V. I.   Lenin

The Peasantry and the Working Class

Published: Pravda No. 152, June 11, 1913. Signed: V. I.. Published according to the Pravda text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, Volume 19, pages 206-208.
Translated: The Late George Hanna
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

In the Narodnik newspapers and magazines we often meet with the assertion that the workers and the “working” peasantry belong to the same class.

The absolute incorrectness of this view is obvious to any one who understands that more or less developed capitalist production predominates in all modern states—i.e., capital rules the market and transforms the masses of working people into wage-workers. The so-called “working” peasant is in fact a small proprietor, or a petty bourgeois, who nearly always either hires himself out to work for somebody else or hires workers himself. Being a small proprietor, the “working” peasant also vacillates in politics between the masters and the workers, between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

Statistics on wage-labour in agriculture provide one of the most striking proofs of this property-owning, or bourgeois, nature of the “working” peasant. Bourgeois economists (including the Narodniks) usually praise the “vitality” of small production in agriculture, by which they mean farming without wage-labour. But they are not at all fond of precise figures on wage-labour among the peasantry!

Let us examine data on this question gathered by the most recent agricultural censuses—the Austrian census of 1902 and the German of 1907.

The more developed a country, the more extensively is wage-labour employed in agriculture. In Germany, out of a total of 15,000,000 wage-workers, it is estimated that 4,500,000, or 30 per cent, are employed, in agriculture; and in Austria, the figure is 1,250,000, or 14 per cent, out of a total of 9,000,000. But even in Austria, if we take farms usually regarded as peasant (or “working” peasant) farms, i.e., those from 2 to 20 hectares (one hectare equals nine-tenths of a dessiatine), we will find that wage-labour plays an important part. Farms from 5 to 10 hectares number 383,000; of these 126,000 employ wage-workers. Farms from 10 to 20 hectares number 242,000; of these 142,000, or nearly three-fifths, employ wage-workers.

Thus, small (“working”) peasant farming exploits hundreds of thousands of wage-workers. The larger the peasant farm, the larger the number of wage-workers employed, together with a larger contingent of family workers. For example, in Germany, for every 10 peasant farms, there are:

Size of farm Family
2 to 5 hectares 25 4 29
5 to 10 ” 31 7 38
10 to 2O ” 34 17 51

The more affluent peasantry, who have more land and a larger number of “their own” workers in the family, employ in addition a larger number of wage-workers.

In capitalist society, which is entirely dependent on the market, small (peasant) production on a mass scale is impossible in agriculture without the mass employment of wage-labour. The sentimental catchword, “working” peasant, merely deceives the workers by concealing this exploitation of wage-labour.

In Austria, about one and a half million peasant farms (from 2 to 20 hectares) employ half a million wage-workers. In Germany, two million peasant farms employ more than one and a half million wage-workers.

And what about the smaller farmers? They hire them selves out! They are wage-workers with a plot of land. For example, in Germany there are over three and a third mil lion (3,378,509) farms of less than two hectares. Of these less than hall a million (474,915) are independent farmers, and only a little less than two million (1,822, 792) are wage-workers!

The very position of the small farmers in modern society, therefore, inevitably transforms them into petty bourgeois. They are eternally hovering between the wage-workers and   the capitalists. The majority of the peasants live in poverty, are ruined and become proletarians, while the minority trail after the capitalists and help keep the masses of the rural population dependent upon the capitalists. That is why the peasants in all capitalist countries have so far mostly kept aloof from the workers’ socialist movement and have joined various reactionary and bourgeois parties. Only an independent organisation of wage-workers which conducts a consistent class struggle can wrest the peasantry from the influence of the bourgeoisie and explain to them the absolute hopelessness of the small producers’ position in capitalist society.

In Russia the position of the peasants in relation to capitalism is just the same as in Austria, Germany, etc. Our “specific feature” is our backwardness: the peasant is still confronted, not with the capitalist, but with the big feudal landowner, who is the principal bulwark of the economic and political backwardness of Russia.


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