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Marxism and Peasant Question - Pradip Singha Thakur

20 October 2019

Marx-Engels said in the “Communist Manifesto” — “In the earlier epoch of history, we find almost everywhere a complete sub-division of society into different ranks, a manifold gradation of social positions. In the ancient Rome, we have: patricians, knights, plebeians, slaves. In the middle ages, we have: feudal lords, vassals, guild-burgesses, journeymen, serfs; and within each of these classes there existed, in almost every instance, further gradations.

Our own age, the bourgeois age, is distinguished by this — that is has simplified class antagonism. More and more, society is splitting into two great hostile camps, in to two great and directly contra-posed classes: bourgeoisie and proletariat.”

This observation of Marx and Engels — founder of scientific Marxism — was indicating inevitable trend of society. Actually, in 1894, after 46 years of publication of Communist Manifesto, a year before his death, Engels said, “… from Ireland to Sicily, from Andalusia to Russia and Bulgaria, the peasant is a very essential factor of the population, production and political power.” (The Peasant Question in France and Germany)

Again, Engels said, “The conquest of political power by the Socialist Party has become a matter of the not too distant future. But in order to conquer political power this party must first go from the town to the country, must become a power in countryside…. This brings us right into the thick of the PEASANT QUESTION.”

We know that when Engels had given so much importance to the peasant question, then the countries like France and Germany are in the state of Socialist Revolution. It is obvious that when we are in the stage of bourgeois democratic revolution — People’s Democratic Revolution — then “Peasants is a very essential factor of the population, production and political power.”

We know that there is vast difference between the then Ireland and Sicily, Andalusia and Russia and Bulgaria with the INDIA of 2019, but “in order to conquer political power” we have to go by the advice of Engels — “Party must first go from the town to the country, must become a power in the countryside”.

We are not suggesting to leave town, city, industrial sector. We had done that thing just after Naxalbari uprising. That was a costly mistake. We had abandoned working class in the main and one-sidedly had given importance to the rural work. Here most important point is that “we must become a power in the countryside”, a sizable, formidable and powerful force in the countryside.

From this orientation, we have to be “into the thick of the peasant question”.

We want to mention here a very important lesson from Chinese revolution: “Therefore, it would be wrong to abandon the struggle in the cities, but in our opinion, it would be also be wrong for any of our Party member to fear the growth of peasant strength lest it should out strip the workers’ strength and harm the revolution. For in the revolution in semi-colonial China, the peasant struggle must always fail if it does not have the leadership of the workers, but the revolution is never harmed if the peasant struggle outstrips the forces of workers”. (Mao, A Single Spark Can Start a Prairie Fire)

Here also, we want to say that there is large difference between 1930s China and today’s India. Our Party is also for Indian Path for Indian Revolution. But on the question of leadership of the working class on the peasant struggle — mutual relation between working class leadership and peasant struggle — the lesson of Chinese revolution is wholly applicable for Indian revolution also.

II

Though in the “Communist Manifesto” it was stated that in “our own age, the bourgeois age” instead of “complete sub-division of society into different ranks, a manifold gradation of social positions and further gradation” society is splitting into two great hostile camps, into two great and directly contra-posed classes: bourgeoisie and proletariat”, but actual reality after 170 years is that there are manifold gradation and further gradation in various countries and in India also.

So actual reality is, on the one side, splitting of society into bourgeois and proletariat is going on and on the other side, forceful presence of “different ranks” and “manifold gradation” in the society.

Actually, after the publication of “Communist Manifesto” in 1848, due to agrarian crisis in Europe in 1870 and dragged on until mid-nineties of that century, the peasant question figured as one of the most crucial in the programme, strategy and tactics of the socialist parties.

So to give correct orientation and direction on the peasant question, to rectify the mistaken standpoint of France and German Parties on this question, Engels had written the article “The Peasant Question in France and Germany” in 1894.

About this article, Lenin said in 1919, after the victory of socialist revolution in Russia, “… it was Engels who established the division of the peasants into small peasants, middle peasants and big peasants and this division holds good for most European countries EVEN TODAY” (Collected Works, Vol. 29, P-205). So in 1919 also, three were “sub-divisions and gradations” and that two in “MOST European countries.”

Engels not only discussed about division among the peasants, but also said very concretely the attitude of the communist Party (then socialist Party) towards various sections of the peasantry.

About general teachings of Marx-Engels and particular teachings about various sections of the peasants, Lenin said, “the teachings by which our Party has always guided itself, and particularly in times of revolution”. Actually Lenin was implementing Engels teachings at the times of socialist construction in rural areas of Russia.

Lenin Said, “In relation to the land owners and capitalists, our aim is complete expropriations. But we shall not tolerate any use of force in respect of middle peasants (Lenin’s italics). Even in respect of the rich peasants we do not say as resolutely as we do of the bourgeoisie — absolute expropriation of the rich peasants and the kulaks. This distinction is made in our Programme. We say that the resistance of the counter-revolutionary efforts of rich peasants must be suppressed. That is not complete expropriation” (C.W., Vol. 29, P-205) and again “The basic difference in our attitude towards the bourgeoisie and the middle peasant — complete expropriation of bourgeoisie and all alliance with the middle peasant who does not exploit others.”

So it is clear that Lenin had taken a very concrete attitude to the different sections of the peasantry when he was in the midst of socialist construction in rural areas in Russia.

Our stage of revolution is not socialist, but democratic. But here also in our society, there are two poles, two extreme poles: imperialism, comprador capitalism and landlordism in the one pole and on the other pole industrial working class and agricultural labourers. But our country is like pre-revolutionary China in certain aspects. There are many ‘gradations’ and “sub-divisions” like landless and poor peasants, middle peasants, rich peasants, petti-bourgeoisie, national bourgeoisie, various types of labouring people in city, town and rural areas.

In our Party Programme, we have categorically stated who are our enemies and who are our friends. I am not discussing that part. Comrade should study the Party Programme.

Here I want to make a point for clarity, that is, mutual relation between various sections of the peasantry.

We have to rely on agricultural labour, landless and poor peasant; we have to firmly unite with middle peasant and we have a unity and struggle policy in the case of rich peasant. Actually, in the rural areas, we have to unite with 90 percent of the rural population on the basis of class analysis.

Here, we want to draw the attention of our comrades towards a wrong position of certain Chinese comrades, who had taken this standpoint: “The poor peasants and farm labourers conquer the country and should rule the country.”

Criticizing this wrong position Mao said that “In the villages, it is the farm labourers, poor peasants, middle peasants and other working people, united together under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, who conquer the country and should rule the country and it is not the poor peasants and farm labourers alone who conquer the country and should rule the country” (Vol. 4, P-12).

In today’s India, due to impact of neo-liberal policies, the crisis in agriculture is deepening more and more. Agriculture distress is engulfing the whole rural sector. This situation is creating condition for a widest possible mobilisation of the peasantry and farmers also. In such a situation, we should try our level best to walk on two legs — independent initiative and joint struggles, taking independent initiative as primary.

We should take extra caution against a wrong standpoint: “Doing everything as the masses want it doing”. This position negates the leading role of the Party and encourages tailism.

III

Penetration of capitalism is going on in Indian agriculture from colonial days. But peculiarity of this penetration is that it is super-imposed on a feudal base. Characteristics feature of that development is that there was a huge disproportion between the destruction of the old and the construction of the new. So at that time “de-peasantisation” and pauperisation are more or less synonymous. After independence, the path taken by the Indian ruling classes and its effect on Indian agriculture is unable to change the course of the colonial days in a significant way. So from 1947 to 1990, in these 43 years also “de-peasantisation” does not mean proletariatisation, but pauperisation in the main.

But from 1991 till today, what was going on under neo-liberal economy, a grave situation has emerged in Indian agriculture. Penetration of corporate, implementation of corporate and contract farming, reverse land reform act, serious attack on Forest Right Act, proposed amendment of Forest Act 1927, increased indebtedness of vast majority of peasants, withdrawal of subsidies, absence of remunerative prices for agricultural products, forceful eviction of peasants from their lands, absence of statutory law for agricultural workers, atrocities on Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims, attack of natural calamities like draught and flood — all these have created such a situation where more than 43 percent of peasants are ready to give up agriculture, where more than four lakh peasants have taken the course of suicide.

Earlier from de-peasantisation to pauperisation, now to suicide on mass scale. It is nothing but mass killing. When Indian peasants and agriculture are facing such a devastating crisis, then Central government is proposing zero sum Budget without taking necessary financial responsibility.

IV

In such a situation mobilisation of peasantry of India on the basis of a comprehensive alternative policies is urgently necessary. Here we have to make a clear distinction between perspective slogan and slogan of the day. For example, confiscation all lands of the landlords — this is a perspective slogan. We will certainly campaign for it, educate the peasants. This is our aim and goal. Our movement, our struggle will go in future on this direction. But due to mood and consciousness of the peasant masses, lack in organised striking capacity, we are not in a position to implement it. Slogans of our day will be such type of slogans which are immediate, burning, urgent and realisable and achievable. Movements/struggles are going on land issue, on various type of land issue, from corporate land to forest land, ceiling surplus land, government land, but movement on issues of agricultural labour is urgently necessary for their wage, land, pension, housing and on other related issues.

We have discussed in our Party Programme about wide diversity in the development of capitalism from state to state, within state, within region and districts. So taking into consideration of this uneven development of capitalism in Indian agriculture, we have to formulate our specific demands and slogans. Areas where capitalism in agriculture has developed to a great extent and areas where semi-feudalism is quite strong, and areas where inter-penetration of strong survival of feudalism and growing capitalist relations of production has taken shape, in these areas we have to formulate our demands and slogans according to concrete situations.

We know from our previous experiences of 1962, 1965, 1967, 1971 that atmosphere and effect of war-mongering and ultra-nationalism is short lived. In 1971, after the victory of India-Pakistan war, Indira Gandhi became ‘Devi Durga’. But within ­ years, there was wide-spread movement in Bihar and Gujarat, then all India Railway workers strike. Same thing will happen again. For the time being, Modi-RSS had succeeded in placing the peasant problems in the back stage.

But ultimately, life will assert itself. Peasant’s problems, peasant’s anger will come again in the forefront and there will be wide-spread, militant all India, state, district level movements. It will be our duty to be in the forefront in the struggles. These struggles will smash all the attempts of corporate, landlord and Hindutva forces. Victory will be ours.

The Communist movement in India has a history of almost a century after the salvos of October Revolution in Russia brought Marxism-Leninism to the people of India who were engaged in the national liberation struggle against the British colonialists. It is a complex and chequered history.