The Problems of ‘Political Marxism’ and Its Application to the ‘Russian Question’

Mike Haynes

                                   **For a reply to this article by John Marot, go here.**

John Marot’s The October Revolution in Prospect and Retrospect (Historical Materialism Book Series 2012 is an important collection of essays which I have positively reviewed in Revolutionary Russia.[1] It contains essays on four different areas. There is John’s work on Bogdanov, his work on 1917 and what is wrong with the social history accounts of the Russian revolution, his attack on Tony Cliff’s biography of Trotsky – and, by implication, the failure of Trotskyists to deal adequately with the theoretical and political weakness of Trotsky’s position and arguments in the 1920s and 1930s and, finally, a long prefatory essay in which John tries to generalise his argument and to found it on ‘political Marxism’ - i.e. that approach associated with Robert Brenner. I have no real expertise to deal John’s analysis of Bogdanov. His work on 1917 continues, I believe, to deserve high praise and he is absolutely right to focus on the political processes that informed the choices that workers made in 1917. He will also not find me (though at one stage he seemed to think he would) defending Trotsky in the late 1920s and 1930s. Early on in my understanding of Russia, I came to the conclusion that the Left Opposition had made huge mistakes and many of these can still be appreciated through reading Ante Ciliga’s classic The Russian Enigma.[2] This idea was also a central part of my first book. [3]

But, when it comes to the argument that political Marxism as a theory, and John’s application of it to Russia in particular, provide us with an understanding of what happened in Russia, I have to disagree. Very briefly, his argument seems to be that, before 1914, Russia was not capitalist - not least because of the centrality of the peasant mode of production and what ‘political Marxists’ call ‘political accumulation’. The revolution made Russia even less capitalist as much because of the ways that it reinforced the peasantry and that this was then the major blockage in the 1920s. This blockage was then smashed by Stalin - the result was a Stalinist regime whose nature remains unclear (save I fear in a slight sketch by Brenner) but which was neither socialist nor state capitalist. (I disagree believing it to be state capitalist but do not discuss this here).[4] Many of the problems I have with John’s approach are captured in a single sentence where John summarises his argument: ‘The October revolution preserved the peasant-mode of production upon which the feudal mode of production had rested; a material inheritance that would severely constrain the range of economic policies available to the leadership’. [5]

Thus, we seem to have (each of the italicised terms I consider problematic),



 I do not have the time to take up all these arguments in detail, so I hope I will be forgiven for asserting alternatives which I think make better sense as well as providing the occasional more detailed comment. I will divide my discussion into two parts: my views on the development of capitalism and the specific problem of Russia. I will make most assertions in the first part because the issues here are so huge - though some of them have been covered in more detail in things I have written over the past decades and many of which can be found at

1. Analysing Capitalism

For me, and unlike John and the ‘political Marxists’,

1. Capitalism is a dynamic system, based on the competitive accumulation of capital, that develops in breadth and depth over time.

2. It is therefore inherently globalising and cannot be understood in national terms. Here, I have always followed Rosa Luxemburg, Trotsky and others and Trotsky’s famous statement (whose logic I agree he never properly applies to Russia in the 1920s)

Marxism takes its starting-point from world economy, not as a sum of national parts but as a mighty and independent reality which has been created by the international division of labour and the world market, and which in our epoch imperiously dominates the national markets.[6]

3. Indeed, the interstate system and ‘national’ develop as part of capitalism - perhaps drawing on some pre-existing elements but in the process changing them. (I do not believe that it makes any sense to imagine some detached, mode of production transcending, interstate system.)

4. The initial development of capitalism is built on the development of forms of wage labour but also draws on forms of coerced labour. The attempt to deny the role of forms of labour coercion is theoretically and empirically debilitating. (I know John will disagree and I was also told off for the way I expressed this view in the 1980s by Alex Callinicos and others, but I think my critics’ position not really consistent.)

5. This globalising capitalist economy (which began in the Atlantic economy but spread out) is integrated not only by economic competition and trade and flows of factors of production but also interstate competition and war.[7]

6. As the system expands, it does so through process of uneven and combined development and the peculiarities this generates grow over time. (Empirically, this creates the major interesting problems of the analysis of form and content.) ‘Political Marxists’ tend to avoid this by emphasising that everything that does not fit their narrow definition of capitalism must be non-capitalist. (The latter term seems to me to figure prominently because political Marxists are rather better than telling us that things are non-capitalist rather than what in thee terms, they are.)

7. Since the system is global, then the issue of any ripeness for revolution has to be analysed in global terms - not in terms of the parts. And this is especially so if the ability to develop any of the parts is limited by the peculiarities of the way they are integrated into the whole and the forms of uneven and combined development that exist there.

I will pause here because I know that John’s starting point is Robert Brenner and many of these points are not ones a ‘Brennerite’ - would accept. As a result of John’s challenges, I have read and reread much of the debate that Brenner has stimulated over the years. While I recognise that there is much of value in aspects of the work of those who write in this tradition, I cannot agree with its underlying method or its particular emphases. For me, it is a theoretical cul de sac which prevents me from understanding capitalism as a whole and it marginalises the most important and interesting things. Moreover, having now reread a lot of it, I am more convinced than ever that the critics like Neil Davidson are right, but so are others who have made the same points seemingly independently.[8] So I will here summarise my problems with ‘political Marxism’ while recognising my debt to its other critics:

1. Conceptualising the problem as one of trade (neo-Smithian) versus production (Marxist) - even leaving aside whether each attribution is correct - undermines our ability to understand how trade and production are mutually constituted within capitalism.

2. This then leads to what has been called ‘methodological nationalism’, where the national unit is taken as given and ‘production’ relations prioritised within it.

3. This also leads to a failure to deal adequately with the problem ‘backwardness’. It is certainly not the case that the backwardness of the poor world was the primary cause of the development of the advanced capitalism. But I believe that it is the case that the advance of the core capitalism, and the integration of the rest of the world into a global capitalist economy dominated by them, fundamentally altered conditions in the less advanced world and that ‘backwardness’ was therefore not a virgin state nor an autonomous state detached from the advance of the global capitalist economy but something within it.

4. Much of the Brennerite argument involves a juxtaposition of ‘free labour’ and ‘forced’ labour as if the terms are self-evident and can be analysed independently of the totality of relations in which they occur.

5. This leads to an idealisation of one form of capitalist development which probably does not exist even in its own terms. For example, forms of unfree labour continue to be present in the most advanced forms of capitalism.

6. No less, it leads to a misunderstanding of the nature of productivity and technological change. Brennerites want to argue that the superiority of free labour lies in the role of invention and innovation to increase relative surplus-value, whereas non-capitalist forms focus more on absolute surplus-value. But this

(a) fails to deal with the extent to which the choice between forms of technology in capitalism is as much determined by the perceived competitive ease of obtaining rates of excess profit;

          (b) fails to appreciate the resulting spread of productivity rates within

           even single economies, and the ways that, within capitalism, what are

           referred to as ‘sub-optimal technologies’ persist; [9]

          (c) insofar as it uses technological backwardness or imitation to       condemn what I would see as developing capitalisms as being non-    capitalist, it also fails to understand the nature of technology transfer and catch-up growth.

7. The assumption that national units exist independently of capitalism also means that ‘political Marxism’ cannot deal with the specific forms and roles of the state and the inter-state system. (Incidentally, I note that Charles Post has tried to respond to this bigger problem and other issues too, but I think that he more restates the problem than offers a solution.[10])

2. When something does not ‘smell’ right

These points form a formidable challenge. But I want to add one more, which I admit is a hostage to fortune (and, in debating terms, underhand), but it may have some value in explaining why as I move to look at John’s arguments about Russia I find some of them so unconvincing. Put simply, when I read the ‘political Marxists’ in general (and John on Russia) - it simply does not ‘smell’ right to my ‘historian’s nose’. What I like about the idea of uneven and combined development is that, even if only at the level of orientation, it encourages me to see the two sides - of development and apparent backwardness - and ask to questions about their relation. I do not see this interactive pattern in genuinely precapitalist societies. There, as Neil Davidson has argued, was unevenness but there could not be a deep combination of forms. So the fact that peasants in Tsarist Russia lived in a world of trains and boats and even the occasional plane, that telegraph and telephone wires were strung out across the land, that the odd postcard arrived from a migrant son or daughter in the city (or even America) to be read haltingly by a peasant child going to school for the first time, that in some villages before 1914 a visiting field silent cinema may have been put up and that, at the same time, older forms based on strip farming and the wooden plough survived - all of this combination (and much more) is what is interesting, important and productive to explain and theorise - not allocating things to boxes on the basis that if it is not ‘capitalist’ then it is ‘feudal’ or ‘peasant’.

Thinking about John’s particular arguments, I was reminded of Chekhov’s famous story, translated into English as The Malefactor. It is the story of Denis Grigoryev - a poverty-stricken peasant who has been arrested and brought before the magistrate for stealing a nut from a railway sleeper to weigh down his fishing line. While the magistrate cannot understand Denis’s view that he was doing nothing dangerous and had a right to the nut, Denis cannot understand the magistrate’s view that his actions were serious and criminal and that he should be jailed. The story is but one contribution to the cultural discussion of the peasant question that accompanied the economic, social and political debate on the peasantry.

Several points are worth making. First, in a society that is genuinely backward, you do not have a debate on the peasant question because the peasantry simply ‘is’ and social relations simply ‘are’. It is only when they change and the wider context changes that they begin to turn into a ‘question’. Second, the story is often taken at face value as illustrating a clash of two worlds. But the magistrate is never sure if Denis really is as stupid and ignorant as he appears or if he is feigning it. Chekhov too leaves this unresolved. Equally, today some historians argue that the peasants often chose to present one face to the outside world of authority and another to the world that felt more comfortable in. One aspect of this was the play-acting as romanticised peasants - even dressing around ‘local’ customs that were manufactured (the invention of peasant traditions). Another was feigning ignorance as a defence or in supplication. But John will say – yes, but what about production relations? It is true that the story does not address this but fishing figures pretty prominently, illustrating that agriculture is not just about grain or potatoes. We have Metrofan Petrov who is a net-maker selling his nets to gentry and other peasants who also needs a lot of nuts. Denis too pleads he has to go because he needs to go to the fair to get the ‘three roubles from Yegor for some tallow’ and that he is also up to date with his tax payments and so on. And, of course, we have a railway to steal from which has obviously been around for some time, a magistrate, a railway watchman, and a penal code to be enforced. In other words, if this is not the highest form of capitalism, neither is it a medieval world - it is a world of combinations and those combinations were not just between the peasant and outside world but inside the peasant world - something which seems to me to be shot through recent writing on the peasantry and not just on Russia.

But we have to agree to disagree for the moment, not in the sense of running away from the ‘theory’ argument, but because we both need to do the hard work of writing the bigger stories informed by what we think are the right theories - theories are, after all, grey ...

3. Now to Russia in detail

3.1. Tsarist Russia

In my terms, Russia had already been integrated into global capitalism in 1914 and was an important player. This does not mean that it was capitalist in the same way that the US or UK were. Capitalism is always a differentiated system. Indeed, a key part of the analysis has to be about how the specific forms of integration into the global economy (internally and externally) prevented ‘cleaner’ or ‘purer’ forms developing. But it does mean recognising that the system was not feudal in any meaningful sense (despite the may rhetorical uses of the term at the time) and it does mean taking seriously arguments about combined and uneven development. It was certainly not ‘on the latest rung of an altogether different, incommensurable ladder of non-capitalist development’.[11]

States are integrated into the global economy both politically and economically. For a great power like Russia, this integration was becoming ever more complex in the late nineteenth century. But, since John disputes the nature of the process of political integration, I will first sketch the economic side. The Russian economy grew and grew significantly in the late nineteenth century, even if it did not manage to make a serious impression on the gap that had developed - a failure that was not unique to it. This growth was based on internal changes reflected in market integration - the increasing movement of goods, capital and people and a related convergence in prices and signs of specialisation and changes in the production process. But this internal integration was also part of a wider international process of integration. What was happening in the international economy was affecting Russia and, given Russia’s size and importance, what was happening in Russia was affecting the bigger international economy.

Take up any French journal and cast the eye down the columns devoted to the Stock Exchange. You will find there a large number of Russian words: Briansk, Krivoi Rog, Donets, Dubovaia Balka, Makervka, Ekaterinvoka, Tula, Mariupol and others. These words denote various cities, towns and villages of Russia which were, not so long ago, quiet and deserted places but which today are industrial centres connected with London, Paris and Brussels. The mine opened by the Russian labourer somewhere in the southern steppes is turned to gold on the Paris Bourse. A dozen eggs in some village lost in the depths of Russia and collected by a humble peasant-woman are sent right across the continent of Europe, finally to reach the lamp of the sorter of the ‘Egg Exchange’ of London, and thence to pass into the hands of the consumer. The might of capital, the might of gold, has drawn Russia into the mad whirlpool of universal production and international exchange, and has hereby bound her to the older nations of Europe.

The author of this lyrical passage is not Trotsky but Gregory Alexinsky, then on the left of Russian socialism (but soon to move right in the war). Like Trotsky, he was far from underestimating the degree of backwardness in Russia but, unlike John, he was also far for underestimating the degree to which the Tsarist economy was becoming inserted into the global one.[12]

This integration was supported by the Tsarist state but, contrary to John’s claims, was largely independent of it. The integration can be seen in the role of foreign trade, its direction and commodity composition - including the export of grain.[13] It can even be seen in the routes goods took with an increasing amount going by rail over land borders. No less it can be seen in the role of direct international investment. It can also be seen in terms of monetary integration - especially after Russia joined the Gold Standard in 1897. We can see integration also in the movements of people - migration out and the smaller streams of migrants in. And we can see it in the movement of knowledge and ideas - primarily west to east, as is normal for poorer countries, but also some movement east to west.

But this process of change and integration was also reflected in the rhythms of the economy. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the ‘pre-industrial’ pattern of harvest cycles gave way to more recognisable business cycles albeit ones influenced by exogenous events such as war (1877-8, 1904-5), famine (1891-2) and revolution (1905-6). Good harvests certainly helped to push the cycles up and poor ones to push them (to a lesser extent) down. But the causal mechanisms of the new cycles were located in the urban industrial economy more than the countryside (plus internal agricultural prices were also increasingly affected by trends in the wider global economy in any case).[14] We should note too that, at this point, if John’s arguments are correct, then much of the rest of the world that was more backward than Russia in 1914 would be even less capitalist. But problems might also arise with areas that ostensibly were more developed. Was the Austro-Hungarian Empire capitalist, for example - or were parts of it capitalist and others not?

But I fear that also John makes a number of errors in his account of Russia before 1914 which arise from his trying to stress its non-capitalist nature. For example:

1. he says on page 1 of his book that Russia had ‘100 million peasants and three million proletarians’. This confuses factory workers with proletarians and excludes their families, whereas his 100 million peasants confuses all those in agriculture with peasants and includes their families;

2. I would also dispute John’s claim p. 55 that ‘by the twentieth century, the transformation of peasants into workers in Western Europe was largely complete, while it was in its very earliest stages in Russia, where 90% of the population retained possession of the land ....’. Much may depend on definitions, but both parts of this sentence seem wrong;

3. he says that ‘the peasantry retained sufficient land to remain self-sufficient throughout the late-Imperial Russia’s economic advance’.[15] The extent of peasant land holding is a fraught issue to which we will return and so is the degree of self-sufficiency. But the peasants, by choice and circumstance, were becoming more market-integrated. This is evident in the extensive literature on their economic conditions. It is there in more anecdotal evidence. Consider this from a report of the Special Commissioner of the Ministry of Finance on the grain trade from 1903

In the market place in Nikolayev I had the opportunity to observe a fact which a short time ago would have been altogether incredible. The peasants on arrival at the market with their grain were asking: "What is the price in America according to the latest telegram?” And what is still more surprising they know how to convert cents per bushel into kopecks per pood. [16]

4. I will pause here to say that, in any case, statements about ‘the peasantry’ need to be differentiated as their economic conditions varied enormously as did the nature of their lives - whether, for example, they were in a commune at all and if so if it was repartitional. In John’s terms, this would also seem to create problems for any declaration the Tsarist Empire as a whole. Does his argument apply to all of it? To European Russia alone? to Siberia? To Russian Poland? To Finland?

5. John makes a number of comments about the lack of technical progress in both agriculture and the economy as a whole. This is partly because ‘political Marxism’ makes so much of the importance of productivity change (see above) but also because he has not looked closely enough at the evidence of change. In agriculture, for example, the question of output and productivity is full of complications but most historians now do believe that progress was being made. John, however, relies on earlier and contested accounts like that of Shanin. Criticising this in the 1980s, John Bushnell wrote that ‘whatever factor of production we choose we find strong evidence that it was being employed more productively as the decades passed’.[17] John may disagree, but he needs to take on that evidence.[18] So far as the overall state of the economy is concerned, let me also as a provocation to John throw in two contrasting statements:

Once up and running in Russia, there was little further technological transformation of these imported means of production because state-purchases guaranteed a market for the output of these industries, virtually extinguishing all pressures to further innovate and lower costs to stay in business.[19]

Professor Gerschenkron said that as he read the memoirs of Russian engineers and entrepreneurs, he could not fail to be impressed by how forward-looking they were, First, they feared obsolescence; second, they were very impressed by the idea of an expanding market, and chose the size of enterprise that was appropriate to the future rather than the present.[20]

6. He also needs to think about what he means by his suggestion that Tsarist Russia’s links to the world economy were pre-eminently political, given its strategic role as a grain supplier, the size of foreign investment in it, its role in international loans etc.

7. No less he needs to think carefully about his promiscuous use of terms like ‘feudal relations of production’ underlying the tsarist state. There is both a theoretical problem here in the weakness of political Marxism in its analysis of the capitalist state and a specific Russian issue in the failure to focus on how that state was changing and acting as an agent of change.

3.2. The Peasantry in Tsarist Russia

But before leaving Tsarist Russia, I want to focus a little more on the issue of the peasantry. At this point, even a committed reader might feel that maybe this is argument over whether the glass is half full or half empty, or perhaps a 51:49% dispute. I think, and I suspect that John does too, that the empirical differences are bigger than this and I will offer some illustrative data in a moment. But let us allow you, dear reader, your frustrations. The differences are still important for two reasons. One - alluded to earlier - is the direction of travel. We have quite different views on how capitalism progresses. The second is that we seem to me to differ significantly over how to analyse the peasantry.

This has long been a contentious issue and in the nineteenth century was at the centre of the dispute between the populist (Narodniks) in Russia and the Marxists. John’s own analysis of the peasantry pays limited attention to this but instead draws on a discussion by Brenner and gives the impression that he thinks that there is a single peasant mode which transcends a millennia or more of history and much of the globe.[21] Beyond this - and John will not thank me for saying it - much of his analysis of the peasantry smacks of a combination of prerevolutionary Narodnik views, the 1920s school associated with Chayanov and those more recent historians who have picked up on these themes and developed them. Chayanov, and Kondratiev and others, were victims of Stalin and then written out of history. Their rediscovery in the 1960s was important. But this does mean that all or even most of their arguments about the peasants in general, and the Russian peasantry in particular, are correct.

At the core of peasant populism is the belief that the peasantry tended towards homogeneity, communalism, and generalised resistance (or indifference to) the advance of capitalism. Tom Brass has discussed the politically chameleon-like ways in which peasant populism has presented itself, been presented and how it continues to present itself.[22] I am not suggesting that John himself is a populist, but that in drawing on this literature he is not sceptical enough about its detailed arguments and the ways in which it marshals and uses evidence. The whole idea of a peasant mode of production and the peasantry in feudalism/capitalism has been extensively debated on the left over the last decades in places like the Journal of Peasant Studies and the Journal of Agrarian Change etc. John seems to ignore all of this. The issue of Russia and Chayanov runs through these debates. They have been reviewed and summarised by Henry Bernstein.[23] Brass interestingly argues that even Bernstein himself is too ‘populist’. Maybe so, but I think that anyone who reads his discussions will themselves want to be cautious about too simply drawing on a Chayanovian analysis. They might also want to distinguish more between Chayanov-the-theorist and Chayanov-the-agricultural-reformer-and-agronomist, and even the fantasy novelist.[24] Chaynanov devoted a key part of his work to arguing for and recording positive change in Russian agriculture, albeit by building on peasant farming and using the potential of co-operation. This side of his work has been too little noticed or considered in relation to his famous work on the dynamics of the peasant home and agricultural unit.

This brings us to the big elephant in the room in John’s discussion - namely the contemporary Marxist analysis and not least that of Lenin. John’s account casually dismisses this without any real interrogation about its changing nature, its value in respect of Russia, and the wider argument that was developing about agriculture and capitalism and different paths.[25] Lenin’s views were not static and just because they are Lenin’s views they are not necessarily right.[26] But they do need serious evaluation. Today, we do not need to simply rehearse these older views because we can also use the data from the time and later reworkings to help us make better sense of the pattern of uneven and combined development.

Let us consider first the bigger context and the growth of the economy and its wider proportions. The key discussion here is that of Paul Gregory.[27] (In other circumstances, it would be possible to subject his data and its conceptual basis to critique, but here I am interested in the larger picture of change to reveals.) Table 1 shows the basic components of national income and how they were changing. We see, in particular, the relatively high rate of accumulation, saving etc. as well as the role of the state. None of these elements are characteristic of an economy that is genuinely feudal or dominated by ‘a peasant mode of production’.

Table 1 National Income and Its Composition 1885-1913 (Gregory, pp. 127-128.)

Table 1

 Growth and development were also reflected in the pattern of structural change in the economy which is set out on table 2. We see that, by 1913, agriculture was only responsible for around half of national income. Factory industry already had bigger share of output in 1883-7 than handicraft industry and continued to grow much faster – together, they were responsible for over 20% of output in 1913. Transport and communications also grew as a share of output. 

Table 2 Russian National Income by Sector of Origin 1883/7 to 1909/13 in constant 1913 value added weights) (My calculations from Gregory p. 73)

Table 2

But we also need to situate an analysis of the peasantry better. One aspect of this is land tenure. Anyone who has tried to bring together any data on land tenure will know that the data is a nightmare. The table below, from a thesis by the late Paul Klebnikov, was compiled from a variety of contemporary statistical sources to try and give a sense of the overall pattern. Despite its apparent detail, Klebnikov described it as ‘a rough estimate’ so we should not hang on every small variation, but the major shifts seem clear enough and I would suggest do not give comfort to John’s argument. 

Table 3 Land Tenure in the 50 Provinces of European Russia 1905-1916[28]

Table 3

What we see here is an increase in the amount of land held by the peasants from roughly 65% to some 70%. But we also see a significant diminution in the communal share. In 1916, on this data, this share is either 42% of all landholding and 59% of peasant - if we include in it all the Cossack land and land purchased by communes and associations or 29% and 41% respectively if we exclude these elements. These proportions, even if not exact show the danger of over-stressing the role of the commune, and the extent to which by 1917 it was in decline.

But what of agricultural output? Measuring output involves far more than just grain and the grain focus is a severe limitation of many accounts, including John’s.[29] But, even if we focus on grain, we see the significance of the changes occurring. Table 4 shows the harvest data we have. Rye was the grain peasants consumed the most, so a fall in the proportion being consumed is telling as indication that standards were rising for some as is the rise in the wheat crop. But we also see that the percentage marketed was rising for both crops.

Table 4 Crop Harvest in the 50 Provinces of European Russia[30]

Table 4

Table 5 looks shows complementary data about the changing pattern of grain marketing. 

Table 5 The Commercialisation of the Major Grain Crops of European Russia (annual averages) [31]

Table 5

* rye, wheat, oats and barley 

John’s emphasis on self-sufficiency can be considered in a number of ways. We might look at the extent of ‘on farm consumption’ or consumption in kind of farm output. (For many contemporaries, the balance of on/off farm consumption was crucial to any evaluation of the peasantry and many studies were made of household and local consumption budgets. But these are hard to generalise from - the share of output consumed on the farm varied from year to year and place to place.) Consumption in kind was primarily a peasant phenomenon, though clearly in the handicraft industries shoemakers might make their own shoes and tailors stitch their own shirts. But, again following Gregory, we can get some sense of the overall pattern. His data suggests 75% of all grain crops were consumed in kind on the farm. This share varied from an average of 88% for rye to 63% for wheat for 1911-13. But such on farm consumption of grain crops made up half of all on farm consumption. The consumption of non-grain crops on the farm was less and for technical crops it was 52%. Overall, the share of consumption in kind in the rural sector as a percentage of total output was much less. Gregory’s data suggests that it averaged 36-37% in 1885-7, falling to 32% in 1899-1901 and then was roughly the same share in 1911-13.[32] Thus, while we should not gainsay the importance of consumption in kind in the peasant communities, we can question whether we can deduce the political economy of the whole from this particular part and note that its minority share was already evident relatively early on.

But John wants to argue further that peasant involvement in the wider market was driven by the demand of the state for taxes. This was not so. Rural taxes ceased to be the major source of state income and the second half of the nineteenth century. Table 6 shows the sources of state revenue in the early twentieth century.

Table 6 % Sources of State Revenue 1903-1913 [33]

Table 6

 It is a myth, however widely reproduced, that the peasants supplied the resources for accumulation. As Plattenborg put it a generation ago, under the Finance Minster Bunge ‘the urban-industrial sector became the heart of the tax system’ and ‘the peasants were not the financiers of the industrialisation, their share was rather small’. [34] 

If we look at that share of taxes that did come from the countryside then peasants had to pay direct taxes (including their redemption payments until these were abolished) and indirect taxes on what they bought. While the former could be seen as forcing them into the market, the latter were a product of them buying in the market. Historians have long pointed out that rising revenues for indirect taxes were as much a sign of progress since they show that the peasants were buying more. But, if we then turn to look at the role both these tax elements in peasant budgets, we quickly see that they were not the major reason why the peasants sold the agricultural and craft goods that they did. Nor were they the main reason why peasants (or some in their families) sold their labour either close to home or seasonally on tramp or in the towns as factory workers. There is both a scale here and a variety that John’s account does not address.[35] Table 7 sets out some aggregate data which shows both how far claims about the weight of peasant taxation is from the reality of peasant life and that the ‘burden’ was declining. [36]

Table 7 Russian Peasant Cash Income, Rentals and Taxes 1901 and 1912

Table 7

It is true that one of the things that we know about peasants is that they are reluctant to give up their land. Market activities, as part of bigger economic processes, can allow them to cling on to what they have. Chayanov recognised this. Remittances, for example, can help cover debts as well as boost consumption (including of goods from the towns). However, this is rather different to arguing that what we are seeing is the resilience a self-reproducing peasant mode. But this takes us back to the nature of the peasantry and the way that John seems to be to avoid the key debates and issues in favour of solving problems by definition and assertion rather than real historical analysis. 

4. War, Revolution, Civil War and Primitivisation verses Peasantisation

The war exposed the ripened global contradictions in capitalism. This is the permanent revolution argument that, John and I agree, was only incompletely grasped in theoretical terms 1917 even by Trotsky. Russia broke first (it was a close-run thing) because it was the weakest link in a chain that was a capitalist chain. (The Bolsheviks understood this in their gut, but the full coherence given to the theory of permanent revolution only arose later.) But John then wants to argue that, if we focus on the inner logic of these events within Russia, ‘the October revolution preserved the peasant-mode of production upon which the feudal mode of production had rested’.

In the long trajectory of the development of capitalism it is certainly possible to argue that regressions occurred - refeudalisations. But these are more about societies making small breaks towards capitalism in a larger non-capitalist system, stopping short and then being overwhelmed. Russia, we have argued, had made a big break into a larger system, so the collapse of the civil war needs to be understood in a different way. Connections were broken, things collapsed, land was seized and redistributed but, in trying to understand this, I prefer to think of it as an example of primitivisation.

The complexity of capitalism is such that war - if it leads to collapse - also produces a greater or lesser degree of primitivisation. This evident in Europe far beyond Russia in 1914-21. It was evident again in 1945-46.[37] There was a reversion in places to self-sufficiency, barter and even plunder. But a marauding band of plunderers does not thereby become a band of hunter gatherers. Neither did the land redistribution in Russia in 1917-1921, amidst fluid military fronts and a wider economic collapse, reinforce feudalism or even a peasant mode of production. Rather, it broke, and for a period it dislocated, a more advanced economic mechanism which the Bolsheviks then tried to put back together in different ways in the period of the NEP.

Let us briefly decompose this into its two aspects. Land redistribution certainly undid many of the changes in land ownership of the late Tsarist period reducing the size of peasant holdings. As Lenin said, ‘Everything has become more equitable, the peasantry has in general acquired the status of the middle peasant’. The statistics are rough but the number of farms of less than 4 dessiatines (approximately 4.4 hectares) rose from 58% in 1917 to 82% in 1922.[38] Since the smaller the farm, the smaller the surplus, this itself increased the ‘self-sufficiency’ of many peasants. But such tendencies were reinforced also by the perverse impact of economic mobilisation for war and civil war. This broke the basic market mechanisms, undid the existing institutions and disrupted the transport system. This process was evident in 1916 and it intensified in 1917 as inflation devalued paper money and supplies to the countryside to exchange for grain and other agricultural goods lessened. One response was the implementation of a state monopoly of the grain trade by the Provisional Government but this too had perverse consequences. The situation worsened enormously in the Civil War. Paper money became worthless and there was little or nothing to exchange.[39] The result was forced requisitioning which saved the day at the expense of massively alienating the peasants in many areas. And the problems were accentuated in areas where the respective armies fought. This was is well brought out by a writer like Isaac Babel. In his Diary he telegraphically records incidents like this.

Krivikha [one of Babel’s disreputable comrades], ruined Czechs, a toothsome woman. What follows is horrible. She cooks for 100 people, flies, the commissar’s Shurka, sweaty and all shaken up, fresh meat with potatoes, they take all the hay, reap the oats, potatoes by the pood, the servant girl is run off her feet, remnants of a well run farm.

And these, of course, are the ‘good guys’. [40]

I hope that this makes it clear that I do not underestimate the scale of what happened. But, rather than seeing the countryside going backwards, I would suggest that it was kicked sideways - out of gear. To talk of this as a return to feudalism cannot make any sense, as large-scale land ownership had been destroyed and John seems to recognise this as he slides towards his invocation of a peasant mode of production. But the point is that this was not really a ‘mode’ at all in the sense of a system underpinned by a self-reproducing long-term dynamic. To put it crudely, it was a wreck. And we should not forget that this wreck then intensified with the famine of 1921 which I consider has still not been properly integrated into an analysis of both the problems of recovery economically and the earlier stages of the degeneration of the revolution politically. Despite the inauguration of NEP in 1921, real recovery did not begin until 1922. All of this led in the short term to what one contemporary called ‘the annihilation of economic-individualist initiative to improve the conditions of agriculture’.[41] But, if peasants could not ‘improve’ in these years there is still evidence that they could attempt to save as much by playing the bigger requisition system. Figure 1 selects four different examples of agricultural output with very different patterns of change in the years 1913-1922.

Examples of Changing Agricultural Output

Cotton represents an industrial commercial crop grown in parts of Russia and, already by 1917, its output had fallen by a large amount and, by 1921, it was down to around 15%. Indeed, so bad was the situation that these statistics are very much a guess. Grains were the main object of requisition. In return, peasants would get receipts that in theory were exchangeable for goods but these few and far between. Babel describes the result for one farmer, ‘a Czech’ in 1920, when his Red Army unit descended,

The Czech has receipts coming out of his ears. We took four of his horses, gave him receipts in the name of the Rovno District Commissariat, took his phaeton and gave him a broken-down buggy instead, three receipts for flour and oats. [42]

Peasants responded to this by reducing the area sown with grains, trying to conceal the area sown and trying to hide the harvest. But they also maintained other crops that were less likely to be requisitioned. This explains why the potato index falls much less. They could keep also animals alive and feed them - hence the lesser fall in the pig index. (Pigs are notoriously fast breeders and therefore numbers rise and fall quickly as incentives change.) However, in 1921, things began to change again with the tax in kind and the famine so that we now see a quick recovery in the grain harvest and a fall in the number of pigs. Now, of course, data like this is capable of being explained in different ways, but for me it is additional evidence that peasants were not motivated by the inward-looking and traditional concerns that are suggested by the evocation of a ‘peasant mode of production’.

Recovery, then, would be in new circumstances and here bringing the peasants back on board would be crucial. Lenin suggested in 1921 that ‘it will take generations to remould the small farmer’ and this posed the question of whether we can ‘satisfy this middle peasantry as such with its economic peculiarities and economic roots’. But the answer was yes, ‘it is our duty to do all we can to encourage small farming’.[43] But this too involved something more complex than an accommodation to a peasant mode of production.

5. The problems of the 1920s and the external- internal nexus

The context of developments in the 1920s were not simply internal. The end of the First Word War and then, for Russia, ‘the Civil War’ did not mean the end of global capitalist competition, but rather a shift towards more or less peaceful forms of economic and political competition (backed by the threat of force). A Russia where the revolution had been defeated (albeit carved up) would also have faced these pressures. A Russia where the revolution was surviving, in however a distorted form, faced them too, but they were overlaid also by mutual fears that arose from its claim to be different and the threat of the call to wider revolution. Because of John’s attenuated sense of capitalism as a global system, he too easily cuts the global out of the local in his analysis of the 1920s and NEP when he insists that the peasantry was the key structural constraint faced by the regime in the 1920s.

For me, it is this global system that is a second ‘great structural’ element that John thus misses. Any revolutionary state would face the same global system problem. I would like to think that, if we had a revolution in the UK, it would spread quickly. But, if it did not, despite the higher level of development, there would still be pressures to degeneration within (though not from the peasantry but rather bureaucratisation) and these would have to relate to/find support in the external economic and military pressures generated within the global economy. [44] As Stalin put it, emphasising the double element,

Speaking abstractly, and independently of the environment abroad and at home we could of course do the job at a slower rate. But the point is that, first, it is wrong to reason independently of the environment at home and abroad, and secondly, if one thinks in terms of the environment in which we are faced, then it has be recognised that this environment compels us to adopt a rapid rate of growth for our industry. [45]

At this point, again, our disagreements are both theoretical and empirical. Let me start narrowly (and briefly) again with the issue of the peasants and the grain crisis that developed at the end of the 1920s. There is a huge literature on the peasantry in the 1920s, output and productivity and whether the grain crisis was real, imagined or a self-inflicted policy wound (wrong prices). John does recognise some of this (see p. 63, 69) but he is so anxious to root the crisis in the structure of the peasantry and its ‘agricultural involution’ that he does not take the argument that he is criticising about incentives and pricing seriously, insisting that the shifting nature of agricultural production shows not some degree of specialisation but a more abstract safety first strategy.[46] In this sense, instead of starting from an analysis of the data on the peasantry, harvest, wider production etc., he reads the crisis through the political debates and uses his data to support his narrative. Crucially, too, he again focuses on grain production and not agricultural production as a whole and its changing patterns of specialisation and production.[47] His data about agricultural productivity is questionable for this period as well.[48] Table 7 sets out the basic data from which the quite different patterns of recovery in NEP are evident.

Table 7 Was there a generalised crisis of agricultural underproduction in 1928? Production Indices 1913=100

Table 7b

 In the 1920s, Russia at the level of international politics still had reach, weak though it was. This brought it into potential conflict with several states. Some were characterised at the time as being part of the ‘big entente’ - the great powers. Most notable here was Britain. Tensions with France also erupted and Germany, while looking to the east to escape its limitations in the west, was hardly a solid friend. But Russia also now faced hostile smaller neighbours (‘the little entente’), like Poland, which had ambitions on expansion. Ideological claims and the threat of the Communist International amplified tensions. No less was it in a difficult position in terms of the international economy - forced to make concessions often for breadcrumbs in terms of trade and weak in terms of its semi-pariah status in the international financial system. All of this and more would then be intensified when economic crisis in the global economy broke out in the autumn of 1929. But the pressures were also military in as much as any conflict or threat of conflict would expose the backwardness of the Russian army and navy.But this issue, for me, takes second place to his failure to situate the internal events in their bigger international context. Despite the revelations of some thirty years of archival work, Michael Reiman’s Birth of Stalinism still remains for me something of a model about how to analyse the crisis that led to Stalin’s rise in 1927-1929. Reiman does not aspire to a deep theoretical characterisation of what was at stake here. It is, rather, his focus on process that is central and so admirable. This process involved the interaction of internal and external pressures, with the internal often driven as much by the external. Indeed, he begins his analysis in 1927 arguing that ‘the immediate cause of the deep and prolonged crisis that arose in the USSR in 1927 was a crisis in foreign relations’. [49]

A sense of the scale of these issues began to emerge in the mid-1920s, but it was the war scare of 1927 that brought them home and made them a central part of the debate and led to the internal problems of the countryside being seen in a different light. This is why, I believe, Reiman was correct to start with the foreign context in 1927. Some earlier accounts have suggested that Stalin and those around him manipulated foreign fears for their own purposes. We can allow an element of this but to borrow a phrase, just because youre paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you’. But we now have a lot of work that has developed these arguments in more detail too. Simonov in his account, for example, argues that ‘there is every reason to maintain that, in fact, from 1928 the party and government led the country into a “period of preparation for war”’. [50] The result was that Stalin, and those who came to support him, began to think more and more in national terms. Russia needed to be militarily strong. To be militarily strong, it needed to industrialise, and to industrialise it needed to find the means within - and that meant pressure on both the peasants and the workers.

Simonov even suggests it had a direct impact on thinking about collectivisation, quoting from a document of the Defence Sector of Gosplan in April 1929,

In the plan for the development of agriculture the major factor of importance for defence is significant growth in the socialist sector. There can be no doubt that in war conditions, when it is especially important to retain the capacity for control, the socialised sector will be of paramount importance. No less important is the existence of large production units, which are more easily subject to planned influence than many millions of small scattered farms. The proportion of marketed production of grain supplied by the socialised sector at the end of the five-year plan will amount to 39%, which is equivalent to the full annul requirements of the Red Army in time of war. [51]

There is now a plethora of archival material quoted in a number of accounts to support the argument about the role of military defence and the wider international nexus. [52] Having criticised John for offering a one-dimensional account, I do not want to be understood to be offering the same based on a different dimension. This is why I emphasise the nature of process and its interactions, but this at least I think points to the empirical as well as the theoretical problems of ‘internal’ accounts.

The intention in 1928/29 was clearly to squeeze both the peasantry and the working class, but the former more. In the event, in terms of collectivisation, by the end of the plan, the ‘socialised sector’ was producing a greater proportion of marketed grain than anticipated at the start of the plan. But the irony is, of course, that we have known for many years that the chaotic forced character of collectivisation was such that the transfer of resources for the peasants was much less than was often imagined and it was more the increased exploitation of the workers that increased the surplus for investment. John certainly recognises that ability of workers in the towns, factories and offices (and countryside) to defend their conditions had also to be smashed. But he devotes much less discussion to this compared to the peasantry and no attention to the actual pattern. Yet both were surely internal constraints prior to collectivisation and, as a consequence of it, the need to overcome worker resistance came to be as important for the ratcheting up of accumulation and the industrialisation drive.

Could this have been stopped or at least delayed? I strongly agree that, in 1927/28, the best hope of stopping a Stalin-type figure in the short run was through the different oppositions coming together, and Trotsky was probably more of an obstacle to this than Bukharin. But there are two problems with this. The first again relates process. Both Bukharin and Trotsky looked askance at one another. As historians, we do not have to sympathise with either but we do have to emphasise with the fact that they were both operating in a fog and could not anticipate what was to come. Both sides had serious reasons to distrust the other as everyone was groping around trying to make sense of events. But, behind this is a bigger issue. As I argued in the book I wrote on Bukharin many years ago, Bukharin was also blinded by his inability to complete his analysis. The same applied to Trotsky. Were we able to go back in a time machine, it is highly unlikely that we would be able to convince either of them of this, but we certainly would not be able to do so if our own analysis remains confused. And this brings us back to what I see as the strengths of my own argument and the weaknesses of political Marxism. The theoretical strength of Trotsky’s analysis was his sense of capitalism as a global system and the role of uneven and combined development within it. The theoretical strength of Bukharin’s was his sense of a theory of state capitalism. The two arguments seem to me to naturally go together. But they are exactly the bits of both writers that John seems to have most difficulty with. His argument seems to me to be the poorer for it. But, in this, he reflects the ways in which political Marxism also founders in its failure to deal with the global nature of capitalism, the interstate system, combined and uneven development, and militarism and war.

Where this leaves us is that I think that we disagree about both specific Russian issues and bigger capitalism issues. But this necessarily means that only around 50% is directly on Russia - the other 50% is trying to situate ‘the Russia question’ in the bigger issue of the historical development of capitalism. For what it is worth, my very rough and incomplete manuscript of my forthcoming book is prefaced by something Tocqueville once said (well he didn’t quite - I have changed the country): ‘Whoever studies and looks only at Russia will never understand anything, I venture to say, of the Russian Revolution’.

I do not consider myself ‘a theorist’ in the grand Marxist sense - but I can, I hope, build a historical framework that helps us to better understand how Russia fits and that has to be one which rejects Brenner and those who follow him.

For what it is worth, we both, John and I, suffer from being on the margins of the debate about Russia/ USSR. But this means that we do have to look outward and with even more urgency to take our arguments forward. Responding to John has been helpful in clarifying some things in my own mind and this is certainly what I hope to do in my current research trying to relate the history of Russia to the wider history of capitalism.

John Marot's reply is here


 [1] John Eric Marot, The October Revolution in Prospect and Retrospect. Interventions in Russian and Soviet History, Brill: Leiden, 2011. Mike Haynes, ‘The October Revolution in Prospect and Retrospect: Interventions in Russian and Soviet History.’ Revolutionary Russia, (2014): 165-167. This is accessible (along with much of my own work over the years) on my Research Gate page

 [2] See my review of Ciliga…

 [3] Michael Haynes, Nikolai Bukharin and the Transition from Capitalism to Socialism, London and Sydney: Croom Helm, 1985.

 [4] As I was finishing this, Charlie Post published an additional essay ‘Actually Existing ‘Socialism’—A Critique of Stalinism’, February 16, 2018, which seems to me to exhibit the same type of theoretical and empirical problems I identify in John’s work but I cannot pursue these issues here.

 [5] Marot, op cit., p. 33.

 [6] L. Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution and Results and Prospects, New York 1969, p. 146.

 [7] On page 47 John tries to swat aside the issue of forms of military and geo-political competition within capitalism by saying that those who stress their role in state-capitalist competition inflate ‘the notion of competition beyond measure to include military/ political competition between states in the geopolitical arena, a passe-partout notion if ever there was one because such competition can be tracked to the time of the Pharaohs and beyond, long before there was any state-capitalism and any accumulation of capital’. This casual comment is hardly the knock-out blow he imagines. Rather, the implication that there is a transcendent pattern of geo-political competition going back to the Pharaohs smacks of those international relations books which imply there has always been an international system with the same basic forms. In this way, he unconsciously reveals one of the huge holes in the centre of political Marxism and implies that there is nothing specific about forms of geopolitical and military competition and - logically - war under capitalism.

 [8] There are a number of important contributions for and against political Marxism in the International Socialist Review that can be found via Neil Davidson’s critique ‘Is There Anything to Defend in Political Marxism?’, International Socialist Review, no. 91, 2013-14, I also like the way that Hae-Yung Song, ‘Reorienting the Critique of the Capitalist World System beyond the Dichotomy between Trade vs. Production Relations’, Journal of World-Systems Research 21.1 (2015) tries to develop a critique of both Brenner and world system theory. I am not a world systems theorist, but, if pushed, I would have to say that I find their errors far more productive than the errors of political Marxism. No less I have been impressed by Henry Heller’s. The Birth of Capitalism: A Twenty-First-Century Perspective, London: Pluto Press, 2011.

 [9] John throws in a number of examples of poor technological progress in tsarist Russia without seriously interrogating any of them. So, for example, in a footnote on p. 23 he says, quoting Gatrell and Davies, that the coal industry was ‘technically backward, relying on the ‘physical strength and abundance of manual labour’. In the USA the % of mechanically cut coal rose from 25% 1900 to around 50% in 1913. In the UK in the same period it rose from some 2% to only 8.5% in 1913 - so UK mining also needed ‘physical strength and abundance of manual labour’. (The danger of thinking that you can read/ deduce relations of production from productivity and technical combinations is further illustrated by the fact that by 1930 only 31.2% of UK coal was mechanically cut - one third of the Ruhr rate and less even than Polish Silesia) Peter Scott, ‘Path dependence, fragmented property rights and the slow diffusion of high throughput technologies in inter-war British coal mining.’ Business History 48.1 (2006): 20-42. It is also a commonplace that technology is rarely adopted ‘whole’. Gerschenkron gave the example of the combination in Tsarist Russia where advanced blast furnaces (often larger than in Germany) depended still on a lot of human sweat to load them.

[10] See…

[11] Marot, op cit., p. 21

[12] G. Alexinsky, Modern Russia, London, 1913, p. 99. Lest it be thought that the reference to eggs is not serious, we should note that in 1913 Russia exported some 4 billion eggs and poultry farming was developing as a significant industry with an export orientation including in key agricultural areas. For the Russian data see A. Raffalovich, Russia: Its Trade and Commerce, London 1918, pp. 44-50. There is a major survey of UK food imports on the eve of the war, ‘Our Food Imports’, The Times, 8 June, 1914; p. 23; on Russian eggs to the UK market more specifically see in the same issue ‘Our egg requirements’ p.20. With so many goods going first to third countries tracking Russian exports to any of its partners is not easy. The UK statistics for 1912 show that direct egg imports from Russia were worth £3.95 million compared to £3.94 million for wheat. That is more than 20% of recorded direct food imports from Russia.

[13] The literature on the grain trade is large. One of the more recent accounts stressing integration is B. Goodwin & and T. Grennes. ‘Tsarist Russia and the world wheat market.’ Explorations in Economic History vol. 35 no.4, 1998, pp. 405-430.

[14] Thomas C. Owen, ‘Measuring business cycles in the Russian Empire’, The Economic History Review, vol. 66 no. 3, 2013. pp. 895-916.

[15] Marot, op cit., p.13.

[16] Quoted J. Metzer, ‘Railroad development and market integration: the case of Tsarist Russia’, Journal of Economic History, vol. xxxv no. 3, September 1974, p.549. If John is tempted to say at this point ‘another neo-Smithian focus on trade’ I would say that this quotation alludes to (a) something more than trade and (b) even at the level of trade something that is quite different from the nature of trade in genuine precapitalist societies.

[17] J. Bushnell, ‘Peasant economy and peasant revolution at the turn of the century: neither immiseration nor autonomy’. The Russian Review, vol. 46, 1996, p. 79.

[18] Paul Gregory’s estimates of agricultural labour productivity in Tsarist Russia show that it did rise and that the rise, relative to the rise in industrial labour productivity, was similar to that found elsewhere on Europe. Paul R. Gregory, Russian National Income, 1885-1913. Cambridge University Press, 1982, pp. 167-170. Davies and Wheatcroft argue that Gregory’s data is optimistic - especially for the black earth areas but if so this only further illustrates the need not to treat Russia as if it was one homogenous place but to describe and explain the differentiation. More recent data tend also to present a more positive view of agricultural labour productivity. Carol S. Leonard, ‘Agricultural productivity growth in Russia, 1861-1912: from inertia to ferment.’ Rural History in Europe 6 (2011) offers labour productivity data in agriculture that are even more problematic for John’s analysis.

[19] Marot, op cit., pp. 22-3

[20] W. Rostow et al, The Economics of Take-Off into Sustained Growth, London: Macmillan, 1963, p. 423.

[21] Strangely, there is no index reference to Robert Brenner but the key passages occur in Marot, op cit., p. 60-61, 65, 72.

[22] See Tom Brass, Peasants, populism, and postmodernism: the return of the agrarian myth. London, Cass, 2000, and more recently ‘Peasants, academics, populists: Forward to the past?’, Critique of anthropology 35.2 (2015): 187-204.

[23] Henry Bernstein & Terence J. Byres. ‘From peasant studies to agrarian change’, Journal of Agrarian Change 1.1 (2001): 1-56; Henry Bernstein. ‘V.I. Lenin and A.V. Chayanov: looking back, looking forward.’ The Journal of Peasant Studies 36.1 (2009): 55-81; ‘Interview: Agriculture, class and capitalism’, International Socialism, 2013, no. 138. I would summarise the larger thrust of these arguments as saying that there is no peasantry singular but only peasantries with ‘substantive diversity’. These peasantries are subordinate to the mode of production - there cannot be a peasant mode of production. Within capitalism peasantries are marked by intrinsic class differences and they are characterised by different relations to wage labour. It follows that there are different debates about ‘the peasantry’ and pre-capitalist modes; ‘the peasantry’ and the transition to capitalism; ‘the peasantry’ in capitalism, colonialism and peasant capitalism; ‘the peasantry’ and any transition to socialism. There will also be debates on national formations and specific types of agrarian forms.

[24] Brass has discussed one of Chayanov’s novels in terms of his critique of peasant populism but several others exist. ‘Popular culture, populist fiction(s): The Agrarian Utopias of A.V. Chayanov, Ignatius Donnelly and Frank Capra’ The Journal of Peasant Studies 24.1-2 (1996): 153-190. This is substantially reprinted in his 2000 book.

[25] A key attempt to make sense of the wider argument is Terence J Byres, Capitalism from above and Below, London Macmillan, 1999 and more recently Terence J. Byres, ‘In pursuit of capitalist agrarian transition.’ Journal of Agrarian Change 16.3 (2016): 432-451. Henry Heller draws on Byres in his account of the transition which we have noted earlier.

[26] Not the least of the problems with Lenin’s initial analysis is that, because his focus was the Narodniks, he offered a ‘national analysis’ in which the integration of Russia into the globalising economy did not play as significant role as it had.

[27] P. Gregory, Russian National Income 1885-1913, Cambridge: CUP, 1982.

[28] P. Klebnikov, Agricultural Development in Russia, 1906-17: Land Reform, Social Agronomy and Cooperation, London: LSE, PhD Thesis, 1991, p. 111.

[29] Attempts to estimate indices of total agricultural output usually weight the output of grain at no more than 50% of total agricultural output.

[30] J. Metzer, ‘Railroad development and market integration: the case of Tsarist Russia’, Journal of Economic History, vol. xxxiv no. 3, Sept,. 1974, p. 534. The 50 provinces of European Russia accounted for 90% of imperial rye production, 82% of barley and 78% of wheat. Gregory, Russian National Income, op cit., p. 75.

[31] Constructed from J. Metzer, ‘Railroad development and market integration: the case of Tsarist Russia’, Journal of Economic History, vol. xxxiv no. 3, Sept,. 1974, pp. 544-5.

[32] Gregory’s and author’s calculation from his data, Gregory, op cit., pp.16-17, 56-57, 83-85, 222-231. Gregory explores the problems of these calculations at some length and readers can be referred to his discussion. But we should note that he is unable to calculate local off farm sales within the village and outside it to local markets by road. Overall it may be, as he suggests, that this is not significant but in any more localised analysis these sales might be relatively more important.

[33] M. Bogolepoff, ‘Public Finance’ in A. Raffalovich, Russia: Its Trade and Commerce, London 1918, p. 333. There is a more detailed breakdown of revenue (and expenditure) sources in the statistical compendium Rossiya 1913, St. Petersburg, Blits, 1995, pp. 152-158.

[34] S.Plaggenborg, ‘Who paid for the industrialisation of Tsarist Russia’, Revolutionary Russia, vol. 2 no. 3, 1990, p. 191, 203.

[35] The literature on this is now extensive. For the particular burden on the peasants a good place to start is Stefan Plaggenborg, ibid. ; Stefan Plaggenborg, ‘Tax policy and the question of peasant poverty in Tsarist Russia, 1881-1905’, Cahiers du Monde Russe, vol. 36 no.1-2, pp. 53-69. The bigger issues and debates about the financing of the Tsarist State are discussed in Yanni Kotsonis, States of obligation: Taxes and citizenship in the Russian empire and early Soviet Republic. Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2014.

[36] I have reworked this table and corrected a transcription error from Peter Gatrell, ‘The Russian fiscal state, 1600–1914’, in Bartolomé Yun‑Casalilla, Patrick K. O’Brien, eds., The Rise of Fiscal States : A Global History, 1500–1914, Cambridge University Press, 2012, p. 191‑214.

[37] There is an evocative description of the impact of a lesser degree of requisitioning on the peasantry in the collapsing Austro-Hungarian Empire 1916-1920 in C.A. Macartney, The Social Revolution in Austria, London, 1926, pp. 188-190.

[38] I have taken this data from M. Dobb, Russian Economic Development Since the Revolution, London, 1928, p. 21.

[39] As a slightly cynical aside, one of the reasons that peasants grabbed paper propaganda from the agitprop trains was that paper had disappeared from the villages and they could use it to roll the little tobacco that they had to make cigarettes.

[40] I. Babel, 1920 Diary, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002, p. 32. Babel later worked parts of this diary up into his famous Red Cavalry stories.

[41] Quoted Dobb, op cit., p. 97.

[42] Babel, op cit., p. 14.

[43] These comments were made by Lenin at the 10th Congress in March 1921.

[44] I have discussed this in my book on Bukharin, in my Russia, Class and Power 1917-1920, London: Bookmarks, 2002 and in a long review article Michael Haynes, ‘Soviet history, Red Globalization and the political economy of global capitalism.’ Journal of Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe 25.1 (2017): 135-148. Gareth Dale has an excellent discussion of related issues in his ‘After 1917: the ‘modernising counter-revolution’, RS21, no. 11, Autumn 2017, pp. 25-36.

[45] Quoted J. Haslam, The Vices of Integrity. E.H. Carr 1892-1982, London: Verso, 1999, p. 235.

[46] ‘... chronic food-shortages in the cities were the aggregate result of agricultural involution built into peasant free-holding’ Marot, op cit. p. 15.

[47] The most recent reconstruction of economic data for the period 1913-1928 is by Harrison and Markevich. It creates new series for agricultural output and shows the very different growth rates in the 1920s depending on the crop chosen or arable versus livestock. M. Harrison and Andrei Markevich, Great War, Civil War and Recovery. Russia’s National Income, 1913-1928, University of Warwick Working Papers, 2010, no 28 especially pp. 41, 46. This working paper has the detailed calculations missing from their published article in the Journal of Economic History.…

[48] On p. 68, John offers a table of production of grain per person which he says shows the ‘peasants could not regularly raise labour productivity’. But this table focuses on seven years, ignores harvest fluctuations, uses only grain as the numerator and makes the divisor the total population and not the labour input.

[49] M. Reiman, The Birth of Stalinism. The USSR on the Eve of the ‘Second Revolution, London: I.B. Tauris, 1987, p. 11

[50] N. Simonov, ‘‘Strengthen the Defence of the Land of the Soviets’: the 1927 ‘War Alarm’ and its consequences’, Europe-Asia Studies, vol. 48 no. 9, 1996, p. 1359.

[51] Simonov, op cit., p. 1363.

[52] See also N.S. Simonov, ‘The “war scare” of 1927 and the birth of the defence-industry complex’, The Soviet Defence-Industry Complex from Stalin to Khrushchev. Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2000. 33-46; Olga Velikanova, Popular Perceptions of Soviet Politics in the 1920s: Disenchantment of the Dreamers. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013 has an extensive discussion. Hugh D. Hudson, ‘The 1927 Soviet War Scare: The Foreign Affairs-Domestic Policy Nexus Revisited.’ The Soviet and Post-Soviet Review 39.2 (2012): 145-165 develops the link between the political suspicion of the peasantry and the war threat which might give John some comfort if he wants to reformulate his argument. On the bigger issues see my ‘Soviet history, Red Globalization and the political economy of global capitalism.’ op cit.