V. I.   Lenin

The Agrarian Question and the “Critics of Marx”



The “Work” of the German Bulgakov, E. David

Ed. David’s book, Socialism and Agriculture, is an exceptionally clumsy and cumbrous summary of all the erroneous methods and arguments which we have seen in the works of Bulgakov, Hertz, and Chernov. We could, there fore, completely ignore David; but since his “work” is undoubtedly at the present time the principal work of revisionism on the agrarian question, we think it necessary once again to show how the revisionist fraternity write learned treatises.

To the question of machinery in agriculture David devotes the whole of Chapter IV of his book (pp. 115-93 of the Russian translation), apart from numerous references to the same subject in other chapters. The politico-economic essence of the matter is completely submerged in hundreds of technicalities which the author examines in minute detail. Machinery does not play the same role in agriculture as in industry; in agriculture there is no central motor; most of the machines are only temporarily employed; some machines make no saving in production costs, and so on and so forth. David regards such conclusions (see pp. 190-93, the question of machinery summed up) as a refutation of Marxist theory! But this merely obscures the question instead of clarifying it. That agriculture is backward compared with manufacturing industry is not open to the slightest doubt. This backwardness requires no proof. By examining, point by point, the various ways in which that backwardness is displayed, by piling example upon example and case upon case, David merely pushes into the back ground the actual subject of the research, namely: is the use   of machines of a capitalist character? Is the increased use of machines due to the growth of capitalist agriculture?

David utterly fails to understand how the question should be presented by a Marxist. David’s standpoint is essentially that of the petty bourgeois, who consoles himself with the relatively, slow progress of capitalism and is afraid to look at social evolution as a whole. Thus, on the question of agricultural machinery, David quotes Bensing, quotes him innumerable times[13] (pp. 125, 135, 180, 182, 184, 186, 189, 506, and others of the Russian translation). David can positively be said to exasperate the reader by passing from detail to detail without sifting his material, without coherence, without a reasoned presentation of the question, without aim. Consequently, David provides no summing up of Bensing’s conclusions. What I said in 1901 in opposition to Mr. Bulgakov fully applies to David.[1] First, a summary of Bensing’s conclusions shows the in disputable advantage which farms using machines have over those that do not use them. None of the “corrections” to Bensing in minor details, with which David has stuffed his book, can alter this conclusion. David passes over this general conclusion in silence in exactly the same way as Mr. Bulgakov did! Secondly, while quoting Bensing without end, without reason, without coherence, David, like Mr. Bulgakov, failed to note Bensing’s bourgeois views concerning machinery in both industry and agriculture. In short, David does not even understand the socio-economic aspect of the question. He is unable to generalise and connect the factual data showing the superiority of large-scale over small-scale production. As a result, nothing remains but the reactionary lamentations of the petty bourgeois who places his hopes in technical backwardness, in the slow development of capitalism. In the matter of theory, the Right-wing Cadet and “Christian” renegade Mr. Bulgakov is quite on a level with the opportunist Social-Democrat David.

David fails, hopelessly fails to understand the socio economic aspect of other questions as well. Take his fundamental thesis, his pet idea, the “kingpin” of the whole   work: the viability of small-scale production in agriculture and its superiority to large-scale production. Ask David: What is small-scale production?

On page 29, footnote, you will find a neat answer: “Wherever we refer to small-scale production we mean the economic category which functions without regular outside assistance and without an auxiliary occupation.” Though clumsily expressed and poorly translated by Mr. Grossman, this is more or less clear. After that we have a right to expect David to outline the conditions of small-scale (in area) farming from the standpoint of the employment of hired labour, or the sale of the latter by the farmer.

Nothing of the kind.

Nothing brings out David’s bourgeois nature so strongly as his complete disregard of the question of the employment of hired labour by “small” farmers and of the conversion of the latter into wage-labourers. Complete disregard— that is literally true. Statistical data on this are to be found in German statistics; Kautsky quotes them briefly in his Agrarian Question(I have quoted them in detail[2] ). David knows those statistics, but he does not analyse them. He gives a mass of references to separate monographs, but completely ignores the data they contain on this question. In short, this is a case of a petty bourgeois completely passing over in silence the question of the “farm-hands” employed by the thrifty muzhik.

Here are examples:

On page 109 we read: “On the whole, in market gardening as in agriculture, small-scale production flourishes.”

You look for proof. All you are given is the following:

According to the industrial statistics[3] for 1895, out of 32,540 orchards and vegetable gardens 13,247=40 per cent were of an area less than 20 ares; 8,257=25 per cent ranged from 20 to 50 ares; 5,707=14 per cent from 50 ares to one hectare; 3,397=10 per cent ranged in area from 1   to 2 hectares, and only 1,932=6 per cent occupied an area of 2 hectares and over.”

That is all. And this is supposed to prove that small-scale production is flourishing in market gardening. This is supposed to be a scientific work by a man well versed in agronomics. If it is, then we do not know what charlatanry in science is.

Only 6 per cent have an area of 2 hectares and over, says David. In the very same statistics from which he takes those figures there are figures showing the amount of land which these 6 per cent occupy. David ignores those figures. He ignores them because they demolish his theory. “But more than half of this area (51.39 per cent),” I wrote concerning those very figures,[4] “is concentrated in the hands of 1,932 proprietors, or 5.94 per cent of all the market gardeners.” Of these 1,932 market gardeners 1,441 have vegetable gardens ranging from two to five hectares, making an average of 2.76 hectares per farm and total land amounting to an average of 109.6 hectares per farm; 491 farmers have vegetable gardens of five hectares or more, making an average of 16.54 hectares per farm, and total land amounting to. an average of 134.7 hectares per farm (ibid.).

Thus, only 6 per cent of the market gardeners concentrate in their hands 51.39 per cent of the total market garden land. They are big capitalists for whom vegetable gardens are supplementary to capitalist agriculture (farms of 100 to 135 hectares). Consequently, market gardening is enormously concentrated capitalistically. But David has the

temerity to assert that “small-scale production is flourishing”, i.e., production not using hired labour. As to what size farms in market gardening require hired labourers he gives no information.

That is how the scholarly David handles statistics. An example of the way in which he handles monographs is provided by Hecht,[14] the same notorious Hecht quoted by Bulgakov, Hertz, and Chernov.[5] In his “work” David paraphrases Hecht for the space of two pages (pp. 394-95). But how does he paraphrase him? Not a word about hired   labour. Not a word about the fact that Hecht embellishes the “settled state” of the factory worker who has a plot of land, lumping together workers and well-to-do peasants. Not a word about the fact that while a small number of well-to-do peasants are “flourishing”, the conditions of the bulk of the peasants are such that they even have to sell their milk and use cheaper margarine as a substitute.

David not only says nothing about this; he even declares that “Hecht quotes extremely interesting data on the high living standards of these peasants” (p. 395). A grosser example of bourgeois apologetics is difficult to imagine.

Incidentally, about Hecht’s statement that the peasants sell their milk in order to buy cheaper margarine. One would think that this is a generally known fact among economists. As far back as 1847, Marx in The Poverty of Philosophy referred to the deterioration of the people’s diet under capitalism.[15] In Russia, ever since the time of Engelhardt[16] (the 1870s), this fact has been noted very many times by all who have made a more or less conscientious study of the progress of capitalism in dairy farming. The “scholarly” David failed to notice this. He even sneers when socialists point to it.

On pages 427-28 of David’s book we read scoffing remarks about Kautsky, who says that the amalgamated dairies, which promote the sale of milk by the peasants, cause a deterioration in the latter’s diet. To enable the reader to judge the German Narodnik David at his true worth we shall quote his own words:

“...All other people are in the habit, when receiving a larger income, of using some part of it for the benefit of their stomachs. It is only human nature that a man should want to eat something better, if only he has a little money to enable him to do so. It is, therefore, very strange that the peasant who, as is generally admitted, is getting more money than before for his milk and pigs, thanks to the co-operative, should behave differently from other mortals,” and so on and so forth.

This buffoonery of a reactionary petty bourgeois is not worth answering, of course. It is sufficient to exhibit him to the reading public; it is sufficient to drag him into the light of day from under the heap of disconnected agronomic quotations scattered through five hundred and fifty pages.   It is sufficient to note that even the bourgeois apologist Hecht, quoted by David, admits as a fact the deterioration in diet as a consequence of the substitution of cheap margarine for marketed milk. This applies to South Germany, the region where small-peasant farming predominates. Concerning another region, East Prussia, we have the very similar statement of Klawki[6] that the small peasants “consume very little butter and whole milk”.

David’s bourgeois apologetics can be traced in absolutely all the questions he deals with. Thus, he extols the dairy co-operatives of Germany and Denmark in over a score of pages (413-35 and others). He also quotes statistics... but only on the numerical growth of the co-operatives! He does not quote the German statistics showing the concentration of “co-operative” dairy farming iii the hands of big capitalist farms.[7] The Davids have a blind eye for such data in the statistics they handle!

The Danish peasants organised in co-operatives,” says David, “have even excelled the privately owned farms of the big landed proprietors.” Then follows an example: a quotation from the 46th Report of a test laboratory to the effect that the butter produced by the co-operatives is of better quality than that manufactured by the landlord. And David continues:

Such results have been achieved by peasants who at one time, on their small farms, produced only inferior grades of butter for which they obtained only half the price paid for that of the big proprietors. Moreover, by and large, we are dealing here with middle and small peasants [David’s italics]. In 1898, there were in Denmark 179,740.cow-sheds of which only 7,544 or 4 per cent contained 30 or more cows each; 49,371 or 27.82 per cent, each contained from 10 to 29 cows; 122,589, or 68.97 per cent contained less than 10 cows each. More than half of these cow-sheds, namely, 70,218, comprising 39.85 per cent of the total, contained only from 1 to 3 cows each, i.e., they belonged to quite small farms. That the great majority of these small farms belong to co-operative organisations is shown by the fact that in 1900 the milk of approximately 900,000 cows out of Denmark’s 1,110,000 milch cows was delivered to dairy co-operatives” (p. 424).

Thus argues the scholarly David. He avoids quoting precise data on the distribution of the cows among the farms   in the various groups; that is distasteful to him. But even the fragmentary figures he does quote show that. he completely distorts the reality. By comparing the total number of cows with the distribution of cow-sheds according to the number of cattle in them we get the following picture, which, though an approximate one,[8] undoubtedly, on the whole, corresponds to the reality:

Denmark Number of farms (thousands) Number of cows in them (thousands) Number of cows per farm
Farms with 1 to 3 cows 70 100 1.43
" " 4 to 9 " 52 250 4.81
" " 10 to 29 " 49 550 11.22
" " 30 or more " 8 200 25.00
Total 179 1,100 6.14

From these figures it is seen, first, that the concentration of dairy farming in Denmark is very high. 750,000 cows out of 1,100,000, i. e., over two-thirds of the total, belong to the big farms—57,000 out of 179,000, i. e., less than a third of the total number of farmers. Since each of these farms has ten or more cows, they certainly do not dispense with hired labour. Thus, David “failed to notice” that the size of the farms which keep livestock is by no means small here; Danish farms must not be judged by area of land. David “failed to notice” that here, as everywhere and always in capitalist agriculture, a vast number of   small farms account for an insignificant share of the total production. The small farmers number 70,000, i.e., nearly 40 per cent; but they own one-eleventh of the total number of cows.

Secondly, the figures quoted show that both in Denmark and in Germany the benefits of co-operation are enjoyed mainly by the capitalists. If out of 1,100,000 cows the milk of 900,000 is delivered to the dairy co-operatives, it follows that 200,000 cows remain outside the “beneficial” scope of co-operative marketing. These are mainly the cows of the smallest farmers, for we have seen from the figures for Germany that of the farms up to two hectares, only 0.3 per cent of the total belong to dairy co-operatives, but of the farms of 100 hectares and over, 35.1 per cent belong to such co-operatives. Consequently, all this leads us to assume that the small farmers (70,000 owning 100,000 cows) least enjoy the benefits of co-operative marketing.

The example of Denmark completely refutes David, since it proves that not the small, and not the medium, but the big farms predominate in the production of dairy produce.

To put some life into these lifeless figures and tables and show the class character of bourgeois agriculture (which the obtuse petty bourgeois David totally ignores) we shall quote an outstanding fact from the history of the working-class movement in Denmark. In 1902, the Danish shipowners reduced the wages of the stokers, who answered by going on strike. The union to which all the dock workers belonged supported the stokers and also ceased work. But ... they were unable to make the strike a general one, to extend it to all the ports of Denmark. “Port Esbjerg [on the west coast of Denmark, important for trade with England], which plays such a great part in the. export of Danish agricultural produce, could not be drawn into the strike because the Danish agricultural co-operatives declared that they would immediately send the required number of their members to work on loading the ships, that the Danish peasants would not allow a stoppage in the export of their produce.”[9]

Thus, the Danish co-operatives took the side of the shipowners   against the workers and made the strike a failure. It is quite understandable, of course, that capitalist farmers, owning ten and more cows each, should support their fellow-capitalists against the workers. What is not understandable is that writers like David, who gloss over the class struggle, call themselves socialists.

On the question of combining farming with technical-crop industries (sugar refining, distilling, etc.) David makes the very same mistake as Mr. Bulgakov. Like the Russian professor, the German “learned” opportunist simply copied the tables given in the German enquiry, without stopping to think what these tables refer to! Kautsky asserts that sugar production is an example of agricultural large-scale industry. To refute this David, like Bulgakov, quotes figures showing that there are more small farms connected with technical-crop industries than big ones (pages 406, 407, and 410 of David’s book). The learned statistician forgot that, in general, there are more small farms than big ones. Instead of showing what percentage of the farms in each group is combined with technical industries he copied a table giving the percentage of such farms in each group in relation to the total number of farms. I have already dealt in detail with this mistake made by Mr. Bulgakov.[10] It only remains for me to point out that the equally scientifically conscientious Ed. David equally failed to take the trouble to glance at the figures showing what share of the land under sugar beet is in the hands of capitalists.

What a comical degree of soul affinity exists between the German opportunist and the Russian liberal professor can be seen from the fact that not only do they both handle statistics with the same carelessness and lack of skill, but both quote Marx with the same carelessness. Like Bulgakov David recognises the “law of diminishing returns”. True, he tries to expound it with special limitations, to surround it with special conditions, but that does not improve matters in the least. For example, on page 476, David says that “this law does not at all concern the change of productivity in the transition from one scientific-technical stage   of agriculture to another. It concerns exclusively the change of productivity at one and the same scientific-technical stage.” This is exactly the limitation of the notorious law that I mentioned when opposing Mr. Bulgakov,[11] and I at once added that this makes the “law” “so relative that it cannot be called a law, or even a cardinal specific feature of agriculture”.

Nevertheless, David continues to elevate this law to a specific feature of agriculture. The result is a hopeless muddle, for if “scientific-technical” conditions remain unchanged, additional investments of capital are extremely restricted in industry too.

The backwardness of agriculture,” says David in the concluding chapter, “is due, in the first place, to the conservatism of organic nature, which finds expression in the law of diminishing returns” (501). This conclusion throws overboard the very thesis that has just been put forward, namely, that the “law” does not apply to transitions to a higher technical stage! “The conservatism of organic nature” is simply a verbal subterfuge of reactionary philistinism, which is incapable of understanding the social conditions that hinder particularly the development of agriculture. David shows that he does not understand that among those social conditions are, first, the survivals of feudalism in agriculture, the inequality of rights of agricultural labourers, and so on and so forth; and secondly, ground rent, which inflates prices and embodies high rents in the price of land.

We think,” writes David, “that German agriculture today could not produce the total quantity of grain required at the level of productivity which, thanks to overseas production, is considered normal from the standpoint of world economy. The law of diminishing returns does not permit an unlimited increase in the quantity of products on a limited area of land without a diminution in productivity” (519)—the last sentence is in italics in David’s book.

Take a look, if you please, at this economist! He declares that the “law” of diminishing returns deals exclusively with   the change of productivity at one and the same scientific-technical stage (476). Yet he draws the conclusion: “the law does not permit an ‘unlimited’ increase in the quantity of products!” (519). Why, then, does it follow that German agriculture could not be raised to the next “scientific technical stage” if this were not prevented by the private ownership of the land, by inflated rent, by the lack of rights, the downtrodden state, and degradation of the agricultural labourer, by the barbarous medieval privileges of the Junkers?

The bourgeois apologist naturally tries to ignore the social and historical causes of the backwardness of agriculture and throws the blame on the “conservatism of organic nature” and on the “law of diminishing returns”. That notorious law contains nothing but apologetics and obtuseness.

To cover up his shameful retreat to the old prejudices of bourgeois political economy David, exactly like Bulgakov, presents us with a falsified quotation from Marx. David quotes the same page of Volume III of Capital (III. B., II. Teil, S. 277) which Mr. Bulgakov quotes! (See page 481 of David’s book and our previous criticism of Mr. Bulgakov.[12] )

What I have said about the scientific conscientiousness of Mr. Bulgakov applies wholly to David as well. Mr. Bulgakov garbled a passage from Marx. David con fined him self to quoting the first words of the same passage: “Concerning decreasing productiveness of the soil with successive investments of capital, see Liebig” (Das Kapital, III. B., II. Teil, S. 277).[17] Like Bulgakov, David distorted Marx, making it appear to the reader that this is the only reference by Marx. Actually, we repeat, anyone who has read Volume III of Capital (and the second part of Volume II of Theorien über den Mehrwert[18]) knows that the opposite is the case. Marx points out dozens of times that he regards cases of diminished productivity of additional investments of capital as being quite as legitimate and quite as possible as cases of increased productivity of additional investments of capital.

In a footnote on page 481 David promises in the future to examine the connection between this law and rent, and also “to examine critically Marx’s attempt to develop and extend the theory of rent, while rejecting the basis given by Malthus and Ricardo”.

We venture to predict that David’s critical examination will be a repetition of bourgeois prejudices à la Mr. Bulgakov, or... à la Comrade Maslov.

Let us now examine another radically erroneous thesis of David’s. To refute his apologetics or his distortion of statistics is a very thankless task. On the question we are now about to deal with we have some new data which enable us to contrast a factual picture of reality with the theories of present-day philistinism.


[1] See present edition, Vol. 5, pp. 133-34.—Ed.

[2] See present edition, Vol. 5, pp. 194-95.—Ed.

[3] Evidently, this is the way Mr. Grossman, the editor of the translation, translated the word Betriebsstatistik. That’s the trouble with Russian translations! It should have been translated: “statistics of agricultural enterprises”. —Lenin

[4] See present edition, Vol. 5, pp. 162-67.—Ed.

[5] See present edition, Vol. 5, p. 215.—Ed.

[6] See present edition, Vol. 5, pp. 176-77.—Ed.

[7] Ibid., p. 216.—Ed.

[8] These figures are approximate, first, because the number of cows is given for 1900, while the number of farms is given for 1898; secondly, because we had to determine the number of cows in each group approximately, since David does not give exact figures. We have put the big farms share lower than it actually is: 7,544 farms have 30 or more cows each. Thus, even if we take the minimum, i. e., 30 cows per farm, we get 7,544x30=226,32O cows. We have taken a smaller figure, otherwise the size of the small farms would approach too closely to the minimum and not to the maximum limits of the groups. —Lenin

[9] Emil Helms, Die socialdemokratische und gewerkschaftliche Bewegung in Dänemark, Leipzig, 1907, S. 138. —Lenin

[10] See present edition, Vol. 5, pp. 209-10.—Ed.

[11] See present edition, Vol. 5, pp. 108-09.—Ed.

[12] See present edition, Vol. 5, pp. 116-19.—Ed.

[13] Lenin is referring to the book by Franz Bensing Der Einfluss der landwirtschaftlichen Maschinen auf Volks- und Privatwirtschaft, Breslau, 1897.

[14] Lenin is referring to M. Hecht’s book Drei Dörfer der badischen Hard, Leipzig, 1895.

[15] See Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy, Moscow, pp. 68-70.

[16] Lenin is referring to the letter of the well-known Narodnik publicist A. N. Engelhardt “From the Countryside” published in the journal Otechestvenniye Zapiski (Fatherland Notes).

[17] See Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. III, Moscow, 1959, p. 727. Lenin’s references are to Vol. III of the German edition of 1894 and he gives all quotations in his own translation.

[18] See Karl Marx, Theorien über den Mehrwert, 2. Teil, Berlin, Dietz Verlag, 1959.

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