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


3. The Former Slave-Owning South

The United States of America, writes Mr. Himmer, is a “country which has never known feudalism and is free from its economic survivals” (p. 41 of his article). This is the very opposite of the truth, for the economic survivals of slavery are not in any way distinguishable from those of feudalism, and in the former slave-owning South of the U.S.A. these survivals are still very powerful. It would not be worth while to dwell on Mr. Himmer’s mistake if it were merely one in a hastily written article. But all liberal and all Narodnik writings in Russia show that the very same “mistake” is being made regularly and with unusual stubbornness with regard to the Russian labour-service system, our own survival of feudalism.

The South of the U.S.A. was slave-owning until slavery was swept away by the Civil War of 1861-65. To this day, the Negroes, who make up no more than from 0.7 to 2.2% of the population in the North and the West, constitute from 22.6 to 33.7% of the population in the South. For the U.S.A. as a whole, the Negroes constitute 10.7% of the population. There is no need to elaborate on the degraded social status of the Negroes: the American bourgeoisie is in no way better in this respect than the bourgeoisie of any other country. Having “freed” the Negroes,   it took good care, under “free”, republican-democratic capitalism, to restore everything possible, and do everything possible and impossible for the most shameless and despicable oppression of the Negroes. A minor statistical fact will illustrate their cultural level. While the proportion of illiterates in 1900 among the white population of the U.S.A. of 10 years of age and over was 6.2%, among the Negroes it was as high as 44.5%! More than seven times as high! In the North and the West illiteracy amounted from 4 to 6% (1900), while in the South it was from 22.9 to 23.9%! One can easily imagine the complex of legal and social relationships that corresponds to this disgraceful fact from the sphere of popular literacy.

What then is the economic basis that has produced and continues to support this fine “superstructure” ?

It is the typically Russian, “purely Russian” labour service system, which is known as share-cropping.

In 1910, Negroes owned 920,883 farms, i.e., 14.5% of the total. Of the total number of farmers, 37% were tenants; 62.1%, owners; the remaining 0.9% of the farms were run by managers. But among the whites 39.2% were tenant farmers, and among the Negroes—75.3%! The typical white farmer in America is an owner, the typical Negro farmer is a tenant. The proportion of tenants in the West was only 14%: this section is being settled, with new lands unoccupied, and is an El Dorado (a short-lived and unreliable El Dorado, to be sure) for the small “independent farmer” . In the North, the proportion of tenant farmers was 26.5%, and in the South, 49.6%! Half of the Southern farmers were tenants.

But that is not all. These are not even tenants in the European, civilized, modern-capitalist sense of the word. They are chiefly semi-feudal or—which is the same thing in economic terms—semi-slave share-croppers. In the “free” West, share-croppers were in the minority (25,000 out of a total of 53,000 tenants). In the old North, which was settled long ago, 483,000 out of 766,000 tenant farmers, i.e., 63%, were share-croppers. In the South, 1,021,000 out of 1,537,000 tenant farmers, i.e., 66%, were share-croppers.

In 1910, free, republican-democratic America had 1,500,000 share-croppers, of whom more than 1,000,000 were Negroes. And the proportion of share-croppers to the total number of farmers is not decreasing, but is on the contrary steadily and rather rapidly increasing. In 1880, 17.5% of the farmers in the U.S.A. were sharecroppers, in 1890, 18.4%; in 1900, 22.2%; and in 1910, 24%.

American statisticians draw the following conclusions from the 1910 returns:

In the South the conditions have at all times been somewhat different from those in the North, and many of the tenant farms are parts of plantations of considerable size which date from before the Civil War.” In the South, “the system of operation by tenants—chiefly colored tenants—has succeeded the system of operation by slave labour. . . . The development of the tenant system is most conspicuous in the South, where the large plantations formerly operated by slave labour have in many cases been broken up into small parcels or tracts and leased to tenants. . . . These plantations are in many cases still operated substantially as agricultural units, the tenants being subjected to a degree of supervision more or less similar to that which hired farm labourers are subjected to in the North” (op. cit., Vol. V, pp. 102, 104).

To show what the South is like, it is essential to add that its population is fleeing to other capitalist areas and to the towns, just as the peasantry in Russia is fleeing from the most backward central agricultural gubernias, where the survivals of serfdom have been most greatly preserved, in order to escape the rule of the notorious Markovs, to those areas of Russia which have a higher level of capitalist development, to the metropolitan cities, the industrial gubernias and the South (see The Development of Capitalism in Russia[1] ). The share-cropping area, both in America and in Russia, is the most stagnant area, where the masses are subjected to the greatest degradation and oppression. Immigrants to America, who have such an outstanding role to play in the country’s economy and all its social life, shun the   South. In 1910, the foreign-born formed 14.5% of the total population of America. But in the South the figure was only l to 4% for the several divisions, whereas in the other divisions the proportion of incomers ranged from not less than 13.9% to 27.7% (New England). For the “emancipated” Negroes, the American South is a kind of prison where they are hemmed in, isolated and deprived of fresh air. The South is distinguished by the immobility of its population and by the greatest “attachment to the land” : with the exception of that division of the South, which still has considerable homesteading (West South Central), 91 to 92% of the population in the two other divisions of the South resided in the same division where they were born, whereas for the United States as a whole the figure was 72.6%, i.e., the mobility of the population is much greater. In the West, which is a solid homestead area, only 35 to 41% of the population lived in the division of their birth.

Negroes are in full flight from the two Southern divisions where there is no homesteading: in the 10 years between the last two censuses, these two divisions provided other parts of the country with almost 600,000 “black” people. The Negroes flee mainly to the towns: in the South, 77 to 80% of all the Negroes live in rural communities; in other areas, only 8 to 32%. Thus it turns out that there is a startling similarity in the economic status of the Negroes in America and the peasants in the heart of agricultural Russia who “were formerly landowners’ serfs”.


[1] See present edition, Vol. 3, pp. 585–90.—Ed.

  2. The Industrial North | 4. Average Size of Farms, “Disintegration of Capitalism” in the South  

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