On the ‘Prussian’ Path of Development in the Colonies: The Case of India

R. Ulyanovsky


The following analysis of the ‘Prussian’ path of development in the colonial countries by R. A. Ulyanovsky comprises of a translation of one chapter of a study of the agrarian crisis in India published in 1932. It is an extended polemic based on the views of Lenin and Stalin against the views of the right-opportunist group of Soviet orientalists who argued that the Prussian path of agrarian development had been followed in Persia, Turkey, India and China under the guidance of imperialism which had led to the development of landlord capitalism as a result of which the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution had been completed and the perspectives of socialist revolution required to be invoked. While imperialism promoted agrarian capitalism by the landlord-capitalist path and a colonial version of the Stolypin reforms there were important differences between the Indian position and the situation in 19th century Prussia and Russia. The pre-conditions of the Prussian path were the existence of the manorial economy and barshchina under which the free peasantry was allotted land, neither of which existed in any important way in India. Landholding in India conferred the feudal right to extract land-rent from the pre-capitalist sharecropping peasantry; colonial rule did not transform the gentry into capitalist entrepreneurs. The slow pace of industrial development under the British meant that industry could not absorb the ruined peasant masses. The majority of the peasantry were not proletarianised but pauperised which lead to the paralysis of the home market. Ulyanovsky argued that it was not correct to say that the main enemy in the colonial and semi-colonial countries was capitalism or landlord-capitalism, as in reality the pre-capitalist remnants were still dominant and used by imperialism as a consequence of which the agrarian bourgeois-democratic revolution still constituted the central thesis of the national-liberation movement. After 1947 in semi-colonial India the agrarian reforms modified rather than ended semi-feudal landlordism and facilitated the growth of a thin kulak stratum, industrial developments under the second and third five-year ‘plans’ were not such as to stem the continued pauperisation of the peasantry; rent rather than profit continues to regulate production in agriculture, which indicates that capital does not exercise its hegemony over other socio-economic structures. Despite the achievements of the much-vaunted ‘green revolution’ in overall terms agricultural production continues to stagnate as large areas of the country where pre-capitalist remnants are pronounced experienced a sliding back in the last century. This confirms the continued need to complete the anti-feudal tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution in the agrarian sector.

Vijay Singh

The agrarian policy of capitalism that has reached the stage of imperialism has certain distinctive features in comparison to the previous stage of development.

The first distinctive feature of the agrarian policy of British imperialism in India is that by means of a series of legal measure it is attempting to hasten the crystallization of the uppermost stratum of the peasantry – the kulaks.

The following are the attempts made towards this:

1. The law on the ban of sale of land to ‘non-landowning’ castes of Punjab, that has resulted in an increase in the number of the landholder-usurers, a decline in the role of the professional money lenders. The same law has resulted in the fall of land prices and has promoted the process of capture of the land belonging to the poorest stratum of the rural areas by the kulaks.

2. The law on ‘small holdings' in Bombay, according to which almost 3 million ‘petty peasants’ farms’ (less than 5 acres) were subject to 'expropriation.’1

3. Settlement of kulaks in the newly colonized and irrigated regions (Punjab, Sind, Burma).

4. A number of agronomical measures and further advancing quicker utilization of new methods of agriculture by the kulak households (organization of farms and businesses, better seeds, ploughs, fertilizers etc.).

5. Creation of agricultural credit cooperatives, with the objective of accelerating the formation of the kulak stratum in the conditions of commodity-money relations and dominance of landlord landholdings of the kulak stratum in the countryside.

6. Introduction of the contract system in the cotton-growing areas of the country (Punjab, Berar), with the aim of technical modernization of the economy of the rich farmers.

These were the measures conducted by British imperialism for accelerating the process of formation of the Indian kulak class.

The second characteristic of the agrarian policy of British imperialism in India following a similar path is reflected in the set of measures by which it is trying to transform the feudal-landlords into capitalist entrepreneurs.

The efforts made in this direction are, firstly, introduction of a law according to which the landlords in the Central Provinces wanting to organize their economy on commercial lines have the right to expel the tenants (including perpetual tenants) with the conditionality of payment of a compensation amount equal to 3-6 years of rent. Secondly, in the United Provinces, the landlords have been allowed to give their estate land on rent (in the form of perpetual lease) that, in Agra in 1888 accounted for 23%, in Oudh – 11% of all land. The landlords that wanted to transform their estates into commercial farms were allowed to expel neighbouring tenants for the purpose of running large-scale modern farms (the law of 1926). Finally, the Royal Commission on Agriculture has openly put forward the problem of creation of a landlord-capitalist agriculture.

Let us quote some of the most interesting passages from the report of the Royal Commission on Agriculture as evidence of the ‘Prussian’ path that British imperialism is following in its agricultural policy: ‘The purchase of land on a large scale by the capitalists and money-lenders is practiced in all the provinces. The transition of landholding rights converts the original landowner into a tenant. It was possible not to raise strong objections against it, if the transfer of the land was accompanied by whatever significant increases in capital investments for enhancing the quality of land. This, however, happens very rarely. The new landlord, as a rule, remains content with the purchase of land and is simply anxious, but to a much greater degree than the old fashioned owner, about the collection of rent. Complaints regarding how the large landowners do almost nothing for developing their estates on modern scientific foundation can be considered to be universal; extremely rare exclusions, deserving all the praise, are there in all the provinces but are so infrequent that they, by their very presence, underline the inactivity of the majority of landowners. In the latter's defence, it can be said with some justification that the system of landholding or the laws on land-lease, in some of the provinces, act as a restriction of their rights in the sense of freedom of disposal of large chunks of their lands and, in other provinces, deprive them of the possibility of receiving a full and a justified amount of benefit from their investments. The question of landholding was categorically kept out of the competence of our Commission, but we still feel that the present system of landholding or the law on land-lease exerts pressure even on those landlords who would have liked to invest capital in their lands but do not do so; this question therefore needs to be studied in detail with the objective of carrying out legal measures that would eliminate these difficulties. We are making this proposal since it is only the larger landowners who could be expected to introduce improvements that are beyond the financial means of a small landowner or tenant. Large landowners can use their financial means for their own estates as also for the neighbours by putting their own large-scale economy on a sound scientific and modern foundation by demarcating special pieces of land for cultivation of high quality seeds and high breed stock of cattle. If, as a result of the rising interest towards development of agriculture, a need for such an organization is felt, then we feel that it is necessary to remove the legal hurdles and replace these with legal incentives’ (p. 425-426).

This opinion of the Royal Commission on Agriculture does not leave any doubts as to how and at who’s expense is imperialism trying to resolve the agrarian question in India. Let us see how successful has been the policy of transformation of semi-feudal landlords into capitalist entrepreneurs. In Punjab, Mr. Brendford, the government’s expert on cattle farming informs: ‘We are trying to develop cattle farming. Landlord Kam received 3 thousand acres of land for cattle farming. There are 8 such landlord-farmers. Development is held up due to a shortage of fodder and religious prejudices’ (p. 119).2

The director of the agricultural department reports; ‘We hope that every year we will be able to dig 2 thousand wells. The mechanical well can irrigate 350 acres of land, but these are expensive though irrigation from these wells is 10-15% cheaper than from the usual wells’.

Naturally, construction of these wells is meant for the rich kulak and landlord farms. In the United Provinces there are 620 private farms, of which those more than 50 acres constitute 30%, 25 to 50 acres constitute 30% and less than 25 acres constitute 40%. Materials of the Agricultural Commission for the United Provinces prove that these farms, working on orders (cultivation of pure seeds) from the department of agriculture are meant to be more in the nature of show pieces than of any industrial significance.

Landlord Kool from United Provinces says: ‘I received 7,500 acres of land out of which 1000 acres are worked upon by wage labour and I rent out 6000 acres. The tenants are the landless peasants and pay rent in kind’ (p. 495).

One of the witnesses in the United Provinces when asked the question: ‘Do you think, have the big landlords influenced the others in the sense of improving their estates?’ said: ‘I think it is very difficult to get the big landlord moving. It is precisely the big landlords, having a lot of money, who make such decision with much greater difficulty than the small ones’.

Mr. Sancster, the director of the department of irrigation in Punjab, while stating that, according to the plan of irrigation works the irrigated area in Punjab was about 20 million acres in 1936 also produced data relating to how the re-irrigated lands are distributed. The distribution of these lands, differing somewhat in its forms, has one and the same objective: forced creation of capitalist commercial economy. He says that the land is given out on lease to the capitalists or ‘worthy persons’. He points out that till the present time leasing out of land to individuals for purposes of farming without the right of subleasing it has been the main form of utilization of re-irrigated land.

Arno Pierce in his recently published work ‘The Cotton Industry of India’, while analyzing the construction of a huge dam on river Indus, The Lloyd Barrage Sind, with the aim of irrigating 7.5 million acres of land for the production of American cotton, points out that the colonization of the region must proceed on the foundation of large capitalist cotton plantations following the pattern of Uganda and Tanganyika in East Africa.

The question of a more accelerated diffusion of capitalist mode of production in agriculture has been raised repeatedly in Indian economic literature. It has been raised long ago by such ‘progressives’ as Ranade and Naoroji and others. In particular, H.S. Jevons, who wrote about ‘enlargement of landholding in the United Provinces’ has, quite a long while ago put forward the problem of expulsion of the petty peasant from the land and, realizing the dangers inherent in such an operation, has suggested ‘not to use violence’, but to do it by gaining the support of the richer sections of countryside for such a cleansing. He proposed to achieve the agreement of at least half of the village for such reforms. With the support of this half the local authorities can then expropriate the petty holdings of the peasants.

All these ‘new’ winds in the agrarian policy of British imperialism have not resulted in any significant success. The landlord-capitalist is still a very rare phenomenon in India and has a very small role to play.

In this connection one cannot but recall the famous system – Torrence’s system – that is so characteristic for the epoch of imperialism. According to this doctrine, which has been implemented and is very widespread in the colonies, all the feudal titles, privileges and rights of the landlords, princes, perpetual and life-long tenants etc. do not pass away into history, are not destroyed by imperialism, but on the contrary, if it is possible to so express oneself, are ‘capitalised’ in the sense that any person possessing money gets the right to acquire these titles, privileges and rights. The garbage of the feudal medieval ages is not gotten rid of but is preserved and, so to say, is ‘allotted a quota ’ as a share in the feudal exploitation of the peasantry, as an object of sale and purchase, as a share of land rent, which can be squeezed out of the peasant by any one with money, after having bought the ‘right’ to do so. Not surprising it is that the process of ‘territorialisation’ of the finance capitalists and money-lenders, industrial capitalists and bourgeois intellectuals in India runs deep, though it is occurring together with the perpetuation of permanent links of the main mass of the bourgeoisie with feudal landholding, that is facilitated by its social genesis.

This system is an invention of colonialism and, on the one hand, it emphasizes to what extent the disappearing feudal classes have become the ally of imperialism and to what extent the colonial-imperialist dominance itself has become a hurdle in the path of capitalist development of agriculture.

The agrarian policy of imperialism in the colonies, as distinct from the agrarian policies of the previous period contains very few distinguishing features. With the help of certain measures imperialism is attempting to spread capitalist development in agriculture by means of reforms by accelerating the formation of a thin layer of the kulak class and conversion of landlords into landlord-capitalists. In real economic practice this policy is viewed as a manifestation of the ‘Prussian’ bourgeois path of development, though being to a large extent paralyzed by the weight of the existing colonial feudal regime. Thus, the colonial imperialist monopoly is the first and the central cause of impediment in the ‘Prussian’ bourgeois path of development of Indian agriculture.

The historical era of attempts at resolving the agrarian question in the colonies through reforms is the third period in post war capitalism, aggravated by the new economic crisis and characterized by an intensification of imperialist contradictions all over the world, recent growth in the revolutionary movement in the metropolis and the beginning of the agrarian anti-imperialist revolution in the colonies that has found an ally and strong support in the form of the revolutionary proletariat of the whole world. This historical era is different in that the attempts by imperialism to resolve the agrarian question by reformist means and thereby expand and strengthen its social base in the rural areas of the colonies are being fatally defeated by the advance of the revolutionary struggles of the colonial proletariat and peasantry (remember the law by Chiang Kai-shek on lease of land or the ‘law on small holdings’ in Bombay).

However, the agrarian structure of India itself possesses certain concrete historical particularities that set it apart in this relation from both the XIX century Germany as well as Russia of the end of the XIX and the beginning of the XX centuries – countries that began to move along the path of the ‘Prussian’ capitalist development. What are these particularities? Lenin wrote about the agrarian system in Russia that ‘It is beyond doubt that during the half century (after the reforms of 1861 – author) capitalism paved way for itself through the gentry’s manorial economy’ (Lenin, 3rd Edition, vol. XI, p. 432).

Capitalism in India did not pave its way through the gentry’s manorial economy because the historically generated particularity of India lies in the fact that its agrarian system has had no experience even till the present time of the gentry’s manorial agriculture in any significant scale. Manorial agriculture – without the manorial economy of the gentry – is one of the particularities of the agrarian system of India. Holding of land by the Indian landlord en masse does not mean ownership of the means of production, but just bare holding of a feudal and semi-feudal title giving them the possibility of extracting land rent from the peasant-tenant who is a pre-capitalist share cropper. The gentry land, as a rule, wholly or almost wholly, is given out on petty rent to the peasants. That is the reason why there was no penetration of capitalist elements into the countryside through the manorial economy in India on a wide scale and, in any case, did not and does not play the same role it played in its own time in Russia and Germany.

The transition to the capitalist mode of production on the foundation of the ‘Prussian’ path presupposes that the gentry’s manorial economy must exist in the foreground of this tortuous process for the masses. Also, that no Junker-gentry economy in India was established goes to prove further that the attempts by imperialism to transform the gentry into a capitalist entrepreneur in spite of the relatively long period over which it has been tried have not brought in its wake any considerable success. The VI Congress of the Comintern in its resolution on the colonial question has observed the particularities of these countries in the following manner – absence of big manorial economy: ‘Large land holdings are not linked, to any significant degree, to large-scale agriculture, and serve only the purpose of extraction of rent from the peasants’.

Regarding the reformist attempts by imperialism to resolve the agrarian question, the VI Congress of the Comintern has the following appraisal: ‘The wretched attempts at conducting agrarian reforms without hurting the colonial regime have the aim of slowly transforming the semi-feudal landlord into a capitalist landowner, and in some cases the formation of a thin stratum of the kulak class, but in practice it leads to the increasing pauperization of the great majority of the peasants which in its own turn paralyses the development of the internal market’.

The nature of the colonial regime in India in the imperialist stage of development of capitalism is determined not by the policy of converting the gentry into agricultural capitalist – this is just one of the features – but by the policy of forging unity with the gentry for joint exploitation of the peasantry on the foundation of continued dominance of pre-capitalist relations of production in its acquired commodity-money form.

The landlord with manorial tillage, where either free labour or peasant labour in its part capitalist-part servitude form is not prevalent in India to the extent that is necessary to lead and successfully carry through the capitalist growth of agriculture on the foundation of the ‘Prussian’ path.

In India the foundation for the ‘Prussian’ path – the gentry’s manorial economy – has been historically absent since there is no allotted peasant land that could have taken the form of ‘wages’ (Lenin, Collected Works, vol. XII, 3rd Edition, p. 226).

This specific feature of India is not something that has been created by colonial dominance alone. The colonial regime has only inherited and strengthened this specific characteristic of pre-colonial India, where the slowly developing feudal system of landownership did not reach its mature form of serfdom and barshchina3 as it happened, for example, in Russian. India never experienced manorial economy and barshchina, as for example in Russia, a division of land into allotted and manorial (Lenin, Agrarian Bimetallism), though it had and continues to have feudal landlord landownership as manifestation of the monopoly of the feudal class on land that exploits the peasantry no less and in no more gentle forms.

If in the post-reform Russia only a part of the land of the gentry’s manorial economy was worked upon on the foundation of petty servitude as one of the forms of payment and the other worked upon by freely hired labour, then, in India, not the whole of landlord’s economy but only the whole of the landlord's land is worked upon by pre-capitalist and semi-feudal share cropper, whereas the peasant-tenant is only a semi-bonded share cropper in the economic sense.

Apart from these social conditions of Indian agriculture, one must also keep in view the fact that in India in between the landlord and the direct producer there exist a multi-level hierarchy of parasitical receivers of rent who lease out the landlord’s land not for carrying out capitalist agricultural production, but further subleasing of this land.

Is it not clear, that on the whole, these social condition in Indian agriculture have been and continue to be many times less conducive for penetration of capitalism in agriculture through the feudal landlord, which in the case of pre-reform Russia frequently played the role of the initiator of technical progress in agriculture, of free hiring of wage labour, and commodification by being progressively converted into a landlord-capitalist?

Finally, the absence of gentry’s manorial economy at such an extensive scale that would become increasingly capitalist was also made possible by the fact that, in conditions of exceptionally high intensity of exploitation and a corresponding extra-economic expropriation of almost all the surplus value of the peasantry and under conditions of increasing pressure on land by the ruined strata of the population renting the land while being perpetually on the brink of starvation, the landlord had no economic incentive to make the transition to a capitalist road of conducting his economic affairs or towards industrial-capitalist enterprise in agriculture.

Lenin in the very beginning of his work ‘Agrarian Question in Russia towards the end of XIX century’ (vol. XII, 3rd Edition, pp. 218-219) summarizes the results of the post-reform development of Russian agriculture. We quote this summary that generalizes the direction, path and nature of agriculture in order to compare it with the development of Indian agriculture.



1. a) 

‘The direction that development takes consists in a decline in gentry’s manorial agriculture. The stratification of landholding takes place at an immensely rapid pace’.

The development takes place in a manner that there is an increase in the gentry’s landholdings. The stratification of landholding increases through the landlords’ ‘right’ of exploitation being given to any possessor of money.


Peasant landholding increased more than twofold.

Peasant landholding (the landowner-peasant in general or peasant landowners as lifelong or perpetual tenants) declines at a rapid pace.


The landholdings of ‘other strata’ increased by more than 28 times (p. 218).

The landholdings of ‘other strata’ as a manifestation of stratification of landholdings increases.


‘The peasantry increasingly sets free… such social elements that transform themselves into private land owners. This is a general fact’.

The central and main process consists in the peasants setting free such social elements which are transformed into tenants-sharecroppers and then into landless paupers, but the reverse process of creation of a thin stratum of private land.


‘The power of land wanes and the power of money increases. Land is increasingly dragged into commercial circulation.’

The power of money increases as the transformed form of feudal and semi-feudal power of land. Money flows into landholdings mainly not for capitalist enterprise (M-C-M1) but for the purchase of feudal prerogatives of obtaining rent.

Land, like never before, is drawn into commercial circulation, but this is mainly a reflection of the sale-purchase of a share of rent from land.

These approximately are the main particularities of the evolution of the agrarian system in India in comparison to the evolution of the agrarian system in Russia.

The question of the gentry’s manorial economy in India can also be viewed somewhat differently; it is possible to imagine that land being given out on rent in parts by an Indian landlord is, in totality, nothing but gentry’s manorial economy being worked on by share-croppers, i.e. on the basis of work as payment, as Lenin is of the view that ‘the form of economy known as share cropping is one of the forms of work as payment’ (Lenin, Collected Works, vol. XII, 3rd Edition, p. 227), and ‘work for payment is the transition from barshchina to capitalism’. Lenin, further points out that in Russia at the end of XIX century the major share was being given out to peasants of land on rent ‘fully as work for payment’. It might appear, that there is no basis for rejecting gentry’s manorial economy and tillage for the gentry in India, as the totality of the land can be viewed as tillage for the landlord on the basis of sharecropping, i.e. as work-for-payment. But this is wrong, as Lenin says that ‘for the work-for-payment economy of the gentry, it is necessary to have a peasant that possesses at least the simplest of live and dead stock along with his allotted land and who receives ‘payment’ in that particular form of necessary product that is produced by the peasant on his allotted plot. And in India, the peasant with allotted land and producing, at one time, surplus product on the landlord's land, and at another, producing necessary product on his plot is not there as there is no division of land between the landlord and the peasant.

When we speak of the absence of the gentry’s manorial economy in India, it does not mean that it is absent in absolute and universal terms. It is present in a number of regions and is beginning to establish itself on free-labour and work-for-payment basis. It is absent in the agrarian system of India as a mainstream, mass and a determining phenomenon. Exactly in the same manner, the absence of manorial economy as a mainstream and a large-scale phenomenon absolutely does not contradict the fact that in a number of regions of India there still exist remnants of barshchina that historically did not reach maturity and that is usually performed not on the landlord's land but in his house etc. Thus the ‘Times of India’ dated 9/XII 1930 informs: ‘In some regions of the Kollaba barshchina exists though this practice is dying. The peasant works a day or two (?) or more every year in the house of the landlord’.

Similar occurrences are not rare in India and they illustrate how compelling is the power of the landlord who takes away all or almost all the surplus product as rent in kind or in money form but also exploits the peasant’s labour in its natural form.

On different forms of rent, Lenin says: ‘The initial form of dependence of the peasant on the landlord in pre-capitalist modes of production is the rent by work (Arbeitrente), i.e. barshchina, later rent in kind or natural rent and, finally, rent in money form’ (Lenin, Collected works, vol. XI, 3rd Edition, p. 410).

‘The rent paid through work, i.e. barshchina’ did not progress in India to an extent that it did in its own time in Europe. On this basis some researchers attempt to reject totally the existence of feudalism in India in all its history by ignoring extremely well established processes of feudalisation in pre-colonial India that have been pointed out by M. Kovalevskyi in his work. The absence in the historical progress of India of ‘rent by work’ i.e. of barshchina as an experience defining the agrarian system is a fact that underlines the concrete historical particularities that Lenin had advised not to ignore.

Finally the question of the possibility of the ‘Prussian’ path of development cannot be viewed out of its connection with industrial development. The ‘Prussian’ path of development, as one of the forms of bourgeois adjustment to gentry’s landholding is a path that is pursued ‘fully in the interests of the landlords at the cost of unrestrained ruination of the mass of peasantry, its forced expulsion from its villages, death by starvation, death in jails, exile, in firings and torture of the cream of the peasant youth’ (Lenin, Collected Works, vol. XII, 3rd Edition, p. 124).

The impossibility of the ‘Prussian’ path in India is also determined by the fact that the development of industries is occurring at a very slow pace and it is absolutely not in the position to absorb the ‘ruthlessly ruined peasant masses’ and craftsmen that are putting extreme pressure on the land and increasing the rural overpopulation in as it is highly overpopulated countryside. The emigration of the Indian peasants to other countries is also very limited and can in no significant measure act as the channel for directing away the excessive, in the present agrarian system, population. The delay in the industrial development in India, just as of all its productive forces, is the function of the dominance of British imperialism.

Lenin had pointed out that the ‘Prussian’ path is ‘such an operation where you can very easily break your neck’ (Lenin, Collected Works, vol. XII, 3rd Edition, p. 293). It is even more appropriate in relation to India where in the countryside and in the towns in conditions of unprecedented economic crisis, large-scale expropriation and ruination, as it is, vast socially-explosive matter has been built up. The impossibility to resolve the agrarian question through reforms in the present concrete historical particularities of India and in the present conditions can be illustrated scientifically but its absolute impossibility in future development can only be proved through class struggle. In the heat of the class struggle it will be decided how and which class is going to resolve the agrarian question. Lenin says: ‘For the success of Stolypin’s policies one needs to have gone through long years of enforced suppression and killings of peasant masses not desiring to die of hunger and being expelled from their villages. In history there are instances of success of such policies. It would be a meaningless and an empty democratic phrase if we were to say that in Russia the success of such a policy is ‘impossible’. It is possible! However, it is our job to show at what cost is this success achieved, and to fight with all our strength for a different, a shorter and a faster path of capitalist agricultural development through a peasant revolution’ (Lenin, Collected Works, vol. XII, p. 193). In another place Lenin writes: ‘Such a policy (i.e. resolution of the agrarian question through reforms – Author) is difficult for the minority to conduct over the majority but it is economically not impossible’ (p. 125).

The economic possibility of carrying out such a policy, as it is clear from above, in India is much less than in Russia, and this is facilitated not only by the totality of historical-economic particularities of Indian development, but also by the historical stage in the development of world capitalism in which we are living at present. The existence of the USSR as a country that exerts immense revolutionary influence on the national liberation movements in the colonies, the acceleration of decay of imperialism specially British imperialism, the world economic crisis that dealt a specially hard blow to the colonies and in particular India, the accelerated pace of degradation of the as it is highly degraded Indian countryside – all of these are the politico-economic factors that cannot but play a crucial role in the question of economic and political possibilities of the ‘Prussian’ bourgeois path of resolution of the agrarian question in the colonies in general and in India in particular.

Historically, Stolypin-type reforms are possible on the foundation of the defeat of the peasant revolution. The unfolding agrarian movement in India after the betrayal of the National Congress is moving on to a new and a higher stage establishing ever stronger ties with the revolutionary working class of India as its leader is the best counter-weight that is making difficult with exceptional strength any Indian colonial Stolypin-type reforms.

In his article "On the Beaten Track", written by Lenin in April 1908, Lenin puts the question: ‘Why can Stolypin’s agrarian policy claim ‘relative success’? Because amongst our peasantry already on the basis of capitalist development the antagonistic classes of peasant bourgeoisie and peasant proletariat have been formed long ago’ (Lenin, Collected Works, vol. XII, 3rd Edition, p. 191, 192).

Why is the colonial Stolypin-type policy so weak and limited and has not met ‘relative success’ in any significant degree? Apart from all the reasons stated by us, any resolution of the agrarian question from above is not succeeding because the growth of capitalist relations in Indian agriculture and the process of decay of the Indian peasantry into ‘antagonistic classes of the peasant bourgeoisie and the peasant proletariat’ has been historically obstructed and is being obstructed by an incomparably more intense dominance of feudal remnants (aided by imperialism) in India than it is the case in Russia.

This aspect of the question should not be ignored as, more than anything else, it bears testimony about the serious inadequacy of economic preparedness of the system of social relations in the Indian countryside, if for nothing else then at least so that the imperialist attempts at resolution of the agrarian question from above at the cost of the peasantry in the interests of the kulaks and the landlords could result in ‘relative success’. This is what Lenin has to say regarding a similar question in Russia: ‘Both Stolypin and the Black Hundreds and the Octobrists understand that without establishing new class support they cannot hold on to power. Therefrom comes their policy of ruination of the peasantry to the end. Forced destruction of the commune4 in order to clear the way for capitalism in agriculture come what may’ (Lenin, Collected Works, vol. XII, 3rd Edition, p. 123).

Without doubt, the attempts at a faster crystallization of the kulak class in India and the attempts at converting the semi-feudal landlords into capitalist entrepreneurs are a manifestation of the imperialist powers' understanding of the dire necessity of expanding its class base in the countryside. In the destruction of the Indian social structure British imperialism has been fairly resolute, but this resolution will not be there and is not present at another stage of development of world capitalism when it comes to destruction of the agrarian system from above leading to expulsion of millions of peasants from the production process in order to serve the interests of a few landlords. British imperialism now cannot carry out its policy of reforms regarding the question of land in a ‘come what may’ fashion. It understands very well what sort of consequences can come in its wake and how it can ‘easily break its neck’ against it.

One way or the other, the objective of changing the agrarian system in India is becoming increasingly crucial and both British imperialism and the Indian revolutionary masses understand it and also that ‘the class struggle will define how this question will be resolved’ (Lenin, Collected Works, vol. XII, 3rd Edition, p. 275).

The economic and political conditions of life in India of that particular stage when this question will be resolved do not cast any doubt regarding how and who is going to resolve this problem.

Regarding the question of the ‘Prussian’ path of development in the colonies it seems necessary to shortly dwell on how this question in another connection – in connection with the criticism of the right opportunist school in our oriental studies – is formulated in the article by Vardin ‘Two Tactics in the East’ published in ‘Krasnaya Nov’, no. 9-10 1930. This what Vardin writes: ‘In all of the Orient, landlord capitalism was and is being developed’. As a result there has been accelerated ruination and killing of the masses of pauperized petty farmers. In Persia, Turkey, India and China this ‘landlord capitalism’, under the guidance of imperialism is being advanced in a manner that the tens of millions who have lost their position of petty farmers are also unable to become proletarians and cannot convert themselves into hired labourers and are reduced to being paupers, vagrants and bandits. Imperialism with the help of ‘landlord capitalism’ is ruining the peasantry, the craftsman and is taking away their land and the main means of production but is putting only a few of them at the machine in the factory’ (p. 163).

And further: ‘Feudalism in the semi-colonies is making a ‘transition’ to capitalism (obviously ‘landlord’ capitalism) with the support of imperialism and under the latter’s decisive influence’.

The last proposal of Vardin as we can see from the above is related not only to Persia but also India and to some other countries. It follows from the quotations that the process of the development of capitalism in the colonies and semi-colonies is equated by Vardin with the ‘Prussian’ path of bourgeois development.

The whole of the agrarian evolution of the countries that haven fallen under foreign dominance and converted into colonies occurs to Vardin as a sort of development wherein, firstly, ‘landlord capitalism was and is being developed; secondly, this development occurred under the guidance of imperialism; thirdly, ‘landlord capitalism’ ‘blends’ in itself feudalism and capitalism. It seems to us that Vardin has somewhat oversimplified the economic evolution of the agrarian system of the colonial countries that is more complicated in essence and different in nature. We have already on the example of India shown that there can be no talk of the dominance of ‘landlord capitalism’ in the agrarian system of India. I am afraid the ‘landlord capitalism’ would meet the same treatment if we were to take the case of the socio-economic development of China. That Vardin is attaching primary importance to ‘landlord capitalism’ in the socio-economic development in the colonial countries is illustrated, by the way, by such facts as ruination and killing of the masses, of impoverishment of the petty landowners (Lenin), impossibility of their becoming hired workers-proletarians and their pauperization etc. – a process of pauperizations as a process of central importance in the colonies (in spite of proletarianisation in the economically and politically free countries) – all this is ascribed by Vardin to ‘landlord capitalism’ that in this relation becomes a tool of imperialism. But this interpretation contradicts the real historical process.

It is true that imperialism ‘depeasantises’ the peasantry but does not allow it to turn into the proletariat. It is true that it ‘takes away the land from the peasant and all the main means of production’. But it is not true that it does so just on the crutches of the landlord- capitalist and not on the remnants of the dominant pre-capitalist elements and above all the feudal-landlord.

Tax burden, inclusion of the countryside (peasants’ produce and peasants’ lands and partly peasants’ labour power) within the orbit of commodity-money relations, unequal exchange between the towns and the countryside, the colonies and the metropolis with the landlord trader-usurer being the central pillar of imperialism in the countryside and immense resistance to industrial development in the colonies – it is all this that makes the process of pauperization central. To make this process subject to the influence of the landlord, who supposedly blends in itself both capitalism and feudalism is to obscure the unique feature that is reflected above all in the fact that ‘large landholding here (i.e. in the colonies) is almost in no way related to large-scale agriculture’ and that the great majority of the colonial landlords have still not become landlord-capitalists, because if it was so then the agrarian problem with its objective substance defining the bourgeois-democratic revolution would have emerged differently.

This manner of posing the question has lead Vardin to make the mistake which reflects this particular appraisal that he makes about the character of the socio-economic evolution of the agrarian system in the colonial countries.

‘In this manner – Vardin writes – in this era, in the Orient, against landlord capitalism, historically, we do not put forward the slogan of democratic peasants’ capitalism, but the slogan of gradual transformation of the democratic revolution into socialist revolution. This comprises the main defining content of the tactics of the left bloc in the colonies and the semi-colonies’ (emphasis by Vardin – Author).

Naturally if in the agrarian system of the Orient there is a dominance of extremely powerful pre-capitalist remnants enmeshed in reality with capitalist relations and there is ‘landlord capitalism’ created by imperialism, then the slogan of democratic workers-peasants revolution already becomes obsolete, and the whole of the problem, then, consists in ‘transformation of the democratic revolution into socialist revolution’. Vardin ostensibly has no knowledge that if the slogan of ‘democratic peasants’ capitalism’ is already a historically redundant one, then it means only one thing: that the agrarian question in the Orient stands ‘finally’ resolved in the sense of ‘strengthening of private property on all the land, both the landlords’ and the peasants’, (Lenin), i.e. it is resolved ‘according to the Prussian path’. The other solution to it – the abolition of the private property on land – therefore, becomes a transitory objective of the socialist revolution, the transition to which now comprises, according to Vardin, the ‘central defining content’ of our tactics in the colonies and the semi-colonies.

Com. Vardin has accepted ‘landlord capitalism’ in the Orient as a dominant fact, as an outcome and as a ‘relatively established phenomenon’ and it has avenged itself in the sense that com. Vardin – logically so – has leapt over the bourgeois-democratic stage of the revolution, that has not only not yet gotten over, but in many of the crucial colonial countries has not even really begun. When com. Vardin ‘discovered’ ‘landlord capitalism’ in the Orient as a phenomenon of this sort, as a result of which he could not even dare to raise the slogan of a democratic revolution, i.e. the slogan of plebian reprisal against the landlord and all the representations of the dominant pre-capitalist remnants, then com. Vardin, if he had to be logical, would have had to state that the agrarian system of the oriental countries has now become ‘effectively bourgeois’ (Lenin) and that the colonial countries could and should be viewed as countries already capitalist, having achieved capitalism along the ‘Prussian’ path ‘under the supervision of imperialism’. And if it was really true, then we along with com. Vardin would need to carry out a re-appraisal of a lot of many and remarkable values and above all a re-appraisal of… Lenin.

Indeed, what does Lenin say? ‘That if, in spite of the struggle of the masses, the Stolypin policies hang on long enough for the success of the ‘Prussian’ path, then the agrarian system of Russia would become a bourgeois system, the large landowner would take away almost all of the allotted land, agriculture would become capitalist agriculture and no radical or non-radical ‘solution’ of the agrarian question under capitalism would become impossible. Then conscientious Marxists would directly and openly throw the whole of their ‘agrarian programme’ away and declare to the masses: The workers did all they could to bring not Junker capitalism but American capitalism to Russia. Now the workers beckon you towards the social revolution of the proletariat, because after the ‘resolution’ of the agrarian question in the spirit of Stolypin any revolution other than this will not be able to radically changing the economic conditions of the peasants’ (Lenin, Collected Works, vol. XII, 3rd Edition, p. 193-194. Emphasis by Lenin – Author).

However, com. Vardin turned out to be such a ‘conscientious Marxist’ who under condition of dominance of pre-capitalist remnants in the socio-economic formation of the Orient, under condition of yet unresolved agrarian question (neither ‘according to the Prussian path’ nor the ‘American’) has thrown away the agrarian programme of the bourgeois-democratic stage of the revolution by replacing it in the capacity of the ‘main and the defining’ slogan of transformation of the bourgeois-democratic revolution into socialist revolution. What is an agrarian revolution in the capacity of the core of the national-colonial revolution? It is the destruction, ruthless and to the finish, of the dominant feudal remnants existing in the country associated with imperialism and the latter’s dominance. The objective economic meaning of this revolution lies in rebuilding the small peasant economy through expropriation of the feudal estates. But the ‘rebuilding of the small-scale economy is possible under capitalism if the historical goal is that of struggle against the pre-capitalist system’ (Lenin, Collected Works, vol. XI, 3rd Edition, p. 390).

If the historical goal in the Orient lies not in the struggle against pre-capitalist system that is supported and used by imperialism, but against capitalism (‘landlord capitalism’), then com. Vardin is right, but then Lenin is wrong.

The question of the distinctiveness of the economic development of the oriental countries can only be understood from the following social provision: ‘The distinctiveness of the Chinese economy (and not only of the Chinese – Author) lies not in the penetration of the trader’s capital into the countryside, but in the combination of a dominance of feudal remnants with the existence of trade capital in the Chinese countryside in conditions of perpetuation of medieval feudal methods of exploitation and oppression of the peasantry’ (Stalin, Notes on Contemporary Topics, GIZ, 1927 – emphasis everywhere is Stalin’s).

‘…This trade capital similar to primary accumulation is distinctively combined in the Chinese countryside with the dominance of the feudal master, the dominance of the landlord, borrowing from the latter medieval methods of exploitation and oppression of the peasants’ (Stalin, Revolution in China and the Mistakes of the Opposition, GIZ, 1927, p. 4 (emphasis mine – Author). Com. Vardin never understood this.

The distinctiveness of the contemporary economy of the colonial countries and the process of economic evolution of their agrarian system, as an evolution occurring under the aegis of imperialism towards ‘combining the dominance of the feudal remnants and the feudal methods of exploitation with the existence of trader’s capital’ (Stalin) has been replaced by com. Vardin by ‘landlord capitalism’.

According to the first proposal the agrarian bourgeois-democratic revolution is not done away with but comprises the central thesis of the national-liberation movement. According to the second it is removed.

According to the first proposal the slogan of the bourgeois-democratic revolution is the slogan of the contemporary stage. According to the second it has no present relevance. Is it not obvious where lies the mistake of com. Vardin?


1. This draft did not become a law.

2. The cow according to Hindu beliefs is a sacred animal.

3. Labour services on the landlords’ estate provided by the Russian serfs.

4. Obshchina in Russian – Trans.

U. Roslavlev (R. Ulyanovsky): ‘Agrarni krizis v Indii’, Partinoe izdatelstvo, Moscow, 1932, pp. 56-72.

Translated from the Russian by Tahir Asghar

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