Tony Cliff


Marxism and the collectivisation of agriculture


First published in International Socialism 19, Winter 1964-65
Reprinted 1980 as No.1 of the series International Socialism Reprints.
Distributed by Socialists Unlimited.
Transcribed and marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for REDS – Die Roten.

One of the most important problems for world socialism is the interrelation of the peasantry and the reorganisation of agriculture in co-operative, or collective, farms. This is especially so as two-thirds of humanity are peasants and as the chain of world capitalism again and again breaks at its weakest links – the agrarian countries.

In this article, I shall deal with Marx’s approach to the subject and that of his followers, particularly Kautsky and Lenin. But before embarking on it, a few preliminary remarks need to be made. First, for lack of space, the present article does not deal with latifundia agriculture (as in Cuba prior to Castro). Second, it uses little historical demonstration, except what is absolutely necessary to illustrate the argument. Third, it is a revisionist article.

This last point needs some comment. It is very common for Marxists to speak about Marxism as a science and not a dogma, needing, as all sciences, persistent criticism and revision in face of empirical data. But while the principle is accepted by many who claim to be Marxists, a real critical evaluation of Marx’s dicta is frequently lacking. Marxism is transformed into a supra-historical theory, a religious dogma. But religion, after all, is “the opium of the people”. So if the reader of the present article finds that the author deviates radically from Marx’s statements regarding agriculture and its co-operative reorganisation, he must remember that he was warned.


1. Introduction

For Marx the Socialist revolution depended on the predominance of large-scale enterprise in industry, commerce and banking, which would make possible the expropriation of the capitalists by workers organised into collectivities in the actual process of capitalist production. He envisaged the embryo of Socialism – the large socialised enterprise – growing inside capitalism itself, ready to emerge complete into life. Marx, as we shall see later, presumed that under capitalism, in agriculture no less than in industry, the victory of large-scale social production was assured, alive though he was to the fact that the impediments in the path of large-scale farming are relatively far greater than those in the path of large-scale industry, and hence that the speed of capital concentration in agriculture is slower than in industry proper.

If, however, history shows that small-scale production continues to be predominant in agriculture, scarcely evincing any tendency to wither away and be replaced by large-scale enterprise, our idea of post-revolutionary agriculture naturally has to undergo radical modification.

This is especially so, as socialism – involving planning and the abolition of the exploitation of man by man – can not by its very nature be envisaged in industry, banking and commerce as long as individual production and competition – and hence planlessness and inequality – prevail in the countryside. The two systems could be visualised existing side by side for a time, both co-operating and clashing with each other. But after a certain lapse, unless the collectivist system were to attain a predominant position, progressively invading and finally undermining the individualist sector of production, the march towards socialism and its eventual victory would be wholly thwarted.

Associated with Marx’s assumption of the victory of large over small farming is a second assumption, that the rural population will become differentiated into ever more clearly defined social classes: a small minority of rich farmers and a growing majority of agricultural workers, the latter progressively freeing itself from the influence and authority of the village nabobs. Marx’s policy was based on an alliance of the industrial with the agricultural working class against the capitalists of town and country.

Now, if the victory of the large over small farm were not as sharply defined as Marx assumed, the process of class differentiation in the rural population would necessarily remain less distinct. It follows that it would be difficult for the Marxist party to find for the industrial working class allies in the rural areas who are not attached to private property and individual farming, and are bent on collectivisation. Having to bid for the support not only of the rural wage-earners, but also for the support of all peasants, would necessitate a basic change in the Marxist concept of the struggle for socialism in the countryside.

Again, Marx foresaw the socialist revolution breaking out in the most advanced industrial countries. Had this occurred, had revolution swept through countries like Britain or the United States, then however incorrect Marx’s prognosis might have been regarding the future of small farming under capitalism, and however unclear the differentiation of agricultural workers – natural allies in the struggle for the collectivisation of agriculture – from the rest of the rural population, the modifications necessary in the policies of the Marxist parties would have been marginal. For agriculture is indeed only marginal to the national economies of Britain or the United States. But when the revolution broke out in a predominantly backward agricultural country, as Russia was in 1917, these difficulties loomed more ominously. One and the same problem, posed in different historical contexts, can have entirely different implications.

Finally, Marx also believed that immediately after the socialist revolution, the highly developed industry of the advanced countries would provide the material resources to help agriculture along the road to complete co-operative organisation. Industry would assist agriculture to develop, to transform itself. Marx never posed the question: What path would agricultural collectivisation follow where it was not enriched by a bountiful industry, but where instead it had to build industry up, where agriculture was exploited to carry out the uncompleted industrial revolution?

The above short, schematic counterposing of Marx’s ideas on collectivisation of agriculture with the actual historical circumstances in which the problem has time and again been posed, rather runs ahead of the story. Let us turn back then, to Marx’s views on the future of agriculture.



2. Marx: The Peasantry Doomed under Capitalism

When dealing with Marx’s attitude to the peasantry, it must be remembered that the core of his research and analysis was the transition from capitalism to socialism. He looked upon the peasantry as a class as a social form characteristic of the feudal order, an untypical survival inside capitalism of an obsolete social order, which capitalism would drive out of existence. In the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels forecast the doom of the peasantry as of other petty bourgeois groups. Replying to a question on the attitude of Communists to the property of these groups, they said:

Are you speaking of the petty bourgeois, of the small peasant property which was before the bourgeois property? We do not need to do away with it. The evolution of industry has done, and is daily doing away with it.

The International Workingmen’s Association reiterated the same ideas in its Manifesto of 1869, stating that capitalism and science “condemn small-scale peasant farming to gradual extinction, without appeal and without mercy”.

So long as the peasantry and other petty bourgeois groups hold on to their property, they try to “roll back the wheel of history”. The peasantry, Marx wrote, is “the class that represents barbarism without civilisation”. [1] Together with other petty-bourgeois groups, they are not only conservative, but reactionary.

If by chance they are revolutionary, they arc so only in view of their impending transfer into the proletariat; they thus defend not their present, but their future, interests; they desert their own standpoint to place themselves at that of the proletariat. [2]

Again, in his life’s work, Capital – where, in analysing the capitalist order, Marx used, it is true, an abstract model, and not a picture of existing society (but a model nevertheless that sought to demonstrate the lines along which capitalism was developing) – he found no place for the peasants or for other small producers. They were destined, it seems, to disappear with the advance of capitalism.

However, in further work on the problem, and especially in Volume III of Capital, Marx made some reservations regarding the future of the peasantry under capitalism. When he explained his theory of rent (Part IV of Volume III) he restricted his analysis to the English type of land-ownership and rent. Here there were only three social groups in the countryside: landowners, capitalists and wage workers, a scheme of things which left no place for the peasantry. But he makes it very clear that this is only one model. He ends this section with a short analysis of an alternative model, with small peasant farmers in the role of sellers and debtors subordinated to trade and money capital, and a resulting degeneration of agriculture. He makes it clear that the latter model is a less pure form of capitalist development in agriculture, and he does not state whether, under the continued development of capitalism, peasant farming would be swept away by the victory of large-scale production. Thus it is true to say that Marx, in further elaborating his great work, intended to move the English type of landownership away from the centre of the stage. Indeed, Engels stated in his preface to the Third Volume of Capital Marx intended to rewrite the part on rent, with Russia, rich in a “variety of forms of real estate and the exploitation of the agricultural producer” playing an equal role to that of England in the First Volume, which deals with industry and industrial wage labour. [3] It need scarcely be remarked that the “variety of forms” did not include the English model of large farms.

It would be erroneous to conclude from this, however, that Marx ever abandoned the central theme that small farming is doomed under capitalism: Russia, after all, did not represent a capitalist, but a pre-capitalist, semi-feudal society. On the contrary, till the end of his life Marx took it for granted that small-scale agricultural production was doomed: “Large industry and large agriculture on an industrial scale work together.” [4]

Marx’s conception of the prospects of the peasantry under capitalism must undoubtedly have been influenced by the fact that since 1850 he had lived in the only country in the world where the peasantry had practically disappeared and large- scale farming was predominant.



3. Marx: On the Role of the Peasantry in the Socialist Revolution

Marx argued that inside capitalism, that is, after the bourgeoisie’s rise to power, the peasantry is a reactionary force to the extent that it is still attached to property. Thus he says that it was “the relentless property fanaticism of the peasant” which in 1848 isolated the Parisian working class and led to the defeat of the revolution. [5]

Only insofar as the peasant becomes conscious of the hopelessness of individual farming can he play a progressive, even revolutionary role; when

the French peasant parts with his belief in his small holding ... the proletarian revolution obtains that chorus without which its solo song in all peasant nations becomes a swan song. [6]

History was to show time and again that when individual farming was threatened by capitalist development, as for instance in Germany during the great depression of the 1930s, the peasant did not join the proletarian revolution as a “chorus” but sided with its enemies. [7]



4. Marx and Engels on Land Distribution among the Peasants

Because Marx saw in small farming a remnant of feudalism being crushed and swept away under the advance of capitalism, his attitude to private peasant land ownership when it faced capitalist ownership differed from his attitude when it faced large feudal ownership.

It is clear that Marx supported the small peasants’ struggle for the distribution of large feudal properties, while he always rejected the support of small property in opposition to large capitalist property and gave priority to collective production, wherever he believed that it could be established in place of individual production. Collective ownership was to be supported against small private ownership.

The Communist League of Germany’s programme of 1848 stated:

The royal and other feudal estates, all mines, pits, etc, shall be transformed into state property. On these estates agriculture is to be conducted on a large scale and with the most modem scientific means for the benefit of all society. [8]

The Address of the Central Council to the Communist League of Germany, written by Marx in 1850, warned the German comrades against allowing the landed estates to be handed over to the peasants as had been done in the French revolution:

The first point on which the bourgeois democrats will come into conflict with the workers will be the abolition of feudalism. As in the first French Revolution, the petty bourgeois will give the feudal lands to the peasants as free property. That is to say, try to leave the rural proletariat in existence and form a petty bourgeois peasant class which will go through the same cycle of impoverishment and indebtedness which the French peasant is now going through.

The workers must oppose this plan in the interests of the rural proletariat and in their own interests. They must demand that the confiscated feudal property remains state property and be converted into labour colonies cultivated by the associated rural proletariat with all the advantages of large-scale agriculture through which the principle of common property immediately obtains a firm basis in the midst of the tottering bourgeois property relations. [9]

The same idea reappeared in 1869 in the resolution of the Basle Congress of the International Workingmen’s Association on agrarian policy. It called upon the agricultural workers to form a “labourers’ union” which would take possession of state, church, and large estate lands. [10]

Again Engels, in a letter to Bebel on 11 December, 1884, wrote:

The demand should be made that the great demesnes which are not yet broken up should be let out to co-operative societies of agricultural labourers for joint farming. [11]

Thus, while Marx and Engels supported bourgeois peasant property in the struggle against feudalism, they argued that in the socialist revolution, distribution of the large estates among private owners should be opposed, and instead these estates should be transformed into co-operatively run large farms.

Despite certain shifts in Marx’s views on farming, certain assumptions remain constant:

  1. Large farming under capitalism is bound to crush small farming out of existence, whether at a quicker or slower pace, entirely or not quite completely;
  2. The defence of small-scale farming is reactionary;
  3. The ally of the industrial working class in the struggle for socialism is the agricultural working class;
  4. The socialist revolution denotes the immediate transformation of large estates into state or co-operative property.

We shall find that Marx’s followers – Karl Kautsky, Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin, Trotsky – in the main followed Marx’s position on the basic question of the historical role of the peasantry in bourgeois and socialist revolutions, on the attitude of socialists to land distribution, and on the means for making agricultural production co-operative. However, on the prospects of small farming versus large farming as the process of industrialism proceeded – a question of prime importance for the whole problem – Kautsky and Lenin, the two main exponents of a Marxist analysis of agricultural economics, held a position which was more ambivalent than Marx’s; they were much less definite about the victory of large over small farming consequent upon capitalist development.



5. Kautsky

Soon after the appearance of the Third Volume of Capital in 1894, Marx’s theory of the concentration of capital in agriculture and the victory of large over small farming came under attack from the German “Revisionists”, Eduard Bernstein and Eduard David. To support their argument they used the German population census of 1895 which showed that since the previous census of 1882 small and medium farms had lost no ground at all.

The foremost Marxist theoretician of the time, Karl Kautsky, dealt with the problem in Die Agrarfrage (The Agrarian Question), 1889, which is the most important and elaborate work ever published on the subject. While vehemently attacking Bernstein and David, Kautsky in practice shifted radically from Marxs’ concept regarding the withering away of the small farm under capitalism.

Kautsky began with an acceptance of the existence of basic differences between the paths of capitalist development in agriculture and in industry:

There is not the slightest doubt – we are prepared to accept this a priori – that agriculture does not develop according to the pattern in industry: it is subject to special laws. [12]

There are branches of agriculture, he argued, in which small production can compete successfully with large production; for example, vegetable gardening, vine growing, etc. [13] But these branches occupy a position subordinate to the principal branches of agriculture – grain and livestock. And in the latter sectors “large-scale production is decidedly superior to small production.” [14]

He went on to enumerate factors which made large-scale farming superior to small-scale. The large farm saves on animals, implements, houses, etc, per unit of land. The smaller the agricultural area, the larger the relative portion of land lost on boundary demarcations. The large farm uses absolutely more equipment, and can therefore turn a more advanced division of labour to better advantage. It derives far greater benefit from the specialisation of machinery and other equipment than the small farm, and there is certain machinery that it alone can use. The same applies to livestock. The small farmer uses a cow in numerous ways: milking, draft work and breeding. Specialisation of livestock is possible only in large farms. As regards specialisation and co-operation of labour, the large farm again has decisive advantages over the small. It can employ specialists. [15] it keeps workshops beyond the means of the small farm for the repair of machinery and the making of simple implements. [16] It can arrange buildings and organise irrigation to better advantage than the small farm. [17] Above all, “The more capitalistic agriculture becomes, the more it develops the qualitative difference between the technique of small production and that of large-scale production.” [18]

Added to the advantages of the large farm in the sphere of production are many more in the field of trade and credit.

There is no field in which the advantages of the large farm over the small one are greater than in that of trade. [19]

The position of the small farmer among the sellers and buyers in the market is very weak. His knowledge of the market situation is poor; his ability to take advantage of favourable, or safeguard himself in advance against unfavourable, circumstances is minimal. To make matters more difficult, his dealings in the market, unlike those of the small artisan, are very varied. While a shoemaker needs to buy, besides implements, only leather, nails, and cord, and sells only shoes, a farmer, in addition to equipment, has to buy livestock, seeds, fodder, fertilisers, insecticides, etc, and to sell livestock, grain, milk, butter, eggs, etc. “There is no other art as dependent on trade as his.’ This dependence is most binding when the trader is also the usurer and when the farmer is compelled, in order to pay his debts, to sell his goods at any price. [20]

But Kautsky argues that there are some important factors which prevent the complete victory of large farming over small. First, the use of machinery encounters greater difficulties in agriculture than in industry, partly for technical reasons connected with the layout of the land, etc, partly because of the seasonal nature of agriculture, which makes it relatively more expensive to keep machinery, and partly because low wages in agriculture make the use of machinery less profitable than it would be were wages higher. [21]

Second, the cost of internal transport, and the wastage it, too, involves, tends to limit the optimal size of the farm more than in the case of industrial plant. [22]

Third, the more intensive the farm, the more important is the transport factor in restricting the optimal size of the farm, owing to the greater amount of fertilisers, seeds, etc., which have to be transported per unit of land. [23]

Fourth, the larger the farm, the higher the cost of supervising labour. Under capitalism, for which strict labour supervision is necessary, this factor is important in limiting the size of the farm. [24]

Fifth, as the main source of labour for the large farm is the offspring of the small farmers, if the number of small farms goes down, the supply of labour power to the large farms dwindles. [25] A shortage of workers due to emigration of the rural population compels the big landowners to allot land to the agricultural workers in order to create a small peasantry which will then provide labour power for the landlords. (Marx actually mentioned this factor in an article in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung as early as 1850, as a limitation on the growth of large farming.)

A sixth factor helping to preserve the small farm is the policy of capitalist governments, which, increasingly threatened by socialism, try to bolster up the small farms as a factor of social conservatism and stability. [26]

And seventh, a feature distinguishing agriculture from industry is the natural limit to the supply of land, the most important agricultural means of production. In industry there is no such natural limit to an increase in the quantity of means of production. There the accumulation of capital, that is, the use of part of the profit to, increase the means of production, can be carried out independently of the concentration of capital, that is, the concentration of many capitals into a small number of agglomerated masses. And this accumulation usually precedes concentration. The large capital becomes larger and larger until it undermines the independence of the small capitals. This undermining is generally the result and not the prerequisite of the creation of large capital – in order to build a shoe factory one does not have to start with the expropriation of the small shoemakers. The situation in agriculture is just the opposite: entirely dependent on land as it is, the expropriation of the small farms, moreover in a continuous area, is a precondition for the building up of a large farm. Thus the private ownership of the land hampers the concentration and accumulation of capital in agriculture. [27]

All these factors, however, could only retard the victory of large over small farming for a time. But there is one paramount factor, according to Kautsky, which prevents the disappearance of the small farm, and which overshadows all the others. After arguing the case for the overall technical superiority of large-scale production in agriculture, he asks, “What can small production set off against the advantage of large-scale production?” And he replies:

The greater diligence and greater care of the worker who, unlike the hired labourer, works for himself, and the low level of requirements of the small independent farmer which is even lower than that of the agricultural labourer. [28]

Not only the small farmer himself, but his children too, are made to toil to the limit. [29] Their willingness to work day and night, a willingness not characteristic of the agricultural labourer, is of particular importance in the busy seasons. [30] Kautsky goes on to quote a large number of facts from France, England and Germany to support the argument that overwork and undernourishment are the main bulwark of small farming.



6. Lenin

Lenin accepted Kautsky’s Die Agrarfrage without reservation, and his theoretical writings on the subject of large versus small farms were largely repetitions and elaborations of Kautsky’s arguments aided by new statistical data. Any deviations from Kautsky were in the direction of greater emphasis on the ruination of small farming under capitalism. Thus he wrote:

... the fundamental and main trend of capitalism is the elimination of small production by large-scale production both in industry and in agriculture. But this process must not be taken only in the sense of immediate expropriation. this elimination process also includes a process of ruination, of deterioration of the conditions of farming of the small farmers which may extend over years and decades. This deterioration manifests itself in overwork or underfeeding of the small farmer; in an increased burden of debt; in the deterioration of cattle fodder and the condition of the cattle in general; in the deterioration of the methods of cultivating and manuring the land; in the stagnation of technical progress, etc. [31]

And again:

Small production in agriculture is doomed to extinction and to an incredibly crushed, oppressed position under capitalism ... Being dependent on big capital, and being backward compared with large-scale production in agriculture, small production can hold on only because of the desperately reduced consumption and laborious, arduous toil. The dispersion and waste of human labour, the worst forms of dependence of the producer, exhaustion of the strength of the peasant family, of peasant cattle and peasant land – this is what capitalism brings to the peasant everywhere. [32]



7. The Stubborn Facts

Whatever the factors working for or against the survival of small farms, the march of two centuries of capitalism has shown in uncontrovertible form that agriculture did not follow industry in concentrating the major portion of production in a small number of farm units. Even accepting all Kautsky’s and Lenin’s arguments, the decisive fact remains: the production unit in agriculture is extremely small, large-scale production is not predominant, agriculture as a whole is atomised into millions of relatively tiny units of production. And as years pass into generations, the small farms show no inclination to disappear.

In Britain, for instance, the country of large-scale farming par excellence, which served as a model for Marx’s study of capitalist agriculture, the concentration in farming is very far behind that in manufacturing industry. It is estimated that in 1957 some 77 per cent of regular full-time workers in England and Wales were on farms employing fewer than 11 people, and 53 per cent were in units with fewer than 5. The following table compares the concentration in a branch of industry and in agriculture:


Size of Unit

Percentage of Total Workers Employed [33]

No. of




















1000 and above


In fact, since Marx wrote Capital, the number of wage earners in British agriculture has not increased either absolutely or relatively compared with the number of farms, but on the contrary has considerably declined. The total number of farms in Britain recorded in 1851 was 303,000, while in 1951 it was practically the same, 302,000. Meanwhile the number of agricultural contract workers declined from 1,473,000 to 544,000. [34] The distribution of farm staffs in England and Wales in 1851 and 1951 was as follows:

Number of regular
workers per farm

Per cent of Workers
























20 and over



In 1851, 18.6 per cent of the farms had regular staffs of five or more workers and there were 16,500 farms with 10 or more workers. In 1941 only 8.3 per cent of the farms employed five or more workers, while the number of farms employing 10 or more workers was reduced to 6,800. At the other end of the scale the number of farms staffed entirely by the occupier and his wife with one regular worker in addition increased from 117,700 in 1851 to 192,800 in 1941. [35]

In other capitalist countries too there are few wage workers in agriculture. Thus, for instance, in Austria, 79 per cent of the total farm labour force, according to the 1951 census, was accounted for by owners of holdings and members of their families, and only 21 per cent consisted of hired labourers. The corresponding figures for Ireland were 85 and 15 per cent. [36] In Germany the corresponding figures (in 1933) were 76 and 24 per cent. [37] In France, the 1954 census revealed that out of 5.1 million people engaged in agriculture, only 1.2 million, or some 23.5 per cent, were farm labourers. [38]

It is true there are vast corporation and other farms in the United States, which control the major part of the sale of farm products. But even here the small unit is incomparably more stubborn than in industry. Thus in 1950, out of a total labour force of 10.4 millions in agriculture in USA, only 2.3 millions, or 17.4 per cent [1*] , were hired workers. It was estimated that there was an average of 1.5 million male wage and salary workers in agriculture, compared with 4.1 million male farmers, and 0.7 million male members of farmers’ families working in agriculture. Thus, only 24 per cent [1*] of all males engaged in agriculture were wage or salary workers. [39]

Moreover, the number of wage workers in US agriculture has declined more quickly than the number of farmers. Thus between 1929 and 1948 the number of people employed in US agriculture declined from 11.3 million to 10.7 million, or by 5.3 per cent, while the number of hired workers declined from 2.98 millions to 2.31 millions, or by 22.5 per cent. [40]

If one accepts Lenin’s contention, in his discussion of American agriculture, that the volume of hired labour is the most direct indication of the development of capitalist operations in agriculture, then it must be argued that while capitalism in general has advanced, capitalism in agriculture has hardly advanced at all, in fact has even retreated in the most advanced industrial countries.

Now, as we have seen, one of the basic assumptions underlying Marx’s policy for the socialist transformation of agriculture was the great superiority of large farming over small, a superiority which would lead to the existence of a considerable sector of farms under capitalism that would serve as a point of support for the general process of making farm production co-operative after the socialist revolution. The above facts undermine this assumption.



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.




1. The Class Struggles in France, Selected Works, Vol.II, London 1942, p.233.

2. The Communist Manifesto, Selected Works, Vol.I, p.44.

3. Capital. Vol.III, Chicago 1909, p.16.

4. Ibid., p.946.

5. The Class Struggles in France, Selected Works, Vol.II, London 1942, p.221.

6. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Selected Works, Vol.II, London 1942, p.422.

7. To avoid misunderstanding, it should be said that the above deals with Marx’s concept of the role of the peasantry in the socialist revolution. As regards the peasantry’s role in the anti-feudal, capitalist revolution, Marx’s concept was radically different. Contrary to the conservative, even reactionary role played by the peasantry in the socialist, anti-capitalist revolution, Marx showed that a peasantry oppressed by feudalism plays an entirely different part in a revolution directed to the overthrow of this social order. Whereas the proletarian revolution characterises the death-agony of capitalism, it is the peasant revolution that accompanies the death-agony of feudalism and the rise of capitalism – Wat Tyler in England, Thomas Münzer in Germany, Pugachev and Stenka Razin in Russia. And in this revolution the peasantry as a class plays a progressive, revolutionary role.

8. Selected Works, Vol.II, London 1942, p.18.

9. Ibid., p.166.

10. Ibid., p.541.

11. Selected Correspondence, Marx-Engels, p.434.

12. Die Agrarfrage (The Agrarian Question), Karl Kautsky, Stuttgart 1902, pp.5-6.

13. Ibid., p.115.

14. Ibid., p.116.

15. Ibid., pp.101-2.

16. Ibid., p.102.

17. Ibid., p.104.

18. Ibid., p.92.

19. Ibid., p.104.

20. Ibid., p.105.

21. Ibid., pp.46-8.

22. Ibid., p.141.

23. Ibid., p.142.

24. Ibid., p.141.

25. Ibid., pp.151-5.

26. Ibid., p.136.

27. Ibid., pp.138-40.

28. Ibid., p.106.

29. Ibid., p.109.

30. Ibid., p.112.

31. Selected Works, Vol.XII, p.248.

32. Ibid., p.288.

33. Report of the Committee on Further Education for Agriculture provided by Local Education Authorities, December 1958, Cmd.614.

34. The Distribution of Manpower in Agriculture and Industry, 1851-1951, J.R. Bellerby, The Farm Economist, Oxford 1958, No.1.

35. The Size of Farm Staffs in England and Wales in 1851 and 1941, J.A. Mollett, The Farm Economist, Oxford 1950, No.6.

36. Third Report on the Agricultural Policies in Europe and North America, Organisation for European Economic Co-operation, Paris October 1958, p.18.

37. Ibid., p.41.

38. The Relation of Land Tenure to the Economic and Social Development of Agriculture, M. Sering, Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference of Agricultural Economists, OUP, 1957, p.77; The Economist, 12 March 1960.

39. The Relationship between the BAE Level-of-Living Indexes and the Average Income of Farm Operators, V.W. Ruttan, Journal of Farm Economics, February 1954.

40. Economics of Agricultural Production and Resource Use, E.O. Heady, New York, 1952, p.694.

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.


Note by REDS – Die Roten

1*. These figures are incorrect. The percentages should be 22.1% and 31.3% respectively. This error soe not change the substantive argument in any way.


Last updated on 17.7.2002