V. I.   Lenin

The Capitalist System of Modern Agriculture



Social statistics in general and economic statistics in particular have made tremendous advances during the last two or three decades. A series of problems, moreover those most fundamental concerning the economic system of modern states and its development, which were previously decided on the basis of general considerations and approximate data, cannot nowadays be analysed at all seriously without taking into account the mass of data about the whole territory of a given country collected according to a single definite programme and summed up by expert statisticians. In particular, the problems of the economics of agriculture, which arouse particularly many disputes, require answering on the basis of exact, mass data, the more so since in the European states and in America it is a growing practice to make periodic censuses covering all the agricultural enterprises of the country.

In Germany, for example, such censuses were made in 1882, 1895 and the last in 1907. The importance of these censuses has often been mentioned in our press, and it is difficult to find a book or article on the economics of modern agriculture which does not refer to the statistical data on German agriculture. The last census has already occasioned a fair amount of noise in both the German and our own press. Writing in Kievskaya Mysl[2] last year, Mr. Valentinov, it will be recalled, loudly clamoured that this census allegedly refuted the Marxist doctrine and Kautsky’s views by proving the viability of small-scale production and its triumph over   large-scale production. Recently, in an article entitled “Tendencies in Agrarian Evolution in Germany” published in Ekonomist Rossii[3] No. 36 of September 11, 1910, Professor Vobly, on the basis of the data of the 1907 census, tried to refute the applicability to agriculture of “the scheme elaborated by Marx in relation to the development of industry”[4] and to prove that “small enterprises not only do not perish in the struggle against large ones in the sphere of agriculture; on the contrary, each new census registers their success

We think, therefore, it would be opportune to analyse in detail the data of the 1907 census. True, the publication of the materials of this census is not yet complete; three volumes containing all the data of the census[1] have appeared, but a fourth volume devoted to an “exposition of the results of the census as a whole” has not yet appeared and it is not known whether it will appear soon. But there are no grounds for postponing a study of the results of the census until this concluding volume has appeared, for all the material is already available, as well as the summary of it, and it is being widely used in the press.

We shall merely note that to put the question in the form In which it is usually put, confining oneself almost exclusively to a comparison of the number of farms of various sizes (in area) and the amount of land they possessed in various years, is an absolutely incorrect approach to the subject. The real differences between the Marxists and the opponents of Marxism on the agrarian question are much more deeply rooted. If the aim is to give a complete explanation of the sources of the differences, then attention must be devoted primarily and most of all to the question of the basic features of the capitalist system of modern agriculture. It is just on this question that the data of the German census of June 12, 1907, are particularly valuable. This census   is less detailed on some questions than the earlier censuses of 1882 and 1895 but, on the other hand, it gives for the first time an unprecedented wealth of data on wage-labour in agriculture. And the use of wage-labour is the chief distinguishing mark of every kind of capitalist agriculture.

We shall therefore endeavour first of all to give a general picture of the capitalist system of modern agriculture, relying chiefly on the data of the 1907 German census and supplementing them with the data of the best agricultural censuses of other countries, namely: the Danish, Swiss, American and the last Hungarian censuses. As regards the fact which most of all strikes the eye on a first acquaintance with the results of the census and which is being most talked about, namely, the reduction in Germany of the number of large farms (large in agricultural area) and the amount of land they possess, we shall turn to an examination of this only at the end of our work. For this is one of the complicated facts which are a function of a series of others, and it is impossible to understand its significance without first elucidating several much more important and basic questions.


A General Picture of the Economic System of Modern Agriculture

The German agricultural censuses, like all the European (as distinct from the Russian) censuses of the kind, are based on information collected separately about each agricultural enterprise. At the same time the amount of information collected usually increases with each census. For instance, in Germany in 1907, although very important information on the number of cattle used in field work was omitted (this information was collected in 1882 and 1895), for the first time information was collected on the amount of arable land under various cereals and on the number of family workers and wage-workers. The information about each farm obtained in this way is quite sufficient for a politico-economic characterisation of the farm. The whole question, the whole difficulty of the task, is how to sum up these data in such a way as to obtain an accurate politico-economic characterisation   of the different groups or types of farms as a wholes When the summing up is unsatisfactory, when the grouping is incorrect or inadequate, the result can be—and this continually happens in the treatment of modern census data—that unusually detailed, excellent data on each separate enterprise disappear, become lost or are wholly missing when dealing with the millions of farms of the entire country. The capitalist system of agriculture is characterised by the relations which exist between employers and workers, between farms of various types, and if the distinguishing features of these types are taken incorrectly or selected incompletely, then even the best census cannot give a politico-economic picture of the actual situation.

It is clear, therefore, that the methods of summarising or grouping the data of modern censuses are of extreme importance. Later on we shall examine an exposition of all the rather diverse methods used in the best censuses enumerated above. For the present let us note that the German census, like the vast majority of the others, gives a full summary, grouping the farms exclusively according to a single feature, namely, the size of the agricultural area of each farm. On this basis the census divides all the farms into 18 groups, be ginning with farms of less than one-tenth of a hectare and ending with those over 1,000 hectares of agricultural area. That such detailed subdivision is a statistical luxury unjustified by politico-economic considerations is felt by the authors of the German statistics themselves, who provide a summary of all the data in six—or, by separating a subgroup—seven large groups according to the size of the agricultural area. These groups are as follows: farms having less than half a hectare, one-half to 2, 2 to 5, 5 to 20, 20 to 100, and over 100, the last including a subgroup of farms with over 200 hectares of agricultural area.

The question arises: what is the politico-economic significance of this grouping? Undoubtedly the land is the chief means of production in agriculture; the amount of land is the most accurate criterion of the dimensions of a farm and, consequently, of its type, i.e., for example, whether it is a small, medium or large farm, a capitalist farm or one not using wage-labour. A farm of less than two hectares is usually accounted a small (sometimes called a parcellised or   dwarf) farm; from two to 20 hectares (sometimes from two to 100)—a peasant farm, over 100 hectares a large —that is to say, a capitalist farm.

And so, the information on wage-labour collected for the first time by the 1907 census gives us above all a first opportunity of verifying from mass data this “usual” supposition. For the first time we see the introduction in statistical procedure of at least a certain—although far from adequate, as we shall see later—element of rationality, i.e., an element taking into account data of the most direct, immediate politico-economic significance.

In point of fact, much is said about small production. But what is small production? The most usual answer is that small production is one that does not use wage-labour. It is not only Marxists who look at it in this way. Ed. David, for example, whose book Socialism and Agriculture may be called one of the latest summaries of bourgeois. theories on the agrarian question, writes on page 29 of the Russian translation: “In all those cases where we speak of small production, we have in mind the economic category which functions without permanent outside assistance and without an auxiliary occupation.”

The 1907 census fully establishes first of all that the number of these farms is very small, that in modern agriculture farmers who do not hire workers, and who do not hire themselves out to work for others, are an insignificant minority. Out of the total of 5,736,082 agricultural enterprises in Germany registered by the 1907 census, only 1,872,616, i.e., less than one-third, belong to farmers whose chief occupation is the independent conduct of agriculture and who have no auxiliary occupations. How many of them hire workers? On this there is no information; that is to say, it existed in the most detailed form on the original cards and was lost during the summarising! The compilers did not wish to calculate (after performing a mass of most detailed and futile calculations) how many farms in each group hire permanent or temporary wage-workers.

In order to determine approximately the number of farms that do without wage-labour, we shall single out those groups in which the number of farms is less than the number of wage-workers. These will he groups with less than ten hectares   of land per farm. These groups include 1,283,631 farmers who regard agriculture as their chief concern and have no auxiliary occupation. These farmers have a total of 1,400,162 wage-workers (if it is assumed that only those farmers who regard agriculture as their chief concern and have no auxiliary occupations maintain wage-workers). Only in the groups of farms with two to five hectares is the number of independent farmers without an, auxiliary occupation greater than the number of wage-workers, namely: 495,439 farms and 411,311 wage-workers.

Of course, cultivators who have auxiliary occupations sometimes have wage-workers and, of course, there are some “small” farmers who hire not one but several wage-workers. But nevertheless there can be no doubt that farmers who do not hire workers and who do not hire themselves out to work are an insignificant minority.

From the data on the number of wage-workers three basic groups of farms in German agriculture are immediately distinguishable.

I. Proletarian farms. These include groups in which the minority of farmers regard the conduct of independent agriculture as their chief occupation, groups in which the majority are wage-workers, and so on. For example, there are 2,084,060 farms of less than half a hectare. Of these only 97,153 are independent cultivators, and 1,287,312 are wage-workers (in all branches of the national economy) by their chief occupation. The farms with one-half to two hectares of land numbered 1,294,449. Of these only 377,762 are independent cultivators, 535,480 are wage-workers, 277, 735 carry on small-scale industry, handicrafts or trade, 103,472 are employees or represent “various and unspecified” occupations, Clearly, both these groups of farms are in the main, proletarian.

II. Peasant farms. The bulk of the farms included here are those of independent cultivators; moreover, the number of family workers in them is greater than that of wage-workers. These will be groups with two to 20 hectares of land.

III. Capitalist farms. Here we include farms with more wage-workers than family workers.

The following are the total figures for these groups:  

Groups of farms Total number of farms Of which Farms subdivided according to the number of workers
ent culti-
Total num-
ber of
The workers in them being
total family
I. Less than 2 ha. . 3,378,509 474,915 1,822,792 2,669,232 4,353,052 3,851,905 501,147
II. 2–20 ha. . . . . 2,071,816 1,705,448 117,338 2,057,577 7,509,735 5,898,853 1,610,882
III. 20 ha. or more . . 285,757 277,060 737 285,331 3,306,762 870,850 2,435,912
Total . . . 5,736,082 2,457,423 1,940,867 5,012,140 15,169,549 10,621,608 4,547,941

This table gives a picture of the economic system of modern German agriculture. At the bottom of the pyramid is a vast mass of proletarian “farms”, almost three-fifths of the total number; at the top is an insignificant minority (one twentieth) of capitalist farms. Let us point out, anticipating a little, that this insignificant minority has more than half of all the land and arable area. They have one-fifth of the total number of workers engaged in agriculture and over half the total number of wage-workers.


[1] Statistik des Deutschen Reichs, Band 212, Teil 1 a, 1 b and 2 a. Berufs- und Betriebszählung vom 12. Juni 1907. Landwirtschaftliche Betriebsstatistik, Berlin 1909 und 1910. (Statistics of the German State, Vol. 212, Part 1 a, 1 b and 2 a. Census of occupations and enterprises of June 12, 1907. Statistics of agricultural production, Berlin, 1909 and 1910.—Ed.) —Lenin

[2] Kievskaya Mysl (Kiev Thought)—a daily bourgeois-democratic newspaper published in Kiev from 1908 to 1918, Mensheviks were among its most active contributors.

Lenin is referring to the article by the liquidator N. Valentinov, “Concerning the Recent German Census”, published in Kievskaya Mysl No. 308.

[3] Ekonomist Rossii (Russian Economist)—a weekly bourgeois journal devoted to economic and financial questions in Russia and abroad; it was published in St. Petersburg from 1909 to 1912.

[4] Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. III, Moscow, 1959, pp. 600–863.

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