V. I.   Lenin

The Agrarian Question and the “Critics of Marx”



The Inquiry Into Peasant Farming In Baden

“Due to lack of space,” writes Hertz, “we cannot render the detailed and interesting judgements of the Inquiry into 37 communities in Baden. In the majority of cases they are analogous to those presented above: side by side with favourable, we find unfavourable and indifferent judgements; but nowhere in these entire three volumes of the Inquiry do the detailed budgets of expenditure give any grounds for the conclusion that ’under-consumption’ (Unterkonsumption), ’sordid and degrading poverty’, etc., are prevalent” (S. 79; Russian translation, p. 188). The words we have emphasised represent, as usual, a direct untruth. The very Baden Inquiry to which Hertz refers contains documentary evidence at testing to “under-consumption” precisely among the small peasantry. Hertz’ distortion of the facts closely resembles the method that was especially cultivated by the Russian Narodniks and is now practised by all the “Critics” on the agrarian question, viz., sweeping statements about “the peasantry”. Since the term “peasantry” is still more vague in the West than it is in Russia· (in the West this social-estate is not sharply defined), and since “average” facts and conclusions conceal the relative “prosperity” (or at all events, the absence of starvation) among the minority and the privation suffered by the majority, apologists of all sorts have an unlimited field of activity. In actual fact, the Baden Inquiry enables us to distinguish various groups of peasants, which Hertz, although an advocate of “details”, preferred not to see. Out of 37 typical communities, a selection was made of typical farms of big peasants (Gross batter), middle peasants, and small peasants, as well as of day-labourers, making a total of 70 peasants’ (31 big, 21 middle, and 18 small) and 17 day-labourers’ households; and the budgets of these households were subjected to a very detailed examination. We have not been able to analyse all the data; but the principal results cited below will suffice to enable us to draw very definite conclusions.

Let us first present the data on the general economic type of (a) large, (b). middle, and (c) small peasant farms (Anlage VI: “Uebersichtliche Darstellung der Ergebnisse   der in den Erhebungsgemeinden angestellten Ertragsberechnungen.” [Appendix VI: “Brief Review of the Results of the Assessment of Incomes in Communities Investigated.”—Ed. ] We have divided this table into groups for the Grossbauer, Mittelbauer, and Kleinbauer respectively). Size of holdings—average in each group: (a) 33.34 hectares, (b) 13.5 hectares, and (c) 6.96 hectares—which is relatively high for a country of small land-holdings like Baden. But if we exclude the ten farms in communities Nos. 20, 22, and 30, where exceptionally large holdings are the rule (up to 43 hectares among the Kleinbauer and up to 170 hectares among the Grossbauer!), we shall obtain the following figures, more normal for Baden: (a) 17.8 hectares, (b) 10.0 hectares, and (c) 4.25 hectares. Size of families: (a) 6.4 persons, (b) 5.8, and (c) 5.9. (Unless otherwise stated,. these and subsequent figures apply to all the 70 farms.) Consequently, the families of the big peasants are consider ably larger; nevertheless, they employ hired labour to a far greater extent than the others. Of the 70 peasants, 54, i.e., more than three-fourths of the total, employ hired labour, namely: 29 big peasants (out of 31), 15 middle (out of 21), and 10 small (out of 18). Thus, of the big peasants, 93 per cent cannot manage without hired labour, while the figure for the small peasants is 55 per cent. These figures are very useful as a test of the current opinion (accepted uncritically by the “Critics”) that the employment of hired labour is negligible in present-day peasant farming. Among the big peasants (whose farms of 18 hectares are included in the category of 5-20 hectares, in wholesale descriptions reckoned as real peasant farms), we see pure capitalist farming: 24 farms employ 71 labourers—almost 3 labourers per farm, and 27 farmers employ day-labourers for a total of 4,347 days (161 man-days per farmer). Compare this with the size of the holdings of the big peasants in the environs of Munich, whose “progress” served our bold Mr. Bulgakov as a refutation of the “Marxist prejudice” regarding the degradation of the peasants by capitalism!

For the middle peasants we have the following figures: 8 employ 12 labourers, and 14 employ day-labourers for a total of 956 man-days. For the small peasants: 2 employ   2 labourers, and 9 employ day-labourers for a total of 543 man-days. One-half the number of small peasants employ hired labour for 2 months (543:9=60 days), i.e., in the most important season for the farmers (notwithstanding the fact that their farms are larger, the production of these small peasants is very much lower than that of the Friedrichsthal peasants, of whom Messrs. Chernov, David, and Hertz are so enamoured).

The results of this farming are as follows: 31 big peasants made a net profit of 21,329 marks and suffered a loss of 2,113 marks, i.e., a total profit for this category of 19,216 marks, or 619.9 marks per farm (523.5 marks if 5 farms in communities Nos. 20, 22, and 30 are excluded). For the medium farms the corresponding amount will be 243.3 marks (272.2 marks, if the 3 communities are excluded), and for the small farms, 35.3 marks (37.1 marks, if the 3 communities are excluded). Consequently, the small peasant, literally speaking, can barely make ends meet and only just manages to do so by cutting down consumption. The Inquiry (Ergebnisse, etc., in Vol. IV of Erhebungen,[7] S. 138) contains figures showing the consumption of the most important food items on each farm. Below we quote these data as averages for each category of peasants:

Category of Peasants Consumption Per Person Per Day Expenditure Per Person
Bread and fruit Potatoes Meat Milk Groceries,
etc., per day
Clothing Per Year
Pounds Grammes Litres Pfennigs Marks
Big peasants 1.84 1.82 138 1.05 72 66
Middle 1.59 1.90 111 0.95 62 47
Small 1.49 1.94 72 1.11 57 38
Day-labourers 1.69 2.14 56 0.85 51 32

These are the data in which our bold Hertz “failed to perceive” either under-consumption or poverty! We see that the small peasant, as compared with those of the higher groups, reduces his consumption very considerably, and   that his food and clothing are little better than those of the day-labourer. For example, he consumes about two-thirds of the amount of meat consumed by the middle peasant, and about half the amount consumed by the big peasant. These figures prove once again the uselessness of sweeping conclusions and the erroneousness of all assessments of income that ignore differences in living standards. If, for instance, we take only the two last columns of our table (to avoid complicated calculations in translating food products into money terms), we shall see that the “net profit”, not only of the small peasant, but also of the middle peasant, is a pure fiction, which only pure bourgeois like Hecht and Klawki, or pure Voroshilovs like our Critics, can take seriously. Indeed, if we assume that the small peasant spends as much money on food as the middle peasant does, his expenditure would be increased by one hundred marks, and we would get an enormous deficit. If the middle peasant spent as much as the big peasant, his expenditure would be increased by 220 marks, and unless he “stinted himself” in food be, too, would sustain a deficit.[1] Does not the reduced consumption of the small peasant, following self- evidently from the inferior feeding of his cattle and the inadequate restoration (often the complete exhaustion) of the productivity of the soil, entirely confirm the truth of Marx’s words, at which the modern Critics merely shrug their shoulders in lofty contempt: “An infinite fragmentation   of means of production, and isolation of the producers themselves. Monstrous waste of human energy. Progressive deterioration of conditions of production and increased prices of means of production—an inevitable law of proprietorship of parcels” (Das Kapital, III, 2, S. 342).[8]

In regard to the Baden Inquiry we must note still another distortion by Mr. Bulgakov (the Critics mutually supplement each other; while one distorts one aspect of the information adduced from a given source, a second distorts the other). Mr. Bulgakov frequently quotes from the Baden inquiry. It would appear, therefore, that he is acquainted with it. Yet we find him writing the following: “The exceptional and apparently fatal indebtedness of the peasant”—. so states the Overture, II, 271—"represents one of the most immutable dogmas in the mythology created in literature in relation to peasant farming.... Surveys at our disposal reveal considerable indebtedness only among the smallest, not yet firmly established holdings [Tagelöhnerstellen]. Thus, Sprenger expresses the general impression obtained from the results of the extensive investigation conducted in Baden [to which reference is made in a footnote] in the following manner: ’... Only the plots of the day-labourers and small peasant farmers are relatively speaking heavily mortgaged in a large number of the districts investigated; but even among these, in the majority of cases, the indebtedness is not so great as to cause alarm... "’ (272). A strange thing. On the one hand, there is reference to the Inquiry itself, and on the other, there is merely the quoted “general impression” of a certain Sprenger who has written about this Inquiry. But as ill-luck would have it, Sprenger’s writing falls short of the truth (at least in the passage quoted by Mr. Bulgakov; we have not read Sprenger’s book). First, the authors of the Inquiry assert that, in the majority of cases, it is precisely the indebtedness of the small peasant holdings which reaches alarming dimensions. Secondly, they assert that the position of the small peasants in this respect is not only worse than that of the middle and big peasants (which Sprenger noted) but also worse than that of the day-labourers.

It must be observed in general that the authors of the Baden Inquiry established the extremely important fact that   on the large farms the limits of permissible indebtedness (i.e., the limits to which the farmer may go without risking bankruptcy) are higher than on the small farms. After the data we have presented above on the farming results obtained by the big, middle, and small peasants respectively, this fact requires no further explanation. The authors of the Inquiry estimate the indebtedness permissible and safe (unbedenklich) for the large and medium farms at 40-70 per cent of the land value, or an average of 55 per cent. In regard to the small farms (which they set as between our and seven hectares for crop cultivation, and between two and four hectares for viticulture and commercial crops), they consider that “the limits of indebtedness ... must not exceed 30 per cent of the value of the holding, if the regular payment of interest and of instalments on the principal is to be fully secured” (S. 66, B. IV). In the surveyed communities (with the exception of those where Anerbenrecht[2] prevails, e’.g., Unadingen and Neukirch), the percentage of indebtedness (in proportion to the value of the estate) steadily diminishes as we pass from the small to the large farms. In the community of Dittwar, for instance, the indebtedness of farms up to one-fourth of a hectare equals 180.65 per cent; from one to two hectares, 73.07 per cent; from two to five hectares, 45.73 per cent; from five to ten hectares, 25.34 per cent; and from ten to twenty hectares, 3.02 per cent (ibid., S. 89-90). But the percentage of indebtedness does not tell us everything, and the authors of the Inquiry draw the following conclusion:

“The above-given statistics, consequently, confirm the widespread opinion that those owners of peasant holdings who are on the border-line [in the middle] between the day- labourers and the middle peasants [in the rural districts the farmers of this category are usually called the “middle estate”—Mittelstand] are frequently in a worse position than those in the groups above or below [sic!] in the size of their holdings; for, although they are able to cope with moderate indebtedness, if it is kept at a certain and not very high level, they find it difficult to meet their obligations, being   unable to obtain regular collateral employment (as day- labourers, etc.), by which means to increase their income...." Day-labourers, “insofar as they have some regular collateral employment, are frequently in a much better position materially than those belonging to the ’middle estate’, for, as computations in numerous cases have shown, collateral employment produces at times such a high net (i.e., money) income as to enable them to repay even large debts” (op. cit., 67).[3] Finally, the authors reiterate that the indebtedness of the small peasant farms in relation to the permissible level is “sometimes unsafe”; hence, “in purchasing land, particular business-like caution must be exercised ... primarily by the small peasant population and by the day- labourers, closely related to it” (98).

This, then, is the bourgeois counsellor to the small peasant! On the one hand, he fosters in the proletarians and semi-proletarians the hope that they will be able to purchase land, “if not in the first, then in the second generation”, and by diligence and abstemiousness obtain from it an enormous percentage of “net income”; on the other hand, he advises especially the poor peasants to exercise “particular caution” in purchasing land if they have no “regular employment”, that is to say, when the capitalists have no need for settled workers. And yet there are “critical” simpletons who accept these selfish lies and threadbare banalities as the findings of the most up-to-date science!

One would think that the detailed data we have presented on the big, middle, and small peasants would suffice to make even Mr. V. Chernov understand the meaning of the term “petty bourgeois” as applied to the peasant, a term that seems to inspire him with such horror. Capitalist evolution has not only introduced similarity in the general economic system of West-European countries, but it has brought Russia also closer to the West, so that the main features of peasant farming in Germany are similar to those   in Russia. However, in Russia the process of differentiation among the peasantry, abundantly confirmed in Russian Marxist literature, is in an initial stage; it has not yet assumed anything like a finished form, it has not yet given rise, for example, to the immediately noticeable, distinctive type of big peasant (Grossbauer). In Russia the mass expropriation and extinction of an enormous section of the peasantry still greatly overshadow the “first steps” of our peasant bourgeoisie. In the West, however, this process, which started even before the abolition of serfdom (cf. Kautsky, Agrarfrage, S. 27), long ago caused the obliteration of the social-estate distinction between peasant and “privately owned” (as we call it) farming, on the one hand, and the formation of a class of agricultural wage-workers, which has already acquired fairly definite features, on the other.[4] It would be a grave error to assume, however, that this process came to a stop after more or less definite new types of rural population had emerged. On the contrary, it goes on continuously, now rapidly, now slowly, of course, depending on the numerous and varying circumstances, and assumes most diverse forms according to the varying agronomic conditions, etc. The proletarisation of the peasantry continues, as we shall prove below by the mass of German statistics; besides which, it is evident from the cited data on the small peasantry. The increasing flight, not only of agricultural labourers, but of peasants, from the country to the towns is in itself striking evidence of this growing proletarisation. But the peasant’s flight to the town is necessarily preceded by his ruin; and the ruin is preceded by a desperate struggle for economic independence. The data on the extent of the employment of hired labour, the amount of “net income”, and the level of consumption of the various types of peasantry, bring out this struggle in striking relief. The principal weapon in this fight is “iron diligence” and frugality—frugality according to the motto “We work, not so much for our mouths as for our pockets”. The inevitable result of the   struggle is the rise of a minority of wealthy, prosperous farmers (an insignificant minority in most cases—and in every case when particularly favourable conditions are absent, such as proximity to the capital, the construction of a railway, or the opening up of some new, remunerative branch of commercial agriculture, etc.) and the continuously increasing impoverishment of the majority, which steadily saps the strength of the peasants by chronic starvation and exhausting toil, and causes the quality of the land and cattle to deteriorate. The inevitable result of the struggle is the rise of a minority of capitalist farms based on wage-labour, and the increasing necessity for the majority to work at “side lines”, i.e., their conversion into industrial and agricultural wage-workers. The data on wage-labour very clearly reveal the immanent tendency, inevitable under the present system of society, for all small producers to become small capitalists.

We quite understand why bourgeois economists, on the one hand, and opportunists of various shades, on the other, shun this aspect of the matter and why they cannot help doing so. The differentiation of the peasantry reveals to us the profoundest contradictions of capitalism in the very process of their inception and their further development. A complete evaluation of these contradictions inevitably leads to the recognition of the small peasantry’s blind-alley and hopeless position (hopeless, outside the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat against the entire capitalist system). It is not surprising that these most profound and most undeveloped contradictions are not mentioned; there is an attempt to evade the fact of the overwork and under-consumption of the small peasants, which can be denied only by unconscionable or ignorant people. The question of the hired labour employed by the peasant bourgeoisie and of wage-work of the rural poor is left in the shade. Thus, Mr. Bulgakov submitted an “essay on the theory of agrarian development”, passing over both these questions in eloquent silence![5]   "Peasant farming,” he says, “may be defined as that form of farming in which the labour of the peasant’s own family is exclusively, or almost exclusively employed. Very rarely do even peasant farms dispense altogether with outside labour,— the help of neighbours or casual hired labour—but this does not change [naturally!] the economic features of peasant farming” (I, 141). Hertz is somewhat more naive, and at the very beginning of his book he makes the following reservation: “Hereinafter, by small or peasant farms I shall always assume a form of farming in which the farmer, the members of his family, and not more than one or.two workers are employed” (S. 6, Russian translation, p. 29). When they discuss the hiring of a “hand” our Kleinbürger soon forget the very “peculiarities” of agriculture which they constantly make so much of with no regard for relevance. In agriculture, one or two labourers is by no means a small number, even if they work only in the summer. But the main thing is not whether this is a small or a large number; the main thing is that hired labourers are employed by the   wealthier, more prosperous peasants, whose “progress” and prosperity” our knights of philistinism are so fond of presenting as the prosperity of the mass of the population. And in order to put a better complexion on this distortion, these knights majestically declare: “The peasant is a working man no less than the proletarian” (Bulgakov, II, 288). And the author expresses satisfaction at the fact that “workers’ parties are more and more losing the anti-peasant tinge characteristic of them hitherto” (characteristic of them hitherto!) (289). “Hitherto”, you see, they “left out of account the fact that peasant property is not an instrument of exploitation, but a condition for the application of labour”. That is how history is written! Frankly, we cannot refrain from saying: Distort, gentlemen, but have a sense of measure! And the same Mr. Bulgakov has written a two-volume “study” of 800 pages chock-full of “quotations” (how correct they are we have repeatedly shown) from all sorts of inquiries, descriptions, monographs, etc. But not once, literally not once, has he attempted even to examine the relations between the peasants whose property is an instrument of exploitation and those peasants whose property is “simply” a condition for the application of labour. Not once has he presented systematic statistics (which, as we have shown, were contained in the sources he cited) concerning the types of farms, the standard of living, etc., of the peasants who hire labour, of the peas ants who neither hire labour nor hire themselves out as labourers, and of the peasants who hire themselves out as labourers. More than that. We have seen that to prove the “progress of peasant farming” (peasant farming in general!) he has given data on the Grossbauer and opinions that confirm the progress of some and the impoverishment and proletarisation of others. He even sees a general “social regeneration” (sic!) in the rise of “well-to-do peasant farms” (II, 138; for general conclusion, cf. p. 456), as if well-to-do peasant farm were not synonymous with bourgeois, entrepreneur-peasant farm. His one attempt to extricate himself from this tangle of contradictions is the following still more entangled argument: "The peasantry, of course, does not constitute a homogeneous mass; this has been shown above [probably in his argument about such a petty detail as the industrial wage-labour performed by farmers?]; a constant struggle is here in process   between a differentiating trend and a levelling trend. But are these differences and even the antagonism of individual interests greater than those between the various strata of the working class, between urban and rural workers, between skilled and unskilled labour, between trade unionists and non-trade unionists? It is only by completely ignoring these differences within the worker estate (which cause certain investigators to see the existence of a fifth estate in addition to the fourth) that a distinction can be drawn between the allegedly homogeneous working class and the heterogeneous peasantry” (288). What a remarkably profound analysis! Confounding trade differences with class differences; confounding differences in the way of life with the different positions of the various classes in the system of social production—what better illustration is needed of the complete absence of scientific principles in the fashionable “criticism”[6] and of its practical tendency to obliterate the very concept “class” and to eliminate the very idea of the class struggle. The agricultural labourer earns fifty kopeks a day; the enterprising peasant who employs day-labourers earns a ruble a day; the factory worker in the capital earns two rubles a day; the small provincial master earns one and a half rubles a day. Any more or less politically conscious worker would be able to say without difficulty to which class the representatives of these various “strata” belong, and in what direction the social activities of these various “strata”   will tend. But f or the representative of university science, or for the modern “Critic”, this is such a profound wisdom that it is totally beyond assimilation.


[1] Mr. Chernov “objects”: Does not the big farmer stint his day-labourer still more in food and other expenses? (Russkoye Bogatstvo, 1900, No. 8, p. 212). This objection repeats the old Krivenko-Vorontsov trick, if one may use such an expression, of foisting liberal-bourgeois arguments upon Marxists. The objection would be valid against those who say that large-scale production is superior, not only technically, but because it improves (or at least makes tolerable) the condition of the labourers. Marxists do not say that. They merely expose the false trick of painting the condition of the small farmer in roseate hues, either by sweeping statements about prosperity (Mr. Chernov on Hecht), or by estimates of “income” that leave out of account reduced consumption. The bourgeoisie must needs paint things in roseate hues, must needs foster the illusion among the labourers that they can become “masters” and that small “masters” can obtain high incomes. It is the business of socialists to expose these falsehoods and to explain to the small peasants that for them too there is no salvation outside of the revolutionary movement of the proletariat. —Lenin

[2] Right of inheritance, by which the property of a peasant household passes undivided to a single heir.—Ed.

[3] The authors of the Inquiry rightly say: The small peasant sells relatively little for cash, but he stands particularly in need of money, and because of his lack of capital, every cattle disease, every hailstorm, etc., hits him particularly hard. —Lenin

[4] “The peasantry,” writes Mr. Bulgakov, with reference to France in the nineteenth century, “split up into two sections, each sharply distinguished from the other, namely, the proletariat and the small proprietors” (II, 176). The author is mistaken, however, in believing that the “splitting up” ended with this—it is a ceaseless process. —Lenin

[5] Or contains no less eloquent evasions, such as: "... the numerous cases of combining industry with agriculture, when industrial wage-workers own small plots of land...” are “no more than a detail [?!] in the economic system. There are as yet [?] no grounds for regarding this as a new manifestation of the industrialisation of agriculture,   or its loss of independent development; this phenomenon is much too insignificant in extent (in Germany, for instance, only 4.09 per cent of agricultural land is held by industrial wage-workers)” (sic!—II, pp. 254-55). In the first place, the fact that an insignificant share of the land is held by hundreds of thousands of workers does not prove that this “phenomenon is insignificant in extent”; it proves rather that capitalism degrades and proletarises the small farmer. Thus, the total number of farmers holding less than two hectares (although their number is enormous: 3,200,000 out of 5,500,000, or 58.2 per cent, almost three-fifths) own “only” 5.6 per cent of the total area of agricultural land. Will our clever Mr. Bulgakov draw the inference from this that the entire “phenomenon"of small landownership and small farming is a mere “detail” and “is much too insignificant in extent"?? Of the 5,500,000 farmers in Germany, 791,000, or 14.4 per cent, are industrial wage-workers; and the overwhelming majority of these own less than two hectares of land each, namely, 743,000, which represents 22.9 per cent of the total number of farmers owning less than two hectares. Secondly, true to his usual practice, Mr. Bulgakov distorted the statistics he adduced. By an oversight he took from the page of the German Inquiry he quoted (Statistik des Deutschen Reichs, B. 112, S. 49 *) the figure of the area of land owned by independent trading farmers. The non-independent trading farmers (i.e., industrial wage-workers) hold only 1.84 per cent of the total area of agricultural land. 791,000 wage-workers own 1.84 per cent of the total area of land, while 25,000 landlords own 24 per cent. Truly a most insignificant “detail”! —Lenin

[6] Let us recall the fact that reference to the alleged homogeneity of the working class was a favourite argument of Ed. Bernstein and of all his adherents. And as regards “differentiation”, it was Mr. Struve who, in his Critical Remarks, profoundly observed: There is differentiation, but there is also levelling; for the objective student both these processes are of equal importance (in the same way as it made no difference to Shchedrin’s objective historian whether Izyaslav defeated Yaroslav or vice versa).[9] There is a development of the money economy, hut there are also reversions to natural economy. There is a development of large-scale factory production, but there is also a development of capitalist domestic industry (Bulgakov, II, 88: “Hausindustrie is nowhere near extinction in Germany”). An “objective” scientist must carefully gather facts and note things, “on the one hand” and “on the other”, and (like Goethe’s Wagner) “pass from book to book, from folio to folio”, without making the least attempt to obtain a consistent view and build up a general idea of the process as a whole. —Lenin

[7] Erhebungen über die Lage der Landwirtschaft in Grossherzogthum Baden, 1883. Veranstaltet durch das grossherzogliche Ministerium des Innern. Rd. IV. (An Inquiry into the State of Agriculture in the Grand Duchy of Baden, 1883. Undertaken by the Ministry of the Interior of the Grand Duchy. Vol. IV.).

[8] See Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. III, Moscow, 1959, p. 787.

[9] From M. Y. Saltykov-Shchedrin’s Modern Idyll.

  The Productivity of a Small And a Big Farm. An Example From East Prussia | General Statistics of German Agriculture for 1882 and 1895. The Question of the Medium Farms  

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