Vladimir Ilyich Lenin


Chapter V. The First Stages of Capitalism in Industry

IX. Some Remarks on the Pre-Capitalist Economy of Our Countryside

The essence of the problem of “the destiny of capitalism in Russia” is often presented as though prime importance attaches to the question: how fast ? (i.e., how fast is capitalism developing?). Actually, however, far greater importance attaches to the question: how exactly ? and to the question: where from ? (i.e., what was the nature of the pre-capitalist economic system in Russia?). The principal errors of Narodnik economics are the false replies given to precisely these two questions, i.e., in a wrong presentation of exactly how capitalism is developing in Russia, in a false idealisation of the pre-capitalist order. In Chapter II (and partly in Chapter III) and in the present one we have examined the most primitive stages of capitalism in small-scale agriculture and in the small peasant industries; in doing so we could not avoid many references to the features of the pre-capitalist order. If we now try to summarise these features we shall arrive at the conclusion that the pre-capitalist countryside constituted (from the economic point of view) a network of small local markets which linked up tiny groups of small producers, severed from each other by their separate farms, by the innumerable medieval barriers between them, and by the remnants of medieval dependence.

As to the scattered nature of the small producers, it stands out in boldest relief in their differentiation both in agriculture and in industry, which we established above. But their fragmentation is far from being confined to this. Although united by the village community into tiny administrative, fiscal and land-holding associations, the peasants are split up by a mass of diverse divisions into grades, into categories according to size of allotment, amount of payments, etc. Let us take, for example, the Zemstvo statistical returns for Saratov Gubernia; there the peasants are divided into the following grades: gift-land, owner, full owner and state peasants, state peasants with community holdings, state peasants with quarter holdings,[1] state peasants that formerly belonged to landlords, appanage, state-land tenant, and landless peasants, owners who were formerly landlords’ peasants, peasants whose farmsteads have been redeemed, owners who are former appanage peasants, colonist freeholder, settler, gift-land peasants who formerly belonged to landlords, owners who were former state peasants, manumitted, those who did not pay quitrent, free tiller,[2] temporarily bound, former factory-bound, etc.; further, there are registered peasants, migrant, etc. All these grades differ in the history of their agrarian relations, in size of allotments, amount of payments, etc., etc. And within the grades there are innumerable differences of a similar kind: sometimes even the peasants of one and the same village are divided into two quite distinct categories: “Mr. X’s former peasants” and “Mrs. Y’s former peasants.” All this diversity was natural and necessary in the Middle Ages, in the remote past; at the present time, however, the preservation of the social-estate exclusiveness of the peasant communities is a crying anachronism and greatly worsens the conditions of the toiling masses, while at the same time not in the least safeguarding them against the burdens of the new, capitalist era. The Narodniks usually shut their eyes to this fragmentation, and when the Marxists express the view that the splitting up of the peasantry is progressive, the Narodniks confine themselves to hackneyed outcries against “supporters of land dispossession,” thereby covering up the utter fallacy of their views about the pre-capitalist countryside. One has only to picture to oneself the amazing fragmentation of the small producers, an inevitable consequence of patriarchal agriculture, to become convinced of the progressiveness of capitalism, which is shattering to the very foundations the ancient forms of economy and life, with their age-old immobility and routine, destroying the settled life of the peasants who vegetated behind their medieval partitions, and creating new social classes striving of necessity towards contact, unification, and active participation in the whole of the economic (and not only economic) life of the country, and of the whole world.

If we take the peasants who are handicraftsmen or small industrialists we shall find the same thing. Their interests do not transcend the bounds of the small area of surrounding villages. Owing to the insignificant area covered by the local market they do not come into contact with the industrialists of other districts; they are in mortal terror of “competition,” which ruthlessly destroys the patriarchal paradise of the small handicraftsmen and industrialists, who live lives of stagnant routine undisturbed by anybody or anything. With respect to these small industrialists, competition and capitalism perform a useful historical function by dragging them out of their backwoods and confronting them with all the issues that already face the more developed strata of the population.

A necessary attribute of the small local markets is, apart from primitive forms of artisan production, primitive forms of merchant’s and usury capital. The more remote a village is, the further away it is from the influence of the new capitalist order, from railways, big factories and large-scale capitalist agriculture, the greater the monopoly of the local merchants and usurers, the more they subjugate the surrounding peasantry, and the cruder the forms of this subjugation. The number of these small leeches is enormous (when compared with the meagre produce of the peasants), and there is a rich variety of local names to designate them. Recall all these “prasols,” “shibais,” “shchetinniks,” “mayaks,” “ivashes,” “bulinyas,” etc., etc. The predominance of natural economy, which accounts for the scarcity and dearness of money in the countryside, results in the assumption of an importance by all these “kulaks” out of all proportion to the size of their capital. The dependence of the peasants on the money owners inevitably acquires the form of bondage. Just as one cannot conceive of developed capitalism without large-scale merchant’s capital in the form of commodities or money so the pre-capitalist village is inconceivable without small traders and buyers-up, who are the “masters” of the small local markets. Capitalism draws these markets together, combines them into a big national market, and then into a world market, destroys the primitive forms of bondage and personal dependence, develops in depth and in breadth the contradictions which in a rudimentary form are also to be observed among the community peasantry—and thus paves the way for their resolution.


[1] State peasants with quarter holdings – the name given in tsarist Russia to the category of former state peasants, descendants of lower-rank servicemen who in the 16th to 17th centuries were settled in the border lands of the state of Muscovy. For their services in guarding the state frontiers the settlers (Cossacks musketeers, soldiers) were given the use of small plots of land either temporarily or in perpetuity. The area of such a plot amounted to a so-called quarter [1.35 acres]. From the year 1719 such settlers were called odnodvortsi [i.e., those possessing only their own farmsteads and no community land]. Formerly they enjoyed various kinds of privileges and had the right to own peasants, but during the 19th century were gradually deprived of these rights and reduced to the status of ordinary peasants. By a regulation of 1866 the quarter lots were recognised as the private property of the former quarter-lot peasants and their descendants. [p.381]

[2] Free tillers – the category of peasants freed from serf dependence by the law of February 20, 1803. This law permitted landlords themselves to decide the terms on which they freed the peasants from the land. [p.381]

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