V. I.   Lenin

The Problem of Resettlement

Published: Nevskaya Zvezda No. 11, June 3, 1912. Signed: V. I.. Published according to the text in Nevskaya Zvezda.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1975], Moscow, Volume 18, pages 91-101.
Translated: Stepan Apresyan
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
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As we know, the government and the counter-revolutionary parties had placed especially great hopes in the settlement of peasants on new land. All the counter-revolutionaries expected that if it would not solve the agrarian problem radically, then at least it would blunt it considerably and render it much less dangerous. That is why they advertised resettlement with particular zeal and encouraged it in every way at the imminent approach, and then during the development, of the peasant movement in European Russia.

What is in the thoughts of the government representatives and the more far-sighted politicians of, say, the Octobrist Party, is on the tongue of such undisguised reactionaries as Markov the Second, the diehard[3] from Kursk. During the debate on the resettlement problem in the Duma, this deputy declared frankly, with praiseworthy straight forwardness: “Yes, it is by means of resettlement that the government should solve the agrarian problem.” (First Session.)

There is no doubt that resettlement, if properly organised, could play a role of some importance in Russia’s economic development. To be sure, this role must not be overrated even today, when the condition of the Russian muzhik is so intolerable that he is willing to go anywhere, not only to Siberia, but to the end of the world; even today, when the peasants who own little or no land are encouraged in every way to migrate and settle as colonists, so as to keep them from the temptation of contemplating the landlords’ latifundia, and when the decree of November 9[4] has greatly facilitated for the settlers the liquidation of the remnants of their farms at home; even today, as even the apologists of the theory of a natural population increase must   admit. It is only in the gubernias that provide the largest percentage of emigrants (the South, West, and the black-earth central area of Russia), that their number equals the natural increase of the population, or slightly exceeds it.

Nevertheless, there is still a substantial reserve of unoccupied land in Siberia suitable for resettlement. True, very little has been done so far to ascertain the extent of that reserve even approximately. In 1896 Kulomzin set the re serve of land fit for resettlement at 130,000 per capita allotments. Since then ten times as many allotments have been apportioned, but the reserve has not yet been exhausted. On the contrary, according to estimates of the Resettlement Department, by 1900 the reserve of land suitable for resettlement amounted to three million per capita allotments, sufficient to provide for six million settlers. As we see, the figures differ considerably, and the range of the variation between them is very great.

Be that as it may, even discounting a certain percentage of the last-mentioned figures to allow for the usual bureaucratic complacency, it is certain that there is still a reserve of land in Siberia and that, consequently, its settlement could have a certain importance both for Siberia and Russia, provided it was properly organised.

It is just this conditio sine qua non that the present government does not comply with. The present organisation of resettlement once again demonstrates and proves that our “old order” is quite incapable of meeting even the most elementary economic requirements of the population. The bad organisation of resettlement is additional evidence that the present masters of the situation are powerless to do anything at all for the economic progress of the country.

An explanation of the trend, character and implementation of the resettlement policy was given by the Social-Democratic deputies to the Duma in their speeches during each year’s discussion of budget appropriations for the Resettlement Department.

What is the government’s aim in resettling the peasants? That is the main question, the answer to which determines the answer to all the others; for the aim of the government’s resettlement policy determines its entire character.

Deputy Voiloshnikov, who spoke for the Social-Democratic   group at the Second Session of the Duma, described as follows the government’s aims in resettling the peasants: “The resettlement policy is an element of the government’s agrarian policy as a whole. When the landlords needed economically weak or insecure peasants as a source of cheap labour, the government did everything to impede resettlement and to keep the surplus population where it was. What is more, it strongly opposed voluntary migration, trying thereby to close that safety valve. But the natural growth of the population went on, and times changed. Storm clouds—the proletariat and the starving peasantry—loomed large, with all their consequences. The government and the landlords seized upon resettlement, which, together with the decree of November 9, they made the basis of their agrarian policy. However, in regard to implementing the decree, attention was centred on the economically strong and prosperous, on taking the land from the poor and transferring it to the prosperous peasants. But in regard to resettlement it is a matter of packing off the poor peasants to Siberia in as large numbers as possible; and while lately there has been evidence of a tendency to an increase in the average proportion of prosperous settlers, the bulk still consists of weak peasants, to use Stolypin’s terminology. The land commit tees are also taking part, or, I should say, have been en listed to take part in this business of packing off peasants in increased numbers.

The land committees have been charged with assigning the settlers their plots and thus putting an end to the for mer agrarian disorders. It follows, gentlemen, that the decree of November 9, the vigorous advertisement of resettlement, the vigorous drive to pack off the weak peasants to Siberia, and the activities of the land committees are two closely connected aspects of the same problem and the same policy. It will be readily seen that the implementation of the decree of November 9 helps settlement of the prosperous and strong on the allotments at the expense of the weak peasants, and will thereby help to squeeze out these weak elements, who are not very suitable as settlers, into border regions that are alien to them. Both as regards the village commune and migration, the government’s resettlement policy has been guided solely by the interests of a handful of semi-feudal landlords   and of the ruling classes in general, who are oppressing the masses of workers and the labouring peasantry. The government shows no understanding of the elementary requirements of the country and of the needs of the national economy.” (Second Session, 77th sitting.)

This aspect of the matter was disclosed most fully by Deputy Chkheidze (in his speech during the Second Session of the Duma), who drew a detailed picture of the resettlement policy in the Caucasus.

To begin with, the Social-Democratic deputy proved by facts and figures that all the official reports about vacant land in the Caucasus are in glaring conflict with the truth. It should be specially stressed that Deputy Chkheidze, in order to forestall any accusation of partiality or distortion, used only official data and the reports of government officials. According to the figures collected as long ago as the eighties by the former Minister of State Property, “among the state peasants alone, who have been settled on state land in the Caucasus, there were, in the four Transcaucasian gubernias, 22,000 persons who owned no land at all, 66,000 with allotments of less than one dessiatine per capita, 254,000 with allotments of from one to two dessiatines per capita, and 5,013 with allotments of from two to four dessiatines, a total of about 1,000,000 persons having smaller allotments than the minimum fixed for the settlers who have established themselves in the Caucasus. In Kutais Gubernia, 2,541 out of 29,977 household owned no land or less than one dessiatine per household, 4,227 owned from one to two dessiatines per household, 4,016 from two to three, and 5,321 from three to five. According to the latest data, 46 per cent of the villages in the four Transcaucasian gubernias had no state land at all or very little, and in Kutais Gubernia the number of unprovided households was approximately 33 per cent of the total. From the report of the Baku Committee on the needs of the agricultural industries we know that such villages insufficiently provided with land send the landless peasants to take up their residence with those owning large allotments and they remain for many years in this dependent position. And Senator Kuzminsky, in a report submitted to the Emperor, says the following: ‘It has been noted that   sometimes the settlers consist of persons who have given up farming and lease the land received for purposes of re settlement to fellow villagers or to native peasants in a neighbouring village.’ Thus even twenty-five years ago there were in Transcaucasia hundreds of thousands of state peas ants—who, one would think, should have been better provided than other categories of peasants, and whom one could describe without exaggeration as farm labourers. As far back as some twenty-five years ago the local peasants were compelled to rent the land that was allotted to settlers”.

Such are the data enabling us to judge of the extent to which the state peasants in the Caucasus are provided with land.

As for the so-called temporarily bonded[5] peasants,” the speaker went on to say, “we see from an examination of the verified deeds that in Tiflis Gubernia 1,444 households were left without any land and 386 households received no land even for their dwelling-houses and gardens. They comprise 13 per cent of the total number of landlords’ peasants in Tiflis Gubernia. In Kutais Gubernia there was an even greater number of peasants left without land after the Reform. Even if we take the Tiflis ratio to apply to the former serfs in all the gubernias, we get in Kutais Gubernia 5,590 households, representing 25,000 persons, who received not a single patch of land when the peasants were emancipated in the Caucasus. Twenty years after the Reform, in 4895, continues the author of the memorandum on the abolition of obligatory relations, there were in Yelisavetpol Gubernia 5,308 landless households, or 25,000 persons of both sexes. In Baku Gubernia there were 3,906 households, or 11,709 landless persons of both sexes. And here are data on the amount of land held by the peasants who were temporarily bonded and who have not redeemed their allotments but have some kind of farm. In Tiflis Gubernia the per capita amount is 0.9 dessiatine, and in Kutais Gubernia 0.6 dessiatine. Among those who have redeemed their allotments, the per capita holdings amount to 1.7 dessiatines in Tiflis Gubernia and to 0.7 dessiatine in Kutais Gubernia. That is the extent to which peasants having some sort of farm are provided with land. We find a general description of the economic position of the peasants in the Caucasus in the report of the Kutais Gubernia Committee on the needs of the agricultural industries. According to data culled from various official investigations, the proportion of peasants suffering acute want in Kutais Gubernia is as high as 70 per cent. Furthermore, it is also pointed out that 25 per cent of the nobility in that gubernia are suffering acute want.

Owners of such plots of land can retain their economic independence,” the report goes on to say, “only if they have earnings outside their farms, and they are in no position to spend anything at all on improvements, implements and fertiliser. The big demand could not but have an effect on the cost of renting allotments, which is as high   as 60 per cent of the gross income in the case of the share-cropping system, and sometimes, in years of a poor crop, payment in the form of a definite quantity of the produce of the land exceeds the gross income. Cases of land being leased for money are rare, and the rent amounts to 30 rubles per dessiatine a year. This is the situation in Kutais Gubernia. And now a few figures on the amount of land held by the peasants in four uyezds of Yelisavetpol Gubernia. According to data concerning all the peasants who live on the owner’s land, the holdings in four uyezds of Yelisavetpol Gubernia, namely, Jibrail Zangezur, Shusha and Jevanshir, are up to 0.6 dessiatine per person. Senator Kuzminsky has calculated that the average allotment per male person among the peasants settled on the owner’s land in Lenkoran Uyezd of Baku Gubernia amounts to 0.5 dessiatine, and in Kuba Uyezd to 0.9 dessiatine. That, gentlemen,” the speaker concluded, “is how the peasants in Transcaucasia are provided with land.”

Since the condition of the Caucasian peasants as regards land-hunger differs but little from that of the peasants in Russia, where, one may ask, does the reserve of land for resettlement in the Caucasus come from, and why are people sent there as settlers, instead of resettlement of the local peasants being carried out?

The land for resettlement is obtained as a result of flag rant violation of the land rights of the native inhabitants, and the settlement of peasants from Russia is carried on for the glory of the old nationalist principle of “Russification of the outlying regions”.

Deputy Chkheidze cited a number of facts, likewise culled from official sources, about how whole villages of natives were driven from their homes so that a reserve of land might be created for resettlement, how court trials were engineered to justify the expropriation of land held by mountaineers (report on the mountain village of Kiknaveleti, Kutais Uyezd, submitted by Prince Tsereteli, Marshal of the Nobility, to the Minister of the Interior), etc. Nor were all these isolated or exceptional facts but “typical cases”, as was also established by Senator Kuzminsky.

The result is downright hostile relations between the settlers and the natives. Thus, for instance, when the Alar community was driven from its lands, “evicted”, to quote Senator Kuzminsky, “without being provided with land, and left to its fate”, the settlers who seized its land were armed at government expense: the uyezd rural superintendents[6] were ordered to “see to it that the peasants of the newly-established   villages on the Mugan, including those from Pokrovskoye, were supplied with arms—ten Berdan rifles for each hundred households”. This is an interesting illustration of the “nationalist course” of the present policy.

Nevertheless, Right-wing deputies to the Duma spoke triumphantly of the existence of a reserve for resettlement amounting to 1,700,000 dessiatines, citing the report of the Vice-Gerent of the Caucasus to this effect. However, according also to the testimony of the Vice-Gerent, nearly half of this reserve has already been taken over by settlers, while a considerable part of it is situated in areas where—according again to the Vice-Gerent’s evidence—it is physically impossible for cultivators unaccustomed to the conditions to engage in farming.

Deputy Chkheidze also spoke of the way in which the government provides for the new settlers. “Inadequate water supply and lack of irrigation on the land set aside for resettlement,” says the report of the Vice-Gerent, “particularly in the eastern areas of Transcaucasia, is one of the main reasons why many peasants already settled migrate back again. In the Black Sea region the new settlers are deserting their farms because of the absence of roads suitable for wheeled traffic not only between the various settlements, but even within each of the resettlement areas. To this it should be added that in their turn the unfavourable climatic conditions, to which the settlers are unaccustomed and which are attended in many parts of the Caucasus by malaria that affects not only people but livestock as well, no less than the lack of roads, cause the less sturdy of the new settlers to flee from the Caucasus. Due to the above-mentioned causes there is a continuous migration in evidence from the Yelisavetpol and Baku gubernias and from Daghestan Region, as well as from the Tiflis and Black Sea gubernias.”

The upshot is that the results of the resettlement in the Caucasus are assessed by the Vice-Gerent himself as follows: “The attitude taken so far to the Caucasian population and its land affairs can no longer be tolerated, if only because it undoubtedly plays a rather prominent part in fostering revolutionary sentiments among the rural population.”

The government and the ruling classes are pursuing very similar aims in settling peasants in Siberia; here, too, in   view of the political objectives involved, no consideration whatever is given either to the interests of the settlers or to the rights of the old residents.

In the emigration areas, in Russia, resettlement matters have now been entrusted to the land committees, the rural superintendents and the governors. Vitally interested as they are in reducing the number of peasants with little or no land and in leaving only as many of them as are needed to provide for the requirements of the big landowners (as a source of supply of wage-labour), the land committees have shown such zeal in “moving” poor peasants as to shock even the Resettlement Department. “The land committees,” complained one official of the Department, “form parties of completely destitude people who at the outset need an allowance for their travelling expenses, who need a loan not for setting up a home but for food; and even if, as an exception, a settler happens to have some little money, he spends it all on fares and food.”

Swarms of these “weak” foster-children of the land policy which proclaimed as its motto “stake on the strong” are being sent off to Siberia in unaltered cattle wagons, packed chock-full with old men, children, pregnant women. In these cattle wagons (which bear the famous inscription: “40 men, 8 horses”), the emigrants have to cook their food and wash their linen; lying in them, too, are often persons afflicted with contagious diseases, whom the emigrants usually keep out sight lest they be removed from the train and thus fall behind the party. At terminal points and stations the emigrants are at best provided with tents; in the worst cases they are left in the open, with no shelter from sun or rain. Deputy Voiloshnikov told the Duma that at Sretensk he had seen people stricken with typhus lying in the open, with no protection from the rain. And conditions such as those described above, under which the peasants have to travel, two Ministers (Stolypin and Krivoshein) find to be “tolerable”. “The sanitary conditions provided for the settlers on their way are tolerable,” they wrote in a report to the Emperor; “many of them even find conveniences en route to which they have not been accustomed.” Truly, there is no limit to bureaucratic complacency!

After going through such ordeals on their way to “the   promised land”, the poorest emigrants find no happiness in Siberia either. Here, for instance, is how Deputy Voiloshnikov described their condition in the new places of settlement by quoting from official reports.

One official (a special inspector of the Resettlement Department) writes: “Most of the lots are scattered, among taiga forests without water, without ploughland, and without pastures.” Another adds: “The granting of loans has entirely lost its significance as a means for setting up homes; the amount of the loans is in itself too small to be of real help in this respect. The established procedure of granting loans has turned the latter into a matter of charity pure and simple, for it is impossible to set up a home and live for two years on the 150 rubles granted as a loan.”

And here, by way of example, is a description of the sanitary conditions of the new settlers, quoted from the same official reports:

After the typhus,” writes one official,[1] “scurvy has been raging here on a no lesser scale; practically in all the settlements and in every house there are people suffering from this disease or liable to contract it. In many homes there are cases of both diseases. In the Okur-Shask settlement I came across the following picture: the master of the house was ill with typhus in the period of peeling; his pregnant wife was extremely exhausted from undernourishment; their son, a boy of twelve, had swollen glands and scurvy; the wife’s sister was sick with scurvy and could not walk; she had a breast-fed baby; her ten-year-old boy was sick with scurvy, was bleeding through the nose and could hardly move; her husband alone, of the whole family, was well.

Scurvy and typhus are followed by night blindness. There are settlements in which literally all the settlers, without exception, suffer from this blindness. The groups of lots along the Yemna River are covered almost entirely with taiga forests, have no pastures or meadowland, and in the course of two or three years the new settlers barely managed to clear the ground to build wretched huts. There could be no question of the settlers having their own grain; they had to live entirely on the loans, and when these gave out there was a terrible scarcity of bread; many literally starved. The scarcity of bread was aggravated by the scarcity of drinking water.”

Such reports are plentiful. Appalling as these official accounts are, they apparently do not tell the whole truth, and   thus give too favourable a picture of the actual state of affairs. Here is, for instance, how Prince Lvov, a man, as we know, of moderate views, who visited the Far East as a representative of the Zemstvo organisation, describes resettlement in Amur Territory:

Cut off from the world as if they were on an uninhabited island, amid marshy hummocks in the primeval taiga, amid swampy valleys and swampy hills, and forced to put up with barbaric conditions of life, labour and subsistence, the dispirited and indigent settler naturally feels crushed. He lapses into a state of apathy, having exhausted his small store of energy at the very beginning of his struggle against harsh natural conditions in setting up his wretched dwelling. Scurvy and typhus attack the wasted organism and carry it off to the grave. In many of the settlements founded in 1907, the death rate is simply incredible—23 to 30 per cent. There are as many crosses as there are households, and many settlements are doomed to be removed completely to new sites or to the grave-yard. Instead of resettlement, what rivers of bitter tears shed by unhappy families and what costly funerals at state expense in the remote borderland! It will be long before those who survived last year’s great wave of resettlement will stand on their feet again after their defeat in the taiga. Many will die, and many others will flee back to Russia, where they will defame the territory by stories about their misfortunes, scaring off new settlers and holding up further resettlement. It is not accidental that this year we witness an unprecedented reverse movement from the Maritime Region, and an influx of new settlers that is one-fifth of the former proportion.”

Prince Lvov is justly appalled by the isolation of the settler from the world and his desolation in the boundless Siberian taiga, particularly in view of the lack of roads in Siberia. We can imagine with what brilliant success the policy of setting up separate homestead farms and the apportionment of otrubs is now being put into effect there, for the very same men who direct the agrarian policy have proclaimed “the necessity for a decisive turn [!] in the land policy in Siberia”, the necessity of “establishing and promoting private property”, of “ensuring that individual peasants have their plots in accordance with the decree of November 9, 1906”, “assigning lots for resettlement, with the land divided, as far as possible, into otrub holdings”,[2] etc.

The conditions of resettlement being what they are, it is quite natural that, according to the Resettlement Department,   10 per cent of the peasants settled in 1903–05 owned not a single draught animal, 12 per cent owned only one draught animal per household, 15 per cent owned no cow, and 25 per cent owned no plough (from the speech of Deputy Gaidarov during the First Session, when he spoke on behalf of the Social-Democratic group). Deputy Voiloshnikov, basing himself on the same official reports, was therefore fully justified when he summed up the results of the resettlement policy in 1906–08 as follows:

In three years—1906, 1907 and 1908—1,552,439 persons of both sexes, half of them paupers, lured by the government’s advertising, were sent across the Urals, into unknown parts, and there left to their fate. According to the Resettlement Department, 564,041 persons settled down, and 284,984 persons of both sexes went back. Thus the Resettlement Department provides information about 849,025 persons. But what has become of the rest? Where Are the other 703,414 persons? The government, gentlemen, is perfectly well informed of their bitter lot, but it will say nothing about them. Some of them have gone to live in the villages of the old residents, and some others have swollen the ranks of the Siberian proletariat and are begging for alms.

As for the vast majority, the government arranged a costly funeral for them, and that is why it keeps silent about them.”

That is how the hopes of Markov the Second to “solve the agrarian problem” through resettlement are materialising. Faced with these facts, even the Octobrist spokesmen of big capital had to admit that there are “defects in the resettlement work”. During the First Session the Octobrists called (and the Duma supported them) for “changing and improving the travelling conditions of the emigrants”, for “creating in the resettlement areas the conditions necessary for their cultural and economic development”, and for “respecting the interests and rights of the local peasantry and the non-Russian population when apportioning the land and settling the peasants”. It goes without saying that these cautious and deliberately ambiguous wishes have to this day remained “a voice crying in the wilderness”. And the Octobrist woodpeckers patiently repeat them year after year.


[1] Memorandum, p. 8 —Lenin

[2] Memorandum, pp. 60, 61, 82. —Lenin

[3] In Russian political writing, the term “diehard” (zubr, literally, aurochs) was applied to the extreme Right-wing representatives of landlord reaction.

[4] See Note 47.

[5] Temporarily bonded peasants—serfs who after the abolition of serfdom in 1861 were obliged to perform certain services for the landlords, i.e., do corvée service or pay quit-rent. The temporarily bonded status of the peasants continued until they had, by agreement with the landlords, acquired their allotments by paying compensation. It was only under the decree of 1881, which discontinued the “obligatory relation” between the peasants and the landlords as from January 1, 1883, that the landlords were obliged to accept compensation.

[6] In 1889 the tsarist government introduced the administrative office of rural superintendent to strengthen landlord rule over the peasants. The rural superintendents, who were selected from among the landed nobility, were vested with vast administrative and also judicial powers over the peasants, including the right to arrest peasants and subject them to corporal punishment.

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