Peasant Proprietorship

In the audio below, Bertrand Russell distinguished between peasant proprietorship and agrarian socialism. In his book on Bolshevism, Russell uses the word “communism” instead. I am puzzled by what point Russell was trying to make. Let me explain. Since the necessary condition for capitalism is depriving people of a free access to subsistence land, then [free] peasant proprietorship — i.e., without taxation, would be antithetical to capitalism, and compatible with anarchism. So, Russell’s use of the term “socialism” is not used as a simple antithesis to capitalism, but seems to require for him a co-operative form of organization.

Now, Karl Marx, in his critique of capitalism, was writing about the class struggle between proletarians and industrialists — and the resolution of this struggle was to be worker-controlled factories. But a peasant proprietor is not a proletarian. A proletarian is someone who does not have access to free modes of production. But free access to land is a type of free access to a mode of production.

Peasant proprietors should have been left alone with the freedom to form co-operatives — agrarian socialism. Instead, under Stalin, Ukrainian peasants were wiped out or forced into collectives.


I met Lenin in 1920 when I was in Russia. I had an hours talk tete a tete with him. And he spoke English much better than you would have expected. The conversation was in English. I expected it to be in German. But I found his English was quite good.

I was less impressed by Lenin than I expected to be. He was of course a great man. He seemed to me a reincarnation of Cromwell, with exactly the same limitations that Cromwell had — absolute orthodoxy. His any proposition could be proved by quoting a text in Marx. And he was quite incapable of supposing that there could be anything in Marx that wasn’t right, and that struck me as rather limited.

I decided one other thing about him because his great readiness to stir up hatred. I put certain questions to him to see what his answer would be. And one of them was: you profess to be establishing socialism but as far as the countryside is concerned, you seem to me to be establishing peasant proprietorship, which is a very different thing from agricultural socialism. And he said, “Oh, dear me, we’re not establishing peasant proprietorship.” He said, “You see there are poor peasants and rich peasants, and we stirred up the poor peasant against the rich peasants, and they soon will hang them to the nearest tree — ha, ha, ha, ha.”

I didn’t much like that.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.