V. I.   Lenin

The Agrarian Question and the “Critics of Marx”



Livestock in Small and Large Farms

The “critics” or Bernsteinians in the agrarian question, when defending small-scale production, very often refer to the following circumstance. Small farmers keep far more cattle on a given unit of land than big farmers. Consequently, they say, the small farmers manure their land better. Their farms are on a technically higher level, for manure plays a decisive role in modern agriculture, and the manure obtained from cattle kept on the farm is far superior to any artificial fertilisers.

Ed. David in his book Socialism and Agriculture attaches decisive significance to this argument (pp. 326, 526, and 527 of the Russian translation). He writes in italics: “manure is the soul of agriculture” (p. 308), and makes this truism the main basis of his defence of small-scale farming. He quotes German statistics showing that the small farms keep far more cattle per unit of land than the big ones. David is convinced that these figures definitely decide in his favour the question of the advantages of large-scale or small-scale production in agriculture.

Let us examine this theory and the manurial soul of agriculture more closely.

The main argument advanced by David and his numerous adherents among the bourgeois economists is a statistical one. They compare the number of cattle (per unit of land) on different-sized farms, it being tacitly assumed that identical quantities are compared, i. e., that an equal number of cattle of a particular kind represents an equal agricultural value, so to speak, on both big and small farms. It is assumed that an equal number of cattle provides an equal quantity of manure, that the cattle on big and small farms have more or less the same qualities, and so forth.

Obviously, the cogency of the argument in question depends entirely upon whether this usually tacit assumption is correct. Is this postulate correct? If we pass from the bare and rough, indiscriminate statistics to an analysis of the socio-economic conditions of small-scale and large-scale agricultural production as a whole we shall find at once that that postulate takes for granted the very thing that has still to be proved. Marxism affirms that the conditions under which cattle are kept (and also, as we have seen, the tending of the land and the conditions of the agricultural worker) are worse in small-scale than in large-scale farming. Bourgeois political economy asserts the opposite, and the Bernsteinians repeat this assertion, namely, that thanks to the diligence of the small farmer, cattle are kept under far better conditions on a small farm than on a big one. To find data which would throw light on this question requires quite different statistics from those with which David operates. It requires a statistical study not of the number of cattle on different-sized farms, but of their quality. Such a study exists in German economic literature, and perhaps more than one. It is highly characteristic that David, who filled his book with a mass of irrelevant quotations from all kinds of works on agronomics, completely ignored the attempts to be found in the literature to reveal the internal conditions of small-scale and large-scale farming by means of detailed research. We shall acquaint the reader with one of those researches undeservedly ignored by David.

Drechsler, a well-known German writer on agricultural questions, published the results of a monographic “agricultural   statistical investigation”, which, he rightly said, “for the accuracy of its results is surely without equal”. In the Province of Hanover, 25 settlements were investigated (22 villages and three landlord estates), and data showing not only the amount of land and number of cattle, but also the quality of the cattle were collected separately for each farm. To determine the quality of the cattle a particularly accurate method was adopted: the live weight[1] of each animal was ascertained in kilogrammes “on the basis of the most careful possible appraisal of the individual animals—an appraisal made by experts”. Data were obtained giving the live weight of each type of animal on different-sized farms. The investigation was carried out twice: the first in 1875, the second in 1884. The figures were published by Drechsler[2] in rough form for each of three estates and for three groups of villages, the peasant farms in the villages being divided into seven groups according to the amount of land (over 50 hectares; 25 to 50; 12.5 to 25; 7.5 to 12.5; 2.5 to 7.5; 1.25 to 2.5, and up to 1.25 hectares). Considering that Drechsler’s figures relate to eleven different types of animals, the reader will realise how complicated all these tables are. To obtain summarised figures which will enable us to draw general and basic conclusions, we shall divide all the farms into five main groups: (a) big estates; (b) peasant farms having over 25 hectares of lands; (c) 7.5 to 25 hectares; (d) 2.5 to 7.5 hectares; and (e) less than 2.5 hectares.

The number of farms in these groups and the amount of land in them in 1875 and in 1884 were as follows:

  1875 1884
(a) Estates 3 689 229 3 766 255
(b) Farms of 25 ha and over 51 1,949 38 58 2,449 42
(c) " 7.5 to 25 ha 274 3,540 13 248 3,135 12
(d) " 2.5 to 7.5 " 442 1,895 4.3 407 1,774 4.3
(e) " up to 2.5 " 1,449 1,279 0.88 1,109 1,027 0.9
Total 2,219 9,352 4.2 1,825 9,151 5.0

To explain these figures we shall deal first of all with the economic types of the different-sized farms. Drechsler considers that all the farms of 7.5 hectares and over employ hired labour. Thus, we get (in 1875) 325 peasant farms employing workers. All the farmers having up to 2.5 hectares have to hire themselves out. Of the farmers having 2.5 to 7.5 hectares (average=4.3 ha) half, according to Drechsler’s calculations, do not employ labour, while the other half have to provide hired labourers. Thus, of the total peasant farms, 325 are capitalist farms, 221. are small “Trudovik” farms (as our Narodniks would call them) which do not employ labour nor provide hired labourers, and 1,670 are semi-proletarian, which provide hired labourers.

Unfortunately, Drechsler’s grouping differs from that of the general German statistics, which regard as middle peasants those having from 5 to 20 hectares. Nevertheless, it remains an undoubted fact that the majority of these middle peasants do not dispense with hired workers. The “middle peasants” in Germany are. small capitalists. The peasants who do not hire labour and do not hire themselves out constitute an insignificant minority: 221 out of 2,216, i.e., one-tenth.

Thus, the groups of farms which we have selected according to their economic type are characterised as follows: (a) big capitalist; (b) middle capitalist (“Grossbauer”); (c) small capitalist; (d) small peasant; and (e) semi-proletarian.

The total number of farms and the total amount of land they occupied diminished between 1875 and 1884. This decrease mainly applied to the small farms: the number of farms occupying up to 2.5 hectares dropped from 1,449 to 1,109, i. e., by 340, or nearly one-fourth. On the other hand, the number of the biggest farms (over 25 hectares) increased from 54 to 61, and the amount of land they occupied increased from 2,638 to 3,215 hectares, i.e., by 577 hectares. Consequently, the general improvement in farming and the raising of agricultural standards in the given area, about which Drechsler goes into raptures, signify the concentration of agriculture in the hands of a diminishing number of owners: “Progress” has pushed out of agriculture nearly 400 farmers out of 2,219 (by 1884 there remained 1,825), and raised the average amount of land per farm among the remainder from 4.2 to 5 hectares. In one locality capitalism concentrates the given branch of agriculture and pushes a number of small farmers into the ranks of the proletariat. In another locality the growth of commercial farming creates a number of new small farms (for example dairy farming in suburban villages and in entire countries which export their produce, such as Denmark). In still other localities the splitting up of the medium farms increases the number of small farms. Indiscriminate statistics conceal all these processes, for the study of which detailed investigations must be made.

The progress of agriculture in the locality described found particular expression in the improvement of livestock rearing, although the total head of livestock diminished. In 1875, there were 7,208 head of livestock (in terms of cattle); in 1884 there were 6,993. Going by the gross statistics, this decrease in the total number of livestock would be a sign of decline in livestock breeding. Actually, there was an improvement in the quality of the stock, so that, if we take not the number of animals, but their total “live weight”, we shall get 2,556,872 kilogrammes in 1875 and 2,696,107 kilogrammes in 1884.

Capitalist progress in livestock rearing shows itself not only, sometimes even not so much, in an increase in numbers as in an improvement in quality, in the replacement of inferior by better cattle, increase in fodder, etc.

Average Number of Livestock per Farm
  1875 1884
  Cattle Other
Total Cattle Other
  (in terms of cattle)
(a) Estates 105 69 174 110 41 151
(b) Farms of 25 ha and over 13.2 11.0 24.2 13.7 10.5 24.2
(c) " 7.5 to 25 ha 5.4 3.8 9.2 4.9 4.2 9.1
(d) " 2.5 to 7.5 " 2.2 1.4 3.6 2.2 1.8 4.0
(e) " up to 2.5 " 0.3 0.6 0.9 0.4 0.7 1.1
Total 1.7 1.5 3.2 2.0 1.8 3.8

On the biggest farms the number of cattle diminished. In the smallest the number grew, and the smaller the farm the more rapid was the increase. This seems to show progress in small-scale and regression in large-scale production, that is, confirmation of David’s theory, does it not?

But we have only to take the figures of the average weight of the cattle for this illusion to be dispelled.

  Average weight per animal (kilogrammes)
  1875 1884
  Cattle Other
Total Cattle Other
(a) Estates 562 499 537 617 624 619
(b) Farms of 25 ha and over 439 300 376 486 349 427
(c) " 7.5 to 25 ha 409 281 356 432 322 382
(d) " 2.5 to 7.5 " 379 270 337 404 287 352
(e) " up to 2.5 " 350 243 280 373 261 301
Average 412 256 354 446 316 385

The first conclusion to be drawn from these figures is that the bigger the farm the better the quality of the cattle. The difference in this respect between the capitalist farms and the small-peasant, or semi-proletarian, farms is enormous. For example, in 1884, this difference between the biggest and smallest farms was over one hundred per cent: the average weight of the average animal on the big capitalist farms was 619 kilogrammes; on the semi-proletarian farms it was 301 kilogrammes, i.e., less than half! One can judge from this how superficial are the arguments of David and those who think like him when they assume that the quality of the cattle is the same on large and small farms.

We have already mentioned above that cattle are generally kept worse in small farms. Now we have factual confirmation of this. The figures for live weight give us a very accurate idea of all the conditions under which the cattle are kept: feeding, housing, work, care—all this is summarised, so to speak, in the results which found statistical expression in Drechsler’s monograph. It turns out that for all the “diligence” displayed by the small farmer in care for his cattle—a diligence extolled by our Mr. V.V.[9] and by the German David—he is unable even approximately to match the advantages of large-scale production, which yields products of a quality twice as good. Capitalism condemns the small peasant to eternal drudgery, to a wasteful expenditure of labour, for with insufficient means, insufficient fodder, poor quality cattle, poor housing, and so forth, the most careful tending is a sheer waste of labour. In its appraisal bourgeois political economy puts in the forefront not this ruin and oppression of the peasant by capitalism, but the “diligence” of the toiler (toiling for the benefit of capital under the worst conditions of exploitation).

The second conclusion to be drawn from the figures quoted above is that the quality of cattle improved during the ten years both on the average and in all the categories of farms. But as a result of this general improvement, the difference in the conditions of livestock rearing in the large and small farms became not less, but more glaring. The general improvement widened rather than narrowed the gulf between the large and small farms, for in this process   of improvement large-scale farming outstrips small-scale farming. Here is a comparison of the average weight of the average animal by groups in 1875 and in 1884.

  Average weight of
average ani-
mal in kilo-
1875 1884
(a) Estates 537 619 +82 +15.2
(b) Farms of 25 ha and over 376 427 +51 +13.6
(c) " ” 7.5 to 25 ha 356 382 +26 +7.3
(d) " " 2.5 to 7.5 " 337 352 +15 +4.4
(e) " " up to 2.5 " 280 301 +21 +7.5
Average 354 385 +31 +8.7

The improvement is greatest on the big capitalist farms, then come the medium-sized capitalist farms; it is entirely negligible on the small peasant farms and very inconsiderable in the rest. Like the great majority of agronomists who write on problems of agricultural economics, Drechsler noted only the technical aspect of the matter. In the fifth conclusion he draws from the comparison between 1875 and 1884 he says: “A very considerable improvement in.the keeping of livestock[4] has taken place: a reduction in the number of cattle and an improvement in quality; the aver age live weight per animal increased considerably in each of the three groups of villages.[5] That shows that the marked improvement in cattle rearing, feeding, and tending of cattle was more or less general (ziemlich allgemein).”

The words “more or less general”, which we have underlined, show precisely that the author ignored the socio-economic aspect of the question; “more” applies to the big farms, “less” to the small ones. Drechsler overlooked this, because he paid attention only to the figures concerning the groups of villages and not groups of farms of different types.

Let us now pass to the figures on draught animals, which throw light on farming conditions in the narrow sense of the term “agriculture”. In regard to the number of draught animals the farms under review are characterised by the following figures:

  Average number of draught animals per farm
1875 1884
(a) Estates 27 44
(b) Farms of 25 ha and over 4.7 5.5
(c) " " 7.5.to 25 ha 2.1 2.4
(d) " " 2.5 to 7.5 " 1.3 1.5
(e) " " up to 2.5 " 0.07 0.16
Average 0.7 1.0

Thus, the overwhelming majority of the semi-proletarian farms (up to 2.5 hectares; in 1884, they numbered 1,109 out of 1,825) had no draught animals at all. They cannot even be regarded as agricultural farms in the real sense of the term. In any case, as regards the use of draught animals, there can be no comparison between the big farms and those farms of which 93 or 84 per cent employ no draught animals at all. If, however, we compare the big capitalist farms with the small peasant farms in this respect, we shall find that the former (group a) have 132 draught animals to 766 hectares of land, and the latter (group d) 632 to 1,774 hectares (1884), i.e., the former has one draught animal to approximately six hectares, and the latter one to approximately three hectares. Obviously, the small farms spend twice as   much on the keeping of draught animals. Small-scale production implies dispersion of the technical means of farming and a squandering of labour as a result of this dispersion.

This dispersion is partly due to the fact that the small farmers are obliged to use draught animals of an inferior quality, that is, to use cows as draught animals. The percentage of cows in relation to the total number of draught animals was as follows:

  1875 1884
(a) Estates
(b) Farms of 25 ha and over 2.5%
(c) " " 7.5 to 25 ha 6.3% 11.4%
(d)" ” 2.5 to 7.5 " 60.7% 64.9%
(e)" ” up to 2.5 " 67.7% 77.9%
Average 27.0% 33.4%

From this it is clearly evident that the use of cows in field work is increasing, and that cows are the principal draught animals on the semi-proletarian and small-peasant farms. David is inclined to regard this as progress in exactly the same way as Drechsler, who takes entirely the bourgeois standpoint. In his conclusions Drechsler writes: “A large number of the small farms have gone over to the use of cows as draught animals, which is more expedient for them.” It is “more expedient” for the small farmers because it is cheaper. And it is cheaper because inferior draught animals are substituted for better ones. The progress of the small peasants which rouses the admiration of the Drechslers and Davids is quite on a par with the progress of the vanishing hand weavers, who are going over to worse and worse materials, waste products of the mills.

The average weight of draught cows in 1884 was 381 kilogrammes,[6] that of draught horses being 482 kilogrammes,   and oxen 553 kilogrammes. The latter type of draught animal, the strongest, accounted in 1884 for more than half of the total draught animals of the big capitalist farmers, for about a fourth of those of the medium and small capitalists, for less than a fifth of those of the small peasants, and for less than a tenth of those of the semi-proletarian farmers. Consequently, the bigger the farm the higher the quality of the draught animals. The average weight of an average draught animal was as follows:

  1875 1884
(a) Estates 554 598
(b) Farms of 25 ha and over 542 537
(c) " 7.5 to 25 ha 488 482
(d) " 2.5.to 7.5 " 404 409
(e) " up to 2.5 " 377 378
Average 464 460

Consequently, on the whole, the draught animals have deteriorated. Actually, in the large capitalist farms we see a considerable improvement;.in all the others there was either no change, or a deterioration. As regards the quality of draught animals, the difference between large-scale and small-scale production also increased between 1875 and 1884. The use of cows as draught animals by the small farmers has become general practice in Germany.[7] Our figures show with documentary accuracy that this practice denotes a deterioration of the conditions of agricultural production, the increasing poverty of the peasantry.

To complete our survey of the data in Drechsler’s mono graph, we shall quote an estimate of the number and weight of all animals per unit of land area, i. e., the estimate which   David made on the basis of the general statistics of German agriculture:

  Per hectare of land there were
Total number of
livestock (in terms
of cattle)
Weight of total
livestock in
1875 1884 1875 1884
(a) Estates 0.77 0.59 408 367
(b) Farms of 25 ha and over 0.63 0.57 238 244
(c)" ” 7.5 to 25 ha 0.71 0.72 254 277
(d)" ” 2.5 to 7.5 " 0.85 0.94 288 328
(e) " " up to 2.5 " 1.02 1.18 286 355
Average 0.77 0.76 273 294

The figures of the number of livestock per hectare of land are the figures to which David confines himself. In our example, as in German agriculture as a whole, these figures show a reduction in the number of livestock per unit of land area in the big farms. In 1884, for example, the semi-proletarian farms had exactly twice as many cattle per hectare as the big capitalist farms (1.18 as against 0.59). But we are already aware that this estimate seeks to compare the incomparable. The actual relationship between the farms is shown by the figures for weight of livestock: in this respect, too, large-scale production is in a better position than small-scale, for it has the maximum of livestock in weight per unit of land area, and consequently, also the maximum of manure. Thus, David’s conclusion that, on the whole, the small farms are better supplied with manure is the very opposite of the truth. Moreover, it must be borne in mind, first, that our figures do not cover artificial fertilisers, which only well-to-do farmers can afford to buy; and secondly, that comparing the amount of livestock by weight puts cattle and smaller animals on the same level, for example, 45,625 kilogrammes—the weight of 68 head of cattle in the big farms and 45,097 kilogrammes—the weight of 1,786 goats in the small farms (1884). Actually,   the advantage the big farms enjoy as regards supplies of manure is greater than that shown in our figures.[8]

Summary: by means of the phrase “manure is the soul of agriculture”, David evaded socio-economic relations in livestock farming in particular and presented the matter in an utterly false light.

Large-scale production in capitalist agriculture has a tremendous advantage over small-scale production as regards the quality of livestock in general, and of draught animals in particular, as regards the conditions under which the, livestock is kept, its improvement, and its utilisation for providing manure.


[1] David is well aware of this method, employed by agronomists, of ascertaining the live weight of animals. On page 367 he tells us in detail the live weight of different breeds of beef and dairy cattle, draught animals, etc. He copies these data from the agronomists. It never occurs to him that what matters to an economist in general, and to a socialist in particular, is not the difference in the breeds of cattle, but the difference in the conditions under which they are kept in small and large farms, in “peasant” and in capitalist farming. —Lenin

[2] For 1875 in Schriften des Vereins für Sozialpolitik, Band XXIV, S. 112 (“Bäuerliche Zustände”, B. III), and for 1884 in Thiel’s landwirtschaftliche Jahrbücher, Band XV (1886). —Lenin

[3] The various other types of livestock are expressed in terms of cattle according to the usual standards. For one year, and for one of the eleven types of animals, the number given is approximate: the figures refer only to weight, not to the number of cattle. —Lenin

[4] Drechsler speaks here of all cattle except draught animals (called Nutzvieh). Further we quote figures on draught animals separately. The general conclusion remains the same, whatever type or type groups of animals we take. —Lenin

[5] Drechsler divides the 22 villages into three groups according to geographical location and other farming conditions. We have taken only the summarised data in order not to overburden this article with figures. The conclusions remain the same, whatever groups of villages we take. —Lenin

[6] The average weight of cows not employed for field work was 421 kilogrammes. —Lenin

[7] Concerning this see above, Chapter VIII, “General Statistics of German Agriculture”. (See present edition, Vol. 5, pp. 194-205—Ed.) —Lenin

[8] Let us recall the statement made by Klawki, quoted above (Chapter VI) (see present edition, Vol. 5, p. 171.—Ed.). “The small farmers have inferior manure, their straw is shorter, it is largely used as fodder (which also means that the feed is inferior), and less straw is used for bedding.” —Lenin

[9] V. V.—pseudonym of V. Vorontsov, the ideologist of the liberal Narodism of the eighties and nineties of the last century.

  The “Work” of the German Bulgakov, E. David | The “Ideal Country” from the Standpoint of the Opponents of Marxism on the Agrarian Question[10101010 10101010]  

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