V. I.   Lenin

Serf Economy in the Rural Areas

Published: Put Pravdy No. 66, April 20,1914. Published according to the text in Put Pravdy.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 20, pages 242-244.
Translated: Bernard Isaacs and The Late Joe Fineberg
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.
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Our liberals refuse to admit that serf economy is still practised on a vast scale in the Russian countryside to this day. Serfdom lives on, for when the semi-pauper peasant, held in bondage by means of money loans or the renting of land, works for the landlord with his wretched horse and implements, we have here the economic essence of serf economy.

Under capitalism the worker owns neither land nor implements of production. Under serf economy the exploited labourer has both land and implements of production, but these serve to enslave him, to tie him to the “squire”.

The journal Russkaya Mysl, which is noted for its preaching of respect for landed property, accidentally blurted out the truth in its March issue.

Winter hiring,”[1] we read in that issue“—is this not absurd in our age, the age of electricity and aeroplanes? And yet this form of slavery and bondage continues to flourish to this day, like a leech on the body of the peasantry.

Winter hiring is a curious and characteristic feature of ancient Russia. It has preserved in all its freshness the feudal term of ‘bonded peasants’.”

This was written not by some “Left” organ, but by a journal of the counter-revolutionary liberals!

According to local statistics for the spring of 1913, the “bonded” households sometimes—as, for example, in Chernigov Gubernia—constitute as much as 56 per cent, i. e., nearly three-fifths, of the total number of households. And during winter hire the peasant receives half or one-third of the pay he gets during summer hire.

Here we have purely serf bondage and hopeless poverty among the peasants, side by side with “progress” in the development of the otrubs, fodder grass cultivation, the employment of machines, and so forth, over which some naive people wax so enthusiastic. As a matter of fact, this progress, perpetuating as it does appalling poverty and bond age among the masses of the peasants, only worsens their conditions, makes crises more inevitable, and intensifies the contradiction between the requirements of modern capitalism and barbarous, medieval and Asiatic “winter hiring”.

Métayage, tilling the soil in return for half the crop, or mowing hay in return for every third haycock (the “one third” system) are also direct survivals of serfdom. According to the latest statistics, the area of land cultivated by peasants on the métayer system in the various districts of Russia ranges from 21 to 68 per cent of the area of the peasants’ own land. And the area of land on which hay is mown on the métayer system is even larger, ranging from 50 to 185 per cent of the area of the peasants’ own land!...

In some cases,” we read in this moderate-liberal journal, “the méayer, in addition to paying for the land with half the crop, and for the hay with two-thirds of the crop, is obliged to work gratis on the owner’s farm for one or two weeks, in most cases with his own horse, or with one of his children.”

How does this differ from serfdom? The peasant works for the landlord without pay, and receives land from him on a métayage basis!

Our liberals always regard the “peasant question” from the point of view of the peasants’ “land hunger” or the need for “state arrangement” of the peasants’ living conditions, or of allotting them land according to this or that “norm” (this is a fault of the Narodniks, too). This point of view is basically erroneous. It is all a matter of the class struggle on the basis of the feudal relations of production, and nothing more. So long as the present system of landlordism exists, the perpetuation of bondage, serfdom and, as Russkaya Mysl expresses it, slavery, is inevitable. No “reforms” or political changes will be of any use here. The point at issue here is the ownership of the land by a class which   reduces all “progress” to snail’s pace, and turns the masses of the peasantry into downtrodden paupers tied to the “squire”.

The issue here is not that of a “subsistence” or a “producer’s” norm (all this is Narodnik nonsense), not that of “land hunger”, or “allotting land”, but of abolishing class, semi-feudal oppression, which is hindering the development of a capitalist country. Only in this way can the “proverbial” “pillars” of the class-conscious Russian workers begin to be understood.


[1] 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 money and would accept extortionate terms.

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