V. I.   Lenin

Book Review: R. Gvozdev. Kulak Usury, Its Social and Economic Significance

Written: Written in February 1899
Published: Published in March 1899 in the magazine Nachalo, No. 3. Signed: Vl. Ilyin. Published according to the text in the magazine.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1964, Moscow, Volume 4, pages 67-69.
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala and D. Walters
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R. Gvozdev. Kulak Usury, Its Social and Economic Significance. St. Petersburg, 1899. Publ. N. Garin.

Mr. Gvozdev’s book sums up data gathered by our economic literature on the interesting question of kulak usurers. The author mentions a number of indications of the development of commodity circulation and production in the pre-Reform period that brought about the emergence of trading and usurer’s capital. He then reviews the material on usury in grain production, on kulakism in connection with migration, handicraft industries, and peasants’ auxiliary employments, as well as in connection with taxation and credit. Mr. Gvozdev rightly points out that representatives of Narodnik economics have held a wrong view of kulakism, regarding it as some sort of an “excrescence” on the organism of “people’s production” and not as one of the forms of capitalism, closely and indivisibly bound up with the entire Russian social economy. The Narodniks ignored the connection between kulakism and the differentiation of the peasantry, the closeness of the village usurer “bloodsuckers” and others to the “enterprising muzhiks,” those representatives of the rural petty bourgeoisie in Russia. The survivals of medieval institutions that still weigh down on our countryside (social-estate seclusion of the village commune,[2] the tying of the peasant to his allotment,[3] collective liability,[4] the social-estate inequality of taxation) create tremendous barriers against the investment of small amounts of capital in production, against their employment in agriculture   and industry. The natural result of all this is the tremendous prevalence of the lowest and worst forms of capital, viz., trading and usurer’s capital. In the midst of a mass of “economically weak” peasants dragging out an existence of semi- starvation on their small allotments, the small group of prosperous peasants inevitably turns into exploiters of the worst type, enslaving the poor by money loans, winter hiring,[5] etc., etc. Outdated institutions hindering the growth of capitalism both in agriculture and in industry thereby reduce the demand for labour-power but, at the same time, do not protect the peasant from the most shameless and uncurbed exploitation or even from starving to death. A rough estimate of the sums paid by indigent peasants to the kulaks and usurers, quoted by Mr. Gvozdev in his book, shows clearly the groundlessness of the usual comparison made between the Russian allotment-holding peasantry and the West-European proletariat. In actual fact the masses of that peasantry are in a far worse condition than is the rural proletariat in the West; in actual fact our indigent peasants are paupers and the years in which it is necessary to take extraordinary measures of help for millions of starving peasants occur with ever-growing frequency. If the fiscal institutions did not artificially lump together the prosperous and poor peasantry, the latter would undoubtedly have to be officially regarded as paupers, which would more accurately and more truthfully define the attitude of modern society to those strata of the population. Mr. Gvozdev’s book is valuable because it gives a summary of data on the process of “non-proletarian impoverishment”[1] and very justly describes this process as the lowest and worst form of the differentiation of the peasantry. Mr. Gvozdev is apparently well acquainted with Russian economic literature, but his book would have gained had he given less space to quotations from various magazines and allowed more space for an independent study of the material. The Narodnik analysis of the available material usually leaves untouched the aspects of the given question that are most important from the theoretical point of view. Furthermore, Mr. Gvozdev’s   own arguments are frequently too sweeping and general. This must be said, in particular, of the chapter on handicraft industries. The style of the book suffers, at times, from mannerisms and haziness.


[1] Parvus, The World Market and the Agricultural Crisis. St. Petersburg, 1898, p. 8, footnote. —Lenin

[2] The village (land) commune (Russ. obshchina or mir) was the communal form of peasant use of land characterised by compulsory crop rotation and undivided woods and pastures. Its principal features were collective liability, the periodical redistribution of the land without the right to refuse the allotment, and prohibition of purchase or sale of the allotted land.

The Russian village commune dates back to ancient times and in the course of its historical development it gradually became one of the mainstays of feudalism in Russia. The landlords and the tsarist government used the village commune to intensify feudal oppression and to squeeze land redemption payments and taxes out of the people. Lenin pointed out that the village commune “does not save the peasant from turning into a proletarian; actually it serves as a medieval barrier dividing the peasants who are as if chained to small associations and to categories that have lost all ‘reason for existence’\thinspace” (see “The Agrarian Question in Russia To wards the Close of the Nineteenth Century,” present edition, Vol.15).

The problem of the village commune aroused heated debates and brought an extensive economic literature into existence. Particularly great interest in the village commune was displayed by the Narodniks, who saw in it the guarantee of Russia’s evolution to socialism by a special path. By tendentiously gathering their material, falsifying facts, and employing so-called “average figures,” the Narodniks sought to prove that the commune peasantry in Russia possessed a special sort of “steadfastness,” that the village commune protected the peasants against the penetration of capitalist relations into their lives and “saved” them from ruin and class differentiation. As early as the 1880s, G. V. Plekhanov showed   that the Narodnik illusions about “commune socialism” were unfounded and in the 1890s Lenin completely refuted the Narodnik theories. Lenin made use of a tremendous amount of statistical material and countless facts to show how capitalist relations were developing in the Russian village and how capital, by penetrating into the patriarchal village commune, was splitting the peasantry into two antagonistic classes, the kulaks and the poor peasants.

In 1906 the tsarist minister Stolypin issued a law favouring the kulaks which allowed peasants to leave the commune and sell their allotments. This law marked the beginning of the official abolition of the village commune system and intensified the differentiation of the peasantry. In the nine years following the adoption of the law, over two million peasant families withdrew from the communes.

[3] Allotment land—land left for the use of the peasants after the abolition of serfdom in 1861. The allotted land was not permitted to be sold by the peasants. It was held by the village commune and was periodically redistributed among the peasants.

[4] Collective liability was a compulsory measure making the peasants of each village commune collectively liable for timely and full payments and for the fulfilment of all sorts of services to the state and the landlords (payment of taxes and land redemption instalments, provision of recruits for the army, etc.). This form of bondage was retained after serfdom had been abolished and remained in force until 1906.

[5] Winter hiring—the hiring of peasants for summer work by land lords and kulaks in the winter, when the peasants were particularly in need of cash and were willing to agree to extortionate terms.

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