is not high (9.8), but 21.9% of the households, having 3 and more cows, concentrate in their hands 48.4% of the total number of cows. Horseless households constitute 12.2%; households with 3 and more horses constitute only 5.1% and they own only 13.9% of the total number of horses. Let us note, in passing, that a smaller concentration of horses (as compared with that of cows) is also to be observed in other non-black-earth gubernias.—Lenin

[2] These data regarding the opposite groups of peasants should be borne in mind when one meets sweeping statements like the following: “An annual income from dairy stock farming ranging from 20 to 200 rubles per household is, over the enormous area of the northern gubernias, not only a most considerable means of extending and improving stock farming, but has also had the effect of improving field cultivation and even of reducing migration in search of employment, by providing the population with work at home—both in tending cattle and in bringing hitherto neglected land into a properly cultivated condition” (Productive Forces, III, 18). On the whole, migration is not decreasing, but increasing. In some localities, however, the decrease may be due either to the increase in the percentage of well to-do peasants, or to the development of “work at home,” i.e., work for local rural entrepreneurs.—Lenin

[3] Material for Statistics on the Economy in St. Petersburg Gubernia, Vol. V, Pt. II, St. Petersburg, 1887.—Lenin

[4] A substantial improvement in the maintenance of cattle is observed only where there has been a development in the production of milk for sale (pp. 219, 224).—Lenin

[5] Pp. 39, 65, 136, 150, 154, 167, 170, 177 and others. Our pre-Reform system of taxation retards the progress of agriculture here too. “Owing to the congestion of the farmsteads,” writes a correspondent, “grass cultivation has been introduced all over the volost; the clover, however, is sold to cover tax arrears” (91). The taxes in this gubernia are sometimes to high that the peasant who leases his land has himself to pay a sum to the new holder of the allotment.—Lenin

[6] Let us note, by the way, that the variety of “industries” of the local peasantry prompted Mr. Bychkov to distinguish two types of industrialists, according to the amount of earnings. It appeared that less than 100 rubles was earned by 3,251 persons (27.4% of the population); their earnings totalled 102,000 rubles, or an average of 31 rubles per person. Over 100 rubles was obtained by 454 (3.8% of the population): their earnings totalled 107,000 rubles, or an average of 236 rubles per person The first group consisted mainly of wage-workers of every kind, the second of traders, hay merchants, timber dealers, etc.—Lenin

[7] The “cheese-making artels” of Koprin Volost are mentioned in the Directory of Factories and Works, and the Blandovs are the largest firm in the cheese-making industry: in 1890 they owned 25 factories in six gubernias.—Lenin

[8] Here is the characteristic view of Mr. Stary Maslodel [Old Butter Maker]. “Whoever has seen and knows the countryside today and remembers what it was 40 or 50 years ago will be amazed at the difference. In the old villages all the houses were the same both outside and inside; today, however side by side with hovels stand fine houses, side by side with the indigent live the rich, side by side with the downtrodden and despised live those who feast and make merry. In former times one often came across villages in which there was not a single landless peasant; now in every village there are no less than five and sometimes a full dozen. And to tell the truth, butter making is much to blame for this transformation of the villages. In 30 years butter making has enriched many, has beautified their homes; many peasants who supplied milk during the period of development of the butter industry have become prosperous, acquired more cattle, and purchased land on a community or individual basis; but many more have fallen into poverty; landless peasants and beggars have appeared in the villages” (Zhizn [Life ] 1899, No. 8 quoted from Severny Krai [Northern Region ], 1899, No 223). (Note to 2nd edition.)—Lenin

[9] N. A. Blagoveshchensky’s Peasant Farming. Combined Zemstvo House-to-House Census Economic Returns, Vol. 1, Moscow, 1893.

  IV. Continuation. The Economy of Landlord Farming in the Area Described | VI. The Flax-Growing Area  

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