V. I.   Lenin

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



In examining peasant farming, we have up till now taken the peasants mainly as proprietors; at the same time we point ed to the fact that the lower groups are being continuously squeezed out of that category. Where do they land? Evidently in the ranks of the proletariat. We must now investigate in detail how this formation of the proletariat, particularly the rural proletariat, is actually taking place, and how the market for labour-power in agriculture is being formed. In the case of the labour-service system of farming the typical class figures are the feudal landlord and the bonded peasant who has been allotted land; in capitalist farming the typical figures are the employer-farmer and the farm-hand or the day-labourer who hires himself out. We have shown how the landlord and the well-to-do peasant are transformed into employers of labour. Now let us see how the peasant is transformed into a hired labourer.

Is the employment of hired labour by well-to-do peasants widespread? If we take the average percentage of households employing farm-hands among the total peasant households (as is usually done), the percentage will not be very high:. in Dnieper Uyezd, Taurida Gubernia, it is 12.9 per cent; in Novouzensk Uyezd, Samara Gubernia, 9 per cent; in Kamyshin Uyezd, Saratov Gubernia, 8 per cent; in Krasnoufimsk Uyezd, Perm Gubernia, 10.6 per cent; two uyezds in Orel Gubernia, 3.5 per cent; one uyezd in Voronezh Gubernia, 3.8 per cent; three uyezds in Nizhni-Novgorod Gubernia, 2.6 per cent. But statistics of this kind are, strictly speaking, fictitious, since they express the percentage of households employing farm-hands to the total number of households— including those which provide the farm-hands. In every capitalist society the bourgeoisie constitute an insignificant minority of the population. The number of households employing hired labour will always be “small”. The question is, whether it means that a special type of farm is arising, or whether the employment of labour is a chance affair. To this question, too, a very definite answer is provided by Zemstvo statistics, which in all cases show the percentage of house holds employing farm-hands to be immeasurably larger in the groups of well-to-do peasants than the average for the   uyezd as a whole. Let us quote the figures for Krasnoufimsk Uyezd, Perm Gubernia, which, as an exception to the rule, give information not only about the hiring of farm-hands, but also about the hiring of day-labourers, i.e., the form of hiring that is more typical of agriculture.

    Percentage of farms hiring labourers
Number of male workers per household Hired for definite periods For mowing For reaping For threshing
Cultivating no land . . . . 0.6 0.15 0.6
” up to 5 dessiatines . . . . . 1.0 0.7 5.1 4.7 9.2
” 5 to 10 dessiatines . . . . . . 1.2 4.2 14.3 20.1 22.3
” 10 to 20 dessiatines . . . . . . 1.5 17.7 27.2 43.9 25.9
” 20 to 50 dessiatines . . . . . . 1.7 50.0 47.9 69.6 33.7
” more than 50 dessiatines . . . . 2.0 83.1 64.5 87.2 44.7
Average . . . . . . . . 1.2 10.6 16.4 24.3 18.8

It will be seen that a distinguishing feature of the well-to- do households is that they have larger families, they have more of their own family as workers than the poor households have. Nevertheless, they employ incomparably more hired labourers. “Family co-operation” serves as a basis for extending the scale of farming and is thus transformed into capitalist co-operation. In the higher groups, the hiring of labourers is obviously becoming a system, a condition for conducting expanded farming. Moreover, the hiring of day-labourers turns out to be very considerably widespread even among the middle group of peasants: in the two higher groups (constituting 10.3 per cent of the households) the majority of the households hire labourers, while in the group cultivating from 1.0 to 20 dessiatines (22.4 per cent), more than two-fifths of the households hire labourers for reaping. The conclusion to be drawn from this is that the well-to-do peasants could not exist if there were not a vast army of agricultural labourers ready to serve them. And if, as we have seen, the data concerning the average percentages of households hiring   labourers show considerable fluctuations for the different uyezds, what is universal is the concentration of households employing agricultural labourers in the higher groups of the peasantry, that is to say, the transformation of the well-to-do households into employers of labour. The well-to-do house holds, constituting 20 per cent of the total, account for from 48 to 78 per cent of the total number of households employing labourers.

In regard to the other pole in the countryside, statistics do not usually indicate the number of households which provide hired labour of all kinds. On quite a number of questions our Zemstvo statistics have made considerable progress compared with the old, official statistics given in governors’ reports and issued by various departments. But in one question, the old, official point of view has been retained even in Zemstvo statistics, and that is in regard to the so-called peasant “employments”. Farming on his allotment is regarded as the peasant’s real occupation; all other occupations are classed as side “employments” or “industries” and in doing so economic categories are lumped together that should be entered separately by anyone knowing the ABC of political economy. For example, the category “agricultural industrialists” includes, together with the mass of wage-labourers, also entrepreneur farmers (for example, melon growers); next to them, also in the category “house holds with employments”, will be included beggars and traders, domestic servants and master-craftsmen, etc. Clearly, this crying political and economic muddle is a direct survival of serfdom. Indeed, it was a matter of indifference to the feudal landlord what occupation his quit-rent peasant followed on the side, whether that of a trader, a hired labourer or a master-industrialist. All the serfs were equally bound to pay quit-rent, all were regarded as being temporarily or conditionally absent from their real occupation.

After the abolition of serfdom, this point of view came, with every passing day, into increasingly sharp conflict with reality. Most of the peasant households having earnings on the side undoubtedly belong to the category of households which provide wage-labourers; but we cannot obtain a really exact picture of the situation, because the minority who are master-industrialists are included in the general total and   embellish the position of the needy ones. Let us quote an example to illustrate the point. In Novouzensk Uyezd, Samara Gubernia, the statisticians have singled out the category of “agricultural industries” from the general mass of “industries”.[2] Of course, this term is not exact either, but the list of occupations at least indicates that out of a total of 14,063 “industrialists” of this kind, 13,297 are farmhands and day-labourers. Thus wage-labourers predominate very largely. The distribution of agricultural industries is found to be the following:

  Percentage of male peasants engaged in agricultural industries
Having no draught animals . . . . 71.4
” 1 draught animal . . . . . 48.7
” 2 to 3 draught animals . . . 20.4
” 4 ” ” . . . 8.5
” 5 to 10 ” ” . . . 5.0
” 10 to 20 ” ” . . . 3.9
” 20 draught animals and more 2.0
In the uyezd 25.0

Thus seven-tenths of the horseless peasants and almost half the one-horse peasants are hired labourers. In Krasnoufimsk Uyezd, Perm Gubernia, the average percentage of house holds whose members engage in agricultural industries is 16.2; but of those which do not cultivate their land 52.3 per cent engage in agricultural industries, and of those which cultivate up to five dessiatines, 26.4 per cent. In other uyezds, where the agricultural industries are not specified, the position is not quite so clear; nevertheless, it remains the general rule that “industries” and “employments” are, broadly speaking, the speciality of the lower groups. The lower groups, constituting 50 per cent of the total households, account for from 60 to 93 per cent of the households with “employments”.

We see from this that, in the general scheme of the national economy, the position of the lower groups of the peasantry, particularly the one-horse and horseless households, is that of farm-hands and day-labourers (more broadly—hired labourers) possessing allotments. This conclusion is con firmed by the statistics showing the increase in the employment of hired labour since 1861 over the whole of Russia,   by the investigations made into the budgets of the lower groups to trace the sources of their incomes, and finally by the statistics on the standard of living of these groups. We shall dwell in somewhat greater detail on this threefold proof.

General statistics regarding the growth in the number of rural hired labour in the whole of Russia are available only for migratory workers, without indicating whether they are engaged in agricultural or non-agricultural occupations. The question as to whether the former or the latter preponderate iii the total number was decided in Narodnik literature in favour of the former, but we shall give, below the reasons for an opposite point of view. There is no doubt whatever that the number of migratory workers among the peasantry increased rapidly after 1861. All evidence goes to prove this. An approximate statistical expression of this phenomenon is found in the returns dealing with passport revenue and the number of passports issued. Passport revenue amounted to 2,100,000 rubles in 1868; 3,300,000 rubles in 1884, and 4,500,000 rubles in 1894. This shows a more than doubled revenue. The number of passports and certificates issued in European Russia was 4,700,000 in 1884, 7,800,000 in 1897 and 9,300,000 in 1898. In thirteen years, as we see, the number doubled. All these figures correspond, on the whole, with other estimates, for example, with that made by Mr. Uvarov, who summarised the figures of Zemstvo statistics—for the most part obsolete—for 126 uyezds in 20 gubernias and arrived at the likely total of 5,000,000 migratory workers.[3] Mr. S. Korolenko, on the basis of data on the number of surplus local workers, arrived at the figure of 6,000,000.

In the opinion of Mr. Nikolai—on, the “overwhelming majority” of these are engaged in agricultural industries. In The Development of Capitalism[1] I showed in detail that the statistics and investigations of the sixties, eighties and nineties fully prove this conclusion to be wrong. The majority, although not the overwhelming majority, of the migratory workers are engaged in non-agricultural occupations. The following are the fullest and latest data concerning the distribution,   by gubernias, of residential permits issued in European Russia in 1898:

Groups of gubernias Total residential permits of all kinds issued in 1898
(1) 17 gubernias with predominance of non-agricultural migration 3,369,597
(2) 12 gubernias, intermediate . . . . . . . . . 1,674,231
(3) 21 gubernias with predominance of agricultural migration 2,765,762
Total for 50 gubernias . . . . . . . 7,809,590

If we assume that in the intermediate gubernias half are workers in agricultural jobs, then the approximate, the most probable distribution will be as follows: about 4,200,000 non-agricultural hired labourers and about 3,600,000 agricultural hired labourers. Alongside this figure should be placed the figure given by Mr. Rudnev,[4] who in 1894 summed up the returns of Zemstvo statistics for 148 uyezds in 19 gubernias and arrived at the approximate figure of 3,500,000 agricultural wage-workers. This figure, based on the returns for the eighties, includes both local and migratory agricultural workers. At the end of the nineties, there were so many migratory agricultural workers alone.

The growth in the number of agricultural wage-workers is directly connected with the development of that capitalist enterprise in agriculture which we have traced in land lord and peasant economy. Take, for example, the use of machinery in agriculture. We have quoted precise data proving that, so far as concerns the well-to-do peasants, it signifies the transition to capitalist enterprise. As for landlord economy, the use of machinery, and in general of improved implements, means inevitably the squeezing out of the labour- service system by capitalism. The implements of the peasant are replaced by the implements of the landlord; the old three- field system is supplanted by new farming methods connected with the change in the implements employed; the bonded peasant is not suitable for work with improved implements and his place is taken by the farm-hand or the day-labourer.

In the region of European Russia where the use of machinery developed most after the Reform, the employment of hired labour from outside is also most widespread. This   region comprises the southern and eastern borderlands of European Russia. The influx of agricultural labourers into that region has given rise to extremely typical and clearly expressed capitalist relations. These relations deserve to be dealt with, in order to compare the old and hitherto predominant system of labour-service economy with the new tendencies increasingly coming to the fore. First of all, it must he noted that the southern area is distinguished by the highest wages paid in agriculture. According to statistics for a whole decade (1881-91), which preclude any casual fluctuations, the highest wages in Russia are paid in Taurida, Bessarabia and Don gubernias. Here the wages of a labourer hired by the year, including keep, amount to 143 rubles 50 kopeks, and those of a seasonal labourer (for the summer), 55 rubles 67 kopeks. Next highest wages are those paid in the most highly industrial area—St. Petersburg, Moscow, Vladimir and Yaroslavl gubernias. Here the wages of an agricultural labourer hired for the year amount to 135 rubles 80 kopeks, and those of a seasonal worker 53 rubles. The lowest wages are paid in the central agricultural gubernias—Kazan, Penza, Tambov, Ryazan, Tula, Orel and Kursk, i.e., the principal districts where labour service, bondage and all sorts of survivals of serfdom prevail. Here the labourer hired for the year receives only 92 rubles 95 kopeks, a third less than the wages paid in the most highly capitalist gubernias, and the seasonal worker 35 rubles 64 kopeks, 20 rubles less for the summer than is paid in the south. It is precisely from this central district that we see an enormous migration of workers. Every spring more than one and a half million people leave this district, partly to seek agricultural employment (mainly in the south, and partly, as we shall see below, in the industrial gubernias), and also to seek non-agricultural employment in the capital cities and in the industrial gubernias. Between this principal area of egress and the two principal areas of ingress (the agricultural south and the capital cities with the two industrial gubernias) there are zones of gubernias in which average wages are paid. These gubernias attract part of the workers from the “cheapest” and most hunger-stricken central area, while in their turn supplying part of the workers for districts where higher wages are paid. In Mr. S. Korolenko’s book, Freely Hired Labour, the author   uses very extensive material to give a detailed description of this process of workers’ migration and of the shifts in population. In this way capitalism achieves a more even distribution of the population (even, of course, from the point of view of the requirements of capital); levels wages through out the country; creates a really single, national labour- market; gradually cuts the ground from under the old modes of production by “enticing” the bonded peasant with high wages. Hence the endless complaints of the landed gentry about the local workers becoming corrupted, about the debauchery and drunkenness created by migration, about the workers being “spoilt” by the towns, etc., etc.

By the end of the nineteenth century fairly large capitalist agricultural enterprises were established in the districts to which the greatest number of workers migrated. Capitalist co-operation arose in the employment, for example, of machines like threshers. Mr. Tezyakov, in describing the conditions of life and labour of agricultural workers in Kherson Gubernia,[5] points out that the horse-drawn threshing-machine requires from 14 to 23 and more labourers, while the steam thresher requires from 50 to 70. Some farms employed between 500 and 1,000 workers—an extremely high figure for agriculture. Capitalism made it possible to replace more costly male labour by female and child labour. For example, in the small town of Kakhovka—one of the chief labour-markets in Taurida Gubernia, where as many as 40,000 workers used to gather, and where, in the nineties of the last century, there were between 20,000 and 30,000, the number of women in 1890 comprised 12.7 percent of all the registered workers, while in 1895 the percentage was already 25.6. Children, in 1893, constituted 0.7 per cent of the total, and in 1895 already 1.69 per cent.

Collecting workers from all over Russia, the capitalist farms sorted them out according to their requirements, and created something akin to the hierarchy of factory workers. For example, the following categories are indicated: full workers and semi-workers, these again being subdivided into “workers of great strength” (16 to 20 years of age) and semi-workers of “little assistance” (children between the ages of 8 and 14). No trace here remains of the old, so-called “patriarchal” relations between the landlord and “his” peasant.   Labour-power becomes a commodity like any other. The “truly Russian” type of bondage disappears, yielding place to weekly wage payment, fierce competition, bargaining between workers and employers. The accumulation of enormous masses of workers in the labour-markets, and in credibly arduous and insanitary working conditions, have given rise to attempts to establish public control over the big farms. These. attempts are characteristic of “large-scale industry” in agriculture, but of course they cannot be durable so long as political liberties and legal labour organisations are lacking. How hard the working conditions of the immigrant workers are may be judged by the fact that the working day ranges from 12 1/2 to 15 hours. Injuries to workers tending machines have become a common occurrence. Occupational diseases have spread (for example, among workers tending threshing-machines, etc.). All the “charms” of purely capitalist exploitation in the most developed, American, form are to be observed in Russia at the end of the nineteenth century, side by side with purely medieval labour-service and corvée systems of economy, which have long ago disappeared in the advanced countries. The whole great variety of agrarian relations in Russia amounts to the interweaving of feudal and bourgeois methods of exploitation.

To complete this account of the conditions of hired labour in Russian agriculture, we may quote statistics regarding the budgets of peasant farms in the lower groups. Wage-labour is included here under the euphemistic heading of “employments” or “industries”. In what relation does the income from these “employments” stand to the income from agriculture? The budgets of the horseless and one-horse peasants in Voronezh Gubernia give an exact answer to this question. The gross income of a horseless peasant from all sources is estimated at 118 rubles 10 kopeks, of which 57 rubles 11 kopeks is from farming and 59 rubles 4 kopeks from “industries”. The latter sum is made up of 36 rubles 75 kopeks income from “personal industries” and 22 rubles 29 kopeks miscellaneous income. Included in the latter item is income from the letting of land! The gross income of a one-horse peasant is 178 rubles 12 kopeks, of which 127 rubles 69 kopeks is from farming and 49 rubles 22 kopeks from “industries” (35 rubles   from personal industries, 6 rubles carting, 2 rubles from “commercial and industrial establishments and enterprises” and 6 rubles miscellaneous income). If we sub tract the expenditure on farming, we will get 69 rubles 37 kopeks income from farming, as against 49 rubles 22 kopeks income from “industries”. That is how three-fifths of the peasant households in Russia obtain their livelihood. Naturally, the standard of living of these peasants is no higher, and sometimes even lower, than that of farm-hands. In this same Voronezh Gubernia the average yearly wage of a f arm- hand (during the decade 1881-91) was 57 rubles, plus keep, which cost 42 rubles. Yet the cost of maintaining a whole family of four persons amounted to 78 rubles per annum in the case of a horseless peasant and 98 rubles per annum for a family of five in the case of a one-horse peasant. The Russian peasant has been reduced by labour service, taxes, and capitalist exploitation to such a miserable, starvation standard of life as seems incredible in Europe. In Europe such social types are called paupers.


[1] See present edition, Vol. 3. pp. 567–80.—Ed.

[2] These data are given in the hook Combined Returns for Samara Gubernia, Vol. 8, Issue 1, Samara, published by the Samara Gubernia Zemstvo, 1892.

[3] This refers to M. S. Uvarov’s article “The Influence of Industry Employing Migratory Workers on the Sanitary Conditions of Russia” Published in Vestnik Obshchestvennoi Gigieny, Sudebnoi i Prakticheskoi Meditsiny (Journal of Public hygiene and Forensic and Practical Medicine) in July 1896.

[4] Lenin is quoting figures from the article “Peasant Industries in European Russia” by N. F. Rudnev, published in Symposium of the Saratov Zemstvo, Nos. 6 and 11, 1894.

[5] This refers to the book Agricultural Labourers and the Organisation of Sanitary Supervision over Them in Kherson Gubernia, by N. I. Tezyakov, Kherson, published by the Kherson Gubernia Zemstvo Board, 1896.

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