Tony Cliff

Marxism and the collectivisation of agriculture

(Part 2)

8. Social stratification in the countryside

Rooted in the idea of the assumed victory of large farming under capitalism was the related notion that there would be increasingly clear demarcation of the agricultural wage earners into a class separate and distinct from the property owners. On this Marx and Engels, Kautsky, and Lenin based their strategy: they relied on the rural wage earners to carry out the socialist revolution and the co-operative organisation of farming against the rich peasants.

Unhappily for this assumption, class divisions in the countryside are much more obscure than in the towns. In town, one can easily distinguish between a manufacturer, large or small, and a wage earner, and the passage from one class to another is infrequent and difficult. In the countryside, owing to the fact that large farming has not the same superiority over small as large manufacturing over artisanry, mobility between the classes is great, and there is a frequent changeover from wage earner to poor peasant, poor peasant to middle peasant, but much more often in the opposite direction. Since the land is divisible, and since division does not noticeably alter its productivity, it can be split up among the farmer’s heirs, each of whom can then easily slip from middle farmer to poor farmer to wage earner.

Furthermore, there are fine gradations between wage earners and farmer owners. Besides pure wage earners there is a chequered field of sub-contractors and share-croppers who are essentially wage earners paid by results. Some share-tenants are workers who contribute little more than their labour to operations, while others may own a considerable share of the working capital. Then there are owners of dwarf holdings who also depend largely on earning wages to eke out a living. Thus it was estimated towards the end of the last century that as many as “75 per cent of the agricultural workers in France have their own land.” [41]

In the advanced capitalist countries, the borderlines between different sections of the agricultural population are more distinct than in backward countries. [42] They are nevertheless still very much less clearcut than in the towns. It does not, of course, follow that the farmer who employs only one or two agricultural workers is less of a taskmaster than the industrial employer of hundreds of thousands. As one scholar has aptly observed:

A landowner need not possess half a million acres to be extortionate; in fact, slender means may invigorate his greed. [43]

Even among farmers themselves the small tend much more to petty oppression than the large.

Another indication of the indistinct differentiation between agricultural wage earners and small farmers, pointed out already Kautsky, is the frequently paltry differences in living standards. As one agricultural economist said:

I do not know any life in which the worker is more engrossed, more held to his job, as we say, with his nose to the grindstone, than the life of the small farmer ... The farm worker who is working on regular hours and who is working for a regular wage has a very much easier time of it than the farmer who is working his own farm. The children of the farm worker have a very much easier time of it ,than the children of the small farmer ... I have seen the children in Denmark; I have seen them in Germany; I have seen them in a good many of the European countries; and whenever I go I find the same thing is true of farm life, that the children are robbed of their childhood, robbed of their youth, and that it must be so, otherwise the family farm cannot keep going. [44]

The social boundary between an agricultural wage earner and a poor farmer is even more indistinct than the economic. In the close community organisation of the relatively isolated village, blood relationships gloss over real interest conflicts and produce strong pressures towards social conformity. The tradition of accepting the authority of the rich and “cultured” is much more difficult to break down in the intimate unity of the village than in the towns.

The organisation of the agricultural workers in trade unions has not developed very highly even in the most advanced capitalist countries, for various reasons. Workers there are more anxious to escape from agriculture than to organise to protect themselves as agricultural workers. Agriculture is not regarded as an occupation for life by many of those who start off in it as wage earners, particularly in the case of the more vigorous and enterprising. The dispersal of workers over wide areas hampers the formation of trade union branches sufficiently large to give them a sense of community. A large proportion live in tied cottages owned by the employer and occupied by the worker only so long as he works for the same employer, and this leads to a lack of freedom and status which makes self-reliance and organisation more difficult. In addition education is considerably below that in the towns, and rural children are generally taken from school at an earlier age.

The backwardness of the wage earners in agriculture and the obscurity of the boundary between them and the small farmers are clearly stumbling blocks in the way of implementing Marx’s policy of counterposing the collectivism of the wage earners to the individualism of the petty bourgeois farmers. We therefore find Marxist parties repeatedly deviating from reliance on the rural poor alone to a policy aimed at influencing the whole of the agricultural community, or at least a sizeable section of middle farmers.

Engels shortly before his death found it necessary to criticise the French Marxists for making concessions to small peasant individualism in their efforts to appeal to the peasantry as a whole. [45]

The Bolsheviks too, during the Revolution and Civil War, did not in practice differentiate clearly between the agricultural workers and rural poor on the one hand, and the middle or even rich peasants, on the other. Lenin declared, it is true, that the Soviet Government was “to help the toiling peasant, not to injure the middle peasant, and to constrain the rich peasant”. [46] But this declaration was hardly translated into deeds. In the act of the expropriation of the landowners, the peasantry as a whole remained largely united. This unity apparently came to an end after the expropriation, when the Bolsheviks, seeking grain for the towns, hard-hit by the civil war and the hunger it entailed, thought that by carrying out grain requisitions against the rich peasants with the help of the poor peasants, they would at the same time split the peasantry into different contending classes.

In May 1918, workers’ food detachments were organised by the Commissariat of Supply, whose main function was to assist in the collection of grain. Their allies in the countryside were to be the newly-formed Committees of Poor Peasants (Kombedy) to which the whole rural population except rich peasants, landlords, traders and manufacturing employers of hired labour could elect or be elected. The poor peasants were to be rewarded for their services by obtaining allocations of grain from the quantities seized.

Lenin saw in the establishment of the Committees of Poor Peasants and the food detachments the splitting up of the peasantry into antagonistic classes and the beginning of the socialist revolution in the countryside. “It is only in the summer and autumn of 1918,” he wrote at the time, “that our countryside is itself experiencing its October (i.e., proletarian) revolution.” [47] A little later he described the creation of the Cornmittees of Poor Peasants as “a turning point of gigantic importance in the whole course of development and the building of our revolution,” and as a step by which “we passed the boundary which separates the bourgeois from the socialist revolution.” [48] In the heat of the moment Bolshevik leaders even believed that a firm start on the immediate collectivisation of agriculture was at hand. Thus the same congress at which Lenin made the speech from which the words quoted above were taken (The First All-Russian Congress of Land Sections, Committee of Poor Peasants and Agricultural Communes, December 1918) passed a resolution declaring that the main aim of agricultural policy must be “the consistent and unswerving pursuit of the organisation of agricultural communes, Soviet Communist farms and the socialised working of the land.” [49]

It was the intention of the Bolsheviks that a sizeable portion of the estates should not be subject to distribution but be retained as model state farms. The annexe to the Land Decree signed by Lenin on 8 November referred explicitly to “territories where cultivation is of a high order: gardens, plantations, nurseries for plants and trees, orchards, etc.” as “not subject to division”, being reserved for “the exclusive use of the State or district as model institutions”; and similarly, “studs, State and private cattle breeding establishments, poultry farms”.

However, the peasants encroached deeply into the sectors Lenin intended to keep free from distribution. For example, only 2-3 million acres of estates which had been run as beet sugar farms were retained as state farms instead of the 10-12 million acres that had originally been intended. [50]

The establishment of the Committees of Poor Peasants as a means of splitting the peasantry into contending classes also proved extremely unsuccessful. The Committees were in existence only a few months, when the Bolshevik leaders had to disband them. [51] (Actually the revolution itself, by giving land to the rural poor turned them into middle peasants and thus helped to obliterate class boundaries amongst the peasantry.) [52]

By no stretch of strategy or tactics could the Bolsheviks overcome the basic contradiction in the Russian Revolution – that it was carried out by two different, opposed classes, the proletariat and the peasantry, the former collectivist, the latter – including the rural poor – individualist.

The second support in Marx’s theory for the socialisation of agriculture – the counterposing of the collectivism of the agricultural workers to the individualism of the peasant – is thus found to be a weak reed.



9. Plethora of capital and the co-operative organisation of farming

The victory of large over small farming prior to the socialist revolution was the economic factor on which, in Marx’s view, the victory of socialism in agriculture was based. The existence of a large and increasingly more independent collectivist class of agricultural wage workers was the sociological factor on which it hinged.

Both these factors were assumed to be active in the countryside. In Marx’s scheme there was a third, affecting the socialist organisation of agriculture from the outside: a plethora of capital and technical resources in the towns which could be made available to agriculture.

There is no need to belabour the point that the co-operative organisation of farming has been introduced hitherto only in countries that, far from having an abundance of capital and technical resources, have suffered an acute shortage of them – Russia, China and Eastern Europe. In fact, the relation between industry and agriculture in these countries was exactly the opposite of that visualised by Marx: industry had to draw resources from agriculture to support its own capital accumulation.

The only case where the collective organisation of agriculture was associated with the pouring of resources into agriculture is that of the Israeli kibbutzim (communal farms). In this case the first two assumptions of Marx – the withering away of the small farms under capitalism due to pressure from the large, and the widening of the gulf between agricultural workers on the one hand, and the capitalists on the other – were not put to the test: the Jewish settlers in the kibbutzim were immigrants, who were not agriculturalists previously and who built the collective farms from scratch. The kibbutzim are as if made to order to verify Marx’s third assumption of the effect of pumping capital resources into agriculture. And this test, however narrow it may be historically, however limited to singular national and social circumstances, seems to give support to Marx’s supposition. Let us make a short excursion.

The productivity of labour in kibbutz agriculture is high, even by comparison with advanced countries. Any international comparison of labour productivity comes up against a number of methodological difficulties due to differences in soil and climatic conditions, kinds of crops grown, etc. The following figures serve therefore only as a pointer.

Labour Time Spent on Production of Unit of Agricultural
Product in the Kibbutz and Abroad (1955-56) [53]

Hours of work
per ton grain

Workdays per
ton potatoes

Workdays per
ton vegetables

Workdays per
1000 litres milk






Advanced countries
of W. Europe










Thus productivity in the kibbutz falls below the level of American agriculture (except for milk) and is about equal to Western Europe. (Of course it far exceeds the Russian kolkhoz.) The same standard is shown by comparing the net output per agriculturist in the kibbutz with the net output per agriculturist in other countries:

Value Added* per Person Employed in Agriculture (dollars per year)






West Germany




































* including depreciation                  ** excluding depreciation

These figures show the splendid achievements of the kibbutzim as regards the production of labour.

These successes are above all due to the relatively heavy capital investment in kibbutzim. Kibbutz agriculture is highly mechanised. Towards the end of 1955 there were 16.3 tractors in the kibbutzim per 1000 hectares of land. As against this, in Denmark and Holland, which are well known for the high level of their agricultural mechanisation, there are 16 tractors per 1000 hectares; in Belgium 14; in Finland 13; in France 9; at the other extreme, in Greece there are 0.9; in Turkey 0.6. (Britain, West Germany, Sweden and Switzerland are, however, more highly mechanised than the kibbutz sector.) [54]

The productive investment per family in the kibbutzim amounted, in 1957, to some 21,800 Israeli pounds. [55] Compare this with the capital equipment of an Arab peasant, estimated at 60-80 Palestinian pounds in 1937, or, in 1957 prices, some 1200-1600 Israeli pounds. [56]

Thus, unlike the Soviet kolkhozes, or the Chinese People’s Communes, the Israeli kibbutz is not being exploited to help other branches of the economy; on the contrary, capital is being poured into it. Even so, it takes a long time until the kibbutz becomes self-supporting. “In order to reach financial stability, even partially, a period of 20-30 years, if not longer, is necessary.” [57]

Another important and unique advantage accruing to the kibbutz as compared with rural populations elsewhere is the very high cultural level of its members. This is even higher than the average for Israel as a whole, including the towns. As a single indication of this, it was found that 80.3 per cent of the men and 79.8 per cent of the women members of the kibbutz could read and write Hebrew and at least one foreign language. [58] Technically the kibbutz members are remarkably proficient, on the whole far surpassing farmers elsewhere, and even the average urban Israeli inhabitant.

This high cultural standard is being carried on and handed down. Thus, while only a minority of Israel’s youth receives full secondary education, all the youth of the kibbutzim does, with the result that kibbutz children, who make up only 6 per cent of the primary school population, make up a percentage three times as great – 19 per cent – of the secondary school population. [59]

This cultural advantage of kibbutz members compared with the usual rural population – not to speak of the agriculturists of backward countries like Russia in the 1930s and China at present – is of greater moment for the success of the economy than the disadvantages resulting from urban background and agricultural inexperience.

The fact that kibbutz members are on the whole a small, select minority of pioneers, (at present about three per cent of the Israeli population are in kibbutzim) has also been of immeasurable value in the success of the venture.



10. Lessons from the kibbutz movement for the fate of collectivisation in the world at large

On the whole, and despite some failings, the kibbutz is a very successful venture. As a large-scale unit it carries out very diversified farming. It unites agriculture and industry. It is highly mechanised. It assures a relatively high productivity of labour. Its members attain a comfortable material and cultural standard. It is almost unique in being a collective farm based on voluntary association.

However, despite its undoubted success, the kibbutz does not attract the individual Jewish farmer to join it, nor even does it attract many of the prospective settlers, even though they are or have been, in the main, propertyless people being settled by the State and public organisations. This is very relevant to attempts to apply the experience elsewhere, particularly in poor and backward countries.

As labour in the kibbutz is still a burden, prolonged and monotonous, and scarcities still prevail, the kibbutz does not appear yet as the embodiment of complete individual freedom. For the individual farmer to join it would be not to “jump from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom”. It does not even appear to offer a great improvement in conditions of living.

Even where there is quite a generous supply of capital to the collective farm as is the case in the kibbutz, we have seen that “in order to reach financial stability – even if partial a period of 20 to 30 years, if not longer, is necessary.” And the kibbutz did not have to struggle with attachments to private farms or a yearning for a private plot. It did not have to deal with an apathetic and ignorant mass of peasants, but with enthusiastic and cultured small groups of individuals!

From a different angle of historical experience, the kibbutz confirms the conclusions arising from other sections of the present study: if the collectivisation of agriculture is to be the result of a voluntary act by the peasants, it is bound to be a very gradual and prolonged process, and demand vast capital resources. It can come into being only where there is general abundance, with the concomitant of high material and cultural standards, and where the predominance of industry in the economy as a whole has already been firmly established. It cannot be the predecessor of industrialisation, but a very late fruit of a successful industrial society.

Without these conditions, collectivisation must be forced. And if it is introduced to help forced industrialisation, it cannot be otherwise.

The Israeli kibbutz gives support to the idea that even if the first two ideas of Marx regarding the co-operative reorganisation of agriculture – the withering away of the small farm under capitalism and the sharpening of class divisions in the countryside till they are as clear as in the towns – proved incorrect, the third could, under conditions of social wealth, compensate for the other two. If the stubbornness of the small farm and the bluntness of class differentiation between agricultural workers and capitalists in the countryside, are impediments to co-operative advance, a plethora of capital could overcome them.

Unfortunately the collective reorganisation of agriculture – Israel excluded – has taken place only in poor, capital-hungry countries. Such circumstances were never considered by Marx, who took it for granted that the socialist revolution would be victorious in the more advanced countries first. Thus the third assumption underlying Marx’s conception of the path of co-operative organisation of farming – a plethora of capital in the towns – has not obtained in the largely backward, non- industrial countries that have introduced collectivisation.

In the light of what has been said above, the debate between the three wings of the Russian Communist Party – the Right (Bukharin), the Left (Trotsky), and the so-called “Centre” (Stalin) – takes on a new meaning.



11. Bukharin

Bukharin argued, in 1925, that the development of socialist industry in Russia should be paralelled by the development of private, individual agriculture. To encourage agricultural production, individual farming including kulak develo~rnent should be spurred on.

The well-to-do top layer of the peasantry – the kulak and in part the middle peasant – is at present afraid to accumulate ... If the peasant wants to put up an iron roof, tomorrow he will be denounced as a kulak and that will be an end of him. If the peasant buys a machine, he does it “so that the communists may not see”. The technical improvement of agriculture is enveloped in a kind of conspiracy.

If we look at the different strata in the countryside, we shall see that the kulak is displeased with us because we prevent him from accumulating. On the other hand, the poor peasants sometimes grumble at us for preventing them from hiring themselves out as batraks to this same kulak ... The poor peasant who has no horse and no implements of production, and who sits on his land, is displeased with us because we prevent him “earning his bread” with the kulak.

Bukharin’s recommendation was:

Our policy in relation to the countryside should develop in the direction of removing, and in part abolishing many restrictions which put the brake on the growth of the well- to-do and kulak farm. To the peasants, to all the peasants, we must say: “Enrich yourselves, develop your farms, and do not fear that constraint will be put on you.” However paradoxical it may appear, we must develop time well-to-do farm in order to help the poor peasant and the middle peasant. [60]

This would guarantee a balanced growth of agriculture and industry. He argued that “the essential part of the task of working out a plan of national economy” is determination of” the conditions for the correct coordination of the various spheres of production, or in other words, the conditions of dynamic economic equilibrium.”

He argued that Russia’s economic difficulties were caused by the fact that industrial construction was increasing too fast for the conditions of agricultural production – hence the scarcities of foodstuffs and raw materials. This proved, not that industry was too backward for the level of agriculture, but, on the contrary, that the plans for industrial construction were too ambitious for the existing supply of foodstuffs and raw materials Furthermore, the high rate of industrial investment “created a record demand for industrial goods”, increasing the general goods famine. “The failure of industry to satisfy the demand of the village” was not evidence of too slow a rate of industrial development. On the contrary:

“Whilst industry develops at a tremendous pace, whilst the population increases rapidly and the needs of this population increases steadily, the amount of grain remains unaltered”; “further acceleration of the speed of development of industry depends to a considerable extent on agricultural raw material production and agricultural export”, and any further capital investment “must be affected with due consideration for all those factors which guarantee a ‘more or less crisis-free development’ and better co-ordination.” “Any overstraining of capital expenditure will lead in time to the stoppage of enterprises already begun; it will react unfavourably on other branches in every direction, and it will finally retard the speed of development ... Our bow is at a very high tension. To increase this tension still further, and to increase the ‘goods famine’ still more, is impossible.” “The greatest sustained speed is achieved when industry develops on the basis provided by the rapidly growing agriculture.”

A concomitant to Bukharin’s concept of “balanced growth” was his opposition to any over-ambitious aims for heavy industry:

We believe that the formula which calls for a maximum of investments in heavy industry is not quite correct, or rather, quite incorrect. If we have to put the main emphasis on the development of the means of production, we must combine this development with a corresponding expansion of light industry which has a quicker turnover and repays within a shorter time the amounts spent on it. We must attempt to get the optimal combination of both. [61]

Bukharin was therefore against assigning to heavy industry a preponderance in the economy which would involve a temporary stagnation or decline in other sections of the economy. He saw an intimate, unbreakable connection between the “balanced growth” of light and heavy industry, and industry and agriculture, which latter was to be based largely on the encouragement of individual farming.

Up to a point, in the short term perspective, Bukharin’s policies were realistic. But, beyond certain narrow limits, Bukharin’s recipe would have led Russia to an impasse. Unless industry forged ahead far in advance of agriculture the pull of its demand on agricultural output would be too small to raise the output. Without a ready supply of industrial goods, the spur for agricultural production would be absent. Without a technically advanced industry – even if the immediate effect on opening up employment opportunities by building such an industry were small, it would be impossible in the long run to eliminate hidden and rural unemployment. Within the international military configuration, Russia could not tie its heavy industry to the “snail’s pace” of agriculture and light industry. Doing too little industrially was as dangerous as doing too much.



12. Trotsky

Trotsky, as against Bukharin, banked on the gradual, voluntary collectivisation of agriculture. As stated in the 1927 Platform of the Trotskyist Left Opposition:

The growth of private proprietorship in the country must be offset by a more rapid development of collective farming. It is necessary systematically and from year to year to subsidise the efforts of the poor peasants to organise in collectives.

At the same time, we must give a more systematic help to poor proprietors not included in the collectives, by freeing them entirely from taxation, by a corresponding land policy, by credits for agricultural implements, and by bringing them into the agricultural co-operatives.

A sharply progressive tax system; state legislative measures for the defence of hired labour and the regulation of the wages of agricultural workers; a correct class policy in the matter of land-division and land-utilisation; the same thing in the matter of supplying the country with tractors and other implements of production.

The existing system of universal agricultural tax ought to be changed in the direction of freeing altogether from taxation 40 to 50 per cent of the poorest peasant families, without making up for it by any additional tax upon the fundamental mass of the middle peasants ...

A much larger sum ought to be appropriated for the creation of Soviet and collective farms.

The prices of grain and other agricultural products ought to guarantee to the poor and the basic mass of the middle peasants the possibility, at the very least, of maintaining their economy at the present level and gradually improving it.

It is necessary ... radically to change the whole direction of agricultural credits towards assuring to the poor and the weak middle peasant cheap and long-term credits ... [62]

The collectivisation of agriculture that Trotsky counterposed to Bukharin’s encouragement of individual farming was only part of a general strategy of modernising Russia, of speedy industrialisation in place of Bukharin’s “snail’s pace” advance (to use the latter’s own words), of “combined development” as an alternative to “balanced growth”. However, this total strategy suggested by Trotsky could not be reconciled in practice with the policy of voluntary collectivisation of resources to help agriculture modernise, while “combined development” – with its forced advance of industry, and above all heavy industry – has to rely, where available capital resources are small, and unused resources hardly exist, on the syphoning off of resources from agriculture to help industry along. The latter process was called “primitive socalist accumulation”.

Preobrazhensky, the Trotskyist economist who did more than anyone to advocate this so-called primitive socialist accumulation’, described it thus:

the more economically backward, petty bourgeois and peasant in character is the country making the transition to a socialist organisation of production, the smaller is the legacy which the proletariat of the country in question receives at the moment of the socialist revolution to build up its own socialist accumulation, and the more in proportion this socialist accumulation will be obliged to rely on the alienation of a part of the surplus product of pre-socialist forms of the economy. Only a more developed country can rely on the surplus product of its own industry and its own agriculture. [63]

In opposition to “socialist accumulation” (defined as an addition to the functioning means of production as a result of the surplus product produced in the socialist economy itself) Preobrazhensky postulated “primitive socialist accumulation”, which he defined as “the accumulation in the hands of the state of material resources obtained chiefly from sources lying outside the state economic system”.

This accumulation will, necessarily, in a backward agrarian country, play a colossal role ... Primitive accumulation will predominate during the period of industrialisation ... We must, therefore, term this whole stage as the period of primitive or preparatory socialist accumulation.

By “sources lying outside the state economic system” was meant agriculture.

In the period of primitive socialist accumulation the state cannot do without the exploitation of small-scale production, without the expropriation of a part of the surplus product of the countryside and of artisan labour ... The idea that a socialist economy can develop by itself without touching the resources of the petty bourgeois, including the peasant, economy is beyond doubt a reactionary, petty bourgeois utopia. The task of the socialist state is not to take from the petty bourgeois producers less than was taken by capitalism but to take more out of the even greater income which will be assured to the small producer by the rationalisation of everything, including the small production of the country. [64]

Just as in the mercantilist period in Western Europe, early merchant-capitalists amassed wealth by colonial exploitation, so socialist industry would draw on internal “colonies” – small individualist agriculture. Preobrazhensky did not advocate following the merchants in the use of violence against the peasants nor in elevating any class – in this case the working class – to the position of an exploiting class. He propounded a measure far milder than those used by the mercantilist bourgeoisie: the partial suppression of the law of value by changing the terms of exchange between industry and agriculture in favour of the former and against the latter, so that a unit of labour in state industry would be exchanged for more than a unit of labour in agriculture. He assumed that these terms of exchange would in a short time lead to such a quick rise in the general level of production, that not only would the income of society as a whole rise, but also the income, in absolute terms, of the peasantry. [65] The essence of his standpoint was, however, that resources were to be drawn from agriculture to state industry, and not in the opposite direction, which was precisely the condition identified by Marx as the act of socialisation of agricultural production.

Actually the implementation of Preobrazhensky’s “socialist primitive accumulation” would logically have led to a very different state of affairs from that which he visualised. Any attempt to “squeeze” the peasants is always likely to be met by a deliberate reduction in production, so that if the terms of trade’ between agriculture and industry favoured the latter, the amount of trade would fall. There would be only one way to deal with such a “strike” – to use violence, expropriating the peasants, and concentrating them on such large farms that it would be possible for the state to control their work and output. If the state used these methods, it would also have to face serious opposition from the workers, many of whom, in a backward country such as that under consideration, would still have close family ties with the villages, being raw recruits to industry. Moreover, what would prevent the state, resorting to oppression in the interests of “primitive socialist accumulation”, from doing the same as regards “socialist accumulation” proper, the extortion of surplus value from the workers in state industry itself?

These were, indeed, exactly the results achieved by Stalin’s and Mao’s agrarian policies (although the author, and his title for it – “primitive socialist accumulation” – were never acknowledged).



13. More recent theorists

While Bukharin’s policies were realistic, although in the long run leading to an impasse, Trotsky’s policy was unrealisable, except in the distorted Stalinist totalitarian form. (Of course in the long run forced collectivisation itself becomes an impediment on economic advance – hence the permanent crisis in Soviet agriculture over the last decade and more).

It is no accident that in all post-Stalin debates in Eastern Europe on agricultural policies the only serious criticism of Stalinist forced collectivisation – whether by Tito, Gomulka or Imre Nagy – was a return to ideas first formulated in the 1920s by Bukharin, the brilliant theoretician of the Right of the Bolshevik Party, who staked his case on the “individual peasant growing into socialism”. This return is of more than historical interest; it throws light on the central issues involved in the collectivisation of agriculture.

Kardelj, in his book, Les Problémes de la Politique dans les Campagnes (Problems of Agricultural Policy), repeatedly shows the connection between forced collectivisation and the subordination of the economy to the needs of heavy industry, and rejects them both.

Imre Nagy, the ill-fated Premier of Hungary during the Hungarian revolution, reached similar conclusions, which he set out in a document written during his forced retirement in 1955 and 1956. This document was mimeographed and circularised secretly among leading communists in Hungary, and a copy was smuggled out of Hungary and published in book form abroad. lie repeatedly protested against state violence directed towards peasants, and the compulsion to join the co-operative farms. He called for aid to the small individual peasant to increase production, and between these two and the emphasis on heavy industry:

... with the too rapid development of heavy industry, the material resources of the country did not prove sufficient to give new impetus to agricultural production. [66]

Both in Yugoslavia and Poland private individual farming is predominant. In Yugoslavia at the end of 1958 private farms covered 93.86 per cent of the agricultural land with over 97 per cent of the cattle, over 95 per cent of the sheep and over 88 per cent of the pigs. [67] In Poland, in the wake of the October 1956 events, peasants were allowed to leave the agricultural producer co-operatives. The peasants immediately turned their backs unequivocally on the agricultural producer co-operatives.. Thus, while at the beginning of 1956 there were close to 10,000 agricultural producer co-operatives covering about 4.6 million acres, or over 9 per cent of the farmland, by the middle of 1957, less than 1,800 farms remained, with about 650,000 acres, or little more than 1 per cent of the farmland.

Tito and Gomulka demonstrate clearly and in practice the weakness of Marx’s three assumptions regarding the co-operative reorganisation of agriculture. First, in this case under Communist Party rule, the peasants are free to join or leave the agricultural producer co-operatives, and they show in no uncertain way their attitude to any form of forced collectivisation. Second, it is recognised in practice that the large-scale mode of production is not always economically superior, and that there are deep social and psychological reasons preventing its ascendancy. Third, a negative demonstration is given of the connection between the process of primitive accumulation of capital – the harsh subordination of consumption to accumulation, of light to heavy industry, of agriculture to industry as a whole – and forced collectivisation. Fourth, Yugoslavia and Poland, being the most “liberal” of communist countries, demonstrate clearly that the smashing of small farming in conditions of general economic backwardness is associated with totalitarianism, the exact opposite of Marx’s vision of socialism as the realm of freedom.



14. Agriculture on the morrow of socialist revolution

From Marx’s conception of the trends towards the collectivisation of agriculture flowed some basic conclusions about the path agriculture would follow after the socialist revolution.

First, immediately after the working class conquered political power the large estates would be co-operatively run. These farms would serve as a point of support, as an example and an inspiration encouraging the general organisation of agriculture in co-operative farms.

Second, the superiority of large over small farms, and especially of co-operatively run large farms over small individual ones, would be so great as to be obvious to all.

Third, with the workers’ state relying on a large industrial sector, it could help the reorganisation of the small farms into large ones by supplying them with abundant machinery, fertilisers, etc.

With a firm launching pad in the countryside, abundant resources flowing into it from the cities, and the presumed superiority of large farming over small, the collectivisation of agriculture could be launched easily, speedily and successfully.

Under such circumstances, the voluntary principle could be adhered to without trouble. The voluntary principle in carrying out the “co-operativisation” of agriculture is part and parcel of the Marxist conception. The essence of workers’ rule, according to Marx – consistent democracy prevailing in the working class – cannot co-exist with coercion practised against a large mass of toiling peasants.

If the three assumptions underlying Marx’s ideas of the collectivisation of agriculture on the morrow of the socialist revolution are found wanting, the ideas themselves must be found wanting. And in fact, the socialist revolution, the coming of the working class to political power, and the socialisation of industry, banking, and trade, even in the most highly industrialised countries, will in all likelihood not tend necessarily to strengthen the collectivist tendencies in agriculture but, on the contrary, will tend to give a new lease of life to individual farming.

Let us assume the most auspicious circumstances for the new socialist regime – its establishment in a highly industrialised country or countries, worried by no military threat so that there is no wastage of resources on armaments, etc, and with abundant resources available for agriculture. The new regime, with the abolition of militarism, will grant the peasants a reduction in taxation, mortgages and many other burdens which crush him under capitalism. It will, through trading co-operatives, increase supplies of food, seed, fertilisers and the like. Co-operative land banks and the state itself will make available a greater amount of cheap credit. The supply of rented or co-operatively shared agricultural machinery will be encouraged. Scientific knowledge will be made readily available to the small farms as it is to the large farms under capitalism. Specialists in poultry, spraying and the like, veterinary surgeons and agronomists, will be at the service of all farmers.

The great disadvantages suffered under capitalism by the small farmers in the sphere of trade have been referred to. They must buy their requisites in small quantities, and the output of each product is very small so that the costs of trading are proportionately much larger than on the large farms. This drawback, however, is already being diminished under capitalism by the spread of trading co-operatives, which buy agricultural products and supply the farmer with what he needs; and under a proletarian regime, with the sources of supply and also the demands for agricultural products more centralised, these may be expected to strengthen and multiply.

Above all, the insecurity of the market, the instability of the demand for agricultural products that so often crushes the farmer, will give way to a stable and widening demand for agricultural goods to satisfy the needs of an urban population with a rising standard of living.

All these factors will probably give the private farm a new lease of life under the socialist regime. [68]

Social factors are also likely to strengthen the individual farm. The rural poor – labourers and small peasants alike – will have their cravings for a plot – or a decent-sized plot – of their own satisfied in the seizure or distribution of the large estates, and hence many a proletarian will be transformed into a petty bourgeois. This is bound to strengthen the social forces conserving individual farming.

But the socialist revolution in the long run must have the effect of undermining the private farm.

If, on the morrow of the socialist revolution, the factors which, under capitalism, undermine the individual farm by crushing the farmer, are weakened or eliminated altogether, other factors, more important in the long run, will have a contrary effect: they will undermine the individual farm by showing it to be too narrow a mode of existence for the agricultural population, whose appetite for a better, easier and more cultured life would be whetted with improved conditions.

The small farmer works far harder than the agricultural wage earner. Leisure time hardly exists for him. He has nothing in the world but his farm. But even under capitalism it is only the older generation in the main for whom this way of life is sufficient. The younger generation already rebels against it, craving the diversions and wider culture of the towns, to which it flocks in numbers. There the young people will work shorter hours, have a rest day on Sunday at least, annual holidays, etc. The cinema and other sources of amusement are at hand. The education of children is superior. The only reason for more of the farmer’s sons and daughters not leaving home to go to town is that under capitalism the private ownership of the farm. the feeling of being independent, provide a certain security of employment and income, and security in old age.

The socialist regime, by raising living standards all round, assuring security of employment, and comprehensive pensions for old age and sickness, will deflate the value of economic “independence” represented in the private ownership of the farm. It will also encourage the desire of the rural population, especially the youth, for culture, leisure and better living. Only then will the knell of the small farm toll: not because of the pressure of its poverty, but notwithstanding its prosperity. Thus the organisation of agriculture in co-operative farms is bound to be an extremely slow process, impeded by some factors that are brought into play by the new socialist regime, not gaining much stimulation from the assumed decline of small farming under the technical superiority of the large ones. The process of the transition of agriculture from individual to collectivist methods will thus be the result of the abundance of wealth and culture in highly developed societies. Individual farming will not be overthrown, but sublimated.

Capitalist pressure is not able to eliminate the small farm; socialist prosperity, by attraction, will gradually – in the very long run – persuade the peasantry to give up their individual farms.

So long as the socialist state controls the commanding heights of the economy in societies where industry is advanced and can serve as a firm base for economic progress, so long as the industrial working class is strong and cultured, there is no reason in the world why the new regime cannot wait patiently for a long time, even decades, before the rural population decides to take to the path of agricultural co-operative farming.




41. Sochineniia, V.I. Lenin. Vol.III, p.146.

42. The obscurity of class differences in the rural population in backward countries – quite often not only between wage earners, tenants and peasants, but even between them and “landlords” – is well illustrated in the Chinese countryside, where, in 1950, the Communist Party tried to define the class status of different people in connection with the land reform. Thus The Decisions Concerning the Differentiation of Class Status in the Countryside (4 August 1950) are so complicated, and the boundaries between the classes so blurred, that in many cases it is extremely difficult to determine whether a person is a landlord or a rich peasant; and, more absurdly in some cases, whether he is a middle peasant, an agricultural worker, or a landlord. One member of a family may be considered a landlord, another a proletarian. “In one family, for instance, if there is a person in the rural area who has, for three years, depended on land rent and loan interest as his major means of livelihood, then the said person is a landlord. If there is another person who has for one year depended on the sale of his labour power as his main means of livelihood, then the said person is a worker.” (The Agrarian Reform Law of the People’s Republic of China, Peking 1951, pp.50-1.) How flimsy the boundary between the classes!

Another aspect of the problem concerns the class status of a landlord who marries a worker, to which The Decisions devote a whole section; but for the purpose of demonstrating the difficulty of differentiating between classes, when they are not in fact very different, the posing of the question alone suffices.

Where the detection of the widest cleavages – between landlord and labourer – demands such careful scrutiny, how are the much narrower cleavages – between rich peasants and middle peasants, and between them and the rural poor – to be discerned? (For a further elaboration of this point, cf. Mao’s China, Y. Gluckstein, London 1957, pp.85-9.)

43. British Diplomacy in China, 1880-1885, F.V.G. Kiernan, Cambridge 1939, p.236.

44. J.F. Duncan in Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference of Agricultural Economists, London 1937, p.286.

45. The Peasant Question in France and Germany, F. Engels, 1894.

46. Sochineniia, V.I. Lenin, 3rd edition, Vol.XXII, p.50.

47. Ibid., Vol.XXIII, p.393.

48. Ibid., Vol.XXIII, p.420.

49. Ibid., Vol.XXIII, pp.420-9, 588 note 135.

50. Soviet Economic Development Since 1917, M. Dobb, London, 1948.

51. Sochineniia, V.I. Lenin, 3rd edition (?), Vol.XXVI, p.330.

52. One could criticise the Bolsheviks for deviation from agrarian socialism to petty bourgeois policies and Rosa Luxemburg, the great German-Polish Marxist and enthusiast for the October Revolution, did so sharply. She said: “... the slogan launched by the Bolsheviks, immediate seizure and distribution of the land by the peasants, ... not only is ... not a socialist measure; it even cuts off the way to such measures; it piles up insurmountable obstacles to the socialist transformation of agrarian relations.” (The Russian Revolution, R. Luxemburg, London 1959, p.19.) And Rosa Luxemburg, as it turned out, correctly prophesied that the distribution of the landed estates among the peasants would strengthen the power of private property in the countryside, which would in the future be bitterly opposed to the socialisation of agriculture: “formerly there was only a small caste of noble and capitalist landed proprietors and a small minority of rich village bourgeoisie to oppose a socialist reform on the land. And their expropriation by a revolutionary mass movement of the people is mere child’s play. But now, after the ‘seizure’, as an opponent of any attempt at socialisation of agricultural production, there is an enormous, newly-developed and powerful mass of owning peasants who will defend their newly-won property with tooth and nail against every socialist attack.” (Ibid., pp.20-21.)

Unfortunately, Lenin and Trotsky had no alternative. It is true that the Bolshevik programme provided for nationalisation of all landed estates, and Lenin had for years argued heatedly against the Social Revolutionaries who were in favour of distributing the landlords’ land among the peasants. However, in 1917, when the land problem demanded an immediate solution, he straightaway adopted the slogan of the much-condemned Social Revolutionaries – or rather, of the spontaneous peasant movement. Had the Bolsheviks not done this, they, and the urban working class they led, would have been isolated from the countryside, and the revolution would have been stillborn (as was the Hungarian Revolution of 1919).

53. The Other Society. The Kibbutz in the Test of Economy and Society (Hebrew), H. Darin-Drabkin, Merhavia 1961, p.268.

54. Ibid., p.261.

55. Ibid., p.429.

56. Palestine: The Country and its Economy (Hebrew), A. Bonne, Tel Aviv 1938, p.94.

57. Op. cit., H. Darin-Drabkin, p.341.

58. Ibid., p.457.

59. Ibid., p.453.

60. The New Economic Policy and our Tasks, N. Bukharin, Bolshevik, 1 June 1925.

61. Pravda, 4 November 1927, quoted in The Soviet Industrialisation Debate, 1924-1928, R. Erlich, Cambridge Mass, 1960, pp.81-2.

62. The Real Situation in Russia, L. Trotsky, London 1928, pp.68-72.

63. Novaya Ekonomika, E. Preobrazhensky, Moscow-Leningrad, 1926, pp.68-72.

64. Ibid., pp.57-8.

65. Preobrazhensky’s position must not be confused with that adopted in practice by Stalin. Preobrazhensky opposed any notion of administrative coercion against the peasants and therefore argued that it was “self-evident that for Russia the entire process (of collectivisation – TC) would be long, incredibly slow”.

66. Imre Nagy on Communism. In Defence of the New Course, London, 1957, p.193.

67. Information Service of Yugoslavia, RN 721/58-E; and Yugoslav Agriculture and its Development, D. Mutapovic, Review of International Affairs, 1 October 1959.

68. To repeat, only regions with individual peasant agriculture have been referred to, and not those, such as areas in Latin America, where large-scale agriculture based on wage-labour predominates.


Last updated on 25.7.2002