Put Pravdy No. 86, May 14, 1914.
Published according to the text in Put Pravdy.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 20, pages 298-301.
Translated: Bernard Isaacs and The Late Joe Fineberg
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
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The Left Narodniks in Stoikaya Mysl No. 20, and the Narodniks in Russkoye Bogatstvo No. 4, have attacked the Narodnik Russkiye Vedomosti for having declared in favour of the freedom of mobilisation, i.e., the purchase, sale, and mortgaging of allotment land.
This question is interesting because it strikingly confirms the Marxist appraisal of the extremely backward and reactionary character of Narodnik theory. The practical significance of this question is another reason for us to deal with it.
In a society in which commodity production prevails, every small farmer is inevitably and increasingly drawn into the sphere of exchange and becomes increasingly dependent on the market, not only the local and national, but the world market as well. Each day of economic progress throughout the world, each mile of new railway laid, each new rural worker who migrates to the town or goes to work in a factory in search of “earnings”, each new agricultural machine that is introduced, in short, literally each step in world economic life draws the most remote localities into the sphere of exchange. Millions and millions of phenomena observed day by day prove that production for exchange, commodity production, capitalism, are growing in all parts of the world, and all countries without exception. That production for exchange and simple commodity production are evolving into capitalism is another phenomenon con firmed by millions and millions of daily economic observations in every village, in every trade, and in every handicraft.
Clearly, every peasant who finds himself in this milieu of world economy is a commodity producer and with every day becomes more and more dependent on the market, selling his products, buying implements of production and articles of consumption, hiring labourers, or hiring himself out as a labourer. Under these circumstances; since land is private property, freedom to buy, sell and mortgage land is an essential condition for the development of capitalism. Attempts to restrict this freedom can lead to nothing except a thousand and one devices for evading the law, to a thou sand and one obstacles in the form of red tape and bureaucracy, to the deterioration of the conditions of the peasants. Attempts to check world capitalism by means of laws or regulations restricting freedom to mobilise the land are just as witless as are attempts to stop a train by means of a wattle fence. To defend such attempts means defending serf bondage, stagnation and decay in the rural areas.
Anyone who has learnt the ABC of political economy knows that Russia is undergoing a change-over from the system of serf-ownership to capitalism.
There is no “third” system of national economy in Russia. Both the serf-owning system and capitalism signify the exploitation of labour; in this sense both systems signify “the noose and bondage”. But the characteristic features of the serf-owning system are: age-long stagnation, downtrodden and ignorant toilers, and a low level of labour productivity. The characteristic features of capitalism are: very rapid economic and social development, an enormous increase in the productivity of labour, elimination of the slave mentality among the toilers and the awakening of their ability to unite and to take an intelligent part in the affairs of life.
Hence, to call capitalism a noose and bondage, and at the same time to advocate, as the Narodniks do, retarding the development of capitalism, means, in fact, defending the survivals of serfdom, barbarism and stagnation.
Marxists have always called and will always call the Left Narodniks “socialist-reactionaries”, for advocating restrictions to the freedom of mobilisation.
We advise class-conscious workers to give battle to the Left Narodniks and all other kinds of Narodniks, precisely on this question! It can safely be said that the Left Narodniks will be backed by dotards, who, in addition to defending restrictions to the freedom of mobilisation, defend belief in the devil, servility, flogging, cohabitation with daughters-in-law, and “instructing” the womenfolk with a cudgel.
We, on the other hand, will have the backing of the entire fresh and literate young generation, who do not believe in devils. It is sufficient to quote just one passage from Mr. Peshekhonov to have this generation treat such people in the way they deserve.
“I said,” writes Mr. Peshekhonov, “that the peasants are not able to make sufficiently sensible use of mortgage loans. And this, of course, is quite understandable, since labour economy does not permit it....”
The peasants are not “sensible”, if you please! The feudalists and liberal government officials are “able”, if you please, to decide for the peasant!
This, then is the interesting, practical, small but plain question that concerns us closely. This is the sort of question on which the Left-Narodnik gentlemen should be ridiculed at every meeting attended by alert and politically-conscious peasants.
“Labour” economy is the empty, sentimental catchword of the intellectual. Every peasant knows perfectly well that you cannot live without buying and selling. This simple fact scatters to the winds all talk about “labour” economy.
The Left Narodniks throw dust in the eyes of the “muzhik” by confusing the question of freedom of mobilisation with the advocacy of “taking the land out of commodity circulation and converting it into public property” (Stoikaya Mysl No. 20).
In the first place, only crass ignoramuses can be unaware of the fact that “converting the land into public property” does not mean taking the land out of commodity circulation, but the opposite; it means drawing it into that circulation more freely and rapidly, and on a larger scale.
Learn the political economy of Marx, Messrs. the “socialist-reactionaries”!
Secondly, as Marx demonstrated and proved, the radical bourgeoisie can put forward, and have often put forward, the demand for the “conversion of the land into public property”. This cannot be disputed. But only a conservative bourgeois, not a radical, can think that this conversion can be facilitated by the advocacy of feudal restrictions to the freedom of mobilisation.
As long as land is private property, any constraints imposed upon its mobilisation are harmful and reactionary. There is no way of achieving the ideals of labour democracy other than by ensuring the most rapid elimination of the traces of serfdom and the most rapid development of capitalism.
Marxists have always said and now repeat that the peasants’ democratic views must be divested of feudal survivals. The Narodniks deserve support only insofar as they oppose serfdom and support democracy. But insofar as they defend oppression and backwardness, petty-bourgeois narrow-mindedness and selfishness, they are the greatest of reactionaries.