The agricultural censuses taken in the United States in 1900 and 1910 are the last word in social statistics in this sphere of the economy. It is the best material of any available in the advanced countries, covering millions of farms and allowing precise well-founded conclusions on the evolution of agriculture under capitalism. One other particular reason why this material can be used to study the laws of the evolution is that the U.S.A. has the largest size, the greatest diversity of relationships, and the greatest range of nuances and forms of capitalist agriculture.
We find here, on the one hand, a transition from the slave-holding—or what is in this case the same, from the feudal—structure of agriculture to commercial and capitalist agriculture; and, on the other hand, capitalism developing with unusual breadth and speed in the freest and most advanced bourgeois country. We observe alongside of this remarkably extensive colonization conducted on democratic capitalist lines.
We find here areas which have long been settled, highly industrialized, highly intensive, and similar to most of the areas of civilized, old-capitalist Western Europe; as well as areas of primitive, extensive cropping and stock-raising, like some of the outlying areas of Russia or parts of Siberia. We find large and small farms of the most diverse types: great latifundia, plantations of the former slave-holding South, and the homestead West, and the highly capitalist North of the Atlantic seaboard; the small farms of the Negro share-croppers, and the small capitalist farms producing milk and vegetables for the market in the industrial North or fruits on the Pacific coast; “wheat factories” employing hired labour and the homesteads of “independent” small farmers, still full of naïve illusions about living by the “labour of their own hands”.
This is a remarkable diversity of relationships, embracing both past and future, Europe and Russia. The comparison with Russia is especially instructive, by the way, in regard to the question of the consequences of a possible transfer of all land to the peasants without compensation, a measure that is progressive but undoubtedly capitalist.
The U.S.A. offers the most convenient example for the study of the general laws of capitalist development in agriculture and the variety of forms these laws assume. A study of this kind leads up to conclusions which may be summed up in the following brief propositions.
In agriculture, as compared with industry, manual labour predominates over machinery to an immeasurably greater extent. But the machine is steadily advancing, improving farming techniques, extending the scale of operations and making them more capitalist. In modern agriculture, machinery is used in the capitalist way.
Hired labour is the chief sign and indicator of capitalism in agriculture. The development of hired labour, like the growing use of machinery, is evident in all parts of the country, and in every branch of agriculture. The growth in the number of hired labourers outstrips the growth of the country’s rural and total population. The growth in the number of farmers lags behind that of the rural population. Class contradictions are intensified and sharpened.
The displacement of small-scale by large-scale production in agriculture is going forward. This is fully proved by a comparison of the returns for 1900 and 1910 on total farm property.
However, this displacement is understated, and the condition of the small farmers is shown in bright colors because statisticians in America in 1910 confined themselves—as in fact they did almost everywhere in Europe—to grouping the farms by acreage. The wider and faster the intensification of agriculture, the higher is the degree of this understatement and the brighter the colors.
Capitalism grows not only by accelerating the development of large-acreage farms in extensive areas, but also by creating in the intensive areas enterprises on smaller tracts whose operations are on a much larger scale and are much more capitalist.
As a result, the concentration of production in the large enterprises is actually much greater—and the displacement of small-scale production actually goes farther and deeper—than is indicated by ordinary data about farms grouped by acreage. The returns of the 1900 Census, compiled with greater care and in greater detail, are more scientific and leave no doubt at all on this score.
The expropriation of small-scale agriculture is advancing. In the last few decades, the proportion of owners to the total number of farmers declined steadily, while the growth in the number of farmers lagged behind population increase. The number of full owners is declining absolutely in the North, the most important section, which yields the largest volume of farm products and has neither any vestiges of slavery nor any extensive homesteading. In the last decade, the proportion of farmers reporting livestock in general decreased; in contrast to the increased proportion of owners reporting dairy cattle there was an even greater increase in the proportion of operators without horses, especially among the small farmers.
On the whole, a comparison of corresponding data on industry and agriculture for the same period shows that although the latter is incomparably more backward, there is a remarkable similarity in the laws of evolution, and that small-scale production is being ousted-from both.