G.V. Plekhanov

Our Differences

Chapter III
Capitalism and Communal Land Tenure

4. The Narodnik’s Ideal Village Community

All our previous arguments were based on the assumption that the Russian village community will still for a long time be weighed down by unbearable taxation and land hunger. Let us now examine the matter from another aspect. Let us admit that thanks to some circumstances or others the village community will manage to get rid of that burden. The question is: will the disintegration of the community which has already set in then stop? And will not the community then rush to communist ideals with the speed and impetuosity of Gogol’s troika? [9*]

At present the total of the payments exacted on the peasant allotments is, in the majority of cases, higher than the income from those allotments. Hence the quite natural desire of a certain section of the peasantry to detach themselves from land which only brings a negative rent. Let us now imagine the opposite case. Let us picture that there has been a serious reform in our taxation system and that the payments exacted on the peasant allotments have become considerably less than the income. This general case which we assume exists even now in the form of isolated exceptions. Even now there are village communities in which the land is not a burden for the peasant, communities in which, on the contrary , it brings him a definite, though not large, income. The tendencies observed in such communes ought to show us what the fate of the ancient form of our peasant land tenure should be in the event of all village communities being placed in such comparatively favourable conditions. Let us see what hopes, what expectations the examples of these privileged communities can awake in us.

In the Collection of Statistical Reports on Moscow Gubernia we find the following highly important indication: “General re-allotments of village community fields take place all the oftener according as the payments exacted on the community lands are higher, and as these (payments) are more out of proportion to the income from the land. If the sum of the payments is not higher than the income from the community land, re-allotments take place only after long intervals of from 15 to 20 or more years; if, on the contrary, the sum of the payments exceeds the income from the land, the intervals between re-allotments are shorter, the re-allotments being repeated all the more frequently according as the proportion between payments and the income from the land is greater, other conditions being equal.” [24] The same thing was noted by Mr. Lichkov in Ryazan Gubernia. It is easy to understand what this means: it shows us that a lowering of the payments exacted on the peasant’s land would arouse a tendency to lengthen the intervals between re-allotments. To be more exact, however, we should say that a lowering of the payments would only increase that tendency, since it already exists even at present. “A comparison of the mean figures expressing the periods between general re-allotments in single uyezds and the figures expressing the frequency of re-allotments reveals a tendency to lengthen the periods between re-allotments, and therefore to lower the number of re-allotments, i.e., to lengthen the duration of tenure.” [25] The same tendency is pointed out in the Report of the Agricultural Commission in regard to other gubernias in European Russia. Many of our Narodniks have great sympathy for that tendency. They think it will provide the possibility of removing or extenuating certain inconveniences in agriculture which are inseparable from radical re-allotments of community lands. This is correct, but the misfortune is that the inconvenient consequences of the community principle will in this case be removed only by means leading to the undermining of that principle itself and which very much resemble curing a headache by cutting the head off. The lengthening of the period of the allotment is one of the signs of the imminent disintegration of the village community. In every place where this form of land tenure has disappeared under the influence of growing individualism, its disappearance has taken place by a fairly long process of adaptation of the village community to the rising needs for individual immovable property. Here, as everywhere, factual relations have anticipated juridical relations: land which was the property of the whole community remained longer and longer in the possession of a certain family which cultivated it until, in the end, the lengthening of the period of allotment prepared the ground for the complete abolition of the antiquated juridical standards. The cause of this is easy to understand and is easily revealed by any at all attentive study of the process by which immovable property becomes individual property.

The village community is no more than one of the stages in the decline of primitive communism. [26] Collective ownership of the land could not but arise in societies which did not know any other form of ownership. “The historian and ethnographer,” Mr. Kovalevsky rightly says, “will seek the oldest forms of common ownership not among the tribes that had already become settled, but among the nomads who hunted and fished, and he will see in communal land tenure of the former no more than the transposition to immovable property of all the juridical ideas and institution. which arose under the pressure of necessity among individual tribes when the only means of subsistence were hunting and fishing.” [27] Thus the “juridical ideas and institutions” connected with movable property had a decisive influence on the character of immovable property. Far from weakening, this influence even grew still more when movable property assumed an individual character. But on the other hand, it now took the opposite direction. Formerly movable property tended to give a collective character to immovable property, because it belonged not to individuals but to the whole tribe. Now, on the contrary, it undermines communal immovable property because it does not belong to the whole village community but to individuals. And this indubitable influence of movable property on immovable was shown with particular force where, as in agriculture, the very essence of the economic undertaking demands simultaneous utilisation of articles of both private and collective property. The corn-grower needs first land available for his use only for a certain time, and second, fertilisers, seeds, draught animals and instruments of labour, which are his private property. It is in this point of contact of the two kinds of property that the disintegrating influence of individualism attains its peak and victory falls all the sooner on its side according as the objects of movable (private) property acquire greater influence in agriculture, i.e., as the given category of communal lands requires more labour, fertilisers and care. That is why kitchen gardens and lands attached to the house, being the object of more assiduous cultivation, become hereditary property of the household earlier than other lands, whereas common pastures and waste lands, which require only to be fenced in for the safety of the cattle gracing on them, remain communal property longer than other lands. Between these two extremes come the other communal lands in ascending or descending order of the complication of their cultivation.

Thus the lengthening of the period of the allotment is the natural consequence of the increasing diligence with which the lands are cultivated.

The following examples will explain this.

In the Zaozyorye village community (Novgorod Gubernia) “all the ploughland is divided into two types: 1) steady lands and 2) ploughland”. The former pass from one householder to another only at radical re-allotments, which take place only at inspections; the second type of fields, ploughland, “are divided among the householders every year before the autumn”. This difference is determined by the fact that “steady fields are usually dunged” and the “peasants are satisfied with relatively long intervals from one re-allotment to the next”, because, as they themselves say, “one must get some profit out of the land, or else why the devil should I work well on my strip if tomorrow I have to hand it over to somebody else?” More careful cultivation leads to more prolonged ownership, and this in turn is naturally extended to other types of communal lands which for some reason are considered by the peasants to be of particular value, although their cultivation requires no particular expense. In the same Zaozyorye community the communal hayfields are divided just like the ploughlands into several categories; those of the first category, “large water meadows” along the river Khorinka, “are included only in the radical re-allotment”. [28]

The same phenomenon, only more pronounced, is to be found in the Torkhovo community, Tula Gubernia. Those householders in this community “who fertilise their strips hold on to them and bring themselves to yield them to another householder only in exceptional circumstances”.

In Mikhailov Uyezd, Ryazan Gubernia, “the peasants do not divide the dunged fields”.

In Mtsensk Uyezd, Orel Gubernia, “at the re-allotment one strip of land is left undivided so that each can fertilise it. These strips are called dung strips. Each peasant has five sazhen [10*] of such dung strip, which is never reallotted.”

In Kurmysh Uyezd, Simbirsk Gubernia, “in recent years” – this was written in the early seventies – “allotments of land are made for longer periods, as a result of which agriculture is improving and it is becoming a general custom to dung the fields”. [29]

The connection between the lengthening of allotment periods and improved cultivation of the fields is obvious from the examples quoted. There is no longer any doubt that householders are very unwilling to part with land whose cultivation has demanded any particular expense. This tendency to hold for as long as possible strips once received in allotment would naturally become much weaker if all the members of the community had the material possibility to fertilise their fields to the same extent. “If all or at least a considerable majority of the households could grow corn with the same efficiency, there would not be any great difference between the strips, and general re-allotments of fields would not be burdensome to anybody,” said Moscow Gubernia peasants to Mr. Orlov. But such equality is of itself very unstable in a village community, in which economy is run by single households on the community land, and each individual member cultivates at his own risk and peril the strip of land allotted to him. The number of animals, the quality of agricultural implements and the labour-power of the family are variable magnitudes which considerably diversify the income of individual households. The development of industry around or inside the village community opens up new means of earning and at the same time new sources of inequality. One household has no means at all of “earning outside”, while another earns a considerable part of its income in this way. One householder engaging in cottage industry becomes a “small master” and exploiter of the members of his own community, while the fate of another is to fall into the numerous category of exploited. All this, of course, affects the economic capacity of the various households. And finally, not all households bear the burden of state taxation with equal ease. In this way the village community is divided into the “sunny” side and the “cold” side – into a section of rich, “enterprising peasants” and section of poor ones, who little by little become “airy” people. Then re-allotments become extremely unprofitable for prosperous peasants. These are forced to “work not for themselves, but for their weaker and less prosperous neighbours”. It goes without saying that the well-to-do peasants try to avoid this necessity – unpleasant for them; they begin to adopt a very unfavourable attitude to re-allotments. We can therefore say that the inequality which necessarily arises in the village community, also necessarily leads, at a more or less early period of the community’s existence, to a lengthening of the period of allotment.

But the matter does not end there. With the lengthening of the periods between the re-allotments, the inequality among the members of the community, far from disappearing, is intensified still more. Householders who have the means of cultivating their allotments better now no longer fear that “tomorrow” their land will pass into somebody else’s hands. They cultivate it with great industry and do not stop at expense to improve it. Their troubles are naturally rewarded with better harvests. The well-cultivated strip of the prosperous householder brings in a greater income than the hardly ploughed allotments of the village poor. [30] As a result there is a repetition in the community of the old and yet ever new story told in the parable of the talents: the prosperous householder becomes still more “prosperous”, the poor one still poorer. The well-to-do householders form among themselves a defensive and offensive alliance against the poor, who still have a voice in deciding community business and may still demand re-allotments. Desiring at all costs to maintain their hold on the well-cultivated strips of community land, and being hesitant or unable to establish household possession by heredity, the well-to-do peasants resort to the following clever measure. They separate their lands into a special plot, from which allotments are made only to prosperous householders. “The community lands are divided into two unequal parts: one, comprising the better soil, is all allotted to the prosperous corn-growers and is cultivated by them; the other, which comprises the poorer soil, is allotted to the unenterprising households and lies waste.” [31] The poor are thus deprived of any hope of ever having at their disposal the well-cultivated land of their fortunate neighbours. The character of the community changes radically: from a buttress and bulwark for the poorer members it becomes the cause of their final ruin. The lengthening of the periods between re-allotments, which appeared as a result of inequality among the community members, leads only to an accentuation of the inequality and the final undermining of the village community.

In their efforts to achieve the fulfilment of their demands, our reformers presume that they are working for the consolidation of the “traditional foundations which have withstood”, etc., etc., which, being translated from Narodnik into human language, means for the maintenance of communal land tenure. But life has some very unpleasant surprises in store for them. The increase in the allotments and the reduction of taxes result in the peasants “valuing” the land, and where they “value” it they do not like re-allotments and therefore endeavour to lengthen the periods between them; but where periods between re-allotments are lengthened inequality among the members of the community grows, and the peasants are gradually prepared by the very logic of things for hereditary household ownership. Briefly, the measure recommended as a means of maintaining the village community only increases the instability of its equilibrium which already amazes the impartial observer; this measure will be a real “gift of the Greeks” for the community. It must be conceded that only with the help of a very ardent imagination and a pretty big dose of ignorance can one base any plans of reform on the shaky foundations of a form of life which is in such a hopeless and contradictory condition.

The contradictions typical of the social form in question inevitably and fatally affect the way of thinking and the conduct of its supporters. Our legal Narodniks, who are so prolific of all kinds of recipes for supporting and consolidating the “traditional foundations of the Russian people’s life”, do not notice that they are all, in fact, coming more and more to voice the interests of the section of the peasants representing the principle of individualism and kulak enrichment.

Talk about popular credits and tender emotion at the so-called “community” leases out of landlords’ estates can serve as new examples of a short-sighted attitude to the interests of the village community. In essence, neither the communal leases nor the petty credit on land by any means consolidate the “foundations” which are so dear to our Narodniks, they even directly undermine the community principle. We shall come back to this question, but first of all we consider it necessary to finish dealing with other causes of the disintegration of the village community upon which we have already touched.

We already know that the peasants favour the lengthening of the periods between re-allotments of the communal lands for the sake of their better cultivation. They do not want to “work well” on a strip which may soon go over to somebody else. Good cultivation of the land presupposes the expenditure not only of the worker’s living labour but also of the inanimate products of his past work, of those means of production which in bourgeois economy bear the name of capital.

These expenditures of “capital” are paid back over a more or less long period of time. Some are refunded to the owner completely in as little as one or a few years in the form of increased income from the land; others, on the contrary, require a considerable time to circulate. The first are called circulating capital expenditures, the second, constant capital expenditures. It goes without saying that the more constant capital expenditures in peasant agriculture increase, the more the rich and well-to-do householders will intensify their striving to hold on to their allotments as long as possible. The manuring of the soil is not so great an expenditure, and yet we see that it is in itself enough to make a certain section of our peasantry hostile to re-allotments. “It is bad because I have three cows, whereas he has one cock,” the peasants of Sengilevskoye Volost [12*], Yuryev Uyezd, say, commenting on re-allotment. [32] What, then, will the situation be when more rational management, intensive cultivation and many-field system are introduced? There can be no doubt that communal land tenure is a serious obstacle to their consolidation. This form of land tenure is already leading to abnormal phenomena such as refusal to fertilise ploughlands. In Kaluga Gubernia some “peasants take all the dung out to the hemp-close and fertilise their fields very little for fear that when there is a re-allotment the strip may go to another master”. In Moscow Gubernia “the dunging of ploughfields is stopped three years before re-allotment”. In Kineshma Uyezd, Kostroma Gubernia, “there are instances of well-to-do peasants selling the dung they have accumulated” because they cannot bring themselves to use it for the fields for the reasons already mentioned. In Tula Gubernia “the fields belonging to peasants who have not yet bought themselves free and are still obliged to pay quit-rent become exhausted year by year through not being fertilised, because for the last ten years dung has not been taken to the fields but has been kept in reserve until the re-allotment of the land”. Finally in Syzran Uyezd, Simbirsk Gubernia, “it is obvious from many reports on rent prices that the lease rent under communal land tenure (when whole allotments are leased out) is on the average only half that of land which is private property, owned by a household hereditarily. There can be no doubt about this fact, which can be easily authenticated from books, transactions and contracts in the volost administrative offices.

“The explanation for this is that the mere cultivation of the land, because of the negligible allotments falling to each householder, is a great inconvenience; this is a fact which is fully acknowledged by the better-off and developed section of the peasant population and it in turn gave rise to two things which must be recognised as the most characteristic in the definition of the present condition of peasant landownership. Firstly, in some villages (Kravkovo, Golovino, parts of Fedrino and Zagarino) the communities have decided to divide the communal land into household allotments. Secondly, in a large number of villages, individual householders redeem their allotments and demand that they be detached from the communal lands. Similar cases are encountered in the villages of Repyevka, Samoikino, Okulovka and many others; they would be far more frequent if there were more order in the peasant administration, but now, a certain obscureness in the law, which is also aggravated by defects in the peasant administration, willy-nilly holds up redemption cases.” [33]

But this does not exhaust the inconveniences of the communal land tenure. The obligatory rotation of crops connected with it also raises considerable obstacles to the improvement of agriculture.

Can there be radical improvements in agriculture, for example in the Torkhovo village community, Tula Gubernia, where “it is not allowed either to fence in one’s field or to change the system of field crop cultivation”, or in the Pogorelki community, Kostroma Gubernia, where “a three-field system, obligatory for all, is in vigour”? Such village communities are by no means exceptions; on the contrary, the order prevailing in them can be acknowledged to be the general rule, based on the simple consideration that in the event of fields being fenced in or the system of cultivation changed by some member of the community, “for the sake of one everybody would have to bear restrictions on the admission of the cattle to fallow lands and stubble”. [34] The elder and the peasants of Tikhonov Volost, Kaluga Uyezd, stated that “no farm work can be done as the individual householder would like: he is not allowed treble fallow ploughing when the others do only double fallow ploughing, because the cattle are put out to graze on the fallow land; for the same reason he cannot sow winter rye earlier than the others; he must start mowing at the same time as the others because one is not allowed to mow before the hay meadows are shared out, and he cannot mow after the others because the cattle are driven from the fallow land; and thus in absolutely all kinds of work there are similar hindrances”. Not to mention the introduction of new crops. This is impossible if they are “sown later than our plants, after the harvesting of which the cattle in the community will trample everything flat”. [35] We can, therefore, say that a struggle between the community, on the one hand, and its members, who see their advantage in a change in the system of cultivation and have the necessary means, on the other, is inevitable. And it is not difficult to foretell on whose side victory will be: “the rich will always dominate the poor,” the peasants say; in the present case, the rich minority will “dominate” the poor by using the most terrible weapon which history ever created, i.e., improved means of production.

Much paper has been filled by our Narodniks to prove that the village community in itself, i.e., by the essence of the principle on which it is based, is not hostile to any improvements in agriculture. All that is necessary is for all the members of a given community to set about such improvements, or, still better, to cultivate the land collectively, they said, and far from meeting difficulties, the matter will be considerably eased by the absence of private ownership of the land. That is right, of course, but then there are many possibilities whose conversion into realities can be thought of only under certain conditions which are impossible. at the time in question.

If only frost the flowers did not blight,
Flowers would bloom in winter all right!

the song says. And that is true, but can one prevent frost in our climate in winter? No? Well, flowers will not bloom in winter except in hot-houses. Our peasants could eat oysters with champagne, if only ... if only they had the means. The importunate question of the means has always been the cold water that cooled the fire of Manilov’s imagination. If all our peasants had the means not to cultivate their fields according to improved methods, but simply to keep up the traditional three-field farming, we would not have the agrarian question which Messrs, the Narodniks are working so hard and so unsuccessfully to solve. Reality tells us that an enormous proportion of our peasantry have no such means, and once they have not got them neither individual householders nor the whole state either desire or have any reason to put off the improvement of the cultivation of the land until the majority of the community members “recover”: has not our antediluvian wooden plough already played enough tricks on us in the fight for the market, if only with the Americans, who do not postpone the use of the steam plough till the golden age of fraternity and equality?

Consequently we can say that the introduction of improved methods of agriculture will be a new factor in the disintegration of our village community unless by some miracle the inequality which already exists in our modern “reformed” countryside disappears. But we shall speak of miracles later.

But what is improved agriculture? Is it a negative condition of social development, the product of unfavourable influence surrounding the tiller of the soil, or is it, on the contrary, the result of the abolition of those unfavourable influences, the effect of a rise in the level of the peasants’ material welfare? It seems to us that the second assumption is more correct than the first. Now the majority of the peasants are very poor and the system of collective responsibility threatens even the well-to-do minority with ruin. It is easy to understand that they are not interested now in intensive cultivation of the soil. But place them in better conditions, remove the burden of taxation which is oppressing them, and even the collective responsibility system will cease to be a threat to the rich peasants: the fewer insolvent members of the community there are, the less responsibility the rich will have. Confident of their future, the better-off section of the peasantry will begin to think of serious -improvements in cultivating the soil. But then they will come into conflict with the community and will have to engage in a mortal struggle with it. The conclusion, therefore, again forces itself upon us that improvement in the material welfare of the peasantry will intensify the instability of communal land tenure and render more frequent the phenomena already observed in Tambov Gubernia, for instance, where “peasants who become rich introduce ownership of plots, but as long as they are poor they adhere to communal ownership, with re-allotment of the fields”. [36] Our patient is poorly, so poorly! He is now so exhausted that he is rotting alive and yet all the nutrition recommended by our legal Narodnik homeopathists as a means of restoring his strength can do nothing but hasten the process of disintegration that has already begun.

But is it not time to finish with the village community? Have we not already shown all the factors of its disintegration? By no means! There are many, very many such factors. All the principles of modern economy, all the springs of modern economic life are irreconcilably hostile to the village community. Consequently, to hope for its further independent “development” is as strange as to hope for a long life and further development of a fish that has been landed on the bank. The question is not what hook the fish has been caught with, but whether its respiratory organs are adapted to the surrounding atmosphere. And the atmosphere of modern money economy kills our archaic form of land tenure, undermines its very foundation. Do you want illustrations? Here are some.

We have already seen what a destructive effect money economy has on the family community. Let us now look for examples of its influence on the rural community, the village community proper.

5. Redemption [13*]

Here we have the redemption of lands, which is supposed to present Russia with a new estate of peasant landowners. Some village communities have already redeemed their lands. How has this affected their inner structure?

“As long ago as in the Collection of Statistical Reports on Tambov Gubernia” says Mr. L.S. Lichkov, [37] “it was pointed out, incidentally, by V.I. Orlov that the system of redeeming lands had very great influence upon the abolition of land re-allotment among the peasants for it maintained and spread among the peasantry the view that redeemed land was their personal, inalienable property ... My colleagues and I, in collecting statistical data, also had occasion to note the same thing in Ryazan Uyezd.”

It must be admitted that Mr. Lichkov was able to note a highly curious and instructive phenomenon. “In Ryazan Uyezd,” he says, “the peasants who have redeemed land do not at all reallot their lands in village communities where land is valued, whereas those who are temporarily bound, especially the state peasants, do effect land re-allotments. The peasant landowners, on the other hand, reallot the land only where land is not valued, i.e., where it is not really the land that has to be share d, but the burdens which it brings ... It is extremely characteristic that in all the redeemed communities where the land is divided out among the actual members this distribution is done not after, but before or at the time of the redemption (generally with the intention of never dividing it any more). But since the redemption there is not a single community – except those in which the land is poor and only a burden to the peasants – not a single one, I say, in which land was reallotted, notwithstanding the obvious inequality of its distribution. However annoying it may be, one must all the same admit this and other facts, which are characteristic of peasant interests by no means favourable to the village community – one must admit this because one must look every fact in the face and not embellish it with phrases harmful to the cause.”

The tendency of the lands redeemed by the peasants to become private – or more correctly household – property is not observed only in Ryazan Gubernia, the same can be seen in other places.

In Krestsy Uyezd, Novgorod Gubernia, “after redeeming land approximately half the former landlords’ peasants resolved by decision of the village community to distribute all the land by allotments including strips in different fields according to the number of persons and to abolish re-allotments for ever”. Similar cases are noted in the Report of the Agricultural Commission for Kaluga Gubernia as well. In the village of Starukhino, Tula Gubernia, “communal lands have not been reallotted since the time of the Reform”. In the event of partial re-allotments the number of persons “who received shares at the Reform” serves as the standard for the allotment. Even “in the case of the division of a family the same persons are counted, without any consideration for minors. The plot belonging to the household is never divided and goes over to the family.” As we see, the community principle has made no few concessions to individualism in this village of peasant proprietors, notwithstanding that, as Mrs. Y. Yakushkina says, they see communal land tenure as “the only means of preventing people from becoming landless”. The objective logic of things proves stronger than the subjective logic of the peasant. But here there is still struggle and disagreement between these kinds of logic, while in Borok community (Pskov Gubernia), which redeemed its land in 1864, the subjective logic of the majority long ago closely allied with the objective logic of money economy. When the poor demanded a new re-allotment the answer they were given was that “although those who now have extra allotments do not own them by law (according to the number of persons), all the same they have cleared those allotments of taxes (redemption payments) and it would therefore be unjust to deprive them of those allotments”. [38] In another village in the same district the following typical case occurred: “One of the peasants adopted a waif and asked the community to give an allotment from the common field; then the foster-father redeemed the plot for 100 rubles, i.e., exempted it for ever from re-allotment.” Here, too, the redemption of the land was hostile to communal land tenure.

This case leads us on to the redemption of the land not by the village community as a whole, but by individual members. Such a procedure is admitted by law and is not seldom practised. Sometimes peasants who have ultimately redeemed their allotments continue to hold them on the former community principle, but sometimes they oppose re-allotment and then the community is obliged to consider them as proprietors. In the village of Soroguzhino in Yuryev Uyezd, Vladimir Gubernia, “there are three houses of full proprietors who have ultimately redeemed their plots, two of them agreed unconditionally to radical re-allotment with all its consequences (change of site by lots, decrease in size of plots, etc.), while one demanded that his plot should be enlarged and the community gave him what he needed by adding strips of land to the edges of each field”. [39] In the villages of Khoroshovka and Nikolayevskoye, in the same gubernia, “there are full proprietors and the village communities intend to allot them, if only in separate strips, a complete plot equal to the one they redeemed”. [40] Sometimes, on the contrary, the community is opposed to owners leaving it, and then the redemption of the land itself is retarded. Thus, in Tambov Gubernia “many peasants desire to redeem their plots individually, but the village communities do not allow such redemptions in order not to exempt the rich peasants from the collective responsibility system”. Sometimes the village community gives householders who have redeemed their allotments the farthest and most inconvenient plots. That is why “peasants buy far more often land from others than they redeem their own” [41] in Kharkov Gubernia.

These facts suffice to show how unstable the equilibrium of communal relations is becoming owing to redemptions. It is true that the final juridical transition to hereditary ownership by household, far from being the necessary direct result of redemption, is, on the contrary, a comparatively rare thing. The peasant is conservative, but he is particularly so in his attitude to the land. But that does not change things. Only in name do the mutual relationships between those who have redeemed their land resemble the “mir” of the good old time – the time of natural economy, serfdom and the complete absence of means of communication. The basis of distribution of land is no longer the need of this or that householder, the quantity of labour-power in his family or, finally, even taxes or dues. New birds sing new songs. The peasant proprietors do not like re-allotments and are not embarrassed by the needs of their neighbours. The aged villagers moan and complain about the people being “spoilt”, the intelligentsia sigh still more earnestly and when they see to their distress that the “ deterioration of morals” is irrepressibly penetrating into the countryside, they hope only for the “revolution” which will put everything right, smooth out everything and restore to the village community the freshness it had in the time of Gostomysl. [14*] But what is surprising in this phenomenon, which so distresses the “old men” in the villages and the Narodniks in the capital? Nothing at all. “Morals” have not deteriorated, they have only been given another economic basis. Formerly the land belonged to the tsar, to “God” or whoever you like, but it was not bought. It was enough for a peasant to succeed in being accepted into a village community and he received the right to use the land, restricted, sometimes, only by the limitations of his own labour-power. And the community was in general the master of the territory it occupied, it had authority everywhere its axe, its scythe and its wooden plough went. Serfdom fettered and debased the tiller but did not change his attitude to the land. “We belong to you and the soil belongs to us,” the peasants used to say to the landlords. And now the time has come when the peasants have ceased to belong to the masters, but on the other hand, the soil has also ceased to belong to the peasants. It has to be redeemed, to be paid for in money. What is money? It is first and foremost a commodity, and a commodity which has a very special character; a commodity which buys all other commodities, a commodity which is the measure and the expression of their value. Needless to say, this special commodity cannot be an exception to the general laws of commodity production and circulation. On the contrary, it is the vehicle of those laws, it extends their operation to every place where it happens to make its appearance, through the hazard of some exchange transaction. But what are the laws of commodity production? What is a commodity and where does it come from? Commodity production develops only in a society in which the means of production, and therefore the product, are the private property of the producer; without this condition no division of labour would be enough to give rise to commodity production. Hence, commodity production is the result of the development of private property. Money, which naturally grow s out of commodity exchange, presupposes a private owner in exactly the same way as does, generally speaking, the entire process of commodity production. Individual members of the village community can acquire money only in exchange for things that are their private property, although they are produced by cultivating community land. And it is this money that the peasant must now pay as the price of redemption.

But “money begets money” in the sense too, incidentally, that the means of production and the materials for manufacture which it buys are themselves exchange value, the equivalent of the sum of money paid for them and again transformable into money should the buyer wish. Consequently, objects bought by some person must become his private property. Such is the irrefutable logic of money economy. And it is that logic which is now taking up the struggle against the tradition of communal land tenure. The redemption of land introduces into the peasant mir a contradiction which can be solved only by the final disintegration of the village community. By force of habit and tradition, and partly also by conscious conviction, the mir endeavours to preserve the old collective principle of land tenure after the mode of acquisition of that land has become entirely based on the new, money, individual principle. It goes without saying that that endeavour cannot be fulfilled, that it is impossible to transfer to collective ownership of the mir objects which were acquired in exchange for the private property of individual householders.

“Although the Statute on Redemption stipulates that peasants’ allotments will be redeemed as communal property,” says Mr. Lichkov, “nevertheless, the payment of a redemption, customarily (i.e., by force of facts, which are always stronger than any juridical standards, and stronger again than any juridical contradictions), is effected in most communities by the members of the community, according to the quantity of land. The sum of the redemption payment decreases every year as payment proceeds. Here is what may happen as a result of this: having punctiliously paid the redemption money for a period of as much as two or three decades, peasants may be deprived at a re-allotment of a considerable portion of the land they have redeemed; on the other hand, those who have not paid anything may get land for nothing. In other words, each further instalment on the redemption price, while apparently increasing the right of the one who pays it to the land redeemed, by the very fact brings him nearer to the time when he will be actually deprived at the first re-allotment of this right which he has earned by his sweat and blood. It is understandable that the peasant cannot fail to notice this practical contradiction.”

We have already seen that this contradiction can be solved only by the abolition of re-allotments and the confirmation in possession of the land of those who have paid for its redemption.

By January 1883, 20,353,327 dessiatines of land had been redeemed by the peasants. As the total land in use by the peasants is reckoned as 120,628,246 dessiatines, we can support what has been said above with the statement that the redemption of land has already managed to place one-sixth of the peasant lands in conditions which are incompatible with the principle of the village community.

The extent to which the communal land tenure principle is incompatible with the redemption of land, or purchase for money, is clear from the following. In Moscow Gubernia some peasant communities have, besides the land allotted to them, “gift land”, that is, land given gratis when they were granted freedom by their former landlords. With the exception of but a single village “gift land is everywhere owned by the communities”. But in cases when peasant communities buy land from the landlords “ownership of the portions falling to each household is always established by inheritance and by household, each household receiving the right freely to dispose of and alienate part or the whole of its portion by sale, gift, etc. Thus the size of the portion belonging to each household taking part in the redemption of the land remains fixed.” [42]

It is exactly the same in Pskov Gubernia: in cases when peasants “acquire estates, examples of which are not rare”, tenure is settled as “non-communal”.

But that is not all. Mr. Nikolai—on justly remarks that “redemption forces the producer to turn more and more of the product of his labour into commodities and consequently to lay more and more firmly the foundations of capitalist economy”.

From what has been said it is clear how naive the Narodniks are when they see the development of small land credit as means of consolidating the village community and fighting capitalism. As is their rule, they recommend exactly those measures which can only hasten the triumph of the bourgeois relationships which they hate so much. On the one hand, “all projects aimed at improving the material condition of the producer and based on credit, far from being able to improve his position, on the contrary, better the condition of a few and worsen that of the majority”. On the other hand, often lands which have been redeemed, and always those which have been bought – and the better the land is, the more often this happens – become the personal property of the one acquiring them.

In the case of the lease of landlords’ or state lands, the peasant mir is also transformed into an association of shareholders responsible for one another, an association in which the distribution of the lands leased is effected proportionally to the amount of money contributed. Where, in this case, is the community, where are the “traditional foundations”?

Incidentally, the peaceful Narodniks are not the only ones who are moved by facts of more than doubtful significance. Even the terrorists can boast of such “delicacy”. Mr. Tikhomirov, for example, in” his war against people who are convinced of the “inevitability of Russian capitalism”, points out that the “ quantity of land belonging to the peasants is slowly but steadily increasing”. He apparently considers this fact so significant that he gives it without any comments whatsoever. But after all that has been said here about the significance of money economy in the history of the village community’s disintegration, we are entitled to consider the increase of the quantity of land owned by the peasants as a fact which is extremely ambiguous, to say the least. Reality fully justifies our scepticism.

In Moscow Gubernia the amount of land bought by the peasants “increased in 12 years from 17,680 dessiatines to 59,741”. So here we see that very “slow but steady increase” noted by Mr. Tikhomirov. Fine. But how is this new land distributed among the peasants? Out of 59,741 dessiatines “31,858 belong to no more than 69 owners, i.e., exceed the usual dimensions of peasant farming, and 10,428 dessiatines consist of plots exceeding 100 dessiatines.” [43] How are we to understand this kind of “peasant property”? Does it prove that the bourgeois system cannot exist in Russia? In that case we could say of Mr. Tikhomirov what Proudhon once said of Adam Smith: he sees and does not understand, he speaks and does not realise the meaning of what he is saying!

It is now time for us to finish with the problem of the village community. We have expounded our views on its history generally and its position in Russia in particular. We have supported what we have said with facts and examples and have often compelled the Narodniks themselves to speak in our favour. Our study has been necessarily brief and superficial. Not only could we not list all the phenomena which confirm our thought and have already been noted by investigators, the limits of our work also prevented us even from pointing out all the tendencies which are now of great importance in the life of the tiller of the land and whose development is incompatible with community principles. But despite all that, we can say that our statements have not been unsubstantiated. The examples cited and the tendencies indicated perfectly suffice to defend our statements. No serious doubt is possible. Every impartial observer sees that our village community is passing through a grave crisis, and that this crisis itself is approaching its end, and that primitive agrarian communism is preparing to give way to individual or household ownership. The forms of this ownership are very diverse and it often penetrates into the countryside under the cover of the usual communal relationships. But the old form has not the power to change the new content: it will have to adapt itself to it or perish for ever. And this upheaval which is becoming more and more intense, this process of disintegration which is spreading daily in “width” and “depth” and affecting an ever-increasing area, is introducing radical changes in the peasants’ customs and outlook. While our Slavophile revolutionaries console themselves with the consideration that “three-quarters” of our factory workers are “not at all proletarians and half of them work in the factories only seasonally and accidentally” [44], the peasants themselves realise full well that the village community of today is far from being what it was formerly and that the links between the tiller of the land and the land itself are being increasingly severed. “The young, my dear friend, are running, running away from the land ... The town is attracting them,” the peasants say in Mr. Zlatovratsky’s Everyday Life in the Villages. And, indeed, the town is more and more subordinating the country to itself, introducing into it its “civilisation”, its pursuit of wealth, its antagonism between the rich and the poor; it is elevating some and lowering others, creating the “educated” kulak and a whole army of “airy people”, ignoring the lamentations of the old peasants and pitilessly pulling the ground away from under the feet of our reformers and revolutionaries of the old, so to speak, physiocratic fashion. And here, in the attitude to this process of the radical recasting of our rural “foundations”, the absolute powerlessness of the outlook which Marx and Engels branded as metaphysical is clearly shown. “To the metaphysician, things and their mental reflexes, ideas, are isolated, are to be considered one after the other and apart from each other, are objects of investigation fixed, rigid, given once for all. He thinks in absolutely irreconcilable antitheses. ‘His communication is “yea,yea; nay,nay”; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.’ For him a thing either exists or does not exist; a thing cannot at the same time be itself and something else.” [15*] That is Mr. Tikhomirov’s type of outlook and method of thinking. For him “people” is a fixed and invariable concept given once and for all; for him the village community “either exists or does not exist”, for him the peasant who is a member of the community “cannot at the same time be himself and something else”, i.e., in the given case a representative of the principle of individualism, an unwilling, and yet irresistible destroyer of the community. Mr. Tikhomirov “thinks in absolutely irreconcilable antitheses”; he cannot understand how one can acknowledge the action of capitalism to be useful and at the same time organise the workers to fight it; how one can defend the principle of collectivism and at the same time see the triumph of progress in the disintegration of one of the concrete manifestations of that principle. As “a man who is consistent and can sacrifice himself” our metaphysician presumes that the only thing to do for the people who are convinced of the “historical inevitability of Russian capitalism” is to enter the service of the “knights of primitive accumulation”. His reasoning can be taken as a classic example of metaphysical thought. “The worker capable of class “dictatorship hardly exists. Hence he cannot be given political power. Is it not far more advantageous to abandon socialism altogether for a while as a useless and harmful obstacle to the immediate and necessary aim? “ Mr. Tikhomirov does not understand that the worker who is incapable of class dictatorship can become more and more capable of it day after day and year after year, and that the growth of his ability depends to a great extent upon the influence of the people who understand the meaning of historical development. The way our author talks is “yea, yea; nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil”.

“At first sight this mode of thinking seems to us very luminous, because it is that of so-called sound common sense. Only sound common sense, respectable fellow that he is, in the homely realm of his own four walls, has very wonderful adventures directly he ventures out into the wide world of research.” [16*]

We already know what “wonderful adventures” Mr. Tikhomirov’s common sense went through during his peregrinations in the realm of suppositions: very often there was not the slightest trace of it left. But the history of that common sense is in the final account a dialectical history too. It does not exist and does exist at one and the same time. It comes to grief on the reefs of suppositions, and yet, like Rocambole resuscitated, it again appears in all its splendour on the more beaten track of reasoning.

We shall not, of course, forego the opportunity of once more meeting this merry companion. But now we must pause to remember the direction of the road we have already traversed on the initiative of Mr. Tikhomirov.

6. Small Landed Property

We have seen that in the field of processing industry large-scale capitalist production is now developing “without stopping” and that, armed with the power of capital and the might of modern technology, it is increasingly knocking the small producers out of their positions, defeating and subjugating them. We then said that the home market is entirely ready to serve large-scale production and that on the international market, too, by no means all accesses and exits are closed to it. From this we concluded that in this sphere not only the immediate future, but the present too belongs to capitalism. But we recalled that the Narodniks see the village community as an impregnable bulwark against capitalism in our country, where the bulk of the people’s labour still goes to cultivate the land. Then we turned to the community and tried to study its position today. This study brought us to the conclusion that the community is being crushed under the burden of taxes and disintegrating under the influence of money economy and of the inequality which has arisen in it, and that in many places in Russia, far from having its former calling of preserving and defending the interests of all its members without exception, it is being transformed into a community of kulaks, the destruction of which would bring nothing but profit to the village poor whom it has enslaved. Not satisfied with these results, we tried to determine what would be the significance of the reforms upon which our friends of the people rely so much. We came to the conviction that these reforms would only intensify the disintegration which has set in in the village community, and that the latter could not in any case be the bulwark against those conditions of production which have already inflicted upon it so many incurable wounds. It now remains for us to say a few words on small peasant agriculture and then we shall be in a position to draw our final conclusion about capitalism.

It would be a great mistake to think that what is called the “abolition of large-scale agriculture” will save us from capitalism. First of all this “abolition” can only prove to be a temporary and transient phenomenon, and secondly, even small-scale agriculture strives to adopt a bourgeois character. That very American competition that our big landowners fear will leave its mark on the peasant too. Transforming our corn-growing into production of a corn commodity it will subordinate all the tillers of the soil to the implacable laws of commodity production. The result of those implacable laws will be that at a certain stage in its development commodity production will lead to the exploitation of the producer, will give birth to the capitalist employer and the proletarian worker. Thus, the question of small-scale or large– scale agriculture in Russia only boils down to the question of victory for the big or for the small bourgeoisie. The traditional foundations of peasant economy, far from being consolidated by the “abolition of large-scale agriculture”, will suffer much more owing to the complete transposition into the peasantry of all the contradictions of commodity production. And all the sooner will the peasant estate divide into two hostile camps – the exploiting minority and the toiling majority.

7. Conclusion

If, after all we have said, we ask ourselves once more: Will Russia go through the school of capitalism? we shall answer without any hesitation: Why should she not finish the school she has already entered?

All the newest, and therefore most influential, trends of social life, all the more remarkable facts in the fields of production and exchange have one meaning which can be neither doubted nor disputed: not only are they clearing the road for capitalism, they themselves are necessary and highly important moments in its development. Capitalism is favoured by the whole dynamics of our social life, all the forces that develop with the movement of the social machine and in their turn determine the direction and speed of that movement. Against capitalism are only the more or less doubtful interest of a certain portion of the peasantry and also that force of inertia which occasionally is felt so painfully by educated people in every backward, agrarian country. But the peasants are not strong enough to defend their real interests; on the other hand, they are often not interested enough to defend with energy the old principles of communal life. The main stream of Russian capitalism is as yet not great; there are still not many places in Russia where the relations of the hirer of labour to the labourer correspond entirely to the generally current idea of the relations between labour and capital in capitalist society; but towards this stream are converging from all directions such a number of rivers, big and small, of rivulets and streamlets, that the total volume of water flowing towards it is enormous, and there can be no doubt that the stream will grow quickly and vigorously. For it cannot be stopped, and still less can it be dried up; all that remains possible is to regulate its flow if we do not want it to bring us nothing but harm and if we are not abandoning hope of submitting at least partly the elemental force of nature to the rational activity of man.

But what must we Russian socialists do in this case, we who are accustomed to thinking that our country has some charter of exceptionalism granted to it by history for services which nobody, however, is aware of?

It is not difficult to answer that question.

All laws of social development which are not understood work with the irresistible force and blind harshness of laws of nature. But to discover this or that law of nature or of social development means, firstly, to be able to avoid clashing with it and, consequently, expending one’s efforts in vain, and, secondly, to be able to regulate its application in such a manner as to draw profit from it. This general idea applies entirely to the particular case we are interested in. We must utilise the social and economic upheaval which is proceeding in Russia for the benefit of the revolution and the working population. The highly important circumstance that the socialist movement in our country began when capitalism was only in the embryo must not be lost on us. This peculiarity of Russian social development was not invented by the Slavophiles or the pro-Slavophile revolutionaries. It is an indisputable fact which we are all aware of and which will be of great benefit to the cause of our working class on the condition that the Russian socialists do not waste their energy building castles in the air after the style of the principality and veche epoch.

Author’s Footnotes

24. Collection of Statistical Reports, Vol.IV, p.200.

25. Ibid., p.158.

26. [Note to the 1905 edition.] I repeat that the fiscal origin of our village community has already been proved.

27. Communal Land Tenure, the Causes, Course and Consequences of Its Disintegration, p.27.

28. See Collection of Material for the Study of the Village community, published by Free Economic and Russian Geographical Societies, St. Petersburg 1880, pp.257-65.

29. Report of the Agricultural Commission, Appendix I, Section I, Chapter 2, Communal and Allotment Use of the Land.

30. In Spasskoye Volost, Yuryev Uyezd, Vladimir Gubernia, “if 12 meras [11*] of rye per person are sown, six hundred sheaves are harvested and five meras are threshed from one hundred sheaves”. Such is the average harvest. It varies for peasants of various degrees of prosperity. The “well-to-do peasants” have the best harvest – “ten hundred sheaves per person, and they thresh six meras per hundred sheaves.” “The land-poor single woman peasants” have the poorest harvests – “200-300 sheaves, each giving 3-4 meras.” Prugavin, The Village community, etc., p.15.

31. Орлов, «Формы крестьянского землевладения», стр.55. [Orlov, Form of Peasant Land Tenure, p.55.]

32. Prugavin, The Village community, pp.40-41.

33. Report of the Agricultural Commission, Appendix I, Section I, Chapter 2, Conditions of Peasant Agriculture.

34. Collection of Material for the Study of the Village community, pp.161

35. Report, Conditions of Peasant Agriculture.

36. Report of the Agricultural Commission, Appendix I, Section II, p. 178.

37. See his article Redemption as the Destroyer of the Village Community, Delo No.11, 1881.

38. See the Collection quoted above, article by Mr. P. Zinovyev, p.308.

39. Prugavin, The Village community, p.19.

40. Ibid., p.48.

41. Report of the Agricultural Commission, Section II.

42. Orlov, Forms of Peasant Land Tenure in Moscow Gubernia.

43. V.V., The Destinies of Capitalism, p.136.

44. What Can We Expect from the Revolution?, pp.228 and 236, Vestnik Narodnoi Voli No.2.


9*. At the end of the second volume of his poem Dead Souls, Gogol gave a symbolical figure of Russia in the form of a troika rushing forward while “other peoples and states give way to it”.

10*. Sazhen – an old Russian measure of length = 2.25 yds.

11*. Mera – an old Russian measure of weight = 144 lbs.

12*. This is apparently a mistake. On page 40 of Prugavin’s book, from where the quotation is taken, the following volosts of Yuryev Uyezd are mentioned: Spasskoye, Esiplevo, Davydovo, Petrovskoye, Gorkino and Simskaya.

13*. Redemption – a step taken by the tsarist government after the abolition of serfdom. The Reform of 1861 provided that the temporarily-bound peasants were to redeem their allotments. On concluding the redemption deal, the temporarily-bound peasants became property owners and were freed from former obligatory services to their landlords.

14*. Gostomysl – first prince or posadnik of Novgorod according to some of the later chronicles.

15*. F. Engels, Anti-Dühring, Moscow 1959, Introduction, p.34.

16*. F. Engels, Anti-Dühring, Moscow 1959, p.31.

Last updated on 17.10.2006