Vladimir Ilyich Lenin


Chapter IV. The Growth of Commercial Agriculture

VI. The Flax-Growing Area

We have described the first two areas of capitalist agriculture in fairly great detail because of their widespread character and of the typical nature of the relations observed there. In our further exposition we shall confine ourselves to briefer remarks on some highly important areas.

Flax is the chief of the so-called “industrial crops.” The very term indicates that we are dealing here with commercial farming. For example, in the “flax” gubernia of Pskov, flax has long been the peasants’ “first money,” to use a local expression (Military Statistical Abstract, 260). Flax growing is simply a means of making money. The post-Reform period is marked on the whole by an undoubted increase in commercial flax growing. Thus, at the end of the 60s, the output of flax in Russia was estimated at approximately 12 million poods of fibre (ibid., 260); at the beginning of the 80s at 20 million poods of fibre (Historico-Statistical Survey of Russian Industry, Vol. I, St. Petersburg, 1883, p. 74); at the present time, in the 50 gubernias of European Russia over 26 million poods of fibre are gathered.[1] In the flax-growing area proper (19 gubernias of the non-black-earth belt) the area under flax has changed in recent years as follows; 1893—756,600 dess.; 1894—816,500 dess.; 1895—901,800 dess.; 1896—952,100 dess., and 1897—967,500 dess. For the whole of European Russia (50 gubernias) the figure for 1896 was 1,617,000 dess. under flax and for 1897—1,669,000 dess. (Vestnik Finansov, ibid., and 1898, No. 7), as against 1,399,000 dess. at the beginning of the 1890s (Productive Forces, I, 36). Similarly, general opinions expressed in publications also testify to the growth of commercial flax growing. Thus, regarding the first two decades after the Reform, the Historico-Statistical Survey states that “the region of flax cultivation for industrial purposes has been enlarged by several gubernias” (loc. cit., 71), which is due particularly to the extension of the railways. Concerning the Yuryev Uyezd, Vladimir Gubernia, Mr. V. Prugavin wrote at the beginning of the eighties: “The cultivation of flax . . . has become very widespread here during the past 10 to 15 years.” “Some large family households sell flax to the extent of 300 to 500 rubles and more per annum. . . . They buy” (flax seed) “in Rostov. . . . The peasants in these parts are very careful in selecting seed” (The Village Community, Handicraft Industries and Agriculture of Yuryev Uyezd, Vladimir Gubernia, Moscow, 1884, pp. 86-89). The Zemstvo Statistical Returns for Tver Gubernia (Vol. XIII, Pt. 2) notes that “the most important spring grain crops, barley and oats, are yielding place to potatoes and flax” (p. 151); in some uyezds flax occupies from 1/3 to 3/4 of the area under spring crops, for example, in Zubtsov, Kashin and other uyezds, “in which flax growing has assumed the clearly expressed speculative character of an industry” (p. 145), developing particularly on rented virgin and disused land. Moreover, it is noted that in some gubernias, where free land is still available (virgin soil, wasteland, forest-cleared tracts), flax growing is particularly expanding, but in some of the old established flax-growing gubernias “the cultivation of flax is either on the old scale or is even yielding place, for example, to the newly-introduced cultivation of root-crops, vegetables, etc.” (Vestnik Finansov, 1898, No. 6, p. 376, and 1897, No. 29), i.e., to other types of commercial farming.

As for flax exports, during the first two decades after the Reform they increased with remarkable rapidity: from an average of 4.6 million poods in the years 1857-1861 to 8.5 million poods in the years 1867-1871 and to 12.4 million poods in the years 1877-1881; but then exports seemed to become stationary, amounting in the years 1894-1897 to an average of 13.3 million poods.[2] The development of commercial flax growing led, naturally, to exchange not only between agriculture and industry (sale of flax and purchase of manufactured goods), but between different types of commercial agriculture (sale of flax and purchase of grain) The following data concerning this interesting phenomenon clearly demonstrate that a home market for capitalism is created not only by the diversion of population from agriculture to industry, but also by the specialisation of commercial farming.[3]

Railway traffic to and from Pskov.

How does this growth of commercial flax growing affect the peasantry, who, as we know, are the principal flax producer?[4] “Travelling through Pskov Gubernia and observing its economic life, one cannot help noticing that side by side with occasional large and rich units, hamlets and villages, there are extremely poor units; these extremes are a characteristic feature of the economic life of the flax area.” “Flax growing has taken a speculative turn,” and “the greater part” of the income from flax “is pocketed by buyers-up and by those who lease out land for flax growing” (Strokin, 22-23). The ruinous rents constitute real “money rent” (see above), and the mass of the peasants are in a state of “complete and hopeless dependence” (Strokin, ibid.) upon the buyers-up. The sway of merchant’s capital was established in this locality long ago,[5] and what distinguishes the post-Reform period is the enormous concentration of this capital, the undermining of the monopoly of the former small buyers-up and the formation of “flax agencies” which have captured the whole flax trade. The significance of flax growing, says Mr. Strokin about Pskov Gubernia, “is expressed . . . in the concentration of capital in a few hands” (p. 31). Turning flax growing into a gamble, capital ruined vast numbers of small agriculturists, who worsened the quality of the flax, exhausted the land, were reduced to leasing out their allotments and finally swelled the ranks of “migratory” workers. On the other hand, a slight minority of well-to-do peasants and traders were able—and competition made it necessary—to introduce technical improvements. Couté scutchers, both hand-worked (costing up to 25 rubles) and horse-operated (three times dearer), were introduced. In 1869 there were only 557 such machines in Pskov Gubernia, in 1881 there were 5,710 (4,521 hand-worked and 1,189 horse- operated).[6] “Today,” we read in the Historico-Statistical Survey, “every sound peasant family engaged in flax growing has a Couté hand-machine, which has actually come to be called the ‘Pskov scutcher’” (loc. cit., 82-83). What proportion this minority of “sound” householders who acquire machines is to the rest of the peasantry, we have already seen in Chapter II. Instead of the primitive contrivances which cleaned the seeds very badly, the Pskov Zemstvo began to introduce improved seed-cleaners (trieurs ), and “the more prosperous peasant industrialists” now find it profitable to buy these machines themselves and to hire them out to flax growers (Vestnik Finansov, 1897, No. 29, p. 85). The bigger buyers-up of flax establish drying rooms and presses and hire workers to sort and scutch the flax (see example given by Mr. V. Prugavin, loc. cit., 115). Lastly, it should be added that the processing of flax-fibre requires quite a large number of workers: it is estimated that the cultivation of one dessiatine of flax requires 26 working days of agricultural work proper, and 77 days to extract the fibre from stalks (Historico-Statistical Survey, 72). Thus, the development of flax growing leads, on the one hand, to the farmer being more fully occupied during the winter and, on the other, to the creation of a demand for wage-labour on the part of those landlords and well-to-do peasants who engage in flax growing (see the example in Chapter III, § VI).

Thus, in the flax-growing area, too, the growth of commercial farming leads to the domination of capital and to the differentiation of the peasantry. A tremendous obstacle to the latter process is undoubtedly the ruinously high renting prices of land,[7] the pressure of merchant’s capital, the tying of the peasant to his allotment and the high payments for the allotted land. Hence, the wider the development of land purchase by the peasants,[8] and of migration in search of employment,[9] and the more widespread the use of improved implements and methods of cultivation, the more rapidly will merchant’s capital be supplanted by industrial capital, and the more rapidly will a rural bourgeoisie be formed from among the peasantry, and the system of labour-service for the landlord replaced by the capitalist system.


[1] The average for 1893-1897 was 26,291,000 poods, according to the figures of the Central Statistical Committee. See Vestnik Finansov, 1897, No. 9, and 1898, No. 6. Formerly the statistics for flax production were very inexact; that is why we have preferred to take approximate estimates based on comparisons of the most varied source made by experts. The amount of flax produced fluctuates considerably year by year. For that reason Mr. N.–on, for example, who set out to draw the boldest conclusions about the “diminution” of flax production and “the reduction of the area under flax” (Sketches, p. 236 and foll.) from figures for some six years, slipped into the most curious errors (see P. B. Struve’s examination of them in Critical Remarks, p. 233 and foll.). Let us add to what has been said in the text that according to the data cited by Mr. N.–on, the maximum area under flax in the 1880s was 1,372,000 dess. and the weight of gathered fibre 19,245,000 poods, whereas in 1896-1897 the area was 1,617,000- 1,669,000 dess., and the weight of gathered fibre 31,713,000-30,139,000 poods.—Lenin

[2] The figures are for the exports of flax, flax-combings and tow. See Historico-Statistical Survey, P. Struve, Critical Remarks and Vestnik Finansov, 1897, No. 26, and 1898, No. 36.—Lenin

[3] See N. Strokin, Flax Growing in Pskov Gubernia, St. Petersburg, 1882. The author borrowed these data from the Proceedings of the Commission on Taxation.—Lenin

[4] Of 1,399,000 dess. under flax, 745,400 dess. are in the non-black-earth belt, where only 13% belongs to private landowners. In the black-earth belt, of 609,600 dess. under flax 44.4% belongs to private owners (Productive Forces, 1, 36).—Lenin

[5] The Military Statistical Abstract in its day pointed to the fact that the “flax sown by the peasants very often really belongs to the bulinyas ” (local name for small buyers-up), “while the peasant is merely a labourer on his field” (595). Cf. Historico-Statistical Survey, p, 88.—Lenin

[6] Strokin, 12.—Lenin

[7] At the present time renting prices of flax land are falling due to the drop in the price of flax, but the area of land under flax, in the Pskov flax area in 1896, for example, has not diminished (Vestnik Finansov, 1897, No. 29)—Lenin

[8] Pskov Gubernia is one of the foremost in Russia in the development of the purchase of land by peasants. According to the Combined Statistical Material on the Economic Position of the Rural Population (published by Chancellery of the Committee of Ministers), the lands purchased by peasants amount here to 23% of the total allotment arable, this is the maximum for all the 50 gubernias. It works out at an average of 0.7 dess. of purchased land per head of the male peasant population as of January 1, 1892. In this respect only Novgorod and Taurida gubernias exceed Pskov Gubernia.—Lenin

[9] The number of males leaving Pskov Gubernia in search of employment increased, statistics show from 1865-1875 to 1896 nearly fourfold (Industries of the Peasant Population of Pskov Gubernia, Pskov, 1898, p. 3).—Lenin

  V. Continuation. The Differentiation of the Peasantry in the Dairy-Farming Area | VII. The Technical Processing of Agricultural Produce  

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