V. I.   Lenin

The Agrarian Question in Russia Towards the Close of the Nineteenth Century



Taken all round, the figures quoted above concerning peasants’ allotment land, rented land, land purchased and let, lead to the. conclusion that with every passing day the actual use of land by the peasantry corresponds less and less to the official description of peasant allotment land ownership. Of course, if we take gross figures, or “averages” then the amount of allotment land that is let will be balanced by the amount that is rented, the rest of the land rented and purchased will be distributed equally, as it were, among all the peasant households, and the impression will be created that the actual use of land is not very much different from the official, i. e., allotment landownership. But such an impression would be pure fiction, because the actual use of land by the peasantry departs most of all from the original equalised distribution of allotment land precisely in the extreme groups: so that “averages” inevitably distort the picture.

As a matter of fact, in the lower groups the total land used by the peasants is relatively—and sometimes absolutely— less than the allotment distribution (letting of land; in significant share of rented land). For the higher groups, on the contrary, the total land in use is always both relatively   and absolutely larger than the land held as allotments, owing to the concentration of purchased and rented land. We have seen that the poorest groups, constituting 50 per cent of all households, hold from 33 to 37 per cent of the allotment land, but only from 18.6 to 31.9 per cent of the total land used by the peasants. In some cases the drop is almost 50 per cent; for example, in Krasnoufimsk Uyezd, Perm Gubernia, the percentage of allotment land is 37.4, while that of total land in use is 19.2. The well-to-do house holds, constituting 20 per cent of the total, hold from 29 to 36 per cent of the allotment land, but from 34 to 49 per cent of the total land in use. Here are some concrete figures illustrating these relations. In Dnieper Uyezd, Taurida Gubernia, the poorest households, constituting 40 per cent of the total, have 56,000 dessiatines of allotment land, but they use only 45,000 dessiatines, i. e., 11,000 dessiatines less. The well-to-do group (18 per cent of the households) holds 62,000 dessiatines of allotment land, but uses a total of 167,000 dessiatines, i. e., 105,000 dessiatines more. The following table gives the figures for three uyezds in Nizhni-Novgorod Gubernia.

  Dessiatines per household
Allotment land Total land in use
Peasants with no horse . . . . 5.1 4.4
” ” 1 ” . . . . 8.1 9.4
” ” 2 horses . . . 10.5 13.8
” ” 3 ” . . . . 13.2 21.0
” ” 4 ” and more . . . 16.4 34.6
Total 8.3 10.3

Here, too, as a result of renting and letting, there is an absolute decline in the amount of land in actual use by the lowest group. And this lowest group, A. e., the horseless peasants, comprises fully 30 per cent of the households. Nearly one-third of the households suffer an absolute loss as a result of renting and letting land. The one-horse households (37 per cent of the total) have increased their use of land, but to an exceedingly small extent, proportionately less than the average increase in the use of land by the peasants (from 8.3   to 10.3 dessiatines). Hence the share of this group in the total land used has diminished: it had 36.6 per cent of the allotment lands in all the three uyezds, now it accounts for 34.1 per cent of the total land in use. On the other hand, an insignificant minority constituting the higher groups have increased their use of land far above the average.Those owning three horses (7.3 per cent of the households) increased the amount of land in their possession by half as much again: from 13 to 21 dessiatines; and those owning many horses (2.3 per cent of the total households) more than doubled the amount of land in use: from 16 to 35 dessiatines.

We see, therefore, as a general phenomenon, a decline in the role of allotment land in peasant farming. This decline is taking place at both poles in the countryside, in different ways. Among the poor peasants the role of allotment land is declining because their growing poverty and ruin compel them to let their land, to abandon it, to reduce the land under cultivation because they lack livestock, implements, seed, and money, and either to hire themselves out on some job or ... to enter the kingdom of heaven. The lower groups of peasants are dying out; famine, scurvy, typhus are doing their work. Among the higher groups of peas ants the importance of allotment land is declining because their expanding farms are forced far beyond the bounds of this allotment land, and they have to base themselves on a new type of landownership, not bonded but free, not of the ancient-tribal kind but bought in the market: on the purchase and renting of land. The richer the peasants are in land, the fainter are the traces of serfdom; the more rapidly economic -development proceeds, the more energetic is this emancipation from allotment land, the drawing of all land into the sphere of commerce, the establishment of commercial farming on rented land. Novorossia is a case in point. We have just seen that farming by the well-to-do peasants is done there to a greater extent on purchased and rented land than on allotment land. This may seem paradoxical, but it is a fact: in the part of Russia where land is available in the greatest quantities, the well-to-do peasants, possessing the biggest allotments (from 16 to 17 dessiatines per household) are shifting the centre of gravity of their farming from allotment land to non-allotment land!

The fact that the role of allotment land is declining at both rapidly progressing poles of the peasantry is, by the way, of enormous importance in appraising the conditions of that agrarian revolution which the nineteenth century has bequeathed to the twentieth, and which gave rise to the struggle of classes in our revolution. This fact graphic ally demonstrates that the break-up of the old system of landownership—both landlord and peasant ownership— has become an absolute economic necessity. This break-up is absolutely inevitable, and no power on earth can prevent it. The struggle is about the form of this break-up and how it is to be effected—in the Stolypin way, by preserving landlordism and by the plunder of the communes by the kulaks, or in the peasant way, by abolishing landlordism and removing all medieval obstacles from the land through its nationalisation. We shall, however, deal with this question in greater detail further on. Here it is necessary to point out the important fact that the decline in the role of allotment land is leading to an extremely uneven distribution of peasant dues and obligations.

It is well known that the dues and obligations falling on the Russian peasant bear very strong traces 6f the Middle Ages. We cannot here go into the details of Russia’s financial history. It is sufficient to mention redemption payments—that direct continuation of medieval quit-rent, that tribute paid to the serf-owning landlords-, extracted with the aid of the police state. Suffice it to recall how unequally the lands of the nobility and the peasantry are taxed, the obligations in kind, etc. We quote only total figures of dues and obligations, from the data of the Voronezh peasant budget statistics.[2] The average gross income of a peasant family (according to data of 66 typical budgets) is given at 491 rubles 44 kopeks; the gross expenditure, 443 rubles. Net income, 48 rubles 44 kopeks. The total of dues and obligations per “average” household, how ever, is 34 rubles 35 kopeks. Thus, dues and obligations amount to 70 per cent of the net income. Of course, these are only dues in their form, but in fact they are the former feudal exploitation of the “bonded social-estate”. The net money income of the average family amounts in all to 17 rubles 83 kopeks, i. e., the “taxes” drawn from the Russian   peasant are double his net money income—and this is according to the statistics of 1889, not 1849!

But in this case, too, average figures camouflage the peasant’s poverty, and present the position of the peasantry in a much better light than it really is. The statistics of the distribution of dues and obligations among the various groups of peasants according to their economic strength show that those paid by the horseless or one-horse peasants (i. e., three-fifths of the total peasant families in Russia) are many times in excess not only of their net money income, but even of their net gross income. Here are the figures:

  Budget figures (rubes per household)
Gross income Expenditure Dues and obligations Also as percentages of expenditure
a) With no horse . . . . 118.10 109.08 15.47 14.19
b) Owning 1 horse . . . 178.12 174.26 17.77 10.20
c) ” 2 horses . . . 429.72 379.17 32.02 8.44
d) ” 3 ” . . . 753.19 632.36 49.55 7.83
e) ” 4 ” . . . 978.66 937.30 67.90 7.23
f) ” 5 ” and more . . . 1,766.79 1,593.77 86.34 5.42
Average 491.44 443.00 34.35 7.75

The horseless and one-horse peasants pay in the form of dues one-seventh and one-tenth respectively of all their gross expenditure. It is doubtful whether serf quit-rent was as high as that: the inevitable ruin of the mass of the peasants belonging to him would not have been to the advantage of the landlord. As to the uneven allocation of the dues it is, as we see, enormous. Iii proportion to their income, the well-to-do peasants pay three to two times less. What is the cause of this inequality? The cause is that the peas ants divide the bulk of the dues according to the amount of allotment land held. For the peasant the share of dues and the share of allotment land merge into the single concept—“head”. And if, in our example, we calculate the amount of dues and obligations for different groups per dessiatine of allotment land, we will get the following: (a) 2.6 rubies; (b) 2.4 rubles; (c) 2.5 rubles; (d) 2.6 rubles; (e) 2.9 rubles; (1) 3.7 rubles. With the exception of the highest   group, which owns large industrial establishments that are assessed separately, we see an approximately even distribution of the dues. Here, too, the share of allotment land corresponds, as a whole, to the share of dues paid. This phenomenon is a direct survival (and direct proof) of the feudal character of our village commune. From the very conditions of the labour-service system of farming, this could not be otherwise: the landlords could not have provided themselves ˜with bonded labourers from among the local peasants for half a century after the “emancipation” had these peasants not been tied to starvation allotments and not been obliged to pay three times as dear for them. It must not be forgotten that at the end of the nineteenth century it has been no rare thing in Russia for the peasant to have to pay in order to get rid of his allotment land, to pay “extras” for giving up his allotment, i. e., to pay a certain sum to the person who took over his allotment. For example, Mr. Zhbankov, describing the life of the Kostroma peasants in his book, Women’s Country (Kostroma, 1891),[3] says that, among Kostroma folk who leave their holdings in search of work, “it is rare that peasants receive for their land some small part of the dues; usually they let their land on the sole condition that the tenants make some use of it, the owner himself paying all the dues”. In The Survey of Yaroslavl Gubernia, which appeared in 1896, we find quite a number of similar references to the fact that peasants who become migratory workers have to pay to get rid of their allotments.

Of course, we will find no such “power of land” in the purely agricultural gubernias. But even in these gubernias the phenomenon of the declining role of allotment land at both poles in the countryside is undoubtedly to be observed in another form. This fact is universal. That being the case, the distribution of taxes according to the amount of allotment land inevitably gives rise to increasing inequality in taxation. From all sides and by diverse ways economic development is leading to the break-down of the medieval forms of landownership, the scrapping of the social-estate divisions (allotment, landlords’ and other lands), to the rise of new forms of economy, evolving indifferently out of fragments of the one and the other type of landownership. The nineteenth century bequeaths to the twentieth century the   imperative and obligatory task of completing this “clearing away” of the medieval forms of landownership. The fight is whether this “clearing” will be done in the form of peasant nationalisation of the land, or in the form of the accelerated plunder of the communes by the kulaks and of the transformation of landlord into Junker economy.

Continuing our examination of the data concerning the present-day system of peasant economy, let us pass from the question of land to the question of livestock raising. Here again we have to establish that, as a general rule, the distribution of livestock among peasant households is much more uneven than the distribution of allotment land. Here, for example, we see the extent of livestock raising among the peasants in Dnieper Uyezd, Taurida Gubernia:

  Per household
Allotment land (dessiatines) Total livestock (head)
Cultivating no land . . . . . 6.4 1.1
” up to 5 dessiatines 5.5 2.4
” 5-10 ” 8.7 4.2
” 10-25 ” 12.5 7.3
” 25-50 ” 16.6 13.9
” over 50 ” 17.4 30.0
Average 11.2 7.6

The difference in number of livestock between the extreme groups is ten times greater than in the amount of allotment land held. The data for livestock raising, too, show that the actual size of the property has little resemblance to what is usually believed to be the case when only average figures are used, and when it is assumed that the allotment determines everything. No matter what uyezd we take, every where the distribution of livestock is found to be much more uneven than the distribution of allotment land. The well- to-do households, constituting 20 per cent of the total, and having from 29 to 36 per cent of the allotment land, have concentrated in their hands from 37 to 57 per cent of all live stock owned by the peasants in the given uyezd or group of uyezds. The lower groups, constituting 50 per cent of the total households, own 14 to 30 per cent of all the livestock.

But these figures by no means fully reveal the actual differences. No less important, and sometimes even more important than the question of the quantity of livestock, is the question of their quality. It goes without saying that the half-ruined peasant, with his poverty-stricken farm, en meshed on all sides in the toils of bondage, is not in a position to acquire and keep livestock at all good in quality. If the owner (owner indeed!) starves, his livestock must starve; it cannot be otherwise. Budget statistics for Voronezh Gubernia illustrate with extraordinary clarity the wretched condition of livestock raising by the horseless and one-horse peasants, i. e., three-fifths of the total peasant farms in Russia. We quote below some extracts from these statistics in order to characterise the state of peasant livestock raising.

    Average annual expenditure (in rubles)
Total livestock per household, in terms of cattle For acquisition and repair of implements and purchase of cattle Cattle feed
(a) With no horse . . . . . . 0.8 0.08 8.12
(b) Owning 1 horse . . . . . . 2.6 5.36 36.70
(c) ” 2 horses . . . . . 4.9 8.78 71.21
(d) ” 3 ” . . . . . 9.1 9.70 127.03
(e) ” 4 ” . . . . . 12.8 30.80 173.24
(f) ” 5 ” and more 19.3 75.80 510.07
Average . . . . . . . . . 5.8 13.14 98.91

In the period from 1896 to 1900 there were in European Russia 3 1/4 million horseless peasant households. One can Imagine the .state of their “farms” if they spent eight kopeks per annum on livestock and implements. One-horse house holds numbered 3 1/3 millions. With an expenditure of five rubles per annum for buying livestock and implements they can only linger on in a state of everlasting, hopeless poverty. Even in the case of two-horse peasants (2 1/2 million house holds) and three-horse peasants (1 million households), expenditure on livestock and implements amounts to only 9-10 rubles per annum. Only in the two higher groups (in   the whole of Russia there are I million households of this type out of a total of 11 million) does expenditure on live stock and implements come anywhere near that required for carrying on proper farming.

Quite naturally, in these conditions, the quality of the livestock cannot be the same in the different groups of farms. For example, the value of a draught horse belonging to a one-horse peasant is estimated at 27 rubles, that of a two- horse peasant at 37 rubles, that of a three-horse peasant at 61 rubles, that of a four-horse peasant at 52 rubles and that of a peasant owning many horses at 69 rubles. The difference between the extreme groups is more than 100 per cent. And this phenomenon is general for all capitalist countries where there is small- and large-scale farming. In my book, The Agrarian Question (Part I, St. Petersburg, 1908),[1] I have shown that the investigations made by Drechsler into the conditions of farming and livestock raising in Germany revealed exactly the same state of affairs. The average weight of the average animal on large estates was 619 kilogrammes (op. cit., 1884, p. 259); on peasant farms of 25 and more hectares, 427 kilogrammes, on farms of 7 1/2 to 25 hectares, 382 kilogrammes, on farms of 2 1/2 to 7 1/2 hectares, 352 kilogrammes, and finally on farms up to 2 1/2 hectares, 301 kilogrammes.

The quantity and quality of the livestock also determine the manner in which the land is tended, particularly the way it is manured. We showed above that all the statistics for the whole of Russia attest that the landlords’ land is better manured than the peasants’ land. Now we see that this division, which was proper and legitimate for the days of serfdom, is now obsolete. Between the various categories of peasant farms lies a deep gulf, and all investigations, calculations, findings and theories based on the “aver age” peasant farm lead to absolutely wrong conclusions on this question. Zemstvo statistics, unfortunately, very rarely study the various groups of households and are con fined to figures covering the commune. But as an exception to the   rule, during a house-to-house investigation made in Perm Gubernia (Krasnoufimsk Uyezd) the following precise data as to the manuring of land by the various peasant house holds were collected:

  Percentage of farms manuring land at all Number of cart-loads of manure per manure-using household
Cultivating up to 5 dess. 33.9 80
” from 5 to 10 ” 66.2 116
” from 10 to 20 ” 70.3 197
” from 20 to 50 ” 76.9 358
” more than 50 ” 84.3 732
Average 51.7 176

Here we see types of farm that differ in agricultural methods according to the size of farm. And investigators working in another area who paid attention to this question arrived at similar conclusions. Statisticians in Orel Gubernia report that the amount of manure obtained per head of cattle on the farms of well-to-do peasants is almost twice the amount obtained on the farms of needy peasants. In the group with an average of 7.4 head of livestock per house hold, 391 poods of manure are obtained, while in the group with 2.8 head of livestock per household 208 poods are obtained. The “normal” amount is considered to be 400 poods, so that only a small minority of well-to-do peasants are able to reach this norm. The poor peasants are obliged to use straw and manure for fuel, and sometimes even to sell manure, etc.

In this connection we must examine the question of the increase in the number of horseless peasants. In 1888-91 there were, in 48 gubernias of European Russia, 2.8 million horseless households, out of a total of 10.1 million house holds, i. e., 27.3 per cent. After approximately nine or ten years, in 1896-1900, out of a total of 11.1 million households, 3.2 million, or 29.2 per cent, were horseless. The increasing expropriation of the peasantry is, therefore, beyond doubt. But if one examines this process from the agronomical point of view, one arrives at a conclusion which at first sight is paradoxical. This was the conclusion arrived at by the well-known   Narodnik writer, Mr. V. V., as early as 1884 (Vestnik Yevropy,[4] 1884, No. 7), when he compared the number of dessiatines of arable per horse on our peasant farms with that in the “normal” three-field farm—normal from the point of view of agronomy. It turned out that peasants keep too many horses: they plough only 5 to 8 dessiatines per horse, instead of 7 to 10 as required by agronomy. “Consequently,” concluded Mr. V. V., “the decline in horse-ownership among a section of the population in this part of Russia [the Central Black-Earth Belt] must, to a certain extent, be regarded as the restoration of the normal ratio between the number of draught animals and the area to be cultivated.” In reality, the paradox is due to the fact that decline in horse-ownership is accompanied by the concentration of land in the hands of the well-to-do households, who arrive at a “normal” ratio between the number of horses and the cultivated area. This “normal” ratio is not “restored” (for it never existed in our peasant economy) but is achieved only by the peasant bourgeoisie. The “abnormality”, on the other hand, boils down to the fragmentation of the means of production on the small peasant farms: the amount of land cultivated by a million one-horse peasants, with the aid of a million horses, is better and more thoroughly cultivated by well-to-do peasants with the aid of one-half or three-quarters of a million horses.

In regard to implements on the peasant farms, a distinction must be drawn between ordinary peasant implements and improved agricultural implements. Generally speaking, the distribution of the first category corresponds to the distribution of draught animals; we shall find nothing new in statistics of Ibis kind to characterise peasant farming. Improved implements, on the other hand, which are much more expensive, and are a paying proposition only on larger farms, are introduced only on successfully developing farms, and are immeasurably more concentrated. Data concerning this concentration are extremely important, because they alone enable us to judge Precisely in what direction, and in what social conditions, there is progress in peasant farming. There is no doubt that a step forward has been made in this direction since 1861, but very often the capitalist character of this progress, not only in landlord farming, but also in peas ant farming, is contested or called in question.

The following Zemstvo statistical data show the distribution of improved implements among the peasantry:

  Improved agricultural implements per 100 households
Two uyezds of Orel Gubernia One uyezd of Voronezh Gubernia
With no horses . . . . . . . 0.01
” I horse . . . . . . . . 0.2 0.06
” 2-3 horses . . . . . . . . 3.5 1.6
” 4 horses and more . . 36.0 23.0
Average 2.2 1.2

In these localities, improved implements are comparatively little to be found among the peasants. The proportion of households possessing such implements is quite insignificant. But the lower groups hardly employ them at all, whereas among the higher groups they are in regular use. In Novouzensk Uyezd, Samara Gubernia, only 13 per cent of the peasants have improved implements: but the percentage rises to 40 per cent in the group owning 5 to 20 draught animals and to 62 per cent in the group owning 20 and more animals. In Krasnoufimsk Uyezd, Perm Gubernia (three districts of this uyezd), there are 10 improved implements for every hundred farms—this is the general average; but for every hundred farms cultivating from 20 to 50 dessiatines there are 50 improved implements and for every hundred farms. cultivating 50 dessiatines there are as many as 180 implements. If we take the ratios we used earlier to compare the data of different uyezds, we find that the well-to-do households, constituting 20 per cent of the total, possess from 70 to 86 per cent of all the improved implements, where as the poor households, which constitute 50 per cent of the total, account for from 1.3 to 3.6 per cent. There fore, there cannot be the slightest doubt that the progress made in the spread of improved implements among the peasantry (reference to this progress is made, by the way, in the above-mentioned work of the year 1907 by Mr. Kaufman) is the progress of the well-to-do peasantry. Three-fifths of the total peasant households, the horseless and one-horse peasants, are almost completely unable to employ these improvements.



[1] See present edition, Vol. 13, pp. 183-94.—Ed.

[2] This refers to Evaluation Returns on Peasant Landownership in Zemlyansk, Zadonsk, Korotoyak and Nizhnedevitsk Uyezds. Supplement to vols. III, IV, V and VI of Statistical Returns for Voronezh Gubernia, Voronezh, published by the Voronezh Gubernia Zemstvo, 1889.

[3] D. N. Zhbankov’s sketch “Women’s Country” was published in the book Data for Statistics of Kostroma Gubernia, Issue 8, Kostroma, published by the Kostroma Gubernia Statistical Committee, 1891.

[4] Vestnik Yevropy (European Messenger)—a monthly journal published in St. Petersburg from 1866 to the summer of 1918. It presented the views of the Russian liberal bourgeoisie, and beginning with the nineties waged a systematic struggle against Marxism.

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