Stability of the Small Peasant Farm, Theory of the

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Stability of the Small Peasant Farm, Theory of the


a trend in bourgeois political economy, according to which small-scale agricultural production has an advantage over large-scale production and is therefore more viable. The proponents of the theory of the stability of the small peasant farm are united in their desire to refute the Marxist proposition that the laws of capitalist economic development are identical for industry and agriculture.

The theory of the stability of the small peasant farm gained currency in Western Europe in the second half of the 19th and the first quarter of the 20th century, when capitalist agricultural relations quickly developed. The real social import of the theory lay in its attempt to show that capitalism assures progress for small peasant farms. It would then follow that the peasantry had a stake in the maintenance and development of capitalism and that the peasantry could not form an alliance with the proletariat and was the “natural” ally of the bourgeoisie. In Western Europe the theory was actively promoted not only by bourgeois economists, such as K. Klawki, M. Hecht, H, Pudor, and L. Brentano, but also by representatives of the revisionist wing of Social Democracy (primarily in Germany and Austria), such as E. David, F. Hertz, and E. Bernstein. In Russia leading proponents of the theory included the legal Marxists M. I. Tugan-Baranovskii, P. B. Struve, and S. N. Bulgakov; the Narodniki (Populists) N. A. Kablukov and A. L. Karavaev; the Socialist Revolutionary V. M. Chernov; and the Menshevik P. P. Maslov.

In opposition to Marxist agrarian theory, the advocates of the theory of the stability of the small peasant farm argued that the negative consequences of capitalist development are experienced only in industry, where large-scale production forces out small-scale production. In support of this view, they cited the special nature of agricultural production, which involves biological, environmental, and climatic factors; these factors supposedly prevent the amalgamation of agricultural enterprises. The theory’s proponents also made use of the law of diminishing returns (seeLAW OF DIMINISHING RETURNS). They believed, moreover, that the owners of small farms, because of their characteristically greater diligence, industriousness, and thrift, produced goods at less cost than the large-scale farmer. Taken together, these considerations were said to make small-scale production superior to large-scale production.

The adherents of the theory, who often resorted to falsification and the tendentious grouping of agricultural statistics, usually pointed to the higher indexes of average income and the larger amounts of livestock and machines per unit land on small farms in comparison with large ones. They did not include in their calculations, however, a monetary estimate of labor input by the owner and his family, or else such estimates were substantially lowered for small farms. The theory’s supporters also disregarded qualitative characteristics of the living conditions and production operations on large and small farms. They ignored, for example, the differences in the living and nutritional standards of farm owners and their families and in the extent to which farms were mechanized. They also ignored the differences in the quality of livestock and in the conditions in which draft animals and livestock raised for meat and dairy products were kept.

Seeking to demonstrate the advantages of the small farm, the “critics” of Marxist agrarian theory (seeAGRARIAN QUESTION) used statistics on “the peasantry in general” and pointed to the preponderance of small farms in the total number of agricultural enterprises. They did not consider, however, that only an insignificant proportion of labor and land used in agriculture was accounted for by the small peasant farm. Taking the amount of land owned as the sole criterion of the small farm, they put into a single category hired laborers who owned small plots and prosperous peasants who engaged in intensive agriculture. The volume of market output, most of which was produced by large capitalist enterprises, was not taken into account; nor was it taken into account that a small farm, when cultivated intensively, may be a large-scale producer.

V. I. Lenin exposed the antiscientific nature of the theory of the stability of the small peasant farm by pointing out that “small-scale farming manages to exist by methods of sheer waste—waste of the farmer’s labour and vital energy, waste of strength and quality of the cattle, and waste of the productive capacities of the land. Consequently, any inquiry that fails to examine these circumstances thoroughly is nothing more nor less than bourgeois sophistry” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 5, p. 176). Proceeding from a thorough analysis of agricultural statistics for several countries, including Russia, the USA, Germany, and Denmark, Lenin exposed the bankruptcy of the theoretical constructs of the bourgeois critics and proved irrefutably that the development of capitalist production relations, in agriculture as in industry, inevitably results in small-scale production being forced out by large-scale production. In addition, the peasantry becomes markedly stratified as a small number of capitalist farms survive and the majority of the agricultural population becomes proletarianized.

The attrition of small-scale production accelerated rapidly after World War II, when the advanced capitalist countries shifted from the manufacture stage, in which manual labor predominated on both large and small farms, to the machine stage of agricultural production. In the manufacture stage, small peasant farms were supplanted by large capitalist farms over a period of years or decades. This process was accompanied by excessive labor input on the part of small landowners, who faced a host of problems, including an increase in their burden of debt, a sharp decline in their living standards, and stagnation in the level of technology on their farms. As agriculture in the advanced capitalist countries shifted to machine production, the viability of an agricultural enterprise depended on the degree and rate of capital investment, and manual labor was replaced by machinery. Under these conditions, the ruin of small and medium commodity producers assumed massive dimensions. Only the big capitalist farm, because of its great economic advantages, was in a position to make the fullest use of advances in agricultural science, and to apply improved technology and new methods of organizing labor; as a result, it realized greater productivity of labor and reduced production costs and was able to survive in the competitive arena. The theory of the stability of the small peasant farm consequently lost its former importance in bourgeois political economy. It was replaced by the theory of the stability of the family farm; the new theory was essentially a modification of the old one.

In the socialist countries small peasant farms were reorganized into large collective agricultural enterprises through cooperation (seeCOOPERATION). This transformation made possible the development of large farms suited to socialist conditions, an achievement that also constitutes a refutation of the theory of the stability of the small peasant farm. (See alsoKOLKHOZES, COLLECTIVIZATION OF AGRICULTURE IN THE USSR, AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTION COOPERATIVE, COOPERATIVE PLAN OF V. I. LENIN, and COOPERATION OF PEASANT FARMS.)


Lenin, V. I. “Kustarnaia perepis’ 1894/95 goda v Permskoi gubernii i obshchie voprosy ’kustarnoi’ promyshlennosti.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 2.
Lenin, V. I. Razvitie kapitalizma v Rossii. Ibid., vol. 3.
Lenin, V. I. “Retsenziia—Karl Kautsky: Die Agrarfrage.” Ibid., vol. 4.
Lenin, V. I. “Agrarnyi vopros i ’kritiki Marksa.’” Ibid., vol. 5.
Lenin, V. I. “Kapitalisticheskii stroi sovremennogo zemledeliia.” Ibid., vol. 19.
Lenin, V. I. Novye dannye o zakonakh razvitiia kapitalizma v zemledelii. Ibid., vol. 27.
Nadel’, S. N. Sotsial’naia struktura sovremennoi kapitalisticheskoi derevni. Moscow, 1970.
Politicheskaia ekonomiia sovremennogo monopolisticheskogo kapitalizma. Moscow, 1975, vol. 1, ch. 11; vol. 2, ch. 30.
Posledstviia industrializatsii sel’skogo khoziaistva v stranakh Zapadnoi Evropy. Moscow, 1975.


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