V. I.   Lenin

The Peasantry and Hired Labour

Published: Put Pravdy No. 17, February 20, 1914. Signed: V. I.. Published according to the text in Put Pravdy.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 20, pages 111-113.
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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No phrase has been worked harder among the Narodniks than that about the Marxists “setting the working people by the ears” by drawing a line between the hired workers and the peasants and pitting one class against the other. And no phrase is more mendacious, serving as it does to cover up defence of the interests of the small proprietor, the petty bourgeois, the exploiter of the hired labourer.

The following interesting data are from the Moscow Zemstvo Statistics published in 1913 (A Handbook of Economic Statistics, Vol. VII, Moscow, 1913). The Moscow statisticians investigated fruit and vegetable gardening in Moscow Uyezd. The investigation covered over 5,000 households, which the statisticians divided into seven districts according to their proximity to Moscow and the degree of intensity of cultivation (i. e., expenditure of a large amount of capital and labour on each dessiatine of land).

The employment of hired labourers by the peasants was investigated in fairly great detail. What is the result?

In the first four districts the number of households employing labour is 67 per cent (i. e., over two-thirds of the total number of households); in the remaining districts it ranges from 43 to 64 per cent. Hence it is evident that the overwhelming majority of the peasant households near Moscow are the farms of petty capitalists who hire labourers.

Still more interesting are the figures showing the number of households which employ labourers by the year or season. The percentages of such households are as follows:

District I . . . . . 26.6 per cent
” II . . . . . 16.7 ” ”
” III . . . . . 16.4 ” ”
” IV . . . . . 19.0 ” ”
” V . . . . . 9.9 ” ”
” VI . . . . . 5.0 ” ”
” VII . . . . . 6.4 ” ”

As a rule, the more intensive a given district, the higher is the percentage of peasants who employ labourers by the year and the season.

The figures covering entire districts, however, lump together the poor and the rich peasants in each district. Hence, they are only very rough figures which give a varnished picture, for they cover up the contrasts between poverty and wealth, between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.

Let us take the figures for the groups of farms classified according to amount of land held in tenure (i. e., amount of land under cultivation). These figures are far more reliable than the figures of allotment land ownership, which to this day, even around Moscow, retains its feudal-bureaucratic character. Among the peasants who own small allotments there are rich peasants who lease land. And among the peas ants who own large allotments there are poor peasants who rent out their allotments, and landless or rather non-farming peasants.

In all districts the percentage of non-farming peasants who employ labourers is nil. That is natural. The non-farming peasant is himself a proletarian.

Peasants with farms of under half a dessiatine: the percentage of households employing labourers ranges from 0 to 57 (we are taking one of the three subgroups, so as not to complicate the question).

Farmers with between one half and one dessiatine: the percentage of households employing labourers ranges from 0 to 100.

Farmers with one to three dessiatines: the percentage of households employing labourers ranges from 46 to 100 (in different districts).

Farmers with from three to five dessiatines: the percentage of households employing labourers ranges from 66 to 97.

Farmers with from five to ten dessiatines: the percentage of households employing labourers ranges from 75 to 100.

From this we clearly see that the non-farming peasants are themselves proletarians (hired labourers). The larger the farm, the more often is hired labour exploited. Even among the farmers who have from three to five dessiatines, no less than two-thirds of the total exploit hired labour!

Such is the plain, well-known and obvious fact which the Narodniks try to distort. What is true of the Moscow area is true, to a lesser degree, of all other places. Everyone knows that every town and every mile of railway draw peasant economy into the orbit of commerce and capitalism. The “Left Narodniks” are the only ones who refuse to see the truth, which explodes their petty-bourgeois theory.

That truth is that every mile of railway, every new shop that is opened in the village, every co-operative society that is formed to make buying easier, every factory, and so forth, draw peasant economy into the orbit of commerce. And that means that the peasantry is breaking up into proletarians, and proprietors employing hired labourers.

There can be no improvement in peasant economy that does not involve an increase in the exploitation of hired labour on the improved farms.

That is why the Marxists defend the interests of labour—and they are the only ones to do so—by distinguishing the proletarians, the hired workers, both in town and countryside.

The Narodniks, on the other hand, defend (in practice) the interests of the exploiters of hired labour when they talk about the “peasantry” and “peasant economy”, for the more the peasant resembles a “proprietor”, the more he exploits hired labour.

It is in the interests of the bourgeoisie (in whose footsteps the Narodniks blindly follow) to confuse the peasant proletariat with the peasant bourgeoisie.

It is in the interests of the proletariat to combat this confusion and to draw a clear line between classes everywhere, including the peasantry. It is useless deceiving oneself and others by talking about the “peasantry”. We should ourselves learn and teach the peasants that even among the peasantry the gulf between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is widening day by day.


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