Plantation System

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Plantation System


in the capitalist countries, a system of large-scale agriculture involving the cultivation of industrial and food crops, primarily tropical and subtropical ones, such as sugarcane, coffee, cacao, tea, rice, bananas, pineapples, tobacco, cotton, rubber trees, and indigo. The system emerged in the epoch of the primitive accumulation of capital in the colonies seized by the European capitalist powers.

The first plantations were established by the Spaniards in the early 16th century in the West Indies on the island of Hispaniola. Once entrenched in the Caribbean islands, the plantation system spread in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries to Brazil, Mexico, Britain’s southern Atlantic colonies in North America, and Indonesia (the island of Java). During this stage the plantation system was based on slave labor and was characterized by savage methods of exploitation—primitive instruments of labor, as well as forced labor initially imposed on the subjugated native Indians and later extended to Negro slaves shipped from Africa. The development of the plantation system was accompanied by the rapid growth of the slave trade.

The plantation system reached its height in the first half of the 19th century, when it was centered in the USA. The demand for cotton for Europe’s mechanized industry stimulated a tremendous expansion of cotton plantations in the southern USA. In the mid-19th century the plantation system and slave economy entered a phase of prolonged and profound crisis. It was replaced by large-scale latifundia, exploited primarily with wage labor and only partly with forced labor.

In the late 19th century the plantation system in the colonies and dependent countries became a profitable sphere for monopoly capital investment. Plantations owned by foreign monopolies were developed in Asia and Latin America, and the plantation system was widely introduced by monopoly capital in Africa. Cheap labor and broad opportunities for the application of precapitalist methods of exploitation (forced recruitment, peonage, and debt servitude) guaranteed the monopolies high profits from the sale of plantation products on the world market.

The decline of the colonial system undermined the social and economic bases for the plantation system. In the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Cuba, Algeria, Mali, and other countries, the plantations were nationalized and were replaced by state or cooperative systems. However, the plantation system persists in a number of developing countries.


Marx, K. Kapital, vol. 1, chs. 8, 13, 24. In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 23.
Marx, K. Kapital, vol. 3, ch. 23. Ibid., vol. 25, part 1.
Marx, K. “Teorii pribavochnoi stoimosti” (vol. 4 of Kapital), ch. 12. Ibid., vol. 26, part 2.
Tarle, E. V. Ocherki istorii kolonial’noi politiki zapadnoevropeiskikh gosudarstv. Moscow-Leningrad, 1965.
Razvivaiushchiesia strany v bor’be za nezavisimuiu natsional’nuiu ekonomiku. Moscow, 1967.
Sel’skoe khoziaistva i agrarnye otnosheniia v stranakh Latinskoi Ameriki. Moscow, 1971.
Ekonomika nezavisimykh stran Afriki. Moscow, 1972.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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