V. I.   Lenin

New Data on the Laws Governing the Development of Capitalism in Agriculture

PART ONE—Capitalism and Agriculture in the United States of America


10. Defects of Conventional Methods of Economic Analysis. Marx on the Peculiarities Of Agriculture

The grouping of farms by acreage, total or improved, is the only kind of grouping which was used in the American Census reports for 1910, and which is used in the great majority of European countries. Generally speaking, it is indisputable that apart from fiscal, bureaucratic and administrative reasons there are scientific considerations arguing the need and correctness of this kind of grouping. Still it is obviously inadequate for it completely fails to take account of the intensification of agriculture, the increasing expenditure of capital per unit of area in the form of livestock, machinery, improved seeds, better methods of crop cultivation, etc. Meanwhile, with the exception of a very few areas and countries with a primitive or purely extensive agriculture, it is this very process that is most typical for capitalist countries everywhere. For this reason the grouping of farms by acreage in the vast majority of cases gives an oversimplified and entirely inadequate picture of agricultural development in general, and of capitalist development in agriculture in particular.

When the verbose economists and statisticians who express the most popular bourgeois views hold forth on the dissimilarity of conditions in agriculture and industry, the specific nature of the former, and so on and so forth, one is always tempted to say: Gentlemen! You yourselves are most to blame for maintaining and spreading oversimplified and crude notions of evolution in agriculture! Remember Marx’s Capital. In it you will find references to the extreme variety of forms of land ownership, such as feudal, clan, communal (and primitive-squatter), state, etc., which capitalism encounters when it makes its appearance on the historical scene. Capital subordinates to itself all these varied forms of land ownership and remolds them after its own fashion, and if one is to understand, evaluate and express this process in statistical terms, one must learn to modify the formulation of the question and the methods of investigation in accordance with the changing form of the process. Capitalism subordinates to itself all these forms of land ownership: communal-allotment holdings in Russia; squatter tracts or holdings regulated by free distribution in a democratic or a feudal state, as in Siberia or the American Far West; the slave-holding estates in the American South, and the semi-feudal landholdings of the “purely Russian” gubernias. In all these cases, the development and victory of capitalism is similar, though not identical in form. In order to study and understand the precise nature of the process one must go beyond the trite petty-bourgeois phrases about “family farming” or the routine methods of comparing acreage alone.

You will also find that Marx analyses the origin of the capitalist type of ground-rent and its relationship to its forerunners in history, such as rent in kind, labour service (corvée and its survivals); money-rent (quit-rent, etc.). But who among the bourgeois or petty-bourgeois, Narodnik, economists or statisticians has given any serious thought to applying these theoretical guiding principles of Marx’s to an investigation of the rise of capitalism from the slave-holding economy of the American South, or from the corvée economy in central Russia?

Finally, you will find throughout Marx’s analysis of ground-rent systematic references to the varied conditions of   agriculture engendered not only by the differences in quality and location of the land, but also by the differences in the amount of capital invested in it. Now what does application of capital to land imply? It implies technical changes in agriculture, its intensification, the transition to higher systems of field cropping, increased use of artificial fertilizers, the wider use and improvement of implements and machinery, greater employment of hired labour, etc. A record of the acreage alone will not express all these complex and varied processes, which all combine to make up the general process of the development of capitalism in agriculture.

Russian Zemstvo statisticians,[3] especially those of the “good old” pre-Revolutionary days, won universal respect because they avoided the routine approach and took a certain scientific interest in their business, going beyond its purely fiscal, bureaucratic and administrative aspects. They were probably the first statisticians to notice the inadequacy of grouping farms by acreage alone, and, accordingly, introduced other methods of classification, such as by sown area, number of draught animals, employment of hired labour, etc. Unfortunately, the sporadic and scattered operations of our Zemstvo statistics—in the past ever what you might call an oasis in the desert of feudal obscurity, bureaucratic routine, and every kind of stupid red-tapism—have not yielded any long-term results either for Russian or European economics.

It should be noted that the grouping of the returns canvassed in modern agricultural censuses is not such a purely technical or highly specialized question as may appear at first sight. The returns contain an immense wealth of complete information on each enterprise as a unit, but due to the clumsy, thoughtless, routine approach to tabulation and grouping, this extremely valuable material is all lost, wasted, and discolored, which often makes it practically useless for any study of the laws of agricultural evolution. The returns make it possible to say quite categorically whether a farm is a capitalist enterprise, and to what extent; whether its farming operations are intensive, and to what degree, etc.; but when data relating to millions of farms are tabulated the most essential distinctions, features and characteristics—which ought to be most effectively   brought out, determined and taken into account—tend to disappear, so that all the economist gets, instead of a sensible statistical review, is routine, meaningless columns of figures, a kind of statistical “game of digits”.

The American Census of 1910 with which we are now concerned is an excellent example of how first-class material of surpassing wealth and completeness has been devalued and spoiled by the routine approach and scientific ignorance of the statisticians. The processing is very much worse than in the 1900 Census, and even the traditional grouping of farms by acreage has not been fully carried out, so that we have no possibility of making a comparison between the enterprises in the various groups, say, as regards their employment of hired labour, the difference in their systems of field cropping, the use of fertilizers, etc.

I am compelled, therefore, to turn to the 1900 Census. It gave, to my knowledge, the world’s only example of the use of three different methods, instead of one, to group or “classify” (as the Americans say) the great abundance of material on more than five and a half million farms, collected in a single country, at a single time, and under a single program.

It is true that here, too, no classification gives all the essential characteristics of the type and size of farm. Still the resultant picture of capitalist agriculture and the capitalist evolution of agriculture is, as I hope to show, very much fuller, and reflects the real situation much more correctly than can ever be the case when the conventional, one-sided and inadequate single method of classification is used. Given the opportunity for a fuller study of facts and trends, which may be safely considered common to all the capitalist countries of the world, the most serious errors and dogmas of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois, Narodnik political economy are shown up and exposed.

Since the data in question are so important I shall have to examine them in greater detail and employ statistical tables more frequently than hitherto. Realizing fully that statistical tables burden the text and make reading more difficult, I have tried to keep them down to a minimum, and hope the reader will be lenient with me if I now have to increase that minimum, for on the analysis of the points   examined here depends not only the general conclusion on the principal question—the trend, type, character and law of evolution of modern agriculture—but also the general assessment of the data furnished by modern agricultural statistics which are so often cited and just as often distorted.

The first grouping—“by acreage”—gives the following picture of American agriculture in 1900:

Average per farm

Size group
Percentage of
Percentage of total acreage Improved
Outlays On hired labour
Value of
Value of
implements and
Under 3
3 to 10
10 to 20
20 to 50
50 to 100
100 to 175
175 to 260
260 to 500
500 to 1000
1,000 and over
_ _[2]

Average for all farms 72.3 656 133

It is safe to say that the statistics of any capitalist country—the inessential particulars apart—would present an absolutely similar picture. This is confirmed by the latest censuses in Germany, Austria, Hungary, Switzerland and Denmark. As total farm acreage increases from group to group, there is also an increase in the average improved acreage, the average value of the produce, the value of implements and machinery, the value of livestock (I have omitted these figures) and the expenditure on hired labour (earlier on I pointed out the significance of the slight exception of the under-3-acre farms and in part of the 3-to-10-acre farms).

It would seem that it could not be otherwise. The increase in expenditure on hired labour appears to confirm beyond any doubt that the division of farms into large and small on   the strength of acreage is entirely in accord with their division into capitalist and non-capitalist enterprises. Nine-tenths of the usual arguments about “small-scale” agriculture are based on identification in this way and on such data.

Let us now consider the average per acre of (all) land, instead of per farm:

Per acre of all land in dollars
Size group
on hired
on fertilizers
Value of
Value of
and machinery
Under 3
3 to 10
10 to 20
20 to 50
50 to 100
100 to 175
175 to 260
260 to 500
500 to 1000
1,000 and over

Allowing for some absolutely negligible exceptions we find a uniform decline in the characteristics of intensive farming from the lower groups to the higher.

The conclusion appears to be incontrovertible that “small-scale” production in agriculture is more intensive than large-scale production, that the smaller the “scale” of production, the greater the intensity and productivity of agriculture, and that, “consequently”, capitalist production in agriculture is maintained only by the extensive, primitive nature of the economy, etc.

In fact, the same conclusions are being drawn all the time, on every hand, in all bourgeois and petty-bourgeois (opportunist-“Marxist” and Narodnik) writings, for when farms are grouped by acreage (which is not only the most common but practically the only kind of grouping done) the picture will be similar for any capitalist country, that is, it will show the same decline in the characteristics of intensive agriculture from the lower groups to the higher. There is, for instance, the celebrated work of the celebrated Eduard David—Socialism and Agriculture—a collection of bourgeois prejudices and bourgeois lies under the cover   of quasi-socialist catchwords. It uses just that kind of data to prove the “superiority”, “viability”, etc., of “small-scale” production.

One factor has especially facilitated such conclusions. It is that data similar to the above are ordinarily available on the quantity of livestock; but practically nowhere are data collected on hired labour—especially in such a summarized form as expenditure on hired labour. But it is precisely the data on hired labour that reveal the incorrectness of all such conclusions. In effect, if the increase, say, in the value of livestock (or the total number of animals, which is the same thing) per unit of area down the scale is taken as evidence of the “superiority” of “small-scale” agriculture, it should be borne in mind that as we go down the scale this “superiority” turns out to be connected with increasing expenditure on hired labour! But such an increase in the expenditure on hired labour—notice that we have all along been dealing with values per unit of area, per acre, per hectare, per dessiatine—signifies a growth of the capitalist nature of the enterprise! But the capitalist nature of the enterprise clashes with the popular notion of “small-scale” production because small-scale production implies enterprise which is not based on hired labour.

This seems to create a knot of contradictions. The overall acreage returns for the size groups indicate that the “small” farms are non-capitalist, whereas the big farms are. Yet the very same data show that the “smaller” the enterprise, the more intensive it is, and the larger its expenditure on hired labour per unit of land area!

In order to explain this let us consider another type of grouping.


[1] Excluding produce used as feed. —Lenin

[2] Less than 0.1%. —Lenin


  9. Continued. Statistics on the Value of Farms | 11. A More Exact Comparison of Small and Large Enterprises  

< backward     Contents     forward >
Works Index   |   Volume 22 | Collected Works   |   L.I.A. Index