V. I.   Lenin

Child Labour in Peasant Farming

Published: Pravda No. 133, June 12, 1913. Signed: V. I.. Published according to the Pravda text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, Volume 19, pages 209-212.
Translated: The Late George Hanna
Transcription\Markup: Unknown
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (1901). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
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In making a proper appraisal of the conditions in which capitalism places small agricultural production the most important things to study are the conditions of the worker, his earnings, the amount of labour he expends, his conditions of life; then the way the livestock is kept and tended, and, finally, the methods of cultivating and fertilising the soil, the waste of its fertility, etc.

It is not difficult to understand that if these questions are ignored (as they often are in bourgeois political economy) a totally distorted picture of peasant farming is obtained, for the real “viability” of the latter depends precisely on the conditions of the worker, on the condition of his livestock, and on the way he tends his land. To assume without proof that in this respect small production is in the same position as large-scale production is merely begging the question. It means at once adopting the bourgeois point of view.

The bourgeoisie wants to prove that the peasant is a sound and viable “proprietor”, and not the slave of capital, crushed in the same way as the wage-worker, but more tied up, more entangled than the latter. If one seriously and conscientiously wants the data required to solve this controversial problem, he must look for the regular and objective indicators of the conditions of life and labour in small and large-scale production.

One of these indicators, and a particularly important one, is the extent to which child labour is employed. The more child labour is exploited the worse, undoubtedly, is the position of the worker, and the harder his life.

The Austrian and German agricultural censuses give the number of children and adolescents employed in agriculture   in relation to the total number of persons employed in agriculture. The Austrian census gives separate figures for all workers, male and female, under 16 years of age. Of these, there were 1,200,000 out of a total of 9,000,000, i.e., 13 per cent. The German census gives figures only for those of 14 years of age and under; of these there were six hundred thousand (601,637) out of fifteen million (15,169,549), or 3.9 per cent.

Clearly, the Austrian and German figures are not comparable. Nevertheless, the relative numbers of proletarian, peasant and capitalist farms they reveal are quite comparable.

By proletarian farms we mean the tiny plots of land (up to two hectares or almost two dessiatines per farm) which provide the wage-worker with supplementary earnings. By peasant farms we mean those from 2 to 20 hectares; in these, family labour predominates over wage-labour. Finally, there are the capitalist farms; these are big farms, in which wage-labour predominates over family labour.

The following are the figures on child labour in the three types of farms.

Type of farm Group according to size
of farm
Children employed
(% of total number
of workers)
(under 16)
(under 14
Proletarian { { Less than half a hectare . . . 8.8 2.2
1/2 to 2 hectares . . . . . . 12.2 3.9
Peasant { { { 2 ” 5 ” . . . . . . 15.3 4.6
5 ” 10 ” . . . . . . 15.6 4.8
10 ” 20 ” . . . . . . 12.8 4.5
Capitalist { { 20 ” 100 ” . . . . . . 11.1 3.4
100 hectares and over . . . . 4.2 3.6
Total . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13.0 3.9

We see from the above that in both countries the exploitation of child labour is greatest in peasant farms in general, and among the middle peasant farms (5 to 10 hectares, i.e., 4.5 to 9 dessiatines) in particular.

Thus, not only is small production worse-off than large-scale production, we also see that the peasant farms, in   particular, are worse-off than the capitalist farms and even than the proletarian farms.

How is this to be explained?

On the proletarian farm, farming is conducted on such an insignificant plot of land that, strictly speaking, it can not seriously be called a “farm”. Here farming is a secondary occupation; the principal occupation is wage-labour in agriculture and in industry. In general, the influence of industry raises the standard of life of the worker, and in particular, it reduces the exploitation of child labour. For example, the German census shows the number of persons under the age of 14 employed in industry to be only 0.3 per cent of the total (i.e., one-tenth of that in agriculture) and those under 16 years of age only 18 per cent.

In peasant farming, however, the influence of industry is felt least of all, while the competition of capitalist agriculture is felt most of all. The peasant is unable to keep going without almost working himself to death and compelling his children to work as hard. Want compels the peasant to make up for his lack of capital and technical equipment with his own muscles. The fact that the peasant’s children work hardest also indicates that the peasant’s cattle work hard and are fed worse: the necessity of exerting the utmost effort and of “economising” in everything inevitably affects every side of the farm.

German statistics show that among wage-workers the largest percentage of children (3.7 or nearly 4 per cent) is to be found in the big capitalist farms (of 100 dessiatines and over). But among family workers, the largest percent age of children is to be found among the peasants—about five per cent (4.9 per cent to 5.2 per cent). As many as 9 per cent of temporary wage-workers employed in big capitalist enterprises are children; but among the peasants as many as 16.5 to 24.4 per cent of the temporary family workers are children!

In the busy season the peasant suffers from a shortage of workers; he can hire workers only to a small extent; he is compelled to employ the labour of his own children to the greatest extent. The result is that in German agriculture, in general, the percentage of children among family workers is nearly hall as big again as that among wage-workers—   children among family workers—4.4 per cent; among wage workers—3 per cent.

The peasant has to work harder than the wage-worker. This fact, confirmed by thousands of independent observations, is now fully proved by statistics for whole countries. Capitalism condemns the peasant to extreme degradation and ruin. There is no other salvation for him than through joining the class struggle of the wage-workers. But before the peasant can arrive at this conclusion he will have to experience many years of being disillusioned by deceptive bourgeois slogans.


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