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Petty Production in Agriculture

V. I. Lenin

The peasant question in modern capitalist states most frequently gives rise to perplexity and vacillation among Marxists and to most of the attacks on Marxism by bourgeois (professorial) political economy.

Petty production in agriculture is doomed to extinction and to an incredibly abased and downtrodden position under capitalism, say the Marxists. Petty production is dependent on big capital, is backward in comparison with large-scale production in agriculture, and can only keep going by means of desperately reduced consumption and laborious, arduous toil. The frittering away and waste of human labour, the worst forms of dependence of the producer, exhaustion of the peasant's family, his cattle and his land—this is what capitalism everywhere brings the peasant.

There is no salvation for the peasant except by joining in the activities of the proletariat, primarily those of the wage-workers.

Bourgeois political economy, and the Narodniks and opportunists who champion it (though they may not always be conscious of the fact), on the contrary, try to prove that petty production is viable and is more profitable than large-scale production. The peasant, who has a firm and assured position in capitalist society, must gravitate, not towards the proletariat, but towards the bourgeoisie; be must not gravitate towards the class struggle of the wage-workers but must try to strengthen his position as a proprietor and master—such, in substance, is the theory of the bourgeois economists.

We will try to test the soundness of the proletarian and bourgeois theories by means of precise data. Let us take the data on female labour in agriculture in Austria and Germany. Full data for Russia are still lacking because the government is unwilling to take a scientifically based census of all agricultural enterprises.

In Austria, according to the census of 1902, out of 9,070,682 persons employed in agriculture 4,422,981, or 48.7 per cent, were women. In Germany, where capitalism is far more developed, women constitute the majority of those employed in agriculture—54.8 per cent. The more capitalism develops in agriculture the more it employs female labour, that is to say, worsens the living conditions of the working masses. Women employed in German industry make up 25 per cent of the total labour force, but in agriculture they constitute more than 50 per cent. This shows that industry is absorbing the best labour and leaving the weaker to agriculture.

In developed capitalist countries agriculture has already become mainly a women's occupation.

But if we examine statistics on farms of various sizes we shall see that it is in petty production that the exploitation of female labour assumes particularly large proportions. On the other hand, even in agriculture, large-scale capitalist production employs mainly male labour, although in this respect it has not caught up with industry.

The following are the comparative figures for Austria and Germany:

Type of farm
according to size of farm
Per cent of
women employed
ProletarianUp to half a hectare[1]52.074.1
1/2 to 2 hectares50.965.7
Peasant2 to 5 hectares49.654.4
5 to 10 hectares48.550.2
10 to 20 hectares48.648.4
Capitalist20 to 100 hectares46.644.8
100 hectares and over27.441.0
For all farms48.754.8

In both countries we see the operation of the same law of capitalist agriculture. The smaller the scale of production the poorer is the composition of the labour force, and the greater the number of women among the total number of persons employed in agriculture.

The general situation under capitalism is the following. On proletarian farms, i.e., those whose "proprietors" live mainly by means of wage-labour (agricultural labourers, day-labourers, and wage-workers in general who possess a tiny plot of land), female labour predominates over male labour, sometimes to an enormous extent.

It must not be forgotten that the number of these proletarian or labourer farms is enormous: in Austria they amount to 1,300,000 out of a total of 2,800,000 farms, and in Germany there are even 3,400,000 out of a total of 5,700,000.

On peasant farms male and female labour is employed in nearly equal proportions.

Finally, on capitalist farms, male labour predominates over female labour.

What does this signify?

It signifies that the composition of the labour force in petty production is inferior to that in large-scale capitalist production.

It signifies that in agriculture the working woman—the proletarian woman and peasant woman—must exert herself over so much more, must strain herself to the utmost, must toil at her work to the detriment of her health and the health of her children, in order to keep up as far as possible with the male worker in large-scale capitalist production.

It signifies that petty production keeps going under capitalism only by squeezing out of the worker a larger amount of work than is squeezed out of the worker in large-scale production.

The peasant is more tied up, more entangled in the complicated net of capitalist dependence than the wage-worker. He thinks he is independent, that he can "make good"; but as a matter of fact, in order to keep going, he must work (for capital) harder than the wage-worker.

The figures on child labour in agriculture prove this still more clearly.[2]


[1] One hectare=0.9 of a dessiatine.—Ed.
The hectare (symbol ha) is a metric unit of area defined as 10,000 square metres (100 m by 100 m), and primarily used in the measurement of land. In 1795, when the metric system was introduced, the 'are' was defined as 100 square metres and the hectare ('hecto-' + 'are') was thus 100 'ares' or 1/100 km2. A hectare of land is about 2.471 acres.—Wikipedia, added by Public-Archive

[2] See pp. 209–12 of this volume.—Ed.

Published: Rabochaya Pravda No. 5, July 18, 1913. Signed: V. I..
Published according to the Rabochaya Pravda text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, Volume 19, pages 280-282.
Translated: The Late George Hanna

eSource: Marxists.org - Marxists Internet Archive
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