V. I.   Lenin

The Capitalist System of Modern Agriculture



The Real Nature of the Majority of Modern Agricultural “Farms” (Proletarian “Farms”)

Of the “farmers” with less than two hectares of land, the majority are wage-workers by their chief occupation. For them agriculture is an auxiliary occupation. Of the 3,378,509 enterprises in this group, 2,920419 are auxiliary concerns (Nebenbetriebe). A quite small minority, 14 per cent in all, 475,000 out of 3,4 million, are independent cultivators, and this includes those who have in addition an auxiliary, non-agricultural occupation.

* ... It is to be noted that the number of wage-workers[1] in this group exceeds the number of independent cultivators.

This fact indicates that the statistics here lump together with the mass of proletarians those few capitalist cultivators who carry out large-scale farming on a small plot of land. We shall repeatedly encounter this type in the course of our exposition.

The question arises of the significance of these masses of proletarian “farmers” in the general system of agriculture. In the first place, they represent the link between the feudal and the capitalist systems of social economy, their close connection and their kinship historically, a direct survival of serfdom in capitalism. If, for example, we see in Germany and particularly in Prussia that the statistics of agricultural enterprises include plots of land (known as Deputatland) which the landlord gives the agricultural labourer as part of his   wages, is this not a direct survival of serfdom? The difference between serfdom, as an economic system, and capitalism lies in the fact that the former allots land to the worker, whereas the latter separates the worker from the land; the former gives the worker the means of subsistence in kind (or forces him to produce them himself on his “allotment”), the latter gives the worker payment in money, with which he buys the means of subsistence. Of course, in Germany this survival of serfdom is quite insignificant compared with what we see in Russia with her notorious “labour-rent” system of landlord farming, nevertheless it is a survival of serfdom. The 1907 census in Germany counted 579,500 “agricultural enterprises” belonging to agricultural workers and day-labourers, and of these 540,751 belong to the group of “farmers” with less than two hectares of land.

In the second place, the bulk of the “farmers” owning such insignificant plots of land that it is impossible to make a living from them, and which represent merely an “auxiliary occupation”, form part of the reserve army of unemployed in the capitalist system as a whole. It is, to use Marx’s term, the hidden form of this army.[3] It would be wrong to imagine that this reserve army of unemployed consists only of workers who are out of work. It includes also “peasants” or “petty farmers” who are unable to exist on what they get from their minute farm, who have to try to obtain their means of subsistence mainly by hiring out their labour. Their kitchen garden or potato plot serves this army of the poor as a means of supplementing their wages or of enabling them to exist when they are not employed. Capitalism requires these “dwarf”, “parcellised” pseudo-farms so that without expense it can always have a mass of cheap labour at its disposal. According to the 1907 census, out of two million “farms” of less than half a hectare 624,000 have only horticultural land and 361,000 have only a potato field. The total cultivated area of these two million “farms” is 247,000 hectares, of which more than half, namely, 166,000 hectares, is under potato. The total cultivated area of the million and a quarter “farms” with one-half to two hectares is 976,000 hectares, of which more than a third, namely, 334,000 hectares, is under potato. Deterioration of the people’s diet (replacement of bread by potatoes) and cheaper labour-power for the employers—such   is the significance of the “farming” of three million agricultural “farms” out of the five million in Germany.

To conclude the description of these proletarian farms, let us add that almost one-third of them (one million out of 3.4 million) do not possess livestock of any kind, two-thirds (2.5 out of 3.4 million) do not have any cattle, more than nine-tenths (3.3 out of 3.4 million) have no horses. The share of these proletarian farms in the total agricultural production is minimal: three-fifths of them have less than one-tenth of all the cattle (2.7 million out of 29.4 million head, reckoning all livestock in terms of cattle), and one-twentieth of all the cultivated area (1.2 out of 24.4 million hectares).

One can imagine what confusion and falsity is introduced into the subject by statistics which lump together in this group of farms of less than two hectares of land millions of proletarians without horses or cattle and with only a kitchen garden or potato field and thousands of big farmers, capitalists, who conduct big cattle-raising or horticultural and suchlike enterprises on 1-2 dessiatines. That such farmers are contained in this group is evident if only from the fact that out of the 3.4 million (with less than two hectares of land) 15,428 are farmers each of whom have six or more Workers (taking family and wage-workers together), all of these 15,428 together having 123,941 workers, i.e., an average of eight workers per farm. Taking into account the special features of agriculture as regards machinery, such a number of workers is undoubtedly an indication of large-scale capitalist production. That large-scale cattle-raising farms are included among the mass of proletarian “farms” of less than two hectares, I have already had to point out on the basis of the data of the earlier census of 1895 (see my book: The Agrarian Question, St. Petersburg, 1908, p. 239[2] ). It was quite possible to single out these large-scale farms by means of the data both on the number of cattle and on the number of workers, but the German statisticians prefer to fill hundreds of pages with data on five subdivisions of the group of owners having less than half a hectare divided into still smaller groups according to the amount of land!

Socio-economic statistics—one of the most powerful means of acquiring social knowledge—are converted in this way into a monstrosity, into statistics for the sake of statistics, into a game.

That the majority or the great bulk of agricultural enterprises belong to the category of dwarf, parcellised, proletarian farms is a phenomenon that is common to many if not most European capitalist countries, but not all capitalist countries. In America, for example, according to data of the 1900 census, the average size of the farms is 146.6 acres (60 hectares), i.e., 7 1/2 times as large as in Germany. The very small farms, if one includes here those of less than 20 acres (8 hectares) form a little over one-tenth (11.8 per cent) of the total number. Even the farms of less than 50 acres (20 hectares) form only one-third of the total number. In order to compare these data with the German statistics one must take into account that farms of less than three acres (=1.2 hectares) are included in the American census only if their gross income amounts to 500 dollars, i.e., the vast majority of farms of less than three acres are not registered at all. Hence we must exclude also the very small farms from the German data. Let us eliminate even all the farms of less than two hectares: of the remaining 2,357,572 farms there will be 1,006,277 of two to five hectares, i.e., over 40 per cent of the farms will be very small farms. In America the situation is quite different.

It is evident that when the traditions of serfdom are absent (or all traces of it are more thoroughly abolished), and when the yoke imposed by land rent on agricultural production is absent (or weakened), capitalism in agriculture can exist and even develop with special rapidity without creating a category of a million agricultural labourers and day-labourers with allotments.


[1] Here the edge of the manuscript is torn off.—Ed.

[2] See present edition, Vol. 5, pp. 103–222.—-Ed. —Lenin

[3] Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I, Moscow, 1959, pp. 640–48.

  A General Picture of the Economic System of Modern Agriculture | Peasant Farms Under Capitalism  

Works Index   |   Volume 16 | Collected Works   |   L.I.A. Index
< backward   forward >