V. I.   Lenin

The Agrarian Programme of Social-Democracy in the First Russian Revolution, 1905-1907


4. The Economic Nature of the Agrarian Revolution and its Ideological Cloaks

We have seen that the essence of the revolution now in progress amounts to the break-up of the feudal latifundia and to the creation of a free and (as far as this. is possible under present circumstances) well-to-do peasantry capable not only of toiling in misery on the land, but of developing the productive forces and promoting the progress of agriculture. This revolution does not and cannot in any way affect the system of small production in agriculture, the domination of the market over the producer and, consequently, the domination also of commodity production, since the struggle for the redistribution of the land. cannot alter the relations of production in the farming of this land. And we have seen that a feature of this struggle is the strong development of small-scale farming on the feudal latifundia.

The ideological cloak of the struggle now in progress is furnished by the theories of the Narodniks. The fact that in the First and Second Dumas the peasant representatives from all over Russia openly came out with agrarian programmes has definitely proved that the theories and programmes of the Narodniks do indeed constitute the ideological cloak of the peasants’ struggle for land.

We have shown that the basic and chief component of the distributable land for which the peasants are fighting   are the big feudal estates. We have taken a very high norm of expropriation—500 dessiatins. But it can easily be seen that our conclusions hold good however much this norm is reduced, let us say to 100 or to 50 dessiatins. Let us divide group (c)—20-500 dessiatins, into three subgroups: (aa) 20-50 dessiatins, (bb) 50-100, and (cc) 100-500, and see what the size of the peasant allotments and private holdings is within these subdivisions:

Subdivisions Number of holdings Total area of land Average per holding
  Allotment Land
20-50 dess. 1,062,504 30,898,147 29.1
50-100 " 191,898 12,259,171 63.9
100-500 " 40,658 5,762,276 141.7
  Private Land
20-50 dess. 103,237 3,301,004 32.0
50-100 " 44,877 3,229,858 71.9
100-500 " 61,188 14,096,637 230.4
  Total in European Russia
20-50 dess. 1,165,741 34,199,151 29.3
50-100 " 236,775 15,489,029 65.4
100-500 " 101,846 19,858,913 194.9

Hence it follows, first, that the confiscation of estates of over 100 dessiatins will increase the distributable land, as already stated above, by nine to ten million dessiatins, whereas the confiscation of estates of over 50 dessiatins, as assumed by Chizhevsky, a member of the First Duma, will increase this land by eighteen and a half million dessiatins. Consequently, in this case also, the feudal latifundia will form the basis of the distributable land area. That is the crux of the present-day agrarian problem. More over, the connection that exists between these big estates arid the higher bureaucracy is also quite well known: G. A. Alexinsky in the Second Duma quoted Mr. Rubakin’s data on the size of the estates owned by higher officials in Russia. Secondly, it is seen from these data that even after deducting the peasant allotments and the estates of over 100 dessiatins, the size of the bigger allotments (and the small estates) still varies considerably. The revolution already finds the peasants differentiated in regard to size   of holdings, and still more in the amount of capital, number of livestock, the quantity and quality of implements, etc. That the differentiation in the sphere of non-allotment property, so to speak, is far more considerable than in the sphere of allotment landownership has been sufficiently proved in our economic literature.

What, then, is the significance of the Narodnik theories, which more or less accurately reflect the views of the peas ants on their struggle for land? The substance of these Narodnik theories is contained in two “principles”: the “labour principle” and “equalisation”. The petty-bourgeois nature of those principles is so manifest and has been so often and so fully demonstrated in Marxist literature that there is no need to dwell on it here. It is important, however, to note a feature of these “principles” that has not yet been properly appreciated by Russian Social-Democrats. In a vague form those principles do express something real and progressive at the present historical moment. Namely, they express the struggle for the break-up of the feudal latifundia.

Look at the outline given above of the evolution of our agrarian system from the present stage to the “ultimate point” of the present, bourgeois revolution. You will clearly see that the future “then” is distinguished from the present “now” by an incomparably greater “equalisation” in owner ship, that the new distribution of the land conforms far more to the “labour principle”. And that is not accidental It cannot be otherwise in a peasant country, the bourgeois development of which emancipates it from serfdom. In such a country, the break-up of the feudal latifundia is undoubtedly a condition for the development of capitalism. But as long as small-scale farming predominates in agriculture, the break-up of the feudal latifundia inevitably implies greater “equalisation” in landownership. In breaking up the medieval latifundia, capitalism begins with a more “equalised” landownership, and out of that creates large-scale farming on a new basis, on the basis of wage-labour, machinery and superior agricultural technique, and not on the basis of labour rent and bondage.

The mistake all the Narodniks make is that by confining themselves to the narrow outlook of the small husbandman,   they fail to perceive the bourgeois nature of the social relations into which the peasant enters on coming out of the fetters of serfdom. They convert the “labour principle” of petty-bourgeois agriculture and “equalisation”, which are their slogans for breaking up the feudal latifundia, into something absolute, self-sufficing, into something implying a special, non-bourgeois order.

The mistake some Marxists make is that, while criticising the Narodnik theory, they overlook its historically real and historically legitimate content in the struggle against serfdom. They criticise, and rightly criticise, the “labour principle” and “equalisation” as backward, reactionary petty-bourgeois socialism; but they forget that these theories express progressive, revolutionary petty bourgeois democracy, that they serve as the banner of the most determined struggle against the old, feudal Russia, The idea of equality is the most revolutionary idea in the struggle against the old system of absolutism in general, and against the old system of feudal landlordism in particular. The idea of equality is legitimate and progressive for the petty-bourgeois peasant insofar as it expresses the struggle against feudal, serf inequality. The idea of “equalised” landownership is legitimate and progressive insofar as it expresses the aspirations of ten million peasants, with allotments of seven dessiatins and ruined by the landlords, for a division[1] of the 2,300-dessiatin feudal latifundia, And in the present historical situation that idea really expresses such strivings, it gives an impetus towards consistent bourgeois revolution, while mistakenly clothing this in vague, quasi-socialist phraseology. He would be a poor Marxist indeed who, while criticising the falsity of a socialist disguise for bourgeois slogans, failed to appreciate their historically progressive significance as the most decisive bourgeois slogans in the struggle against serfdom, The real content of the revolution which the Narodnik regards as “socialisation” will be that it will most consistently   clear the way for capitalism, will most resolutely eradicate serfdom. The outline which I have drawn above indicates precisely the maximum to be achieved in the abolition of serfdom and the maximum of “equalisation” to be attained thereby. The Narodnik imagines that this “equalisation” eliminates the bourgeois element, whereas, in reality, it expresses the aspirations of the most radical bourgeoisie. And whatever else there is in “equalisation” over and above that is nothing but ideological smoke, a petty-bourgeois illusion.

The short-sighted and unhistorical judgement of some Russian Marxists on the significance of Narodnik theories in the Russian bourgeois revolution is to be explained by the fact that they have not reflected on the significance of the “confiscation” of the landlord estates which the Narodniks advocate. One has only to visualise clearly the economic basis of this revolution under the present conditions of landownership in our country in order to grasp not only the illusory nature of the Narodnik theories, but also the truth of the struggle, restricted to a definite historical task, the truth of the struggle against serfdom, which represents the real content of those illusory theories.


[1] We speak here of division not as private property. but for economic use. Such a division is possible—and, with the predominance of small farming, inevitable for some time—both under municipalisation and under nationalisation. —Lenin

  3. The Cadet Writers Obscure the Nature of the Struggle | 5. Two Types of Bourgeois Agrarian Evolution  

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