V. I.   Lenin

The Essence of “The Agrarian Problem in Russia”

Published: Nevskaya Zvezda No. 6, May 22, 1912. Signed: R.S.. Published according to the text in Nevskaya Zvezda.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1975], Moscow, Volume 18, pages 73-77.
Translated: Stepan Apresyan
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2004). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.README

An “agrarian problem”—to use this common and accepted term—exists in-all capitalist countries. In Russia, however, there exists, alongside the general capitalist agrarian problem, another, “truly Russian” agrarian problem. As a brief indication of the difference between the two agrarian problems, we may point out that no civilised capitalist country has any widespread democratic movement of small landowners for the transfer of big landed estates into their hands.

In Russia there is such a movement. Accordingly, in no European country, except Russia, do the Marxists put forward or support the demand for the transfer of the land to the small landowners. An inevitable effect of tile agrarian problem in Russia is that all Marxists recognise this demand, despite disagreements over the manner in which tenure and disposal of the transferred land should be organised (division, municipalisation, nationalisation).

Why the difference between “Europe” and Russia? Is it due to the distinctive character of Russia’s development, to the absence of capitalism in Russia, or to the special hopelessness and irremediability of our capitalism? That is what the Narodniks of various shades think. But this view is radically wrong, and events disproved it long ago.

The difference between “Europe” and Russia stems from Russia’s extreme backwardness. In the West, the bourgeois agrarian system is fully established, feudalism was swept away long ago, and its survivals are negligible and play no serious role. The predominant type of social relationship in Western agriculture is that between the wage-labourer and the employer, the farmer or landowner. The small cultivators occupy an intermediary position, some of them   passing into the class of those who hire themselves out, who sell their labour-power (the numerous forms of the peasant’s so-called auxiliary work or subsidiary earnings), while others pass into the class of those who hire (the number of labourers hired by small cultivators is much greater than is generally believed).

Undoubtedly, a system of agriculture just as capitalist has already become firmly established and is steadily developing in Russia. It is in this direction that both landlord and peasant farming is developing. But purely capitalist relations in our country are still overshadowed to a tremendous extent by feudal relations. The distinctive character of the Russian agrarian problem lies in the struggle which the mass of the population, above all of the peasantry as a whole, are waging against these relations. In the West this kind of “problem” existed everywhere in olden days, but it was solved there long ago. In Russia, its solution has been delayed—the problem was not solved by the agrarian “Reform” of 1861, nor can it be solved under present conditions by the Stolypin agrarian policy.

In the article “Landownership in European Russia” (Nevskaya Zvezda[3] No. 3),[1] we cited the main data revealing the nature of the agrarian problem in present-day Russia.

About 70 million dessiatines of land owned by 30,000 of the biggest landlords, and about as much owned by 10 million peasant households—such is the main background of the picture. What are the economic relations to which this picture testifies?

The 30,000 big landlords represent chiefly the old landed nobility and the old feudal economy. Of the 27,833 owners of estates exceeding 500 dessiatines each, 18,102, or nearly two-thirds, are members of the nobility. The huge latifundia in their possession—each of these big landlords owns an average of more then 2,000 dessiatines!—cannot be cultivated with the implements, livestock and hired labour at the disposal of the owners. That being so, the old corvée system is largely inevitable, and this means small-scale cultivation, small-scale farming, on the big latifundia, the cultivation   of the landlords’ land with the implements and livestock of the small peasants.

This corvée system is especially widespread, as we know, in the central, traditionally Russian, gubernias of European Russia, in the heart of our agriculture. So-called labour rent is nothing but a direct continuation and survival of the corvée system. The farming methods based on impossible terms of bondage, such as winter hiring,[4] work for the cut-off land,[5] “composite labour service”,[6] and so on and so forth, are also part of the corvée system. Under this system of farming, the peasant “allotment” is a means of supplying the landlord with farm hands, and not only with farm hands but also with implements and livestock, which, wretched though they are, serve to cultivate the landlords’ land.

Dire poverty of the mass of the peasantry, who are tied to their allotments but cannot subsist on them, extremely primitive agricultural techniques, and the extreme inadequacy of the home market for industry—such are the results of this state of affairs. And the present famine affecting 30 million peasants is the most striking proof that at bottom, in substance, this state of affairs has remained unchanged to this day. Only the serf-like downtroddenness, distress and helplessness of the mass of small proprietors in bondage can lead to such frightful mass starvation in an epoch of rapidly developing agricultural techniques, which have already achieved a relatively high standard (on the best capitalist farms).

The fundamental contradiction leading to such terrible calamities, which have been unknown to the peasants of Western Europe since the Middle Ages, is the contradiction between capitalism, which is highly developed in our industry and considerably developed in our agriculture, and the system of landownership, which remains medieval, feudal. There is no way out of this situation unless the old System of landownership is radically broken up.

Not only the landed property of the landlords, but that of the peasants as well is based on feudal relations. In the case of the former, this is so obvious as to arouse no doubts. We need only note that the abolition of the feudal latifundia, say, of those exceeding 500 dessiatines, will not undermine large-scale production in agriculture but will,   indeed, increase and develop it. For the feudal latifundia are bulwarks of small-scale farming based on bondage, and not of large-scale production. In most regions of Russia it is practically impossible or, at all events, exceedingly difficult to run large farms taking up as much as 500 or more dessiatines of land with the implements and livestock of the owner and with wage-labour. A reduction in the size of such estates is one of the conditions for small-scale farming on terms of bondage going out of existence and for agriculture passing to large-scale capitalist production.

On the other hand, the allotment form of peasant land tenure in Russia also retains medieval, feudal features. And it is not only a question of the juridical form, which is now being changed, in sergeant-major fashion, through the destruction of the village commune and the introduction of private land ownership; it is also a question of the actual nature of this ownership, which is unaffected by any break up of the commune.

The actual condition of the vast mass of peasants holding small and dwarf “parcels” (=tiny plots of land), consisting mostly of several narrow strips far removed from each other and distinguished by soil of the poorest quality (due to the delimitation of the peasant land in 1861 under the supervision of the feudal landlords, and due to the exhaustion of the land), inevitably places them in a relation of bondage to the hereditary owner of the latifundium, the old “master”.

Just keep clearly in mind the following picture: as against 30,000 owners of latifundia of 2,000 dessiatines each, there are 10,000,000 peasant households with 7 dessiatines of land per “average” household. It is obvious that no matter what destruction of the village commune and creation of private landownership takes place, this will still not be able to change the bondage, labour rent, corvée, feudal poverty, and feudal forms of dependence, stemming from this state of affairs.

The “agrarian problem” resulting from such a situation is the problem of doing away with the survivals of serfdom, which have become an intolerable obstacle to Russia’s capitalist development. The agrarian problem in Russia is one of radically breaking up the old, medieval forms of landownership,   both that of the landlords and that of the allotment peasants—a break-up which has become absolutely indispensable in view of the extreme backwardness of this landownership, in view of the extreme disharmony between it and the whole system of the national economy, which has become capitalist.

It must be a radical break-up, because the disharmony is too great, the old is too old, and “the disease too neglected”. In any event and in all its forms, this break-up is bound to be bourgeois in content, since Russia’s entire economic life is already bourgeois, and the system of landownership is certain to become subordinate to it, to adapt itself to the dictates of the market, to the pressure of capital, which is omnipotent in our society today.

But while the break-up cannot fail to be radical and bourgeois, there is still this question to be answered: which of the two classes directly concerned, the landlords or the peasants, will carry out this change or direct it, determine its forms? Our next article, “A Comparison of the Stolypin and the Narodnik Agrarian Programmes”,[2] will deal with this “unsolved problem”.


[1] See pp. 32–35 of this volume.—Ed.

[2] See pp. 143–49 of this volume.—Ed.

[3] Nevskaya Zvezda (The Neva Star)—a legal Bolshevik newspaper published in St. Petersburg from February 26 (March 10) to October 5 (18), 1912. Twenty-seven issues appeared. At first the newspaper appeared simultaneously with Zvezda, which it was intended to replace in the event of the latter’s closure or confiscation. After April 22 (May 5), 1912, it was published instead of Zvezda, which was closed down by the authorities. It published twenty articles by Lenin.

[4] Winter hiring—the hiring of peasants for summer work, practised by the landlords and kulaks during the winter, when the peasants were badly in need of cash and compelled to accept shackling terms.

[5] See Note 30.

[6]Composite labour service”—a form of labour service and of peasant renting of landlord land on onerous terms in post-Reform Russia. Under this system the peasants committed themselves—for money,   a loan for the winter, or for the land rented to them—to till with their own implements and horses one dessiatine of the landlord’s spring crop, one dessiatine of his winter crop, and sometimes also one dessiatine of meadowland.

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