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Revolutionary Worker #1228, February 8, 2004, posted at rwor.org

The Draft Programme's discussion of nationalization of land and the socialist transformation of agriculture has been an important question of debate and discussion within the Party and outside. Several months ago the RW published an exchange on this question between Gary Grant, president of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association and a Draft Programme writing team. In this issue we publish a commentary by a Party member written before that exchange, but which contains points very relevant to the ongoing discussion.

Question of winning over/working with farmers in grain under socialism

The question of agriculture is an extremely important one for revolution in the U.S. and it will be a particularly challenging one, considering that the Party's forces and experience are so concentrated in the urban areas.

The DP (Draft Programme) in examining the proletariat's allies in the rural and agricultural sector makes a very important point:

"The main criterion of the proletariat in determining friends from enemies among the farmers is not the size of the farms (though that will have to be taken into account to some degree). The essential criterion is whether or not and to what degree they exploit wage labor." (p. 68)

Applying that principle, it says:

"Some large farms, for example in grain, are worked entirely or overwhelmingly by their owner-operators (including the family), or may hire only a small number of laborers. On the other hand, some smaller farms--for example, in fruit and vegetables--employ significant numbers of wage laborers and depend mainly on these farmworkers for production."

"In general, the revolutionary proletariat seeks to unite with those farmers who exploit little or no labor, on small, medium, or even large-sized farms." (p. 68)


I think these points are both correct and provide a correct foundation for approaching this question.

I am concerned, however, that the proletariat's plan for after the seizure of power, as outlined in the second appendix on the New Socialist Economy, significantly departs from this correct approach, and risks alienating the bulk of farmers in grain, and thus would pose a serious risk to the survival of a revolution in the U.S.

Why the distinction of grain farmers? Because the whole class configuration in areas where grain farming (primarily corn and wheat) predominates is dramatically different than other agricultural sectors. The DP (p. 17) says, "The socialist state will rely on the masses of agricultural proletarians to consolidate power in the countryside and transform agriculture. The proletariat will ally with small, medium and even some large-size farmers, especially those who exploit little or no labor."This approach could work well in places like California, Texas and the South where there are large numbers of wage workers, of agricultural proletarians, to act as the backbone of the proletariat's plan for building the new society in those areas.

But, to my understanding, this is not the case in large expanses of the Dakotas, Iowa, Nebraska, and neighboring states. For various reasons, mechanization suitable to this particular form of agriculture is highly developed in those areas, in such a way that the "family farm" can exist of considerable size, and not rely on the participation of sizable numbers of migrant farmworkers in order to grow and harvest the crops. While the number of farmers involved in grain production is relatively small compared to the overall population of the U.S., they have been enormously productive--providing grain sufficient not only for feeding those in the U.S., but also much more that is exported. These factors would put the proletariat in a relatively much weaker position in those areas, and this needs to be taken into account. Who could be relied on to lead and enforce the proletariat's plans in these areas? In some ways, this might be potentially the point/area of greatest weakness for the victorious proletariat. And the situation would demand that extra care be taken that these potential allies not be rallied against the revolution-- would cause enormous harm, both in terms of jeopardizing our basic ability to feed people here, but also in terms of aiding the world revolution.* And because of the absence of proletarians in large areas where grain production dominates and little contact now with the revolutionary movement, we face a particular challenge in formulating a policy that will in fact win the majority of these potential allies to the side of the rev.

The DP is correct in identifying the "great farm input and output monopolies (agribusiness)" as the key ways in which imperialism (in this case expressed in the form of finance capital) dominates and controls the large majority of farmers, including in grain. "In expropriating the banks and other financial institutions, the proletariat will also cancel the mortgage and debt burden that weighs so heavily on the large majority of farmers." (p. 128)

But from there, however, the DP calls for the immediate nationalization of land .** This is a rather sweeping step-- certainly correct in relationship to the targets of the revolution in the agricultural sector, agribusiness and others whose operations are based on the exploitation of agricultural labor. However, I think this will be viewed as a hostile act by the majority of grain farmers, whose lives for years have been centered around maintaining the "family farm." The DP's plan would be that most could continue to farm: "Whether their holdings are small, medium, or even fairly large, the first step will be to allot them shares of nationalized land to farm-- provided they do not actively oppose the revolution. This policy would apply, for instance, to many corn and wheat [grain] farmers." (p. 129)But the act of forcibly removing their ownership of the land, all at once, without the kind of step-by-step winning over people to value of taking this step--would, I think, be widely seen as "an arbitrary act by outsiders" that they would resent and in many cases actively resist. In this, the dialectical relationship that Bob Avakian has recently described involving persuasion and compulsion*** seems way out of wack as applied [in the Draft Programme] to this group in society.

This approach of the immediate nationalization of all farms, which as I said will be viewed as a harsh and arbitrary intrusion by many farm owner-operators, stands in stark contrast with the steps outlined in the DP for gradually, step-by-step, transforming the situation with other potential allies in the middle classes. For example: "Small landlords who own only one or a few units will be allowed to continue collecting rents for a period of time... As soon as possible, as more housing is built, and as the socialist economy as a whole develops, the state will gradually buy out these small landlords and convert these units into state-owned property." (p. 120; emphasis mine)

Here are some ideas as alternative approaches in the DP.

  1. If this point about the immediate nationalization of land is to remain in the DP [and on this I was hoping to dig into what the experience of the ICM, particularly in Russia and China were, but haven't obtained the sources as of this writing], there should also be some explanation of why the proletariat does not, in principle and as a long-term goal, want to continue the private ownership of land. One aspect of this would involve some historical sweep. Despite what some try to think, no one "built" the land--it has been here for billions of years and been inhabited by people for thousands of years. The Native American people were correct in their view that no one "owns" the land. We are only its "caretakers." Further, while neither those now farming the land nor their parents or grandparents directly participated in the genocide of the Native peoples and the driving them from the area where they now farm (many of these farmers, from what I understand, were immigrants from Scandinavia who came after the first, decisive, deadly blows were made against the Native peoples in those areas), still they benefited from this. This land is not "theirs" to "own," but was forcibly and unjustly taken from others.
  2. Building on this idea of people not being the owners, but only the "caretakers" of the land, the DP should provide these grain farmers the "peace of mind" and security--a guarantee-- of knowing that they can continue to farm the land that they had farmed for several generations. Perhaps the DP could spell out an arrangement where on the seizure of power, those now working the land would be guaranteed long-term, renewable, leases.Key, in their perceptions of this policy, I think would be security/confidence that they will be guaranteed such use of what is currently "their" land, which is not conveyed in the current wording of that section.
  3. To try to more closely link an outstretched hand to these grain farmers with the DP's correct points on "socialist sustainable development" and ecology, and this concept of being not owners but caretakers of the land. Points could be made about how financial pressures from the agricultural input and output monopolies currently force on farmers policies that in the long term will harm this precious resource, will poison the soil and harm the environment--something I think that most of these farmers correctly find distasteful. Further, it is the harm done by the imperialists' overall global environmental policies, which are leading to global warming, if not corrected, and is predicted to bring unprecedented droughts and permanent "dust bowl" wasteland conditions to these presently highly productive agricultural areas.


Finally, there is an error in the DP on page 67 in describing the petty bourgeoisie. It says: "It includes many different groups of small business owners, professionals, managers and technicians, intellectuals and artists, and small farmers who employ little or no wage labor." The word "small" should be removed from this sentence to conform with the correct view elaborated elsewhere in the DP that: "In general, the revolutionary proletariat seeks to unite with those farmers who exploit little or no labor, on small, medium, or even large-sized farms."

Again, I hope these thoughts will be helpful. A correct application of the mass line and concrete analysis of the conditions there, will be vital for a successful rev in the U.S.


* This issue of grain output in the U.S. and how it affects the world economy is beyond the scope of this letter, but also something important to grapple with. U.S. policies around the world involve destruction of the "local agricultural economy" [the destruction of Mexican corn production after NAFTA being one sharp example], making many countries now dependent on sizable grain imports from the U.S. Clearly a successful rev here would end this policy and encourage the development of the local agricultural sectors of countries around the world. But that would not necessarily eliminate immediately the need to export grain. In the short run, grain exports may be needed by people in a number of countries around the world.

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** In fact, there is one passage elsewhere in the DP (p 119) that contradicts this, and seems to point to NOT immediately nationalizing all farm land: "...farmworkers will be relied on to achieve socialized state ownership of agriculture, while giving leadership to the productive activity of remaining farm owner-operators." (my emphasis). But again even here there is no recognition that there are not significant numbers of farmworkers within hundreds of miles of these areas. Again, who would lead in the transformation in those areas?

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*** In "Grasp Revolution/Promote Production --Questions of Outlook and Method, Some Points on the New Situation"--Chairman Avakian discusses the dialectical relationship between persuasion and coercion.

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