Vladimir Ilyich Lenin


Chapter IV. The Growth of Commercial Agriculture

XI. Continuation.—The Village Community.—Marx’s Views on Small-Scale Agriculture.—Engels’ Opinion of the Contemporary Agricultural Crisis

“The community principle prevents capital from seizing agricultural production,”—that is how Mr. N.—on (p. 72) expresses another current Narodnik theory, formulated in just as abstract a fashion as the previous one. In Chapter II we quoted a series of facts showing the fallacy of this stock premise. Now let us add the following. It is a great mistake to think that the inception of agricultural capitalism itself requires some special- form of land tenure. “But the form of landed property with which the incipient capitalist mode of production is confronted does not suit it. It first creates for itself the form required by subordinating agriculture to capital. It thus transforms feudal landed property, clan property, small-peasant property in mark communes[1] (Markgemeinschaft)—no matter how divergent their juristic forms may be—into the economic form corresponding to the requirements of this mode of production” (Das Kapital, III, 2, 156). Thus, by the very nature of the case, no peculiarities in the system of land tenure can serve as an insurmountable obstacle to capitalism, which assumes different forms in accordance with the different conditions in agriculture, legal relationships and manner of life. One can see from this how wrong is the very presentation of the question by our Narodniks, who have created a whole literature on the subject of “village community or capitalism?” Should some Anglomaniac aristocrat happen to offer a prize for the best work on the introduction of capitalist farming in Russia, should some learned society come forward with a scheme to settle peasants on farmsteads, should some idle government official concoct a project for 60-dessiatine holdings, the Narodnik hastens to throw down the gauntlet and fling himself into the fray against these “bourgeois projects” to “introduce capitalism” and destroy that Palladium of “people’s industry,” the village community. It has never entered the head of our good Narodnik that capitalism has been proceeding on its way while all sorts of projects have been drafted and refuted, and the community village has been turning, and has actually turned,[2] into the village of small agrarians.

That is why we are very indifferent to the question of the form of peasant land tenure. Whatever the form of land tenure may be, the relation between the peasant bourgeoisie and the rural proletariat will not undergo any essential change. The really important question concerns not the form of land tenure at all, but the remnants of the purely medieval past, which continue to weigh down upon the peasantry—the social-estate seclusion of the peasant communities, collective responsibility, excessively high taxation of peasant land out of all proportion to the taxation of privately-held land, the absence of full freedom in the purchase and sale of peasant lands, and in the movement and settlement of the peasantry.[3] All these obsolete institutions, while not in the least safeguarding the peasantry against break-up, only lead to the multiplication of diverse forms of labour-service and bondage, to tremendous delay in social development as a whole.

In conclusion we must deal with an original Narodnik attempt to give an interpretation to some statements made by Marx and Engels in Volume III of Capital, in favour of their views that small-scale agriculture is superior to large-scale, and that agricultural capitalism does not play a progressive historical role. Quite often, with this end in view, they quote the following passage from Volume III of Capital :

“The moral of history, also to be deduced from other observations concerning agriculture, is that the capitalist system works against a rational agriculture, or that a rational agriculture is incompatible with the capitalist system (although the latter promotes technical improvements in agriculture), and needs either the hand of the small farmer living by his own labour (selbst arbeitenden ) or the control of associated producers” (III, 1, 98. Russ. trans., 83).[8]

What follows from this assertion (which, let us note in passing, is an absolutely isolated fragment that has found its way into a chapter dealing with the way changes in the prices of raw materials affect profits, and not into Part VI, which deals specifically with agriculture)? That capitalism is incompatible with the rational organisation of agriculture (as also of industry) has long been known; nor is that the point at issue with the Narodniks. And the progressive historical role of capitalism in agriculture is especially emphasised by Marx here. There remains Marx’s reference to the “small peasant living by his own labour.” None of the Narodniks who have referred to this point has taken the trouble to explain how he understands this, has taken the trouble to connect this point with the context, on the one hand, and with Marx’s general theory of small-scale agriculture, on the other. —In the passage quoted from Capital the point dealt with is how considerably the prices of raw materials fluctuate, how these fluctuations disturb the proportionality and systematic working of production, how they disturb the conformity of agriculture and industry. It is only in this respect—in respect of the proportionality, systematic working and planned operation of production—that Marx places small peasant economy on a par with the economy of “associated producers.” In this respect, even small medieval industry (handicraft) is similar to the economy of “associated producers” (cf. Misère de la philosophie, edition cited, p. 90), whereas capitalism differs from both these systems of social economy in its anarchy of production. By what logic can one draw the conclusion from this that Marx admitted the viability of small-scale agriculture,[4] that he did not acknowledge the progressive historical role of capitalism in agriculture? Here is what Marx said about this in the special part dealing with agriculture, in the special section on small peasant economy (Chapter 47, § V):

“Proprietorship of land parcels by its very nature excludes the development of social productive forces of labour, social forms of labour, social concentration of capital, large-scale cattle raising, and the progressive application of science.

“Usury and a taxation system must impoverish it every where. The expenditure of capital in the price of the land withdraws this capital from cultivation. An infinite fragmentation of means of production, and isolation of the producers themselves. Monstrous waste of human energy. Progressive deterioration of conditions of production and increased prices of means of production—an inevitable law of proprietorship of parcels. Calamity of seasonal abundance for this mode of production” (III, 2, 341-342. Russ. trans., 667).[9]

“Small landed property presupposes that the overwhelming majority of the population is rural, and that not social, but isolated labour predominates; and that, therefore, under such conditions wealth and development of reproduction, both of its material and spiritual prerequisites, are out of the question, and thereby also the prerequisites for rational cultivation” (III, 2, 347. Russ. trans., p. 672).[10]

The writer of these lines, far from closing his eyes to the contradictions inherent in large-scale capitalist agriculture, ruthlessly exposed them. But this did not prevent him from appreciating the historical role of capitalism:

“...One of the major results of the capitalist mode of production is that, on the one hand, it transforms agriculture from a mere empirical and mechanical self-perpetuating process employed by the least developed part of society into the conscious scientific application of agronomy, in so far as this is at all feasible under conditions of private property; that it divorces landed property from the relations of dominion and servitude, on the one hand, and, on the other, totally separates land as an instrument of production from landed property and landowner. . . . The rationalising of agriculture, on the one hand, which makes it for the first time capable of operating on a social scale, and the reduction ad absurdum of property in land, on the other, are the great achievements of the capitalist mode of production. Like all of its other historical advances, it also attained these by first completely impoverishing the direct producers” (III, 2, 156-157. Russ. trans., 509–510).[11]

One would think that after such categorical statements by Marx there could be no two opinions as to how he viewed the question of the progressive historical role of agricultural capitalism. Mr. N.–on, however, found one more subterfuge: he quoted Engels’s opinion on the present agricultural crisis, which should, in his view, refute the proposition of the progressive role of capitalism in agriculture.[5]

Let us see what Engels actually says. After summarising the main propositions of Marx’s theory of differential rent, Engels establishes the law that “the more capital is invested in the land, and the higher the development of agriculture and civilisation in general in a given country, the more rents rise per acre as well as in total amount, and the more immense becomes the tribute paid by society to the big landowners in the form of surplus-profits” (Das Kapital, III, 2, 258. Russ. trans., 597).[12] This law, says Engels, explains “the wonderful vitality of the class of big landowners,” who accumulate a mass of debts and nevertheless “land on their feet” in all crises; for example, the abolition of the Corn Laws in England, which caused a drop in grain prices, far from ruining the landlords, exceedingly enriched them.

It might thus seem that capitalism is unable to weaken the power of the monopoly represented by landed property.

“But everything is transitory,” continues Engels. “Trans-oceanic steamships and the railways of North and South America and India” called forth new competitors. The North American prairies and the Argentine pampas, etc., flooded the world market with cheap grain. “And in face of this competition—coming from virgin plains as well as from Russian and Indian peasants ground down by taxation—the European tenant farmer and peasant could not prevail at the old rents. A portion of the land in Europe fell decisively out of competition as regards grain cultivation, and rents fell everywhere; our second case, variant 2—falling prices and falling productivity of the additional investment of capital—became the rule for Europe; and therefore the lament of landlords from Scotland to Italy and from the south of France to the east of Prussia. Fortunately, the plains are far from being entirely brought under cultivation; there are enough left to ruin all the big landlords of Europe and the small ones into the bargain” (ibid., 260. Russ. trans., 598, where the word “fortunately” is omitted.).[13]

If the reader has read this passage carefully it should be clear to him that Engels says the very opposite of what Mr. N.–on wants to foist on him. In Engels’s opinion the present agricultural crisis is reducing rent and is even tending to abolish it altogether; in other words, agricultural capitalism is pursuing its natural tendency to abolish the monopoly of landed property. No, Mr. N.–on is positively out of luck with his “quotations.” Agricultural capitalism is taking another, enormous step forward; it is boundlessly expanding the commercial production of agricultural produce and drawing a number of new countries into the world arena; it is driving patriarchal agriculture out of its last refuges, such as India or Russia; it is creating something hitherto unknown to agriculture, namely, the purely industrial production of grain, based on the co-operation of masses of workers equipped with the most up-to-date machinery; it is tremendously aggravating the position of the old European countries, reducing rents, thus undermining what seemed to be the most firmly established monopolies and reducing landed property “to absurdity” not only in theory, but also in practice; it is raising so vividly the need to socialise agricultural production that this need is beginning to be realised in the West even by representatives of the propertied classes.[6] And Engels, with his characteristic cheerful irony, welcomes the latest steps of world capitalism: fortunately, he says, there is still enough uncultivated prairie land left to enable things to continue as they have been doing. But our good Mr. N.–on, à propos des bottes,[7] sighs for the “muzhik cultivator” of yore, for the “time-hallowed” . . . stagnation of our agriculture and of all the various forms of agricultural bondage which “neither the strife among the appanage princes nor the Tartar invasion” could shake, and which now—oh, horror!—are beginning to be most thoroughly shaken by this monstrous capitalism! O, sancta simplicitas!


[1] In another place Marx points out that “common lands (Gemeineigentum ) constitute the second supplement of the management of land parcels.” (Das Kapital, III, 2, 341).[14]Lenin

[2] If we are told that we are running ahead in making such an assertion, our reply will be the following. Whoever wants to depict some living phenomenon in its development is inevitably and necessarily confronted with the dilemma of either running ahead or lagging behind. There is no middle course. And if all the facts show that the character of the social evolution is precisely such that this evolution has already gone very far (see Chapter II), and if, furthermore, precise reference is made to the circumstances and institutions that retard this evolution (excessively high taxes, social-estate exclusiveness of the peasantry, lack of full freedom in the purchase and sale of land, and in movement and settlement), then there is nothing wrong in such running ahead.—Lenin

[3] The defence of some of these institutions by the Narodniks very glaringly reveals the reactionary character of their views, which is gradually bringing them closer and closer to the agrarians.—Lenin

[4] Let us recall that Engels, shortly before his death, and at a time when the agricultural crisis connected with the drop in prices was fully manifest, considered it necessary to protest emphatically against the French “disciples,” who had made some concessions to the doctrine of the viability of small-scale agriculture.[15]Lenin

[5] See Novoye Slovo, 1896, No. 5, February, letter to editors by Mr. N.–on, pp. 256-261. Here also is the “quotation” on the “moral of history.” It is remarkable that neither Mr. N.–on nor any other of the numerous Narodnik economists who have tried to use the present agricultural crisis to refute the theory of the progressive historical role of capitalism in agriculture, has ever once raised the question in a straightforward manner, on the basis of a definite economic theory; has ever once stated the grounds which induced Marx to admit the progressiveness of the historical role of agricultural capitalism, or has definitely indicated just which of these grounds he repudiates, and why. In this, as in other cases, the Narodnik economists prefer not to oppose Marx’s theory outright, but confine themselves to casting vague hints at the “Russian disciples.” Confining ourselves in this work to the economy of Russia, we have given above the grounds for our opinions on this question.—Lenin

[6] Are not, indeed, such manifestations as the celebrated Antrag Kanitz (Kanitz plan –Ed.) proposed in the German Reichstag,[16] or the proposal of the American farmers that all elevators be made state property typical “signs of the times”?—Lenin

[7] Without rhyme or reason. –Ed.

[14] Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. III, Moscow, 1959, pp. 603, 787.

[8] Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. III, Moscow, 1959, p. 119.

[15] This refers to the article by Engels entitled “The Peasant Question in France and Germany,” published in Die Neue Zeit, Issue No. 10 of the year 1894-95. (See Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, Vol. II, Moscow, 1958, pp. 420-440.) The French “disciples”—the name given, with an eye to censorship, to Marxists (in the article mentioned Engels calls them “French Socialists of the Marxist trend”).

[9] Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. III, Moscow, 1959, p. 787.

[10] Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. III, Moscow, 1959, pp. 792-793.

[11] Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. III, Moscow, 1959, pp. 603-604.

[12] Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. III, Moscow, 1959, p. 709.

[13] Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. III, Moscow, 1959, pp. 709-710.

[16] In the years 1894-1895 Count Kanitz, representative of the agrarians, introduced into the German Reichstag the proposal known as the “Antrag Kanitz” calling on the government to assume control of the purchase of grain abroad, and undertake the sale of all such imported grain at average prices. The proposal was rejected by the Reichstag.

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

Works Index   |   Volume 3 | Collected Works   |   L.I.A. Index
< backward   forward >