V. I.   Lenin

To the Rural Poor

An Explanation for the Peasants of What the Social-Democrats Want


3. Riches and Poverty, Property-Owners and Workers in the Countryside

We know now what the Social-Democrats want. They want to fight the whole of the rich class to free the people from poverty. In our countryside there is no less and, perhaps, even more poverty than there is in the towns. We shall not speak here about how great the poverty in the countryside is. Every worker who has been in the country and every peasant are well acquainted with want, hunger, and ruin in the countryside.

But the peasant does not know the cause of his distress, hunger and destitution, or how to rid himself of this want. To know this one must first find out what causes all want and poverty in both town and countryside. We have already dealt with this briefly, and we have seen that the poor peas ants and rural workers must unite with the urban workers. But that is not enough. We must also find out what sort of people in the countryside will follow the rich, the property-owners, and what sort of people will follow the workers, the Social-Democrats. We must find out whether there are many peasants who, no less than the landlords, are able to acquire capital and live on the labour of others. Unless we get to the bottom of this matter, no amount of talking about poverty will be of any use, and the rural poor will not know who in the countryside must unite among themselves and with the urban Workers, or what must be done to make it a dependable union and to prevent the peasant from being hoodwinked by his own kind, the rich peasant, as well as by the landlord.

To get to the bottom of this let us now see how strong the landlords are and how strong the rich peasants are in the countryside.

Let us begin with the landlords. We can judge of their strength in the first place by the amount of land they own as private property. The total amount of land in European Russia, including peasant allotment land and privately   owned land, has been calculated at about 240,000,000 dessiatines[1] (except the state lands, of which we shall speak separately). Out of this total of 240,000,000 dessiatines, 131,000,000 dessiatines of allotment land are held by the peasants, that is to say, by over ten million households; whereas 109,000,000 dessiatines are held by private owners, i.e., by less than half a million families. Thus, even if we take the average, every peasant family holds 13 dessiatines, while every family of private owners owns 218 dessiatines! But the distribution of the land is much more unequal, as we shall presently see.

Of the 109,000,000 dessiatines owned by private owners seven million are royal demesnes, in other words, the private property of the members of the imperial family. The tsar, with his family, is the first landlord, the biggest landowner in Russia. One family possesses more land than half a million peasant families! Further, the churches and monasteries own about six million dessiatines of land. Our priests preach frugality and abstinence to the peasants, but they themselves have, by fair means and foul, accumulated an enormous amount of land.

Further, about two million dessiatines are owned by the cities and towns, and an equal amount by various commercial and industrial companies and corporations. Ninety-two million dessiatines (the exact figure is 91,605,845, but to simplify matters we will quote round figures) belong to less than half a million (481,358) families of private owners. Half these families are quite small owners, owning less than ten dessiatines of land each, and all of them together own less than one million dessiatines. On the other hand, sixteen thousand families own over one thousand dessiatines each; and the total land owned by them amounts to sixty-five million dessiatines. What vast areas of land are concentrated in the hands of the big land owners is also to be seen in the fact that just under one   thousand families (924) own more than ten thousand dessiatines each, and all together they own twenty-seven million dessiatines! One thousand families own as much land as is owned by two million peasant families.

Obviously, millions and tens of millions of people are bound to live in poverty and starvation and will go on living in poverty and starvation as long as such vast areas of land are owned by a few thousand of the rich. Obviously, the state authorities, the government itself (even the tsar’s government) will always dance to the tune of these big land owners. Obviously, the rural poor can expect no help from anyone, or from any quarter, until they unite, combine in a single class to wage a stubborn, desperate struggle against the landlord class.

At this point we must observe that very many people in this country (including even many people of education) have a totally wrong idea about the strength of the landlord class; they say that the “state” owns much more land. These bad counsellors of the peasant say: “A large portion of the territory [i. e., of all the land] of Russia already belongs to the state.” (These words are taken from the news paper Revolutsionnaya Rossiya, No. 8, p. 8.) The mistake these people make arises from the following. They have heard that the state owns 150,000,000 dessiatines of land in European Russia. That is true. But they forget that these 150,000,000 dessiatines consist almost entirely of uncultivable land and forests in the Far North, in the Archangel, Vologda, Olonets, Vyatka, and Perm gubernias. Thus, the state has retained only that land which up to the present has been quite unfit for cultivation. The cultivable land owned by the state amounts to less than four million dessiatines. And these cultivable state lands (for example, in Samara Gubernia, where they are particularly extensive), are leased for very low rents, for next to nothing, to the rich. The rich lease thousands and tens of thous ands of dessiatines of these lands and then sublet them to the, peasants at exorbitant rents.

The people who say that the state owns a great deal of land are very bad counsellors of the peasant. The actual case is that the big private landowners (including the tsar personally) own a lot of good land, and the state itself is   in the hands of these big landowners. As long as the rural poor fail to unite, and by uniting become a formidable force, the “state” will always remain the obedient servant of the landlord class. There is another thing that must not be forgotten: formerly almost all the landlords were nobles. The nobility still owns a vast amount of land (in 1877-78, 115,000 nobles owned 73,000,000 dessiatines). But today money, capital, has become the ruling power. Merchants and well-to-do peasants have bought very large amounts of land. It is estimated that in the course of thirty years (from 1863 to 1892) the nobility lost (i. e., sold more than they bought) land to the value of over six hundred million rubles. And merchants and honorary citizens have acquired land to the value of 250,000,000 rubles. Peasants, Cossacks, and “other rural inhabitants” (as our government calls the common folk, to distinguish them from the “gentry,” the “clean public”) have acquired land to the value of 300,000,000 rubles. Thus, on the average, every year, the peasants in the whole of Russia acquire land as private property to the value of 10,000,000 rubles.

And so, there are different sorts of peasants: some live in poverty and starvation; others grow rich. Consequently, the number of rich peasants who incline towards the landlords and will take the side of the rich against the workers is increasing. The rural poor who want to unite with the urban workers must carefully ponder over this and find out whether there are many rich peasants of this kind, how strong they are, and what kind of a union we need to fight this force. We have just mentioned the bad counsellors of the peasant. Those bad counsellors are fond of saying that the peasants already have such a union. That union is the mir, the village commune. The mir, they say, is a great force. The mir unites the peasants very closely; the organisation (i.e., the association, unity) of the peasants in the mir is colossal (i.e., enormous, boundless).

That is wrong. It is a tale. A tale invented by kind hearted people, but a tale nevertheless. If we listen to tales we shall only wreck our cause, the cause of uniting the rural poor with the urban workers. Let every rural inhabitant look round carefully: is the unity of the mir, is the peasant commune, at all like a union of the poor to fight all   the rich, all those who live on the labour of others? No, it is not, and it cannot be. In every village, in every commune, there are many farm labourers, many impoverished peasants, and there are rich peasants who employ farm labourers and buy land “in perpetuity.” These rich peasants are also members of the commune, and it is they who lord it in the commune because they are a force. But do we need a union to which the rich belong, and which is lorded over by the rich? Of course not. We need a union to fight the rich. And so, the unity of the mir is no good to us at all.

What we need is a voluntary union, a union only of people who have realised that they must unite with the urban workers. The village commune, however, is not a voluntary union; it is enforced by the state. The village commune does not consist of people who work for the rich and who want to unite to fight the rich. The village commune consists of all sorts of people, not because they want to be in it, but because their parents lived on the same land and worked for the same landlord, because the authorities have registered them as members of that commune. The poor peasant are not free to leave the commune; they are not free to accept in the commune a man whom the police have registered in another volost, but whom we may need for our union in a particular village. No, we need a very different kind of union, a voluntary union consisting only of labourers and poor peasants to fight all those who live on the labour of others.

The times when the mir was a force have long passed, never to return. The mir was a force when hardly any of the peasants were farm labourers, or workers wandering over the length and breadth of Russia in search of a job, when there were hardly any rich peasants, when all were equally ground down by the feudal landlords. But now money has become the principal power. Members of the same commune will now fight one another for money like wild beasts. The moneyed peasants sometimes oppress and fleece their fellow peasants more than the landlords do. What we need today is not .the unity of the mir, but a union against the power of money, against the rule of capital, a union of all the rural labourers and of all the poor peasants of different communes, a union of all the rural poor with the urban workers to fight both the landlords and the rich peasants.

We have seen how strong the landlords are. We must now see whether there are many rich peasants and how strong they are.

We estimate the strength of the landlords by the size of their estates, by the amount of land they own. The landlords are free to dispose of their land, free to buy land and to sell it. That is why it is possible to judge their strength very accurately by the amount of land they own. The peas ants, however, still lack the right freely to dispose of their land; they are still semi-serfs, tied to their village commune. Hence, the strength of the rich peasants cannot be judged by the amount of allotment land they hold. The rich peasants do not grow rich on their allotments; they buy a considerable amount of land, buying both “in perpetuity” (i.e., as their private property) and “for a number of years” (i.e., on lease); they buy both from the landlords and from their fellow peasants, from those peasants who leave the land, or are compelled by want to let their holdings. It will therefore be more correct to divide the rich, middle, and poor peasants according to the number of horses they own. A peasant who owns many horses will nearly always be a rich peasant; if he keeps many draught animals it shows that he cultivates a lot of land, owns land besides his communal allotment, and has money saved up. Moreover, we are in a position to calculate the number of peasants owning many horses in the whole of Russia (European Russia, exclusive of Siberia and the Caucasus). Of course, it must not be forgotten that we can speak of the whole of Russia only in averages: the different uyezds and gubernias vary to a considerable degree. For instance, in the neighbourhood of cities we often find rich peasant farmers who keep very few horses. Some of them engage in market-gardening—a profitable business; others keep few horses but many cows and sell milk. In all parts of Russia there are also peasants who do not make money out of the land, but engage in trade: they run creameries, hulling-mills, and other enterprises. Everybody who lives in the country very well knows of rich peasants in his own village or district. But we want to know how many there are in the whole of Russia and how strong they are, so that the poor peasant shall not have to guess and go about blind fold, as it were, but know exactly his friends and his foes.

Well then, let us see whether there are many peasants who are rich or poor in horses. We have already said that the total number of peasant households in Russia is estimated at about ten million. Between them they now own, probably, about fifteen million horses (about fourteen years ago the number was seventeen million, but it is smaller now). Thus, on the average, every ten households have fifteen horses. But the whole point is that some of them—a few— own many horses, while others—very many—own no horses, or very few. There are at least three million peasants, who own no horses, and about three and a half million own one horse each. All these are either utterly ruined or very poor peasants. We call these the rural poor. They number six and a half million out of a total of ten million, that is to say, almost two-thirds! Next come the middle peasants who own a pair of draught animals each. These peasants number about two million households, owning about four million horses. Then come the rich peasants each of whom owns more than one pair of draught animals. Such comprise one and a half million households, but they own seven and a half million horses.[2] Thus, about one-sixth of the total house holds own half the total number of horses.

Now that we know this we are in a position to judge fairly accurately the strength of the rich peasants. In number they are very few: in the different communes and volosts they will comprise ten to twenty households in every hundred. But these few households are the richest. Taking   Russia as a whole, they own almost as many horses as all the other peasants taken together. That means that their land under crops must also amount to nearly half the total area sown to crops by the peasants. Such peasants harvest much more grain than they require for their families. They sell large quantities of grain. They grow grain not merely to feed themselves, but grow it chiefly for sale, to make money. Peasants like these can save money. They deposit it in savings-banks and banks. They buy land as property. We have already said how much land the peasants all over Russia buy every year; nearly all this land goes to these few rich peasants. The rural poor have to think not of buying land, but of getting enough to eat. Often they have not enough money to buy grain, let alone land. Therefore, the banks in general and the Peasants’ Bank in particular do not help all peasants to buy land (as is sometimes asserted by people who try to deceive the muzhik or by the very simple-minded), but only an insignificant number of peasants, only the rich peasants. Therefore, the peasant’s evil counsellors whom we have mentioned tell an untruth when they say that the land is being bought by the peasants, that it is passing from capital to labour. The land can never pass to labour, that is, to the poor working man, because land has to be paid for with money. But the poor never have any money to spare. The land can go only to the rich, moneyed peasants, to capital, to those people against whom the rural poor must fight in alliance with the urban workers.

The rich peasants not only buy land in perpetuity; most often they take land for a number of years, on lease. By renting large plots they prevent the rural poor from getting land. For example, it has been calculated how much land rich peasants have rented in a single uyezd (Konstantinograd) in Poltava Gubernia. And what do we find? The number who rented thirty dessiatines or more per house hold is very small, only two out of every fifteen households. But these rich peasants have gained possession of one half of all the rented land, and each of them has on the average seventy-five dessiatines of the rented land! Or take Taurida Gubernia, where a calculation has been made of how much of the land rented by the peasants from the state through the mir, through the village commune, has been grabbed   by the rich. It has been found that the rich, who account for only one-fifth of the total number of households, have grabbed three-fourths of the rented land. Everywhere land goes to those who have money, and only the few rich have money.

Further, much land is now let by the peasants themselves. The peasants abandon their holdings because they have no livestock, no seed, nothing with which to run their farms. Today even land is of no use unless you have money. For instance, in Novouzensk Uyezd in Samara Gubernia, one, sometimes even two, out of every three rich peasant house holds rent allotment land in their own or in another commune. The allotments are let by those who have no horses, or only one horse. In Taurida Gubernia as much as one-third of all peasant households let their allotments. One-fourth of the peasant allotments, a quarter of a million dessiatines, are let. Of this quarter of a million dessiatines, one hundred and fifty thousand dessiatines (three-fifths) are rented by rich peasants! This, too, shows whether the unity of the mir, the commune, is of any use to the poor. In the village commune, he who has money has power. What we need is the unity of the poor of all communes.

Just as with land purchase, the peasants are deceived by talk about buying cheap ploughs, harvesters, and all sorts of improved implements. Zemstvo stores and artels are set up and it is said: improved implements will better the conditions of the peasantry. That is mere deception. All these improved implements always go to the rich; the poor get next to nothing. They cannot think of buying ploughs and harvesters; they have enough to do to keep body and soul together! All this sort of “helping the peasants” is nothing but helping the rich. As for the mass of the poor, who have neither land, livestock, nor reserves, they will not benefit by the fact that the better implements will be cheaper. Here is an example. In an uyezd in Samara Gubernia all the improved implements belonging to the poor and to the rich peasants have been taken stock of. It was found that one-fifth of all households, i.e., the most well-to-do, owned almost three-fourths of the improved implements, while the poor—half the households—had only one-thirtieth. Out of a total of 28,000 households, 10,000 possessed one horse   each, or none; these 10,000 had only seven improved implements out of a total of 5,724 improved implements owned by all the peasant households in the uyezd. Seven out of 5,724—that is the share of the rural poor in all these farm improvements, in all this increase in the number of ploughs and harvesters which are supposed to help “all the peasantry”! That is what the rural poor must expect from those who talk about “improving peasant farming”!

Finally, one of the main features of the rich peasants is that they hire farm-hands and day labourers. Like the landlords, the rich peasants also live on the labour of others. Like the landlords, they grow rich because the mass of the peasants are ruined and pauperised. Like the landlords, they try to squeeze as much work as they can out of their farm-hands and to pay them as little as possible. If millions of peasants were not utterly ruined and compelled to go to work for others, become hired labourers, sell their labour-power—the rich peasants could not exist, could not carry on their farms. There would be no “abandoned” allotments for them to pick up and no labourers for them to hire. The million and a half rich peasants throughout Russia certainly hire no less than a million farm-hands and day labourers. Obviously, in the great struggle between the propertied class and the class of the propertyless, between masters and workers, between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, the rich peasants will take the side of the property-owners against the working class.

We now know the position and the strength of the rich peasantry. Let us examine the conditions of the rural poor.

We have already said that the rural poor comprise the vast majority, almost two-thirds, of the peasant households throughout Russia. To begin with, the number of households without horses cannot be less than three million—probably more than that today, perhaps three and a half million. Every famine year, every crop failure, ruins tens of thou sands of farms. The population grows, life on the land becomes more crowded, but all the best land has been grabbed by the landlords and the rich peasants. And so, every year more and more people are ruined, go to the towns and the factories, take work as farm-hands, or become unskilled labourers. A peasant who has no horse is one who has become   quite poor. He is a proletarian. He gains a living (if you can call it living; it would be truer to say that he just contrives to keep body and soul together) not from the land, not from his farm, but by working for hire. He is brother to the town worker. Even land is of no use to the peasant without a horse: half the households without horses let their allotments, while some even surrender them to the commune for nothing (and sometimes even pay the difference between the taxes and the expected income from the land!) because they are not in a position to till their land. A peasant who has no horse sows one dessiatine, or two at the most. He always has to buy additional grain (if he has the money to buy it with)— his own crop will never suffice to feed him. Peasants who own one horse each, and there are about three and a half million such households throughout Russia, are not very much better off. Of course, there are exceptions, and we have already said that, here and there, there are peasants with one horse each who are doing middling well, or are even rich. But we are not speaking of exceptions, of individual localities, but of Russia as a whole. If we take the entire mass of peasants who have one horse each, there can be no doubt that they are a mass of paupers. Even in the agricultural gubernias the peasant who has one horse sows only three or four dessiatines, rarely five; his crop does not suffice either. Even in a good year his food is no better than that of a peasant without a horse—which means that he is always underfed, always starves. His farm is in decay, his livestock is poor and short of fodder, and he is not in a position to look after his land properly. The peasant who owns one horse—in Voronezh Gubernia, for instance—can afford to spend (not counting expenditure on fodder) not more than twenty rubles a year on the whole of his farm! (A rich peasant spends ten times as much.) Twenty rubles a year for rent, to buy livestock, repair his wooden plough and other implements, pay the shepherd, and for everything else! Do you call that farming? It is sheer misery, hard labour, endless drudgery. It is natural that some of the peasants with one horse each, and not a few, should also let their allotments. Even land is of little use to a pauper. He has no money and his land does not even provide him with enough to eat, let alone with money. But money is needed for everything: for food,   for clothing, for the farm, and to pay taxes. In Voronezh Gubernia, a peasant who owns one horse usually has to pay about eighteen rubles a year in taxes alone, while he cannot make more than seventy-five rubles a year to meet all his expenses. Under these circumstances it is sheer mockery to talk about buying land, about improved implements, about agricultural banks: those things were not invented for the poor.

Where is the peasant to get the money from? He has to look for “earnings” on the side. A peasant who owns one horse, like the peasant who owns none, ekes out a living only with the help of “earnings.” But what does “earnings” mean? It means working for others, working for hire. It means that the peasant who owns one horse has half ceased to be an independent farmer and has become a hireling, a proletarian. That is why such peasants are called semi proletarians. They, too, are brothers to the town workers because they, too, are fleeced in every way by all sorts of employers. They, too, have no way out, no salvation, except by uniting with the Social-Democrats to fight all the rich, all the property-owners. Who works on the building of railways? Who is fleeced by the contractors? Who goes out lumbering and timber-floating? Who works as farm-hand? Or as day labourer? Who does the unskilled work in the towns and ports? It is always the rural poor, the peasants who have no horses or only one each. It is always the rural proletarians and semi-proletarians. And what vast numbers of these there are in Russia! It has been calculated that throughout Russia (exclusive of the Caucasus and Siberia) eight and sometimes even nine million passports are taken out yearly. Those are all for migratory workers. They are peasants only in name; actually, they are hirelings, wage-labourers. They must all unite in one union with the town workers—and every ray of light and knowledge that reaches the countryside will strengthen and consolidate this unity.

There is one more point about “earnings” that must not be forgotten. All kinds of officials and people who think as the officials do are fond of saying that the peasant, the muzhik, “needs” two things: land (but not very much of it— besides, he cannot get much, because the rich have grabbed   it all!) and “earnings.” Therefore, they say, in order to help the people, it is necessary to introduce more trades in the rural districts, to “provide” more “earnings.” Such talk is sheer hypocrisy. For the poor, “earnings” mean wage-labour. To “provide earnings” for the peasant means transforming him into a wage-labourer. Fine sort of assistance this! For the rich peasants there are other kinds of “earnings,” which require capital, for instance, the building of a flour-mill or some other plant, the purchase of threshing-machines, trade, and so on. To confuse the earnings of moneyed people with the wage-labour of the poor means deceiving the poor. Of course, this deception is to the advantage of the rich; it is to their advantage to make it appear that all kinds of “earnings” are open to and within the reach of all the peasants. But he who really cares for the welfare of the poor will tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

It remains for us to consider the middle peasants. We have already seen that, on the average, taking Russia as a whole, we must regard as a middle peasant one who has a pair of draught animals, and that out of a total of ten million households there are about two million middle peas ant households in the country. The middle peasant stands between the rich peasant and the proletarian, and that is why he is called a middle peasant. His standard of living, too, is middling: in a good year he makes ends meet on his farm, but poverty is always knocking at the door. He has either very few savings or none at all. That is why his farm is in a precarious position. He finds it hard to get money: only very seldom can he make as much money out of his farm as he needs, and if he does, it is just barely enough. To go out for earnings would mean neglecting the farm and everything would go to rack and ruin. Nevertheless, many of the middle peasants cannot get along with out earnings: they, too, have to hire themselves to others; want compels them to go into bondage to the landlord, to fall into debt. And once in debt the middle peasant is hardly ever able to get out of it, for unlike the rich peasant he has no steady income. Therefore, once he falls into debt it is as if he had put his neck in a halter. He remains a debtor until he is utterly ruined. It is chiefly the middle peasant   who falls into bondage to the landlord, because for work paid on a job basis the landlord needs a peasant who is not ruined, one who owns a pair of horses and all implements required in farming. It is not easy for the middle peas ant to go elsewhere in search of earnings, so he goes into bondage to the landlord in return for grain, permission to use pasture land, the lease of the cut-off lands, and money advances during the winter. The middle peasant is hard pressed, not only by the landlord and the kulak, but also by his rich neighbour, who is always one jump ahead when he wants to acquire more land and never misses an opportunity to squeeze him in some way or other. Such is the life of the middle peasant; he is neither fish nor fowl. He can be neither a real master nor a worker. All the middle peasants strive to become masters: they want to be property-owners, but very few succeed. There are a few, a very few, who even hire farm-hands or day labourers, try to become rich on the labour of others, to rise to wealth on the backs of others. But most middle peasants have no money to hire labourers— in fact, they have to hire themselves out.

Wherever a struggle begins between the rich and the poor, between the property-owners and the workers, the middle peasant remains in between, not knowing which side to take. The rich call him to their side: you, too, are a master, a man of property, they say to him, you have nothing to do with the penniless workers. But the workers say: the rich will cheat and fleece you, and there is no other salvation for you but to help us in our fight against all the rich. This struggle for the middle peasant is going on everywhere, in all countries, wherever the Social-Democratic workers are fighting to emancipate the working people. In Russia the struggle is just beginning. That is why we must most care fully study the matter and understand clearly the deceits the rich resort to in order to win over the middle peasant; we must learn how to expose these deceits and help the middle peasant to find his real friends. If the Russian Social-Democratic workers at once take the right road, we shall establish a firm alliance between the rural workers and the urban workers more quickly than our comrades, the German workers, and we shall speedily achieve victory over all the enemies of the working people.



[1] These and all subsequent figures concerning the amount of land are very much out of date. They refer to the years 1877-78. But we have no more up-to-date figures. The Russian Government can only survive by keeping things in the dark, and that is why complete and truthful information about the life of the people throughout our country is so rarely collected. (A dessiatine=2.7 acres,—Ed.) —Lenin

[2] We repeat that the figures quoted are average, approximate figures. The number of rich peasants may not be exactly a million and a half, but a million and a quarter, or a million and three-quarters, or even two million. That is not a big difference. The important thing here is not to count them up to the last thousand or last hundred thousand, but clearly to realise the strength and the position of the rich peasants so that we may be able to recognise our enemies and our friends, that we shall not allow ourselves to be deceived by tales or empty talk, but get to know accurately the position of the poor and especially the position of the rich.

Let every rural worker carefully study his own volost and the neighbouring volosts. He will see that we have counted correctly, and that, on the average, this will be the position everywhere: out of every hundred households there will be ten, at the most twenty, rich families, some twenty middle peasants, and all the rest are poor. —Lenin

  2. What Do the Social-Democrats Want? | 4. What Path Should the Middle Peasant Take? Should He Take the Side of the Property-Owners and the Rich or the Side of the Workers and the Poor?  

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