In conclusion, it will, perhaps, be worth while to illustrate the disputed issue which, I think, is overburdened with abstractions, diagrams and formulae -- by an examination of the argument advanced by one of the latest and most prominent representatives of "current views."
I am referring to Mr. Nikolai-on.*
He regards as the greatest "obstacle" to the development of capitalism in Russia the "contraction" of the home market and the "diminution" of the purchasing power of the peasants. The capitalisation of the handicraft industries, he says, ousted the domestic production of goods; the peasants had to buy their clothing. To obtain the money for this, the peasant took to the expansion of his crop area, and as the allotments were inadequate he carried this expansion far beyond the limits of rational farming; he raised the payment for rented land to scandalous heights, and in the end he was ruined. Capitalism dug its own grave, it brought "people's economy" to the frightful crisis of 1891 and . . . stopped, having no ground under its feet, unable to "continue along the same path."
* It goes without saying that there can be no question here of examining 'his entire work, a separate book would be required for that. We can only examine one of his favourite arguments.
Realising that "we have departed from the time-hallowed people's system" Russia is now waiting . . . for orders from the authorities "to infuse large-scale production into the village community."
Wherein lies the absurdity of this "ever new" (for the Russian Narodniks) theory?
Is it that its author fails to understand the significance of the "production of means of production as means of production"? Of course, not. Mr. Nik.-on knows that law very well and even mentions that it operates in our country, too (pp. 186, 203-204). True, in view of his faculty for castigating himself with contradictions, he sometimes (cf. p. 123) forgets about that law, but it is obvious that the correction of such contradictions would not in the least correct the author's main (above-quoted) argument.
The absurdity of his theory lies in his inability to explain capitalism in this country and in basing his arguments about it on pure fictions.
The "peasantry," who were ruined by the ousting of home made products by factory-made products, are regarded by Mr. Nik.-on as something homogeneous, internally cohesive, and reacting to all the events of life as one man.
Nothing of the kind exists in reality. Commodity production could not have arisen in Russia if the productive units (the peasant households) had not existed separately, and everybody knows that actually each of our peasants conducts his farming separately and independently of his fellows; he carries on the production of products, which become his private property, at his own exclusive risk; he enters into relation with the "market" on his own.
Let us see how matters stand among the "peasantry."
"Being in need of money, the peasant enlarges his crop area excessively and is ruined."
But only the prosperous peasant can enlarge his crop area, the one who has seed for sowing, and a sufficient quantity of livestock and implements. Such peasants (and they, as we know, are the minority) do, indeed, extend their crop areas and expand their farming to such an extent that they cannot cope with it without the aid of hired labourers. The majority of peasants, however, are quite unable to meet their need for money by expanding their farming, for they
have no stocks, or sufficient means of production. Such a peasant, in order to obtain money, seeks "outside employments," i.e., takes his labour-power and not his product to the market. Naturally, work away from home entails a further decline in farming, and in the end the peasant leases his allotment to a rich fellow community member, who rounds off his farm and, of course, does not himself consume the product of the rented allotment, but sends it to the market. We get the "impoverishment of the people," the growth of capitalism and the expansion of the market. But that is not all. Our rich peasant, fully occupied by his extended farming, can no longer produce as hitherto for his own needs, let us say footwear: it is more advantageous for him lo buy it. As to the impoverished peasant, he, too, has to buy footwear; he cannot produce it on his farm for the simple reason that he no longer has one. There arises a demand for footwear and a supply of grain, produced in abundance by the enterprising peasant, who touches the soul of Mr. V. V. with the progressive trend of his farming. The neighbouring handicraft footwear-makers find themselves in the same position as the agriculturists just described: to buy grain, of which the declining farm yields too little, production must be expanded. Again, of course, production is expanded only by the handicraftsman who has savings, i.e., the representative of the minority; he is able to hire workers, or give work out to poor peasants to be done at home. The members of the majority of handicraftsmen, however, cannot even think of enlarging their workshops: they are glad to "get work" from the moneyed buyer-up, i.e., to find a purchaser of their only commodity -- their labour-power. Again we get the impoverishment of the people, the growth of capitalism and the expansion of the market; a new impetus is given to the further development and intensification of the social division of labour. Where will that movement end? Nobody can say, just as nobody can say where it began, and after all that is not important. The important thing is that we have before us a single, living, organic process, the process of the development of commodity economy and the growth of capitalism. "Depeasantising" in the countryside shows us the beginning of this process, its genesis, its early stages; large-scale capitalism in the towns shows us the end of the process, its
tendency. Try to tear these phenomena apart, try to examine them separately and independently of each other and you will not get your argument to hang together; you will be unable to explain either one phenomenon or the other, either the impoverishment of the people or the growth of capitalism.
Mostly, however, those who advance such arguments, which have neither beginning nor end, being unable to explain the process, break off the investigation with the statement that one of the two phenomena equally unintelligible to them [and, of course, precisely the one that contradicts "the morally developed sense of the critically thinking individual"] is "absurd," "accidental," "hangs in the air."
In actual fact, what is "hanging in the air" is of course only their own arguments.