A Reply to Gary Grant's Comments on the Draft Programme -- Part 2

If We Don't Nationalize the Land, We Can't Build a New System

by a Draft Programme Writing Group

Revolutionary Worker #1213, September 21, 2003, posted at rwor.org

We want to say a little more about the problem of private ownership of land. In agriculture, land is the essential means of production, the literal ground of production. So the Draft Programme tries to develop a correct policy of ownership based on this fact and the larger interests of society.

In your post, you propose leaving production decisions in agriculture to owners and nationalizing distribution. You suggest using the price mechanism to solve production issues: give the farmer a fair price and he or she will grow what's required. But in our view, this doesn't go far enough.

The socialist state needs to set priorities about what should be produced and about how resources should be allocated. It needs to pay attention to relations between different sectors of the economy; to relations between different levels of the economy (local, regional, national); and to relations between economic development and other important spheres and concerns, including public health and the environment. Yes, price and income policies will be instruments of planning by the socialist state. But they are secondary to the direct organization and coordination of production and distribution--which is what comprehensive socialist planning makes possible.

But back to the issue of ownership. Private ownership in land entails the right to use, sell, and rent land, and even to abuse it--or to divert it completely from agriculture.

Would your proposal for retaining private ownership allow for these rights over land? Knowing that you share a commitment to solving the food problem and creating a more just society, we sense that you would agree that there are problems with such unrestricted rights of ownership and control.

So let's say we kept private ownership but placed certain limits on what people could do with farmland. Let's say that land could be privately owned but a clause were attached saying that land had to be devoted to socially beneficial purposes. Well, you might go along with that, but wouldn't others argue and struggle for full ownership rights: the right to sell and buy land as owners, the right to consolidate land into larger tracts based on their being more competitive, efficient, or enterprising? Wouldn't some be saying that private ownership means nothing if not the right to dispose of and acquire property, and to compete for advantage?

But, as we have argued, if you permit that level of private control over productive forces, there could be no effective planning. There could be no coordination of the overall development of the economy to serve the needs of the people and of society as a whole and to carry forward the transformation of society (and the world) toward the complete elimination of relations of exploitation and oppression.

Preventing the Reemergence of Exploitation

And there's another, even greater danger. If you allow private property in agricultural land, you open the door to the unequal accumulation of wealth. This is so because not all land is equal. Some land is more fertile; some is better situated in relation to means of irrigation and transport; and so forth. Private control over such land, as well as over greater amounts of farm machinery, etc., would give some in society differential control over the processes and resources of production . These owners would gain economic advantage over others. Private ownership and private farming would set in motion processes that would give some in society economic and social power over others.These privileged segments of society would be in a position to pressure and lure people who have no land to work for them.

Little by little, the conditions would be created for the reemergence of property-less wage-laborers. Why is this a problem? Because a growing portion of society, these property-less laborers, would have no choice but to work for others. They would be subject to the power and dictates of those with control over the means of production. They would be put back in the position of being exploited. And society would, once again, be polarized into haves and have-nots. The economic and social evils of the past would return.

Now we recognize that former small-farm, owner-operators wanting title to land under socialism might not necessarily be motivated out of the desire to exploit others. But we also recognize that demands for private ownership are not going to be raised in a vacuum, either. In socialist society, old and new bourgeois forces will be organizing against the revolution. One line of bourgeois attack will be to rally small farmers and others around programs of private farming and ownership, as part of a larger effort to bring back relations of exploitation and oppression. So this too enters into our thinking about why the revolution must adhere to this principle of socializing ownership of land.

Coping with Dislocations of War

We also believe nationalization of land will be necessary as a more or less immediate step to cope with the dislocations of revolutionary war. The revolution will come to power through a wrenching struggle in which the bourgeoisie will stop at nothing to preserve its rule. The proletariat and its allies will face the monumental task of reorganizing production and mobilizing people to rebuild and to construct a new economy. The revolution will have to solve the food problem.

Alliance with Farmers on the Strongest Basis

To meet these pressing needs is going to require intense and coordinated society-wide efforts. But that will not be possible without social ownership of land and people working in new collective and cooperative ways. So one of the revolution's important political tasks will be to win to the cause of revolutionary change substantial numbers of small family farmers, along with medium-sized and large- scale family farmers (such as in grain) who do not exploit labor to any significant degree. The revolution needs to win these farmers to seeing that social ownership is a crucial measure for building a just economy and a just society.

What our Draft Programme seeks to do is to determine the strongest possible basis for the revolution to win small farm owner-operators and others to its cause. It tries to develop the right mix of policies enabling the revolution both to unite with these farmers and their just demands and to help bring them to a more socially conscious and socialist orientation .

That's why the Draft Programme puts forth cancellation of mortgage and other debt and the guarantee of income. That's why it also puts emphasis on socializing ownership of land while at the same time allotting shares of nationalized land to small farmers (and to medium and large-scale farm owner- operators who do not exploit labor to any significant degree) to farm under their responsibility--which in many cases will mean working the land on which they are currently farming.

The Draft Programme proceeds from the larger goals, tasks, and contradictions of socialist society. How will the new society prevent new inequalities from emerging? What policies will enable it to promote a communist ethic of people acting cooperatively and voluntarily for the greater good of society and the world? What measures will put it in the strongest position to prevent counterrevolution and to carry the revolution forward so that we can do away with classes and antagonistic social differences?

With these concerns in mind, the Draft Programme reaches the conclusion that social ownership of the land is a necessary starting point and a necessary measure for uniting the people and advancing the revolution.

The Public Spirit and Personal Space

In your post, you make the point that people need their own "space" and "isolation." We want to speak to that concern. But in order to do so, we have to draw some further contrasts between capitalism and socialism.

Capitalism creates a situation in which people are engaged in a desperate, competitive struggle of all against all to seek their livelihood and claw their way ahead. The economy is not organized to meet social need, but around private profit. Society is not structured to promote people's mutual concern for each other, or to foster their all-sided development. Rather, it's dog-eat-dog under capitalism. And with this comes the capitalist mind-set of "what's in it for me," "how much is mine," "how can I be my own boss," etc.

Under socialism, the organization of the economy and the values of society will be different. As we have emphasized, social production will be consciously guided to meet social needs and social aims, and will be coordinated as a social whole. Problems like health, housing, discrimination, environmental destruction will be taken up for collective solution. The needs and direction of society will be wrangled over by people in their millions. People will work with and relate to each other cooperatively. They will be motivated by a public spirit: acting in the interests of society and joining efforts for the common and greater good of society and humanity.

In this light we can take up the issue of "personal space." Yes, our vision of a new society definitely recognizes the need for individuals to have some "private space." Socialist, and even more fully, communist society can and will provide for this--actually more so than under capitalism. But this personal or private space will exist within a collective framework. It will exist within a framework in which the development of the individual does not lead to and foster relations pitting people against each other. And personal space will not be the special privilege or domain of those who literally "own the space" of land and who privately control wealth and means of production--which in fact are created and maintained by the labor of the whole of society.

The Historic Land Rights of the Black Farmer

The Draft Programme puts forth a comprehensive approach for uprooting the oppression of Black people and other oppressed nationalities and for developing true equality among all nationalities. That approach to uprooting national oppression includes specific measures to compensate Black farmers and ranchers for past oppression and loss.

The Draft Programme explains that the proletarian state "will give special assistance to Black, Chicano, and Native American farmers who have continued to work the land but who have endured discriminatory burdens, including being denied access to government loan assistance, etc. It will also take into account the fact that many oppressed nationality farmers were by various means driven off the land that they owned or worked, and that some may desire to return to and farm that land. In such cases, land and resources will be provided, in line with the overall agricultural policies of the state."

This is a general, but we think important, policy for addressing the ongoing needs and historic rights of the Black farmer. This policy will be carried out in the framework of socialized ownership of land. And it will be carried out in the context of broader transformations in the economic, political, and ideological spheres to overcome exploitation and inequality. In keeping with the whole orientation of the Draft Programme of rooting out racism and raising political consciousness of the population, socialist society will educate people of all nationalities about the historical experience and resistance of Black farmers.

The number of Black farms in the U.S. has been rapidly diminishing over the last two decades. Owing to the lethal combination of market pressures and historical and current-day discrimination (in lending, insurance and disaster relief, etc.), fewer than 18,000 Black farms remain. Moreover, Black- operated farms have average sales that are quite low, so their condition is highly tenuous.

The new proletarian state, unlike the United States Department of Agriculture, will provide genuine assistance to Black farmers wishing to stay on the land. It will draw on the experience and knowledge of these farmers in developing a socialist sustainable agriculture to serve the people. And as the paragraph we have quoted from the Draft Programme points out, the proletarian state will also assist African-American farmers who have been ruined to return to and farm land--land that will now be the property of all of society.

Black People and the New Agriculture

It is the case today that a very small percentage of Black farmers today are under 35 years of age, while a substantial number are at least 70 years old. So this issue, the demographics of Black farming, is an important one.

How the aspirations of Black people for land to farm might get expressed under socialism will be influenced by many different factors. But we can envision efforts of the new society to expand the numbers of Black people, including the younger generation, taking up farming. This might apply especially in areas of historical Black farmer concentration: the Southern Coastal Plain from Virginia to Georgia, the foothill areas of North Carolina and Virginia, and the Mississippi River Delta.

As we mentioned earlier, we also see the new society and economy establishing much closer links between agriculture and industry, and between urban and rural areas, and integrating these spheres of work and social life. This too will open up the possibility of Black people, along with others in society, developing new connections with the land. The initiatives taken would be consistent with and carried out within the framework of an economy based on socialized ownership of the land and of the major means of production in general.

In your post, you ask how long Black farmers will be allowed to maintain ownership of the land. We have discussed that land will be allotted to individuals and families to farm not as their privately owned property (that can be sold or taken out of farming) but rather as shares of socially owned land under the responsibility of these individuals and families to farm. How long that policy will apply can only be determined by the experience of the revolution and the needs of the formerly oppressed. As agriculture and the economy as a whole develop in more socialized ways, and as the efforts to uproot the legacy of discrimination and racism are carried forward, new policies and new arrangements might be called for. But we regard this land policy as a fundamental measure for correcting past injustices.

We wonder, however, if your question is also perhaps getting at whether land allocated to individuals to farm could be passed down to children or relatives to continue to farm. Here we have to say that this is something about which we have not come to any firm conclusions. We definitely want to think more about this (along with further study of other issues pertaining to agriculture) as we move towards finalizing the Programme.

But our strategic approach and goal is to achieve socialization of land ownership. On that basis, society will be able to pay specific attention to the historic crimes committed against and the special needs of Black farmers, along with farmers from other oppressed nationalities who have been robbed of land and resources--and to do so as part of constructing a new economy and social system that serve the emancipation of humanity.


So these are the main points we wanted to make in reply to your letter. We've discussed them at some length because you raise important issues that require clarification and elaboration. We feel that there are many areas of common concern and agreement between us. And we do hope that we can carry this discussion forward and have more exchange about these as well as other issues.

Yours in solidarity.

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