V. I.   Lenin

The Agrarian Question and the “Critics of Marx”



General Statistics of German Agriculture for 1882 and 1895. The Question of the Medium Farms

Having examined the detailed statistics of peasant farming, which are particularly important for us, because peasant farming is the centre of gravity of the modern agrarian question, let us now pass to the general statistics of German agriculture and verify the conclusions drawn from them by the “Critics”. Below, in brief, are the principal returns of the censuses of 1882 and of 1895:

Groups of farms No. of farms (thousands) Cultivated area (1,000 hectares) Relative numbers Absolute increase or decrease
Farms Area
1882 1895 1882 1895 1882 1895 1882 1895 Farms Area
Under 2 hectares ... 3,062 3,236 1,826 1,808 58.0 58.2 5.7 5.6 +174 —18
2-5 hectares 981 1,016 3,190 3,286 18.6 18.3 10.0 10.1 +35 +96
5-20 " 927 999 9,158 9,722 17.6 18.0 28.7 29.9 +72 +564
20-100 " 281 282 9,908 9,870 5.3 5.1 31.1 30.3 +1 —38
100 and over hectares... 25 25 7,787 7,832 0.5 0.4 24.5 24.1 ±0 +45
Totals 5,276 5,558 31,869 32,518 100 100 100 100 +282 +649

Three circumstances must be examined its connection with this picture of change interpreted differently by Marxists and by the “Critics”: the increase in the number of the smallest farms; the increase in latifundia, i.e., farms of one thousand hectares and over, in our table placed in the row of over one hundred hectares; and, lastly, the increase in the number of middle-peasant farms (5-20 hectares), which is the most striking fact, and the one giving rise to the most heated controversy.

The increase in the number of the smallest farms indicates an enormous increase in poverty and proletarisation; for the overwhelming majority of the owners of less than two hectares cannot obtain a livelihood from agriculture alone but must seek auxiliary employment, i.e., work for wages. Of course, there are exceptions: the cultivation of special crops, viticulture, market gardening, industrial crop cultivation, suburban farming generally, etc., render possible the existence of independent (at times even not small) farmers even on one and a half hectares. But out of a total of three million farms, these exceptions are quite insignificant. The fact that the mass of these small “farmers” (representing three-fifths of the total number) are wage-labourers is strikingly proved by the German statistics concerning the principal occupations of the farmers in the various categories. The following is a brief summary of those statistics:

Groups of farmers Farmers according to principal occupation (per cent) Per cent
of inde-
Independent Non-in-
Trade, etc.
Under 2 hectares 17.4 22.5 50.3 9.8 100 26.1
2-5 " 72.2 16.3 8.6 2.9 100 25.5
5-20 " 90.8 7.0 1.1 1.1 100 15.5
20-100 " 96.2 2.5 0.2 1.1 100 8.8
100 and over " 93.9 1.5 0.4 4.2 100 23.5
Average 45.0 17.5 31.1 6.4 100 20.1

We see, thus, that out of the total number of German farmers only 45%, i.e., fewer than half, are independent with farming as their main occupation. And even of these independent farmers one-fifth (20.1 %) have auxiliary occupations. The principal occupation of 17.5% of the farmers is trading, industry, market gardening, and so forth (in these occupations they are “independent”, i.e., occupy the position of masters and not of hired workers). Almost one-third (31.1%) are hired workers (“not independent”, employed in various branches of agriculture and industry). The principal   occupation of 6.4% of the farmers is office employment (in military service, civil service, etc.), the liberal professions, etc. Of the farmers with farms under two hectares, one half are hired workers; the “independent” farmers among these 3,200,000 “owners” represent a small minority, only 17.4% of the total. Of this number, 17%, one-fourth (26.1 %), are engaged in auxiliary occupations, i.e., are hired workers, not in their principal occupations (like the above-mentioned 50.3%), but in their side-line occupations. Even among the farmers owning from 2-5 hectares, only a little more than half (546,000 out of 1,016,000) are independent farmers without auxiliary occupations.

We see from this how amazingly untrue is the picture presented by Mr. Bulgakov when, asserting (erroneously, as we have shown) that the total number of persons actually engaged in agriculture has grown, he explains this by the “increase in the number. of independent farms—as we already know, mainly middle-peasant farms, at the expense of the big farms” (II, 133). The fact that the number of middle-peasant farms has expanded most in proportion to the total number of farms (from 17.6% to 18%, i.e., a rise of 0.400) does not in the least prove that the increase in the agricultural population is due principally to the growth in the number of middle peasant farms. On the question as to which category has contributed most to the general increase in the number of farms, we have direct data that leave no room for two opinions: the total number of farms has risen by 282,000, of which the number of farms under two hectares increased by 174,000. Consequently, the larger agricultural population (if and insofar as it is larger at all) is to be explained precisely by the increase in the number of non-independent farms (the bulk of the farmers with farms under two hectares not being independent). The rise is greatest in the small allotment farms, which indicates growing proletarisation. Even the increase (by 35,000) in the number of farms of 2-5 hectares cannot be wholly attributed to the expanded number of independent farms, for of those farmers only 546,000 out of the total of 1,016,000 are in dependent, drawing no subsidiary earnings.

Coming now to the large farms, we must note, first of all, the following characteristic fact (of utmost importance for   the refutation of all apologists): the combination of agriculture with other occupations has diverse and opposite significance for the various categories of farmers. Among the small farmers it signifies proletarisation and curtailed independence; for in this category agriculture is combined with occupations like those of hired labourers, small handicraftsmen, small traders, and so forth. Among the big farmers, it signifies either a rise in the political significance of landed proprietorship through the medium of government service, military service, etc., or the combination of agriculture with forestry and agricultural industries. As we know, the latter phenomenon is one of the most characteristic symptoms of capitalist advance in agriculture. That is why the percentage of farmers who regard “independent” farming as their principal occupation (who are engaged in farming as masters and not as labourers) sharply increases with the increase in the size of the farms (17-72-90-96%), but drops to 93% in the category of farms of 100 hectares and over. In this group 4.2% of the farmers regard office employment (under the heading of “other occupations”) as their principal occupation; 0.4% of the farmers regard “non-independent” work as their principal occupations (what is here discussed is not hired labourers but managers, inspectors, etc., cf. Statistik des deutschen Reichs, B. 112, S. 49 *). Similarly, we see that the percentage of independent farmers who engage in auxiliary occupations sharply diminishes with the increase in the size of the farms (26-25-15-9%), but greatly increases among the farmers possessing 100 hectares and over (23%).

In regard to the number of large farms (100 hectares and over) and the area of land they occupy, the statistics given above indicate a diminution in their share in the total number of farms and the total area. The question arises: Does this imply that large-scale farming is being crowded out by small and middle-peasant farming, as Mr. Bulgakov hastens to assume? We think not; and by his angry thrusts at Kautsky on this point Mr. Bulgakov merely exposes his inability to refute Kautsky’s opinion on the subject. In the first place, the diminution in the proportion of the large farms is extremely small (from 0.47% to 0.45%, i.e., two-hundredths of one per cent of the total number of farms,   and from 24.43% to 24.088%, i.e., 35-hundredths of one per cent of the total area). It is a generally known fact that with the intensification of farming it is sometimes necessary to make a slight reduction in the area of the farm, and that the big farmers lease small lots of land remote from the centre of the estate in order to secure labourers. We have shown above that the author of the detailed description of the large- and small-scale farms in East Prussia openly admits the auxiliary role played by small in relation to big landownership, and that he strongly advises the settlement of labourers. Secondly, there can be no talk of the elimination of large-scale by small-scale farming, for the reason that data on the size of farms are not yet adequate for judging the scale of production. The fact that in this respect large- scale farming has made considerable progress is irrefutably proved by statistics on the use of machinery (see above), and on agricultural industries (to be examined in greater detail below, since Mr. Bulgakov gives an astonishingly incorrect interpretation of the German statistics on this subject). Thirdly, in the group of farms of 100 hectares and over a prominent place is occupied by latifundia, i.e., farms of 1,000 hectares and over. The number of these farms has increased proportionately more than the number of middle-peasant farms, namely, from 515 to 572, or by 11 %, whereas the number of middle-peasant farms has increased from 926,000 to 998,000, or by 7.8%. The area of latifundia has increased from 708,000 hectares to 802,000 hectares, or by 94,000 hectares. In 1882 latifundia occupied 2.22% of the total land under cultivation; by 1895 they occupied 2.46%. On this point Mr. Bulgakov, in his work, supplements the groundless objections to Kautsky he made in Nachalo with the following even more groundless generalisation: “An index of the decline of large-scale farming,” he writes, “is ... the increase of latifundia, although the progress of agriculture and the growth of intensive farming should be accompanied by the splitting-up of farms” (II, 126). Mr. Bulgakov unconcernedly goes on to talk about the “latifundia [!] degeneration” of large-scale farming (II, 190, 363). With what remarkable logic our “scholar” reasons: since the diminution in the size of farms at times, with the intensification of farming, implies an increase in production,   therefore an increase in the number and in the area of latifundia should, in general, signify a decline! But since logic is so bad, why not turn for help to statistics? The source from which Mr. Bulgakov draws his information contains a mass of data on latifundia farming. We present here some of the figures: in 1895, 572 of the largest agricultural enterprises occupied an area of 1,159,674 hectares, of which 802,000 hectares were given over to agriculture and 298,000 were covered by forests (a part of these latifundia proprietors were primarily timber merchants and not farmers). Livestock of all kinds is kept by 97.9% of these farmers, and draught animals by 97.7%. Machines are used by 555 in this group, and, as we have seen, it is in this group that the maximum number of cases of the use of machines of various types occurs; steam ploughs are used by 81 farms, or 14% of the total number of latifundia farms; livestock is kept as follows: 148,678 head of cattle, 55,591 horses, 703,813 sheep, and 53,543 pigs. Sixteen of these farms are combined with sugar refineries, 228 with distilleries, 6 with breweries, 16 with starch factories, and 64 with flour-mills. Intensification may be judged from the fact that 211 of these farms cultivate sugar-beet (26,000 hectares are devoted to this crop) and 302, potatoes for industrial purposes; 21 (with 1,822 cows, or 87 cows per farm) sell milk to the cities, and 204 belong to dairy co-operative societies (18,273 cows, or 89 per farm). A very strange “latifundia degeneration” indeed!

We now pass to the middle-peasant farms (5-20 hectares). The proportion they represent of the total number of farms has increased from 17.6% to 18.0% (+0.4%), and of the total area, from 28.7% to 29.9% (+1.2%). Quite naturally, every “annihilator of Marxism” regards these figures as his trump card. Mr. Bulgakov draws from them the conclusion that “large-scale farming is being crowded out by small-scale farming”, that there is a “tendency towards decentralisation”, and so on and so forth. We have pointed out above that precisely with respect to the “peasantry” unclassified statistics are particularly unsuitable and can more than ever lead to error; it is precisely in this sphere that the processes of the formation of small enterprises and the progress” of the peasant bourgeoisie are most likely to   conceal the proletarisation and impoverishment of the majority. In German agriculture as a whole we see an undoubted development of large-scale capitalist farming (the growth of latifundia, the increase in the use of machinery, and the development of agricultural industries), on the one hand; on the other, there is a still more undoubted growth of proletarisation and impoverishment (flight to the cities, expanded parcellisation of the land, growth in the number of small allotment holdings, increase in auxiliary hired labour, decline in the food consumption of the small peasants, etc.). Hence, it would be clearly improbable and impossible that these processes should not be current among the “peasantry”. Moreover, the detailed statistics definitely indicate these processes and confirm the opinion that data on the size of farms alone are totally inadequate in this case. Hence, Kautsky rightly pointed out, on the basis of the general state of the capitalist development of German agriculture, the incorrectness of drawing from those statistics the conclusion that small-scale production was gaining over large-scale production.

We have, however, direct data abundantly proving that the increase in the number of “middle-peasant farms” indicates an increase in poverty and not in wealth and prosperity. We refer to the very data on draught animals which Mr. Bulgakov utilised so clumsily both in Nachalo and in his book. “If this required further proof,” wrote Mr. Bulgakov with reference to his assertion that medium farming was progressing and large-scale farming declining, “then to the indices of the amount of labour-power we could add the indices of the number of draught. animals. Here is an eloquent table.”[1]

Number of farms
using animals for
field work
1882 1895
Under 2 hectares. . . . 325,005 306,340 -18,665
2 to 5 " . . 733,967 725,584 -8,383
5 to 20 " . . . 894,696 925,103 +30,407
20 to 100 " . . . 279,284 275,220 -4,064
100 and over " . . . 24,845 24,485 -360
Totals. . . 2,257,797 2,256,732 -1,065

“The number of farms with draught animals declined among the large as well as the small farms, and increased only among the medium farms” (Nachalo, No. 1, p. 20).

Mr. Bulgakov could be pardoned for having, in a hurriedly written magazine article, erred in arriving at a conclusion diametrically opposed to the one the statistics on draught animals logically lead to. But our “strict scientist” repeated this error in his “investigation” (Vol. II, p. 127, where, moreover, he used the figures +30,407 and —360 as applying to the number of animals, whereas they apply to the number of farms using draught animals. But that, of course, is a minor point).

We ask our “strict scientist”, who talks so boldly of the “decline of large-scale farming” (II, 127): What is the significance of the increase of 30,000 in the number of middle-. peasant farms with draught animals when the total number of middle-peasant farms increased by 72,000 (II, 124)? Is it not clear from this that the percentage of middle-peasant farms with draught animals is declining? This being the case, should not Mr. Bulgakov have ascertained what percentage of farms in the various categories kept draught animals in 1882 and in 1895, the more so, since the data are given on the very page, and in the very table from which he took his absolute figures (Statistik des deutschen Reichs, B. 112, S. 31*)?

The data are here given:

      Percentage of farms
using draught
      1882 1895
Under 2 hectares . . . . . . . 10.61 9.46 -1.15
2-5 " . . . . . . . 74.79 71.39 -3.40
5-20 " . . . . . . . 96.56 92.62 -3.94
20-100 " . . . . . . . 99.21 97.68 -1.53
100 and over " . . . . . . . 99.42 97.70 -1.72
  Average . . . . . . . 42.79 40.60 -2.19

Thus, the farms with draught animals diminished on the average by over 2 per cent; but the reduction was above the average among the small- and middle-peasant farms, and below the average among the large farms.[2] Moreover, it   must not be forgotten that “it is precisely on the large farms that animal power is frequently displaced by mechanical power in the form of machines of various kinds, including steam-driven machines (steam ploughs, etc.)” (Statistik des deutschen Reichs, B. 112, S. 32*). Therefore, if in the group of large farms (of 100 hectares and over) the number with draught animals diminished by 360, and if at the same time the number with steam ploughs increased by 615 (710 in 1882 and 1,325 in 1895), it is clear that, taken as a whole, large-scale farming has not lost, but has benefited thereby. Consequently, we come to the conclusion that the only group of German farmers who have undoubtedly improved their conditions of farming (with respect to the use of animals for field work, or the substitution of steam power for animals) are the big farmers, with farms of 100 hectares and over. In all the remaining groups the conditions of farming have deteriorated; and they have deteriorated most in the group of middle-peasant farms, in which the percentage of farms using draught animals has diminished most. The difference in the percentage of large farms (of 100 hectares and over) and medium farms (of 5-20 hectares) with draught animals was formerly less than 3% (99.42 and 96.56); the difference is now more than 5% (97.70 and 92.62).

This conclusion is still more strongly confirmed by the data on the types of draught animals used. The smaller the farm, the weaker the types: a relatively smaller number of oxen and horses and a larger number of cows, which are much weaker, are used for field work. The following data show the situation in this respect for the years 1882 and 1895:

For one hundred farms using draught animals the data are:

      Cows only Cows, along with horses
or oxen
      1882 1895 1882 1895
Under 2 hectares . . . . . 83.74 82.10 -1.64 85.21 83.95 -1.26
2-5 hectares . . . . . 68.29 69.42 +1.13 72.95 74.93 +1.98
5-20 hectares . . . . . 18.49 20.30 +1.81 29.71 34.75 +5.04
20-100 hectares . . . . . 0.25 0.28 +0.03 3.42 6.02 +2.60
100 and over hectares . . . . . 0.00 0.03 +0.03 0.25 1.40 +1.15
Average . . . . 41.61 41.82 +0.21 48.18 50.48 +2.30

We see a general deterioration in the kind of draught animals used (for the reason indicated, the small allotment farms are not taken into account), the greatest deterioration occurring in the group of middle-peasant farms. In that group, of the total number of farms possessing draught animals, the percentage of those compelled to use cows as well as other animals, and of those compelled to use cows only, increased most of all. At the present time, more than one-third of the middle-peasant farms with draught animals have to use cows for field work (which, of course, leads to poorer tilling and, consequently, to a drop in the crop yield, as well as to a lower milk yield), while more than one-fifth use only cows for field work.

If we take the number of animals used for field work, we shall find in all groups (except the small allotment farms) an increase in the number of cows. The number of horses and oxen has changed as follows:

Number of Horses and Oxen Used for Field Work (Thousands)
1882 1895 Difference
Under 2 hectares . . . . . 62.9 69.4 +6.5
2-5 " . . . . . 308.3 302.3 -6.0
5-20 " . . . . . 1,437.4 1,430.5 -6.9
20-100 " . . . . . 1,168.5 1,155.4 -13.1
100 and over " . . . . . 650.5 695.2 +44.7
Totals . . . . . 3,627.6 3,652.8 +25.2

With the exception of the small allotment farms, an increase in the number of draught animals proper is seen only among the big farmers.

Consequently, the general conclusion to be drawn from the changes in farming conditions with regard to animal and mechanical power employed for field work, is as   follows: improvement only among the big farmers; deterioration among the rest; the greatest deterioration among the middle-peasant farms.

The statistics for 1895 enable us to divide the middle-peasant farm group into two subgroups: with 5 to 10 hectares and with 10 to 20 hectares respectively. As was to be expected, in the first subgroup (which has by far the greater number of farms), farming conditions insofar as they affect the use of draught animals are incomparably worse than in the second. Of the total of 606,000 owners of 5-10 hectares, 90.5% possess draught animals (of the 393,000 with 10-20 hectares— 95.8%), and of this number, 46.3% use cows for field work (17.9% in the 10-20 hectare group); the number using only cows amounts to 41.3% (4.2% in the 10-20 hectare group). It turns out that precisely the 5-10 hectare group, the one most poorly equipped with draught animals, shows the greatest increase from 1882 to 1895 both in the number of farms and in area. The relevant figures follow:

Percentage of total
Farms Total area Cultivated area
  1882 1895   1882 1895   1882 1895  
5-10 hectares 10.50 10.90 +0.40 11.90 12.37 +0.47 12.26 13.02 +0.76
10-20 hectares 7.06 7.07 +0.01 16.70 16.59 -0.11 16.48 16.88 +0.40

In the 10-20 hectare group the increase in the number of farms is quite insignificant. The proportion of the total area even diminished, while the proportion of the cultivated area increased to a much lesser extent than that of the farms in the 5-10 hectare group. Consequently, the increase in the middle-peasant farm group is accounted for mainly (and partly even exclusively) by the 5-10 hectare group, i.e., the very group in which farming conditions with regard to the use of draught animals are particularly bad.

Thus, we see that the statistics irrefutably reveal the true significance of the notorious increase in the number of middle-peasant farms: it is not an increase in prosperity, but an increase in poverty; not-the progress of small farming, but its degradation. If the conditions of farming have deteriorated most among the middle-peasant farms, and if   these farms have been obliged to resort most extensively to the use of cows for field work, then, on the basis of this aspect of farming alone (one of the most important aspects of farming as a whole), it is not only our right but our duty to draw the conclusions regarding all the other aspects of farming. If the number of horseless farms (to use a term familiar to the Russian reader, and one quite applicable to the present case) has increased, if there is deterioration in the type of draught animals used, there cannot be the slightest doubt that the general maintenance of the animals and the treatment of the soil, as well as the food and the living conditions of the farmers, have likewise deteriorated; for in peasant farming, as all know, the harder the animals are worked and the worse they are fed, the harder the peasant works and, the worse he is fed, and vice versa. The conclusions we drew above from Klawki’s detailed study are fully confirmed by the mass data on all the small peasant farms in Germany.


[1] We reproduce the table as given by Mr. Bulgakov, merely adding the totals. —Lenin

[2] The smallest reduction is observed among the smallest farms, only a relatively insignificant proportion of which keeps draught   animals. We shall see further that it was precisely among those farms (and only among them) that the composition of the draught animals improved, i.e., a larger number of horses and oxen and a relatively smaller number of cows were being kept. As the authors of the German Inquiry (S. 32*) have rightly remarked, the farmers on the smallest allotments keep draught animals, not only for tilling the land, but also for “auxiliary work for wages”. Consequently, in discussing the question of draught animals it would be erroneous to take these small allotments into account, since they are placed under altogether exceptional conditions. —Lenin

  The Inquiry Into Peasant Farming In Baden | Dairy Farming and Agricultural Co-Operative Societies In Germany. The Agricultural Population In Germany Divided According to its Position In the Economy  

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