V. I.   Lenin

Draft for a Speech on the Agrarian Question in the Second State Duma


Gentlemen, a number of speakers have addressed the Duma and outlined the basic views of the different parties on the question of the land. It is time to start summing up. It is time to give ourselves clear-cut and precise answers to the questions: What is the essence of the dispute? What makes the land question such a difficult one? What are the basic views of all the main parties whose representatives have spoken in the Duma? In what do the various parties differ decisively and irrevocably on the land question?

Four principal views on the agrarian question have been laid before the house by representatives of the four main parties or party trends. Deputy Svyatopolk-Mirsky outlined the views of the Rights, using that word to mean jointly the Octobrists, monarchists, etc. Deputy Kutler outlined the views of the Cadets, the so-called “people’s freedom party”. Deputy Karavayev outlined the views of the Trudoviks. Further details were added by Deputies Zimin, Kolokolnikov, Baskin and Tikhvinsky, who, in essence, are in agreement with Karavayev. Lastly my comrade Tsereteli outlined the views of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party. Minister Vasilchikov, the government representative, gave us the government’s view which, as I shall show later in my speech, boils down to a reconciliation of the views of the Rights and those of the Cadets.

Let us see what the views of these four political trends on the agrarian question consist in. I shall take them in the same order as that in which they spoke in the Duma, i.e., I will begin with the Rights.

The basic view of Deputy Svyatopolk-Mirsky is that of all the so-called “monarchist” parties and of all Octobrists, the view of the majority of Russian landowners. Deputy Svyatopolk-Mirsky expressed it superbly in the words: “And so, gentlemen, abandon the idea of increasing the area of peasant-owned land, other than in exceptional cases where the land is really overcrowded” (I quote from the report in the newspaper Tovarishch, which is the fullest, since the verbatim reports have not yet been published).

This was well said; it was straightforward, clear and simple. Abandon the idea of increasing the peasants’ land— this is the real view of all the Right parties, from the Union of the Russian People to the Octobrists. And we are well aware that this is the view of the mass of Russian landowners and those of other nations inhabiting Russia.

Why do the landlords advise the peasants to abandon the idea of extending the peasant-owned land? Deputy Svyatopolk-Mirsky provides the explanation—it is because landlord farming is better organised, more “cultured” than peasant farming. The peasants, he says, are “dull, backward and ignorant”. The peasants cannot, if you please, get along without the guidance of the landlords. “As the priest is, so is his parish,” was the way Deputy Svyatopolk Mirsky wittily put it. Apparently he firmly believes that the landlord will always be the priest and the peasants will always be the sheep of his flock and allow themselves to be shorn.

But will it always be so, Mr. Svyatopolk-Mirsky? Will it always be so, Messrs. Landlords? May you not be mistaken in this. Is it not because they were too “backward and ignorant” that the peasants have, until now, remained “the sheep in the flock”? Today, however, we see that the peasants are becoming politically conscious. The peasant deputies to the Duma are not attaching themselves to the “Rights” but to the Trudoviks and Social-Democrats. Speeches like that made by Svyatopolk-Mirsky will help the most backward peasants understand where the truth lies, and whether it is possible for them to support those parties that advise the peasants to abandon the idea of extending peasant-owned lands?

For that reason I welcome from the bottom of my heart the speech made by Deputy Svyatopolk-Mirsky and also the future speeches on that question that will be made by all speakers from the Right benches. Continue in the same vein, gentlemen! You are helping us splendidly to open the eyes of the most backward peasants!

They say that landlord farming is more cultured than peasant farming ... that the peasants cannot get along without the landlord’s guidance.

But I will tell you that the whole history of landed proprietorship and landlord farming in Russia, all the data on landlord farming prove that the “guidance” of the land lords has always meant and today still means the unbridled coercion of the peasants, the endless denigration of peasant men and women, the most unconscionable and shameless exploitation (that word means “plunder” in Russian) of peasant labour, exploitation never seen anywhere else in the world. Such oppression and abuse, such poverty as that endured by the Russian peasant, is not to be found, not only in Western Europe, but even in Turkey.

My comrade Tsereteli has already spoken of the way in which inhabited estates were handed out to the favourites and hangers-on of court “circles”. I want to focus your attention on the question of farming touched upon by Deputy Svyatopolk-Mirsky, who spoke of the vaunted “culture” of the landlords.

Does that deputy know what the peasants call “labour service” or “squirism”? Or what labour-service farming is called in the science of economics?

The farming of a landed estate by labour service is the direct descendant, the direct survival, of the serf-owning, corvée farming of the landlords. What was the essence of the serf system of farming? The peasants obtained an allot merit from the landlord to feed their own families, and in return had to work three days (and sometimes more) on the land of the proprietor. Instead of paying the worker in money as is now the case everywhere in the towns, the landlords paid in land. The peasant was barely able to subsist from the allotment he received from the landlord. And for this bare ration the peasant and all his family had to till the landlord’s land, using the peasant’s own horses   and the peasant’s own implements or “stock”. Such is the essence of serf farming—a beggarly allotment of land in stead of payment for labour; the tilling of the Landlord’s land, using the peasant’s labour and the peasant’s implements; the compulsory labour of the peasant under threat of the landlord’s cudgel. Under this system of farming the peasant himself had to become a serf, because without coercion nobody in possession of an allotment would have worked for the landlord. And what serfdom meant to the peasants—that they themselves know far too much about; it is too firmly fixed in their memories.

Serfdom is considered to have been abolished. In actual fact, however, the landlords retain so much power (thanks to the lands they have acquired by plunder) that today they still keep the peasant in serf dependence—by means of labour service. Labour service is the serfdom of today. When, in his speech on the government declaration, my comrade Tsereteli spoke of the serf-owning nature of landed proprietorship and of the entire existing state power in Russia, one of the newspapers that fawns on the government—the paper is called Novoye Vremya—raised an outcry about Deputy Tsereteli having spoken a lie. But that is not so; the deputy of the Social-Democratic Labour Party was speaking the truth. Only an ignoramus or a mercenary ink-slinger could deny that labour service is a direct survival of serfdom, and that landlord farming in our country is kept going by labour service.

What, in essence, is labour service? It boils down to this: the landlord’s land is not tilled with the landlord’s implements and not by hired labourers, but with the implements of the peasant who is in bondage to his landlord neighbour. And the peasant has to go into bondage because the landlord cut off the best lands for himself, planted the peasant on sandy wasteland and pushed him on to a beggarly allotment. The landlords took so much land for themselves that it is not only impossible for the peasant to run a farm but there is not even room “for a chicken to run around in”.

The gubernia committees of landlords, in 1861, and the landlords who were civil mediators (apparently they were called “civil” because they were civil to the landlords)[2]   emancipated the peasants in such a way that one-fifth of the peasants’ land was cut off by the landlords! They emancipated the peasants in such a way that the peasant was forced to pay treble the price for the allotment that remained in his possession after this plunder! It is no secret to any body that according to the “land redemption” scheme of 1861 the peasant was compelled to pay much more than the land was worth. It is no secret to anybody that the peasant was at that time forced to redeem not only the peasant land but also the peasant’s emancipation. It is no secret to anybody that the “philanthropy” of the state redemption scheme consisted in the Treasury filching more money from the peasant for the laud (in the form of redemption payments) than it gave to the landlord! This was a fraternal alliance between the landlord and the “liberal” civil servant to rob the peasant. If Mr. Svyatopolk-Mirsky has forgotten all this, the peasant, for sure, has not forgotten it. If Mr. Svyatopolk-Mirsky does not know this, then let him read what Professor Janson wrote thirty years ago in his Essay on the Statistical Investigation of Peasant Allotments and Payments and which has been repeated a thousand times since then in all our literature on economic statistics.

The peasant was “emancipated” in such a way in 1861 that he ran straight into the landlord’s noose. The peasant is so downtrodden on account of the land seized by the land lords that he must either die of starvation or give himself into bondage.

And in the twentieth century the “free” Russian peasant is still forced to give himself into bondage to his landlord neighbour in exactly the same way as the “smerdi” (as the peasants were called in Russkaya Pravda[3]) gave themselves into bondage in the eleventh century and “registered them selves” as belonging to the landlords!

Words have changed, laws have been promulgated and repealed, centuries have elapsed, but things remain essentially the same as they were. Labour service is the bonded dependence of a peasant who is forced to till his landlord neighbour’s soil with his own implements. Labour-service farming is the same renovated, refurbished and reshaped serf farming.

In order to make my meaning clear, I will cite an example from the countless number that fills our literature on peasant and landlord farming. There is a very extensive publication, issued by the Department of Agriculture, that deals with the early nineties and is based on data obtained from farmers concerning the landlord farming system in Russia (Agricultural and Statistical Data Obtained from Farmers. Published by the Department of Agriculture, Issue V, St. Petersburg, 1892). These data were analysed by Mr. S. A. Korolenko (not to be confused with V. G. Korolenko); that Mr. S. A. Korolenko was no progressive writer but a reactionary civil servant. In his book of analysis, you may read, on page 118:

“In the south of Yelets Uyezd (Orel Gubernia), side by side with the work of labourers employed by the year, a substantial part of the land on big landlord estates is tilled by peasants in payment for land which they rent. Former serfs [note that, Mr. Svyatopolk-Mirsky] continue to rent land from their former landlords and, in payment for it, till the landlords’ land. Such villages are still called [mark this!] the ’corvée’ of such-and-such a landlord.”

This was written in the nineties of the last century, thirty years after what was called the “emancipation” of the peasants. Thirty years after 1861, the same “corvée” existed, the same cultivation of the land of the former landlords with the implements of the peasant!

Perhaps the objection will be raised that this is an individual case. But anyone who is acquainted with landlord farming in the central black-earth belt of Russia, anyone who has the slightest acquaintance with Russian economic literature, will have to admit that this is no exception, but the general rule. In the Russian gubernias proper, where the true Russian landlords are in the majority (not for nothing are they so dear to the hearts of the true Russian people on the Right benches!) labour-service farming predominates to this day.

I can refer you, for instance, to a well-known scientific work, the book The Influence of Harvests and Grain Prices, compiled by a number of scholars. The hook appeared in 1897. It shows the preponderance of labour-service farming in the following gubernias: Ufa, Simbirsk, Samara, Tambov,   Penza, Orel, Kursk, Ryazan, Tula, Kazan, Nizhni Novgorod, Pskov, Novgorod, Kostroma, Tver, Vladimir, and Chernigov, i.e., in 17 Russian gubernias.

The preponderance of labour-service farming—what does that mean?

It means that the landlord’s land is cultivated with the same peasant implements, by the labour of the poverty-stricken, ruined and enslaved peasant. And here you have that “culture” of which Deputy Svyatopolk-Mirsky spoke, and of which all those who defend the landlords’ interests speak. The landlords, of course, possess better cattle, which live better in the master’s sheds than the peasant does in his own cottage. The landlord, of course, gets a better harvest because the landlords’ committees as long ago as 1861 took good care to cut the best lands off from the peasant holdings and register them in the landlords’ names. One can speak of the “culture” of the Russian landlords’ farms only by way of ridicule. On a large number of estates there is no landlord farming whatsoever; the same peasant system of farming is carried on, the land is ploughed by the peasant’s sorry nag and tilled with the peasant’s old and unsuitable implements. In no European country does serf farming still survive on big landed estates and latifundia, carried on with the aid of bonded peasants—in no other country, except Russia.

Landlord “culture” is the preservation of landlord serf-ownership. Landlord culture is usury perpetrated against the impoverished peasant, who is fleeced and enslaved for a dessiatine of land, for pasture, for water for his cattle, for firewood, for a pood of flour loaned to the hungry muzhik in winter at extortionate interest, for a ruble begged by the peasant’s family....

And those gentlemen on the Right benches talk about the Jews exploiting the peasants, about Jewish usury! But thousands of Jewish merchants would not skin the Russian muzhik in the way the true Russian, Christian landlords do! The interest claimed by the worst usurer is not to be compared with that claimed by the true Russian land lord, who hires a muzhik in winter for summer work or who forces him to pay for a dessiatine of land in labour, money, eggs, chickens, and God alone knows what else!

That may seem like a joke, but it is a bitter joke that is too close to the truth. Here is an actual example of what a peasant pays for one dessiatine of land (the example is taken from Karyshev’s well-known book on peasant rentings): for one dessiatine of land the peasant must cultivate one and a half dessiatines, bring the landlord ten eggs and a hen and in addition provide one day’s female labour (see p. 348 of Karyshev’s book).[4]

What is that? “Culture”, or the most shameless feudal exploitation?

Those who want to make Russia and Europe believe that our peasants are hostile to culture are telling a blatant lie, are slandering the peasants. They are not speaking the truth! The Russian peasants are struggling for freedom, against feudal exploitation. The peasant movement is spreading ever more widely, ever more boldly, and the struggle of the peasants against the landlords has been the sharpest precisely in the true Russian gubernias, where true Russian serfdom, true Russian labour service, bondage and abuse of the impoverished and debt-ridden peasantry is strongest and most deep-rooted!

Labour service is not preserved by force of law—by law the peasant is “free” to die of starvation!—it is maintained by force of the peasant’s economic dependence. No laws, no prohibitions, no “supervision” or “tutelage” can do any thing whatsoever against labour service and bondage. There is only one way to get rid of this ulcer on the body of the Russian people—the abolition of landed proprietorship, because in the overwhelming majority of cases it is still serf proprietorship, the source and the mainstay of feudal exploitation.

All and any talk of “aid” for the peasants, of “improving” their condition, of “helping” them acquire land and other similar speechifying that the landlords and civil servants are so fond of, all this boils down to hollow pretexts and subterfuges, as long as it evades the principal question— whether or not to preserve landed proprietorship.

That is the kernel of the whole issue. And I must give special warning to the peasants and the peasant deputies— evasion of the real substance of the issue must not be allowed. You must trust in no promises no fine words, until the   most important thing has been made clear—will the landed estates remain the property of the landlords or will they pass into the peasants’ hands? If they remain the property of the landlords, labour service and bondage will remain. Constant hunger and want for millions of peasants will also remain. The torment of gradual extinction from starvation—that is what the retention of landed proprietor ship means for the peasants.

To show what the real nature of the agrarian question is, we must recall some of the chief figures on the distribution of landed property in Russia. The latest statistical data available on land ownership in Russia refer to the year 1905. The Central Statistical Committee gathered them in the course of a special investigation, the full results of which have not yet been published. However, the chief results are known to us from the newspapers. European Russia is considered to have an area of about 400 million dessiatines. Of the 395.5 million on which preliminary data are available, 155 million belong to the state, the imperial family,[5] the church and church institutions, 102 million belong to private persons, and 138.5 million are peasant allotments.

At first glance it might seem that the state has the greatest share so that the question is not one of landlords’ lands.

This is a frequently occurring mistake that should be eliminated once and for all. It is true that the state owns 138 million dessiatines, but almost all that land is in the northern gubernias—Archangel, Vologda and Olonets, in places where farming is impossible. The government itself, according to the precise figures of the statisticians (I refer you, for example, to Mr. Prokopovich and his book The Agrarian Question in Figures) could not find more than slightly over seven million dessiatines of state lands that could be given to the peasants.

One cannot, therefore, speak seriously of state-owned lands. Nor need one speak about peasant migration to Siberia. This question has been made clear enough by the Trudovik speaker in the Duma. If the landlord gentlemen really believe in the advantages of migration to Siberia, let them go to Siberia themselves! The peasants would most likely agree to that.... But they would probably regard   as sheer mockery the proposal that the neediness of the peasants should be remedied with Siberia.

In respect of the Russian gubernias, and the central black-earth gubernias in particular, where the peasants are the most needy, the matter is precisely one of the landlords’ lands and no others. And Deputy Svyatopolk-Mirsky is wasting his time talking about “exceptional cases where the land is really overcrowded”.

Overcrowding on the land is the rule and not the exception in central Russia. And the peasants are overcrowded because the landlord gentlemen have accommodated themselves far too spaciously, because they give themselves too much room to move. “Peasant overcrowding” is the result of the seizure of land masses by the landlords.

“Land hunger” for the peasant means “land surfeit” for the landlord.

Here, gentlemen, are the plain and simple figures. Peas ant land allotments total 138.5 million dessiatines. Privately-owned land amounts to 102 million dessiatines. How much of this last amount belongs to big estate owners?

Seventy-nine and a half million dessiatines belong to owners possessing more than 50 dessiatines each.

And how many owners does this huge area of land belong to? Less than 135,000 (the exact figure is 133,898).

Think well over these figures: 135,000 people out of a hundred odd million inhabitants of European Russia own almost eighty million dessiatines of land!!

And side by side with this, twelve and a quarter million peasant family allotments total 138.5 million dessiatines.

The average per big landowner, per (for simplicity’s sake we’ll say) landlord, is 594 dessiatines.

The average per peasant household is eleven and one-third dessiatines.

And this is what Mr. Svyatopolk-Mirsky and others of his ilk call “exceptional cases of overcrowding on the land”. How can there be anything but universal “overcrowding” of the peasants when a handful of rich people numbering 135,000 have 600 dessiatines each and millions of peasants have it dessiatines per farm? How can there be anything but peasant “land hunger” when there is such a tremendously   excessive surfeit of land in the hands of the land lords?

Mr. Svyatopolk-Mirsky advised us “to abandon the idea” of increasing the amount of land owned by the peasants. But no, the working class will not abandon that idea. The peasants will not abandon that idea. Millions and tens of millions of people cannot give up that idea, or abandon the struggle to achieve their goal.

The figures 1 have quoted show clearly what that struggle is about. Landlords, with an average of 600 dessiatines per estate, are struggling for their wealth, for their incomes that probably total more than 500 million rubles a year. The biggest landlords are often the highest officers of the state as well. Our state, as my comrade Tsereteli has already in all justice said, protects the interests of a handful of landlords and not the interests of the people. No wonder the majority of the landlords and the whole government are struggling furiously against the demands of the peas ants. History does not know any cases of the ruling and oppressing classes voluntarily relinquishing their right to rule and to oppress, their right to huge incomes from enslaved peasants and workers.

The peasants are struggling to free themselves from bondage, from labour service, from feudal exploitation. The peasants are struggling for an opportunity to live just a little bit like human being. And the working class gives full support to the peasants against the landlords, gives its support in the interests of the workers themselves, who also bear the burden of landlord oppression; it gives its support in the interests of our entire social development that is being held back because of landlord oppression.

In order to show you, gentlemen, what the peasantry can and must achieve by their struggle, I will make a small calculation.

“The time has come to have recourse to the eloquence of figures,” Mr. Vasilchikov, the Minister of Agriculture, has said, “facts and reality, rather than to words, to make this question clear.” I am in the fullest agreement with the minister. Yes, yes, gentlemen, that is how it is—more figures, more figures on the extent of l-a-n-d-l-o-r-d ownership   of land and on the sizes of the allotments owned by the peasants. I have already quoted figures showing how much “surplus” land the landlords own. Now I will give the figures on the extent of the peasant need for land. On the average, as I have said, each peasant household owns eleven and one-third dessiatines of allotment land. But this aver age figure conceals the peasants’ need for land, because most peasants possess an allotment of land that is below the average, and an insignificant minority have more than the average.

Out of twelve and a quarter million peasant households, 860,000 (in round figures) have allotments amounting to less than five dessiatines per household. Three million, three hundred and twenty thousand have from five to eight dessiatines. Four million, eight hundred and ten thousand have from eight to twenty dessiatines. Only one million, one hundred thousand households have from twenty to fifty dessiatines and only a quarter of a million have more than fifty dessiatines (these last-named probably do not have more than seventy-five dessiatines per household on the average).

Let us assume that 79.5 million dessiatines of landlords’ land is used to extend peasant holdings. Let us assume that the peasant—in the words of the Reverend Tikhvinsky, a supporter of the Peasant Union—does not want to denude the landlord of his land and will leave fifty dessiatines to each landlord. This is probably too high a figure for such “cultured” gentlemen as our landlords, but, for the time being, we can take this figure as an example. Deducting fifty dessiatines for each of the 135,000 landlords would leave seventy-two million dessiatines that could he freed for the peasants. There is no reason to deduct the forests from this figure (as some writers do, for example Mr. Prokopovich, whose figures I have used several times) because forest land also produces an income which cannot possibly be left in the hands of a small group of landlords.

To this seventy-two million add the cultivable state lands (about 7.3 million dessiatines), all the lands of the imperial family (7.9 million dessiatines), the church and monastery lands (2.7 million dessiatines), and you will get a   total of about ninety million dessiatines.[1] This total amount is sufficient to expand the aggregate land owned by the poorest peasant households to no less than sixteen dessiatines per household.

Do you realise what that means, gentlemen?

That would be a tremendous step forward, that would deliver millions of. peasants from starvation; that would raise the living standard of tens of millions of peasants and workers, would give them greater opportunities to live more or less like human beings, in the way more or less cultured citizens of a “cultured” state live, and not in the way the dying race of modern Russian peasantry is living. That would not, of course, deliver all the working people from all forms of poverty and oppression (for that it would be necessary to transform capitalist into socialist society) but it would go a very long way towards making easier their struggle for such deliverance. Over six million peasant households, more than half of the total number of peasants, possess, as I have said, less than eight dessiatines per household. The land they own would be more than doubled, almost trebled.

This means that half the peasantry, always impoverished, hungry, and undercutting the price of the labour of the workers in the towns, at the factories—half the peasants would be able to feel that they are human beings!

Can Mr. Svyatopolk-Mirsky, or others of his ilk, seriously advise millions of workers and peasants to abandon the idea of a way out of an unbearable, desperate situation, a way out that is quite possible, practicable and near at hand?

But it is not only a matter of the land owned by the greater part of the poor peasant households possibly being almost trebled at the expense of the landlords’ surfeit of land. In addition to these six million poor households, there are almost five (to be exact, 4.8) million peasant house holds owning from eight to twenty dessiatines. There is no doubt that no less than three out of the five million live in poverty on their beggarly allotments. These three million   households, too, could raise their holdings to sixteen dessiatines per household, i.e., increase the holding by a half, and some could even double it.

On the whole, it works out that nine million households out of a total of 12.25 million could greatly improve their condition (and improve the condition of the workers, whom they would stop undercutting!) at the expense of the land of the landlord gentlemen, who have too great an excess of land and who are too accustomed to the serf system of farming!

This is what we are told by the figures on the relative dimensions of large-scale landlord ownership and insufficient peasant holdings. I am very much afraid these facts and figures will not be to the liking of that lover of facts and figures, Mr. Vasilchikov, the Minister of Agriculture. Did he not say to us in his speech, immediately after expressing a desire to use figures:

“... In connection with this, one cannot but express the apprehension that those hopes which many people place in the implementation of such reforms [i.e., extensive land reforms] will, when confronted with the figures, lose all chance of being realised....”

Your apprehension is groundless, Mr. Minister of Agriculture! It is precisely confrontation with the figures that should give the peasants’ hopes of deliverance from labour service and feudal exploitation every chance of being realised in their entirety! And no matter how unpleasant these figures may be for Mr. Vasilchikov, the Minister of Agriculture, or for Mr. Svyatopolk-Mirsky and other land lords, these figures cannot be refuted!


[1] An exact calculation (in case of questions) is given at the end of Notebook 3.[6]Lenin

[2] Civil mediators—an office introduced by the tsarist government at the time of the Peasant Reform of 1861. The civil mediators were appointed by the governor from among the local nobility on the recommendation of the Assembly of the Nobility, and were approved by the Senate; they were empowered to examine and settle disputes between landlords and peasants arising out of the implementation of the “Regulations” on the emancipation of the peasants,   their real function being to protect the interests of the landlords. Their chief duty was to draw up “title deeds” defining the exact dimensions of the peasant allotments of land and also the obligations of the peasants towards the landlords; the civil mediators also supervised rural self-government. They approved the officials elected to the rural councils, had the right to inflict punishment on the peasants, arrest and fine them, and also to annul such decisions of peasant meetings that were not to the liking of the landlords.

The institution of civil mediators was representative exclusively of the social-estate of the nobility, and aided the tsarist government in implementing the plunder of the peasants, in favour of the landlords, by the Reform of 1861.

[3] Russkaya Pravda (Russian Law)—the first written codification of laws and princes’ decrees (eleventh-twelfth centuries). Its statutes protected the lives and property of the feudal lord and were indicative of the bitter class struggle between peasants in feudal bondage and their exploiters.

[4] The article referred to is N. Karyshev’s “Peasant Non-Allotment Rentings” published in Volume Two of the book Results of an Economic Investigation of Russia According to Zemstvo Statistical Data (Derpt, 1892).

[5] In pre-revolutionary Russia, the landed estates belonging to the imperial family were administered by a Ministry of the Court and Crown Lands.

[6] This calculation was not found in Lenin’s manuscript.

  | two  

Works Index   |   Volume 12 | Collected Works   |   L.I.A. Index
< backward   forward >