V. I.   Lenin

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


5. Criticism of Private Landownership from the Standpoint of the Development of Capitalism

The erroneous repudiation of absolute rent, of the form in which private landed property is realised in capitalist incomes, led to an important defect in Social-Democratic literature and in the whole of the Social-Democratic position on the agrarian question in the Russian revolution. Instead of taking the criticism of private landownership into their own hands, instead of basing this criticism on an economic analysis, an analysis of definite economic evolution, our Social-Democrats, following Maslov, surrendered this criticism to the Narodniks. The result was an extreme theoretical vulgarisation of Marxism and the distortion   of its propagandist tasks in the revolution. The criticism of private landownership in speeches in the Duma, in propaganda and agitational literature, etc., was made only from the Narodnik, i.e., from the petty-bourgeois, quasi-socialist, point of view. The Marxists were unable to pick out the real core of this petty-bourgeois ideology, having failed to understand that their task was to introduce the historical element into the examination of the question, and to replace the point of view of the petty bourgeois (the abstract idea of equalisation, justice, etc.) by the point of view of the proletariat on the real roots of the struggle against private ownership of land in developing capitalist society. The Narodnik thinks that repudiation of private landownership is repudiation of capitalism. That is wrong. The repudiation of private landownership expresses the demands for the purest capitalist development. And we have to revive in the minds of Marxists the, “forgotten words” of Marx, who criticised private landownership from the point of view of the conditions of capitalist economy.

Marx directed such criticism not only against big land ownership, but also against small landownership. The free ownership of land by the small peasant is a necessary concomitant of small production in agriculture under certain historical conditions. A. Finn was quite right in emphasising this in opposition to Maslov. But the recognition of this historical necessity, which has been proved by experience, does not relieve the Marxist of the duty of making an all-round appraisal of small landownership. Real freedom of such landownership is inconceivable without the free purchase and sale of land. Private ownership of land implies the necessity of spending capital on purchasing land. On this point Marx, in Volume III of Capital, wrote: “One of the specific evils of small-scale agriculture, where it is combined with free landownership, arises from the cultivator’s investing capital in the purchase of land” (III, 2, 342). “The expenditure of capital in the price of the land withdraws this capital from cultivation” (ibid., 341).[1]

The expenditure of money-capital for the purchase of land, then, is not an investment of agricultural capital. It is a decrease pro tanto in the capital which small peas ants can employ in their own sphere of production. It   reduces pro tanto the size of their means of production and thereby narrows the economic basis of reproduction. it subjects the small peasant to the money-lender, since credit proper occurs but rarely in this sphere in general. It is a hindrance to agriculture, even where such purchase takes place in the case of large landed estates. It contradicts in fact the capitalist mode of production, which is on the whole indifferent to whether the landowner is in debt, no matter whether he has inherited or purchased his estate” (344-45).[2]

Thus, both mortgage and usury are, so to speak, forms of capital’s evasion of the difficulties which private land ownership creates for the free penetration of capital into agriculture. In commodity production society it is impossible to conduct economy without capital. The peasant, and his ideologist the Narodnik, cannot help realising this. Hence, the question boils down to whether capital can be freely invested in agriculture directly, or through the medium of the usurer and the credit institutions. The peasant and the Narodnik, who, partly, are not aware of the complete domination of capital in modern society, and, partly, pull the cap of illusions and dreams over their eyes in order to shut out the unpleasant reality, turn their thoughts towards outside financial aid. Clause 15 of the Land Bill of the 104 reads as follows: “Persons receiving land from the national fund and lacking sufficient means to acquire the necessary agricultural equipment must be given state assistance in the form of loans and grants.” Without a doubt, such financial assistance would be necessary if Russian agriculture were reorganised by a victorious peasant revolution. Kautsky, in his book The Agrarian Question in Russia, quite rightly emphasises this. But what we are discussing now is the social-economic significance of all these “loans and grants”, which the Narodnik overlooks. The state can only be an intermediary in transferring the money from the capitalists; but the state itself can obtain this money only from the capitalists. Consequently, even under the best possible organisation of state assistance, the domination of capital is not removed in the least, and the old question remains: what are the possible forms of investment of capital in agriculture?

And that question inevitably leads to the Marxist criticism of the private ownership of land. That form of ownership is a hindrance to the free investment of capital in the land. Either complete freedom for this investment— in which case: abolition of private landownership, i.e., the nationalisation of the land; or the preservation of private landownership—in which case: penetration of capital by roundabout ways, namely, the mortgaging of land by landlords and peasants, the enslavement of the peasant by the usurer, the renting of land to tenants who own capital.

Marx says: “Here, in small-scale agriculture, the price of land, a form and result of private landownership, appears as a barrier to production itself. In large-scale agriculture, and large estates operating on a capitalist basis, ownership likewise acts as a barrier, because it limits the tenant farmer in his productive investment of capital, which in the final analysis benefits not him, but the landlord.” (Das Kapital, III. Band, 2. Teil, S. 346-47.)[3]

Consequently, the abolition of private landownership is the maximum that can be done in bourgeois society for the removal of all obstacles to the free investment of capital in agriculture and to the free flow of capital from one branch of production to another. The free, wide, and rapid development of capitalism, complete freedom for the class struggle, the disappearance of all superfluous intermediaries who make. agriculture something like the “sweated” industries—that is what nationalisation of the land implies under the capitalist system of production.


[1] Ibid., p. 787.

[2] Ibid., p. 790.

[3] Ibid., p. 792.

  4. Is the Repudiation of Absolute Rent Connected with the Programme of Municipalisation? | 6. The Nationalisation of the Land and Money Rent  

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