Written: Written before May 28 (June 10), 1914
Published: First published in 1924 in the journal Proletarskaya Revolutsia No. 3 (26). Published according to the manuscript.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Volume 20, pages 313-318.
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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Our government considers its new agrarian policy—that of stepping up the destruction of the village communes by means of the rural superintendents and of encouraging the otrub system—a highly effective weapon in its struggle against the revolution. Already in 1906, soon after the revolution, the Council of the United Nobility called upon the government to introduce private landownership among the peasantry so as to create, as quickly as possible, a class of rich peasants that would side with the landlords against the peasant masses. Stolypin immediately adopted the policy recommended by the Council of the United Nobility. The landlord parties in the Third Duma, the Rights and the Octobrists, whole-heartedly supported this new agrarian policy, which they regarded, not only as an effective means of combating the revolution, but as a great advance towards the European economic system, a step towards eliminating the survivals of serfdom.
As is known, the praises of the new agrarian policy, which is represented as an instrument of “emancipation”, have been sung in a thousand different keys in the governmental, Right, and Octobrist press.
It is from this standpoint that I wish, in my speech, to deal with the principles underlying the government’s policy on the agrarian question. We are told on every hand that the number of land plots “registered” as private property and the number of otrubs are increasing. But nothing is said about the extent to which bondage and feudal relations still exist in our rural districts. Yet that is the crux of the matter. We are promised a “European” reform of our backward agriculture, with the class of the feudalist Purishkeviches retaining full economic and political power. The promises remain promises, but what is the state of affairs in the countryside today, after all the progress the government boasts of? To what extent are the peasant masses still borne down by bondage and feudalist oppression?
To answer this question I shall call to witness a journal whose editor recently won well-merited and enthusiastic praise from Anthony, Bishop of Volhynia himself, and, of course, from writers like Rozanov of Novoye Vremya, who are notoriously reactionary and notoriously ready to serve the government. This is not a “Left” journal, God forbid! It is a journal run by people who have echoed all the abuse and vituperation the reactionaries heap on the revolution. It is a journal which stands up stoutly for clericalism and the sanctity of landlord property. You probably guess that I am referring to Russkaya Mysl.
This journal, by way of exception, spoke the truth and quoted figures, precise figures, showing the extent to which things like métayage and winter hiring are practised in Russia. Everybody knows that these are common everyday features in our countryside. But “everybody” prefers to speak about everything under the sun except these everyday features.
“Winter hiring,” writes this journal, “is this not absurd in our age, the age of electricity and aeroplanes? And yet this form of slavery and bondage continues to flourish to this day, like a leech on the body of the nation.... Winter hiring has preserved in all its freshness the feudal term of ‘bonded’ peasants.”
This appraisal of winter hiring is not mine, but that of a journal notorious for its hatred of revolution. Slavery, bondage, serfdom—this is what quite “loyal” people are compelled to call “the order of things” existing in our countryside.
In winter hiring:
“the peasant accepts the hardest conditions, as little as a half and a third of the pay he usually receives in spring and summer hiring. In winter he gets paid as much per dessiatine for ploughing (three times), sowing, reaping or mowing, binding, and carting to the threshing shed as he does in summer only for harvesting (reaping and binding).”
How many peasants abide in this state of serfdom, bondage and slavery?
“According to local reports, in the spring of 1913 the number of ‘bonded’ households in some villages of the South-West was as much as 48 per cent of the total, in Mogilev Gubernia 52 per cent, and in Chernigov Gubernia 56 per cent.”
And this, mind you, refers to the spring of 1913! This is after the harvest of 1912! This was during the alleged sensational successes of the so-called “land organisation”, which the government is boasting of and proclaiming from the house-tops!
What else, after that, can you call this notorious “land organisation” but a whited sepulchre, which masks the same old serfdom?
Half the peasant households are “bonded”, enslaved through dire poverty. Hunger, hunger even during a good crop year, makes the peasants give their labour in thrall to the landlord in winter for a third of the pay. In practice, this amounts to a continuation of the corvée, of serfdom, because the very essence of serfdom is preserved in the shape of a pauperised, starving, ruined peasant, who, even in the best year, is compelled to till the landlord’s land with his poor implements and half-starved animals on terms of “winter hiring”.
Let the number of plots registered as private property increase. This may even be a useful measure in regard to those proletarians who will rid themselves of a burden and be freer to fight for liberty and socialism.
But, obviously, no “registrations”, no “blessings” of private ownership can help those millions of households, those tens of millions of peasants, who have nowhere to go to from the village and are compelled to give themselves in winter in thrall to the landlords.
These peasants are bound to strive towards a transfer of all the landed estates into their hands without payment, for this is the only way out for them, the only escape from hopeless enslavement. Communal landownership has nothing to do with it. Both the homesteader and the fullest “individual proprietor” will, like the commune peasant, remain for ever downtrodden slaves if they are unable to make their crop last longer than St. Nicholas Day and are compelled to borrow from the landlord on usurious terms.
It is absurd, as far as these tens of millions of peasants are concerned, to speak about the “progress” of farming, about a “rising level of agriculture”, about improved methods of working the land, and so forth. What improved methods can there be when dire poverty makes the peasant hire himself out to the landlord at a third of the pay, while in the summer his own grain is spilling because in the summer the police will drag him away to work for the “squire” in payment for the advances of grain or money he has had from him!
And the landlord, who advances grain or money for winter hiring, is quite unlike the “European” employer, or any capitalist employer for that matter. He is not an employer, but a usurer or a feudal lord. Improved methods are not only unnecessary under such a “system of farming”, but positively undesirable. They are both unnecessary and detrimental to it. A ruined, pauperised, starving peasant with half-starved animals and wretched implements—that is what this landlord system of farming needs, a system that is perpetuating the backwardness of Russia and the misery of the peasants. With the bulk of the peasant population living under such conditions of serf dependence, these conditions would continue for decades to come, until the peasants liberated themselves from this yoke; for the creation of a small minority of rich “otrub farmers”, or the establishment of private holdings and their sale by the proletarians, would have no effect whatever on the enslaved position of the peasant masses.
This is what the praisers of the new, Stolypin agrarian policy forget, or rather try to forget, try to obscure and screen. They all sing in chorus that this policy means “progress”, but what they do not say is that this progress affects a very small minority and is proceeding at a snail’s pace, while the majority are in the same old state of bondage and serfdom.
The number of otrub farmers is increasing, more machines are being imported into Russia, grass cultivation is developing, and the number of co-operative societies in the rural districts is growing. All that is true, defenders of the government! But there is the reverse of the medal, which you are trying to conceal. For all this much-vaunted progress, most of the peasants are still in a state of feudal slavery. That is what makes all this “progress” so meager and precarious; that is what makes famines inevitable; that is what makes the home market so weak and wretched; that is what enables oppression and tyranny to maintain such a firm hold, and that is what increases the inevitability of another agrarian revolution, because all the greater is the contradiction between an age of aeroplanes, electricity and automobiles, and “winter hiring” or “métayage”.
And here are the latest figures on métayage in Russia, given in the journal, approved of by Anthony of Volhynia. The peasants’ crops cultivated on the métayer system amounted to 21 per cent of the crops on their own lands in the Central gubernias, to 42 per cent in the Lake gubernias, and to 68 per cent in the North-Western gubernias! The corresponding figures for grass mowing are 50 per cent in the Central gubernias, and 110-185 per cent in the Lake, Trans-Volga and North-Western gubernias!
Thus, métayer haymaking predominates over the peasants’ own haymaking in three vast regions of Russia!
What is the “métayer system”?
“The peasant, using the landlord’s land but his own seeds, does all the cultivation and harvesting down to carting the sheaves to the threshing shed, and takes only half the crop for himself. The hay meadows are worked on a “one-third” system, the métayer taking one haycock to every two that go to the landlord.”
But that is not all.
“In some cases (especially in Minsk and Chernigov gubernias), the métayer, in addition to paying for the land with half the crop, and for the hay with two-thirds of the crop, is obliged to work gratis on the owner’s farm for one or two weeks, in most cases with his own horse, or with one of his children.”
What is this if not the corvée, pure and simple? What is this if not the ancient serf system of farming?
There is nothing new in these figures whatever. On the contrary—they reveal to us the hoary past, which has survived in all its monstrous aspects side by side with the “new” agrarian policy. Anyone in touch with rural life has long been aware of the existence of this hoary past. Statisticians and observers of country life have written dozens and hundreds of hooks about that past. And that hoary past predominates to this day, perpetuating the scandalous backwardness and scandalous tyranny that reign in Russia.
No laws can put a stop to this serfdom so long as the bulk of the land remains the property of the all-powerful landlords. No “private landownership” in place of the “communes” of downtrodden peasants can be of any help.
According to the official statistics on landownership for 1905 published by the Ministry of the Interior less than 30,000 landlords in European Russia own seventy million dessiatines of land.
 December 6 (old style).—Ed.
 The Estimates of the Ministry of Agriculture—a speech drafted by Lenin for delivery in the Duma by a Bolshevik deputy. It was made by G. I. Petrovsky on May 28 (June 10), 1914, during the debate on the Budget Commission report on the estimates of the Department of State Landed Properties for 1914.
The concluding part of the MS. is missing.
 Rural superintendent—an office instituted by the tsarist government in 1889 to give the landlords more power over the peasantry. Appointed from among the local landed nobility, the rural superintendents were vested with immense powers, juridical as well as administrative, including the right to arrest peasants, and order corporal punishment.
 Council of the United Nobility—a counter-revolutionary organisation of the feudalist landowners, which took shape in May 1906 at the First Congress of Representatives of Gubernia Assemblies of the Nobility and existed until October 1917. The organisation’s main object was to protect the autocratic system, the big landed estates, and the privileges of the nobility. Lenin called the Council of the United Nobility “a council of united feudalists”. The Council virtually became a semi-government body, which dictated to the government legislative measures aimed at protecting the interests of the feudalists. A considerable number of its members were members of the Council of State and of the leading centres of the Black-Hundred organisations.