The Agrarian Revolution And The Evolution Of The Peasantry, 1923

excerpts "Agriculture, qua exploitation, can never completely be geared into the capitalist system."K. Bücher, Enstehung der Volkswirtschaft, vol. 2 (1920), p. 84. "In history, one never encounters peasants destroyed by the exploitative superiority of major competitors. It was not by means of superior economic services but by force of arms and the thieving policy of the overlords that the peasant households were destroyed and the great boyar estates accumulated. In the free competition of economic labor, the great would never have succeeded; in this the peasant has everywhere overcome."Ed. David, Sozialismus und Landwirtschaft (1922), p. 260. I. The process of the liquidation of the old agrarian regime 1. The problem of the agrarian revolution has been researched in recent times[1] from a point of view that has asserted itself as new. It is regarded as a "natural process" and analysis of it is guided by "the general principles established by economic research as regards the agrarian revolution, which capitalism unleashes in any agricultural country into which it penetrates."[2] According to Sombart*, a distinction can be drawn between "two epochs of agricultural development: one, in which the country stands in the relation of colony to other countries whose capitalism is advanced, and another, in which capitalism, developing within its own country, stimulates the industrialization of agriculture. It is not until the latter epoch that a decisive change occurs, a fundamental revolution, while in the first epoch the influence usually remains only at the surface."[3] Adopting this division as a starting point for his study, Zeletin adds that, in the first phase, backward agriculture is forced to produce for exchange and in the agricultural country gives birth to commercial and money-lending capitalism, in order, in the second phase, for it to be transformed into industrial capitalism. "This," he concludes, "fundamentally revolutionizes indigenous agriculture, forcing it also to assume the character of capitalist production." The criterion expounded by Zeletin for research of the agrarian revolution is a Marxist one. The entire work of Karl Marx is traversed as if by a red thread by the idea of serving "the evolution of the formation of economic society, as a natural historic process".[4] Marx was, however, convinced that, in their simple and lapidary formulation, the norms of organic evolution can not be applied to complex social relations. It was not the theory of natural selection but rather the idea of evolution through more or less constant forms that was the only common point between Marx and Darwin. The fundamental conception about the succession of economic forms is that of a determinate evolution, whose natural phases "can neither be omitted nor done away with by decree", although "they can shorten and sweeten the birth pangs".[5] However, recent researches have revealed that, in formulating the natural law of economic evolution, Marx does not take into account, as regards the succession of economic forms, the point of view of heredity, which is of central concern in the law of biological evolution – and is equivalent in the social world with the reception of either the technical base of production or the juridical superstructure: renascence and the processes of decadence.[6] The work of Marx gives no precise answer to the question of how one economic form transforms into another, but only vaguely asserts that "a social form never disappears before it has developed all the productive forces for which it is sufficiently advanced and that new, more advanced relations of production do not arise until their material conditions of existence have formed at the heart of the old society."[7] It is also in the work of Marx that we find the origin of the separation of the agrarian revolution into two phases, formulated by Sombert and taken as a leitmotif by Zeletin.[8] Sombart synthesizes and simplifies the formulation of this "process of natural evolution", while Zeletin exaggerates it. Thus, where Sombart asserts: "capitalism, developing in its own country, spurs agriculture to industrialize", Zeletin translates: industrial capitalism, in its own country, "revolutionizes indigenous agriculture from the foundations, forcing it to assume the character of capitalist production".[9] If the expressions have a precise meaning, agriculture cannot have "the character of capitalist production" unless it takes the form of an enterprise, which works with employees, with a view to profit. "If the capitalist mode of production," Marx says, "presupposes the expropriation of the workers from the means of labor, in agriculture it demands the expropriation of the rural workers from the land and their subordination to a capitalist who deals in agriculture for profit."[10] It is thus proven that the methodological point of departure for Zeletin is not only a criterion for appreciating historic facts and their succession – a criterion that is in itself debatable – but also an advance determination of the stages of a fatal evolution whose finale must – logically – be the triumph of capitalist agricultural enterprise. 11. The evolution of agriculture follows its own course The enterprise form of exploitation per se is never realized in agriculture, because, although it requires expenditure of labor and capital, it remains bound in a much higher degree to natural conditions: the earth and the climate. The household business has increasingly become separated into industry and commerce, each forming distinct economic units. Industry produces goods; its production entirely goes to market and is converted into money. In agriculture, on average, the smaller the household the more produce there remains. Agriculture never ends up exclusively producing goods.[11] Instead of concentrating exploitation, in agriculture there can be observed the contrary tendency. As Ed. David ascertains, wherever there are no political or juridical impediments and where the general economic circumstances demand and reward intensive cultivation, minor exploitation is triumphant. The secret of its success does not reside, as might mistakenly be believed, in "subhuman nourishment and superhuman labor", but in the enhancement of labor productivity. "In history, one never encounters peasants destroyed by the exploitative superiority of major competitors. It was not by means of superior economic services but by force of arms and the thieving policy of the overlords that the peasant households were destroyed and the great boyar estates accumulated. In the free competition of economic labor, the great would never have succeeded; in this the peasant has everywhere overcome."[12] The cause of this process resides in the fundamental distinction that exists between agricultural and industrial production: the process of production per se is organic in agriculture and mechanical in industry. This implies a different working method and a distinct role for human labor. The triumph of heavy industry is due to co-operation, division of labor and machinery. In agriculture, the advantages of large-scale co-operation are limited and can be met by small cultivators by means of co-operation. The disadvantages of large-scale co-operation multiply together with the extension of the field of work and the inherent difficulties in controlling labor. Division of labor in agriculture has a limited role, since the nature of the biological production process does not allow the temporal succession of the stages in the production process to be transformed into a spatial succession. The role and nature of machines is likewise distinct. In the first place, the driving force, instead of being gained from a power plant, as in industry, is produced, in agricultural exploitation, by small mobile plants, of which animals of traction have the leading role. Then, however perfect some agricultural machine tools might be, their action is bounded, due to isolation, to inactivity for whole weeks and months, unlike the automated machines of a factory. But the appliance of machines in agriculture is not even a prerogative of major exploitation, the greater part being small and adapted to animal power, and the use of large machines intermittent: steam threshing machines and motorized ploughs in small exploitation can easily be organized through co-operation. Finally, in mechanized industrial production, the development of tools is primordial; for organic agricultural production, it is not technical but scientific discoveries that produced the revolution. Therefore, "technical progress is accessible to small exploitation, and scientific progress without any exception."[13] Large exploitation struggles, with a difficulty unknown to small exploitation, even to apply progress in the nourishment, nurture and protection of crops and animals. Almost all this progress demands an increasing measure of supervision and painstakingness. The peasant family has sufficient and good enough manpower to accomplish them, while the large exploiter is reliant on hired hands, who do not have the same incentive to work. Agricultural production demands the worker's full personal interest in the result of production, the more so the more the intensity of exploitation increases. The increase of human labor productivity (the ratio between expenditure and produce) and the enhancement of the intensity of agricultural exploitation (increase in the quantity of produce gained from a given surface area) arrive at a certain level of intensity in antagonism. The law of the decreasing yield of the earth, founded on the conservatism of organic nature and the impossibility of dominating natural climacteric conditions, imposes upon capital "that it should adapt to the earth and share in its immobility".[14] In industry, an increase in production results in a reduction of cost price. In agriculture, the contrary principle applies: the cost of production is higher the more the intensity of exploitation grows: the consequence is that the price of the produce falls below the cost of production – due to the competition of the global market – and agriculture cannot cope with the new situation, whereas before it attained the optimal limit. Then, while growth in intensity in industry signifies automation of the production process, through an increase in machinery and rationalization of the utilization of labor, "agricultural exploitation becomes, with the growth in intensity, ever more artistic, individual labor demands more care, more love of labor. Each parcel of land, each piece of fruit, each animal requires treatment in keeping with its special nature."[15] This means that "the tendency towards a heightened intensity of land use results from the very being of the peasant family household: an increase in the opportunity to labor and of the possibility of life on a bounded surface area is its law of existence".[16] These circumstances highlight that the natural evolutionary tendency of agriculture, which corresponds with the necessities of progress, leads with elementary force towards the domination of small exploitation. Naturally, sooner or later, the realization of this tendency depends upon socio-political circumstances, upon the conditions for the formation of a property regime adequate to peasant agriculture, upon the elevation of the general and special level of peasant culture, upon the special organization of means to maintain the earth's natural forces, the selection of seeds and the ennoblement of strains of vines, as well as upon the possibilities to organize a system of co-operation, which will ensure the rational organization and maximal valorization of peasant labor within the dominant economic system. III. The agrarian revolution in Eastern Europe 12. Zeletin asserts that "the fundamental point of view from which agriculture as well as the peasant class in the bourgeois era should be viewed is as follows: it ceases to be a self-standing factor and becomes a mere annex of capitalism, functioning according to the needs of the latter."[17] The comparative research of the transformations of agriculture, after emancipation, has proven that the "law" of evolution, established by Marx, according to the "typical example" of the circumstances in Britain, has not found any application in other parts of the world. The influence of capitalism upon the development of agriculture depends on the agrarian regime, created by emancipation (the expropriation of the peasants, private property and the feudal regime of labor, or private property and freedom of labor), and the progress of agriculture is not exclusively tied to the birth of heavy industry (Denmark and France), although it is spurred by it, just as the higher forms of industrial enterprise cannot develop if agriculture is backward and the peasant class lives in poverty. Emancipation – as such – nowhere produces "armies of proletarians" (not even in England!), living in poverty, in expectation of salvation from national industry, and where the phenomenon of emigration and "rural exodus" occurs, it is due in particular to the living conditions created by the neo-serfdom regime of labor created (eastern Germany!). Agriculture fulfils a primordial role in social life; its own nature imprints on it – within the limits of interdependence created by the process of the social division of labor for each kind of social activity – its own economic historic movement, which culminates in the circumstance that "agriculture, as exploitation, is never completely geared into the capitalist system".[18] This is the criterion for research into the transformations of agriculture and the peasant class, in any country which enters a new era. This era, characterized by "absolute and exclusive", "sacred and inviolable" private property and by individual liberty, is termed bourgeois. Within it there has occurred the process of the transformation of agriculture and the peasant class in all the continental States, where emancipation has occurred under the aegis of the French Revolution. In the States of Eastern Europe, in which agriculture existed until the World War under the regime of private property (with the exception of Russian agrarian communities and feudal institutions in other parts) and of feudal labor, the complete emancipation of the peasants occurs after the war and in distinct circumstances. 13. The conception of the new agrarian regime in Eastern Europe occurs under a revolutionary aegis. The initiative was this time in the hands of a social revolution, whose flag was the socialist ideal, but whose driving force was agrarian. This sufficiently elucidates why "the socialization of agriculture in Russia resulted in a democratization of the land and realized l'égalité des fortunes more completely than 1789-93 in France".[19] In fact, the only assured success of the Russian revolution is the peasantization of agriculture. In Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia, as well as in Romania, agrarian reforms were directly influenced by the revolutionary ambience.[20] The general tendency of the new agrarian revolution has been the democratization of agriculture through the simultaneous action of consolidation and extension of peasant property and the partition of the great landed estates. The basis for achieving this trend could only be created through the abolition of the feudal system, wherever it still existed (Bosnia and Herzegovina) and of all forms of semi-feudalism, which endured in the entire eastern agrarian region. The practical goals were, on the one hand, the consolidation of existing peasant property through the supplementation of their plots as far as the minimum surface area necessary for the organization of a rational homestead, which would require the labor of the entire peasant family, and on the other hand, the creation of new peasant homesteads through internal colonization, and – in order rationally to organize peasant agriculture and ensure the independence of the ploughmen – the extension and creation of common pasturage. The starting point for the achievement of this policy was everywhere the expropriation of great landed property, exceeding a certain maximum area, against an indemnity calculated according to pre-war values, discounting monetary depreciation, paid in a productive annuity of an income of 3.4% or 5%[21], and their division into economical peasant plots. Once the operations of expropriation and apportionment are concluded, the preponderance of the regime of peasant landowners in each country will be greater the more the maximum limit of landed property is reduced.[22] In any case, it is obvious that the entire semi-feudal region of yesterday is on the road to acquiring an agrarian structure founded, to a large degree, on working peasant land. If the new situation were dominated by the regime of private property, the evolution of the peasant class and of agriculture in Eastern Europe would be a repetition of the phases covered in the West after the Great Revolution. The process of forming a new agricultural order takes place, however, at the same time as a reform of the right to property. The French Revolution signaled the beginning of the era of private property on the land also. The use of the land was left to the absolute discretion of its owner. The land became a form of goods and like any other goods could be bought and sold. No one contested that this revolutionary transformation was a commandment of progress and "inasmuch as private ownership of the land manifested itself as an assured right to use for personal labor incorporated in the land, it was an absolute stimulating factor in cultural progress."[23] But the free exercise of the "absolute and exclusive" right to land ownership brought to light, during the course of evolution, consequences of a contrary nature, springing in particular from the circumstance that the surface area of the land is bounded and, as a result, its possession can take the character of a monopoly and become a tool for exploitation and domination. From such ascertainments and analogous considerations arose the necessity for a reform of the right to private property and, as a reaction against the individualist conception, the idea of property as a social function was arrived at.[24] Property is no longer private as an institution from which only rights result, but in itself creates obligations to society.[25] The application of this new right to property as regards land is highlighted in the tendency to replace exploitative property, by means of working peasant property[26], manifested in the aims of the agrarian revolution, and is mirrored in all the measures for conservation of the agrarian structure, founded on working property. All these prescriptions restrict to a large degree the usage rights of the new landowners (sale, mortgaging and bequest in restrictive conditions, obligatory exploitation of plots of land by the owners themselves and the rational organization of households).[27] The evolution of agriculture and of the peasant class in Eastern Europe will occur in one direction or the other, depending on whether it will be guided by the new institution of the right to working property, or by the old institution of "sacred and inviolable" property. 14. The new agrarian regime in Romania, although it is not an ideal incorporation of the new concept of working property, is the product of the same trend. The expropriation of great landed property and its division into peasant plots creates a situation in which working property is preponderant, and its supplementation by means of the establishment of common pasturage – albeit to a limited degree – reduces the circumstances favorable to the regime of feudal leasehold. An institution of the right to peasant working property has not yet been created, as the ideal of the current legislators is to ensure the creation of a middle class of property owners. Nevertheless, the measures regarding the circulation and use of peasant plots assures for the time being the conservation of the agrarian structure founded on working property.[28] Lastly, by fixing a maximum of intangible property, varying according to the different provinces, large and medium properties will possess significant stretches of land. Presupposing that the agrarian order will remain unchanged, there will be three regimes of property and exploitation: peasant property and exploitation, large and medium property, exploited under the regime of leaseholds, and large and medium property, exploited by management of agricultural laborers and farmhands. It has been proven in recent times, on the basis of the brief experience up to now, by comparing the conditions in which an emancipated and a leaseholder peasant are placed, that per five hectares a land-owning peasant family can earn twice as much as a family leasing from a large landowner or a family of farmhands. The conclusion of this ascertainment – made under the regime of the export taxes which reduce the income of the villager – is that the material conditions thereby created for the peasant household can guarantee agricultural progress, given that such a family – even presupposing an increase in expenditure for a better life – will be left with a substantial sum that it will invest in buildings, long-term crops, inventories etc. "Such a favorable situation, to which can be added the non-hindrance of the peasant in his work and in the choice of the opportune moment for the execution of this work, is necessarily of such a nature as to restore to the peasant the initiative of the free ploughman, to restore his self-confidence, in a word to allow him – besides the favorable material conditions in which it places him – to attain that spiritual state indispensable to dispose a ploughman to try new technical procedures, as well as to venture into business, something which the peasant prior to expropriation, as well as those working on the land of the remaining large and medium properties, can not even imagine". The regime of peasant property therefore contains within it the objective and subjective conditions favorable to agricultural progress. The regime of large and medium property, exploited in sharecropping, on the contrary entirely preserves the conditions to paralyze any technical progress, both on the part of the large landowner and on the part of the lease-holding peasant. The regime of large and medium property, exploited under management, in sparsely populated areas in particular, if it assures rational organization and applies methods of intensive exploitation, will be able to collaborate in future agricultural progress. 15. The regime of peasant property does not only create the subjective – material and moral – conditions of a nature to increase the production capacity of free-standing peasant ploughmen, but also the objective conditions, the social medium favorable to intensification of agricultural household economy. The spread of good material conditions in the ranks of the peasantry will contribute to a rise in prosperity, increasing and stimulating new needs, which will result in an extension of the domestic market for fabricated goods. This is the only solid base for the development of national heavy industry, which, in its turn, spurring the growth of the urban population and raising living standards, will contribute to the formation of an extended market for the products of peasant households – a condition necessary to its intensification. But the trend to more humane living conditions, which is today manifest in the peasant masses, has somehow always existed in the blood of the human masses, before the developmen