V. I.   Lenin

The Purpose of Zemstvo Statistics

Published: Prosveshcheniye No. 1, January 1914. Signed: V. Ilyin. Published according to the text in Prosveshcheniye.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 20, pages 82-88.
Translated: Bernard Isaacs and The Late Joe Fineberg
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2004). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
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(Penza Gubernia Zemstvo. Summary of a Valuation and Statistical Investigation of Penza Gubernia. Series III. Investigation of Landed Property. Part II. Census of Peasant Households. Section I. Reference Data on Villages and Detailed Tables of Commune House-to-House Returns Census. Vol. 3: Krasnoslobodsk Uyezd, Penza. 1913. Price 1 ruble. Preface 10 pages. Text 191. Total 201 pp.)

The Penza Zemstvo[1] is conducting a valuation and statistical investigation on the basis of a programme so full and detailed that it must arouse exceptional interest in every student of Russia’s economic system.

A complete census is being taken of all peasant households according to an abbreviated household card. In addition, every third household is described according to a more detailed brief household card; every ninth household is described in a still fuller household card, called the detailed card; every twenty-seventh household is described in a still fuller household card, called the special card; and, lastly, twenty-five households in the uyezd (probably representing about one-thousandth of the total households) gave their budgets in still greater detail.

In all, we have five degrees of more or less detailed investigation, and the fuller programme contains all the questions that are included in the abbreviated programme. In the preface, the authors indicate the degree of fullness of each of these five descriptions in the following manner:

The budget covers the entire production and consumption of the peasant household.

The special description studies, in each household, the sale and purchase of agricultural produce and the turnover of stock-breeding (on a special form), and all the questions contained in the detailed household card.

The detailed household card lists all the properties, undertakings and occupations of the members of the household, registers the sex, age and literacy of the members of the family and the value of livestock, dead stock and buildings, and records the incomes from undertakings and occupations and crops, and expenditure on hiring labour.

The brief household card contains only data on the sex, age and literacy of the members of the family, and lists their properties, undertakings and occupations, livestock and dead stock.

The abbreviated household card registers the size of the family divided according to sex, the number of male workers, the properties and undertakings of the family, except rented land, the principal livestock, the literacy and outside occupations of the male workers, and also the number of boys and girls attending school.”

It is to be regretted that the volume contains no appendix with a full list of the questions contained in all the five types of descriptions. Only the briefest (“abbreviated”) household card is appended, and this gives (approximately) a no less detailed description of the households than is given in the cards used in agricultural censuses organised on European lines.

It may be said without exaggeration that if the Penza statisticians investigate the whole gubernia according to the above programme the data they will collect will be almost ideal. Let us assume that there are 270,000 households in the gubernia (actually the figure is probably higher). This will give us 90,000 descriptions containing data on the amount of land rented, and on all the live and dead stock; it will also give us 30,000 descriptions containing data on the crops (of each household), on expenditure on hired labour, and value of farm implements and buildings. It will give us a further 10,000 descriptions of the sale and purchase of agricultural produce as well as the “turnover of stock-breeding” (i. e., probably a precise description of the conditions under which livestock is kept and fed, the productivity of stock-breeding, etc.). And lastly, it will give us two hundred and fifty budgets which, counting ten typical groups of peasant households, will give exhaustive descriptions of each group based on twenty-five budgets per group, i.e., quite sufficient to obtain steady averages.

In short, if this programme is fulfilled, peasant husbandry in the Penza Gubernia will have been studied magnificently, and far better than in West-European censuses (which, it is true, cover the whole country, not a gubernia).

The whole point is, how these excellent data will be tabulated. That is the main difficulty. Herein lies the weakest spot of our Zemstvo statistics, which as far as thoroughness and care for detail are concerned, are splendid. The data on each of the 300,000 households (or each of the 90,000, 30,000 or 10,000) may be splendid, but if they are not properly tabulated they will be utterly useless for scientific purposes, for an understanding of Russia’s economics, inasmuch as general averages per village commune, volost, uyezd or gubernia, tell us very little.

It is precisely at the present time that semi-medieval (patriarchal and feudal) agriculture in Russia is undergoing a process of capitalist transformation. This process started over half a century ago. During this long period of time, a vast amount of miscellaneous information on the various features of this process has been collected in Russian economic literature. The important thing now is that this mass of Zemstvo statistics, so admirable in details, thoroughness and authenticity, should be properly tabulated. These statistics must be tabulated in such a way as to provide an answer, a precise and objective answer, based on mass data, to all the questions indicated or outlined in the course of over half a century’s analysis of the post-Reform economics of Russia (and at the present time the Stolypin agrarian legislation poses a great number of new and extremely interesting questions concerning Russia’s post-revolutionary economics).

The statistical returns must be tabulated in such a way as to make it possible to study from them the process by which the old, feudal, natural economy, based on the corvée and labour service, is being destroyed and superseded by commercial, capitalist economy. No person in Russia at all familiar with politics and economics can now doubt that this process is going on. The only question is how to tabulate these excel lent house-to-house data so as to prevent them from being wasted, and to facilitate the study of all aspects of this extremely complex and varied process.

To meet these requirements, the tabulation of the house-to-house statistics should yield the greatest number of group and complex tables drawn up in the most rational and detailed manner, so that all the types of households that have   been noted—or evidence of which have been noted (this is no less important)—may be studied separately. Without varied and rationally compiled group and complex tables, this wealth of house-to-house statistics will simply be wasted. That is the greatest weakness of present-day statistics, which of late have been suffering increasingly from what I would call “statistical cretinism”—an inability to see the wood for the trees; economic types of phenomena are sub merged in a welter of figures, types that can be brought out only in varied and rationally compiled group and complex tables.

To be called rationally compiled, such tables must first of all enable one to trace the process of development of capitalism in all its ramifications and forms. Only such a tabulation can be regarded as rational as will bring into focus the best preserved types of natural economy and the various degrees to which it is being superseded by commercial and capitalist agriculture (in different areas commercial agriculture assumes different forms, drawing first one and then another branch of agriculture into the process of production for the market). The various types of economy that are in the process of transition from exclusively natural agriculture to the sale of labour-power (what we call “industries”, which consist in the sale of labour-power) and also to the purchase of labour-power, should be dealt with separately in special detail. So also must the various types of households according to their level of wealth (degree of accumulation of capital, and of opportunity of forming and accumulating it), and according to size of aggregate agricultural production, and the size of those branches of agricultural production which in the given locality and at the given time lend themselves most easily to transformation into commercial agriculture or commercial stock-breeding, and so on and so forth.

This transformation of natural economy into commercial agriculture is the crux of the matter in a study of the modern economics of agriculture. The endless errors and prejudices of official, liberal-professorial, petty-bourgeois Narodnik and opportunist “theory”, are due to failure to understand this transformation or to inability to trace it in its extremely varied forms.

Judging from the volume mentioned above, the work of the Penza statisticians is being performed by people who do not go about the job in bureaucratic fashion, but are really interested in their subject and capable of producing scientific research of immense value. Nevertheless this work seems to be suffering from an excess of statistical red tape or statistical zeal and from a lack of politico-economic common sense and purpose.

The volume under review contains, first of all, reference material on the villages. This material takes up a little less than one-tenth of the book. The other nine-tenths consist of tables drawn up according to village communes. Each group of peasants (according to size of holdings) in each commune in each village is given a separate horizontal line (there are altogether 1,009 for the whole uyezd) containing 139 columns. The information is given in remarkable detail. Nine-tenths of this information will probably never be required for any kind of reference even by the most inquisitive of the local inhabitants.

But remarkable detail verges on something like statistical mania when we see columns 119–139, i.e., twenty-one columns, giving the relative numbers, i. e., the percentages, for each of the thousand uyezd divisions! The statisticians have made thousands and tens of thousands of calculations for a single uyezd, which even the local inhabitants may need only in highly exceptional cases. The statisticians have made about 15,000 to 20,000 calculations, of which probably only a dozen or two will be needed by local inhabitants alone, who could have made these calculations themselves on the rare occasions they required them.

The vast labour wasted by the statisticians detracts from the amount of work they are able (with the available personnel and the available budget—the Zemstvo budgets provide very modest funds for statistics!) to devote to investigation. The volume under review contains thousands of figures constituting an unnecessary statistical “luxury”, but it does not contain a single summary. All summaries have been left for subsequent volumes. In the first place, we are not sure that other volumes will appear, nor can the Russian Zemstvo statisticians, who are too dependent on police tyranny, be sure of this, And secondly, without a   test being made of the various group and complex tables according to uyezd, it is never possible to obtain a full and scientifically satisfactory system of summarised, group and complex tables according to gubernia.

So far we have a deplorable fact—a volume of Zemstvo statistics of negligible, almost negatory scientific value, on which an immense amount of labour has been wasted, and which contains a wealth of valuable and up-to-date data (the result of the law of November 9!) that have not been summarised, collated, grouped, or combined.

We shall mention at least some of the groups that could and should have been established in order to render this wealth of Zemstvo statistics serviceable. The uyezd and the gubernia should be divided into districts showing where commercial agriculture of the various types is most prevalent (the distilling of liquor from grain and potatoes; the sale of dairy products; butter and oil making; special commercial crops, and so on, and so forth); then according to the prevalence of on-agricultural and migratory industries; conditions of landlord economy (the nearness of landed estates, or the absence of same; the predominance of serf-like corvée, labour service, métayage, share-cropping, and so forth, or of capitalist, landlord farming employing hired labour); also the degree to which commerce and capitalist turnover in general are developed (an extremely important division which must positively be made as an elementary requirement of political economy, and which can easily be made, although that is usually not done: that is to say, to group villages according to their distance from railways, market-places, trade centres, and so forth); according to size of village (in the Krasnoslobodsk Uyezd there are about 30,000 house holds distributed over 278 villages, but 19 of the largest villages have a total of 9,000 households; in all probability the conditions vary).

It is desirable and necessary to group households not only according to the size of their holdings but also according to the crop area (in their preface the compilers say that peasant farming in Penza Gubernia is conducted “mainly on the peasants’ own land and not on rented land”; but this statement is too sweeping, and the question of renting land is of vast importance and should be elaborated in detail);   likewise, according to the area under commercial crops, wherever and whenever they are to be observed and can be itemised; further, according to “industries” (but not in the crude way that this is usually done, as if in mockery of political economy, by taking “households with members en gaged in industries” and those without such members; it is absolutely necessary to indicate the status of the person in the industry: households in which a large, medium, or small number of the members go out to work as hired labourers; households which own small or large establishments employing a small, medium or large number of wage-workers, and so forth), and according to the number of livestock owned (this has partly been done in this volume), etc.

Complex tables, ten of them, say, with the households divided (again approximately) into ten groups according to the various indications of capitalism’s penetration into agriculture, would give—assuming that we have 80 columns—8,000 new calculations, i. e., would take up much less space than the 20,000 worthless calculations of percentages for each separate village commune.

The scientific value of such varied complex tables which show the great diversity of forms in which agriculture and the agriculturalist are subordinated to the market, would be tremendous. It may be said without exaggeration that they would revolutionise the science of agricultural economics.


[1] Zemstvos—local self-government bodies, dominated by the nobility, set up in the central regions of tsarist Russia in 1864. Their powers were restricted to purely local economic affairs (hospital and road building, statistics, insurance, etc.), their activities being controlled by the provincial governors and the Ministry of the Interior, who could veto any decisions the government found undesirable.

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