Karl Kautsky

The Labour Revolution

III. The Economic Revolution


(a) Woods and Forests

IN speaking of socialization we have hitherto only had in view the means of transport, the mines, and industry in the narrower sense of the term. We have left agriculture entirely out of account. And yet in many States it still comprises the largest section of the population, and even in the most industrial States it forms the largest of all branches of production. Thus 9,732,000 persons were engaged in agriculture in the German Empire in 1907, while only 1,905,000 persons were engaged in the next largest industry, the building industry, and 1,086,000 persons were engaged in the engineering trades, and 936,000 in the mines. In England and Wales, on the other hand, only 1,260,000 persons were engaged in agriculture in 1911, as against 2,214,000 engaged in commerce.

But agriculture in general, if not native agriculture, forms the basis of existence for the entire population, the purveyor of its means of subsistence and many of its raw materials. If agriculture fails, we starve. This has been recently shown by the Russian Empire in the most appalling fashion.

Under these circumstances, it goes without saying that if the workers are to take their fate in their own hands, that is, if they are to exercise control over their sources of life, they cannot afford to ignore agriculture, but must seek to incorporate it into their system of production for use.

The socialist parties of various countries have had agrarian programmes for a longtime past. But their chief contents have been a list of demands, which Social Democracy is obliged to put forward in the interest of the country population. They have mostly been electoral programmes. Now that we are on the threshold of political power it is necessary to proceed further. It is not enough to ask: what have we to offer the peasants as they are? We must add to this the question: what can we do to render agriculture directly serviceable to society?

Here we encounter difficulties which are not presented by the other branches of production. The need to socialize agriculture, to transfer the production of foodstuffs from the domain of profit to the domain of communal service, is an urgent one. But where peasant economy is preponderant, this need arises from the necessities of the majority, not of the country, but of the town population. Even when many wage-earners are engaged in agriculture, the desire for individual small holdings is stronger than the pressure towards the socialization of their branch of industry.

Moreover, it does not merely depend upon the need that exists. Without need, without determination, nothing can, of course, be created. But it is a great mistake to imagine that the will alone is decisive, and that one needs only to will something strongly in order to carry it out.

Determination is effective only when it is reasonable, that is, when it is bound up with a clear perception of the material conditions for the enforcement of what is determined upon.

Now we have seen that in the other branches of production the conditions for the realization of Socialism are as well developed as the need for it is urgent. In agriculture, on the contrary, the march of economic development produces neither the one nor the other in adequate measure. We are constrained to admit that in this sphere large-scale undertakings have not yet supplanted small holdings.

This is a menacing reef for Socialism.

These remarks do not apply to one branch of production which is reckoned as a part of agriculture, but which has its own laws, deviating from those of agriculture as they deviate from those of industry. This branch of production is afforestation.

Here the need for socialization as well as the conditions for its realization already exist to a large extent.

The maintenance of forests at certain points is of extreme importance for the climate and the humidity of the soil, alike for agriculture and for river navigation.

Moreover, private property in land is by no means favourable to the maintenance of forests.

Capital everywhere seeks to be turned over as quickly as possible, for the more rapid the rate of turnover, the greater the mass of profit yielded by an equal sum of capital within a specified period. Now afforestation is a very protracted process, often lasting a hundred years, and in the case of oak-trees it may extend over two hundred years. Where is the man who will invest his capital in order to pocket a profit after such a long period?

When a private person acquires a forest, he denudes it of trees. Instead of planting new trees, he will try to make a different use of the land, which would yield a more rapid, perhaps an annual, income, if the constitution and position of the soil favour this course.

The tendency of the capitalist system, therefore, is to destroy the forests, at least where forestry is under a profit-making regime. This is not everywhere the case, as forests have always been a favourite object of luxury for the wealthiest and most powerful people in the country.

In addition to the wood they yield, forests afford shelter for wild animals, and next to war, hunting has ever been the favourite pastime of the feudal lords and their successors. In feudal times, the ruling classes attached great importance to the upkeep of the forests and the breeding of wild animals.

From the peasants’ standpoint, forests teeming with animals were harmful, as the animals devastated the crops. The peasants resented the employment of good agricultural land for forestry, and the thrifty citizen also resented the waste implied in the existence of forests and wild animals in countries which were adapted to a higher state of cultivation.

This is one of the reasons why the defeat of feudalism by capitalism and democracy was disastrous to the forests. Yet this was not the case everywhere nor for long, as the growth of the capitalist system was accompanied by an increase of the mass of surplus value which goes into the pockets of the capitalists, and enables the rich to enjoy luxuries. The richest of the rich were therefore able to permit themselves the costly luxury of acquiring forests as hunting-grounds. They even went so far as to purchase cultivated lands in many countries, in order to break them up and transform them into forests. This was frequently the case in the Alpine districts. At an earlier period, the arrogant landlords in the Scottish Highlands had transformed the holdings of industrious peasants into deer forests.

Under certain circumstances, such an increase in the area of land under afforestation may be as socially harmful as its diminution at other points.

In capitalist States, forestry is usually subject to State regulations, which are often very strict, and the need for the State regulation of forestry has become apparent almost everywhere. No less than the need are the conditions for the State control of forestry exceptionally well developed.

Forestry by its nature requires large-scale operations, and often extremely intensive culture. In 1907 the area of the German Empire under afforestation amounted to 13,876,000 hectares, while the number of persons engaged in forestry and hunting only amounted to 126,000. Thus one person was employed for each hundred hectares of forest.

Large-scale operations are the rule. In 1907 the land under afforestation was divided into the following classes



Per Cent

Over 1,000 hectares



100 to 1,000 hectares



Under 100 hectares



Thus three-fourths of the undertakings were large-scale undertakings.

State afforestation has continued to show good results, in spite of the handicap of bureaucratic control. If this service were invested with a greater degree of independence, and if the workers and the consumers were granted a greater influence over its management, even better results would follow.

In 1895 the State forests in the German Empire comprised 4,741,000 hectares, or 34.5 per cent. of the entire area under afforestation. By 1907 they had increased to 4,958,000 hectares, or 35 per cent., while the other forests decreased by 47,000 hectares.

In addition to the State forests, there are the municipal forests, which comprised 2,287,000 hectares, or 16.5 per cent. of the area under afforestation, in 1907. State and municipal forests combined amounted to 51.5 per cent., or more than one-half of the forests.

Consequently the forests in private hands are already in the minority. The machinery for their nationalization is already in existence, and it would involve but little trouble to transfer them from private hands. This could be effected rapidly anti easily, as it is only a question of power. If the operation were skilfully managed, it would find support among the masses not merely of the town, but also of the country population, in which the old traditions of common property in woods, watercourses, and meadows still survive. However tightly a peasant clings to his holding, he would have no objection to offer to the nationalization of the forests of the great lords.

The victorious Labour Movement will have to undertake the socialization of forests as one of its first tasks.



(b) The Common Ownership of Land

With agriculture proper conditions are not nearly so favourable as with afforestation. Yet we must here distinguish between the ownership of land and the utilization of land. There are social conditions under which the ownership and the working of the land are closely bound up together, so that the socialization of land presents the same difficulties as that of agricultural undertakings in these cases, and both processes must be executed at the same time.

But this is by no means the case under all circumstances. Under conditions of occupancy, land ownership and farming are visibly separate things. Immense estates may be split up into tiny holdings, as was to a large extent the case in Italy and Ireland.

Farming is a vital function which cannot lightly be tampered with. On the other hand, the private landlord, divorced from farming, is the most superfluous member of society. But as this superfluous person holds a monopoly of the sources of life of society, he may also be the most dangerous member of society at the same time.

Where the landowner is not a farmer himself, but merely the landlord of the tenant who cultivates the soil or superintends its cultivation, it becomes an urgent interest of society to put an end to the dominant position of the landowner. Generally, the. tenant desires to be a landowner himself, and this desire is favoured by the Liberal outlook.

But in a highly industrialized country like England even middle class Radicalism has found another solution to the land question, which it has raised into a political demand: the nationalization of the land. Tenancy is not to be abolished, but the farmer is to become a State tenant.

This object is very appropriate to a proletarian socialist party which aims at the abolition of private property in the means of production, and cannot leave out of account the most important means of production, if there is a possibility of nationalizing it. This is the case to a large extent in those countries where the tenancy system is prevalent. As landlordism exercises no economic functions in such countries, nationalization of the land could be carried out at one stroke. The method of gradual progress is as much out of place in this case as in that of the abolition of feudal rights. In fact, the abolition of this type of land ownership may be regarded as an echo of the Middle Class Revolution, the methods of which are appropriate for this purpose.

Accordingly, it would not signify any disturbances to the social processes of production if such landed property were expropriated without any compensation. In individual cases, considerations of cheapness or political wisdom might plead against this course. With this we need not here concern ourselves. In any case, no economic necessity exists for compensation. Landlords of this type exercise no economic functions whatever, through the suspension of which the process of production could be endangered.

But these observations unfortunately apply only to countries where the tenant system is prevalent. This is one of the circumstances that will facilitate Labour’s economic revolution in England.

Next to coal, iron, and railways, perhaps even before them, a Labour regime in England would be able to nationalize, by way of expropriation, by far the greater part of the land, agricultural and urban, by this means gaining control of the most vital elements of the economic life. It would be able to transfer the land to the State without paying any great compensation, and thus at one stroke would tap enormous sources of revenue, which could be at once applied to urgent social services.

The position is quite different in most of the States of the European Continent as well as in the United States. Here the majority of the owners of land are also its cultivators. Moreover, they form a numerous class, which is strong economically and, under democratic institutions, strong politically. To assail their property in land would be extremely dangerous from a political point of view, and would be hardly possible economically without grave disturbances, which would be most detrimental to the feeding of the masses of the people, especially the urban population. Even the simple nationalization of the large estates would, under these circumstances, be a very daring operation, which must only be attempted if the socialization of the land could be accompanied by the socialization of its industries, and this is not a simple matter, as we shall see.

In such countries, an immediate nationalization of the whole of the land without compensation, accompanied by the transformation of all the farmers into State tenants, is out of the question.

Nevertheless we should aim at a progressive nationalization of the land, which could be commenced as soon as we possessed the necessary power and before conditions were ripe for the socialization of the farming industry.

Such a progressive policy of the nationalization of the land, without confiscation, could be applied by conferring upon the State a right of purchase whenever a piece of land or an estate were alienated. Landed property to-day is very mobile, and land sales are of frequent occurrence. Every alteration of ownership would be a means of augmenting the State ownership of land. Even if the State did not immediately proceed to set up a socialistic economy upon the acquired property, for which peasant holdings would be far too small, the mere ownership of the land would be an advantage both to the State and the community. It is true that at first the rent which the State tenants would have to pay would only suffice to cover the interest on the purchase price paid by the State. But we live in a period of rising rents, and each further increment of ground-rent would go into the coffers of the State, and not into the pockets of private landlords.

There is the further advantage: The later process of socialization will be all the easier, in the degree that the State has to deal with farmers as its tenants and not as free landowners.

In spite of these advantages for the State, the other parties to the transaction would lose nothing through the exercise of the right of purchase. To the seller of the land it is a matter of indifference whether it is a private person or the State who pays him the price he asks. But the farmer who succeeds the seller also derives an advantage from the fact that it is not he who finds the money.

The solid farmer saves the purchase money if he is merely a tenant instead of a purchaser, and may then employ it either in the better equipment and more intensive cultivation of his fields, or in the leasing of a larger farm than he would have been able to purchase. Both alternatives would lead to an increase in his income, while the former would promote the development of the productive forces of the country.

In this way we should be able to enforce a progressive nationalization of the land in countries without the tenant system.

But important as this may be, we are not merely land reformers. We could not rest content with these measures. We should have to make efforts to link up farming with our system of production for social requirements. And this will be a hard nut for us to crack.



(c) The Socialization of Large Estates

The socialistic regime would encounter its greatest difficulties when it commenced to attempt to socialize agricultural undertakings. In this sphere capitalist development has so far performed so little work of a preliminary nature that there are Socialists who doubt whether agriculture can be socialized at all, and would like to confine Socialism to industry.

Yet even they would have to admit that the continuation of the existing property relations on the countryside would be incompatible with socialistic production. Their method of putting a stop to the exploitation of wage-labour in agriculture is to break up all the big estates, and to reduce the whole of agriculture to small holdings.

If the social revolution in the towns were to be accompanied by such an economic reaction upon the countryside, the consequences would be catastrophic, as the system of small holdings would not permit the production of considerable surpluses, if of any at all.

What is here stated receives confirmation from a report which Dr. E. Rabbethge submitted to the Socialization Commission, of which he was a member, in March 1922.

In this report it was estimated that the yield of small and medium agricultural holdings just suffices to feed the peasants and the population of the small towns of Germany. The population of the large’ towns (20 millions) and the cultivators of the large agricultural estates (3 millions) depend for their food upon the produce of these estates. The large estates feed on an average five persons per e hectare, while the small and medium holdings only feed two. The difference is even greater when we consider the intensively cultivated large estates, which produce per hectare food for about nine persons.

If all the large estates were broken up, the same area would only feed about 9 millions of people, instead of 23 millions. The remaining 13 to 14 millions would be obliged to starve, and the cost of living would increase so far as the others were concerned.

These 13 to 14 millions, who would be compelled to starve or to emigrate, are precisely those who embody modern civilization in Germany. To split up agriculture into small holdings would signify a relapse into barbarism.

The recent ruin of the large estates in Russia by the depredations of the peasant rebellions, and then the ruin of the more prosperous peasants through the exactions of the committees of village poverty, have brought about the dire privations of the present hour, which were considerably accentuated, although not solely caused, by the drought and bad harvests. To these factors must be added the devastating requisition forays of the Red Army, in order to complete the picture of poverty.

Forcible requisitions on the part of soldiers or hungry workers would, in our case, lead to immediate disaster, if the system of small holdings did not yield a sufficient surplus, and, in spite of democracy, the outcome might be civil war. Under democratic institutions, capital is deprived of the means of making civil war, unless it can command the assistance of the peasants. The only menace to a socialist regime would come from that quarter. Moreover, as corn would be requisitioned of the peasants, the effect would be to discourage them to produce foodstuffs, and the situation of the workers would be worsened through such a policy of coercion. Nothing could be more disastrous than this method of solving the agrarian question.

We must not overlook an important consideration. It should be the aim of socialist economy to lighten the labour of the individual as much as possible. This is possibly more important to many workers than an increase in their material enjoyments.

Now small holdings can only be maintained through the greatest exertion of those who work them. The abundance of tasks which small holders have to perform leaves scarcely an opportunity for rest or holiday. One of the reasons for the sharp antagonisms which to-day exist between the peasants and the industrial workers is that, whilst the worker enjoys a reduction in his hours of toil, the servitude of the peasant does not diminish. In consequence, many of the old peasants cherish a grim hatred towards the idlers in the town, whilst many young persons seek to escape from the aridity of country life and its over-work by flocking into the towns. The flight from the countryside was one of the most striking social phenomena in the decade prior to the war. It will set in again as soon as we have overcome the consequences of the war and reverted in some measure to normal economic conditions.

This phenomenon constitutes a most serious threat to agricultural industry, and consequently to the sustenance of the entire population. The danger would become much greater in a socialist society, if socialization and its advantages to the workers were confined to those engaged in industry, whilst those engaged in agriculture were left in the old groove.

The existence of the socialist society would be seriously jeopardized by this position.

For various reasons, the breaking up of the large estates would be a shattering catastrophe for a socialist society. The socialization and the utmost expansion of the large estates would form an urgent necessity.

Now the socialist champions of peasant economy may answer: it is not sufficient to want a certain method of production in order to bring it into operation. The conditions for such a mode of production must first of all exist, and peasant economy is not being undermined by the economic development.

It is to be observed first of all that the direction of economic development does not favour peasant economy. The relationship between large estates and small holdings in agriculture has undergone little change for some time. Moreover, it is not merely a question of economic, but also of technical, development, and this demonstrates more and more the superiority of large estates. If large estates did not prove to be a more productive type of undertaking, then of course any attempt to maintain them within the framework of Socialism would be hopeless as well as superfluous. It is the technical inferiority of small holdings which renders peasant economy incompatible with the existence of a socialist society.

If we should be unable to proceed at once to socialize the whole of agriculture, the socialization of the large agricultural estates would still be one of the most important tasks of a socialist regime.

But even this limited problem does not admit of an immediate solution.

The development of agriculture is so different from that of other branches of production that not only do large undertakings make slow progress in this sphere, but in addition they remain inferior to industrial concerns in their structure. For example, joint-stock enterprise has made practically no headway in agriculture. A few giant farms in North America and in Argentina have been converted into joint-stock companies, but these companies were founded more for the purpose of land speculation than for that of agricultural production, which they carry on as extensively as possible. Syndication, again, has only been adopted to a slight extent in agriculture. This fact is to be ascribed to the peculiar character of the industry, and not to its managers. The same gentlemen who will not permit the independence of their own agricultural undertakings to be impaired, are ready enough for syndication in spheres which touch both agriculture and industry, such as the production of alcohol and sugar.

Thus the preceding economic development has created less favourable conditions even within the large agricultural concerns than in many branches of industry and mining. If, for example, the socialization of the entire mining industry and not of isolated pits seems to be the most rational form for this transaction, socialization upon such a scale would be out of the question for agriculture. A start will have to be made with the socialization of isolated estates, which offer particularly favourable conditions, in order that the process may be gradually extended on the basis of the experience thus acquired.

In this connection the backwardness of the land-worker will form a great obstacle. The town offers the worker so many stimulations and opportunities for education that he is able to some extent to make up for the defects of the education he received at school. In the country these stimulations and opportunities are lacking, and he easily forgets the little that he learned at the very inadequate village school. Thus his reading and his companions, as well as his union activities, are easier to supervise, and this is one of the reasons why the organization of landworkers has hitherto proved so difficult.

Of course, this need not always be the case. It is to be expected that the land-workers’ movement which arose in many States either during the war or after the revolution will develop great vitality. In any case, the land-workers will remain far behind the great majority of their comrades in industry in the matter of political knowledge and general education, and this fact will not facilitate the introduction of self-government into agriculture. An energetic trade union organization of landworkers, in conjunction with properly functioning works committees and a big improvement in village schools- these are the preliminary conditions without which no beneficial democratization of any large agricultural undertakings which may be acquired and socialized by the State or by urban municipalities can be expected.

In any case, it would seem that a well-educated class of land-workers is at least capable of conducting agriculture upon co-operative lines, whether productive co-operation, the guild, or the jointly-controlled undertaking proves to be the most suitable form. The latter form seems to be the most appropriate, as it nips in the bud all antagonisms between producers and consumers.

On the other hand, some very encouraging experiments have been made in agricultural co-operation. It is true that the Russian agricultural communism of the Bolshevists in all its forms ended in failure.

“Everything seemed to favour the experiment. And yet by the beginning of 1919 nearly 83 per cent. of the communes (founded in the summer of 1918), and towards the middle of 1919 the remainder, collapsed. (Lecture by Professor Bulowetzky contained in Appendix to Tugan Baranowsky’s Die kommunistischem Gemeinwesen der Neuzeit)

But this failure does not prove that the nature of agriculture is opposed to co-operative enterprise; it proves rather that the Bolshevists apply themselves with incredible clumsiness to everything that is not connected with the organization of force, with the Red Army, and with the omnipotence of the police.

Various agricultural co-operative undertakings have sprung up in Italy during the last generation. In 1906 there were 108 co-operative societies devoted to agriculture, of which 88 were in full swing, and 20 in course of formation. Of the 88, there were 18 real productive undertakings, which cultivated a total area of 1,873 hectares, each forming a large estate of an average size of 200 hectares.

In addition, there were 70 co-operative societies which had combined to lease land which they apportioned among single families for cultivation.

In the year 1912 a German investigator reported that the results of co-operative leasing were generally regarded as absolutely favourable, and so far no failures had been registered.

The number of such agricultural co-operative societies increased from 108 to 400 between 1906 and 1922. The area they cultivated nearly quadrupled.

Noteworthy, too, is the series of religious communistic colonies which flourished in the United States during the last century and successfully practised co-operative agriculture.

Under the influence of Robert Owen, a certain Mr. Vandaleur embarked upon a co-operative experiment at Ralahine in Ireland, which achieved impressive results. Unfortunately, Mr. Vandaleur was a gambler, and when he became bankrupt, his creditors destroyed the co-operative society.

A similar fate befell the first co-operative leasing society in Italy, which thrived for a time and then collapsed with the failure of the landowner. We quote the following account from Preyer:

“In the year 1886, the deputy Dr. Morl, a rich landowner in Stagno, Lombardy, leased a property comprising 100 hectares to a number of peasants, who formed themselves into a co-operative society. The lease was at first for a period of two years, and was then to be renewed upon the same conditions. The proprietor, however, was unwilling to renew the lease at the expiration of the first period. He was influenced by the reproaches of neighbours, who feared that the socialistic experiment would create discontent among the peasants and land-workers of the countryside. It is very regrettable that the lease was not renewed, as the experiment proved a success in every way. In the first year the society paid a small dividend to its members in excess of their usual wages, and in the second year this dividend amounted to 100 lire for each member. Besides his fixed rent, the proprietor received a bonus which was as large as that of all the co-operators put together. The economic advantages were not less obvious. Whereas previously the peasants had cultivated the land in a negligent fashion, now that their own interests were at stake, they shirked no effort to increase the produce as much as possible. The members of the co-operative society were the workers employed on the land by its former tenants.”

All this vividly recalls Ralahine. But Ralahine left no trace. On the other hand, the Italian experiment of 1886 soon found imitators who were not dependent on the whim of a rich philanthropist. These co-operative leasing undertakings were founded by the local trades councils.

To these modern examples must be added numerous instances from former times. Large agricultural estates, cultivated by large households, were formerly a very successful and widely spread type of agricultural enterprise.

All these co-operative undertakings were based on primitive conditions. It is typical that Ralahine was situated in County Clare, one of the most backward parts of Ireland, and its workers were drawn from the lowest class of the Irish people. On the other hand, it is noteworthy that the communistic colonies which successfully practised co-operative agriculture consisted of deeply religious peasant sectaries, who were free from the influence of modern thought, whereas those colonies which originated from modern socialist thought, and were founded by cultivated persons on the basis of Owenite, Fourierist, or Cabetist doctrines, came to a speedy end.

It would therefore seem that co-operative agriculture presupposes a condition of barbarism, and is impossible among modern educated men.

What is the cause of the failure of the modern communistic colonies? It was due to a large extent to the fact that these colonies were situated in remote deserts, where the colonists hoped they would be secure from the disturbing influences of capitalism. This removal from the stimulating influences of civilization is in the long run detrimental to every cultivated man. Moreover, the colonies of modern Socialists were founded, not by peasants, but by townsmen, who were unaccustomed to field labour and were bound to weary of it within a short time. As soon as the first excitement of novelty died away, and the enthusiasm evoked by the great goal of the enterprise had been damped by the daily round of monotony, the colonists began to yearn for the districts they had left. This alone would explain why the colonies of this type fell to pieces after a few years. It does not, however, explain why quarrelling and bickering so frequently disturbed their life.

This may be traced to a phenomenon which has received very little attention, to the close connection of the household with agricultural operations.

While handicraft is by its nature a production of commodities which the produces does not need himself and which he parts with to others in exchange for products which he needs, agriculture has for a long period been almost entirely production for consumption by the producers especially as regards the smaller undertakings.

Business and domestic life are, therefore, closely and organically bound together in agriculture, while these two spheres are entirely separated in industry.

The evolution of the household does not follow the same lines as the development of business. While the latter tends to become ever larger, the former tends to grow ever smaller. In former times the individual could only survive as a member of a great community but the more the monetary system developed, the more independent the individual became of the great communities into which he was born. Henceforth the family tended to be reduced to one married pair with their young children.

This tendency which is general in capitalist society, leads to a greater independence of the individual. It becomes so strong as to outweigh the economic drawbacks which attach to small establishments as compared with large establishments, even in domestic matters.

It is true that attempts are made to confer the advantages of a large establishment upon the household, at least in the towns, but this is not done through the amalgamation of several households. It is effected by depriving the small household of its economic functions one after another, and replacing them by general institutions, which lighten and simplify household labours.

In industry the progress of the large-scale undertaking has not been impeded by the diminution in the size of the household.

In agriculture, where family life and business are closely connected, this diminishing process operates in quite a different manner. It has destroyed the large families, and replaced them by numerous small households. But it has been accompanied by a strong impulse towards the partition of the large estates into small holdings, and considerable obstacles have been offered to the penetration of the large undertaking, whose technical superiority is not so obvious here as in most of the branches of industry.

Where the large undertaking has gained a footing, it has been accompanied by a large household, consisting of numerous unmarried male and female servants, even the workers employed on the large farms who have founded their own families are largely dependent for maintenance and accommodation upon the farmer.

A similar kind of dependence also existed in the communistic colonies. For modern men, however, it is quite intolerable. If we allow it to continue, it would undermine all our attempts at agricultural co-operation.

Consequently, the more a Labour regime would endeavour to impart a modern education to land-workers, the more it would be obliged to provide them with dwellings worthy of human beings, which would make their households completely independent of their business. Only when the small household is organically separated from the large farm will the latter be compatible with the existence of an independent and intelligent class of workers.

This is clearly shown by the Italian example. In contrast to most other countries, large co-operative undertakings in agriculture have flourished in Italy, in spite of the fact that the conditions for them were not very favourable. For these enterprises serve a very limited producer’s interest rather than a consumer’s interest. They were not established in order to produce cheap foodstuffs, but to relieve unemployment among the landworkers. Consequently, the employment of machines is rejected in cases where it would render labour-power superfluous. But a large enterprise without machines is scarcely superior to a small holding.

If, despite these facts, the principle of co-operation has been successful in Italian agriculture, this is due not least to the circumstance that, in contradistinction to the agriculture of other States, the household is to a large extent separated from the business in Italy. The cultivators of the soil are not scattered, but are concentrated in small country towns. This facilitates both socialist propaganda and trade union and co-operative organization among the land-workers.

Consequently, we find in Italy, not merely co-operative agriculture, but also a land-workers’ movement of exceptional strength and tenacity.

The construction of a sufficient number of healthy and pleasant dwellings out of public resources for the landworkers, dwellings which should be detached from the farms and concentrated in large settlements, accompanied by greater freedom of movement for the land-workers, a strong trade union movement among them, good country schools – these are essential conditions for the socialization of large agricultural undertakings.



(d) The Socialization of Small Holdings

Once a number of large estates is successfully socialized, it will be possible to make rapid progress with the socialization of the others. Nevertheless peasant holdings form such an important factor in the production of foodstuffs in most countries that an endeavour would have to be made to attract the peasant to socialization schemes.

Socialization is impossible for the small holding as it is. For the small holding, as well as for the large estate, a number of conditions will have to be created before it can be brought within the sphere of socialization.

That the improvement of village schools and the general raising of the level of civilization in the country are essential for the progress of the peasant to higher forms of production, needs no further demonstration.

On the other hand, the organization of the peasants into economic associations will hardly promote the cause of socialization. Hitherto such associations have mostly been organs to aid the struggle of the country producers against the urban consumers. The socialized undertaking, however, must be an organization which serves the interests of both sides.

An important preliminary condition for the socialization of the peasant holdings is the separation of the business from the household. With the small undertaking, this problem assumes a different shape from that of the large undertaking. In the latter case the form of the household requires to be changed.

In the case of the peasant, the independent household exists already. What requires to be changed is the method of conducting his business.

It would hardly be advantageous, even if it were practicable, to separate the entire peasant undertaking from the peasant household. What can be most easily detached from the household in peasant economy is field labour, and this is precisely that part of agricultural production in which large-scale operations are most advantageous and which employs most machines.

From the technical standpoint, it would not only be possible, but also extremely advantageous for the peasants of a village jointly to plough their fields and form a cooperative association for their common cultivation.

This would be no new thing. Until quite recent times we find the institution of common fields. The house and farmyard of the peasant were his private property, but the woods and meadows were undivided common property. The fields, however, formed the joint possession of the village commune. Under a developed system of peasant economy, it was not cultivated in common, but was apportioned from time to time among individual families for separate cultivation. This cultivation, however, was conducted upon a common plan. More than this was not necessary at that time, as with the simple implements then available, common cultivation would have offered no advantage.

The case is quite different in this age of steam and motor ploughing, of sowing and mowing machines. The cultivation of large adjacent areas offers considerable advantages in comparison with the cultivation of small parcels of land.

The smaller peasant often gets his land ploughed by a neighbour who has a better team or a motor.

Threshing has been carried on for a long time with foreign threshing machines, and the co-operative ownership of such machines, as well as of motor ploughs, mowing machines, etc. is no longer a rare occurrence. But the last and most important step towards the nationalization of peasant agriculture has not yet been taken. This step is the amalgamation of the separate holdings, the chief obstacle to which is the existence of private property in the land.

A beginning could only be made where private property has been abolished. It is noteworthy that the country people in Italy who have formed co-operative associations for the carrying on of agriculture are wage-workers or tenants, and not peasant proprietors.

Given a Labour regime, we might reasonably expect, in view of the mobility of landed property and the many sales of estates, that the exercise of the State’s right of purchase would bring large tracts of land under State ownership within a short time. If all, or a considerable proportion, of the peasants in a village became State tenants, the State could impose conditions of tenure which would provide for all the nationalized land to form one comprehensive undertaking, and for the State tenants to be organized in a co-operative association for the common cultivation of the State lands.

The establishment of new settlements should also proceed on the same lines. To create settlements by breaking up properly-cultivated large estates would be a retrograde step, and would jeopardize the feeding of the people. This would not, however, be the case with settlements established on waste land.

If the settlement were organized on the basis of the co-operative cultivation of common fields, it would combine the multiplication of small households with all the technical advantages of large-scale undertakings. If the settlement remained State property, each settler receiving his own dwelling-house and the cultivation of the common lands being assigned to the village commune by the State as the landlord, the latter would be assured of sufficient influence to safeguard the interests of consumers as well as of producers.

The same considerations apply to those estates which are already large-scale undertakings and which would become State property. It would not be difficult to fit them into the national economic scheme and the system of production for use, either through attachment to an urban municipality, or to the jointly-controlled organizations of mills, sugar factories, etc.

The jointly-controlled village co-operative associations would not be confined to agriculture, which would form their starting-point, once they had proved their vitality. They would be extended to cattle-rearing.

In any case, we may expect that the socialization of agriculture, based on the separation of households from the large estates and the amalgamation of the small holdings, will progress at an ever accelerated pace the larger the store of experience that is accumulated and the greater the measure of economic success that is attained, the better the condition of the workers in the socialized undertakings and the cheaper the products sold to the consumers.

The nationalization of the land, either by confiscation, where this method may be practicable, or by the gradual purchase of private land, which will be the usual method, is the preliminary condition for the inclusion of agriculture within a socialized undertaking. But only a preliminary condition. The nationalization of land, without any change in the nature of rural economy, as many land reformers advocate, would not effect much alteration.



(e) Industry and Agriculture

The socialization of agriculture will not stop with the institutions that have been described. The final aim of this movement must be the union of industry and agriculture.

Formerly both were combined in the private peasant holding, when the peasant produced nearly all the industrial products which he used. The progressive division of labour has made one peasant industry after another independent and transferred it to the towns, setting up by their side numerous new industries which have become indispensable to the peasant, even in such a backward country as Russia. The ruin of Russian industry is not least due to the ruin of Russian agriculture.

The more the farmer’s work is restricted to agriculture proper, the more it becomes seasonal work, which at various times swells enormously, and then almost completely subsides. A man who carries on a seasonal trade in a town may discharge his workers in the slack season, and re-engage them when business revives. The discharged workers find various ways of helping themselves during the slack season, although they often suffer acute privations. On the other hand, most of the country workers follow only one occupation, and in the slack periods of agriculture the day-labourers can find scarcely any employment, whereas in the busiest times it is usually difficult to obtain a sufficient number of hands.

In addition to these disadvantages attaching to the migration of industry from the country to the town, population declines in the country and congests the towns. Moreover, the country population lacks the intellectual stimulations which are provided in ample measure by the towns, and a great spiritual gulf yawns between town and country, which contributes not a little to the enmity between the two.

But the towns are centres not only of a higher intelligence, but also of luxury, debauchery, and criminality. The urban worker loses his affinity with nature and runs the danger of physical deterioration. Moreover, the congestion of population in the large towns involves a growing cost of transport for its provision of food, water, and other vital necessaries, as well as the increasing expense of the removal of waste products, whose valuable manure properties are largely lost to agriculture.

This separation of industry and agriculture, of town and country, to the extent to which it has proceeded to-day, is one of the worst effects of industrial capitalism, and until the process has been reversed, the damage it has wrought will not have been entirely repaired.

Indications are already in existence which point to the transfer of certain industries to the countryside.

The first types of industries to be exploited by capitalism, both home industries and mines, originated outside the towns. When machinery was first utilized, its earliest driving power was water, whence a factory is still called in England a mill. Industry followed water-power to certain valleys. The steam machine and railways then concentrated the great majority of industries in certain towns.

Hitherto the opposing tendencies have not been strong enough to reverse the direction of this movement. It is true that a number of factories have been transported to the country, when cheap labour was to be found there. Other industries are obliged to be near their agricultural raw materials, which for technical or economic reasons will not bear the cost of transport, for instance, sugar factories, distilleries, preserved vegetable factories, etc.

Many manufacturers have acquired land in the vicinity of their factories, in order to supply their workers with cheap foodstuffs, milk, butter, eggs, and meat.

But all these undertakings have so far been of too isolated a character to influence perceptibly the social picture as a whole; they have been undertaken without any system, and none of them has touched the real problem: the organic connection of industrial and agricultural production.

In this respect capitalism has not performed the slightest work of preparation.

It will be the task of a socialist regime to discover by experiment the most appropriate ways for combining industry with agriculture, so that industry may not only find a location on the countryside and agricultural enterprise may not only be considered as a source of supply for industrial workers. In addition, labour-power must be so trained and organized that industrial workers will be able to assist in field labour during the busiest periods of agriculture, and the land-workers must be enabled to enter industry during the slack periods, especially in winter.

A still higher form of the union of industry with agriculture will be attained where it is found possible for every worker to be engaged regularly day in and day out for a few hours in the open air, in field labour, and a few hours in the factory, thus abolishing the soul and body-destroying monotony of one-sided labour.

The health and interest of the workers would surely gain enormously if each of them were engaged four hours in industry and four hours in agriculture, making an eight-hour day. By the employment of three shifts, the total working time expended in both cases would be twelve hours daily.

These periods could of course be adapted to the fluctuating labour requirements of agriculture.

As we have said, experience in this sphere has yet to be acquired. It goes without saying that attempts in this direction should not follow a rigid plan. The same organization will not suit every industry, and each industry has its special location where it best thrives.

On the other hand, the towns will continue to exist as centres of State administration and of higher education. But with the reduction of the State bureaucracy and the increase of local government, there will be a shrinkage in the army of officials in the capital. Moreover, it will be possible to achieve a higher degree of decentralization in industry, the more it is systematically organized and rendered independent of the market fluctuations, and the better the transport facilities become.

What central institutions remain in the towns will scarcely involve a larger population than about 100,000 inhabitants.

On the other hand, the transfer of industry to the countryside will cause the villages to grow into small towns, as is already the case in Italy, which will again facilitate the separation of the business from the household in agriculture and the expansion of the large-scale undertaking.

The solution of this problem would cause an immense number of new buildings to be constructed on the countryside; it would require careful work of preparation, and take a long time. It can only be undertaken by a very wealthy State where Socialism is firmly rooted. In the period of transition from Capitalism to Socialism, with which we are chiefly concerned, it is hardly a practical question.

Nevertheless it may not be superfluous to have referred to the problem here, so that practical men and theorists may begin to pay attention to it and to accumulate experience, just as the experiments with productive co-operation during the eighteen-forties, although very premature and impracticable, provided us with many valuable hints.

We cannot develop Socialism out of theories which are merely the results of speculation. These theories must be based on experience. The greater the sum of experience at our disposal, the more securely we shall be able to move into the future.

On the whole we have discovered that the socialization of agriculture presents greater difficulties and requires more preliminary work than in industry. Nevertheless, a socialist regime would not be able to defer the solution of this problem. The sooner and the more successfully Socialism is able to prove its power in agriculture, the more easily it will be able to disarm its most dangerous opponent, the peasantry.

As a physical force factor, the capitalists are no longer to be feared in an industrial and highly-developed democratic community. There the opposition between Capital and Labour is a matter of economics and intelligence, not of physical force.

The peasant, on the other hand, represents not only a powerful economic factor, but also a physical power, which, under certain circumstances, would be very obstructive and even dangerous to a Labour regime. His economic antagonism to the workers is, however, less deeply rooted than that of the workers to capital.

Even where a Labour regime would compensate capital for all the means of production which it has to cede to the State or the municipality, the capitalists are threatened with the loss of the power they have hitherto exercised. But the small peasant, who exploits no wage-earner, has no power to lose to Socialism, but rather leisure and prosperity to gain.

He does not, however, believe in theoretical assurances. He can only be won by practical object lessons. To provide him with these is of the greatest importance for us. But this must be of a different nature from the object lessons in Socialism which the Bolshevists in 1917 promised to give to the world. They must be less grandiose, less rapid, and more thoroughly prepared, so that they cannot fail to achieve the best results.


Last updated on 27.1.2004