Marx position on Russia and the dualism of the agrarian community

Author: Lion Wedel

Relation of the “capital” to development of the Russian peasant community’s

It is a premise that the analysis of the genesis of capital in Capital is dedicated to Western European countries. That means that the historical stages described for the western hemisphere by Marx were not meant for Russia or any other cultural region across the globe except Western Europe (see Marx, 1881: p.2).

We can thus conclude that there is no evidence of Marx’s position on the destruction of the commons in relation to Russia in Capital. Without a specific analysis of the Russian Mir we’re not able to speak about a historical inevitability of the destruction of the Russian Commons. Because of this, Marx wrote down an analysis of the Russian Commons in a correspondence with Vera Zasulich. I used the third draft of his letter to Vera Zasulich as my key source. The final version of this letter is more similar to the preface of the communist manifesto’s Russian edition. I will come back to this interesting fact later.

Transformation of property

The reasons for the restriction of Capital to the analysis of Western Europe are described with the types of property and their transformation. In Western Europe, private property founded on personal labour transformed into another form of private property, this time founded on the exploitation of  labour-power. The Transformation in Russian peasants’ community would be one from communal to private property, which is a more complicated process that encountered more resistance, considering the importance and amount of Russian peasants (see Marx, 1881: p.2). Since I just made roughly clear the difference between the transformation of property in Western Europe and Russia, we can go further  in depth to Marx’s position regarding the question of historical inevitability of the destruction of the Commons.

The agrarian community

I believe it is needed to make the specifics of the agrarian Russian peasant communities clear.

According to Marx, the main differences to the archaic type are the following: The archaic type is not based on the bonds formed between individuals through blood, unlike in the case of Russian peasants. Furthermore, the common property is related to the cultivable land (divided periodically among the members), whereas the gathered resources are private property; house and yard belong to the individual farmer (see Marx, 1881: p.4). The dualism – private and communal property; natural kinship and social relations beyond the bloodline are for Marx the basis which makes the agrarian community a heavily bonded one.

The dualism implicates the existence of private property itself and the possibility of accumulating movable private property for the individual. Both of these can be the root for capitalism on account of rising personal interests. It happened similarly in Western Europe. But the dualism of communal  and private property can provide another outcome: “either its property element will gain the upper hand over its collective element; or […] the reverse will take place.” (Marx, 1881: p.4). The historical context is crucial for the development of the community.

Now we can answer the question of a determination for nations. From Marx’s point of view, determination for nations doesn’t follow unlinear stages (same stages but not in the same time). Marx thinks that the history of Western Europe may influence the history of the Russian nation in a way that follows another determination rather than the transformation from archaic through communal and finally to capitalist communities.

Russia’s historical context

Marx describes Russia as a vast empire dominated by organic rural life which is embedded in the historical context of capitalist production. The transformation to the capitalist community in Western Europe provides the knowledge of large scale production for Russians. Because of these circumstances, Marx sees the possibility that the Russian case could profit from the development achieved by the capitalist system in the western hemisphere without paying it tribute. Furthermore, the Russian peasant family is already familiar with the “artel” (see Marx, 1881: p.5).  Another special archaic peculiarity is also important. The peasants’ communes divided the yard like a chessboard, giving each member a parts of soil different in quality, to generate economic equality within the community. Hence, the yard is divided periodically, the communes avoiding long term inequality.

The Answer

“The only answer to that possible today is this: If the Russian Revolution becomes the signal for a proletarian revolution in the West, so that both complement each other, the present Russian common ownership of land may serve as the starting point for a communist development.”

(Marx, Engels: 1882).

 After summarising the analysis in Marx’s letter, the answer to the first question could be clear: Marx sees the possibility that the Russian peasants’ community is able to make the transition to cooperative labour on their own, through the previously mentioned relational historical context. But the quote above shows a different view Marx had just one year later. Marx’s and Engel’s final statement here puts the development of the Russian peasants in relation to the success of proletarian revolution in Russia, this would initiate a successful revolution in Western Europe. Marx rethinks specifically one point in his former argumentation: The Russian case cannot profit from the capitalist transformation in Western Europe. The proletarian revolutions in both Russia and Western Europe have to be successful and complement each other for a successful transformation to cooperative labour.

Marx’s position changed over time. Positive thinking period in the letter from 1881 was followed one year later by resignation. He has seen the only possibility for the commons in Russia to survive if in both Russia as well as in Western Europe a communist revolution succeeded.


Marx, Karl;1881: Mary Zasulich Correspondence (Third Draft); Marx on social relations on Russia

Mary, Karl & Friedrich Engels; 1882: Preface to the communist manifest – Russian edition

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