Leninism and Civilization
- Introduction to a critical analysis
The formation of civilization under varied conditions of the historical epoch and varied natural conditions in the different regions of the globe is in itself an important component of all social research. This is also true both of Marx and Engels. The way in which the Russian revolutionary movement and revolution tackles the question of civilization and its genesis especially with respect to Russia is of particular import and influenced its immediate theory and practice, its results. This revolution on its part had a determining impact on the following 60-70 years.
The following article takes up questions concerning the course of development of Russia - questions which we encounter time and again while analyzing the fundaments, and which, themselves, form the focus of many of Lenin’s fundamental expositions.
Marx dealt very intensively
with the Russian question towards the end of his life and finally arrived
at views which he himself wound up by saying that the ’village commune
in Russia’ was the well-spring of Russia's social rebirth. This
village commune continued to exist because of the special historical conditions
of Russia. In this article I will try to explain how this observation
fits into the entire teachings of Marxism. It definitely does not exist
and significance of the theories advocated by Marx and Engels on civilization
What did Marx and Engels say about civilization? The best and most comprehensive exposition of their teachings can be found in Engels’ famous book „The Origin of Private Property, Family and the State“. This book traces the different stages of human development right from the savage stage through the higher stages of savagery to barbarism and its highest stage, which was the point of departure for the development of modern civilization. This seems to be a general feature in the development of mankind. Roughly spoken the Greeks, for example, reached the highest stage of barbarism at the time of Homer, the renowned poet (ca. 800 B.C.). They stood at the cradle and origin of civilization, i.e. the development of a class society, of the sciences, of property and of a great lot of productive forces enabling man to produce much more means of existence than he needs for his immediate existence upon a very low level, giv-ing him the opportunity of leisure thus leading to the blossoming of his intellectual and human faculties. The substance and the essence of Marx’ theory, as well as of Engels’, consists in their showing how mankind, after having lost its primitive unity, its primeval wholeness, will go through a relatively brief span of several thousand years which represent a relatively short historical epoch, to return ultimately to the unified society of man. Putting it more precisely: to a society which will overcome the contradiction, the alienation of work, in which the human community will regain the old qualities which were prevalent before entering civilization, upon a higher level, based upon being civilized and upon modern production. This certainly does not mean that we shall regress into primeval society but that we shall overcome the contradictions of civilization, i.e. class society and the exploitation of man by man as begun here-with, and shall return to communist society, upon the foundations presented to us by modern technology and all-embracing abundance of production. (This argument includes also optimum control and consideration of nature which were not at all alien to Marx. The term ‘abundant production’ is different from ‘depletion’.)
Marx and Engels did
not prophesize all these ideas like priests but clearly demonstrated how
the factors leading up to the elimination of this class contradiction
were developing especially in the West European capitalist society and
other closely related societies, such as the American society. In the
ever increasing societal character of the entire production process, in
the catenation of the entire world market - processes which we can see
all the more clearly now at the end of the twentieth century than Marx
could have seen during his time - this unification, this cohesiveness
of mankind is being regained, at a higher level. Obviously, the emerging
new things will not be comparable to the reality of primordial society
in which this totality , this communism existed only in the smallest social
cell. Moreover, people were already divided into different tribes who
were hostile to each other.
The main point which Engels makes at this juncture is: at the conquest of the Roman Empire by the Germans and the procreation of a new system thus accomplished, which gave the exploited people in society a whole new set of rights and also improved the position of women in society considerably, certain essential elements of gentile society seeped into the substance of the new feudal society, forming thereby the very basis of modern civilization. In this process it is essential that new nations emerge in Europe, capable of surviving the ravages of time, which are still providing the framework for the cultural development and the high-altitude flight for this civilization up to our present time.
So, this development did not follow a linear course. Feudalism was not born out of the womb of the slave-owning society. Rather, a new form of society rose above the old one, which still carried within it some elements of the old society but was infused with a new life by people and by a culture from a very different, "unspoilt" milieu.
A change came about in civilization. The Roman Empire had assumed gigantic proportions and dragged also a large number of barbaric tribes into the realms of civilization. It subjugated some of these tribes, causing them to revolt again and again.. At the Northern border of the Empire lived the multitude of Celtic, Teutonic and Slavic tribes which belonged to a gentile order of society at the time of their contact with the Roman Empire.
The Celts were the
first to be affected because of their geographical position. They had
engaged in a series of wars with the Romans before being finally conquered
by them. Around the year 50 B.C., major portions of their territory ,"Gaul",
as well as large chunks of Britain and the Iberian Peninsula were totally
under Roman control. Gaul became more or less fully romanized subsequently.
After the year 800 A.D., when the reign of the Merovingians and the Carolingians had in turn undermined the freedom of the peasantry, class relations resembled strongly those prevailing during the 5th century. But the point of departure, in this case, was quite different. A lengthy quote from Engels serves to illustrate this point more lucidly:
progress was made during these four hundred years. Even if in the end
we find almost the same main classes as in the beginning, still, the people
who constituted these classes had changed. Ancient slavery had disappeared;
gone were also the ruined poor free-men, who had despised work as slavish.
Between the Roman colonus and the new villains there had been the free
Frankish peasant. The ‘useless reminiscences and vain strife’
of decaying Romanism were dead and buried. The social classes of the ninth
century had taken shape not in the bog of a declining civilisation, but
in the travail of a new one. The new race, masters as well as servants,
was a race of men compared with its Roman predecessors. The relation of
powerful landlords and serving peasants, which for the latter had been
the hopeless form of the decline of the world of antiquity, was now for
the former the starting-point of a new development. Moreover, unproductive
as these four hundred years appear to have been, they, nevertheless, left
one great product behind them: the modern nationalities, the refashioning
and regrouping of West European humanity for impending history. The Germans,
in fact, had infused new life into Europe; and that is why the dissolution
of the states in the German period ended, not in Norman-Saracen subjugation,
but in the development from the benefices and patronage
(commendation) to feudalism, and in such a tremendous increase in the
population that the profuse bloodshed caused by the Crusades barely two
centuries later could be borne without injury. 
Friedrich Engels, The 0rigin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Chapter VIII, The Formation of the State Among the Germans, Marx-Engels Collected Works (this will be referred to as MECW from now on), Volume 26, p. 254-256.
particular quote by Engels is so succinct and manages to summarize complex
ideas so well, that it is well nigh impossible to summarize it any further.
A very tangible outcome of the process described by Engels is the emergence
of "modern nationalities“  which had risen
in contrast to the Roman epoch, and also the evolution of a very different
mentality, which in turn, would lead to quite a different blossoming of
the productive forces.
The Mark community
The institution of the Mark community may be considered to be one of the central points of the politically civilizing system. I would like to elaborate upon the above statement by quoting from Engels. This quote has been taken from the same book:
„The gens disappeared in the Mark community in which, however, traces of the original kinship of the members were visible still often enough. Thus, the gentile constitution, at least in those countries where Mark communities were preserved - in the North of France, in England, Germany and Scandinavia - was imperceptibly transformed into a territorial constitution, and thus became capable of being fitted into the state. Nevertheless, it retained the naturally evolved democratic character which distinguishes the whole gentile order, and thus preserved a piece of the gentile constitution even in its degeneration, forced upon it in later times, thereby leaving a weapon in the hands of the oppressed, ready to be wielded even in modern times.“
Friedrich Engels, The 0rigin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Chapter VIII, The Formation of the State Among the Germans, MECW, Volume 26, p. 251.
At this stage it
is necessary to point out once again, that these theses of Engels were
based on the views of Marx, among others, and their basic tenets had actually
been approved of by Marx himself, a fact which is evident from their correspondence.
Similar reflections by Marx with particular reference to the Mark community
can be found in his studies on Russia, for example, in the first drafts
of his reply to Vera Zasulich's letter, written in 1881.
„In one way or another this commune perished in the midst of incessant wars, foreign and internal; it probably died a violent death. When the Germanic tribes came to conquer Italy, Spain, Gaul, etc., the commune of the archaic type no longer existed. Yet its natural viability is demonstrated by two facts. There are sporadic examples which survived all the vicissitudes of the Middle Ages and have been preserved into our own day, for instance the district of Trier, in my native country. But more importantly, it imprinted its own characteristics so effectively on the commune which replaced it - a commune in which the arable land has become private property, whereas forests, pastures, common lands, etc., still remain communal property - that Maurer, when analysing this commune of secondary formation, was able to reconstruct the archaic prototype. Thanks to the characteristic features borrowed from the latter, the new commune introduced by the Germanic peoples in all the countries they invaded was the sole centre of popular liberty and life throughout the Middle Ages.“
Karl Marx, Drafts of the Letter to Vera Zasulich, First Draft, MECW Vol. 24, p. 350.
In view of the fact
that in Western Europe society subsequently reached a level from where
it gave rise to the modern forms of bourgeois society, which in turn carried
socialism in their womb, it would be meaningful to look for the connection
with these basic, historical elements. The fact that the development in
Europe attained extraordinary heights in the context of world history,
prompts us to look for the reason behind it. We have to assume that the
historical element presented here provided a basis for this extraordinary
development. This origin lent a unique degree of cohesion to "occidental
society". Here Engels elaborated the theses on the emergence of unified
nations, on the development of rights for peasants in feudal society,
as a very significant difference from antique, imperial society. In my
opinion here also one of the most essential pillars of Europe's historical
identity is to be found.
Here, we encounter a very different degree of awareness of responsibility on the part of the individual members of society, as compared to the developed slave-owning society of Rome for example. (In this context, I would like to point out that the origins of this society also displayed some similar characteristics, as it had also emerged from gentile society. The Roman Republic's initial vitality, too, is to be attributed to the fact that it had assimilated some of these features.)
And we can see here quite clearly that both Marx and Engels attached principal economic and cultural significance to the primordial communal property and the relation to labour. They regarded the basic elements which had been absorbed from gentile society, on account of the Franco-Germanic conquest, as one of the pre-conditions for the subsequent thousand years of development, as also for the cultural development. These factors, in turn, were instrumental in creating the conditions which eventually enabled man to think along the lines of establishing communism. Thus, in the Russian context, the institution of the village commune, if indeed it has a substantial role for civilization, should also have an important role to play, in view of the economic and cultural tasks involved in the abolition of the tsarist system.
Here emerges a class
which is capable of emancipation. The new forms of mitigated rule establish
certain means for gradual liberation as a class. So, here the beginning
of class struggle is being dated to coincide with the advent of civilization.
It becomes clear in this context that Marx regarded this commune, which still was wide-spread in Russia, to be of fundamental import - and that he repeatedly touched upon this topic in his writings. In his famous letter addressed to Vera I. Zasulich written after much deliberation , he said:
„Hence the analysis provided in Capital does not adduce reasons either for or against the viability of the rural commune, but the special study I have made of it, and the material for which I drew from original sources, has convinced me that this commune is the fulcrum of social regeneration in Russia, but in order that it may function as such, it would first be necessary to eliminate the deleterious influences which are assailing it from all sides, and then ensure for it the normal conditions of spontaneous development.“
Karl Marx, Letter to Vera Zasulich, March 8, 1881, MECW Vol. 24, p. 371.
The deliberations which prompted Marx to make this, indeed, sweeping conclusion do not negate the contradictory character of the Russian village commune in any way. In fact, Marx himself spoke of a dualism inherent in the village commune. The village commune or the Russian Mir, like the earlier Mark community of Western countries, is associated with low productivity rates in the form that it existed. As soon as machines start being used and the peasant, as an individual, becomes motivated to work his land more intensively and to invest capital on land and on agricultural production upon this land, a tendency arises to make capitalist production predominant.
makes a clear distinction between the archaic community where collective
farming was still being practised, thereby representing the most primitive
type of work and work combination, and the agricultural commune(1)
which emerged from it. Though communal property was retained in the agricultural
commune, it was qualified by the emergence of private elements.
„ It is
easy to see that the dualism inherent in the ‘agricultural commune’
might endow it with a vigorous life, since on the one hand communal property
and all the social relations springing from it make for its solid foundation,
whereas the private house, the cultivation of arable land in parcels and
the private appropriation of its fruits permit a development of individuality
which is incompatible with conditions in more primitive communities.
Karl Marx, Drafts of the Letter to Vera Zasulich, First Draft, MECW Vol. 24, p. 351-352.
„If the spokesmen of the ‘new pillars of society’ were to deny the theoretical possibility of the suggested evolution of the modern rural commune, one might ask them: Was Russia forced to pass through a long incubation period in the engineering industry, as was the West, in order to arrive at the machines, the steam engines, the railways, etc.? One would also ask them how they managed to introduce in their own country within the twinkling of an eye the entire mechanism of exchange (banks, joint-stock companies, etc.), which it took the West centuries to devise?“
Karl Marx, Drafts of the Letter to Vera Zasulich, First Draft, MECW Vol. 24, p. 353.
Here, Marx states quite clearly why he does not want this possibility of a transition of the village commune into modern production to be walled up, which, by the way, Chernyshevskii had also correctly deduced. In Russia tsarism, so to speak, was raising the most modern forms of capitalism with all its mechanisms, at the same time exploiting the peasants in the most brutal manner, destroying even the means of livelihood of the peasants. What, by consequence, would be the nature of class struggle in such a country where capitalism was advancing in quite different manner than else? It is unambiguous that Marx, in his theoretical deduction, saw that the proletariat would have to use the reverse side of Russia's backwardness, i.e. the village commune, in order to create conditions which would be favourable for speedy progress. Russian liberalism, as also tsarism, from a certain point onwards, started making radical attempts to break up the village commune; at best to leave it for some time subjected to the most cruel ripping off by means of tax legislation. The village commune stood in the way of their desired - or as one is forced to say: corrupt - capitalist development. Therefore, it had to be squeezed dry and then destroyed. This is being demonstrated by the entire policy of tsarism up to the time of Stolypin, who applied all his strength and power in trying to destroy the village commune, even in 1910 when the village commune apparently still put up a very stiff resistance against these endeavours.
Apart from the point that the village commune becomes differentiated out of its own development, there are another two negative features which must be taken into consideration with regard to the Russian village commune. One is the high degree of isolation of the individual village communes due to the enormous geographical distance separating the villages and regions of Russia, giving rise to the term: localised „microcosm". Time and again reference has been made to the fact that in Russian, the term "Mir" means both "village commune" and "world", whereby the village commune often represented the world, the closed world of the respective peasant community. Naturally, this isolation reduced the chances of bonding between the different communes or of any form of extra-regional solidarity. It had also penetrated deep into the psyche of the people. The conditions for that, on the one hand, are given by the geo-graphical distance, as mentioned earlier, but also by the despotism which had prevailed in Russia for hundreds of years and which, in turn, had its roots in this very isolation. Another aspect to be considered is the patriarchal character of the Russian village commune. This was noted and mentioned by both Marx and Engels.
But nothing is to
be said against the possibility to overcome these negative traits of the
village commune, aided by modern factors such as the introduction of modern
means of transportation, modern forms of education, which involuntarily
were also entering Russia. Especially here Marx’ basic idea in all
his deliberations about Russian civilization is to be met again. According
to this idea, the combination of the modern industrial world and modern
infrastructure with the Russian village commune and the Russian structure
facilitate a different development as compared to capitalist development
in the West; of course, this did not mean that Russia could skip capitalism
„Whether our civilization presently has indeed reached that high level to which necessarily belongs rural common property - this question can no more be resolved by means of logical inductions and conclusions from the general principles ruling the world, but by the analysis of facts. It has been dealt with partly by us in our previous articles  on rural common property, and will be analyzed once again more comprehensively in the following articles which will deal with the description of the particular facts about agriculture in Western Europe and in our country.“
N.G. Tschernyschewski, Zur Kritik der philosophischen Vorurteile gegen ländlichen Gemeinbesitz [N.G. Chernyshevskii, Critique of the philosophical prejudices against rural collective property] in: N.G. Tschernyschewski, Das anthropologische Prinzip [N.G. Chernyshevskii , The anthropological principle], Aufbau-Verlag Berlin 1956, p. 172. (2)
This is to say that one would still have to do a detailed study on the question to which extent capitalism can be circumvented or not.
In order to comprehend the term "social rebirth" used by Marx, we have to take into account the fact that through this communal ownership of land in a varied form, Marx attempts to correct the development of civilization in Russia, analogously to the development in the West. The term is based upon the ideas about the development of civilization in Western Europe described above.
Finally, to those
who might argue that this is merely a statement taken from a letter which,
in addition, was not meant for publication, and therefore should not be
rated too highly, I would say:
Thus, he faced the
problem of possibly incorporating the detailed correlations which were
to be explained at a later date, into his letter - a task which proved
to be beyond his capabilities. This could be one of the reasons why he
finally chose to give a very brief reply which he could stand by.
About some fundamental features of the theory of primordial communities
Without doubt Marx as well as Engels developed their theory of the evolution of civilization as a valuable addition in the course of their work over the decades after 1848. It was not until the 1860’s that they came into contact with Maurer’s writings and studied them very extensively. Maurer was a Bavarian scholar who spent some time working in Greece, accompanying the Bavarian sovereign who then occupied the Greek throne. He studied the conditions in the Orient as well as the transformation of communal into private property and the development of village and city constitutions in Germany and Europe, writing detailed treatises on these subjects. This means that he was effectively writing about the history of European civilizations. As Marx pointed out in a letter, Maurer was above all familiar with the conditions in Scandinavia, Germany and the Orient - namely Turkey and Greece; as for the West, that is to say the evolution of the Celts, his work contained a number of gaps, Marx claimed. Nonetheless he uncovered the general principles linking the various evolutionary strands.
There is no question
that the old Germanic tribes owned their land jointly. Equally certain
is the fact that private property evolved from this state of affairs,
as the productive forces continued to develop and the need for individual
tillage emerged, and as princes and kings attempted to appropriate communal
land for use as private crown land. Indeed, from the perspective of evolutionary
theory, the notion that humans had lived as single individuals on their
land since primeval times or even, so to speak, eternally - only later
settling in Mark communities - is fundamentally absurd, contradicting
as it does the entire course of man's development and his initial union
in primitive hordes, tribes, gents, etc. It is contrary to the practical
experience, the practical insights to be gained among peoples who are
still at a primitive stage of development.
This theory of the
village commune, of the constitutions and of civilization advocated by
Maurer, which Marx acknowledged as being relevant, albeit with some modifications,
even for Russia, became a burning political question in the last third
of the nineteenth century, especially in the specific context of the
course of development to be followed by Russian agriculture. A series
of theoreticians came to the forefront at that time and tried to present
the Russian village commune, which was actually a counterpart of the erstwhile
village commune of Western Europe, as an institution which had been established
by the Tsars for the purpose of tax collection. They thereby turned the
whole thing upside down. They claimed that the present-day Russian village
commune had come into being only in the 16th century. Though they did
not dispute the former Mark community, as an analogy to Celtic and German
forms of communal property, they argued that it had perished at some early
date. Accordingly, tsarism must have recreated a quite similar community
already at a quite early date. The fact that the tsarist system of tax
extortion was literally flogging the institution of the village commune
to death was reinterpreted by them as the assertion that the commune really
had been created for the purpose of tax collection. The theoretician in
Russia who advanced this idea was Chicherin. But there were also many
Prussian-German academicians in Germany who followed in the footsteps
of this propaganda.
Finally, around the year 1913 Lenin must indeed have made a new discovery. This can be gauged from the conspectus of the correspondence between Marx and Engels which Lenin prepared in 1913. Here Lenin stumbled on to a letter by Marx dated November 7, 1868, in which Marx had written something about the false notions regarding the Russian village commune, and noted the following remarks in the margin of the letter:
„The Russian commune not feudalistic but primordial commune.“
W.I. Lenin, Konspekt zum "Briefwechsel zwischen Karl Marx und Friedrich Engels 1844 -1883" [Conspectus of the "Correspondence between Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels 1844 - 1883“] Dietz Verlag Berlin, 1963, p. 95. (The translation is ours, from the German edition)
made a discovery at that point. He realized that his previous one-sided
view stating that the Russian community was so to say born out of the
womb of feudalism and its tax structure, was false, and that the Russian
community had a much longer history of evolution. In this context, it
would not be entirely wrong to associate the community with feudalism.
We have seen all along, that feudalism, in combination with the Mark community,
is characterised by the adoption of certain elements of primordial forms
of society. But it would be incorrect to ignore the whole fundamental
role played by this form of property, which has been explained by us earlier
in the text.
However, it is not
known whether Lenin followed up this discovery which he had stumbled upon
while going through the correspondence between Marx and Engels in 1913,
whether he elaborated on the subject in more detail. Most of his writings
on the development of capitalism and the dissolution of the agricultural
society were written before 1913.
More details on Karl Marx' treatment of this subject
The quotation that Lenin referred to in his remark is one of the most important ones made by Marx on this topic. Marx had studied a book written by the Russian landowner Schédo-Ferroti who disparaged the communal ownership of landed property in Russia in a typical manner. The quotation is as follows:
„He“ (Borkheim) „is translating for me the main passages from a Russian book about agrarian disintegration, and has also given me a French book on the subject by the Russian Schédo-Ferroti. The latter is very much mistaken - he is altogether a very superficial fellow - in saying that the Russian communal system came into existence only as a result of the ban on peasants leaving the land. The whole business, down to the smallest detail, is absolutely identical with the primeval Germanic communal system. Add to this, in the Russian case (and this may be found also amongst a part of the Indian communal systems, not in the Punjab, but in the South), (1) the non-democratic, but patriarchal character of the commune leadership and (2) the collective responsibility for taxes to the state, etc. It follows from the second point that the more industrious a Russian peasant is, the more he is exploited by the state, not only in terms of taxes, but also for supplying provisions and horses, etc. for the constant passage of troops, for government couriers, etc. The whole shit is breaking down.“
Marx to Engels, November 7, 1868, MECW Vol. 43, p. 154.
is one characteristic of the ‘agricultural commune’ in Russia
which afflicts it with weakness, hostile in every sense. That is its isolation,
the lack of connexion between the life of one commune and that of the
others, this localised microcosm which is not encountered everywhere as
an immanent characteristic of this type but which, wherever it is found,
has caused a more or less centralised despotism to arise on top of the
communes. The federation of Russian republics of the North proves that
this isolation, which seems to have been originally imposed by the vast
expanse of the territory, was largely consolidated by the political destinies
which Russia had to suffer after the Mongol invasion.
Karl Marx, Drafts of the Letter to Vera Zasulich, 1881, First Draft, MECW Vol. 24, p. 353.
And this quotation on the possibilities of the village commune prior to that:
„Russia is the sole European country where the ‘agricultural commune’ has kept going on a nationwide scale up to the present day. It is not the prey of a foreign conqueror, as the East Indies, and neither does it lead a life cut off from the modern world. On the one hand, the common ownership of land allows it to transform individualist farming in parcels directly and gradually into collective farming, and the Russian peasants are already practising it in the undivided grasslands; the physical lie disposition of the land invites mechanical cultivation on a large scale; the peasant's familiarity with the contract of artel facilitates the transition from parcel labour to cooperative labour; and, finally, Russian society, which has so long lived at his expense, owes him the necessary advances for such a transition. On the other hand, the contemporaneity of western production, which dominates the world market, allows Russia to incorporate in the commune all the positive acquisitions devised by the capitalist system without passing through its Caudine Forks.“
Karl Marx, Drafts of the Letter to Vera Zasulich, First Draft, MECW Vol. 24, p. 352-353
These quotations show that Marx again and again gave a lot of thought to the peculiarities of Russia. "The physical lie of the land invites mechanical cultivation on a large scale " - this observation later went on to assume great significance in the Soviet Union, when people were mulling over the possibility of collectivization. The crux of these ideas, however, was that Russia did not necessarily have to go through the "Caudine Forks" of capitalism. In another place, Marx says that the notion that the "Russian village commune is of Mongolian origin" is a "historical lie“, in another important letter with a polemic against the same Baltic-German landowner, Schédo-Ferroti, who proposed such theses:
is one of the fellows who (naturally IN THE INTERESTS OF LAND-LORDISM*)
attribute the miserable situation of the Russian peasantry to the existence
of communal property, just as, formerly, the abolition of serfdom in Western
Europe, instead of the serfs’ loss of their land, was decried as
the cause of pauperism..... The Russian peasantry is thrown into misery
by the same thing that made the French peasantry miserable un-der Louis
XIV, etc. - state taxation and the obrok** to the big landowners. Instead
of producing the misery, communal property alone diminished it.
to Ludwig Kugelmann, February 17, 1870, MECW Vol. 43, p. 434-435.
Marx not only refuted the false romanticization of the village commune as a "communist Eldorado", which was aimed at Alexander Herzen in particular, but he also acknowledged its historical significance and took an increasingly distinct stand as he delved deeper and deeper into the subject.
What, now, are the
views of Leninism about the development of capitalism in Russia? Very
briefly they may be summed up in the following.
Lenin, in his criticism against the Narodnik Mikhailovskii entitled "What the ‘friends of the people’ are...“, Part III, quotes this letter of 1877, actually mainly one crucial sentence. He quotes Marx’ dictum:
"If Russia is tending to become a capitalist nation on the pattern of the West-European countries - and during the last years she has been taking much trouble in this respect - she will not succeed without having first transformed a good part of her peasants into proletarians."
Lenin Collected Works, Vol. 1, p. 266 (cf. MECW, Vo1. 24, p. 196)
„I have arrived at this result: if Russia continues along the path it has followed since 1861, it will miss the finest chance“ (!!!) „that history has ever offered to a nation, only to undergo all the fatal vicissitudes of the capitalist system.“
Karl Marx, Letter to Otechestvenniye Zapiski, MECW Vol. 24, p. 199.
Ibid. , p. 200
Marx says time and
again in his articles, that it depends on the historical conditions or
historical milieu in which the dissolution and transformation of the village
commune takes place. The method criticized by him, however, which consists
in taking the analysis prepared by himself for Western Europe as an universal
law, is put to practice by Lenin incessantly in all his articles. Also
for Lenin it seems clear that from the theoretical point of view the village
com-mune was bound to decomposition, that capitalism had to win through,
even in the most radical manner, and that socialized property, on its
turn, politically pushed through by the proletarian revolution, was to
spring from capitalism
So, if one were to go into the deliberations of this letter, exactly these thoughts would have had to be dealt with. Lenin could very well have criticised this letter addressed to the editorial board of "Otechestvennyje Zapiski". It goes without saying, that Marx can, or rather should, be criticised if one thinks he is in the wrong. But what Lenin did in this writing is not permissible, i.e. to extract a small portion from the whole argument, use it for one's own purposes and con-veniently forget to mention all the other points raised, just because they contradict one's own argument.
Lenin would have been quite justified if he had proved his point by producing an analysis stating that the much-awaited chance which Marx had mentioned in his article had been missed, did not exist any longer, or that Marx had anyway sensed a false chance, depending on how one wants to go about criticising Marx. But nothing of the sort is evident in Lenin's dispute with Mikhailovskii. All these points are left out, and against Mikhailovskii, who actually seems to have represented a dreamful Narodnik ideology, a partial Marxism is being set. And this is also not a correct thing to do.
In 1902, the movement
among the Russian peasantry in particular in certain provinces at the
mid-Wolga came to the fore, i.e. in the regions which were the most characterized
by the village commune. The peasants were by no means fighting against
the village commune but against the extortionist policy of the tsar, which
deprived them of their money, and against the landowners, who snatched
away their food. The peasants themselves suffered pangs of hunger and
had to sacrifice even their last grain of corn to fulfil their never-ending
obligations. They broke into the granaries of landowners and seized the
contents for their consumption, an action for which they were butchered
in the most brutal manner by the tsarist mafia.
Tsarism, on its part, henceforth found itself induced to vary its line into the direction of immediate dissolution of the village commune. This policy was on its agenda during the following years and became the focus of its policy after 1905. It now switches over to a policy of directly promoting individual ownership of land by renouncing the collective tax liability and by enacting laws which actively promoted the secession of the peasantry from the commune as well as privately taking possession. This very program, however, moves near to what had been propagated by the Russian social democracy for quite a long time and even had been depicted as a progressive development. Lenin wrote detailed commentaries on this, where he tried to justify the stand taken by him ("The Agrarian Programme of Russian Social Democracy" of 1902).
Every political organization in Russia knew or at least felt that the peasantry would revolt. Therefore, as early as January 21st, 1902, a "Special commission on agricultural requirements" was set up under the chairmanship of the finance minister, Witte; this commission was entrusted with the task of addressing the problem of taxation, or, to put it more precisely, the tax extortion of the peasants, which in some way was on the end of its tether. That something had to happen about the peasant question had nothing of a secret in the country. A few weeks later, heavy rioting broke out, as mentioned above.
“Here we must say a few words about the much-vaunted and memorable ‘village commune’. Actually, of course, the annulment of collective liability (Mr. Witte may manage to put this particular reform through before the revolution), the abolition of division into social-estates, freedom of movement, and the right for each individual peasant freely to dispose of his land will rapidly and inevitably bring about the removal of the burden of taxation and serf-bondage that the land commune to a three-fourths extent constitutes at the present time. But this result will only prove the correctness of our views on the village commune, prove how incompatible it is with the entire social and economic development of capitalism. The result will by no means follow from any particular measure recommended by us ‘against the village commune’, for we never have supported and never shall support a single measure aimed directly against this or that system of peasant land tenure.“ (3)
The Agrarian Programme of Russian Social-Democracy, LCW, Vol. 6, p. 146.
But Lenin goes further:
„Moreover, we shall unreservedly defend the village commune as a democratic organisa-tion of local government, as a co-operative or a neighbours' association, against all encroachments on the part of the bureaucrats - encroachments which find such favour with opponents of the village commune in the camp of Moskovskiye Vedomosti. We shall never help anyone to ‘destroy the village commune’, but we shall strive absolutely for the abolition of all institutions that run counter to democracy, irrespective of the effect of this abolition on the basic or partial reallotment of the land, etc.“
Ibid, p. 146
We cannot help but acknowledge Lenin’s ability for taking into account the evolution in political life. This he proved time and again, he adapted himself to practical conditions.
This becomes clear in particular by a debate which Lenin had with Plekhanov on this issue. The program of the Social Democrats states: “2) annulment of collective liability and of all laws restricting the peasant“ (NB the singular) „in the free disposal of his land;“
This is what Lenin wrote in reply:
may be raised that, by sanctifying the individual will of each particular
peasant, the latter measure will destroy the village commune, not only
as a system of land reallotment, etc., but outright, even as a co-operative
neighbours’ association. Each individual peasant will have the right
to demand, despite the will of the majority, that his land be allotted
to him as a separate plot. Does this not run counter to the general tendency
of all socialists to further the extension rather than the restriction
of the right of the collective body over the individual?
Ibid, p. 147.
„This objection would be groundless. Our demands do not destroy the association but, on the contrary, set up in place of the archaic (de facto semi-feudal) power of the commune over the muzhik, the power of a modern association over its members who join of their own accord. Nor, in particular, is our formulation at variance with the recognition, for instance, of fellow members having the preemptive right, on certain terms, to buy land put up for sale by a fellow member.“
V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 41, p. 67.
agree with this. This right” (referring to the preemptive right
of fellow members) “would merely depreciate the peasant’s
as quoted in V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 41, p. 67-68.
author of the remarks“ (Plekhanov) „overdoes his hostility
to the commune. On this point great care must be taken to keep out of
the embrace of Messrs. A. Skvortsov  & Co.
(into which the author of the remarks falls). On certain terms, the right
of preemption may increase instead of decreasing the value of the land.
My expression is deliberately broader and more general, whereas the author
of the remarks is in too much of a hurry to cut the Gordian knot. By carelessly
‘denying’ the commune (as an association) we may easily spoil
all our ‘good will’ to the peasant. After all, the commune
is also connected with the conventional type of settlement, and so on,
and only the A. Skvortsovs ‘remake’ this in their projects
with the stroke of a pen.“
Now let us revert
to the paragraph mentioned above. It is interesting to note that Lenin
uses the term "archaic" here. This could possibly indicate that
Lenin knew the background of the whole argument of Marx, but this cannot
be said with surety. In another translation, we find the word "obsolete"
which is a more neutral term. Finally, it is noteworthy that this paragraph,
which was written during the course of an intense argument with Plekhanov
and Akselrod, was quoted by the publishers of "Lenin Collected Works"
in the additional volume 41 without any reference to the source. The single
passages from "The Agrarian Programme of Social Democracy"
are systematically quoted in this text, and the exact location of these
quotes in Volume 6 is carefully listed. Then comes this paragraph without
any reference whatsoever to the source, so that, at first instance, it
seems as if something has been left out in the edition "Lenin Collected
Works" vol. 6. But the actual reason for this editorial proceeding
is that Lenin corrected his own text, the draft for the program, several
times, and in the course of the discussion certain of the meanwhile corrected
paragraphs are being discussed, whereas the text in Volume 6 of "Lenin
Collected Works" was reproduced as per the original version (cf.
also Lenin, Sämtliche Werke - "Rote Ausgabe"- Vol. V, p.
Not knowing of the
actual significance of the village commune and in contradiction to what
Marx and previously even Chernyshevskii had written, Lenin, however, continues
to pursue a policy in practice which regarded the destruction of the village
commune as a matter of priority.
Lenin expected the "liberation" of the village commune from the collective liability and the newly-introduced "freedom of movement" to involuntarily lead to its downfall because he saw, without reserve, the development of capitalism as an inevitable stage. The burden of taxation and of serf-bondage is not an inherent feature of the agricultural community as such, it had not been produced by it, but by the tsarist system. In many places, it is clear that Lenin has taken from Chicherin the assessment of the village commune, and this must in the end favour the destruction of the village commune, even if the person concerned does not want it, in view of a massive peasant movement. After all, a commune which stems from tsarist tax legislation, could hardly be defended by the socialists; in this context only concessions of the kind as Lenin made in the above paragraphs are logical. But this assessment contradicts Marx’, which has been explained in detail in the initial sections. And Lenin does not refer to this change in Plekhanov's views in any of his writings. We have to examine articles like "The Agrarian Programme of Russian Social Democracy" in the light of these fundamental points even if they contain in detail many valid observations in contrast to the Mensheviks or the social revolutionaries.
„We hold that the class struggle is the main factor also in the sphere of agrarian relationships in Russia. We base our entire agrarian policy (and, consequently, our agrarian programme as well) on unswerving recognition of this fact along with all consequences resulting from it.“
The Agrarian Programme of Russian Social-Democracy, V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 6, p. 148.
„To clear the way for the free development of the class struggle in the countryside, it is necessary to remove all remnants of serfdom, which now overlie the beginnings of capitalist antagonisms among the rural population, and keep them from developing.“
Ibid, p. 148.
This article, as also various other pieces, reveal time and again the sharp, uncompromising denial of any possibility of a course of development for Russia different from the West European model; this was a direct affront to the basic statements by Marx and Engels on this subject. It is not as if Lenin had tried to qualify his words here to mean that capitalism was developing up to this or that point and that the other existing forms of collective ownership from the past still made themselves felt during the struggle in a certain manner; on the contrary, his statements boil down to a complete denial. Even the landlords, around the years 1902/1903, according to the opinion of the social democrats, should not be dispossessed but only obliged to give back the extra portions of land that they had robbed additionally from the peasants („otreski“). These portions of land which previously had belonged to the peasants now blocked them from vital entrances to drinking troughs, pastures and roads, and were used by the landlords to force them to work off the debts allegedly incurred by the use of this previously peasant land (indirect socage). Lenin himself later on criticized this demand by the social democrats as insufficient.
On reading this article,
it seems at first instance to be a positive sign when Lenin turns his
attention to the free development of the class struggle within the village
in order to find and encourage the modern allies for the proletariat.
His portrayals of social differentiation within the village structure,
which he wrote during this time and even in the end of the nineties seem
quite plausible. But later Lenin had to admit that the leadership of the
RSDWP [Russian Social Democratic Workers' Party] had overrated the extent
of class struggle in the villages and underestimated the significance
of the struggle against "serfdom" (this should actually read
'against the tsarist system'). In actual fact, the decisive question was
the relativity of the two problems with one another (cf. V.I. Lenin, Collected
Works, Vol. 13, p. 292].
„But this transition“ (to capitalism) „is also conceivable in the form of the forcible overthrow of those heirs of the serf-owners who, relying on the tradition of the former power of the slave-owners, rather than on the ‘power of money’, are sucking the last drops of blood from the patriarchal peasantry. This patriarchal peasantry, which lives under a system of natural economy by the labour of its hands, is doomed to disappear, but there is no ‘necessity’ or any ‘immanent’ law of social and economic evolution that dooms it to endure the torment of being ‘ground down by taxes’, of floggings, or a long-drawn out, horribly protracted death by starvation.“
Ibid, p. 148-149.
There is no doubt that the patriarchal peasantry was doomed - these sentences are correct if they are emphasized in this manner. But Lenin ignored every opportunity to apprehend these collective forms which had been passed down through the ages and which had also seeped into Western civilizations, but so far had not been able to develop accordingly in Russia; he failed to link them with modern class struggle and to regard them in a totally different historical context. Lenin was justified in fighting against the „collective tax liability", against the division into social-estates and against patriarchy, but was wrong in treating these institutions as being synonymous with the village commune. As far as patriarchy is concerned, one must proceed with particular caution because capitalism, at least in the initial stages, does not necessarily result in the abolition of patriarchy, just as collective ownership of land does not inevitably have to be associated with patriarchy.
A transition to capitalism accompanied by complete dismemberment of the village commune and the resultant release of millions of peasants, however, must have lead, under all conditions which were imaginable then, to large-scale starvation of millions of peasants. On the whole, the characteristic feature of this work is that Lenin made considerable concessions here with respect to the role of the village commune. However, there was no fundamental change in this detailed article of 1902.
At the time of the
Stolypin reaction, during the years 1906/7, a standpoint emerged which
cannot be termed but completely and astonishingly contrary. Tsarism was
still forced to struggle against the village commune. Even though 45 years
had gone by since the introduction of the so-called reforms, the institution
of the village commune was not yet dead; more than 20 years had elapsed
since Marx and Engels (in their foreword to the second Russian edition
of the Communist Manifesto) had posed that fundamental question as to
whether the village commune could still be of significance in connection
with the revolution in the West. Tsarism now was getting ready to crush
the village commune with all the brute force that it could muster, it
would not be exaggerated here to term it a harbinger of fascism. Stolypin
- the very name became synonymous with one of the most brutal executioners
the century had ever seen. This policy had already been drafted in 1902,
reacting to the experiences with the unrest of the peasantry. Stolypin
studded the entire Russian countryside with gallows and demanded to wipe
out the Russian village commune with all the strength, brute force and
power of the government machinery.
Stolypin, on his part, went on to become the perfect paradigm of tsarist counter-revolution and of a regime of pogroms. From 1905 onwards, the so-called "Black Hundreds" burst on to the scene; they were gangs formed from drunkards, depraved men and criminals, with the task to unscrupulously and basely terrorize the revolutionary workers and peasants.  
But we are primarily
interested in the economic central point of Stolypin’s government
program. It is identical with the question which has been interesting
us all the time: the destruction of the village commune.
The first para of this ordinance said:
"Every yard-owner (domochozjain] owning a piece of land in accordance with the law of the Mark community (obscinnoe pravo) is entitled to declare his share of this land as his private property at any time." 
From October 1905 onwards, the Tsar made attempts to disguise his regime by a parliament, the so-called Duma. When the first Duma did not prove to be pliable, a second one was called in its place. The main task of this second Duma, which convened in summer 1906, was to address the agrarian question. As soon as it became clear that it did not want to decide as requested, it was scattered, although anyway it was not a democratic institution. For the next Duma the body of delegates for electing the parliamentary representatives was structured as to secure the majority for tsarism in advance. The largest section went to the nobility, the second largest to the bourgeoisie, whereas the huge peasantry and the proletariat had only a tiny fraction. By these measures, the Tsar retracted even the rest of the concessions of his so-called October Manifesto. This is why one speaks of the „coup d’état“ of 3rd June named after the Act of 3rd June 1907. The central point of this very „coup d’état“ consisted in the undisputable necessity to implement Stolypin's line.
In fact, there were clear reasons for enacting such an ordinance because the village commune was closely connected to the peasants' rebellion in the central agricultural provinces of the country. The peasants had continued to defend the village commune for years by way of countless demonstrations inspite of all kinds of bans and laws, still! 
In the view of the above situation, it is in fact interesting to see the position taken by Lenin in the matter. The following paragraph deserves exact reading:
„Stolypin’s ‘clearing’ undoubtedly follows the line of the progressive capitalist development of Russia; but it is adapted solely to the interests of the landlords: let the rich peasants pay the ‘Peasant’ (read: Landlord) Bank an exorbitant price for the land; in return we shall give them freedom to plunder the village communes, to forcibly expropriate the masses, to round off their plots, to evict the poor peasants, to undermine the very foundations of the life of entire villages, and. at any price, in spite of everything, setting at naught the life and husbandry of any number of ‘old established’ allotment peasants, to set up new otrub holdings, as the basis for new capitalist agriculture. There is unquestionable economic sense in that line; it faithfully expresses the real course of development as it should be under the rule of landlords who are being transformed into Junkers.“
The Agrarian Programme of Social-Democracy in the First Russian Revolution, 1905 -1907, V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 13, p. 277-278.
We find that though the destruction has been described in detail here, a somewhat progressive development under Stolypin is supposed. The economically reactionary character is disputed here. This amounts to an indirect appreciation by Lenin of the tsarist hangman, Stolypin, which cannot be explained otherwise but on the basis of the hotchpotch of Lenin’s views with respect to the village commune. Stolypin - this perpetuator of the executioner’s deeds of tsarism is described by Lenin because of his deeds in agrarian policies as somebody whose line basically corresponds to the proceeding capitalist development. To this line Lenin attributes „unquestionable economic sense“. It is said to express the real course of the development of the landlords transforming themselves into Junkers.
This extreme position
taken by Lenin around the year 1907 clearly shows that he was not aware
of the significance of the Stolypin reaction; this was a tsarist reaction
even in the economic sense - a tsarist act of violence
unleashed in the name of the military-bureaucratic machinery of the Russian
state. This policy resulted in the pauperization of the village and the
ruin of Russian agriculture. This was actually a continuation of the "reform"
of 1861 carried to extremes.
„The Black Hundreds fully take the stand of capitalist development and definitely depict a programme that is economically progressive, European; this need to be specially emphasised, because a vulgar and simplified view of the nature of the reactionary policy of the landlords is very widespread among us. The liberals often depict the Black Hundreds as clowns and fools, but it most be said that this description is far more applicable to the Cadets. Our reactionaries, however, are distinguished by their extremely pronounced class-consciousness. They know perfectly well what they want where they are going, and on what forces they can count. They do not betray a shadow of half-heartedness or irresolution (at all events in the Second Duma; in the First there was ‘bewilderment’ among the Bobrinskys!). They are clearly seen to be connected with a very definite class, which is accustomed to command, which correctly judges the conditions necessary for preserving its rule in a capitalist environment, and brazenly defends its interests even if that entails the rapid extinction, degradation, and eviction of millions of peasants. The Black-Hundred programme is reactionary not because it seeks to perpetuate any precapitalist relations or system (in that respect all the parties of the Second Duma already, in essence, take the stand of recognising capitalism, of taken it for granted), but because it stands for the Junker type of capitalist development in order to strengthen the power and to increase the incomes of the landlords, in order to place the edifice of autocracy upon a new and stronger foundation. There is no contradiction between what these gentlemen say and what they do; our reactionaries, too, are ‘businessmen’, as Lassalle said of the German reactionaries in contrast to the liberals.“
Ibid, p. 370-371.
Ferdinand Lassalle is however a bad witness because he himself did not have a very clean slate as far as admiration of certain aristocrats in Prussia was concerned. The fact that openly reactionary people could sometimes turn out to be greater realists than the liberals themselves, proved occasionally to be true. But in this form it is an outrageous exaggeration. The quotation is self-explanatory.
And we find in Lenin also the source of the ideas, that retort against the theory of civilization, as represented by the theory of evolution, and represented by Marx.
This article also discusses the allotment land (the name given to the sections of agricultural land in the village commune) in connection with how nationalization of landed property would be achieved:
„The division must be based not on the old allotment land distributed among the peasants a hundred years ago at the will of the landlords’ bailiffs or of the officials of Asiatic despotism, but on the needs of free, commercial agriculture.“
Ibid, p. 278.
It is obvious here that Lenin had Chicherin’s ideas in mind and had formulated his theoretical statements on their basis; Chicherin was an apologist for tsarism who had claimed in 1856 that the village commune was a product of the tax legislation of the 18th century. Lenin does not talk about the change in Plekhanov's views anywhere in his published works, although he tried to develop the history of these views. While representing this history, he should have touched upon the allegedly outdated and false opinions on this question such as those of Marx and Engels. But he did no such thing.
„To meet the requirements of capitalism, the division must be a division among free farmers, not among ‘indolent’ peasants, the great majority of whom run their economies by routine and tradition in conformity with patriarchal, not with capitalist conditions. A division according to the old standards, i.e., in conformity with the old forms of landownership based on peasant allotments, will not be the clearing of the old landownership, but its perpetuation; not clearing the way for capitalism, but rather encumbering it with a mass of unadapted and unadaptable ‘indolents’ who cannot become free farmers. To be progressive, the division must be based on a new sorting process among the peasant cultivators, which will sift the farmers from the useless lumber.“
Ibid, p. 278/9
In plain language, this just means that the majority of peasants, who Lenin refers to as "useless lumber" should be set free as soon possible, a process to which Lenin ascribes an allegedly progressive, necessary meaning. The objective here is to clear the way for capitalism. Something different is not at all any more admitted to debate.
Finally it is stated very clearly that:
„The mass of small owner cultivators declared in favour of nationalisation at the congresses of the Peasant Union in 1905, in the First Duma in 1906, and in the Second Duma in 1907, i. e., during the whole of the first period of the revolution. They did so not because the ‘village commune’ had imbued them with certain special ‘rudiments’, certain special, non-bourgeois ‘labour principles’. On the contrary, they did so because life required of them that they should seek emancipation from the medieval village commune and from the medieval allotment system. They did so not because they wanted or were able to build a socialist agriculture, but because they have been wanting and have been able to build a really bourgeois small-scale farming, i. e., farming freed as much as possible from all the traditions of serfdom.“
Ibid, p. 425.
Lenin himself, however, admitted much later that Stolypin had distinguished himself by his excellent capacity to conceal his "Asiatic ‘practices' behind glib phrases, external appearances, poses and gestures made to look ‘European’.“ 
proved to be a failure. In spite of all the hardship they suffered, most
of the peasants of Great Russia remained firmly in favour of Obshchina.
It was primarily rich peasants who chose to leave the village commune
because it was advantageous for them to do so; as well as a larger number
of peasants who wanted to leave anyway and sold their yards after they
were converted into private property. All these developments emphasize
the historical relevance of the question thrown up by Chernyshevskii.
„For the time being we shall note that the only entirely real result of the Stolypin break-up is a famine among 30 million people.“
A Comparison of the Stolypin and the Narodnik Agrarian Programmes, V.I. Lenin, Col-lected Works, Vol. 18, p.149.
But Lenin continued to stand by his theoretical views. For example, he speaks of the "the necessity of a more consistent and resolute procedure" (as compared to Stolypin's) here. Therefore, the critique formulated here can also be applied to subsequent articles dealing with the agrarian question.
If we follow Lenin’s analysis of the reform of 1861, it was a reform useful to and in the interest of the landowners and absolutism in Russia. It was a reform which turned serf-owning landowners into hidden serf-owning landowners and capitalist landowners, and which was eventually taken advantage of by the Kulaks in order to enrich themselves. Thus the way was being paved for the capitalist development in Russia, even though this happened in a way the proletariat could not approve of. The final quintessence is that in Russia the capitalist development made headway after 1861, and according to Lenin the proletariat had to take the situation in such a way that it ensured as rapid and democratic a development as possible. In the following, we are going to take a closer look at this “capitalist development“ in Russia, since this is exactly what matters. For we have seen how complex and subtly differentiated things become with Marx. How is the reform of 1861 to be evaluated?
There exist several comprehensive works on the economic development of the entire epoch between 1861 and 1917, which, however, have to be analysed by ourselves and would also have to be compared with one another if the task were to write an extensive book. Among these works there are certain detailed studies by Marx - who worked on them from the end of the 1870s until 1882 - providing not only highly interesting ideas which are helpful as starting-points
our study but, moreover, highly interesting and useful findings on the
epoch up until 1881. The studies in question are the “Notizen
zur Reform von 1861 und der damit verbundenen Entwicklung in Rußland“1
from Marx' literary remains(4). They constitute a documentation
of particular importance and provide detailed support for the views Marx
had given on the “reform“ on several occasions.
The central point of these notes is the centralization of the Russian tsarist state through its tax-raising power over the entire empire, the elimination of the power of the landlords, which was rival to that of the tsar, the complete, brutal and ruthless squeezing-dry of the peasants by means of a tax system which provided the state with the immeasurable values it needed for the strengthening of its military-bureaucratic apparatus, for its expansionist policy and for the maintenance of autocratic rule as well as for the development of a particular form of capitalism under the care of just that tsarism. A further point is, eventually, the economic gratification of the landlords at the expense of the peasants along with the former´s deprivation of political power.
In these notes, Marx provides very detailed statistical material which he had procured from the various Russian works. It is true that the reform received its decisive stimulus by Russia´s proven backwardness in the Crimean War and the defeat of 1855. Even the tsars before Alexander II had considered the idea of reform. Then, in 1861, it took shape and became concrete. The history of this reform shows that the tsar most rigorously suppressed the proposals made by certain representatives of the nobility which amounted to demanding that the personal emancipation of the peasants must not depend on the stipulated condition to acquire land; the publication of these proposals was even prohibited by the tsar. What mattered to tsarism was in fact to push through this acquisition of land on incredibly bad terms and on terms which were to mean decade-long enslavement and debt liability of the peasants. It was exactly by this that they could be brutally strangled and squeezed dry. Marx´ “Notes“ record in every detail the infinite disadvantages the peasants suffered. One of the links in the chain of procedure of tsarism was that the state itself compensated the landowners for having to give up their right to ownership of land. The peasants had to pay the interests to the banks which were, at that time, under the control of the state and were later united to form the State Bank. They actually had to pay the interests to the government. Through this, the government, in other words tsarism, managed to have the whole financial mechanism of this operation under control.
Furthermore, Marx demonstrates to what extent the former state serfs and the serfs of the landed gentry had now to pay their revenues to the state. He shows that the state serfs had to pay 92.75 per cent of their net revenue to the government and had only 7.25 per cent left over for themselves. But then:
“The former serfs of the landed gentry had to pay 198.25 per cent of their agricultural revenue, thus not only handing over the entire revenue from their lands to the government but also having to pay an almost equally high sum from the salaries (wages) they receive for various kinds of labour - agricultural or other.” (mostly labour for the landlord or the major peasants). 
Karl Marx, Notizen zur Reform von 1861...., MEW 19, S. 418
A really crucial point is added here. Although Lenin, too, wrote a lot about the system of redemption labour and emphasized that it was simply a different form of serf labour for the landlord, a new component is introduced here, namely that the peasants had to perform additional labour in order to be able to pay the tax.
Marx gives another example:
province of Nowgorod, according to estimates by the Semstwos, the ratio
between the payments and the income per Desjatine is, for the former state
peasants, - 100% (i.e. the entire revenue);
areas, their share of the land is more often than not too small to provide
the peasants with basic nourishment, even. These northern provinces are
at the same time the industrialized ones, but their local factory wages
are not sufficient to offset the deficit <nor are the wages they get
for agricultural work for the landowners>. They are forced to look
for wage labour in places far away from their homes, in the South, in
New-Russia, beyond the Ural mountains, in Siberia and Central Asia.“
Marx eventually summarizes the “advantages of the emancipation for the government“; and each of following points should be considered most carefully:
“1. Transfer of the debts to the state-guaranteed banks (later united to form the State Bank), to the government to which the peasants therefore had to pay the interests.
2. In the reports of the editorial commission (Skrebizki: Letter from Rostowzew to Emperor: ‘Government receives many candidates for the highest positions, both for the provincial and the central administration’).
3. Direct collection of taxes from the peasants (in the past the landlords used to be liable for it), which makes tax increase much easier.
4. The breaking of the domain of power of the gentry.
5. Area for conscription  (and general reform of the army) thus extended.
with the emancipation are the so-called Semstwo Institutions:
„It is simply intended to perfect autocratic rule by tearing down the barriers which the big autocrat has hitherto encountered in the shape of the many lesser autocrats of the Russian nobility, whose might is based on serfdom, as well as in the shape of the self administrating peasant communes, whose material foundation, common ownership of land, is to be destroyed by the so-called emancipation.“
Karl Marx, Herr Vogt, VIII, MECW, Vol. 17, p.141
The centralization of tsarism´s state power is a really crucial aspect which is also and particularly well perceptible in the tax-raising power. And it is just this aspect which cannot be found in Lenin´s writings.
A further concomitant of this so-called reform was the fact that the peasants permanently frittered away their working hours trying to interpret the regulations or make out which rights they still had and which not.
As regards the
“true meaning of emancipation“ the “Notes“ say:
simply comes down to the noble landlord no longer having the right of
disposal over the peasant as a person, thus no longer being able to sell
him etc. This form of personal serfdom has been abolished. They have lost
their personal power over the person of the peasant.
Karl Marx, Notizen...., MEW Bd. 19, S. 414
As a result of the
radical reorganization of finances in Russia it was now possible to raise
the funds not only needed for military expenditures but also for the development
of railway companies which were to be one of the chain links in the emergence
of the more modern capitalism. Marx demonstrates that a gigantic part
of the taxes paid by the peasants made its way into these state-owned,
later on privatized, railway companies, or rather into the pockets of
their proprietors. Marx wants to show here that a really special form
of capitalism was emerg-ing which produced a boom-like development of
all branches of modern finance, of the stock exchange system and of centralized
big business through the downright over-exploitation of the substance
of the peasantry. This was in fact affected in connection with
the autocratic power which was, initially, by no means undermined by this
reform. In the above-mentioned drafts of his letter to Vera Zasulich,
Marx writes bluntly about a “capitalist vermin“ evolving in
Russia, and about a “special form of capitalism“
whose characteristic feature was not, for instance, the formation of a
domestic market but the downright predatory squeezing-dry of the substance
of the vast majority of the population with the aim of attaining certain
elementary capitalist achievements which were of decisive importance also
to the Russian military.
province of Kazan the livestock (of the former serfs who in the past were
entitled to drive their cattle onto the landlords´ pastures) has
dropped considerably. From that the reasons for the decrease: lack of
pastureland, sale of the cattle to be able to pay the taxes; small harvest.
In the province of Simbirsk the livestock has slightly decreased; the
better-off peasants sell the cattle they do not absolutely need when the
opportunity arises in order not to be forced to sell it in case of tax
arrears for which they are liable due to the commune´s general solidarity
(either of a group of peasants or all peasants together - collective responsibility).
Another reason: The cutting-off of pastures from the land allotted to
the peasants, mainly forested areas. The same holds true for the provinces
of Samara, Saratov, Penza (where the stock of horses also decreases).
In the province of Riazan there is a diminution of livestock by 50% for
lack of pasture. For the same reason we find, in the province of Tula,
enforced sale carried through by the tax-collectors and cattle disease
which reduces the rearing of horses and livestock. The same merciless
sale of livestock for tax arrears is found in the province of Kursk, for
lack of pasture, division within the family etc. (see p.75).“
This overexploitation of agriculture was leading directly to stagnation in the production of cereals. Marx draws our attention to the interesting fact that the exports of Russian cereals to Europe partly increased, a fact which was rated a success abroad, while at home the famine was becoming more severe, so that in the tsarist-Russian double game foreign exchange earnings and the effect produced on foreign affairs complemented each other.
in Lenin´s numerous essays, we can time and again find references
to the tax issue and, occasionally, more detailed accounts on that question.
But although he depicts how heavily the taxes and redemption payments
weighed on the peasants and, elsewhere, who was mainly affected by the
indirect taxes, namely the mass of the population, and
although there is a passage where, in connection with the national budget
for the year 1901, Lenin refers to „an economy of robbery“1
 , the crucial point is missing(5). This point
is, namely, the question of centralization, the reorganization of forces
- a process which had long since been comprehended by Marx and constitutes
a central part of his earlier reflections.
The points mentioned
here lead to a criticism of Lenin´s writings about the agrarian
question and the economic development of Russia. How, for instance, is
one to evaluate his book “The Development of Capitalism in Russia“
(1898) which provided the foundation stone for the later analyses? We
find in this book details about the development of capitalism in agriculture,
the separation of agriculture from modern industry, the development of
a market within Russia against all that “resistance“, especially
on the part of the village commune, which was characteristic of the Russian
agricultural structure. (Lenin makes use of individual examples, though,
for instance that of a village or a district. In view of the role the
Russian village commune was still to play in the following decades, and
even in 1917, it will be quite reasonable to subject these details to
a renewed examination with regard to their general significance.)
But this way of approach
is also employed in his later writings. Even in quite late articles about
the “peasant reform“ of 1861, such as “Apropos of an
Anniversary“ (1911) (LCW 17 p. 110ff.), there is not a single word
on the centralization of the tsarist state power and the re-organization
by the state.
What we find in Russia right from the beginning is the state´s eminent role in the development of capitalism. We find a redistribution of enormous amounts of capital passing from the hands of those producers who were still attached to their means of production, i.e. the village commune, into the hands of the capitalist state and from then on into capitalist speculation, into the building of railways - in which not only the capital but also the Russian militaristic state had a strong interest - and into the development of large factories which were chiefly concentrated in the big cities and rural centres.
What are the proportions
the development of capitalism actually assumed? There are some figures
available on the development of the proletariat and the industrial proletariat
Here too, as I have
already shown elsewhere, a direct examination of the tsarist state is
missing, a traditional shortcoming I also detect e.g. in the thought of
the group “Liberation of Labour“.
It shows that the poll tax, which for a long time was to hinder Russia´s development, was in-troduced under the reign of Peter I., the so-called Great. He introduced the poll tax towards the end of his reign, apparently in order to cope with the enormous military expenses. What does poll tax mean? The poll tax was fixed in censuses, so-called revisions, by way of which all male persons within a village or town were made liable for taxation solely on the grounds of their existence - thus the name poll tax. In order to make this system function it was necessary that the citizens virtually stayed in the place where they had been registered for the tax setting. Thus, at the same time, the poll tax entailed a rigid detention, with an extreme curtailing of the citizens´ freedom of movement. Every citizen who wished to leave his village at all had to have a passport issued to him, a procedure which was bound up with tiresome additional harassments - if the passport was granted at all.
On this issue the above-mentioned author notes:
“An order was issued,“ (under Peter I.) “ requiring that ´in order to find out who of the peasants had to become a soldier inquiries were to be made in all villages about the number of male souls, from the old man right down to the last baby, without any embezzlement´. People were threatened with severe punishment, death even, for any ´embezzlement´ of souls. Those to be registered by the census included ´those holding a piece of arable land´ as well as <alle Lostreiber, Arbeiter und Hofesleute>(6) who did not own any land and worked for the landlord. Also to be counted were those clergymen who did not occupy a state office, those noblemen who had not signed up for public service (which was obligatory to all without exception), vagrant individuals, refugees. The law sums up the last four categories under the title ´travelling people´ or vagabonds. All classes of the population listed were to be registered in a commune, which they were no longer permitted to leave from then on (and in the period following only if they complied with extremely irksome conditions).“
V.Wittschewsky, Budget und Steuerverhältnisse Rußlands, Berlin 1904, S. 730
obligation to take on collective liability for the total amount of the
poll tax lead to a restriction of the freedom of movement pushed through
with ruthless rigidity. Among the methods employed to achieve this aim,
the brutal use of the passport system provided a disastrous weapon. The
dreadful moral inferiority of the subordinate powers knew how to use the
legal regulations to create a scourge against the people which inflicted
terrible harm upon those among the peasants who strived for progress.“
The poll tax was
also introduced in the cities. The poll tax was an impediment to the whole
development. This became obvious at the beginning of the 19th century
at the latest, when Russia had to compete with the French Revolution and
“At last the manifesto of mercy issued on 15 May 1883 on the occasion of the coronation of Emperor Alexander III. deleted all records of outstanding arrears of the poll tax amounting to 28 million rubles. Yet the major part of this sum was to be considered as uncollectable anyway.“
ibid., S. 745
Now in the years between 1882 and 1887, the poll tax actually disappeared. Only for many Siberian peasants the poll tax continued to exist until 1898 - the very year in which Lenin wrote his book in Siberia - because the system could not be transformed rapidly enough.
Now was this change
of taxation a tax reduction? Of course not. That was not to be expected,
and it was actually not the case. For parallel to the abolition of this
tax, indirect taxes were massively raised. Among the indirect taxes the
tax on spirits assumed the greatest importance or, more generally, the
tax on beverages of which, however, the tax on spirits made up the largest
part. Alcoholism in Russia and among the Russian peasants had been taking
on an immense dimension for a long time already. It reflected the desperate
and hopeless situation of the peasants under the tsarist system.
1880 223.3 million
In addition to that there were the revenues from the spirits monopoly, i.e. the sale of beverages carried out by the state which was introduced in 1895. According to the tables compiled by the author, net revenues alone amounted to:
1895 - 1901 188.7
Compare these figures to those of the military budget. In 1901, the total expenses of the colossal tsarist army amounted to 317.6 million rubles, that is a sum almost equalling the sum collected by indirect taxes on beverages. By contrast: Spendings on national education, in fact on the entirety of national education in Russia, amounted to 65.1 million rubles. All of 11 million rubles - that is approximately 3 percent of the spendings on the army, or of the revenues from the tax on spirits - were spent on elementary schools in a Russia which was underdeveloped in this respect. All indirect taxes added up, they always came to a sum between 40 and 60 per cent of the total revenues of Russia. The direct taxes imposed on the capitalists paled into insignificance beside this tax which was first and foremost paid by the gigantically large peasantry.
Between 1880 and
1901 direct taxes totalled:
ibid., from the chart p. 755
This means that in the period from 1880 to 1901 this tax increased by all of a minimal 3.2 million rubles.
At the same time the taxes burdening the capital, that is the trade tax and the capital gains tax together, amounted to:
ibid., from the chart p. 757
This tsarist tax
policy led to a recurrent collapse of the entire tax system since it ruined
the population to such an extent that in a way the Treasury itself was
jeopardized because the tax could no longer be collected.
Minister Vyshnegradski (1887-1892), his fiscal policy of taxation being
developed to the extremes, was not in the least prepared to let himself
be shaken in his tax policy by any theoretical considerations or humanitarian
impulses. His greed for taxation grabbed indiscriminately at almost anything.
But even more than before, the whole situation was suitable for directing
the tax-seeker´s attention to the indirect taxes. And in fact, any
of them was made use of to the full. The famine of 1891 was the cruel
price to be paid for this squeezing-out of the taxes.“
This led to the fall of Vychnegradski, and a new finance minister, Sergius Witte, came to power. From 1892 to 1903 he was the tsarist Minister of Finance and, in fact, the tsar´s most important politician. He himself shall be quoted here since he very well expresses the views of tsarist policy.
“Particularly the agricultural earnings, the earnings from agricultural labour and from the travelling trades and similar lines of business are subject to great fluctuations, which makes the assessment as well as the levying of fixed taxes more difficult. As this essential feature holds true for the incomes of the vast majority of the population, decisive importance will have to be attached to indirect taxation. The facts prove that direct taxation leads to arrears whereas there is no difficulty at all in getting hold of indirect taxes. From this a rise in prosperity can be inferred.“ (!!!)
Memorandum on the Budget for 1897, quoted in V. Wittschewsky, p. 770f.
Although he speaks of “revolutionary effects of the liberation of the peasants“ and occasionally tries to make tsarism seem better than it was, on the concrete level Wittschewsky actually comes to the same conclusions as Marx and depicts the continual tax attacks on the peasants. He shows that the most important elements in Marx´ analysis manifested themselves in a modified way even after 1881.
We are now going back once more to Lenin´s analysis of the so-called reform of 1861 which is most closely connected to his views on the agricultural development and on the social development in Russia in general.
How does Lenin evaluate the tsarist transformation of Russian society which aimed at increasing its military power, thus leading to a very special kind of “renewal“?
In such an evaluation the view on the reform is the central link in the chain of argumentation and has a determining influence on all other views, a fact also emphasized by Lenin himself. In his earlier writings, Lenin sees Russian capitalism as a progressive phenomenon, actually without any reservations. He develops all the things parallel to the German development. He sees the rise of a weak bourgeoisie, which is going to have a certain short episode, and the rise of a proletariat which is then going to overrun this bourgeoisie and its development, a process completely analogous to the Communist Manifesto of 1848 on Germany.
The fundamental views we can find in the writings of Marx, Engels and also Chernyshevskii and which we have developed in the initial part of this text are not taken into account. No attempt whatsoever is made to, for instance, differentiate the Russian development and to see the rise of certain forms of capitalism along with the possibilities to put the peasantry on a new, higher level of the democratic movement by way of using the modern productive forces and by developing a thrust against tsarism and the military bureaucracy in the country. No attempt is made to make use of the still existing spirit of community among the peasants - a spirit deeply rooted in the peasantry for a thousand years - in order to reach socialism more directly, in connection with the workers´ movement. This is no populist ideology, for the Narodniks put forward a naive romantic theory and planned to reach socialism partly even together with tsarism and together with the bureaucracy in Russia, supported by the “reason“ of the ruling classes. This was nonsense of course, the roots of it going back to Herzen, by the way. But the opportunity to use these capacities of the peasantry was not grasped theoretically by Lenin. It was only later that Lenin acknowledged it slightly more in practice, although even then he kept to the theoretical views he had once adopted.
This weakness goes back to the group “Liberation of Labour“. The thrust against tsarism and the military bureaucracy, which the Russian revolutionaries had adopted some time ago already, was considerably weakened and annulled by this group which used the increasing development of capitalism as an opportunity to more or less propagate the development of capitalism in Russia and to annul in this respect the former considerations of Russian revolutionaries who were also in contact with Marx. The views on civilization of Georgij Plechanow have a wrong foundation. And this is now being continued by the Russian Social Democrats.
It would be wrong
to describe this simply as a failure or even maliciousness. There are
historical and epistemological reasons for it. In the 1880s, capitalism
in Russia was indeed progressing and to a certain degree subverting the
village commune in those Russian regions in which it still existed. But
in the relatively large parts of Russia, which belonged to Russian-Poland
then, and in South Russia conditions were different anyway and rather
became similar to those in Western Europe. It was simply no longer possible
to carry on with the old Narodniks' ideology and the ideology of the “Land
and Freedom“society. The initial reaction to the new development
was a rejection of the old Narodniks' ideas, a process in which at first
- unsurprisingly for any dialectician - the pendulum swings in the other
direction and overshoots the mark, encouraging ideas which now generally
approve of the development of capitalism and consider the traditional
village commune to be antiquated, backward and impeding the development
To treat the development of land ownership and to develop all special categories necessary for the analysis of this question was an extremely difficult task Marx was sitting over towards the end of his life, an undertaking he was not, however, able to complete. Interestingly enough, Marx intended to consult Chernyshevskii´s views on this question and planned, in particular, to take Russia as the prime example of land ownership, as he had quite similarly taken England as a prime example of capitalist conditions.
A further reason, though, has to be looked for in the Russian conditions and in the Russian tsarist ideology itself. According to Marx, the rule of Russian tsarism is the continuation of the rule of the Mongols who had had dominion over Russia in the Middle Ages. The characteristics of this dominion were a cynical demoralization of the people, a conscious and deliberate attempt to hamper the development of the people, the corruption of the Great Russians, especially by suppressing more highly developed European nations, first and foremost the Poles. Tsarism showed all characteristic features of a militaristic despotism which, on top of that, showed Asiatic traits.
The fact that conditions in Russia were not nationally homogeneous in many regions, i.e. that there existed about a hundred different nationalities, made it possible for tsarism to play off against each other the different nationalities within its empire. But this analysis alone does not suffice to characterize tsarism. With its Mongolian origin, tsarism is far more than mere feudal reaction. Tsarism´s opposition to Western Europe is also that of the most reactionary resistance to that society and its historical foundations in general. It is precisely this idea Lenin is unable to grasp, although it is already contained in the works of Marx. After having said it many times before already, Marx still speaks of tsarist Russia as the Mongolian threat to Western Europe as late as 1880. In his analysis of tsarism Marx therefore emphasizes totally different components than that of a merely delayed development of feudalism.
As regards the village
commune, tsarism was able to tolerate this village commune as long as
its isolation and the distance separating the communes from each other
formed a supplement to Asiatic despotism in Russia. At the very moment,
however, when Russia had to renew itself, when, not least because of its
competition with Western Europe, it had to build railways and to permit
a certain degree of democracy, if only for appearance’s sake, the
village commune with its original democratic structure had to be strangled
and destroyed, according to tsarism. It is exactly in this respect that
both the measures taken in 1861 and Stolypin´s reform must be comprehended.
Furthermore, the question remains to be settled why Lenin turns a deaf ear to information as important as the one Marx is offering and completely ignores it in his theory about Russia. He takes only that part of Marxism which deals with capitalism. The cultural critique of Russia which Marx had after all started to write is, apart from some general formulations, spurned.
„One of the aims they“ (the Social Democrats of all countries) „set themselves and work for everywhere is to complete what the bourgeoisie has left unfinished. That is what we are doing. And in order to do so, we have unavoidably to revert to the past; and that is what the Social-Democrats in every country are doing, always reverting to their 1789, or to their 1848. Similarly, the Russian Social-Democrats cannot but revert to their 1861, and must do so all the more energetically and frequently since our so-called peasant ‘Reform’ has achieved so little in the way of democratic changes.“
Second Congress of the R.S.D.L.P., 1903, First Speech in the Discussion on the Agrarian Programme, V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol.6, p. 494.
Imagine a German social democrat in the 19th century, no matter at which point of time, declaring “We must revert to our 1807  and complete our reform.“ This would have been taken to be nothing but a bow to the rulers. Those reforms of v. Stein and Hardenberg were also reforms which cheated the peasants completely, and they have often been compared to the Russian reform of 1861 because of their parallels to it. Yet they were superior after all to the “reforms“ of Alexander II or even Stolypin as the latter aimed at exterminating the majority of the peasantry, accepted the country´s decay and needed pogroms against Jews and counterrevolutionary excesses to accompany their policy. Nevertheless, the German socialists could not take up the reform movements in their own country. If there was any need at all to refer to the authority of historic events, people in Germany referred to the years 1789-94 in France or to the peasants´ uprising in the 16th century.
In the period between
1913 and 1917 the agrarian question attracted relatively little attention,
which did not mean, however, that there was no unrest in the countryside.
Large numbers of peasants were still defending the village commune, apparently
until 1917. Now there is a point in the revolution which corroborates
our reflections and investigations as for the practice, as for the actual
course of history. When the Bolsheviks make the revolution in October
1917, the Land Decree issued on 26 October 1917 plays a decisive role.
With the help of this decree land in Russia is nationalized, landed property
is abolished - although the ordinary peasant is still allowed to make
private use of the land - and the partitioning of the land - this is the
decisive point - is carried out according to the principle of the balancing-out
use of the land, which stems from the redistributions in the village commune
and is applied to the totality now. Lenin himself confirms that this programme
was written by the Socialist-Revolutionaries and accepted by the Bolsheviks
because the peasants defended it.
„Voices are being raised here that the Decree itself and the Mandate were drawn up by the Socialist-Revolutionaries. What of it? Does it matter who drew them up? As a democratic government, we cannot ignore the decision of the masses of the people, even though we may disagree with it. In the fire of experience, applying the Decree in practice, and carrying it out locally. the peasants will themselves realise where the truth lies. And even if the peasants continue to follow the Socialist-Revolutionaries, even if they give this party a majority in the Constituent Assembly, we shall still say - what of it? Experience is the best teacher and it will show who is right. Let the peasants solve this problem from one end and we shall solve it from the other. Experience will oblige us to draw together in the general stream of revolutionary creative work, in the elaboration of new state forms. We must be guided by experience; we must allow complete freedom to the creative faculties of the masses. The old government, which was overthrown by armed uprising, wanted to settle the land problem with the help of the old, unchanged tsarist bureaucracy. But instead of solving the problem, the bureaucracy only fought the peasants. The peasants have learned something during the eight months of our revolution; they want to settle all land problems themselves. We are therefore opposed to all amendments to this draft law. We want no details in it, for we are writing a decree, not a programme of action. Russia is vast, and local conditions vary. We trust that the peasants themselves will be able to solve the problem correctly, properly, better than we could do it. Whether they do it in our spirit or in the spirit of the Socialist-Revolutionary programme is not the point. The point is that the peasants should be firmly assured that there are no more landowners in the countryside, that they themselves must decide all questions, and that they themselves must arrange their own lives.“
Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets, V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 26, p. 260-261.
And in a later work written in 1920 it says:
„At the very moment of the October Revolution, we entered into an informal but very important (and very successful) political bloc with the petty-bourgeois peasantry by adopting the Socialist-Revolutionary agrarian programme in its entirety, without a single alteration - i.e., we effected an undeniable compromise in order to prove to the peasants that we wanted, not to „steam-roller“ them but to reach agreement with them. At the time we proposed (and soon after effected) a formal political bloc, including participation in the government, with the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries, who dissolved this bloc after the conclusion of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and then, in July 1918, went to the length of armed rebellion, and subsequently of an armed struggle, against us.“
Left-Wing Communism - An Infantile Disorder, V.I.Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 31, p. 72.
This shows how explosive
an issue the question here treated was for the revolution of 1917. These
facts themselves are an illustration of what has been expounded above.
They show that even in 1917, contrary to what the Bolsheviks had expected,
the question of the village commune had by no means disappeared. The requirements
of the practice induced also Lenin to give in with regard to that question
and to accept a programme different to what he had originally planned.
It must thus be emphasized that the October Revolution itself was carried out in connection with accepting demands made by the village commune. Lenin himself was convinced that the adoption of the programme of the Socialist-Revolutionaries in the Land Decree of the October Revolution played a decisive role for winning over the majority of the masses. The Socialist-Revolutionaries, whose programme we have not made our task to criticize in detail but among whose essential characteristic features was the formal recognition of certain aspects of the village commune, had drawn up an agrarian programme which appealed to the majority of the population, namely the peasantry, and this programme was adopted. This is in itself a confirmation of the elaborations made in the present text on the subject of the Russian Revolution and on the importance the question of the village commune had in Russian history, and it is also an indirect confirmation of the question being of transcending importance for us, which has been the starting point of the present article: the question of civilization.
1st part (p. 1-17) August 1986 – June 1989
 „In the future, even after
classes have disappeared, there will still be contradictions between the
superstructure and the economic basis and between the conditions of production
and the productive forces. And there will still be two-line struggles
reflecting these contradictions, i.e. struggles between the advanced and
the backward and between the correct and the erroneous.“
 It is possible to object that Engels’ work operates upon a level of ethnological insight which is a hundred years old. This is correct, of course there is much more knowledge today than hundred years ago.
”The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State “ has to be looked at as something like a fundamental primary work, which needs supplements and rewritings with regard to many details today. But there is no proof/evidence at all that the fundamental conclusions, in particular about the seeping in of elements of gentile order into post-antique Europe must be disputed. Lenin himself, in particular, does not try something like that in his analysis of Russian history.
 Lewis Henry Morgan (1818-1881), American ethnologist and archaeologist. His book „Ancient Society“ (1877) is a key work for the understanding of prehistory. By comparing phenomena which were found with very different tribes and nations and historical epochs he was able to identify essential laws governing primeval society. His work is the most important basis for Marx’ and Engels’ studies (though not the only one) and the starting point for Engels’ book.
 For the terms „benefices“
and „patronage (commendation)“ see Engels’ article „Franconian
Time“ (MECW Vol. 26, p. 58 - 107) which anyhow forms an important
supplement to the explanations of the text, „Origin...“.
Generally, for the time before the Middle Ages and the Franconian empire the term „Germanen“ is being used. The term „deutsch“ turns up for the first time during the 8th century in the Merowingian empire as a linguistic term. It denotes the language of the tribes in the East who had not become Latinized. „Lingua theodisca“ is mentioned in a document for the first time in 786/788. This term means „the language that belongs to the people“. From then on it is transferred to the East-Franconian empire, which for the most part consisted of the tribes speaking Germanic languages. At this point in „The Origin..“However, Engels has in mind the part of the Germanic tribes who originated from the region between the Rhine and the Elbe and the Slavic border regions, and it was these tribes from which “die Deutschen” emerged in their majority. With respect to this fact his use of this term is quite plausible.
[Translator’s note: The above annotation by the author was necessitated by Engels’ use of the term „Deutsche“ in the passage quoted. Engels, at this point, uses “Deutsche“ for the Germanic tribes which were the forerunners of the latter Germans.] ?
 The term „Aryans“ later fell into disrepute because of its improper use in a racist meaning. Here with Engels 1884 this term denotes Indo-European peoples whose languages are grouped around Old-Indian Sanskrit. See also F. Engels, „Manuscripts on Early German History“, MECW Vol. 26, p.9 and the respective annotation to F. Engels' article „Bruno Bauer and Early Christianity“ in MECW 24
 To illustrate this point further: Engels, taking up his previous description of the emergence of the Athenian and the Roman state, writes:
„In proceeding chapters/earlier we stood at the cradle of ancient Greek and Roman civilisation. Now we are standing at its grave. The levelling plane of Roman world domination had been passing over all countries of the Mediterranean basin, and this for centuries. Where the Greek language offered no resistance all national languages had had to give way to a corrupt Latin. There were no longer any distinctions of nationality, no more Gaels, Iberians, Ligurians, Noricans; all had become Romans. Everywhere Roman administration and Roman law had dissolved the old bodies of consanguine and thus crushed the last remnants of local and national self-expression. The new-fangled Romanism offered no compensation; it expressed no nationality, but only lack of nationality. The elements of new nations existed everywhere. The Latin dialects of the different provinces diverged more and more; the natural boundaries that had once made Italy, Gaul, Spain and Africa independent territories still existed and still made themselves felt. Yet nowhere was there a force capable of combining these elements into new nations; nowhere was there the least trace of any capacity for development or any power of resistance, much less of creative capacity. The immense human mass of that enormous territory was held together by one bond alone - the Roman state; and this, in the course of time, had become its worst enemy and oppressor. The provinces had ruined Rome; Rome itself had become a provincial town like all the others, privileged, but no longer ruling, no longer the centre of the world empire, no longer even the seat of the emperors and vice-emperors, who lived in Constantinople, Trier and Milan. The Roman state had become an immense complicated machine, designed exclusively for draining dry its subjects. Taxes, services for the state and levies of all kinds drove the mass of the people deeper and deeper into poverty. The extortionate practices of the governors, tax collectors and soldiers caused the pressure to become intolerable. This is what the Roman state with its world domination had brought things to: it had based its right to existence on the preservation of order within and protection against the barbarians outside. But its order was worse than the worst disorder, and the barbarians, against whom the state pretended to protect its citizens, were longed for by them as saviours.“
Frederick Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the
 Odoaker (433-493), leader of Germanic armies in the service of the West-Roman emperors, who deposed the last West-Roman emperor in 476 and seized the leadership of the state.
 Cf. my work „W.I. Lenins Stellung zu Alexander I. Herzen“ (The attitude of W.I. Lenin towards Alexander I. Herzen), chapter IX
 The articles mentioned here appeared in the periodical „Sovremennik“, the organ in which Chernyshevskii published.
 Cf. Marx’ letter to Engels of Dec. 18, 1882, MEWC 46, p. 409
 Cf. Lenin Collected Works vol. 34, p. 81f. and MECW vol. 24, p. 456
 **: The Russian word denotes
 Cf. Lenin Collected Works vol. 17, p. 123
 Karl Marx, Letter to Otechestvenniye
Zapiski, MECW Vol. 24, p.196
 In the draft program by Plechanow
of 1885 it had been said: „abolition of the present system of taxation
and introduction of a progressive income tax“.
 A.I. Skvorzov: a writer on economics, mentioned and criticized several times in Lenin’s works Vol. 1,3,4,5.
 The Black Hundreds have been
compared to the later Nazis and fascists quite often. Actually the SA
(„storm detachments“) of the Nazis resembled a lot the gangs
of Black Hundreds. Also pogroms against Jews, which formed a central point
of Nazi banditry, were already peculiar to the Black Hundreds. Therefore
it is quite interesting to note that Nazi banditry on its part took over
some elements of decaying tsarism, which were fundamentally similar, and
put them into practice in Central Europe.
 About Stolypin also Lenin writes
(in „Stolypin and the Revolution“):
„Stolypin the pogrom-monger groomed himself for a ministerial post
in the only way in which a tsarist governor could: by torturing the peasants,
by organising pogroms and by showing an ability to conceal these Asiatic
‘practices’ behind glib phrases, external appearances, poses
and gestures made to look ‘European’.“
 Quoted following Andreas Moritsch, „Landwirtschaft und Agrargesetzgebung in Rußland vor der Revolution“, 1986 (Agriculture and Agrarian Legislation in Russia before the Revolution) (Wiener Archiv für Geschichte des Slaventums und Osteuropas, vol. 12, p. 90/91)
 „More than twenty thousand peasant rallies during the years 1907 and 1913 were the answer to Stolypin’s agrarian reform.“ (Great Soviet Encyclopedia, German ed., Berlin 1952, col. 629 - our transl.)
 Lenin Collected Works, Vol. 17, p.250, „Stolypin and the Revolution“
 The quotations from Marx’ „Notizen zur Reform von 1861 und der damit verbundenen Entwicklung in Rußland“ were translated by us. These „Notes...“ are not contained in the English edition of Marx/Engels, Collected Works. Russian words employed by Marx have been translated. Some brackets of various shapes, which mark passages in various foreign languages used by Marx have been omitted. [Translator’s note, replacing an author’s note referring to the way the quotations from Marx are rendered in the German original of “Leninism and Civilization”]
 area of conscription: region of enrolling for compulsory service in the armed forces
 Two passages from Lenin Collected Works, Vol. 5, „Concerning the State Budget“:
„The State Bank has not only granted loans to tottering enterprises
with a liberal hand, but has practically taken many of them under its
full control. The bankruptcy of industrial enterprises threatened to lead
to the bankruptcy of the state! Lastly, let us not forget, either, that
it is under the administration of the ‘genius’ Witte that
the sum of the loans and the size of the taxes are constantly increasing,
despite the fact that the capital of the saving-banks is applied exclusively
to support state credits. This capital has already exceeded 800 million
rubles. Taking all this into consideration, we realise that Witte’s
economy is wasteful, that the autocracy is heading slowly but surely for
bankruptcy, since taxation cannot be raised indefinitely and the French
bourgeoisie will not always come to the aid of the Russian Tsar.“
„Yet in actual fact it is notorious that indirect taxation affecting
articles of mass consumption is distinguished by its extreme injustice.
The entire burden is placed on the shoulders of the poor, while it creates
a privilege for the rich. The poorer a man is, the greater the share of
his income that goes to the state in the form of indirect taxes. The masses
who own little or nothing constitute nine-tenths of the population, consume
nine-tenths of the taxed items, and pay nine-tenths of the total of all
indirect taxes, while they receive no more than two- or three-tenths of
the national income.“
There is also a very interesting single passage from the article on the Chinese war:
„The Chinese people suffer from the same evils as those from which the Russian people suffer -they suffer from an Asiatic government that squeezes taxes from the starving peasantry and that suppresses every aspiration towards liberty by military force; they suffer from the oppression of capital, which has penetrated into the Middle Kingdom.“
V.I. Lenin , Collected Works, Vol. 4, p.377
 The complete quotation reads
V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 3, p.25
 Cf. V.I. Lenin , The Development of Capitalism in Russia, Collected Works Vol. 3, Chapter 8, III.
 Cf. „Geschichte der Kommunistischen Partei der Sowjetunion“ in 6 vols. (German edition), Vol. II „Die Partei der Bolschewiki im Kampf für den Sturz des Zarismus, 1904 - Feb. 1917“, Progress Publishers, Moscow, without year, p. 367-369
Furthermore, it reads here p. 371:
„During the years of the industrial upturn the numerical strength of the proletariat in Russia increased substantially. Taken alone the enterprises which were under the supervision of the factory inspection the number of workers increased by almost 50.000 from 1st Jan. , 1910 to 1st Jan. , 1914, i.e. by 27,3%. In spite of the economic and cultural backwardness of Russia its working class had developed into a really progressive class with outstanding revolutionary qualities and rich revolutionary traditions. Essential for its formation was the high degree of concentration of production, the union of largest columns of workers in big and biggest factories.“ (our transl.)
 V. Wittschewsky, Budget und
Steuerverhältnisse Rußlands (Jahrbücher für Nationalökonomie
und Statistik, Inhalt des XXVII. Bandes, Dritte Folge (LXXXII), 1904 (Conrads
Marx' term „Ackerbaugemeinde“ reads either „agricultural
commune“ or or „land commune“
(2) The translation was made by us from the German edition.
(3)Translator’s remark: The
expression „land tenure“ in the English translation in the
(4)Translator’s remark: This
work by Marx „Notes on the Reform of 1861 and the Development
(5)Translator’s note: the English
translation in Lenin, Collected Works employs only the much
(6)Translator’s remark: These
partly old-fashioned German expressions in Wittschewsky’s book,