Vladimir Ilyich Lenin


Chapter IV. The Growth of Commercial Agriculture

X. Narodnik Theories on Capitalism in Agriculture. “The Freeing of Winter Time”

The foregoing positive conclusions regarding the significance of capitalism must be supplemented by an examination of certain special “theories” on this question current in our literature. Our Narodniks in most cases have been totally unable to digest Marx’s fundamental views on agricultural capitalism. The more candid among them have bluntly declared that Marx’s theory does not cover agriculture (Mr. V. V. in Our Trends ), while others (like Mr. N.–on) have preferred diplomatically to evade the question of the relation between their “postulates” and Marx’s theory. One of the postulates most widespread among the Narodnik economists is the theory of “the freeing of winter time.” The essence of it is as follows.[1]

Under the capitalist system agriculture becomes a separate industry, unconnected with the others. However, it is not carried on the whole year but only for five or six months. Therefore, the capitalisation of agriculture leads to “the freeing of winter time,” to the “limitation of the working time of the agricultural class to part of the working year,” which is the “fundamental cause of the deterioration of the economic conditions of the agricultural classes” (N.–on, 229), of the “diminishing of the home market” and of “the wastage of the productive forces” of society (Mr. V. V.).

Here you have the whole of this celebrated theory, which bases the most sweeping historical and philosophical conclusions solely on the great truth that in agriculture jobs are distributed over the year very unevenly! To take this one feature, to reduce it to absurdity by means of abstract assumptions, to discard all the other specific features of the complex process which transforms patriarchal agriculture into capitalist agriculture—such are the simple methods used in this latest attempt to restore the romantic theories about pre-capitalist “people’s production.”

To show how inordinately narrow this abstract postulate is, let us indicate briefly those aspects of the actual process that are either entirely lost sight of, or are underrated by our Narodniks. Firstly, the further the specialisation of agriculture proceeds, the more the agricultural population decreases, becoming an ever-diminishing part of the total population. The Narodniks forget this, although in their abstractions they raise the specialisation of agriculture to a level it hardly ever reaches in actual fact. They assume that only the operations of sowing and reaping grain have become a separate industry; the cultivation and the manuring of the soil, the processing and the carting of produce, stock raising, forestry, the repair of buildings and implements, etc., etc.—all these operations have been turned into separate capitalist industries. The application of such abstractions to present-day realities will not contribute much towards explaining them. Secondly, the assumption that agriculture undergoes such complete specialisation presupposes a purely capitalist organisation of agriculture, a complete division into capitalist farmers and wage-workers. To talk under such circumstances about “the peasant” (as Mr. N.–on does, p. 215) is the height of illogicality. The purely capitalist organisation of agriculture presupposes, in its turn, a more even distribution of jobs throughout the year (due to crop rotation, rational stock raising, etc.), the combination with agriculture, in many cases, of the technical processing of produce, the application of a greater quantity of labour to the preparation of the soil, etc.[2] Thirdly, capitalism presupposes the complete separation of agricultural from industrial enterprises. But whence does it follow that this separation does not permit the combination of agricultural and industrial wage-labour ? We find such a combination in developed capitalist society everywhere. Capitalism separates the skilled workers from the plain labourers, the unskilled, who pass from one occupation to another, now drawn into jobs at some large enterprise, and now thrown into the ranks of the workless.[3] The greater the development of capitalism and large-scale industry, the greater, in general, are the fluctuations in the demand for workers not only in agriculture, but also in industry.[4] Therefore, if we presuppose the maximum development of capitalism, we must also presuppose the maximum facility for the transfer of workers from agricultural to non-agricultural occupations, we must presuppose the formation of a general reserve army from which labour-power is drawn by all sorts of employers. Fourthly, if we take the present-day rural employers, it cannot, of course, be denied that sometimes they experience difficulty in providing their farms with. workers. But it must not be for gotten, either, that they have a means of tying the workers to their farms, namely, by allotting them patches of land, etc. The allotment-holding farm labourer or day labourer is a type common to all capitalist countries. One of the chief errors of the Narodniks is that they ignore the formation of a similar type in Russia. Fifthly, it is quite wrong to discuss the freeing of the farmer’s winter time independently of the general question of capitalist surplus-population. The formation of a reserve army of unemployed is characteristic of capitalism in general, and the specific features of agriculture merely give rise to special forms of this phenomenon. That is why the author of Capital, for instance, deals with the distribution of employment in agriculture in connection with the question of “relative surplus-population,”[5] as well as in a special chapter where he discusses the difference between the “working period” and the “time of production” (Das Kapital, II. B., Chapter 13). The working period is the period in which labour is applied to the product; the time of production is the time during which the product is in production, including the period in which labour is not applied to it. The working period does not coincide with the time of production in very many industries, among which agriculture is merely the most typical, but by no means the only one.[6] In Russia, as compared with other European countries, the difference between the working period in agriculture and the time of production is a particularly big one. “When capitalist production later accomplishes the separation of manufacture and agriculture, the rural labourer becomes ever more dependent on merely casual accessory employment and his condition deteriorates thereby. For capital . . . all differences in the turnover are evened out. Not so for the labourer” (ibid., 223–224).[8] So then, the only conclusion that follows from the specific features of agriculture in the instance under review is that the position of the agricultural worker must be even worse than that of the industrial worker. This is still a very long way from Mr. N.–on’s “theory” that the freeing of winter time is the “fundamental reason” for the deterioration of the conditions of the “agricultural classes” (?!). If the working period in our agriculture equalled 12 months, the process of the development of capitalism would go on exactly as it does now; the entire difference would be that the conditions of the agricultural worker would come somewhat closer to those of the industrial worker.[7]

Thus the “theory” of Messrs. V. V. and N.–on makes absolutely no contribution whatever even to the general problem of the development of agricultural capitalism. As for the specific features of Russia, it not only does not explain them, but on the contrary obscures them. Winter unemployment among our peasantry depends not so much on capitalism as on the inadequate development of capitalism. We have shown above (§IV of this chapter), from the data on wages, that of the Great-Russian gubernias, winter unemployment is most prevalent in those where capitalism is least developed and where labour-service prevails. That is quite understandable. Labour-service retards the. development of labour productivity, retards the development of industry and agriculture, and, consequently, the demand for labour-power, and at the same time, while tying the peasant to his allotment, provides him neither with employment in winter time nor with the possibility of existing by his wretched farming.


[1] V. V., Essay on Theoretical Economics, p. 108 and foll. N.–on Sketches, p. 214 and foll. The same ideas are to be found in Mr. Kablukov’s Lectures on Agricultural Economics, Moscow, 1897, p. 55 and foll.—Lenin

[2] To make no bald assertion, let us give examples of our private landowner farms whose organisation approximates in the greatest measure to the purely capitalist type. Let us take Orel Gubernia (Zemstvo Statistical Returns for Kromy Uyezd, Vol. IV, Pt. 2, Orel 1892). The estate of Khlyustin, a member of the nobility, covers 1,129 dess., of which 562 are under crops, there are 8 buildings, and various improved implements. Artificial grass cultivation. Stud farm. Stock raising. Marsh drainage by ditch-cutting and other measures (“drainage is mainly done in spare time,” p. 146). The number of workers in summer, 50 to 80 per day, in winter, up to 30. In 1888 there were 81 workers employed, of whom 25 were for the summer. In 1889 there were 19 carpenters employed.—Estate of Count Ribopier: 3,000 dess., 1,293 under crops, 898 leased to peasants. Twelve-crop rotation system. Peat-cutting for manure, extraction of phosphorites. Since 1889 operation of experimental field of 30 dess. Manure carted in winter and spring. Grass cultivation. Proper exploitation of forests (200 to 300 lumbermen employed from October to March) Cattle raising. Dairy farming. In 1888 had 90 employees, of whom 34 were for the summer.—Menshchikov estate in Moscow Gubernia (Returns, Vol. V, Pt. 2), 23,000 dess. Manpower in return for “cut-off” lands, and also hired. Forestry. “In the summer the horses and the permanent workers are busy round the fields; in late autumn and partly in winter they cart potatoes and starch to the drying sheds and starch factory, and also cart timber from the woods to the . . . station; thanks to all this, the work is spread fairly evenly now over the whole year” (p. 145), as is evident, incidentally, from the register showing the number of days worked monthly: average number of horse days, 293 per month; fluctuations: from 223 (April) to 362 (June). Average male days, 216; fluctuations: from 126 (February) to 279 (November). Average female days 23; fluctuations: from 13 (January) to 27 (March). Is this reality anything like the abstraction the Narodniks are busying themselves with?—Lenin

[3] Large-scale capitalist industry creates a nomad working class. It is formed from the rural population, but is chiefly engaged in industrial occupations. “They are the light infantry of capital, thrown by it, according to its needs, now to this point, now to that. . . . Nomad labour is used for various operations of building and draining, brick making, lime-burning, railway-making, etc.” (Das Kapital, I2, S. 692[9].) “In general such large-scale undertakings as railways with draw a definite quantity of labour-power from the labour-market, which can come only from certain branches of economy, for example, agriculture . . .” (ibid., II. B., S. 303).[10]Lenin

[4] For example the Moscow Medical Statistics placed the number of factory workers in this gubernia at 114,381; this was the number at work; the highest figure was 146,338 and the lowest, 94,214 (General Summary, etc., Vol. IV, Pt. I, p. 98); in percentages: 128%—100%— 82%. By increasing, in general, the fluctuations in the number of workers, capitalism evens out, in this respect too, the differences between industry and agriculture.—Lenin

[5] For example, in regard to the agricultural relations of England, Marx says: “There are always too many agricultural labourers for the ordinary, and always too few for the exceptional or temporary needs of the cultivation of the soil” (I2, 725),[11] so that, notwithstanding the permanent “relative surplus-population,” the countryside seems to be inadequately populated. As capitalist production takes possession of agriculture, says Marx in another place, a surplus rural population is formed. “Part of the agricultural population is therefore constantly on the point of passing over into an urban or manufacturing proletariat” (ibid., 668)[12]; this part of the population suffers chronically from unemployment; the work it gets is extremely irregular and is the worst paid (e.g., working at home for shops, etc.)—Lenin

[6] Particularly noteworthy in this connection is Marx’s observation that in agriculture too there are ways of distributing the demand for labour “more evenly over the entire year,” namely, by raising a greater variety of products, by substituting crop rotation for the three-field system, cultivating root-crops, grasses, etc. but all these methods “require an increase of the circulating capital advanced in production, invested in wages, fertilisers, seed, etc.” (ibid., S. 225-226).[13]Lenin

[7] We say “somewhat,” because the deterioration of the conditions of the agricultural worker is far from being due to irregularity of employment alone.—Lenin

[9] Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I, Moscow, 1958, p. 663.

[10] Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. II, Moscow, 1957, p. 316.

[11] Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I, Moscow, 1958, p. 693.

[12] Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I, Moscow, 1958, p. 642.

[13] Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. II, Moscow, 1957, pp. 242-243.

[8] Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. II, Moscow, 1957, p. 241.

  IX. Conclusions on the Significance of Capitalism in Russian Agriculture | XI. Continuation.—The Village Community.—Marx’s Views on Small-Scale Agriculture.—Engels’s Opinion of the Contemporary Agricultural Crisis  

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