V. I.   Lenin

The Capitalist System of Modern Agriculture



The Low Productivity of Labour in Small-Scale Production and Excessive Work

The significance of the data on the use of machinery in agriculture is usually underestimated in economic literature. Firstly, the capitalist character of the use of machinery is quite often ignored (always, in the case of bourgeois economists); the economists make no investigation of this problem, they do not know how to raise it or do not even want to do so. Secondly, the use of machinery is considered in isolation and not as a criterion of the different types of farm, different methods of cultivation and different economic conditions of farming.

If, for example, as a general rule we find an incomparably greater use of machinery in large-scale compared with small-scale production, and a huge concentration of machines in the capitalist farms, which sometimes even have almost e monopoly of up-to-date implements, this is an indication of the difference in care for the land among farms of different types. Among the machines registered by the German census are such machines as steam ploughs, seed-drills and potato-planting machines. The fact that they are mainly used in capitalist agriculture means that in this case care for the land is better, the technique of cultivation higher and the productivity of labour greater. Bensing,[2] the author of a well-known monograph on agricultural machinery, basing himself on the data of specialists concerning the effect of using various machines, has calculated that, even without changing the system of cultivation, the use of machines by itself raises the net return from farming many times over. These calculations have not been refuted by anyone and basically they cannot be refuted.

The small-scale producer who has no opportunity of using up-to-date implements is forced to lag behind in care for the land, and it is only individuals or a few dozen out of hundreds and thousands who can try to “overtake” the big farmer by applying more labour to the land while retaining the old tools, and by greater “assiduousness” and a longer working day. The, statistics of the use of machinery indicate therefore the existence of excessive labour in small-scale production,   a fact which is always stressed by Marxists. No statistics can take direct account of this fact, but if the statistical data are regarded in the light of their economic significance, it becomes clear which types of farming are bound to develop, cannot fail to develop, in modern society when machines are used, and when their use is impossible.

The Hungarian statistics provide an illustration of what has been said. Like the German census of 1907 (and of 1882 and 1895), like the Danish statistics on the use of machines in 1907, and like the French enquiry in 1909, the Hungarian census of 1895, which for the first time collected precise data for the whole country, shows the superiority of capitalist agriculture and the increased percentage of farms with machines as the size of the farms increases. From this angle there is nothing new here but only a confirmation of the German data. The special feature of the Hungarian statistics, however, is that information was collected not only on the few up-to-date implements and machines, but on the entire, or almost the entire, farm inventory, on the number of the simplest and most essential implements, ploughs, harrows, carts, etc.

Thanks to these exceptionally detailed data it becomes possible to establish accurately the, as it were, symptomatic significance, characteristic of the whole system of farming, of the information on the use of some agricultural machines and technological “rarities” (such as steam ploughs). Let us take the Hungarian statistical data[1] on the use of ploughs other than steam ploughs (of which in 1895 there were altogether 179 in the whole of Hungary, including 120 in 3,977 largest farms).

The following are data of the total number of ploughs and of the number of the simplest, most primitive and least   strongly built of all the implements of this kind (the simplest comprise single-share ploughs with a wooden pole; the others are: the same but with an iron pole, then two- and three-share ploughs, cultivators, ridging ploughs, and ploughs for deep ploughing).

Groups of
of farms
Number of
Dwarf (less than 5 yokes) 1,459,893 227,241 196,852
{ 5-10 yokes 569,534 335,885 290,958
{ 10-20 ” 467,038 398,365 329,416
{ 20-50 ” 235,784 283,285 215,380
{ 50-100 ” 38,862 72,970 49,312
Total small 1,311,218 1,090,505 885,066
Medium (100-1,000 yokes) 20,787 125,157 55,347
Large (over 1,000 yokes) 3,977 149,750 51,565
Total . . . . 2,795,885 1,592,653 1,188,830

Without mentioning the dwarf farms, we see that in the small peasant farms (5-10 yokes, i.e., 2.8–5.7 hectares) 233,000 out of 569,000 do not own any ploughs at all, and of the middle peasant farms 69,000 out of 467,000 are without ploughs. Only the higher groups, i.e., the big peasant and capitalist farms, all have ploughs, and it is only in the farms of over 100 yokes (there are only 25,000 such farms==O.9 per cent of the total number!) that the more elaborate implements predominate. In the peasant farms the simplest implements, those least strongly built and worst in performance, predominate (and the smaller the farm the more marked is this predominance).

Leaving out of account the dwarf farms, which constitute the majority (52 per cent) of all the farms but which occupy an insignificant fraction of the total area (7 per cent), we reach the following conclusion:

Over one million small- and middle-peasant farms (5-20 yokes) are inadequately provided with even the simplest implements for tilling the soil,

A quarter of a million big peasant farms (20-100 yokes) are tolerably equipped with implements of the simplest kind. And only 25,000 capitalist farms (but possessing, it is true, 55 per cent of the entire area of land) are fully equipped with up-to-date implements.

The Hungarian statistics, on the other hand, calculate how many yokes of arable land there are to one agricultural implement and obtain figures such as the following (we quote only the data for ploughs, harrows and carts, while pointing out that the picture of their distribution among the farms is completely analogous to that we saw in regard to ploughs).

In farms Yokes of arable land
to one
to one
to one
dwarf . . . . . . . . 7 8 7
small . . . . . . . . 12 13 15
medium . . . . . . 27 45 40
large . . . . . . . . 28 81 53

This means that the proletarian and peasant farms, which are quite unsatisfactorily equipped with all agricultural implements, have an excessively large number of them in relation to the whole amount of the arable land of their farms. A beggarly equipment of implements and an unbearable costliness of maintaining them—such is the lot of small-scale production under capitalism. In exactly the same way the statistics relating to housing in every large town show us that the poorest classes of the population, the workers, small traders, petty employees, etc., live worst of all, have the most crowded and worst dwellings and pay most dearly of all for each cubic foot. Calculated per unit of space the dwellings of factory barracks or hovels for the poor are more costly than the fashionable dwellings anywhere on the Nevsky.

The conclusion to be drawn from this as regards both Germany and all the capitalist countries is as follows. If the data on the utilisation of a few up-to-date implements and agricultural machines show us that their employment increases as the size of the farm increases, this means that small-scale production in agriculture is poorly equipped with all necessary implements. This means that in small-scale production squandering of labour on maintaining an immense quantity of poor and out-of-date implements suitable only for farming on a minute scale is combined with acute want, causing the peasant to overstrain himself in order somehow to keep going on his plot of land with these obsolete barbaric implements.

That is what the data, so simple and so well-known to all, on the use of agricultural machinery tell us if we reflect on their socio-economic significance.

Capitalism raises the level of agricultural technique and advances it, but it cannot do so except by ruining, depressing and crushing the mass of small producers.

In order to give a graphic illustration of the social significance and tempo of this process, we shall conclude by comparing the data of the three German censuses of 1882, 1895 and 1907. For the purpose of this comparison we must take the data on the number of instances of the use of the five agricultural machines which were registered during the whole of this period (these machines are: steam ploughs, seed-drills, mowing machines and harvesters, steam and other threshing-machines). We obtain the following picture:

  Groups of farms Number of Instances of the use of the chief
agricultural machines per hundred farms
1882 1895 1907
I Less than 2 ha. . . . . . 0.5 1.6 3.8
II { 2-5 ” . . . . . 3.9 11.9 31.2
{ 5-10 ” . . . . . 13.5 32.9 71.1
{ 10-20 ” . . . . . 31.2 60.8 122.1
III. { 2O-100 ” . . . . . 59.2 92.0 179.1
{ 100 ha or more. . . . 187.1 208.9 271.9
Average ..... 16.6 33.9 8.7

The progress seems considerable: during a quarter of a century the number of instances of the use of the chief machines has grown in general nearly fourfold. But, on making a careful examination, it has to be said that it has required a whole quarter of a century to make the use of at least one of the five chief machines a regular phenomenon in a small minority of the farms that cannot do without the constant employment of wage-labour. For such use can only be called regular when the number of instances of it exceeds the number of farms, and we find that this occurs only in relation to the capitalist and big peasant farms. Together they comprise 12 per cent of the total number of farms.

The bulk of the small and middle peasants, after a quarter of a century of capitalist progress, have remained, in a position in which only a third of the former and two-thirds of the latter can use any of these five machines during the year.

(End of first article)


[1] See Landwirtschaftliche Statistik der Lender der ungarischen Krone (Agricultural Statistics of the Lands of the Hungarian Crown). Budapest, 1900, Vols. 4 and 5. The Hungarian statistics divide all the farms into four chief groups: 1) dwarf farms (less than 5 yokes; one yoke=0.57 hectares); 2) small farms (5–100 yokes); 3) medium farms (100–1,000 yokes); 4) big farms (over 1,000 yokes). The second group obviously includes very diverse kinds of farms and therefore I make four subdivisions of it. —Lenin

[2] Franz Bensing, Der Einfluss der landwirtschaftlichen Maschinen auf Volks- und Privatwirtschaft (The Effect of Agricultural Machinery on the National Economic and Private Undertakings), Breslau, 1897.

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