V. I.   Lenin

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


5. Medieval Landownership and the Bourgeois Revolution

The question now arises whether there are material grounds in the economic conditions of the agrarian, bourgeois-democratic revolution in Russia compelling the small proprietors to demand the nationalisation of the land, or whether this demand as well is merely a phrase, merely the pious wish of the ignorant muzhik, the vain dream of the patriarchal tiller of the soil.

To answer this question we must first try to envisage more concretely the conditions of a bourgeois-democratic revolution in agriculture, and then compare those conditions with the two paths of capitalist agrarian evolution that are possible in Russia, as we have outlined above.

The conditions of the bourgeois revolution in agriculture from the standpoint of agrarian relations have been very strikingly dealt with by Marx in the last volume of Theories of Surplus Value (Theorien über den Mehrwert, II. Band, 2. Teil, Stuttgart, 1905).

After examining the views of Rodbertus, exposing the great limitations of the theory of this Pomeranian landlord, and enumerating in detail every single manifestation of his stupidity (II, 1. Teil, S. 256-58, erster Blödsinn— sechster Blödsinn des Herrn Rodbertus[1] ), Marx turns to Ricardo’s theory of rent (II, 2. Teil, § 3b, “The Historical Conditions of Ricardo’s , Theory”).[5]

Speaking of Ricardo and Anderson, Marx says: “Both start out from the view, regarded as very strange on the Continent: (1) that no landed property exists as an obstacle to any investment of capital in the land; (2) that there the tillers pass from better to worse soils. For Ricardo this premise is absolute—leaving out of account interruptions in development through the reaction of science and industry; for Anderson it is relative, since the worse soil is again transformed into better; (3) that capital, the mass of capital requisite for application to agriculture, is always available.

Now, as far as points 1 and 2 are concerned, it must appear very peculiar to those on the Continent that in the country where, according to their notions, feudal landed property has been most strongly preserved, economists start out from the idea that landed property does not exist. Anderson does so as well as Ricardo. The explanation is as follows:

first, the peculiarity of the English law of enclosures’ [i.e., the law relating to the enclosure of the common lands] which has absolutely no analogy with the continental division of common land.

secondly, nowhere in the world has capitalist production, since Henry VII, dealt so ruthlessly with the traditional relations of agriculture and so adequately moulded its conditions and made them subject to itself. England is in this respect the most revolutionary country in the world. All historically inherited relations—not only the position of the villages, but the very villages themselves, not only the habitations of the agricultural population, but this population itself, not only the ancient economic centres, but the very economy itself—have been ruthlessly swept away where they were in contradiction to the conditions of capitalist production in agriculture, or did not correspond to those conditions. The German, for example, finds economic relations determined by the traditional common land relations [Feldmarken], the position of economic centres, and particular conglomerations of the population. The Englishman finds that the historical conditions of agriculture have been progressively created by capital since the fifteenth century. The technical expression customary in the United Kingdom, the ‘clearing of estates’, does not occur in any continental country. But what does this ‘clearing of estates’ mean? It means that, without regard for the local population—which is driven away, for existing villages—which are levelled to the ground, for farm build ings—which are torn down, for the kind of agriculture— which is transformed at a stroke, being converted for example from tillage to pasture, all conditions of production, instead of being accepted as they are handed down by tradition, are historically fashioned in the form necessary under the circumstances for the most profitable investment of capital. To that extent, therefore, no landed property exists; it allows capital—the farmer—to manage freely, since it is only concerned about the money income. A Pomeranian landowner, his mind full of his ancestral [angestammten] common lands, economic centres, and the agricultural collegium, etc., is quite likely, therefore, to hold up his hands in horror at Ricardo’s ‘unhistorical’ views on the development of agricultural relations. That only shows that he naively confuses Pomeranian and English conditions. But it cannot be said that Ricardo, who here starts out from English conditions, is just as narrow in his view as the   Pomeranian landowner who thinks within the limits of Pomeranian conditions. The English conditions are the only ones in which modern landed property, i.e., landed property modified by capitalist production, has developed adequately (in ideal perfection). Here the English theory is the classical one for the modern, i.e., capitalist mode of production. The Pomeranian theory, on the other hand, judges the developed relations according to a historically lower (inadequate) form, which has not taken full shape” (S. 5-7).

That is a remarkably profound argument by Marx. Have our “municipalisers” ever pondered over it?

In Volume III of Capital (2. Teil, S. 156) Marx had al ready pointed out that the form of landed property with which the incipient capitalist mode of production is con fronted does not suit capitalism. Capitalism creates for itself the required forms of agrarian relationships out of the old forms, out of feudal landed property, peasants’ commune property, clan property, etc.[6] In that chapter, Marx compares the different methods by which capital creates the required forms of landed property. In Germany the reshaping of the medieval forms of landed property proceeded in a reformative way, so to speak. It adapted itself to routine, to tradition, to the feudal estates that were slowly converted into Junker estates, to the routine of indolent peasants[2] who were undergoing the difficult transition from corvée to the condition of the Knecht and Grossbauer. In England this reshaping proceeded in a revolutionary, violent way; but the violence was practised for the benefit of the landlords, it was practised on the masses of the peasants, who were taxed to exhaustion, driven from the villages, evicted, and who died out, or emigrated. In America this reshaping went on in a violent way as regards the slave farms in the Southern States. There violence was applied against the slaveowning landlords. Their estates were broken up, and the large feudal estates were   transformed into small bourgeois farms.[3] As regards the mass of “unappropriated” American lands, this role of creating the new agrarian relationships to suit the new mode of production (i.e., capitalism) was played by the “American General Redistribution”, by the Anti-Rent movement (Anti-Rent-Bewegung) of the forties, the Homestead Act,[7] etc. When, in 1846, Hermann Kriege, a German Communist, advocated the equal redistribution of the land in America, Marx ridiculed the Socialist-Revolutionary prejudices and the petty-bourgeois theory of this quasi-socialism, but he appreciated the historical importance of the American movement against landed property,[4] as a movement which in a progressive way expressed the interests of the development of the productive forces and the interests of capitalism in America.


[1] Vol. II, Part I, pp. 256-58, first nonsense—sixth nonsense of Herr Rodbertus.—Ed.

[2] See Theorien über den Mehrwert, II. Band, 1. Teil, S. 280; the condition for the capitalist mode of production in agriculture is “the substitution of a businessman [Geschäftsmann] for the indolent peasant”.[8]Lenin

[3] See Kautsky’s Agrarian Question (p. 432, et seq. of the German text) concerning the growth of the small farms in the American South as a result of the abolition of slavery. —Lenin

[4] Vperyod, 4905, No. 45 (Geneva, April 7/20), article “Marx on the American ‘General Redistribution’". (See present edition, Vol. 8, pp. 323-29.— Ed.) (Second volume of Mehring’s Collected Works of Marx and Engels.) “We fully recognise,” wrote Marx in 1846, “the historical justification of the movement of the American National Reformers. We know that this movement strives for a result which, true, would give a temporary impetus to the industrialism of modern bourgeois society, but which, as a product of the proletarian movement, and as an attack on landed property in general, especially under the prevailing American conditions, must inevitably lead, by its own consequences, to communism. Kriege, who with the German Communists in New York joined the Anti-Rent-Bewegung (movement), clothes this simple fact in bombastic phrases, without entering into the content of the movement.”[9]Lenin

[5] Rodbertus’s views are analysed by Karl Marx in Theorien über den Mehrwert, 2. Teil, Berlin, Dietz Verlag, 1959, SS. 82-85; Ricardo’s theory is analysed in the same book, SS. 229-33.

[6] See Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. III, Moscow, 1959, p. 603.

[8] Karl Marx, Theorien über den Mehrwert, 2. Teil, Berlin, Dietz Verlag, 1959, 5. 100.

[7] The Homestead Act—a law passed in the United States in 1862 granting settlers a plot of land up to 160 acres free of charge or at a nominal price. This land became the private property of its holder after five years.

[9] Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Werke, Bd. 4, S. 8, Berlin, Dietz Verlag, 1959.

  4. The Agrarian Programme of the Peasantry | 6. Why Had the Small Proprietors in Russia to Declare in Favour of Nationalisation?  

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