V. I.   Lenin

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


7. Russia’s Land Area. The Question of the Colonisation

We have pointed out above that on the question of capitalism in Russia the economic analysis compels us to distinguish between the central agricultural provinces with   their plentiful survivals of serfdom, and the borderlands where those survivals are absent, or weak, and which bear the features of free-peasant capitalist evolution.

What do we mean by the borderlands? Obviously, lands which are unpopulated, or sparsely populated, and which have not been completely drawn into agriculture. And we must now pass from European Russia to the whole of the Russian Empire in order to form an exact idea of these “borderlands” and of their economic significance.

In the pamphlet written by Prokopovich and Mertvago, How Much Land There Is in Russia and How We Use It (Moscow, 1907), the latter of those authors tries to summarise all the statistical data available in our literature on the amount of land in the whole of Russia and the economic use to which the known amount of land is put. For the sake of clarity, we shall quote Mr. Mertvago’s figures in the form of a table, and add the statistics of the population according to the census of 1897.

  Land area of the whole of Russia Population ac-
cording to cen-
sus of 1897
Total land area Of which Of which
Total Total
per sq
Millions of
Millions of dessiatins
10 gubernias of the Kingdom of Poland 111.6 11.6 11.6 7.4 0.9 2.5 10.8 9,402.2 84.3
38 gubernias west of the Volga 1,755.6 183.0 183.0 93.6 18.7 34.0 146.3
12 gubernias north and east of the Volga 2,474.9 258.0 258.0 22.3 7.1 132.0 161.4
Total for 50 gubernias of European Russia 4,230.5 441.0 441.0 115.9 25.8 166.0 307.7 93,442.9 22.1
Caucasus 411.7 42.9 22. 1 20.8 6.5 2.2 2.5 11.2 9,289.4 22.6
Siberia 10,966.1 1,142.6 639.7 502.9 4.3 3.9 121.0 129.2 5,758.8 0.5
Central Asia 3,141.6 327.3 157.4 169.9 0.9 1.6 8.0 10.5 7,746.7 2.5
Total for Asiatic Russia 14,519.4 1,512.8 819.2 693.6 11.7 7.7 131.5 150.9
Total for Russian Empire[1] 18,861.5 1,965.4 819.2 1,146.2 135.0 34.4 300.0 469.4 125,640.0 6.7

These figures plainly show how vast is the land area of Russia and how little we know about the borderlands and their economic importance. Of course, it would be absolutely wrong to regard those lands at the present time, and in their present state, as being suitable for satisfying the land needs of the Russian peasantry. All calculations of that kind, frequently made by reactionary writers,[2] are of no scientific value whatever. In this respect Mr. A. A. Kaufman is quite right when he ridicules the search for vacant lands for colonisation on the basis of statistics of square versts. Undoubtedly he is also right when he points out how little land is suitable for colonisation in the border lands of Russia at the present time, and how wrong it is   to presume that the land hunger of the Russian peasantry can be satisfied by migration.[3]

These correct arguments of Mr. Kaufman, the liberal, contain, nevertheless, a very serious mistake. Mr. Kaufman argues in this way: “Considering the type of people who now migrate, their present degree of prosperity, and their present cultural level” (p. 129 of the book mentioned), the amount of land available for satisfying the needs of the Russian peasants by means of migration is absolutely in sufficient. Consequently, he concludes in defence of the Cadet agrarian programme, compulsory alienation of private land in European Russia is essential.

That is the usual argument of our liberal and liberal-Narodnik economists. It is so constructed as to lead to the conclusion that if there were sufficient land suitable for migration, the feudal latifundia could be left intact! The Cadets and other politicians of the same kind are thoroughly permeated with the ideas of the well-meaning official; they claim to stand above classes and above the class struggle. The feudal latifundia must be done away with not be cause they imply the feudal exploitation and bondage of millions of the population and retard the development of the productive forces, but because millions of families cannot be immediately packed off to, say, Siberia or Turkestan! The stress is laid not upon the feudal class character of the latifundia in Russia, but upon the possibility of reconciling the classes, of satisfying the peasant without injuring the landlord; in short, upon the possibility of bringing about the notorious “social peace”.

The arguments of Mr. Kaufman and his innumerable followers among the Russian intelligentsia have to be turned upside down to be put right. Since the Russian peasant is crushed by the feudal latifundia, for that reason both the free settlement of the population over the territory of Russia and the rational economic use of the bulk of her borderlands are incredibly retarded. Since the feudal latifundia   are keeping the Russian peasantry in a downtrodden state, and perpetuate, through the labour-service system and bondage, the most backward forms and methods of land cultivation, for that reason both the technical progress and the mental development of the mass of the peasants are hindered, as also their activity, initiative, and education, which are essential for the economic utilisation of a far larger area of the Russian land reserves than is utilised today. For the feudal latifundia and the predominance of bondage in agriculture imply, also a corresponding political superstructure—the predominance of the Black-Hundred landlord ill the state, the disfranchisement of the population, the prevalence of Gurko-Lidval methods of administration,[7] and so on and so forth.

That the feudal latifundia in central agricultural Russia are having a disastrous effect upon the whole social system, upon social development as a whole, upon the-en tire condition of agriculture, and upon the whole standard of living of the masses of the peasantry, is a matter of common knowledge. I only have to refer here to the vast Russian economic literature which has proved the prevalence in Central Russia of labour-service, bondage, rack rent, “winter hiring”, and other charming aspects of medievalism.[4]

The fall of serfdom created conditions which (as I pointed out in detail in The Development of Capitalism) caused the population to flee from those haunts of the last descend ants of the serf-owners. The population fled from the central agricultural area to the industrial gubernias, to the capitals, and to the southern and eastern borderlands of European Russia, and settled in hitherto uninhabited lands. In the pamphlet I have mentioned, Mr. Mertvago quite truly remarks, by the way, that the conception of what sort of land is unsuitable for agriculture is liable to undergo rapid change.

"‘TheTaurida steppes,’” hewrites, "‘owing to the climate and the scarcity of water, will always be one of the poorest and least suitable regions for cultivation.’ That   was the opinion expressed in 1845 by such authoritative observers of nature as Academicians Beer and Helmersen. At that time the population of Taurida Gubernia, a half of what it is now, produced 1,800,000 chetverts of grain of all kinds.... Now, after a lapse of 60 years, the population has doubled, and in 1903, it produced 17,600,000 chetverts, i. e., nearly ten times as much” (p. 24).

That is true not only of Taurida Gubernia, but of a number of other gubernias in the southern and, eastern border lands of European Russia. The southern steppes, and also the gubernias on the left bank of the Volga, which in the sixties and seventies lagged behind the central black-earth gubernias in the output of grain, outstripped those provinces in the eighties (The Development of Capitalism, p. 186).[5] Between 1863 and 1897 the population of the whole of European Russia increased by 53 per cent—48 per cent in the case of the rural and 97 per cent in the case of the urban population—whereas in Novorossia, the Lower Volga, and eastern gubernias, the population increased during the same period by 92 per cent—87 per cent increase in the rural population and 134 per cent increase in the urban population (ibid., p. 446).[6]

We have no doubt,” Mr. Mertvago continues, “that the present bureaucratic estimate of the economic importance of our land reserves is not less mistaken than that of Beer and Helmersen concerning Taurida Gubernia in 1845” (ibid.).

That is correct. But Mr. Mertvago fails to see the source of Beer’s mistakes, and of the mistakes of all bureaucratic estimates. The source of those mistakes is that while taking into consideration the given level of technique and culture, no allowance is made for the advance of this level. Beer and Helmersen did not foresee the, technical changes that became possible after the fall of serfdom. And there cannot be the least doubt now that a tremendous increase In the productive forces, a tremendous rise in the technical and cultural level will inevitably follow the break-up of the feudal latifundia in European Russia.

This aspect of the matter is overlooked by many students of the agrarian problem in Russia. The prerequisite for the wide utilisation of the vast Russian lands available for colonisation is the creation in European Russia of a really free peasantry, completely liberated from the oppression of feudal relations. A considerable portion of these lands is unsuitable at the present time, not so much because of the natural properties of this or that borderland, but be cause of the social conditions of agriculture in Russia proper, which doom technical methods to stagnation and the population to a rightless status, downtroddenness, ignorance, and helplessness.

It is this exceedingly important aspect of the matter that Mr. Kaufman overlooks when he declares: “I say in advance: I do not know whether it will be possible to settle one, three, or ten million on those lands" (ibid., p. 128). He goes on to point out that the term unsuitable land is only relative: “The alkali soils, far from being absolutely hopeless, can, with the application of certain technical methods, be made very fertile” (ibid., p. 129). In Turkestan, with a population density of 3.6 to the square verst, “vast areas are still uninhabited” (ibid., p. 137). “The soil of many of the ‘hungry deserts’ of Turkestan consists of the famous Central Asiatic loess which becomes highly fertile if sufficiently irrigated.... The existence of irrigable lands is a question that is not even worth while discussing: it is sufficient to cross the country in any direction to see the ruins of numerous villages and towns, abandoned centuries ago, frequently surrounded for scores of square versts by networks of ancient irrigation canals and ditches. The total area of loess desert awaiting. irrigation undoubtedly amounts to many millions of dessiatins” (ibid., p. 137).

All these millions of dessiatins in Turkestan, as well as in many other parts of Russia, are “awaiting” not only irrigation and reclamation of every kind. They are also “awaiting” the emancipation of the Russian agricultural population from the survivals of serfdom, from the yoke of the nobility’s latifundia, and from the Black-Hundred dictatorship in the state.

It is idle to speculate on the actual amount of land in Russia that could be converted from “unsuitable” into suitable   land. But it is necessary clearly to appreciate the fact, which is demonstrated by the, whole economic his tory of Russia, and which is an outstanding feature of the bourgeois revolution in Russia, viz., that Russia possesses a gigantic amount of land available for colonisation, which will be rendered accessible to the population and accessible to culture, not only by every technical advance of agriculture, but also by every advance in the emancipation of the Russian peasantry from the yoke of serfdom.

This forms the economic basis for the bourgeois evolution of Russian agriculture on the American model. In the countries of Western Europe, which our Marxists so often draw upon for thoughtless and stereotyped comparisons, all the land was already occupied in the epoch of the bourgeois-democratic revolution. The only new thing brought about by every technical advance in agriculture was that it became possible to invest more labour and capital in the land. In Russia, the bourgeois-democratic revolution is taking place under conditions in which every technical advance in agriculture, and every advance in the development of real liberty for the population, not only creates the possibility for additional investment of labour and capital in old lands, but also the possibility for utilising “boundless” tracts of adjacent new lands.


[1] Exclusive of Finland.—Lenin

[2] Also by reactionary deputies. In the Second Duma the Octobrist Teterevenkov cited from Shcherbina’s investigations figures of 65,000,000 dessiatins of land in the steppe region, and further figures of the amount of land in the Altai territory—39,000,000 dessiatins— to prove that there is no need for compulsory alienation in European Russia. Here is an example of a bourgeois joining bands with the feudal landlord for joint “progress” in the Stolypin spirit. (See Stenographic Record, Second Duma, 39th sitting, May 16, 1907, pp. 658-61.) —Lenin

[3] The Agrarian Question, published by Dolgorukov and Petrunkevich, Vol. I, article by Mr. Kaufman: “Migration and Its Role in the Agrarian Programme”. See also the work by the same author: Migration and Colonisation, St. Petersburg, 1905. —Lenin

[4] See The Development of Capitalism, Chapter III, on the transition from corvée to capitalist economy and the spread of the labour-service system. (See present edition, Vol. 3, pp. 191-251.—Ed.) —Lenin

[5] See present edition, Vol. 3, p. 257.—Ed.

[6] See present edition, Vol. 3, p. 563.—Ed.

[7] Gurko-Lidval methods of administration—this refers to the embezzlement, profiteering, and extortion that reigned among the higher tsarist officials and government contractors. Gurko was Deputy Minister of the Interior; in 1906, he was involved in embezzlement and profiteering in connection with grain consignments for the famine-stricken areas. The contractor for this grain was the swindler and profiteer Lidval.

  6. Two lines Of Agrarian Programmes in the Revolution | 8. Summary of the Economic Deductions of Chapter I  

Works Index   |   Volume 13 | Collected Works   |   L.I.A. Index
< backward   forward >