V. I.   Lenin

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


3. Is it Necessary to Refute Marx in Order to Refute the Narodniks?

Pyotr Maslov thinks it is necessary. “Elaborating” his silly “theory”, he tells us for our edification in Obrazovaniye:

If it were not for the ‘fact’ that the productivity of successive expenditures of labour on the same plot of land diminishes, the idyll which the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Social-Narodniks depict could, perhaps, be realised: every peasant would use the patch of land he was entitled to and apply as much labour to it as he liked, and the land would ‘reward’ him for every ‘application’ with a corresponding quantity of products” (No. 2, 1907, p. 123).

Thus, if Marx had not been refuted by Pyotr Maslov, the Narodniks would, perhaps, be right! Such are the pearls of wisdom that drop from the lips of our “theoretician”. And we, in our simple Marxist way, had thought that the idyll of perpetuating small production is refuted not by the bourgeois-stupid “law of diminishing returns”, but by the fact of commodity production, the domination of the market, the advantages of large-scale capitalist farming over small farming, etc. Maslov has changed all this! Maslov has discovered that had it not been for the bourgeois law refuted by Marx, the Narodniks would have been right!

But that is not all. The revisionists, too, would have been right. Here is another argument advanced by our home-grown economist:

If I am not mistaken, I I Pyotr Maslov] happened to be the first [that’s the sort of fellow I am! I to lay special emphasis on the difference between the significance of the cultivation of the soil and of technical progress for the development of farming, and, in particular, for the struggle between large-scale and small production. Whereas the intensification of agriculture and the further expenditure of labour and capital are to an equal extent less productive both in large-scale and in small farming, technical progress, which increases the productivity of labour in agriculture as it does in industry, creates enormous and exceptional advantages for large-scale production. These advantages are determined almost entirely by technical conditions.” ... You are muddling things up, my dear man: the advantages of large-scale production in commercial respects are of great importance.

On the other hand, cultivation of the soil can usually be applied equally in large-scale and in small farming”.... Cultivation of the soil “can” be applied.

Evidently, our sagacious Maslov knows of a type of f arming which can be conducted without the cultivation of the soil... “For example, the substitution of multiple-crop rotation for the three-field system, an increase in the quantity of fertilisers, deeper ploughing, etc., can be equally applied in large-scale and small farming, and equally affect the productivity of labour. But the introduction of reaping-machines, for example, increases the productivity of labour only on the larger farms, because the small strips of grain field can be more conveniently reaped or mown by hand.”...

Yes, undoubtedly Maslov was the “first” to succeed in introducing such endless confusion into the question! Just imagine: a steam plough (deeper ploughing) is “cultivation of the soil”, a reaping-machine is a “technical implement”. Thus, according to the doctrine of our incomparable Maslov, a steam plough is not a technical implement; a reaping-machine is not the further expenditure of labour and capital. Artificial fertilisers, the steam plough, grass cultivation   are “intensification”. The reaping-machine and in general most agricultural machines” represent “technical progress”. Maslov “happened” to invent this nonsense because he had to find some way of wriggling out of the “law of diminishing returns”, which technical progress has refuted. Bulgakov wriggled out of it by saying: technical progress is temporary, stagnation is constant. Maslov wriggles out of it by inventing a most amusing division of technical progress in agriculture into “intensification” and “technical implements”.

What is intensification? It is the further expenditure of labour and capital. A reaping-machine, according to the discovery of our great Maslov, is not expenditure of capital. A seed-drill is not expenditure of capital! “The substitution of multiple-crop rotation for the three-field system” is equally applicable in large-scale and in small farming. That is not true. The introduction of multiple-crop rotation also calls for additional outlays of capital and it is much more applicable in large-scale farming. Incidentally, in this connection see the data on German agriculture quoted above (“The Agrarian Question and the ‘Critics of Marx’"[1] ). Russian statistics, too, testify to the same thing. The slightest reflection would reveal to you that it could not be otherwise; that multiple-crop rotation cannot be applied equally in small and large-scale farming. Nor can increased quantities of fertilisers be “equally applicable”, because big farms (1) have more cattle, which is of the greatest importance in this respect; (2) feed their cattle better and are not so “sparing” of straw, etc.; (3) have better facilities for storing fertilisers; (4) use larger quantities of artificial fertilisers. Maslov, in a really “impudent” way, distorts well-known data on modern agriculture. Finally, deep ploughing cannot be equally applicable in small and large-scale farming either. It is sufficient to point to two facts: first, the use of steam ploughs is in creasing on the large farms (see above-quoted data on Germany; now, probably, electric ploughs too).[2] Perhaps even Maslov will realise that these cannot be “equally” applicable in large-scale and small farming. In the latter   it is the employment of cows as draught animals that is developing. Just think, great Maslov, can this signify that deep ploughing is equally applicable? Secondly, even where large and small farms use the same types of draught animals, the latter are feebler on the small farms, and therefore there cannot be equal conditions in regard to deep ploughing.

In short, there is hardly a sentence in all Maslov’s vain attempts at “theoretical” thinking which does not reveal an inexhaustible amount of the most incredible confusion and the most astonishing ignorance. But Maslov, unperturbed, concludes:

Whoever has clarified for himself the difference between these two aspects of the development of agriculture [improvement in cultivation and technical improvement] will easily upset all the arguments of revisionism, and of Narodism. in Russia.” (Obrazovaniye, 1907, No. 2, p. 125.)

Well, well. Maslov is a non-Narodnik and a non-revisionist only because he succeeded in rising above Marx s rough notes to the point of “clarifying” for himself the decrepit prejudices of decrepit bourgeois political economy. It is the old song set to a new tune! Marx versus Marx—exclaimed Bernstein and Struve. It is impossible to demolish revisionism without demolishing Marx—announces Maslov.

In conclusion, a characteristic detail. If Marx, who created the theory of absolute rent, is wrong, if rent cannot exist without the “law of diminishing returns”, if the Narodniks and revisionists might be right did that law not exist, then, it would seem, Maslov’s “corrections” to Marxism should serve as the corner-stone of his, Maslov’s, “theory”. And so they do. But Maslov prefers to conceal them. Recently the German translation of his book, The Agrarian Question in Russia, appeared. I was curious to see in what form Maslov had presented his. incredible theoretical banalities to the European Social-Democrats. I found that he had not presented them at all. In facing Europeans, Maslov kept the “whole” of his theory hidden in his pocket. He omitted from his book all that he had written in repudiation of absolute rent, the law of diminishing returns, etc. I could not help recalling in this connection   the story about a stranger who was present for the first time at a discussion between ancient philosophers but remained silent all the time. One of the philosophers said to the stranger: “If you are wise, you are behaving foolishly; if you are a fool, you are behaving wisely.”


[1] See present edition, Vol. 5, p. 181.—Ed.

[2] Ibid., p. 131.—Ed.

  2. Pyotr Maslov Corrects Karl Marx’s Rough Notes | 4. Is the Repudiation of Absolute Rent Connected with the Programme of Municipalisation?  

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