V. I.   Lenin

Marxist Views on the Agrarian Question in Europe and in Russia[1]

Written: Written in February 1903
Published: First published in 1932 in Lenin Miscellany XIX. Published according to the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1964, Moscow, Volume 6, pages 337-347.
Translated: ??? ???
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala and D. Walters
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Programme of Lectures

Lecture I. General Theory of the Agrarian Question. Development of capitalist agriculture. Different forms of development of commercial agriculture and the formation of the class of agricultural wage-workers. Marx’s theory of rent. Bourgeois character of the teachings of the so-called critical school (Messrs. Bulgakov, Hertz, David, Chernov, and in part Maslov, and others), which tries to explain by natural laws (such as the notorious law of diminishing returns) the existence of the tribute levied on society by the landed proprietors. Contradictions of capitalism in agriculture.

Lecture II. Small- and Large-Scale Production in Agriculture.

Efforts of the so-called critical school to obscure the slavery of the small producer in present-day society. An analysis of the monographic investigations completely misinterpreted by this school (M. Hecht, K. Klawki, Auhagen).

Lecture III. Continuation. The Baden questionnaire. Complete confirmation of Marxist views by its returns. General data of German agrarian statistics. Fable about the latifundian degeneration of big capital. Machinery in agriculture. Greatest deterioration of draught cattle in middle-peasant households. Co-operatives in agriculture; German general statistics of 1895 on dairy co-operatives. Difference in form between co-operatives in agriculture and trusts in industry, which prevented the so-called critical school from understanding the complete identity of both in their social and economic content.

Lecture IV. Presentation of the Agrarian Question in Russia. Foundations of the Narodnik world outlook and its historical significance as a primitive form of agrarian   democracy. Central significance of the question of the peasantry (the village commune and people’s production). Dis integration of the peasantry into the rural bourgeoisie and rural proletariat. Methods of studying this process and its significance. Replacement of the corvée system by the capitalist system of economy. Reactionary character of Narodnik views. Requirements of the current historical moment: elimination of the remnants of the serf-owning system and free development of the class struggle in the countryside.

Outline of Lecture One

General Theory

Marx’s theory of the development of the capitalist mode of production applies to agriculture just as it does to industry. Capitalism’s basic features and its different forms in agriculture and industry should not be confused.

Let us examine the characteristic basic features and the specific forms of the process which creates the capitalist system in agriculture. The cause of the appearance of this process is a double one: 1) commodity production and 2) the fact that labour-power, not the product, is a commodity. When this labour-power is drawn into exchange, all production becomes capitalistic, and a special class, the proletariat, is created. The growth of commodity production and the development of wage-labour in agriculture take place in a different form than ·in industry, and the application of Marx’s theory here may therefore seem incorrect; it is, however, necessary to know the form in which agriculture becomes capitalistic. To this end it is essential in the first place to establish two facts:

I. How does commercial agriculture grow? and

II. How does the formation of the working class manifest itself?

I. The basic feature of this process is the rapid growth of the industrial population and the sale of products on the market. Hence, extensive growth of the non-agricultural population is necessary for the extensive development of commodity agriculture. This process assumes different   forms and is to be observed in countries which import and export grain. On its part, the rapid growth of the industrial population creates a shortage of grain in the industrial countries, i.e., makes it impossible to do without imported grain if the technological system remains unchanged.The growing demand for grain under private ownership of the land leads to the formation of monopoly prices.

That is important for the explanation of rent.

The very process of the formation of commercial agriculture does not take place in exactly the same way as in factory industry: in industry it takes place in a simple and direct form, whereas in agriculture we see something different: the prevalence of a mixture of commercial and non-commercial agriculture. Here we have a combination of differ ent forms. In the main, in a given locality one definite product is taken to the market. On the one band, production on the landlord’s estate, and particularly on the peasant’s Land, is commodity production, while on the other hand it retains its consumer character.

The necessity to obtain money brings about the transition from natural to commercial economy. The power of money weighs upon the peasants, not only in Western Europe, but in Russia too. Zemstvo statistics show that the peasant’s subordination to the market attains colossal proportions even in places where the survivals of patriarchal economy are still very strong.

II. The process by which the class of wage-workers is formed consists in the disintegration of the peasantry into two strata: I) farmers who regard agriculture as an industry, and 2) wage-workers. This process is often described as the differentiation of the peasantry. In Russia in particular this process has been very conspicuous. It was observed by “economists” as far back as the times of the feudal system.

Specific features of formation.

This process takes place unevenly. Alongside of the emergence of a class of wage-workers we see the existence of the patriarchal system and the formation of the new, capitalist system. The wage-workers’ class is connected with the land in one way or another: the forms of this process will consequently be very varied.


Domination of Capitalist Agriculture


The population in a capitalist country is divided into three classes: 1) wage-workers, 2) owners of land, and 3) capitalists. In studying the system it will be necessary to ignore specific local features where this distinct division may not yet exist.

According to Marx, a product is basically divided into necessary and surplus-product. A certain part of this surplus-product constitutes ground rent, viz., that part which remains after the deduction of average profit on capital. In a developed capitalist society, average profit is formed under the influence of competition, which distributes the surplus-product among the capitalists, not in proportion to the number of workers, but in proportion to the total amount of capital invested in a given enterprise.

The process of the formation of average profit is analysed by Marx in Volume III of Capital. Capital will yield different profits on plots of land with varying fertility, the poorer land yielding less profit, and the better land—more, additional profit. (The theory of rent was founded before Marx by Ricardo.) Owing to monopoly prices on the grain market and the general shortage of grain, the price is determined by the poorest plot of land. The extra profit derived from the better land, or from the land situated close to the market, as compared with the poorer and more remotely situated plot, is called differential rent, according to Marx.

Rent is extracted from the farmers by the owners of land.

The varying amounts of surplus-profit may be of two kinds: 1) profit due to varying fertility, and 2) profit due to different application of capital. Further. In addition to the monopoly of private cultivation of the land, there is the monopoly of private ownership of the land: the owner of land may not give the land to the farmer until the price of grain rises, and then he takes absolute rent, which is an elementary monopoly. It may be: 1) a pure monopoly (in that case, strictly speaking, it should not be called rent). Secondly, absolute rent may be taken from surplus-profit   on agrarian capital owing to the following circumstance. In view of the fact that in agriculture the technical equipment is poorer, the share of variable capital (=which creates profit) is higher than in industry. The share of profit should therefore also be higher in agriculture than in industry. However, the monopoly of landownership prevents the levelling of high profit in agriculture and low profit in industry. And absolute rent in the strict sense of the term is taken from the higher agricultural profit which has not been levelled out. It has its source in higher grain prices. Differential rent, on the other hand, is taken from the product. Recent years, characterised by new countries being drawn into trade, have led to a crisis.

The price of land is calculated, anticipated rent. It is therefore treated as income from a certain capital. The capital to be spent on the purchase of land may yield an average rent income. Consequently, the rapid development of industry has greatly inflated and stabilised rent in Europe.

A large section of Maslov’s hook, recently published under the title Conditions of the Development of Agriculture in Russia, deals with the theory of rent, and in this question Maslov adheres to an entirely erroneous viewpoint, repeating the arguments of the bourgeois so-called “critics” of Marx, such as Mr. Bulgakov and others. Marx showed that the old English political economy took too simple a view of this question; it was treated not as a process creating special historical conditions, but as one creating natural conditions, and it reasoned therefore: rent is formed owing to the necessity of transition from the better to the poorer plots of land. But changes in the reverse direction also take place, inasmuch as improvements are effected. The critics have retreated from Marx towards bourgeois economy.

Another narrow concept of the theory of rent is one that combines the law governing the formation of differential rent with the law of diminishing returns, which alleges that profits diminish on one and the same plot of land. Ricardo explains the transition from the better plots to the poorer ones by the impossibility of applying increasing amounts of capital. All the Russian “critics” have taken up the defence of the theory of diminishing returns, as has   Maslov, who in all other questions wants to remain a Marxist. But the arguments in defence of this theory have not gone beyond quips, as, for example, the one which claims that if this theory is not recognised then it must be admitted that the returns of one plot of land should be enough to feed a whole state.

Marx fought against this theory. It adopts an arithmetical approach to the expenditure of capital and falls into error by ignoring general economic conditions. If we assume that the application of ever greater amounts of capital is always possible, then it would have been correct, but that presupposes the transformation of systems; however, systems in agriculture persist for ages, which has placed the application of capital within definite limits. If techniques do not change, then further application of capital is impossible, or possible within narrow limits. Marx pointed out that in industry too production cannot be developed infinitely on a given plot of land: if a definite territory is occupied by an enterprise, it has to be expanded if it is to be developed. If, on the other hand, land is rationally cultivated, that can only improve production; therefore Marx deduces that, far from being a disadvantage, such use of the land is, on the contrary, profitable. Precisely this “if”. was ignored by the opponents of Marx’s theory. Consequently, Maslov, as an alleged Marxist, can mislead many people by his views in this question. His book is one of the countless examples of a tendency to be seen in our time: going back instead of forward.

There is an absolute decline in the agricultural population, but agricultural production is making progress. In the nineteenth century this progress was closely connected with the growth of commodity agriculture. It brings out one of the main features of the capitalist system today, which is expressed in the development of competition in agriculture, in the creation of a market for it, and in the differentiation of the population. This progress has given a strong stimulus to the development of agriculture, but every step in this progress has been attended by a rise of contradictions which make it impossible to use all the productive forces of the new, scientific agriculture. Capitalism creates large-scale production and competition,   which are attended by rapacious use of the productive forces of the soil. Concentration of the population in the cities creates depopulated territories and an abnormal metabolism. Cultivation of the land is not improved, or not improved as it should be.

Socialist critics directed attention to this fact a long time ago (Marx). Mr. Hertz, and, later, Messrs. Bulgakov, Chernov, and Struve here in Russia maintained that the theory of Marx, who relied upon Liebig, had become antiquated. This opinion of the “critics” is quite fallacious. There is no doubt that capitalism has upset the equilibrium between the exploitation of the land and fertilisation of the land (the role of the separation of the town from the countryside). With many writers who sympathise with the “criticism” of the Marxist theory rather than with this theory itself, their own data speak against them. An example is Nossig. According to his data, it would appear that the productive forces of the soil are not replenished, that the land does not get back what is taken from it. Both manure and artificial fertilisers are required. One-third of an average of 60,000 kilograms of fertilisers used per hectare of land should be made up of manure, but that cannot be provided under the existing system of agriculture.

Thus, the influence of capitalism in agriculture is expressed in the following:

It demands freedom for the wage-worker and ousts all forms of the old bondage. But the agricultural wage-workers remain oppressed. Their oppression has become greater, which has created the need for greater struggle.

Capitalism has increased to a tremendous degree the tribute exacted by the owner of land, the magnitude of differential and absolute rent. The further development of agriculture is hampered by inflated rent.


[1] This work consists of the programme of lectures on the agrarian question and an outline of the first lecture delivered by Lenin in February 1903 at the Higher Russian School of Social Sciences in Paris. The school was founded in 1901 for Russian students living abroad, and functioned legally. The organisers of the school openly showed their dislike of the revolutionary Marxists and expressed sympathy with the representatives of the Narodniks and Socialist-Revolutionary party. However, Lenin’s prestige as a theoretician of the agrarian question was so high that the school’s Council of Professors decided to invite “the well-known Marxist Vi. Ilyin” (V. I. Lenin—Ed.), “author of the legal hooks, The Development of Capitalism in Russia and Economic Studies,” to deliver a course of lectures on the agrarian question.

Lenin drafted the programme of his lectures well in advance and presented it before opening the course. The outline of the first lecture   contained in this volume was taken down by one of the students of the school during the lecture and was then edited by Lenin.

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