Agrarian Question and Critics of Marx

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Agrarian Question and “Critics of Marx,”


a work by V. I. Lenin in which he defends and develops Marx’ theory of agriculture and provides a scientific basis for the agrarian program of the Marxist party in the bourgeois democratic revolution.

This work, which continues Lenin’s theoretical examination of problems begun in Development of Capitalism in Russia and Capitalism in Agriculture, is directed against the foreign and Russian critics of the Marxist agrarian theory—among them, F. O. Hertz, E. David, S. N. Bulgakov, and V. M. Chernov. These ideologists of the bourgeoisie and of the petite bourgeoisie attempted to split the peasantry from the working class and to divert it from the revolution. They claimed that the economic laws of capitalism do not apply to agriculture and wanted to substitute eternal “natural” laws for them. Lenin comprehensively criticized these propositions. He demonstrated that the so-called law of the decreasing fertility of the soil was both theoretically and empirically completely groundless. According to this law, all subsequent outlays of labor and capital into agriculture are allegedly always less productive than the preceding ones. The authors of this “law,” Lenin pointed out, ignore the main point—the development of the productive forces in agriculture. By explaining the shortage of food products and the rising prices of farm produce through this “law,” the bourgeois economists tried to blame nature for the misery of the working people under capitalism. The “critics” of Marx connected their interpretation of the differential rent with the “law of the decreasing fertility of the soil.” At the same time they denied the existence of an absolute rent. Lenin showed that their gross mistake consisted in a one-sided interpretation of the concept of “monopoly”; they ignored the fact that there are two kinds of monopoly in capitalist agriculture: a monopoly on land as an object of economic activity, which results from a limited amount of land, and a monopoly on private ownership on land.

Lenin’s refutation of the “theory of the stability” of small peasant farming propounded by the “critics” of Marx was extremely important for the development of agrarian theory. The critics maintained that, unlike industry, agriculture is perfectly “viable” on a small scale under capitalism and even has economic advantages over large-scale farming. Lenin proved that the statistical techniques used to substantiate the “theory of stability” were completely unscientific and, applying scientific analysis of the given statistical data, completely refuted it. By analyzing the agricultural developments in Germany, Denmark, and Russia, Lenin discovered the laws of capitalist agriculture that are common to all countries and showed that the natural conditions of agriculture are not obstacles to the use of machines and do not negate Marx’ law of the concentration of capitalist production. Lenin convincingly demonstrated that small farms survive only by squandering the farmers’ personal strength and the land’s productive strength. The development of capitalism in agriculture inevitably leads to the ruin of a large number of small peasants, turning them into farm laborers with a small strip of land or else hired workers.

On the basis of the profound economic analysis of developments in capitalist agriculture, Lenin concluded that the sharp economic contradictions in the countryside proved that the conditions of the small peasantry under capitalism were hopeless. The peasantry’s only way out of bondage and misery is through the struggle against capitalism under the leadership of the proletariat. Lenin emphasized the immense significance of the alliance of the working class with the peasantry in this revolutionary struggle.

Agrarian Question and “Critics of Marx” is directly related to Lenin’s work The Agrarian Program of Social-Democracy in the First Russian Revolution of 1905–07. This work has retained its importance in present-day conditions. Communist and workers’ parties in the capitalist and developing countries are guided by this work in drafting their agrarian programs. It has been translated into the languages of the peoples of the USSR and into foreign languages.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.