V. I.   Lenin

The Agrarian Question and the “Critics of Marx”



“The Prosperity of Advanced, Modern Small Farms”. The Baden Example[1]

Details, details! cries Mr. Bulgakov in Nachalo (No. 1, pp. 7 and 13); and this slogan is repeated a hundred times in a hundred different sharps and flats by all the “Critics”.

Very well, gentlemen, let us examine the details.

It was utterly absurd of you to direct this slogan at Kautsky, since the principal task of a scientific study of the agrarian question, which is encumbered with a countless number of disconnected details, was to present a general picture of the whole of the modern agrarian system in its development. Your slogan merely concealed your lack of scientific principle and your opportunistic dread of any integral and well thought-out philosophy. Had you not read Kautsky’s book in the manner of a Voroshilov, you would have been able to derive from it a great deal of information on handling and assimilating detailed statistics. And that you are unable to operate with detailed statistics we shall now demonstrate by a number of examples chosen by yourselves.

In his article entitled “Peasant Barbarians”, directed against Kautsky and published in the magazine of the Voroshilovs, Sozialistische (??) Monatshefte (III. Jahrg., 1899, Heft 2), Eduard David triumphantly refers to “one of the most thorough and interesting monographs” on peasant farming that have appeared recently, namely, that of Moritz Hecht, entitled Drei Dörfer der badischen Hard [Three Villages in the Hard of Baden.—Ed.] (Leipzig, 1895). Hertz clutched at this reference and, following David, cited some figures from this “excellent work” (S. 68, Russian translation, p. 164) and “strongly recommended” (S. 79, Russian translation, p. 188) the reading of the original or of the passage given by David. Mr. Chernov, in Russkoye Bogatstvo, hastened to repeat both David and Hertz, and contrasted to Kautsky’s statements Hecht’s “striking pictures of the prosperity of advanced, modern small farms” (No. 8, pp. 206-09).

Let us then turn to Hecht.

Hecht describes three Baden villages located at distances ranging from four to fourteen kilometres from Karlsruhe: Hagsfeld, Blankenloch, and Friedrichsthal. Although the farms are small, from one to three hectares, the peasants lead a prosperous and cultured life and gather an exceptionally large yield from their land. David (followed by Chernov)   compares this yield with the average yield for the whole of Germany (in double centners per hectare: potatoes, 150-160 and 87.8; rye and wheat, 20-23 and 10-13; hay, 50-60 and 28.6) and exclaims: What do you think of that as an example of “backward small peasants”! In the first place, we reply, insofar as no comparison is made between small—and large-scale farming conducted under the same conditions, it is absurd to view this as an argument against Kautsky. Mr. Chernov appears even more absurd when he asserts, in Russkoye Bogatstvo, No. 8, p. 229, that “Kautsky’s rudimentary view [regarding the agronomic exploitation of the village by the town] even exaggerates the shady aspects of capitalism”, and when he cites, on page 209 of the same issue, as an argument against Kautsky, an instance in which this capitalist obstacle to the progress of agriculture is eliminated by the fact that the villages he selects are situated in proximity to towns. While the overwhelming majority of the agricultural population lose an enormous quantity of natural fertilisers as a result of the depopulation of the rural districts by capitalism and the concentration of the population in the cities, an insignificant minority of suburban peasants obtain special benefits from their situation and become rich at the expense of the impoverishment of the masses. It is not surprising that the yield in the villages described is so high, considering that they spend the sum of 41,000 marks annually on manure from the army stables in the three neighbouring garrison towns (Karlsruhe, Bruchsal, and Durlach) and on liquid refuse from the urban drainage systems (Hecht, S. 65); artificial fertilisers are purchased only to the amount of 7,000 marks annually.[2] To attempt to refute the technical superiority of large-scale over small-scale farming by adducing instances of small farms   operating under such conditions means merely to expose one’s impotence. Secondly, to what extent do these instances really represent “genuine small peasants”, echte und rechte Kleinbauem, as David says, and as Hertz and Chernov repeat after him? They mention only the area of the farms, and in this way prove only their inability to handle detailed statistics. As everyone knows, a hectare of land is to a suburban peasant what ten hectares are to a peasant living in a remote district; moreover, the very type of farms undergoes radical change because of the proximity of towns. Thus, the price of land in Friedrichsthal, the village which has the least land, but which is the most prosperous of the suburban villages, ranges from 9,000 to 10,000 marks, live times the average price of land in Baden (1,938 marks), and about twenty times the price in remote districts in East Prussia. Consequently, judged by the size of output (the only exact index of the size of a farm), these are by no means “small” peasants. In regard to the type of farming, we see here a remarkably high stage of development of money economy and the specialisation of agriculture, which is particularly emphasised by Hecht. They cultivate tobacco (45 per cent of the area under cultivation in Friedrichsthal) and high grades of potatoes (used partly for seed and partly for the table of the “gentry”—Hecht, S. 17—in Karlsruhe); they sell milk, butter, sucking-pigs, and grown pigs to the capital, and them selves buy grain and hay. Agriculture here has assumed a completely commercial character, and the peasant who conducts his farm in the neighbourhood of the capital is the purest type of petty bourgeois; so that, had Mr. Chernov really familiarised himself with the details he borrows from others, he might have acquired some understanding of this category of “petty-bourgeois” peasant which is to him so mysterious (see Russkoye Bogatstvo, No. 7, p. 163). It is most curious that both Hertz and Mr. Chernov, while declaring that they are totally unable to understand how the peasant fulfils the functions of an entrepreneur, how he is able to figure as a   worker at one moment and as an entrepreneur at another, refer to the detailed investigation of an author who says bluntly: “The peasant of the eighteenth century, with his eight-to-ten hectares of land, was a peasant [“was a peasant”, Mr. Chernov!] and a manual labourer; the dwarf peasant of the nineteenth century, with his one or two hectares of land, is a brainworker, an entrepreneur and a merchant” (Hecht, S. 69; cf. S. 12: “The farmer has become a merchant and an entrepreneur.” Hecht’s italics). Well, have not Hertz and Mr. Chernov “annihilated” Kautsky in the Voroshilov manner for confusing the peasant with the entrepreneur?

The clearest indication of the “entrepreneur” is his employment of wage-labour. It is highly characteristic that not one of the quasi-socialists who referred to Hecht’s work uttered a single word about that fact. Hecht, a most typical Kleinbürger of the ultra-loyal type, who waxes enthusiastic. over the piety of the peasants and the “paternal solicitude” shown them by the Grand Duchy officials in general, and over their adoption of such an “important” measure as, in particular, the establishment of cookery schools, naturally tries to obscure those facts and to show that no “social gulf” separates the rich from the poor, the peasant from the agricultural labourer, or the peasant from the factory worker. “No agricultural day-labourer category exists,” writes Hecht. “The majority of the peasants are able to cultivate their land themselves, with the help of their families; only a few in those three villages experience the need for outside help during the harvest or at threshing time; such families ’request’ [’bitten’], to employ the local expression, certain men or women, who would never dream of calling themselves ’day-labourers’, ’to help them’" (S. 31). There is nothing surprising in the fact that only a few farmers in the three villages mentioned hire day-labourers, because many “farmers”, as we shall see, are factory workers. What proportion of pure farmers employ hired labour Hecht does not say; he prefers to pack his candidate’s thesis (the Germans call it doctoral dissertation), which is devoted only to three villages (of one of which he is a native), not with exact statistics concerning the various categories of peasants, but with reflections on the high moral significance of diligence and thrift. (Notwithstanding this, or perhaps because of it, Hertz and David extol Hecht’s   work to the skies.) All we learn is that the wages of day-labourers are lowest in the most prosperous and purely agricultural village, Friedrichsthal, which is farthest away from Karlsruhe (14 kilometres). In Friedrichsthal, a day-labourer gets two marks a day, paying for his own keep, while in Ragsfeld (4 kilometres from Karlsruhe and inhabited by factory workers) the wages of a day-labourer are three marks a day. Such is one of the conditions of the “prosperity” of the “real small peasants” so much admired by the Critics. “In those three villages,” Hecht informs us, “purely patriarchal relations still exist between the masters and their servants [Gesinde in German means both domestic servants and farm labourers]. The ’master’, i.e., the peasant with three to four hectares of land, addresses his men and women labourers as ’thou’ and calls them by their forenames; they call the peasant ’uncle’ [Vetter] and the peasant’s wife ’auntie’ [Base], and address them as ’you’.... The labourers eat at the family table and are regarded as members of the family” (S. 93). Our “most thorough” Hecht says nothing about the extent to which hired labour is employed in tobacco growing, which is so widely developed in that district and which requires a particularly large number of labourers; but since he has said at least something about wage-labour, even this very loyal little bourgeois must be regarded as being much better able to handle the “details” of a research than the Voroshilovs of “critical” socialism.

Thirdly, Hecht’s research was used to refute the fact that the peasantry suffers from overwork and undernourishment. But here it turns out that the Critics preferred to ignore facts of the kind mentioned by Hecht. They cleverly utilised that conception of the “middle” peasant by means of which both the Russian Narodniks and the West-European bourgeois economists so extensively idealise the “peasantry”. Speaking “generally”, the peasants in the three villages mentioned are very prosperous; but even from Hecht’s far from thorough monograph it is apparent that in this respect the peasants must be divided into three large groups. About one-fourth (or 30 per cent) of the farmers (the majority in Friedrichsthal and a few in Blankenloch) are prosperous petty bourgeois, who have grown rich as a result of living in the vicinity of the capital. They engage in remunerative dairy farming (selling   10-20 litres of milk a day) and tobacco growing (one example: gross income of 1,825 marks from 1.05 hectares of land under tobacco), fatten pigs for sale (in Friedrichsthal, 497 out of 1,140 inhabitants keep pigs; in Blankenloch, 445 out of 1,684; and in Hagsfeld, 220 out of 1,273 inhabitants), etc. This minority (who alone possess all the features of “prosperity” so much admired by the Critics) are without doubt quite frequent employers of hired labour. In the next group, to which the majority of farmers in Blankenloch belong, standards are very much lower, less fertilisers is used, the yield is lower, there is less livestock (in Friedrichsthal, the number of livestock, expressed in terms of cattle, is 599 head on 258 hectares; in Blankenloch, 842 head on 736 hectares; and in Hagsfeld, 324 head on 397 hectares); “parlours” are more rarely seen in the houses, meat is far from being a daily fare, and many families practise (what is so familiar to us Russians) the selling of grain in the autumn—when they are hard pressed for money—and the re-purchasing of grain in the spring.[3] In this group, the centre of gravity is constantly shifting from agriculture to industry, and 103 Blankenloch peasants are already employed as factory workers in Karlsruhe. These, together with almost the entire population of Hagsfeld, form the third category (40-50 per cent of the total number of farms). In this category, agriculture is a side line in which mostly women are engaged. The standard of living is higher than in Blankenloch (the result of the influence of the capital city), but poverty is strongly felt. The peasants sell their milk and for themselves sometimes purchase “cheaper margarine” (S. 24). The number of goats kept is rapidly increasing: from nine in 1855 to ninety-three in 1893. “This increase,” writes Hecht, “can be explained only by the disappearance of farms that are strictly speaking peasant farms, and the break-up [Auflösung] of the peasant   class into a class of rural factory workers possessing extremely small plots of land” (S. 27). Parenthetically, it should be said that between 1882 and 1895 the number of goats in Germany increased enormously: from 2,400,000 to 3,100,000, which clearly reveals the reverse of the progress of the “sturdy peasantry” which the Bulgakovs and the petty-bourgeois socialist “Critics” laud to the skies. The majority of the workers walk three and a half kilometres every day to their factory in the town, because they cannot afford to spend even one mark (48 kopeks) a week on railway fares. Nearly 150 workers out of the 300 in Hagsfeld find it beyond their means to pay even 40 or 50 pfennigs for dinner in the “public dining- room” and have their dinners brought to them from home. “Punctually at eleven o’clock,” writes Hecht, “the poor womenfolk put the dinners in their pots and carry them to the factory” (S. 79). As for the working women, they, too, work at the factory ten hours a day, and all they receive for their toil is from 1.10 to 1.50 marks (the men receive 2.50 to 2.70 marks); at piece-work they earn from 1.70 to 2.00 marks. “Some of the working women try to supplement their meagre wages by some auxiliary employment. In Blankenloch four girls work at the paper mill in Karlsruhe, and they take home paper to make bags at night. Working from eight p. m. to eleven p. m. [sic!], they can make 300 bags, for which they receive 45-50 pfennigs; this supplement to their small daily earnings goes to pay their railway fares to and from work. In Hagsfeld, several women who worked in factories as girls earn a little extra money polishing silverware on winter evenings” (S. 36). “The Hagsfeld worker,” says Hecht, moved, “has a permanent residence not by imperial order, but as a result of his own efforts; he has a little house which he is not compelled to share with others, and a small plot of land. But more important than these real possessions is the consciousness that they have been acquired by his own diligence. The Hagsfeld worker is both a factory worker and a peasant. Those with no land of their own rent at least a few strips to supplement their income by working in their spare time. In the summer, when work in the factory starts only [“only”!] at seven o’clock, the worker rises at four in order to hoe potatoes in his field, or to carry fodder to the cattle. Or when he returns from work at seven in the evening, what is   there for him to do, especially in the summer? Well, he puts in an hour or an hour and a half in his field; he does not want a high rent from his land—he merely wants to make full use [sic!] of his labour-power...." Hecht goes on at great length in this unctuous strain and concludes his book with the words: “The dwarf peasant and the factory worker have both [sic!] raised themselves to the position of the middle class, not as a result of artificial and coercive measures, but as a result of their own diligence, their own energy, and the higher morality they have reached.” [4]

“The three villages of the Baden Hard now represent one great and broad middle class” (Hecht’s italics).

There is nothing astonishing in the fact that Hecht writes, in this vein, for he is a bourgeois apologist of the common or garden variety. But what name do those people deserve who, to deceive others, call themselves socialists, who paint reality in still brighter colours than does Hecht, point to the prosperity of the bourgeois minority as general progress, and conceal the proletarisation of the majority with the stale shibboleth “unification of agriculture and industry”?


[1] Chapters V-IX were published in the magazine Obrazovaniye with the following note by the author: “These essays were written in 1901. The first part was published in pamphlet form last year In Odessa [by Burevestnik (Storm Petrel) Publishers]. The second   part appears in print for the first time. Each essay is a more or less independent whole. Their common theme is the analysis of the criticism of Marxism in Russian literature.”—Ed.

[2] Incidentally, Mr. Chernov assures the readers of Russkoye Bogatstvo that there is “hardly any noticeable difference” in the size of the farms in those villages. But if the demand for details is not an empty phrase on his lips, he cannot forget that for these suburban peasants the amount of land is of much less importance than the amount of fertilisers used; and in this respect the difference is extremely marked. The yields are highest and the peas ants most prosperous in the village of Friedrichsthal, although the land area in that village is the smallest. This village, farming 258 hectares of land, spends 28,000 out of the total of 48,000   marks spent on fertilisers, which amounts to 108 marks per hectare. Hagsfeld spends only 30 marks per hectare (12,000 marks for 397 hectares), while Blankenloch spends only 11 marks per hectare (8,000 marks for 736 hectares). —Lenin

[3] Incidentally, Hecht explains the economic backwardness of Blankenloch by the predominance of natural economy and the existence of common lands which guarantees to every person on reaching the age of 32 a strip of land (Allmendgut) of 36 arcs (1 are=0.01 hectare.—Ed.), irrespective of whether he is “lazy or diligent, thrifty or otherwise” (S. 30). Hecht, for all that, is opposed to dividing up the common lands. This, he says, is a sort of public charity institution (Altersversorgung) for aged factory workers, whose numbers are increasing in Blankenloch. —Lenin

[4] Hecht says very much more about this “higher morality”, and no less than Mr. Bulgakov waxes enthusiastic over the “sober marital policy”, the “iron diligence”, the “thrift”, and the “temperance”; lie even quotes a “well-known peasant proverb”: Man sieht nicht auf die Goschen (d. h. Mund), sondern auf die Groschen, which freely translated means: We work, not so much for our mouths as for our pockets. We suggest that our readers compare this proverb with the “doctrine” of the Kiev professor, Bulgakov: that peasant farming (since it seeks neither rent nor profit) is “the most advantageous form of organisation of agriculture that society [sic!] can have” (Bulgakov, 1, 154). —Lenin

  The Abolition of the Antithesis Between Town and Country. Particular Questions Raised by the “Critics” | The Productivity of a Small And a Big Farm. An Example From East Prussia  

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