Vladimir Ilyich Lenin


Chapter III. The Landowners’ Transition from CorvĂ©e to Capitalist Economy

VIII. The Significance of Machinery in Agriculture

Having established the fact of the extremely rapid development of the production of agricultural machinery and of the employment of machines in Russia’s post-Reform agriculture, we must now examine the social and economic significance of this phenomenon. From what has been said above regarding the economics of peasant and landlord farming, the following conclusions may be drawn: on the one hand, capitalism is the factor giving rise to, and extending the use of, machines in agriculture; on the other, the application of machinery to agriculture is of a capitalist character, i.e., it leads to the establishment of capitalist relations and their further development.

Let us dwell on the first of these conclusions. We have seen that the labour-service system of economy and the patriarchal peasant economy inseparably connected with it are by their very nature based on routine technique, on the preservation of antiquated methods of production. There is nothing in the internal structure of that economic regime to stimulate the transformation of technique; on the contrary, the secluded and isolated character of that system of economy, and the poverty and downtrodden condition of the dependent peasant preclude the possibility of improvements. In particular, we would point to the fact that the payment of labour under the labour-service system is much lower (as we have seen) than where hired labour is employed; and it is well known that low wages are one of the most important obstacles to the introduction of machines. And the facts do indeed show us that an extensive movement for the transformation of agricultural technique only commenced in the post-Reform period of the development of commodity economy and capitalism. The competition that is the product of capitalism, and the dependence of the cultivator on the world market made the transformation of technique a necessity, while the drop in grain prices made this necessity particularly urgent.[1]

To explain the second conclusion, we must examine landlord and peasant farming separately. When a landlord introduces a machine or an improved implement, he replaces the implements of the peasant (who has worked for him) with his own; he goes over, consequently, from labour-service to the capitalist system of farming. The spread of agricultural machines means the elimination of labour-service by capitalism. It is possible, of course, that a condition laid down, for example, for the leasing of land is the performance of labour-service in the shape of day-work at a reaping machine, thresher, etc., but this will be labour-service of the second type, labour-service which converts the peasant into a day labourer. Such “exceptions,” consequently, merely go to prove the general rule that the introduction of improved implements on the farms of private landowners means converting the bonded (“independent” according to Narodnik terminology) peasant into a wage-worker – in exactly the same way as the acquisition of his own instruments of production by the buyer-up, who gives out work to be done in the home, means converting the bonded “handicraftsman” into a wage-worker. The acquisition by the landlord farm of its own implements leads inevitably to the undermining of the middle peasantry, who get means of subsistence by engaging in labour-service: We have already seen that labour-service is the specific “industry” of the middle peasant, whose implements, consequently, are a component part not only of peasant, but also of landlord, farming.[2] Hence, the spread of agricultural machinery and improved implements and the expropriation of the peasantry are inseparably connected. That the spread of improved implements among the peasantry is of the same significance hardly requires explanation after what has been said in the preceding chapter. The systematic employment of machinery in agriculture ousts the patriarchal “middle” peasant as inexorably as the steam-power loom ousts the handicraft weaver.

The results of the employment of machinery in agriculture confirm what has been said, and reveal all the typical features of capitalist progress with all its inherent contradictions. Machines enormously increase the productivity of labour in agriculture, which, before the present epoch, was almost entirely untouched by social development. That is why the mere fact of the growing employment of machines in Russian agriculture is sufficient to enable one to see how utterly unsound is Mr. N.–on’s assertion that there is “absolute stagnation” (Sketches, p. 32) in grain production in Russia, and that there is even a “decline in the productivity” of agricultural labour. We shall return to this assertion, which contradicts generally established facts and which Mr. N.–on needed for his idealisation of the pre-capitalist order.

Further, machines lead to the concentration of production and to the practice of capitalist co-operation in agriculture. The introduction of machinery, on the one hand, calls for capital on a big scale, and consequently is only within the capacity of the big farmers; on the other hand, machines pay only when there is a huge amount of products to be dealt with; the expansion of production becomes a necessity with the introduction of machines. The wide use of reaping machines, steam-threshers, etc., is therefore indicative of the concentration of agricultural production – and we shall indeed see later that the Russian agricultural region where the employment of machines is particularly widespread (Novorossia) is also distinguished by the quite considerable size of its farms. Let us merely observe that it would be a mistake to conceive the concentration of agriculture in just the one form of extensive enlargement of the crop area (as Mr. N.–on does); as a matter of fact, the concentration of agricultural production manifests itself in the most diverse forms, depending on the forms of commercial agriculture (see next chapter on this point). The concentration of production is inseparably connected with the extensive co-operation of workers on the farm. Above we saw an example of a large estate on which the grain was harvested by setting hundreds of reaping machines into operation simultaneously. “Threshers drawn by 4 to 8 horses require from 14 to 23 and even more workers, half of whom are women and boys, i.e., semi-workers. . . . The 8 to 10 h. p. steam-threshers to be found on all large farms” (of Kherson Gubernia), “require simultaneously from 50 to 70 workers, of whom more than half are semi-workers, boys and girls of 12 to 17 years of age” (Tezyakov, loc. cit., 93). “Large farms, on each of which from 500 to 1,000 workers are gathered together simultaneously, may safely be likened to industrial establishments,” the same author justly observes (p. 151).[3] Thus, while our Narodniks were arguing that the “village community” “could easily” introduce co-operation in agriculture, life went on in its own way, and capitalism, splitting up the village community into economic groups with opposite interests, created large farms based on the extensive co-operation of wage-workers.

From the foregoing it is clear that machines create a home market for capitalism: first, a market for means of production (for the products of the machine-building industry, mining industry, etc., etc.), and second, a market for labour-power. The introduction of machines, as we have seen, leads to the replacement of labour-service by hired labour and to the creation of peasant farms employing labourers. The mass-scale employment of agricultural machinery presupposes the existence of a mass of agricultural wage-workers. In the localities where agricultural capitalism is most highly developed, this process of the introduction of wage-labour along with the introduction of machines is intersected by another process, namely, the ousting of wage-workers by the machine. On the one hand, the formation of a peasant bourgeoisie and the transition of the landowners from labour-service to capitalism create a demand for wage-workers; on the other hand, in places where farming has long been based on wage-labour, machines oust wage-workers. No precise and extensive statistics are available to show what is the general effect of both these processes for the whole of Russia, i.e., whether the number of agricultural wage-workers is increasing or decreasing. There can be no doubt that hitherto the number has been increasing (see >next section). We imagine that now too it is continuing to increase[4]: firstly, data on the ousting of wage-workers in agriculture by machines are available only for Novorossia, while in other areas of capitalist agriculture (the Baltic and western region, the outer regions in the East, some of the industrial gubernias) this process has not yet been noted on a large scale. There still remains an enormous area where labour-service predominates, and in that area the introduction of machinery is giving rise to a demand for wage-workers. Secondly, the growth of intensive farming (introduction of root crops, for example) enormously increases the demand for wage-labour (see Chapter IV) . A decline in the absolute number of agricultural (as against industrial) wage-workers must, of course, take place at a certain stage in the development of capitalism, namely, when agriculture through out the country is fully organised on capitalist lines and when the employment of machinery for the most diverse agricultural operations is general.

As regards Novorossia, local investigators note here the usual consequences of highly developed capitalism. Machines are ousting wage-workers and creating a capitalist reserve army in agriculture. “The days of fabulous prices for hands have passed in Kherson Gubernia too. Thanks to . . . the increased spread of agricultural implements . . .” (and other causes) “the prices of hands are steadily falling ” (author’s italics). . . . “The distribution of agricultural implements, which makes the large farms independent of workers[5] and at the same time reduces the demand for hands, places the workers in a difficult position” (Tezyakov, loc. cit., 66-71). The same thing is noted by another Zemstvo Medical Officer, Mr. Kudryavtsev, in his work Migrant Agricultural Workers at the Nikolayev Fair in the Township of Kakhovka, Taurida Gubernia, and Their Sanitary Supervision in 1895 (Kherson, 1896). “The prices of hands . . . continue to fall, and a considerable number of migrant workers find themselves without employment and are unable to earn anything; i.e., there is created what in the language of economic science is called a reserve army of labour – artificial surplus-population” (61). The drop in the prices of labour caused by this reserve army is sometimes so great that “many farmers possessing machines preferred” (in 1895) “to harvest with hand labour rather than with machines” (ibid., 66, from Sbornik Khersonskogo Zemstva [Kherson Zemstvo Symposium ], August 1895)! More strikingly and convincingly than any argument this fact reveals how profound are the contradictions inherent in the capitalist employment of machinery!

Another consequence of the use of machinery is the growing employment of female and child labour. The existing system of capitalist agriculture has, generally speaking, given rise to a certain hierarchy of workers, very much reminiscent of the hierarchy among factory workers. For example, on the estates in South Russia there are the following categories: a) full workers, adult males capable of doing all jobs b) semi-workers, women and males up to the age of 20; semi-workers are divided again into two categories: aa) 12, 13 to 15, 16 years of age – these are semi-workers in the stricter sense of the term – and bb) semi-workers of great strength ; “in the language used on the estates, ‘three-quarter’ workers,”[6] from 16 to 20 years of age, capable of doing all the jobs done by the full worker, except mowing. Lastly, c) semi-workers rendering little help, children not under 8 and not over 14 years of age; these act as swine-herds, calf-herds, weeders and plough-boys. Often they work merely for their food and clothing. The introduction of agricultural implements “lowers the price of the full worker’s labour” and renders possible its replacement by the cheaper labour of women and juveniles. Statistics on migrant labour confirm the fact of the displacement of male by female labour: in 1890, of the total number of workers registered in the township of Kakhovka and in the city of Kherson, 12.7% were women; in 1894, for the whole gubernia women constituted 18.2% (10,239 out of 56,464); in 1895, 25.6% (13,474 out of 48,753). Children in 1893 constituted 0.7% (from 10 to 14 years of age), and in 1895, 1.69% (from 7 to 14 years of age). Among local workers on estates in Elisavetgrad Uyezd, Kherson Gubernia, children constituted 10.6% (ibid.).

Machines increase the intensity of the workers’ labour. For example, the most widespread type of reaping machine (with hand delivery) has acquired the characteristic name of “lobogreyka” or “chubogreyka,”[7] since working with it calls for extraordinary exertion on the part of the worker: he takes the place of the delivery apparatus (cf. Productive Forces, I, 52). Similarly, intensity of labour increases with the use of the threshing machine. The capitalist mode of employing machinery creates here (as everywhere) a powerful stimulus to the lengthening of the working day. Night work, something previously unknown, makes its appearance in agriculture too. “In good harvest years . . . work on some estates and on many peasant farms is carried on even at night” (Tezyakov, loc. cit., 126), by artificial illumination – torchlight (92). Finally, the systematic employment of machines results in traumatism among agricultural workers; the employment of young women and children at machines naturally results in a particularly large toll of injuries. The Zemstvo hospitals and dispensaries in Kherson Gubernia, for example, are filled, during the agricultural season, “almost exclusively with traumatic patients” and serve as “field hospitals, as it were, for the treatment of the enormous army of agricultural workers who are constantly being disabled as a result of the ruthless destructive work of agricultural machines and implements” (ibid., 126). A special medical literature is appearing that deals with injuries caused by agricultural machines. Proposals are being made to introduce compulsory regulations governing the use of agricultural machines (ibid.). The large-scale manufacture of machinery imperatively calls for public control and regulation of production in agriculture, as in industry. Of the attempts to introduce such control we shall speak below.

Let us note, in conclusion, the extremely inconsistent attitude of the Narodniks towards the employment of machinery in agriculture. To admit the benefit and progressive nature of the employment of machinery, to defend all measures that develop and facilitate it, and at the same time to ignore the fact that machinery in Russian agriculture is employed in the capitalist manner, means to sink to the view point of the small and big agrarians. Yet what our Narodniks do is precisely to ignore the capitalist character of the employment of agricultural machinery and improved implements, without even attempting to analyse what types of peasant and landlord farms introduce machinery. Mr. V. V. angrily calls Mr. V. Chernyayev “a representative of capitalist technique” (Progressive Trends, 11). Presumably it is Mr. V. Chernyayev, or some other official in the Ministry of Agriculture, who is to blame for the fact that the employment of machinery in Russia is capitalist in character! Mr. N.–on, despite his grandiloquent promise “not to depart from the facts” (Sketches, XIV), has preferred to ignore the fact that it is capitalism that has developed the employment of machinery in our agriculture, and he has even invented the amusing theory that exchange reduces the productivity of labour in agriculture (p. 74)! To criticise this theory, which is proclaimed without any analysis of the facts, is neither possible nor necessary. Let us confine ourselves to citing a small sample of Mr. N.–on’s reasoning. “If,” says he, “the productivity of labour in this country were to double, we should have to pay for a chetvert (about six bushels) of wheat not 12 rubles, but six, that is all” (234). Not all, by far, most worthy economist. “In this country” (as indeed in any society where there is commodity economy), the improvement of technique is undertaken by individual farmers, the rest only gradually following suit. “In this country,” only the rural entrepreneurs are in a position to improve their technique. “In this country,” this progress of the rural entrepreneurs, small and big, is inseparably connected with the ruin of the peasantry and the creation of a rural proletariat. Hence, if the improved technique used on the farms of rural entrepreneurs were to become socially necessary (only on that condition would the price be reduced by half), it would mean the passing of almost the whole of agriculture into the hands of capitalists, it would mean the complete proletarisation of millions of peasants, it would mean an enormous increase in the non-agricultural population and an increase in the number of factories (for the productivity of labour in our agriculture to double, there must be an enormous development of the machine-building industry, the mining industry, steam transport, the construction of a mass of new types of farm buildings, shops, warehouses, canals, etc., etc.). Mr. N.–on here repeats the little error of reasoning that is customary with him: he skips over the consecutive steps that are necessary with the development of capitalism, he skips over the intricate complex of social-economic changes which necessarily accompany the development of capitalism, and then weeps and wails over the danger of “destruction” by capitalism.


[1] “In the past two years, under the influence of low grain prices and of the need to cheapen agricultural jobs at all costs, reaping machines have also . . . begun to be so widely employed that depots are unable to meet all requirements on time” (Tezyakov, loc cit., p. 71) The present agricultural crisis is a capitalist crisis. Like all capitalist crises, it ruins capitalist farmers and peasants in one locality, in one country, in one branch of agriculture, and at the same time gives a tremendous impulse to the development of capitalism in another locality, in another country, in other branches of agriculture. It is the failure to understand this fundamental feature of the present crisis and of its economic nature that constitutes the main error in the reasoning on this theme of Messrs. N.–on, Kablukov, etc., etc.—Lenin

[2] Mr V. V. expresses this truth (that the existence of the middle peasant is largely conditioned by the existence of the labour-service system of farming among the landlords) in the following original way: “the owner shares, so to speak, the cost of maintaining his (the peasant’s) implements.” “It appears,” says Mr. Sanin, in a just comment on this, “that it is not the labourer who works for the landowner, but the landowner who works for the labourer.” A. Sanin, Some Remarks on the Theory of People’s Production, in the appendix to the Russian translation of Hourwich’s Economics of the Russian Village, Moscow, 1896, p. 47.—Lenin

[3] Cf. also next chapter, § I , where more detailed data are given on the size of capitalist farms in this part of Russia.—Lenin

[4] It hardly needs to be explained that in a country with a mass of peasantry, an absolute increase in the number of agricultural wage-workers is quite compatible not only with a relative, but also with an absolute, decrease of the rural population.—Lenin

[5] Mr. Ponomaryov expresses himself on this score thus. “Machines, by regulating the harvesting price, in all probability discipline the workers at the same time” (article in Selskoye Khozyaistvo i Lesowdstvo [Agriculture and Forestry ], quoted in Vestnik Finansov, 1896, No. 14). It will be remembered that the “Pindar of the capitalist factory,”[8] Dr. Andrew Ure, welcomed machines as creating “order” and “discipline” among the workers. Agricultural capitalism in Russia has already managed to create not only “agricultural factories,” but also the “Pindars” of these factories.—Lenin

[6] Tezyakov, loc. cit., 72.—Lenin

[7] Literally “brow-heater” or “forelock-heater.”–Ed.—Lenin

[8] Pindar – ancient Greek lyrical poet. Of his numerous works, four volumes of poems have survived in which he extols the victors at the games. Pindar’s name has become an epithet used to designate those who “eulogise” beyond measure.

In speaking of the Pindar of the capitalist factory Lenin has in mind the term applied by Marx in Capita, Volume I, to that apologist of capitalism, Dr. Ure.

  VII. The Employment of Machinery in Agriculture | IX. Wage-Labour in Agriculture  

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