V. I.   Lenin

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



To sum up all that has been said above concerning the differentiation of the peasantry, we will first of all quote the only printed summary statistics for the whole of European Russia, enabling us to judge of the various groups existing within the peasantry at various periods. These are the re turns of the army-horse censuses. In the second edition of my book, The Development of Capitalism,[1] I summarised these returns for 48 gubernias in European Russia for the periods 1888-91 and 1896-1900. The following is an abstract of the most important results:

  Number of peasant house holds (in millions)
1888-91 1896-1900
Total % Total %
Horseless 2.8 27.3 3.2 29.2
Having 1 horse 2.9 28.5 3.4 30.3
” 2 horses . . . . 2.2 22.2 2.5 22.0
” 3 ” . . . . 1.1 10.6 1.0 9.4
” 4 horses and more 1.1 11.4 1.0 9.1
Total 10.1 100.0 11.1 100.0

As I have already mentioned, incidentally, above these figures evidence the increasing expropriation of the peasantry. The one-million increase in the number of households went entirely to enlarge the two lowest groups. The total number of horses declined in this period from. 16.91 to 16.87 millions, that is to say, the peasantry as a whole became somewhat poorer in horses. The highest group also became poorer in horses: in 1888-91 it had 5.5 horses per household compared with 5.4 in 1896-1900.

It is easy to draw the conclusion from these figures that no “differentiation” is taking place among the peasantry; the poorest group increased most, whereas the richest group diminished most (in number of households). This is . not differentiation, but levelling up of poverty! And such conclusions, based on similar methods, can very often be found in the literature on the subject. But if we ask: have the relations between the groups within the peasantry changed?— we see something different. In 1888-91 the lowest groups, constituting half the households, owned 13.7 per cent of the total number of horses, and in 1896-1900 the percentage was exactly the same. The most well-to-do groups, which constituted one-fifth of the households, owned 52.6 per cent of the total number of horses in the first period, and 53.2 per cent in the second period. Clearly, the relations between the groups remained almost unchanged. The peasantry became poorer, the well-to-do groups became poorer, the crisis of 1891 made itself felt very seriously, but the relations between the rural bourgeoisie and the peasantry that was being driven to ruin did not change as a result, nor could they change essentially.

This circumstance is often overlooked by those who under take to judge of the differentiation of the peasantry on the basis of fragmentary statistics. It would be ridiculous to imagine, for instance, that isolated statistics on the distribution of horses are able to explain anything at all in regard to the differentiation of the peasantry. This distribution proves absolutely nothing, if it is not taken together with the entire sum total of data on peasant farming. If, in examining these data, we have established what is common among the groups in regard to distribution of the renting and the letting of land, improved implements and manure, earnings and   purchased land, hired labourers and numbers of livestock, if we have proved that all these various aspects of the phenomenon are inseparably interconnected, and reveal in fact the formation of opposite economic types—a proletariat and a rural bourgeoisie—if we have established all this, and only to the extent that we have established this, we can take isolated figures showing, say, the distribution of horses, to illustrate all that has been said above. On the other hand, if we are referred to this or that case of diminution in the number of horses owned by the well-to-do group, say, over a given period, it would be sheer nonsense to draw any general conclusions from this alone as to the relation within the peasantry between the rural bourgeoisie and the other groups. In 110 single capitalist country, in no single branch of economy, is there, or can there be (the market being predominant) an even process of development: capitalism cannot develop otherwise than in leaps and zigzags, now rapidly advancing, now dropping temporarily below the previous level. And the crux of the matter concerning the Russian agrarian crisis and the forthcoming upheaval is not what degree of development has been reached by capitalism, or what the rate of that development is, but whether it is, or is not, a capitalist crisis and upheaval, whether it is, or is not, taking place in conditions in which the peasantry is being transformed into a rural bourgeoisie and a proletariat, and whether the relations between the various households within the commune are, or are not, bourgeois relations. In other words: the primary object of any study of the agrarian question in Russia is to establish the basic data for characterising the class substance of agrarian relations. And only after we have established what classes and what trend of development we are dealing with, can we take up particular questions about the rate of development, the various modifications in the general trend of development, etc.

Marxist views on post-Reform peasant economy in Russia are grounded on the recognition of this economy as petty bourgeois in type. And the controversy which economists in the Marxist camp have waged with the Narodnik economists has revolved primarily (and cannot but do so, if the real nature of the differences between them is to be ascertained) around the point as to whether this characterisation is   correct, whether it is applicable or not. Unless this point is quite definitely cleared up, no progress whatever can be made towards more concrete or practical questions. For example, it would be an absolutely hopeless and confusing task to examine the different ways of solving the agrarian question bequeathed by the nineteenth century to the twentieth century, if we have not first cleared up in what general direction our agrarian evolution is proceeding, what classes stand to gain should events take this or that course, etc.

The detailed figures on the differentiation of the peasantry quoted above reveal precisely that foundation of all the other questions of the agrarian revolution without an under standing of which it is impossible to proceed. The sum total of the relations between the various groups of the peasantry Which we have studied in detail at opposite ends of Russia, reveals to us precisely what is the essence of the social and economic relations existing within the commune. These relations strikingly reveal the petty-bourgeois nature of peasant economy in the present historical situation. When the Marxists used to say that the small producer in agriculture (irrespective of whether he cultivates allotment or any other land) is inevitably, with the development of commodity economy, a petty bourgeois, this proposition caused astonishment; it was said to be a mechanical, groundless attempt to apply outside models to our own original conditions. But the data on the relations between the groups, on the way the rich members of the commune outbid the poorer members for possession of the rented land, on the employment of farm-hands by the former and the conversion of the latter into hired labourers, etc., etc.—all these data confirm the theoretical conclusions of Marxism and render them incontrovertible. The question of the significance of the commune in the trend of Russia’s economic development is decided irrevocably by these data, because it is this actual trend of the actual (and not imaginary) commune that our data indicate. De spite all the equalised distribution of allotment land and despite the redistributions, etc., it turns out that the trend of the real economic development of members of the peasant commune consists precisely in the formation of a rural bourgeoisie and in the squeezing-out of the mass of the poorest peasants into the ranks of the proletariat. As we shall see   further on, both the Stolypin agrarian policy and the nationalisation of the land demanded by the Trudoviks are in line with this trend of development, even though there is an enormous difference between these two forms of “solution” of the agrarian question from the point of view of the rapidity of social development, the growth of productive forces and the maximum observance of the interests of the masses.

We must now also examine the question of the development of commercial farming in Russia. The foregoing exposition included, as a premise, the well-known fact that the whole of the post-Reform period is distinguished by the growth of trade and exchange. We think it is quite superfluous to cite statistics in confirmation of this. But we must show, first, precisely to what extent present-day peasant economy is already subordinated to the market and, secondly, what special forms agriculture assumes as it becomes subordinated to the market.

The most precise data on the first question are contained in the budget statistics of the Voronezh Zemstvo. From these statistics we are able to separate the money expenditure and income of a peasant family from the total expenditure and income (gross incomes and expenditures were given above). Here is a table showing the role of the market:

  What percentage of his total expenditure and income is the peasant’s money expenditure and income?
% %
With no horse . . . . . 57.1 54.6
” 1 horse . . . . . 46.5 41.4
” 2 horses . . . . . 43.6 45.7
” 3 ” . . . . . 41.5 42.3
” 4 ” . . . . . 46.9 40.8
” 5 ” and more 60.2 59.2
Average 49.1 47.9

Thus, even the farm of the middle peasant—leave alone that of the well-to-do and of the impoverished, semi-proletarian, peasants—is subordinated to the market to a very powerful extent. Hence all arguments about peasant farming which ignore the predominant and growing role of the market, of exchange, of commodity production, are fundamentally wrong. The abolition of the feudalist latifundia and of   landlordism—a measure upon which all the thoughts of the Russian peasantry were concentrated at the end of the nineteenth century—will increase and not diminish the power of the market, for the growth of trade and commodity production is retarded by labour service and bondage.

In regard to the second question, it must be pointed out that the penetration of capital into agriculture is a distinctive process which cannot be properly understood if we confine ourselves to bald figures covering the whole of Russia. Agriculture becomes commercial not suddenly, and not to an equal degree on different farms and in different parts of the country. On the contrary, the market usually subordinates to itself one aspect of the complex economy of agriculture in one locality and another aspect in another, the remaining aspects not disappearing, but adapting themselves to the “main”, i. e., the money, aspect. For example, in one area it is mainly commercial grain farming that develops: the staple produced for sale is grain. Livestock raising plays a subordinate role in such farming, and further—in extreme cases of the one-sided development of grain farming—almost disappears. The Far-West “wheat factories” in America, for instance, were sometimes organised fur one summer, almost without livestock. In other areas it is mainly commercial stock-farming that develops: the staples produced for sale are meat or dairy produce. Purely crop farming adapts itself to stock-farming. Of course, both the size of the farm and the methods of farm organisation will differ in each case. Suburban dairy farming cannot be judged by the area of land under cultivation. The same measure of what is large and small farming cannot be applied to the steppe farmer,the market gardener, the tobacco-grower and the “dairy farmer” (to use an English term), etc.

The penetration of exchange and trade into agriculture gives rise to its specialisation, and this specialisation steadily increases. The same economic indexes (the number of horses, for example) acquire a different significance in different regions of commercial agriculture. Among the horse- less peasants in the environs of the capital cities there are, for example, big farmers who possess, say, dairy cattle, do a big volume of business and employ wage-labour. Of course, the number of such farmers among the mass of horseless and   one-horse peasants is absolutely insignificant; but if we take just the gross figures covering the whole country we shall not be able to trace the special type of capitalism in agriculture.

This circumstance deserves special notice. If it is ignored, a correct picture of the development of capitalism in agriculture cannot be obtained, and it is easy to fall into the error of vulgarisation. The full complexity of the process can be grasped only by taking into account the real specific features of agriculture. It is utterly wrong to say that, owing to its specific features, agriculture is not subject to the laws of capitalist development. It is true that the specific features of agriculture hinder its subordination to the market; nevertheless, everywhere and in all countries the growth of commercial agriculture is proceeding apace. But the forms in which this formation of commercial agriculture takes place are indeed distinctive, and call for special methods.of study.

To illustrate what has been said, let us take graphic examples from various regions of commercial agriculture in Russia. In the commercial grain farming regions (Novorossia, Trans-Volga region) we see an extremely rapid increase in the harvest of cereals. In 1864-66 these gubernias were be hind the Central Black-Earth gubernias, with a net harvest of only 2.1 chetverts per head of population; in 1883-87 these gubernias were ahead of the central area with a net harvest of 3.4 chetverts per head. The most characteristic feature of this region in the post-Reform period is expansion of the area under crops. Very often the methods of tilling the land here are of the most primitive kind; attention is concentrated exclusively on sowing the largest possible area. In the second half of the nineteenth century something similar to the American “wheat factories” developed here. One can judge quite well from the area under crops (which among peasants in the higher groups attained 271 dessiatines per household) as to the size and type of farm. In another region— the industrial, and particularly in the environs of the capital cities—such an expansion of the crop area is out of the question. It is not commercial grain farming, but commercial stock-farming, that is particularly characteristic here. In this case a proper picture of the farm cannot be got from the number of dessiatines tilled or the number of horses employed. A much more suitable gauge is the number of cows   (dairy farming). A change in crop rotation, grass cultivation and not the expansion of the crop area, are the characteristic indications here of progress in large-scale farming. The number of households with many horses is smaller here; a smaller number of horses may sometimes even be a sign of progress. On the other hand, the peasants in these parts are better off for cows than in the rest of Russia. Mr. Blagoveshchensky, in summing up the Zemstvo statistics, considered the average to he 1.2 cows per household; in 18 uyezds of St. Petersburg, Moscow, Tver and Smolensk gubernias, we have 1.6, and in St. Petersburg Gubernia alone 1.8 per household.[2] Both commercial capital and capital invested in production are applied mainly to livestock produce. The size of income depends largely on the number of much cows owned. Dairy farms are developing. The hiring of agricultural labourers by well-to-do peasants is developing; we have already mentioned that people migrate from the impoverished central area to the industrial gubernias to take up agricultural work. In a word,the very same socio-economic relations manifest themselves here in an altogether different form, under farming conditions that do not resemble purely crop-raising conditions.

And if we take the cultivation of special crops; like tobacco growing, or the combination of agriculture and technical processing of the produce (distilling, beet-sugar refining, oil seed-pressing, potato-starch making and other industries), the forms in which capitalist relations manifest them selves will resemble neither those which exist in commercial grain farming nor those which develop in commercial live stock farming. In this case we must take as our gauge either the area under special crops, or the size of the undertaking connected with the given farm, which is engaged in processing the produce.

Gross agricultural statistics, which deal only with the sizes of land plots or with the number .of cattle, do not by a long way take account of all this variety of forms, so that conclusions based only on statistics of this kind quite often prove to be wrong. Commercial farming is growing much more rapidly, the influence of exchange is wider, and capital is transforming agriculture much more profoundly than one might suppose from aggregate figures and abstract averages.



[1] See present edition, Vol. 3, p. 146.—Ed.

[2] Lenin quotes figures from N. A. Blagoveshchensky’s book Combined Zemstvo house-to-House Census Economic Returns. Vol. 1. Peasant Farming, Moscow, 1893.

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