V. I.   Lenin

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


7. Under What Conditions Can Nationalisation Be Brought About?

The view is often met with among Marxists that nationalisation is feasible only at a high stage of development of capitalism, when it will have fully prepared the conditions   for “divorcing the landowners from agriculture” (by means of renting and mortgages). It is assumed that large-scale capitalist farming must have already established itself before nationalisation of the land, which cuts out rent without affecting the economic organism, can be brought about.[1]

Is this view correct? Theoretically it cannot be substantiated; it cannot be supported by direct references to Marx; the facts of experience speak against it rather than for it.

Theoretically, nationalisation is the “ideally” pure development of capitalism in agriculture. The question whether such a combination of conditions and such a relation of forces as would permit of nationalisation in capitalist society often occur in history is another matter. But nationalisation is not only an effect of, but also a condition for, the rapid development of capitalism. To think that nationalisation is possible only at a very high stage of development of capitalism in agriculture means, if anything, the repudiation of nationalisation as a measure of bourgeois progress; for everywhere the high development of agricultural capitalism has already placed on the order of the day (arid will in time inevitably place on the order of the day in other countries) the “socialisation of agricultural production”, i. e., the socialist revolution. No measure of bourgeois progress, as a bourgeois measure, is conceivable when the class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is very acute. Such a measure is more likely in a “young” bourgeois society, which has not yet developed its strength, has not yet developed its contradictions to the full, and has not yet created a proletariat strong enough to strive directly towards the socialist revolution. And Marx allowed the possibility of, and some times directly advocated, the nationalisation of the land, not only in the epoch of the bourgeois revolution in Germany   in 1848, but also in 1846 for America, which, as he most accurately pointed out at that time, was only just starting its “industrial” development. The experience of various capitalist countries gives us no example of the nationalisation of the land in anything like its pure form. We see something similar to it in New Zealand, a young capitalist democracy, where there is no evidence of highly developed agricultural capitalism. Something similar to it existed in America when the government passed the Homestead Act and distributed plots of land to small farmers at a nominal rent.

No. To associate nationalisation with the epoch of highly developed capitalism means repudiating it as a measure of-bourgeois progress; and such a repudiation directly contradicts economic theory. It seems to me that in the following argument in Theories of Surplus Value, Marx outlines conditions for the achievement of nationalisation other than those usually presumed.

After pointing out that the landowner is an absolutely superfluous figure in capitalist production, that the purpose of the latter is “fully answered” if the land belongs to the state, Marx goes on to say:

That is why in theory the radical bourgeois arrives at the repudiation of private landed property.... In practice, however, he lacks courage, since the attack on one form of property, private property in relation to the conditions of labour, would be very dangerous for the other form. Moreover, the bourgeois has territorialised himself.” (Theorien über den Mehrwert, II. Band, 1. Teil, S. 208.)[2]

Marx does not mention here, as an obstacle to the achievement of nationalisation, the undeveloped state of capitalism in agriculture. He mentions two other obstacles, which speak much more strongly in favour of the idea of achieving nationalisation in the epoch of bourgeois revolution.

First obstacle: the radical bourgeois lacks the courage to attack private landed property owing to the danger of a socialist attack on all private property, i.e., the danger of a socialist revolution.

Second obstacle: “The bourgeois has territorialised him self”. Evidently, what Marx has in mind is that the bourgeois   mode of production has already entrenched itself in private landed property, i. e., that this private property has become far more bourgeois than feudal. When the bourgeoisie, as a class, has already become bound up with landed property on a broad, predominating scale, has already “territorialised itself”, “settled on the laud”, fully subordinated landed property to itself, then a genuine social movement of the bourgeoisie in favour of nationalisation is impossible. It is impossible for the simple reason that no class ever goes against itself.

Broadly speaking, these two obstacles are removable only in the epoch of rising and not of declining capitalism, in the epoch of the bourgeois revolution, and not on the eve of the socialist revolution. The view that nationalisation is feasible only at a high stage of development of capitalism cannot be called Marxist. It contradicts both the general premises of Marx’s theory and his words as quoted above. It oversimplifies the question of the historically concrete conditions under which nationalisation is brought about by such-and-such forces and classes, and reduces it to a schematic and bare abstraction.

The “radical bourgeois” cannot be courageous in the epoch of strongly developed capitalism. In such an epoch this bourgeoisie, in the mass, is inevitably counter-revolutionary. In such an epoch the almost complete “territorialisation” of the bourgeoisie is already inevitable. In the epoch of bourgeois revolution, however, the objective conditions compel the “radical bourgeois” to be courageous; for, in solving the historical problem of the given period, the bourgeoisie, as a class, cannot yet fear the proletarian revolution. In the epoch of bourgeois revolution the bourgeoisie has not yet territorialised itself: landownership is still too much steeped in feudalism in such an epoch. The phenomenon of the mass of the bourgeois farmers fighting against the principal forms of landownership and therefore arriving at the practical achievement of the complete bourgeois “liberation of the land”, i. e., nationalisation, becomes possible.

In all these respects the Russian bourgeois revolution finds itself in particularly favourable conditions. Arguing from the purely economic point of view, we must certainly   admit the existence of a maximum of survivals of feudalism in the Russian system of landownership, in both land lord estates and peasant allotments.Under such circumstances, the contradiction between relatively developed capitalism in industry and the appalling backwardness of the countryside becomes glaring and, owing to objective causes, makes the bourgeois revolution extremely far-reaching and creates conditions for the most rapid agricultural progress. The nationalisation of the land is precisely a condition for the most rapid capitalist progress in our agriculture. We have a “radical bourgeois” in Russia who has not vet “territorialised” himself, who cannot, at present, fear a proletarian “attack”. That radical bourgeois is the Russian peasant.

From this point of view the difference between the attitude of the mass of the Russian liberal bourgeoisie and that of the mass of Russian peasants towards the nationalisation of the land becomes quite intelligible. The liberal landlord, lawyer, big manufacturer and merchant have all sufficiently “territorialised” themselves. They cannot but fear a proletarian attack. They cannot but prefer the Stolypin-Cadet road. Think what a golden river is now flowing towards the landlords, government officials, lawyers, and merchants in the form of the millions which the “Peasant” Bank is handing out to the terrified landlords! Under the Cadet system of “redemption payments” this golden river would have a slightly different direction, would, perhaps, be slightly less abundant, but it would still consist of hundreds of millions, and would flow into the same hands.

Out of the revolutionary overthrow of all the old, forms of landownership neither the government official nor the lawyer can derive a single kopek. And the merchants, in the mass, are not far-sighted enough to prefer the future expansion of the home, peasant, market to the immediate possibility of snatching something from the gentry. Only the peasant, who is being driven into his grave by the old Russia, is capable of striving for the complete renovation of the system of landownership.



[1] Here is one of the most exact expressions of this view uttered by Comrade Borisov, an advocate of the division of the land: “...Eventually, it [the demand for the nationalisation of the land] will be put forward by history; it will be put forward when petty-bourgeois farming has degenerated, when capitalism has gained strong positions In agriculture, and when Russia will no longer be a peasant country” (Minutes of the Stockholm Congress, p. 127). —Lenin

[2] Karl Marx, Theorien über den Mehrwert, 2. Teil, Berlin, Dietz Verlag, 1959, S. 36.

  6. The Nationalisation of the Land and Money Rent | 8. Does Nationalisation Mean Transition to Division?  

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