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


4. Average Size of Farms, “Disintegration of Capitalism” in the South

Having examined the chief distinctive features of the three main sections of the U.S.A., as well as the general nature of their economic conditions, we can now proceed to an analysis of the data most commonly referred to. These are primarily data on the average acreage of farms. It is on the basis of these data that a great many economists, including Mr. Himmer, draw the most categorical conclusions.

Average acreage per farm in the U.S.A.
Years All farmland Improved land


On the whole, there seems at first glance to be a reduction in the average acreage of all farmland and an uncertain fluctuation—upward and downward—in the average improved acreage. But there is a distinct break in the 1860-70 period and this I have indicated by a line. During that period there was an enormous decrease in the average acreage of all farmland by 46 acres (from 199.2 to 153.3) and the greatest change (from 79.8 to 71.0), also a reduction, in the average acreage of improved land.

What was the reason? Obviously, the Civil War of 1861-65 and the abolition of slavery. A decisive blow was dealt at the latifundia of the slave-owners. Further on we shall see repeated confirmation of this fact, but it is so generally known that it is surprising that it needs any proof at all. Let us separate the returns for the North and those for the South.

  Average acreage per farm
         South          North
All farmland Improved land All farmland Improved land


We find that in the South the average improved acreage per farm between 1860 and 1870 greatly decreased (from 101.3 to 69.2), and that in the North it slightly increased (from 68.3 to 69.2). This means that the cause lay in the specific conditions of evolution in the South. There we find even   after the abolition of slavery, a reduction in the average acreage of farms, although the process is slow and not continuous.

Mr. Himmer’s deduction is that in the South “the small-scale family farms are extending their domination, while capital is leaving agriculture for other spheres of investment. . . . Agricultural capitalism is rapidly disintegrating in the South Atlantic states. . .”.

This is an amusing assertion likely to be matched only in the arguments of our Narodniks on the “disintegration of capitalism” in Russia after 1861 in consequence of the landlords abandoning corvée for the labour-service (i.e., semi-corvée!) system of economy. The break-up of the slave-worked latifundia is called the “disintegration of capitalism”. The transformation of the unimproved land of yesterday’s slave-owners into the small farms of Negroes, half of whom are share-croppers (it should be borne in mind that the proportion of share-croppers has been steadily growing from census to census!), is called the “disintegration of capitalism”. It is hardly possible to go any further in distorting the fundamental concepts of economics!

Chapter Twelve of the 1910 Census supplies information on typical Southern “plantations”—not of the old slave period, but of our own day. On the 39,073 plantations there are 39,073 “landlord farms” and 398,905 tenant farms, or an average of 10 tenants per landlord or “master”. Plantations average 724 acres, of which only 405 acres is improved, more than 300 acres being unimproved, not a bad reserve for the gentlemen who were the slave-owners of yesterday to draw on in extending their plans of exploitation. . . .

Land on the average plantation is distributed as follows: “landlord” farm—331 acres, of which 87 is improved. “Tenant” farms, i.e., the parcels of the Negro share-croppers, who continue to work for the master and under his eye, average 38 acres, of which 31 is improved land.

As the population and the demand for cotton increase, the former slave-owners of the South begin to parcel out their vast latifundia, nine-tenths of the land on which is still unimproved, into small tracts which are either sold to the Negroes or, more frequently, leased to them on a half-crop basis. (From 1900 to 1910, the number of farmers in the   South who were full owners of all their farmland increased from 1,237,000 to 1,329,000, i.e., 7.5%, while the number of share-croppers went up from 772,000 to 1,021,000, i.e., 32.2%.) And yet an economist has appeared who says this is “disintegration of capitalism”. . . .

I designate as latifundia farms with an area of 1,000 acres and over. In 1910, the proportion of such farms in the U.S.A. was 0.8% (50,135 farms), and they added up to 167.1 million acres, or 19.0% of the total amount of land. This is an average of 3,332 acres per latifundium. Only 18.7% of their acreage was improved while for all farms the figure was 54.4%. The capitalist North has the smallest number of latifundia: 0.5% of the total number of farms accounting for 6.9% of the land, 41.1% of which is improved. The West has the greatest number of latifundia: 3.9% of the total number of farms accounting for 48.3% of the land; 32.3% of the land in the latifundia is improved. But it is in the former slave-owning South that the latifundia have the highest proportion of unimproved land: 0.7% of the farms are latifundia; they account for 23.9% of the land; only 8.5% of the land in the latifundia is improved! Incidentally, these detailed statistics clearly show that there is really no foundation for the common practice of classifying the latifundia as capitalist enterprises, without a detailed analysis of the specific data for each country and each area.

During the 10 years from 1900 to 1910, the total acreage of the latifundia, but only of the latifundia, showed a decrease. The reduction was quite substantial: from 197.8 million to 167.1 million acres, i.e., 30.7 million acres. In the South, there was a reduction of 31.8 million acres (in the North, an increase of 2.3 million, and in the West, a reduction of 1.2 million). Consequently, it is in the South, and in the slave-owning South alone, that the latifundia, with their negligible proportion (8.5%) of improved land, are being broken up on a really vast scale.

The inescapable conclusion is that the only exact definition of the economic process under way is—a transition from the slave-holding latifundia, nine-tenths of which remained unimproved, to small commercial agriculture. It is a transition   to commercial farms and not to farms worked by family labour, as Mr. Himmer and the Narodniks, together with all the bourgeois economists who sing cheap hymns to “labour”, love to say. The term “family labour” has no politico-economic meaning and is indirectly misleading. It is devoid of meaning because the small farmer “labours” under any social system of economy, be it slavery, serfdom or capitalism. The term “family labour” is just an empty phrase, pure oratory which serves to cover up the confusion of entirely different social forms of economic organization—a confusion from which the bourgeoisie alone stands to gain. The term “family labour” is misleading and deceives the public, for it creates the impression that hired labour is not employed.

Mr. Himmer, like all bourgeois economists, evades just these statistics on hired labour, although they are the most important data on the question of capitalism in agriculture and although they are to be found in the 1900 Census report, as well as in the 1910 Abstract—Farm Crops, by States, which Mr. Himmer himself quotes (note on p. 49 of his article).

The nature of the staple crop of the South shows that the growth of small-scale agriculture in the South is nothing but the growth of commercial farming. That crop is cotton. Cereals yield 29.3% of the total crop value in the South; hay and forage, 5.1%; and cotton, 42.7%. From 1870 to 1910, the production of wool in the U.S.A. went up from 162 million lbs. to 321 million lbs., i.e., it doubled; wheat, increased from 236 million to 635 million bushels, i.e., less than threefold; corn, from 1,094 million to 2,886 million bushels, also less than threefold; and cotton, from 4,000,000 bales (of 500 lbs. each) to 12,000,000, i.e., threefold. The growth of the crop that is primarily commercial was faster than that of other, less commercialized, crops. In addition, there was in the main division of the South, the South Atlantic, a rather substantial development of tobacco production (12.1% of the crop value in the State of Virginia); vegetables (20.1% of the total crop value in the State of Delaware, 23.2% in the State of Florida); fruits (21.3% of the total crop value in the State of Florida); etc. The nature   of all these crops implies an intensification of farming, a larger scale of operations on smaller acreages, and greater employment of hired labour.

I shall now proceed to a detailed analysis of the returns on hired labour; let us note only that the employment of hired labour is also growing in the South, although in this respect it lags behind the other sections—less hired labour is employed because of the wider practice of semi-slave share-cropping.


  3. The Former Slave-Owning South | 5. The Capitalist Nature of Agriculture  

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