Agrarian Transition

Naxalite Movement and the Peasant Question

Arup Baisya

After a long period, the agrarian question or the peasant question has once again come to the fore. The agrarian crisis and the left decline in rural areas make it imperative to have a look on agrarian relations. In the great Indian academic debate on peasant question in the 1960s and 1970s which is known as 'mode of production debate', there was no unanimity of opinions. The Naxalbari peasant upsurge vindicated the stand of the section of left who severed ties with mainstream left and formed CPIML declaring the Indian state character as semi-feudal and semi-colonial. This characterization was in consonance with the Mao's formulation of 'erosion and retention' of feudal relations in the era of imperialism and semi-colonial settings. The Naxalbari upsurge actually happened in the backdrop of a phase of class struggle that was unleashed during that period in the Indian agricultural sector. The question arises what happened to the agrarian relations of production after this phase of class struggle. Did this phase mark the beginning of gradual transition of feudalism to capitalism from below as it happened in France? The question also arises whether the continuation of same strategy followed by the CPIML groups in the rural areas post-Naxalbari upsurge has any bearing on the shrinking mass base.

There was a dichotomy in political culture of a section of Congress leadership who having emerged from landed gentry inherited the feudal interest, but at the same time imbibed modern outlook through freedom struggle and also through the process of post-independence constitutional republican state formations.

Indian state tried to introduce capitalism from above through half-hearted attempt of Land Reforms in the period of planned economy. K Venkata-subramanian, former member of Planning Commission, referred Joshi's following observation in his article "Land reforms remained an unfinished business" :
"Land reforms in India have not assumed the form of gigantic revolutionary upheaval as in China, or that of a dramatic change brought about from above as in Japan. But from this to jump to the conclusion that the land reform programme has been a hoax or total fiasco is to substitute assertion for a detailed empirical examination. India has also witnessed important changes in the agrarian structure, which have gone unnoticed because of the absence of down-to-earth approach in assessing these changes".

Land reforms were given a top priority in policy agenda to ensure social justice and augment agricultural growth by optimum utilization of small holdings. From 1960s green revolution technology backed by subsidized credit, fertilizer was introduced. Later, other inputs were introduced in the water-rich regions for food crops from the 1980s. After the phase of intense agrarian class struggle which culminated into Naxalbari upheaval, national guidelines were issued in 1972, which specified the land ceiling limit.

As per the observation of Daniel Thorner, the American Historian, who initiated the Indian mode of production debate, the big business in India in late 1960s and early 1970s was campaigning for an open door policy of free entry into agricultural production. The house of Birlas took the lead in demanding a shift in Government policy away from cooperative farming, which failed to make any headway worth noting, towards corporate farming. The former Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. emphasized "Land reform is the most crucial test which our political system must pass in order to survive". (LAND REFORMS REMAIN AN UNFINISHED BUSINESS, K Venkatasubramanian Planning Commission, GoI. Site).

This shift of political balance within the Congress to serve the corporate interest as against the feudal interest was visible in the early seventies. It is worth-mentioning here that the global capitalism also entered into systemic crisis just before the advent of that period of intense agrarian class struggle and was desperately searching for profitable destination for investment. The interest of corporate capital for making further deep inroads into the Indian agricultural sector was drawn by the presence of wage labourers along with a reserve army of labourers and the commodity production for market as the dominant features in the agricultural sector instead of subsistence cultivation. The forces for rapid transition to agrarian capitalist relations had taken the driving seat both politically and economically from that period.

After more than three decades of neo-liberal globalization of capital, the corporate food regime dispossesses peasants as a condition of corporate agriculture, what Harvey terms as 'accumulation by dispossession'. Massive acquisition of agricultural land by muIti-national corporations for non-agricultural purposes and increasing privatization of natural resources introduced new patterns of urbanization and industrialization. The increasing control of agribusiness over input and output flows of agriculture indicated a massive debouching of workforce from the farm sector.

When the agrarian question is revisited after three decades of neo-liberal policy drive, the convergence of opinion among the academicians on the broad canvass of delineating the Indian agrarian relation as capitalist has been emerging. The penetration of corporate capital and accumulation of surplus thereof by global corporate giants through the value chain restrained the re-investment of capital by both landlord capitalist and peasant capitalist in the agricultural sectors and thus de-linking of the peasant economy from global corporate control is essential to serve the interest of these agrarian classes. From the point of view of labour there are regional and community variants. The formal, real and hybrid forms of subsumption of labour to capital fit to these unevenness of capitalist development.

The nature of agrarian relations in India is bound to reflect the external neo-liberal influence as much as the internal historical specificities. The diversities in the agrarian relation of production ingrained in the labour process can be conceived from formal, real and hybrid forms of subsumption of labour to capital.

The primitive accumulation drive of the global corporate capital and the distress situation in agricultural economy are continuously converting the displaced peasants into wage labourer for their subsistence with wages below the value of labour-power and getting engaged in informal sectors which is being expanded due to neo-liberal urbanization, and thus the agricultural labourers are coming under the purview of formal subsumption to capital. The technological inputs in the agriculturally and industrially developed Indian states are drawing the rural wage labourers under the real subsumption to capital. There is also a third category of large number of small peasants. Marx, in his letters to Vera Zasulich, pointed out the hybrid form of subsumption of labour to capital in the case of pre-revolutionary Russian peasant communes and observed that the survival of these communes were dependent on the occurrence of Russian revolution. The Indian small peasants are largely engaged in commodity production and send their products to the market through marketing chain which is rapidly being brought under the control of global corporate giants entering the retail market and agribusiness. The small peasants engaged in commodity production are actually paying their own wages from the small portion of surplus they can be able to accumulate. The survival of these small peasants is also dependent on Indian revolution that will usher in delinking of agricultural economy from the clasp of the global corporate and their Indian compradors. Due to the dominance of global corporate capital, the landlord capitalists in the agriculturally developed states and the peasant capitalists in the industrially developed states can also garner little control over production process to accumulate surplus to reinvest. Thus all the rural classes have a score to settle with the global corporate capital and their Indian compradors, be it the question of wages, delinking of economy from the control of global corporate capital for capital accumulation and re-investment or preservation of natural resources and ecological balances from the onslaught of primitive accumulation. The changing dynamics of rural class relations has also put the institution of patriarchy into intense questioning. A programme that encompasses all these factors to build a mass struggle against corporate plunder may rejuvenate the Naxalite movement once again.

References :
1.    Late Marx and the Russian Road, Marx and 'The Peripheries of Capitalism'—Theodor Shanin, 2009.
2.   Land, Labour & Rights, Daniel Thorner Memorial Lectures—edited by Alice Thorner, 2001.
3.   Critical Perspectives on Agrarian Transition—Edited by B B Mahanty. 2016

Vol. 49, No.1, Jul 10 - 16, 2016