G.V. Plekhanov

Our Differences

Chapter III
Capitalism and Communal Land Tenure

1. Capitalism and Agriculture

But the principal and only basis of our public economy is agriculture, Mr. V.V. and Co. generally say. The development of capitalist economy in this field, the application to the land of “private business capital” is hindered by the village community, which has always been an impregnable buttress against capitalism. In our country large-scale agriculture, far from ousting small farming, is increasingly giving way to it. Big landowners and leaseholders are speculating only on a rise in land rent and are leaving agriculture to the peasant. But peasant economy, is bound to bring victory for the peasant, not capitalist, forms of economy.

Although throughout the whole of this argument error is closely interwoven with truth, the truth it contains is by no means convincing. Agriculture is nearly everywhere the most backward branch of national production, a branch which capitalism began to take over only after establishing itself firmly in industry proper: “Modern industry alone, and finally, supplies, in machinery, the lasting basis of capitalistic agriculture.” That is why it is not logical to conclude that bourgeois relations of production are inexistent or even absolutely impossible in a country on the grounds that they have not yet spread to agriculture. Mr. Tikhomirov thinks, for example, that during the Great Revolution the French bourgeoisie was so strong that it was able to prevent the establishment of self-government by the people. [1] And yet right up to the Revolution, the application of “Private business capital” to the land was prevented by numerous survivals of feudal relations, agriculture was in an alarming state of decay, landowners preferred to live in towns and to rent out their lands either to sharecroppers or to bourgeois leaseholders; the latter, like our modern “Razuvayevs” [1*] gave not the slightest thought to the correct cultivation of the land but in their turn rented out to the peasants the land they had leased and were concerned only with the most profitable conditions for doing so. [2] Did that prevent the bourgeois from being victorious or capitalism from being triumphant in France? If not, why should it have not only a strong, but, as the Narodniks think, a decisive influence on all production relations in our country? It may be argued there were no longer any communes in France at that time. Very well. But in France, as in the whole of “Western Europe”, there was the feudal regime and there were at one time guilds which greatly hindered the development of capitalism and “cramped production instead of facilitating it”. These “fetters”, however, did not stop the course of social and economic development. The time came when “they had to be broken up and they were broken up”. What insures the Russian village community against the same fate?

Mr. Nikolai—on, who has a more thorough knowledge of our economy after the Reform than all the Russian revolutionary and conservative exceptionalists put together, will not hesitate to acknowledge that the very “Act ’ (on peasants freed from feudal dependence) was in our country the “swan song of the old production process” and that the legislative activity that followed it, and which was aimed in the very opposite direction, “had by its results more substantial influence on the entire economic life of the people” than the peasant reform. In this author’s opinion, “the application of capital to the land, the fulfilment of its historic mission, is hindered in our country by the ’Act’, which allotted the instruments of labour to the producers. But capitalist economy is promoted by the whole of the state’s post-Reform economic activity ... The capitalist tendency, however, is apparently prevailing. All data point to an increase in the number of producers expropriated: the decrease in the producer’s share of the product and the increase in the capitalist’s going on before our eyes compel an increasing number of the former to abandon the land, not to ‘dress’ it. Thus a very curious thing is going on in the village community itself: the mir is beginning to allot the poorest land to unenterprising peasants (they won’t cultivate it anyhow) and the periods between the redistributions of the land belonging to the enterprising householders are continuing to be extended, so that we are in presence of the transformation of communal exploitation to individual”. [3] Mr. Tikhomirov completely ignores the conclusions of Mr. Nikolai—on’s remarkable study and expressly maintains that in our country “the peasants still own 120,628,246 dessiatines of land”. [4] He forgets that the substance of the question is not the legal standard. but the economic facts. These facts show that in very many places the village community has been so distorted by unfavourable influences that from a means of protecting the producers against capitalist exploitation it is already becoming a powerful instrument of the latter. So as not to speak without proof, let us once more take the people “as they are” and examine the contemporary Russian situation from that point of view.

But first of all a few general remarks on the history of primitive agrarian communism.

2. The Village Community

Listening to our Narodniks one could really think that the Russian village community is an exceptionally enduring organisation. “Neither the internecine struggles during the period of the independent principalities, the Mongol yoke, the bloody period of Ivan the Terrible, nor the years of unrest during the interregnum, nor the reforms of Peter and Catherine which introduced into Russia the principles of West European culture, nothing shook or changed the cherished institution of peasant life,” says one of the most easily excitable Narodniks, Mr. K—n, in a book on “the forms of land tenure among the Russian people”; “the serfdom could not obliterate it, its abolition could not be brought about by the peasants leaving voluntarily for new lands or by forcible expulsions”, etc., etc., in a word,

The ages went by, all strived to be happy,
In the world all repeatedly changed

but the Russian village community remained unchanged and unchangeable. Unfortunately, this glorification, despite all its indisputable eloquence, proves nothing at all. The village communities display indubitable vitality as long as they do not emerge from the conditions of natural economy.

“The simplicity of the organisation for production in these self-sufficing communities that constantly reproduce themselves in the same form, and when accidentally destroyed, spring up again on the spot and with the same name – this simplicity supplies the key to the secret of the unchangeableness of Asiatic societies, an unchangeableness in such striking contrast with the constant dissolution and refounding of Asiatic states, and the never-ceasing changes of dynasty. The structure of the economical elements of society remains untouched by the storm-clouds of the political sky.” [5]

But that same basic element of the barbarian societies which stands firm against the storms of political revolutions turns out to be powerless and defenceless against the logic of economic evolution. The development of money economy and commodity production little by little undermines communal land tenure. [6] Added to this there is the destructive influence, of the state which is compelled by the very force of circumstances to support the principle of individualism. It is set on this road by the pressure of the higher estates, whose interests are hostile to the communal principle, as well as by its own ever-growing needs. The development of money economy, which in its turn is a consequence of the development of the productive forces, i.e., of the growth of the social wealth, brings into being new social functions, the maintenance of which would be unthinkable by means of the former system of taxes levied in kind. The need for money compels the government to support all the measures and principles of, social economy which increase the flow of money into the country and quicken the pulse of social and economic life. But these abstract principles of social economy do not exist of themselves, they are only the general expression of the real interests of a certain class, namely that of trade and industry. Having emerged partly from the former members of the village community and partly from other estates, this class is essentially interested in mobilising immovable property and its owners, since the latter are labour-power. The principle of communal land tenure is an obstacle to both of these aims. That is why it first arouses aversion, and then more or less resolute attacks on the part of the rising bourgeoisie. But neither do these blows destroy the village community at once. Its downfall is prepared by degrees. For a long time the outward relations of the members of the community apparently remain completely unchanged, whereas its inner character undergoes serious metamorphoses which result in its final disintegration. This process is sometimes a very lengthy one, but once it reaches a certain degree of intensity it cannot be stopped by any “seizures of power” by any secret society. The only serious rebuff to a victorious individualism can be given by those social forces which are called to being by the very process of the disintegration of the village community. Its members, who were once equal as far as property, rights and obligations went, are divided, thanks to the process referred to, into two sections. Some are attracted towards the urban bourgeoisie and try to merge with it in a single class of exploiters. All the land of the village community is little by little concentrated in the hands of this privileged class. Others are partly expelled from the community and, being deprived of land, take their labour-power to market, while others again form a new category of community-pariahs whose exploitation is facilitated, among other things, by the conveniences afforded by the community organisation. Only where historical circumstances elaborate a new economic basis for the reorganisation of society in the interests of this lower class, only when this class begins to adopt a conscious attitude to the basic causes of its enslavement and to the essential conditions of its emancipation, only there and only then can one “expect” a new social revolution without falling into Manilovism. This new process also takes place gradually, but once it has started it will go on to its logical end in just the same way with the relentlessness of astronomic phenomena. In that case the social revolution does not rely on “possible” success of conspirators but on the certain and insuperable course of social evolution.

Mutato nomine de te fabula narratur, we may say addressing the Russian village community. It is precisely the recentness of the development of money economy in Russia that explains the stability which our village community has shown until recently and which still continues to move poor thinkers. Until the abolition of the serfdom nearly all the communal – and to a great extent the state – economy of Russia was a natural economy, highly favourable to the maintenance of the village community. That is why the community could not be destroyed by the political events at the time of the principality and veche system and the Moscow centralisation, of Peter’s reforms and the “drum-beating enlightenment” of the Petersburg autocrats. No matter how grievous the effect of these events was on the national welfare, there is no doubt that in the final account they themselves were not forerunners of radical upheavals in the public economy, but only the consequence of the mutual relations existing between individual village communities. The Moscow despotism was based on the very “ancient foundations of the life of the people” that our Narodniks are so enthusiastic over. However, both the reactionary Baron von Haxthausen and the revolutionary agitator Bakunin understood this clearly. Were Russia isolated from the economic and political influences of West European life, it would be difficult to foresee when history would undermine at last the economic foundation of the Russian political set-up. But the influence of international relations accelerated the natural, though slow, process of development of money economy of commodity production. The Reform of February 19 was a necessary concession to the new economic trend and in turn it gave it new strength. The village community did not, and indeed could not, adapt itself to the new conditions. Its organism was overstrained, and one must be blind not to notice the signs of its disintegration now. Those are the facts.

3. Disintegration of Our Village Community

The process of disintegration of our village community affects even its outward appearance. “I stood for a long time on the edge of a graveyard looking at t he outward appearance of villages (lying below at the foot of a hill),” says Mr. N. Zlatovratsky. “What variety! On one side, a group of houses, apparently decrepit, having two windows and thatched roofs ... On the other side new houses with three windows each, roofs of planks and separated by a broad passage; between them I could see green iron roofs with weather-vanes on the chimneys. And then a third group, long and winding like a worm, where, side by side with the mansion of a well-to-do kulak, there was a structure something between a cabin and a hovel, hardly rising above the ground.” [7] Corresponding to this outwardly very picturesque variety we have a variety of figures expressing the budgets of different households. Mr. Zlatovratsky says that the village community which he selected for study displayed, “in spite of its small size, fairly extreme degrees of economic inequality, from those sitting on a money bag and munching nuts for days on end to the widow of a hussar, living in misery with a whole crowd of children; and this village was very clearly divided into the sunny side and the cold side.” And yet this community “was an example of the average new village of the type to which the Russian villages in general tend, while some have managed to go much farther in the same direction, i.e., in the direction of disorganising the foundations of the old village as the representative of the principle of labour and economic equality”. Mr. Zlatovratsky knows that such villages still exist and that “there are still many of them in which you can feel and see the strong, unshakable foundations” of the old community life. “But there used to be more of these villages than there are now.” [8] Now, indeed, what the author of Everyday Life calls the “atmosphere of village duplicity and double-facedness”, which is the inevitable consequence of the splitting of the village community into diverse sections with completely irreconcilable interests, is becoming more and more rooted in the countryside.

On the one side you see the “kind-hearted” enterprising peasant “who has no more than a one-person allotment and yet manages to cultivate three, four or even five allotments belonging to his associates who are unable to cope with them”; and on the other side you see before you those very “weak” householders, the “obscure”, the “poor ”, etc., who “either work themselves as wage-labourers for their leaseholders or close up their houses altogether and go away, God knows where, and never return to their native village community”. And there are quite a lot of these poor people. No.2922 of Novoye Vremya, of April 18 this year, gave the following very significant report: “Here is a fact the authenticity of which is borne out officially. Out of the 9,079,024 households in the village communities in Russia (not counting the Vistula and Baltic regions), there are 2,437,555 which have not a single horse. This means that one out of every four peasant households has no horse. But a peasant who has no horse cannot farm on his own account. This means that one-quarter of the rural population of Russia should not be included in the number of agriculturists running their own economy.” [9] But the peasant who cannot run his economy independently is a candidate to the title of proletarian, a candidate who must be confirmed in that title in the very near future. Though he avoids for the present being exploited by the big capitalist employer, this peasant is already completely dependent on the small usurer’s capital of the village kulaks or even of the mere “clever masters”. How the “clever enterprising peasants” treat their impoverished community associates is seen from the already quoted Mr. Zlatovratsky’s book.

“But do those shut-up houses belong to the ‘airy’ people?” the author asks his interlocutors.

“Airy ... that’s what they are!” the interlocutor says with a smile, “for they fly, like birds! For a time they sit tight, try to settle down and make ends meet on their dessiatine, and then up they get and fly away. They ask their neighbours to lease their plot so that their passports will not be delayed, they invoke the name of God, stand a treat of vodka, undertake to send money in addition, and all they ask for is that the neighbours should do them the favour of taking the land. And, of course, the neighbours do ... that suits us, the enterprising peasants ... what happens is that if these people come back and want to have their land again they have nothing to cultivate it with: they hire themselves out to the leaseholder as wage-labourers of their own land ... Each gets what the Lord sends him!”

Do you like the community of such “enterprising peasants”, reader? If so, your taste hardly resembles that of the “airy people”, who “invoke the name of God” to be freed from the land. And note that these “people” are quite right in their way. The difference between their sympathies and yours is determined by the very simple circumstance that the community which you like in no way resembles the one which the “airy people” have to deal with. In your imagination you picture the ideal village community which may appear after the revolution in the Narodnik or Narodovoltsi fashion. But the airy people have to do with the real village community in which their irreconcilable antagonist, “the enterprising, clever peasant” has already asserted himself and self-complacently repeats, “in our community the poor will not hold out, there is no air for them, and if it were not for them, would we be able to live? Were it not for these airy people, our life would be very cramped ... But now, if you release the airy people sufficiently from the mir, you will be more at ease”. [10] The mir which releases the poor “from itself” is the mir of kulaks and exploiters. Having nothing to “breathe”, the airy people flee it as they would a prison.

But the clever peasant does not always give the poor their freedom gratis. Joining “in a single allotment four” which belong to his ruined co-villagers, he even demands “money in addition” from them. Hence we get amazing contracts like the following, consigned to history by Mr. Orlov: “In the year 1874, on November 13, I, the undersigned, of Moscow Gubernia, Volokolamsk Uyezd, village of Kurvina, hereby declare to my peasant community of the village of Kurvina that I, Grigoryev, give my land, and allotment for three persons, for the use of the community, in return for which, I, Grigoryev, undertake to pay 21 rubles a year and the said sum to be sent every year by the first of April, not counting the passports, for which I must pay separately, and also for their dispatch; which undertaking I pledge with my signature.” If we compare the payments exacted on peasants’ allotments with the rent for them, it is obvious that this was not the only such case. It has been concluded that the average size of the payments effected on peasants’ plots in twelve uyezds of Moscow Gubernia was 10 rubles 45 kopeks, while the average rent for a one-person plot was no higher than 3 rubles 60 kopeks. Thus the average additional payment made by the owner for a plot which he hired out amounted to 6 rubles 80 kopeks. “Of course one comes across cases in which the plot is rented at a price compensating for the payment exacted upon it,” says Mr. Orlov; “but such cases are extremely rare and can therefore be considered as exceptions, while the general rule is that there is a bigger or smaller additional payment besides the rent of the plot ... It is now understandable why the peasants, as they themselves put it, are not envious of community land.” [11] Anybody familiar with the famous studies made by Mr. Yanson on peasants’ plots and payments knows that the disparity noted by Mr. Orlov between the profitableness of allotments and the total payments exacted on them exists throughout the greater part of Russia. This disparity often reaches really terrifying proportions. In Novgorod Gubernia “payments on a dessiatine of land for isolated groups of payers amount to the following percentage of the normal income from the land:

On lands of state peasants



On lands of peasant proprietors:



of former appanage peasants


of former landlords’ peasants


of temporarily-bound peasants [5*]


But under unfavourable conditions, i.e., when the peasant proprietors had to effect extra payments, when the temporarily-bound peasants had only small plots and their general dues were high, these payments reached [12]:

for peasants having bought their liberty up to



for temporarily-bound peasants up to


In general, comparing the data collected in Volume XXII of The Works of the Taxation Commission with the figures given in the report of the agricultural commission, Mr. Nikolai—on found that “the state independent peasants in 37 gubernias” (therefore not counting the western gubernias) “of the European part of Russia pay 92.75 per cent of the net income from the land they have, i.e., for all their needs they have 7.25 per cent of the income from the land left. But the payments demanded from former landlords’ peasants amount to 198.25 per cent of the net income from the land, i.e., these peasants are obliged not only to surrender the whole of their income from the land, but to pay as much again out of their outside earnings”. Hence it follows that the poor peasants “released by the mir” must in the majority of cases pay a certain sum every year for the right to give up their plot and be free to move around. This indisputable conclusion is confirmed by facts in every case in which the peasants’ economic relations have been studied with any attention. For example, in the sandy region of Yuryev Uyezd, Vladimir Gubernia, as Mr. V.S. Prugavin says, “the paltry, ungrateful plot of soil is a burden for the economy, the land is a stepmother for the peasant. Here, far from the plot compensating for the payments imposed upon it, the one who rents out the land has moreover to pay out 8-10 rubles on each plot, since the average rent for a cheap plot in this region is 4-5 rubles a year per person”. [13] Weighed down by the burden of taxation, ruined by “stepmother earth”, the rural poor fall into the most desperate position. On the one hand, lack of resources prevents them from cultivating the land that they have, and on the other hand, the legislation in force forbids them to renounce ownership of the land, although it brings them nothing but loss. What does such a state of affairs lead to? The answer is quite clear. As Mr. Orlov says, those householders who have given up their land “detach themselves into a special group and are so to speak rejected and banned from the community; the latter divides into two parts, each of which enters into hostile relations towards the other; enterprising peasants consider those who have given it up as a heavy burden, having in the majority of cases to answer for them under the collective responsibility, and there is generally nothing they can get out of them; those, on the other hand, who have given up their land, being finally ruined and having ceased corn-growing, are compelled to go elsewhere with their families in order to earn; at the same time, although they do not make use of their plots, they have to pay all the taxes levied on them, for otherwise the mir does not give them their passports and, besides, ’scourges’ them at the volost administration offices for failing to pay; obviously, in the eyes of those who have given up the land the mir is a burden, a scourge, a hindrance.” It is easy to understand that “the link between these two sections of the village community is purely exterior, artificial and fiscal; with the dissolution of this link the final disintegration of the groups mentioned must inevitably take place: the village community will consist only of corn-growers, while those who have given up their land, having no means of starting to farm again and gradually losing the habit of agricultural work, will finally be transformed into landless people, which is what they are now in actual fact”. [14]

At a certain stage in the disintegration of the village community there almost necessarily comes a time when the poorest of its members begin to revolt against this form of land tenure which for them has become “a scourge and a hindrance”. At the end of the last century the poorest peasants in France, often demanded the “sharing out of the communal lands either because, not having any cattle, they made no use of them or because they hoped to set up their own independent farm; but in that case they had against them the farmers and the independent owners generally, who sent their cattle to graze on these lands”. [15] It is true that the contrary sometimes took place, i.e., the poor wanted to keep their communal pastures and the rich seized them for their own exclusive use; but in any case there is no doubt that the rural commune was an arena of fierce struggle between material interests. Antagonism replaced the original solidarity. [16] The same antagonism is to be noticed now, as we saw, in the villages of Russia, the desire of the poor to withdraw from the village community being manifest at earlier stages of its disintegration. For instance, the ploughlands in Moscow Gubernia have not yet gone over to private ownership, but the oppression of state taxes is already making the poor section of the peasantry hostile to the village community. “In those communities where conditions are unfavourable ... to conduct agricultural economy ... the middle peasants are for the maintenance of communal tenure; but the peasants of the extreme sections, i.e., the most and the least prosperous, incline towards the replacement of the communal system by a family and inheritance system.” [17] The kulaks and those who have given up the land strive equally to break off their link with the village community.

How widespread is this striving? We already know that it is manifest where “conditions are unfavourable for all households to conduct agricultural economy”, and where “some of the households gradually become poor and weak and then lose their agricultural economy altogether, cease to engage in corn-growing, turn exclusively to outside employments and thus break off their immediate ties with the community lands”. Wherever such a state of affairs is observed, the striving of the poor to break away from the village community is so natural that i t is an already existing fact or a matter of the very near future. Wherever the cause is to hand, the effect will not be long in becoming visible.

We also know that in the majority of our village communities conditions, far from being favourable, are simply impossible. Our economy, both as a state and as a specifically popular economy [6*], now rests on a most unreliable foundation. To destroy that foundation there is no need of either miracles or unexpected events: the strictest logic of things, the most natural exercise of the functions of our modern social and economic organism are leading us to it. The foundation is being destroyed simply by the weight and disproportion of the parts of the structure we have built on it.

How quickly the economy of the poorest section of the community loses its balance can be seen partly from the figures given above on the numbers of households which have no horses, and partly – and more clearly – from the following significant facts. In Podolsk Uyezd, “according to the 1869 census, 1,750 personal allotments out of 33,802, i.e., 5 per cent, were not cultivated; expressed in dessiatines, this means that out of 68,544 dessiatines of peasants’ ploughland 3,564 were abandoned. Exact data about the number of plots not cultivated in 1877 were collected only for three volosts, the finding being 22.7 per cent of ploughland abandoned. Not having any reason to consider those volosts as exceptions and, therefore, presuming that abandonment reigned to the same degree [18] in the rest of the uyezd, we find that the area of uncultivated land rose from 3,500 dessiatines to 15,500, i.e., four- to fivefold. And that in 8 years! This approximate determination of the area of abandoned ploughland is corroborated by reports on the number of householders who did not cultivate their plots”. [19] And indeed, whereas in 1869 the number was 6.9 per cent of those who received plots, it increased to 18 per cent by 1877. That is the mean figure for the whole of the uyezd. In some places the increase in the number of householders who did not engage in agriculture was much more rapid. In Klyonovo Volost the figure rose from 5.6 per cent in 1869 to 37.4 per cent in 1877. But even that is not the extreme. In eleven villages taken by the investigators as examples, we find that in the time lapse indicated cattle-rearing dropped 20.6 per cent and the area of abandoned land increased from 12.3 to 54.3 per cent, that is, “more than half the population was obliged in 1877 to seek earnings outside agriculture”. In localities which had the most favourable conditions in that uyezd, in the villages where, as the investigators say, agriculture was “flourishing”, the percentage of those who had given up the land more than doubled all the same, increasing from 4 per cent in 1869 to 8.7 per cent in 1877. Thus this relative “flourishing” only delays the peasants’ break with the land but by no means does away with it. The general trend – fatal to the peasants – of our national economy remains unchanged.

But perhaps this uyezd is an exception to the general rule? Hardly. Other uyezds in Moscow Gubernia just as in others in the European part of Russia are in a similar condition. In Serpukhov Uyezd the number of householders not engaged in corn-growing attains 17 per cent, i n Vereya Uyezd, 16 per cent. In Gzhatsk Uyezd, Smolensk Gubernia, “there are villages in which as much as half or even three-quarters of the land has been abandoned; ... peasant land cultivation on the whole in the uyezd has decreased by one-quarter”. [20] Not multiplying figures and quotations, we can without fear apply to at least half of Russia what Mr. Orlov said about Moscow Gubernia: “Sharp contrasts appear in the property situation of the peasant population: an enormous percentage of the peasants are gradually losing all possibility of engaging in agriculture on their own account and are being changed into a landless and homeless class , while a negligible percentage of the peasants are increasing their wealth in property year by year.” [21] This means that at least half of the village communities in Russia are a burden for their members.

The Narodniks themselves are well aware of the irrefutability of this conclusion. In the pamphlet Socialism and the Political Struggle we have already quoted Mr. N.Z., in whose opinion “the ill-fated village community is being discredited in the eyes of the people”. [22] Mr. Zlatovratsky too says somewhere that now the village community is dear only to old men in the country and intellectuals in the towns. Finally, Mr. V.V. himself admits that “the community is falling to pieces as a voluntary association and there remains only the ‘society’ in the administrative sense of the word, a group of persons forcibly bound together by collective responsibility, i.e., each one’s responsibility for the limitations of the powers of all the payers and the inability of the fiscal organs to understand this limitation. All the benefits that the village community once provided have disappeared and there remain only the disadvantages connected with the membership of the community.” [23] The so-called unshakable foundation of the life of the people is being shattered daily and hourly by the pressure of the state. Capitalism would perhaps not need to enter into active combat with this “invincible armada” [7*] which, even without that, will be wrecked on the reefs of land hunger and the burden of taxation.

But the Narodniks say “Bah!” to the present, really existing village community and do not cease to sing dithyrambs to the abstract community, the community an und für sich, the community which would be possible under certain favourable conditions. They maintain that the village community is being destroyed owing to external circumstances which do not depend upon it, that its disintegration is not spontaneous and will cease with the removal of the present state oppression. It is to this side of their argument that we must now devote our attention.

Our Narodniks are really amazingly mild in the majority of cases. They willingly lay the care of delivering the village community from its modern “captivity in Egypt” on the very government whose efforts have reduced very nearly the whole of Russia to poverty. Shunning politics as being a “bourgeois” pastime, scorning all constitutional aspirations as being incompatible with the good of the people, our legal advocates of the village community try to persuade the government that it is in its own interests to support the ill-famed “foundations”. It goes without saying that their voice remains the voice of one crying in the wilderness. Vaska the Cat [8*] listens, eats, and now and then brings down his paw on the newspapers and journals which bore him really too much with their explanation of his “correctly understood interests”. The indisputable moral of the famous fable is an axiom in social and political life too.

The question of freeing peasant economy from the conditions which are unfavourable to it is thus reduced to that of Russia’s deliverance from the oppression of absolutism. We, for our part, think that the political emancipation of our native country will become possible only as a result of the redistribution of the national forces which without doubt will be caused, and is already being caused, by the disintegration of a certain section of our village communities. But we shall speak of that later. Now we shall make a concession to the Narodniks and forget about the really existing village community to speak of the possible one.

Author’s Footnotes

1. Vestnik Narodnoi Voli, What Can We Expect from the Revolution?

2. Н. Кареев, «Крестьяне и крестьянский вопрос во Франции в последней четверти XVIII века», Москва 1879, гл.II, стр.117 и след. [N. Kareyev, The Peasants and the Peasant Question in France in the Last Quarter of the Eighteenth Century, Moscow 1879, Chapter II, pp.117 et seq.]

3. Nikolai—on, Outlines, pp.132-36.

4. [Note to the 1905 edition.] When I wrote these lines, only the first part of Mr. N.—on’s study had been printed. It did not appear in its final form until 1893 and was far from justifying the expectations I placed in it, and, as the reader will now see, placed by others. In the final account Mr. N.—on turned out to be just as much of a Utopian as Messrs. V.V., Prugavin, Tikhomirov and others. It is true that he had incomparably more data than they, but he treated them in an extremely one-sided way, using them only to corroborate preconceived Utopian ideas based on a completely incorrect understanding of Marx’s theory of value. Mr. N.—on’s work made a very unpleasant impression on Engels, although he was very well disposed towards it. In one of the letters he wrote to me, Engels says that he has lost all faith in the Russian generation to which Mr. N.—on belongs because no matter what subject they discuss they inevitably reduce the question to “Holy Russia”, i.e. they display Slavophile prejudices. Engels’ main reproach against Mr. N.—on was that he did not understand the revolutionary significance of economic upheaval Russia was passing through. [2*]

5. Das Kapital, 2. Aufl., S.371. [4*]

6. The influence of money economy on the decline of primitive communism is wonderfully described by Mr. G. Ivanov (Uspensky) in the family community.

“At present,” says Mr. Ivanov (From a Village Diary, Otechestvenniye Zapiski, September 1880, pp.38-39), “there is such an immense accumulation of insoluble and difficult tasks in the life of peasant families that if the big peasant families (I mean those near the towns) still stand fast, it is only, so to speak, by observing the exterior ritual; but there is already little interior truth. I fairly often come into contact with one of these big peasant families. It is headed by an old woman of about 70, a strong woman, intelligent and experienced in her way. But she derived all her ex perience under the serfdom and in an exclusively agricultural household, all of whose members contribute their labour, the whole income going to the old woman and she distributing it at her discretion and by general agreement. But then a high road was built and a barrel of cabbage sold to the carters began to bring in so much that it was more profitable than a whole year’s labour on the ploughland of, say, one man. This is already a clear violation of the equality of labour and earnings. Then the machine came, calves began to get dearer and were needed in the capital. One of the sons became a coach-driver and in half a year he earned as much as the whole family in the country in a year. Another brother became a dvornik in Petersburg and got fifteen rubles a month-more than he sometimes got in a whole year. But the youngest brother and the sisters barked trees the whole spring and summer and did not earn a third of what the coachman earned in two months ... And thanks to this, although everything appears to be well in the family, and each one contributes “equally” by his labour, it is not really so: the dvornik concealed four red notes from his mother and the coach-driver still more. And how could they do otherwise? The girl worked her fingers raw with the tan the whole summer for five rubles while the coachman got twenty-five in a single night for driving gentlemen round Petersburg from midnight till dawn. Besides, the old woman’s authority would have still meant quite a lot if the family’s earnings had been only the result of agricultural labour. In this matter she is in fact an authority, but the question is: what does she know about a dvornik’s, a coachman’s or other new earnings and what a piece of advice can she give on the matter? Her authority is, therefore, purely fictitious and if it means anything it is only for the women who remain at home; but even the women know quite well that their husbands only appear to have a respectful and submissive attitude to the old woman; the women have a very detailed knowledge of their husbands’ earnings and know whether a lot is hidden from the old woman and by whom, and they themselves keep those secrets as close as possible. The authority of the head of the family is fictitious and so are all the family and communal relations; each one hides something from the old woman who is the representative of those relations, and keeps it for himself. If the old woman dies, the large family will not remain as much as two days in its present state. Each one will wish for more sincere relationship and this wish will inevitably lead to something else -the desire for each to live according to his income, to enjoy as much as he gets.”

7. Н. Златовратский, «Деревенские будни», С.-Петербург 1880, стр.9. [N. Zlatovratsky, Everyday Life in the Villages, St. Petersburg 1880, p.9.]

8. Ibid., p.191.

9. The newspaper took this information from the book Census of Horses in 1882.

The average conclusion drawn here is corroborated by the private studies in separate gubernias and uyezds. For instance, for Tambov Gubernia, which is more or less wealthy, we have the following figures:






no horses








Households with
one horse





Households with
2 or 3 horses




(See Mr. Grigoryev’s article Zemstvo Statistic Research on Tambov Gubernia, Russkaya Mysl, September 1884, p. 79.) In Pokrov Uyezd of Vladimir Gubernia (Kudykinsk District) “24 per cent of the householders have no horses. In Yuryev Uyezd of the same gubernia, the percentage of horseless householders is not particularly great but, on the other hand, we find many households with only one horse. And such families must indisputably be classed among the weak ones with only a small capacity for agriculture.” However, there are some regions in the same uyezd (Nikulskoye volost) where the horseless households make up from 19 (landlords’ peasants) to 24 per cent (state peasants) of the total. In Spasskoye Volost only 73 per cent of the householders cultivate their soil themselves.

10. Everyday Life in the Villages, pp.203-04.

11. Collection of Statistical Reports on Moscow Gubernia, Section on Economic Statistics, Vol.IV, No.1, Moscow 1879, pp. 203-04.

12. Report of the Imperial Commission for the Study of the Present Condition of Agriculture, etc., Section 3, p. 6.

13. В.C. Пругавин, «Cельская община» и т.д., Юрьевского уезда, Владимирской губ., Москва 1884, гл.III, стр.93-95. [V.S. Prugavin, The Village community, etc., in Yuryev Uyezd, Vladimir Gubernia, Moscow 1884, Chapter III, pp. 93-95.]

14. Орлов, Сборник статистич. свед., стр.55. [Orlov, Collection of Statistical Reports, p.55.]

15. Kareyev, op. cit., p.132.

16. Une commune est presque toujours divisee par la difference des esprits qui la gouvernent et qui opposent leurs vues particulieres au bien general (quoted by Kareyev, p.135).

17. Orlov, pp.289-90.

18. The reader will immediately see that this assumption is completely justified.

19. Moscow Gubernia in the Works of Its Zemstvo Statisticians, Otechestvenniye Zapiski, 1880, Vol.5, p.22.

20. This information dates back to 1873. See Report of the Agricultural Commission, Supplement, article Cultivation of the Land, p.2.

21. Orlov, op. cit., p.1.

22. See Nedelya? No.39, 1883, In the Homeland.

23. The Economic Downfall of Russia, Otechestvenniye Zapiski, 1881, Vol.9, p.149.


1*. Razuvayev – a character in several tales by Saltykov-Shchedrin (e.g. the Poshekon Tales). His name came to symbolise merchants, kulaks and other members of the rural bourgeoisie noted for their conservatism, vulgarity and tendency to brutal exploitation.

2*. Cf. Correspondence of Marx and Engels with Russian Political Figures, Gospolitizdat Publishing House, 1951, pp. 340–42.

3*. Inaccurate quotation from Nekrasov’s poem Father Frost, Red Nose.

4*. K. Marx, Capital, Vol.I, Moscow 1958, p.358.

5*. State peasants – peasants who lived on the land belonging to the state to which they were obliged to pay feudal rent in addition to the state tax. Money dues of these peasants were extremely burdensome. However, their conditions were somewhat better than those of the landlords’ serfs. The law gave them more rights in the use of the land, recognised them as free peasants (selskiye obyvateli) and allowed them to change their place of residence.

Appanage peasants – a category of peasants who were the personal serfs of the tsar and his family and lived on special plots provided for the maintenance of the tsarist court.

The conditions of these peasants hardly differed from those of the landlords’ peasants.

Temporarily-bound peasants – former serfs released from personal dependence on the landlords. After the abolition of serfdom in 1861, the peasants received not the ownership but the use of land allotments, for which they were obliged to perform labour services and pay money to the landlords until they had paid the redemption fees, i.e., they were “temporarily bound”. (See also Note 13*.)

6*. By popular economy as such Plekhanov understands peasant communal economy.

7*. The Invincible Armada – a Spanish fleet sent by Philip II of Spain against England in 1588. It was defeated by the English and Dutch fleets and destroyed by storms.

8*. The Cat and the Cook – from Krylov’s fables. Here he represents the autocracy.

Last updated on 17.10.2006