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


14. The Expropriation of the Small Farmers

The question of the expropriation of the small farmers is immensely important to an understanding and assessment of capitalism in agriculture in general, and it is highly characteristic of modern political economy and statistics, which are saturated through and through with bourgeois notions and prejudices, that this question is either practically not considered at all or is given the least attention.

The general statistics in all capitalist countries show that the urban population is growing at the expense of the rural, that the population is abandoning the countryside. In the U.S.A., this process is steadily advancing. The proportion of the urban population increased from 29.5% in 1880, to 36.1% in 1890, 40.5% in 1900, and 46.3% in 1910. In every part of the country the urban population is growing more rapidly than the rural population: from 1900 to l910, the rural population in the industrial North-went up by 3.9% and the urban by 29.8%; in the former slave-holding South, the rural population increased by 14.8%, and the urban, by 41.4%; in the homestead West, the figures were 49.7 and 89.6%, respectively.

One should think that such a universal process would also have to be studied in the taking of agricultural censuses. A most important question from the scientific standpoint naturally arises as to what sections, strata or groups of the   rural population provide the fugitives from the countryside and in what circumstances. Since highly detailed information about each agricultural enterprise and about each animal in it is collected every ten years, it would be no trouble at all to include questions as to how many and what kind of farms were sold or rented with an eye to moving into town, and how many members of households abandoned farming temporarily or for good, and in what circumstances. But no such questions are asked: the investigation does not go beyond the official stereotyped statement: “The rural population decreased from 59.5% in 1900 to 53.7% in 1910.” The census-takers seem to have no inkling of the mass of misery, oppression and ruin concealed behind these routine figures. As a general rule, bourgeois and petty-bourgeois economists turn a blind eye to the obvious connection between the night of the population from the countryside and the ruin of the small producers.

There is no alternative, therefore, but to try and bring together the relatively meager and very badly compiled data on the expropriation of the small farmers gleaned from the 1910 Census report.

There are the figures on the forms of farm tenure: the number of owners, subdivided into full and part owners; and the number of share-cropping tenants and cash-paying tenants. These figures are tabulated for the various divisions but not the farm groups.

Here is the first picture we get from the totals for 1900 and 1910:

Total rural population increase
Total number of farms increased
Total number of owners increased
Total number of full owners increased

This picture is a clear indication of the growing expropriation of small-scale agriculture. The rural population is increasing more slowly than the urban. The number of farmers is increasing more slowly than the rural population; the number of owners is increasing more slowly than the number of farmers; the number of full owners—more slowly than the number of owners in general.

The proportion of owners in the total number of farmers has been decreasing steadily over a period of several decades, as follows:


There is a corresponding growth in the proportion of tenants, with the number of share-cropping tenants going up faster than that of cash-paying tenants. The number of share-cropping tenants was 17.5% in 1880; then it rose to 18.4% and 22.2%, and finally to 24% in 1910.

It is evident from the following figures that the decrease in the proportion of owners and the increase in the proportion of tenants is, on the whole, an indication of the dispossession and displacement of the small farmers:

Percentage of farms owning
Class of farm domestic animals horses
1900 1910 +/- 1900 1910 +/-

According to all the returns for both census years the owners are economically stronger. The condition of the tenants is deteriorating more rapidly than that of the owners.

Let us examine separately the figures for the sections.

The greatest number of tenants, as I have already said, is in the South, and there tenancy has the fastest rate of growth: it rose from 47% in 1900, to 49.6% in 1910. Capital defeated slavery half a century ago, merely to restore it now in a new form as share tenancy.

In the North, the number of tenants is considerably smaller and is growing at a much slower rate: it went up from 26.2% in 1900, to only 26.5% in 1910. The West has the smallest number of tenants, and it is the only section where tenancy, instead of increasing, decreased: it fell from 16.6% in 1900 to 14.0% in l910. “A very low proportion of tenant farms,” says the Census report for 1910, “is also shown for the Mountain and Pacific divisions, [the two divisions constituting “The West”][1] , where it is   doubtless attributable mainly to the fact that those divisions have been only recently settled and that many of the farmers in them are homesteaders who have obtained their land from the Government” free or for a very small price (Vol. V, p. 104).

This is a striking example of the peculiar characteristic of the U.S.A., to which I have repeatedly referred, namely, the availability of unoccupied, free land. This explains, on the one hand, the extremely rapid and extensive development of capitalism in America. The absence of private property in land in some parts of a vast country does not exclude capitalism—our Narodniks should make a note of this!—on the contrary, it broadens its base, and accelerates its development. Upon the other hand, this peculiarity, which is entirely unknown in the old, long-settled capitalist countries of Europe, serves in America to cover up the expropriation of the small farmers—a process already under way in the settled and most industrialized parts of the country.

Let us take the North. We get the following picture:

1900 1910 + or -
Total rural population increase (000,000)
Total number of farms increased (000)
Total number of owners increased (000)
Total number of full owners increased (000)

We see not only a relative reduction in the number of owners, not only a decline in their proportion of the total number of farmers, etc., but even an absolute decrease in the number of owners, against a background of growing production in the main section of the U.S.A., which embraces 60% of the country’s improved acreage!

It should, besides, be borne in mind that in one of the four divisions making up the North, namely, the West North Central, the allotment of homesteads continues to this very day, and that 54 million acres were allotted in the 10 years from 1901 to 1910.

The tendency of capitalism to expropriate small-scale agriculture is so strong that the American “North” shows an absolute decrease in the number of landowners, in spite of the distribution of tens of millions of acres of unoccupied, free land.

Only two factors still serve to paralyze this tendency in the U.S.A.: (1) the existence of the still unparcelled slave-holding plantations in the South, with its oppressed and downtrodden Negro population; and (2) the fact that the West is still partly unsettled. Both these factors tend to widen the future base of capitalism, and so prepare the conditions for its even more extensive and more rapid development. The sharpening of contradictions and the displacement of small-scale production are not removed but are transferred to a larger arena. The capitalist fire appears to be “damped down”—but at the price of an even greater accumulation of new and more inflammable material.

Furthermore, on the question of the expropriation of small-scale agriculture, we have the returns for the number of farms owning livestock. Here are the figures for the U.S.A.

Percentage of farms owning 1900 1910 + or -
Domestic animals in general
Dairy cows

These figures show, on the whole, a reduction in the number of owners in proportion to the total number of farmers. The increase in the percentage of those who owned dairy cows was smaller than the drop in the percentage of those who owned horses.

Let us now examine the figures for farms grouped in relation to the two major kinds of livestock.

Size group (acres) Percentage of farms
owning dairy cows

+ or -
1900 1910
Under 20
20 to 49
50 to 99
100 to 174
174 to 499
500 to 999
1,000 and over

Average for the U.S.A. 78.7 80.8 +2.1

We find that the greatest increase was in the number of small farms with dairy cows, then came the latifundia, and then the medium-size farms. There was a decrease in the   percentage of farms reporting dairy cows among the big owners, with 500 to 999 acres of land.

On the whole, this seems to indicate a gain for small-scale agriculture. Let us recall, however, that in farming the ownership of dairy cattle has a twofold significance: on the one hand, it may generally indicate a higher living standard and better conditions of nutrition. On the other hand, it signifies—and rather more frequently—a development of one branch of commercial farming and cattle-breeding: the production of milk for the market in the towns and industrial centers. We saw above that farms of this type, the “dairy” farms, were classified by American statisticians under a special head, according to the principal source of income. A characteristic of this group is that it has a smaller-than-average total and improved acreage, but a greater-than-average value of output, and a double-the-average employment of hired labour per acre. The increasing importance of small farms in dairy farming may simply mean—and most likely does mean—a growth of capitalist dairy farms of the type described, on small tracts of land. For the sake of comparison here are some figures on the concentration of dairy cattle in America:

Sections Average number of
dairy cows per farm
1890 1900
The North
The South
The West

Overall average 3.8 4.0 +0.2

We find that the North, which is richest of all in dairy cattle, also showed the greatest increase in wealth. Here is a distribution of this increase among the groups:

The North Size group (acres) % increase or decrease in number of dairy cows from 1900 to 1910
Under 20
20 to 49
50 to 99
100 to 174
174 to 499
500 to 999
1,000 and over
-4 (+10.0 in the number of farms)
-3 (-12.6 in the number of farms)
+ 9 (-7.3 in the number of farms)
+14 (+2.2 in the number of farms)
+18 (+12.7 in the number of farms)
+29 (+40.4 in the number of farms)
+18 (+15.4 in the number of farms)

Overall increase +14 (+15.4 in the number of farms)

The more rapid growth in the number of small farms with dairy cattle did not prevent its more rapid concentration in the large enterprises.

Let us now turn to the figures on the number of farms reporting horses. This information about draught animals is an indication of the general pattern of farming and not of any special branch of commercial farming.

Size group (acres)
Percentage of farms
reporting horses

1900 1910
Under 20
20 to 49
50 to 99
100 to 174
174 to 499
500 to 999
1,000 and over

Average for the U.S.A. 79.0 73.8 -5.2

We find that as we go down the size-group scale there is a rising number of farms not reporting horses. With the exception of the smallest farms (under 20 acres) which, as we know, include a comparatively greater number of capitalistic farms than the neighboring groups, we observe a rapid decrease in the number of horseless farms and a much slower increase in their number. The use of steam ploughs and other engines on the rich farms may partly compensate for the reduction in draught animals, but such an assumption is out of the question for the mass of the poorer farms.

Finally, the growth of expropriation is also evident from the returns on the number of mortgaged farms:

Sections Percentage of mortaged farms
1890 1900 1910
The North. . . . .
The South. . . . .
The West . . . . .

Average for the U.S.A. 28.2 31.0 33.6

The percentage of mortgaged farms is on a steady increase in all sections, and it is highest in the most populous industrialized and capitalist North. American statisticians point out (Vol. V, p. 159) that the growth in the number of mortgaged   farms in the South is probably due to the “parceling out” of the plantations, which are sold in lots to Negro and white farmers, who pay only a part of the purchase price, the rest being covered by a mortgage on the property. Consequently a peculiar buying-up operation is under way in the slave-holding South. Let us note that in 1910 Negroes in the U.S.A. owned only 920,883 farms, i.e., 14.5% of the total; between 1900 and 1910, the number of white farms increased 9.5%, and that of Negro farms, twice as fast—19.6%. The Negro urge to emancipation from the “plantation owners” half a century after the “victory” over the slave-owners is still marked by an exceptional intensity.

The American statisticians also point out that the mortgaging of a farm does not always indicate lack of prosperity; it is sometimes a way of obtaining capital for land improvement; and the like. This is indisputable, but this indisputable observation should not conceal the fact—as is much too often the case with bourgeois economists—that only a well-to-do minority are in a position to obtain capital for improvements, etc., in this way, and to employ it productively; the majority are further impoverished and fall into the clutches of finance capital assuming this particular form.

Researchers could—and should—have paid much more attention to the dependence of farmers on finance capital. But although this aspect of the matter is immensely important, it has remained in the background.

The growth in the number of mortgaged farms in any case means that the actual control over them is transferred to the capitalists. It stands to reason that apart from officially recorded and notarized mortgages, a considerable number of farms are steeped in private debt, which is not covered by strict legal instruments and is not recorded by the census.


[1] Interpolations in square brackets (within passages quoted by Lenin) have been introduced by Lenin, unless otherwise indicated.—Ed.

  13. How the Displacement of Small-Scale by Large-Scale Production in Agriculture is Minimised | 15. A Comparative Picture of Evolution in Industry and Agriculture  

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