Agriculture continues to be a key component of our economy. Even as the contribution of agriculture to India’s GDP has dropped to less than 20%, more than half of India’s population – nearly three-fourths of India’s rural population – still remains engaged in this sector.
Agrarian revolution is the axis of democratic revolution in India and the land question is the basic question of this revolution. Advancing the struggle of the rural proletariat and the peasantry to abolish landlordism and other feudal remnants thoroughly, free agriculture from the domination of big capital and the stranglehold of imperialism and transform all social relations and political institutions – this constitutes the essence of the agrarian question.
Our approach to the agrarian question in general and to specific peasant demands in particular is to facilitate development of class struggle in the countryside. Subordinating every demand to the advancement of class struggle against the landlord-kulak nexus in the countryside is the central point in the agrarian question.
Tireless efforts are needed to promote the alliance between the class-conscious proletariat and the revolutionary peasantry while preparing for the inevitable high tide of peasant struggles. As the Communist International had pointed out, “The proletariat is a really revolutionary class and acts in a really Socialist manner only when it comes out and acts as the vanguard of all the working and exploited people, as their leader in the struggle for the overthrow of the exploiters; this, however, cannot be achieved unless the class struggle is carried into the countryside…” (Preliminary Draft Theses on the Agrarian Question, Communist International, Second Congress, 1920).
Far-reaching changes have taken place in Indian agriculture in the last three decades. In order to develop class struggle in the countryside and to solve the agrarian problem from the standpoint of the proletariat, the Party should clarify its guiding principles of the Party policy in relation to agriculture, various classes and strata of the rural population. Hence the need for a comprehensive agrarian programme enunciating the proletarian viewpoint to intervene in the agrarian arena and advance through the complex maze of class relations in the countryside.
India being a predominantly rural and agricultural country, British colonialists were quick to realize that they could not possibly prolong and consolidate their rule without ensuring a high degree of stability in the agrarian economy. The colonial period thus witnessed a series of bourgeois interventions in the agrarian arena that sought to restructure the rural society without jeopardizing, let alone eliminating, the feudal survivals. The Indian ruling classes too followed essentially a similar approach after Independence.
In the 1950s, statutory landlordism was abolished with compensation of about Rs.600 crore given to landlords by peasants through the state. Nearly 20 million tenants were thus brought into the purview of direct relationship with the state. The greatest beneficiaries of land reforms programme were occupancy tenants, a large section of whom had already turned into landlords. The greatest sufferers of the reforms were tenants-at-will, who were evicted in hundreds of thousands by landlords in the name of resuming self-cultivation. The land ceiling acts were so framed and implemented that they gave landlords enough scope to hide their surplus land on a large scale and continue with oral tenancy on onerous terms for the poor peasants.
From the class point of view, we can say the land reforms measures were aimed at nothing beyond a redistribution of land among the propertied sections. It is not surprising, therefore, that after more than five decades of land reforms and enactment of as many as 277 land reform laws across the country, according to the National Commission on Rural Labour, only 2% of the operated area in the country has been redistributed and ownership rights conferred on tenants only with respect to 4.42% of the area operated by them. In 2004, the Union government informed Parliament that out of an original estimate of surplus land of 63 million acres, the total quantum of land declared surplus in the entire country was 73.74 lakh acres, out of which only 65.11 lakh acres have been acquired by various state governments and out of that only 53.05 lakh acres have been distributed. Thus nearly 90% of the surplus land has not been acquired at all.
However, one important result of the land reform measures from the economic point of view has been that cultivation by hired labour has considerably increased and tenancy has declined to a great extent. And this is how the first steps were taken towards the Indian type of landlord path of capitalist development. The land reform measures and accompanying community development programmes of the 1950s could not understandably make any breakthrough in agricultural production and, in the latter part of the 1950s and early 1960s, India had to import huge quantities of foodgrains from America under the PL 480 scheme. In the middle of the 1960s came the Green Revolution – the final plank of the first phase of the strategy of the Indian ruling classes.
HYV seeds, chemical fertilisers, pesticides, controlled water supply – a package comprising all these elements was the major feature of the New Agrarian Strategy introduced in 1964-65 with the active help of American imperialism. Considering the huge amount of cash expenditure required to take up this package and the easy availability of bank loans and cooperative credit to the landlords and the rich peasants, it was clear as day light that from the class viewpoint this strategy depended upon the landlords and the rich peasants, thus creating wider disparity in the countryside with further pauperisation of the poor peasantry. Besides, as this strategy was implemented only in some select pockets of certain states, glaring regional imbalances were created.
The green revolution strategy, which led to further development of the Indian type of landlord path of capitalist development, had a narrow social base and was superimposed on the predominant semi-feudal economy. The strategy therefore began to show its first signs of crisis and unsustainability soon after its introduction.
In the early 1960s, the prices of petroleum, the major feedstock of fertiliser plants, were quite low in the world market. But with sharp and steady rise in the international prices of oil since the beginning of the 1970s, plans for extending this green revolution to other parts of India suffered a setback and even areas of green revolution began to face serious problems. As input costs rose, farmers began demanding remunerative prices, but the prices of agricultural output could not match the pace of the rise in prices of industrial goods and input costs, eroding the profitability of agriculture.
Even as green revolution ran out of steam and the crisis began to deepen, the adoption of neo-liberal industrial and economic policies in the early 1990s, their extension to the realm of agriculture and subjection of Indian agriculture to the WTO regime triggered a disaster of unprecedented proportions. Most of the advanced areas of green revolution have been hit seriously by this disaster driving tens of thousands of small and marginal farmers to suicide every year.
Instead of reversing its agrarian strategy the ruling classes are however trying to wriggle out of the crisis through desperate application of more of the same medicine. Land reform laws are being sought to be reversed to facilitate greater capitalist concentration of landholding and corporatization of agriculture. Reverse land reforms legislations have already been passed in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat while attempts are on in Jharkhand, West Bengal and Kerala. Small farmers are being sought to be subjected to contract farming, if not eased out of agriculture itself.
In spite of considerable changes in technique and improvement in productivity, the general conditions of Indian agriculture continue to reveal its semi-feudal characteristics that are interwoven with a host of semi-colonial features. Under the landlord path of capitalism adopted by the Indian ruling classes, penetration of capitalist relations is very slow, uneven and shallow. In fact, the forces of capitalism are entering into hybrid relations with feudal remnants. The feudal remnants like bondage, usury and other forms of tied relations have been adopted by the capitalist landlords and kulaks for extraction of absolute surplus value. Thus the semi-feudal ‘extra-economic’ coercion is an essential part of newly expanding capitalist relations, which hinders the free development of capitalist forces among the peasantry.
Though commercialisation in Indian agriculture is now more or less generalised, majority of the poor and middle peasants are still trapped in subsistence or near-subsistence farming, including those who take a part or whole of their produce to the market for the sake of exchanging it for consumption goods. The entire state policy is geared to promoting the landlord path of capitalism based on a narrow stratum of capitalist landlords and capitalist farmers who grab lion’s share of state’s resources flowing into agriculture. The broad mass of poor and middle peasantry, apart from groaning under the yoke of semi-feudal remnants, are at the receiving end of the expanding forces of capitalism, viz. these new landlords and kulaks and are oppressed by these classes. Land reforms have neither given them land nor ensured their freedom. Though nominally free from serfdom and zamindari they find themselves semi-enslaved by the oppressive forces of semi-feudalism and distorted capitalism promoted from above.
The shifting agrarian strategy of the ruling classes under policies of liberalisation and globalisation reinforces the pro-kulak bias of the state policy and accentuates the inequalities among agrarian classes and provides for the direct penetration of imperialist finance capital into agriculture.
Statutory abolition of old pattern of zamindari as well as other forms of large-scale landlordism akin to serfdom has spawned a downsized landlordism of both old and new variety and an alliance of bourgeoisie with these landlords. While new capitalist landlords employ capitalist methods of production and employ hired labour, they freely resort to various forms of extra-economic coercion. With the intensification of agrarian crisis features like usury and bondage have resurfaced quite aggressively in many areas of advanced agriculture as well. Side by side with this new type of landlordism, old-type landlordism, including absentee landlordism, too exists quite extensively, extracting surplus in a semi-feudal manner from tenants and sharecroppers. The predominance of absolute ground rent in such tenancies, whether legal or illegal, acts as a major barrier to the free development of capitalism.
Despite so-called land reforms, land ownership and operational holding patterns are highly skewed. In terms of ownership, marginal (0.01-2.49 acres) and small (2.50-4.99 acres) holdings account for 80.4 per cent of total holdings, but together they own only 43.43 per cent of the total owned agricultural land while medium (10-24.99 acres) and large (25 acres and above) holdings, though numbering only 3.6 per cent of total holdings own 34.63 per cent of the total (all figures are from 2003 NSSO data). The degree of landlessness among rural households has been on the increase. Totally landless households among rural households have risen from 25 per cent in 1987-88 to 41 per cent in 1999-2000. In fact, these figures understate the real proportion of landless households, for households owning a meager 0.01 acre are included in the marginal and not landless category. The decline in the proportion of medium and large holdings is also deceptively overstated because it hides the phenomenon of benami transfers.
The figures of distribution of operational holding reflect a largely similar pattern, but they also reflect a significant degree of reverse tenancy (hiring in of the land of poor peasants by rich and well-to-do farmers) – while 3.6% of total ownership holdings belong to the 10 acres and above range, 7.4% operational holdings belong to this range.
Though reverse tenancy is sizable and cash rent is widespread, the form of money rent, by itself, does not indicate the development of capitalist relations in tenancy. This is because, in most cases, the money rent does not represent capitalist ground rent over and above “normal” profit to the cultivator. Rather, it represents some arbitrary surplus extraction by the landowners, often using all forms of extra-economic coercion, including even forms of labour service.
The land market is also not free. It is highly distorted by the semi-feudal landlordism marked by excessive rent extraction and forcible grabbing of the land of the poor through under-pricing over and above the monopoly landownership. New land concentration is also taking place side by side.
Despite the apparent development of a class of “free” agricultural proletariat, the agrarian labourers, and the labour market in agriculture, are not really free in most of the cases and labour relations are marked by all sorts of semi-feudal distortion and extra-economic coercion including caste dominance.
Despite huge expansion of institutional credit, the share of agricultural lending by moneylenders and private usurers remains the dominant segment and their usurious interest rates often bear no relations to the normal rates of profit in production.
The green revolution ushered in the penetration of foreign capital into Indian agriculture through an expanding market for foreign fertilizer, seeds and pesticides companies and introduced a semi-colonial dimension to Indian agriculture. Of late, in the post-green revolution era, this dimension has been strengthened further following the opening of agricultural trade under the WTO and entry of MNC firms into wholesale and retail trade and contract and corporate farming. Their stranglehold on the traditional seeds and pesticides business has also been tightened. Monsanto, the seeds multinational, has introduced the controversial GM crops into India.
100 per cent FDI in floriculture, horticulture, seeds farming, animal husbandry, pisciculture and aquaculture has already been allowed and a move to allow FDI in general into agriculture was postponed due to resistance from farmers’ organisations. FDI into agro-processing too has been allowed threatening small and traditional agro-processing and home-based agro-processing by farmers. Under the terms of the US-India Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture (KIA), the scientific human resources and facilities of Indian agricultural research establishments have been placed at the disposal of the US multinational for conducting research in frontier biotechnology areas. Both Wal-Mart and Monsanto have their representatives on the governing board of this US-India KIA. Speculative finance has also begun making forays into agriculture with central governments allowing commodity futures, commodity hedging and forward trading in agricultural commodities, which is particularly responsible for triggering occasional escalations in prices of agro-based articles of mass consumption.
The World Bank has been quite nakedly pushing the interests of private export and trading houses, especially in cotton in Maharashtra, and the monopoly procurement by the Cotton Corporation, which served the farmers for decades, is being systematically dismantled in Maharashtra and this is the main source of cotton farmers’ crisis in that state. The exploitation of child labour of young girls in the floriculture farms of Karnataka and MNC cotton seed farms in AP including the one under Unilever is fairly well known; and death of many of these girls due to pesticide poisoning came into international limelight. Contract-farmers are routinely underpaid by MNCs – cases of PepsiCo cheating tomato farmers in Punjab and FritoLay doing the same to potato growers in West Bengal are quite well recorded.
All these forms of penetration of big and multinational capital into Indian agriculture point to growing semi-colonial character of Indian agriculture.
In most regions, merchant capital dominates productive capital in agriculture and now big capital is also making rapid inroads through organized retail and wholesale trade, corporate and contract farming and forward trading etc.
Even where a small section of the peasantry is making a surplus and profit, the profit is not fully reinvested in extended reproduction in agriculture but the bulk of it gets diverted into luxurious consumption or unproductive business channels and a huge part of it gets siphoned off to non-farm sector. On the whole, the penetration of capitalist relations – in terms of investment, mechanization, land market and tenancy relations, labour relations, and accumulation – remains very shallow, even in some of the green revolution regions.
Whatever little agricultural growth is there, that is also primarily credit driven – total outstanding institutional credit to agriculture reached around Rs.2,25,000 crore by October 2007. The latest available CSO figure for agriculture GDP (at constant 1990-91 prices) was Rs.5,66,275 crore in 2005-06. Only a small part of this credit generates adequate income and profit among a very thin layer to enable reinvestment and extended reproduction. Accumulation of wealth by capitalist and semi-feudal landlords through various means of primitive accumulation, semi-feudal forms of exploitation and extra-economic coercion is more than capitalist accumulation in agriculture proper. A good part of the capital generated in agriculture is diverted into usury, moneylending, contracts, trade, real estate and other non-farm avenues.
The total capital formation in agriculture in 1999-2000 was Rs.21388 crore but the total institutional credit to agriculture that year was Rs.46268 crore. Since the CSO data on capital formation refers to fixed capital investments and private sector accounts for three-fourths of this, the above figure shows that more than half of the bank credit goes into current expenses (circulating) capital or consumption expenses.
Compared to the relatively higher spread of the HYV area in purely geographic terms, a recent NSSO study says 60 per cent of the farming households have no access to the modern technology.
The fertilizer consumption in India per hectare of net sown area was 106.5 kg per hectare in 1999-2000 (94.8 kg per hectare for gross cropped area) and the same figure for other countries were: 359.8 for Egypt, 206.9 for Chile, 154 for Bangladesh, 271 for China, 296.3 for Japan, 459.2 for S.Korea, 129 for Pakistan, 136.3 for Sri Lanka, 164.3 for Austria, 135.6 for Belarus, 358.5 for Belgium, 169.9 for Denmark, 243.5 for France, 252 for Germany, 500.5 for Netherlands, 226.9 for Norway, 124.9 for Spain, 342.8 for UK, and 204 for New Zealand.
There can be no capitalist development in agriculture without the development of rural infrastructure. The Rural Infrastructure Development Funds are at a paltry Rs. 4000-5000 crore whereas the requirements projected for development of industrial infrastructure are astronomically higher – $460 billions (around Rs. 20,00,000 crore)!
Given the uneven spread of land and capital resources among different size-classes and the narrow base of agrarian capitalism, the landlord path of capitalist development in Indian agriculture has all along been moving from one crisis to another. But this deeper and chronic structural crisis has assumed acute proportions with the adoption of neo-liberal policies and their extension to agriculture and subjection of agriculture to the WTO regime. The shocking phenomenon of farmers’ suicides going on for more than a decade now can only be comprehended in conjunction with the more perennial forms and factors of agrarian crisis like heavy indebtedness, stagnation in production and productivity caused by sharp decline in public investment and capital formation, lack of irrigation facilities, trade liberalisation, a price precipice of higher input prices and lower output prices, declining farm incomes and per capita incomes, growing incidence of poverty even among farming households with declining consumption and decreasing per capita food availability, lingering crisis in dryland farming, inadequate institutional credit and persistence of usurious private money-lending, severe infrastructural crisis, and above all, continuing skewed landownership and land tenure patterns. A growing ecological crisis and frequent “natural” disasters due to climate change, the recent stagnation in non-farm growth, and an unprecedented corporate land-grab have only added to the severity of the agrarian crisis.
Even as the graph of suicides shows no sign of going down and food security becomes endangered with India once again resorting to foodgrain imports, ideologues of the ruling classes continue to downplay the crisis as a transient one limited to certain regions, crops and seasons. Even the World Bank in its 2008 World Development Report devoted to agriculture makes only a passing mention of the rash of suicides in India and calls it merely a perceived situation of crisis! Far from increasing the net sown area by adopting adequate soil conservation and land reclamation measures and expanding irrigation facilities, the ruling elite would like us to believe that we have almost reached a saturation point in agriculture. Instead of freeing small and marginal peasants from their debt burden, the state essentially treats the agrarian crisis as an opportunity to ease out small peasants from agriculture. Tall claims are being made about shifting people from agriculture to non-farm sectors, but non-farm employment is certainly not growing at a rate which might absorb part of the present-day agricultural population. In other words disruption of small peasant agriculture can only result in pauperization and creation of a huge surplus population in agriculture, prolonging and aggravating the agrarian crisis and further jeopardizing India’s food security in the process.
With the rise of a significant non-farm sector in the rural economy (brick kilns, construction, and a rapidly expanding service sector) non-agrarian classes also coexist in the countryside with essentially agrarian classes, but more often than not they are interconnected through a plethora of ties and possess a combined character. Broadly speaking, in areas of significant capitalist development we can see the rural society split into two opposite classes – the rural bourgeoisie and the rural proletariat – with a sizable population in the middle (a shrinking middle peasantry and a growing rural middle class comprising small shopkeepers, teachers, employees and so on).
This class comprises both the agrarian bourgeoisie – the peasant bourgeoisie or kulaks and capitalist landlords – as well as the non-agrarian bourgeoisie. The non-agrarian bourgeoisie engages in non-farm production, trade and money-lending. They also act as contractors for government projects. They are also the agents for big business corporate houses in retail or wholesale business, contract and corporate farming and other trading houses and marketing outlets. Both capitalist landlords and other non-agrarian rural bourgeois elements dominate over panchayats, cooperative societies, Water Users Associations (WUAs), Self-Help Groups (SHGs), and other such bodies and they have numerous links with the bureaucracy and dominate the local rungs of reactionary political parties and exercise their sway over the village power structure.
Apart from the agricultural proletariat – agricultural labourers and the poor peasants (semi-proletariat) – the rural proletariat comprises a sizable section of non-farm workers. Even a large section of the so-called self-employed – those doing market-contracted home-based work – fall within the ambit of labour relations. There is a considerable degree of overlap between agricultural labourers and non-farm workers in the rural areas as mainly labourers doing primarily wage work in agriculture also work in some non-farm occupations during off-seasons and many workers who primarily do non-farm wage work also do some wage work in agriculture.
Those who own huge amounts of land and implements of production, do not engage in physical labour directly and live solely by exploiting peasants and agricultural labourers are termed as landlords. In the conditions obtaining in India, they can be divided into two types:
1. Old type of landlords: Those who exploit the peasants by leasing out their lands on exorbitant rents, keep bonded labourers, practise usury, hoarding and various other forms of feudal exploitation fall in this category. Many of them are absentee landlords.
2. New type of landlords: Those who own modern means of production, employ hired labourers for work, and on their part take up only managerial work, fall in this category. These landlords in our country also lease out one part of their land and exploit hired labour in the other part, keep labourers attached in various forms, work as intermediaries in the distribution of inputs, engage in lending on interest at higher rates the bank loans they manage at a lower rate, resort to black-marketeering, hire out instruments of production to small and medium peasants and so on. They are often termed as managerial or capitalist landlords.
The landlords, particularly the new type of landlords, nowadays wield political power in villages and are extremely reactionary and hence a target of the democratic revolution. Moneylenders, big traders, and bankrupt landlords who live on swindling and maintain the standard of life of the middle peasants should also be treated as landlords. Similarly, rich peasants who remain tyrannically opposed to poor and middle peasants, and the lumpen sections, who have emerged as the byproduct of the green revolution and act as intermediaries between government officials and landlords, engage in all sorts of anti-social activities and take active part in local politics and lead counter-revolutionary gangs should also be treated as extended members of the class of landlords.
Landlords operate in close nexus with corrupt government officials and local bullies, bad gentry and despotic elements in the countryside.
In dealing with the landlords, differentiation should be made between –
i) bad and enlightened gentry;
ii) big, medium and small landlords; and
iii) the landlords who resist and the landlords who surrender.
Those who possess considerable amounts of land, either fully owned or partly owned and partly leased in, or totally leased in, as well as modern implements, and who themselves engage in labour but mainly live by exploiting hired labourers are termed as rich peasants.
a) A rich peasant is a person whose major part of income, i.e., more than 50 per cent of income, comes from exploitation. He often engages in usury and other forms of feudal exploitation and is also engaged in trade and commerce.
b) A capitalist farmer is a rich or well-to-do peasant turned capitalist entrepreneur. He engages in intensive cultivation, adopts modern technology, produces for the market and exploits free labour. They earn a surplus over the capital invested in cultivation In Indian conditions, these farmers also exhibit certain feudal traits but that is less marked compared to the old type of rich peasants. They have connections as well as contradictions with the capitalist landlords. On certain occasions they oppose big capital and the state.
These new type of rich peasants are also called kulaks or agrarian or peasant bourgeoisie.
Often a section of the rich peasants act as counter-revolutionaries and become a target of the revolution. However, the majority of them can be neutralised and a section can even be won over to the side of the revolution. Rich peasants and capitalist farmers can be unstable allies in the struggle against imperialism but in the struggle against landlords, they can at most be neutralised. Neutralisation requires compromise as well as restriction. Tactics regarding them should be one of unity and struggle. The main difference between landlords and rich peasants is that whereas landlords do not take part in direct labour, rich peasants do engage in labour.
Middle peasants are those who posses small or medium-sized holdings; either owned by them or leased in, and also instruments of production inferior to those of the rich peasants but superior to those of the poor peasants. They take an active part in labour along with their families. Generally, they neither sell nor purchase labour power. But in the busy seasons of cropping they hire some labour. They can be broadly divided into three categories:
1) Upper middle peasants: Those who exploit labour but the income so earned does not exceed 50 per cent of their total income. That is, the main source of their income is their own labour. They get some surplus, accumulate to move into the ranks of rich peasants of peasant bourgeoisie over a period.
2) Middle middle peasants: Those who earn 75 per cent of their income from their own labour, so that the extent of exploitation does not exceed 25 per cent. The very little surplus they earn is hardly sufficient to reinvest on an extended scale and carry on extended reproduction in agriculture.
3) Lower middle peasants: They have to lease in land at high rates. They find it difficult to make both ends meet and are burdened with loans and interests of moneylenders. They hardly make any surplus and always run the risk of lapsing into the category of poor peasants.
Middle peasants want to develop production and employ modern means of production, but this often leads them into a debt-trap and distress sale of their produce. On the question of leasing in land, use of modern inputs, getting their legitimate share in panchayats, cooperative societies, SHGs and other such institutions and on the question of arbitrary taxation by the kulaks and landlords in WUAs, they are in sharp contradiction with landlords, rich peasants and government officials. However, they also have a relation of dependence with small and medium landlords and rich peasants.
They are allies of poor peasants but so long as the poor peasants remain weak they continue to vacillate. They must be united and by broad peasant unity we mean essentially the unity of the poor and the middle peasants.
In class analysis, often the problem of confusing higher middle peasants, i.e., well-to-do middle peasants, with rich peasants crop up. And hence special care must be taken on this question. While the rich peasants’ main source of income is exploitation, for middle peasant it is his own labour.
Poor peasants either do not own any land and implements or own a small amount of land and implements of poor quality or only some implements. They work on their own small plots or lease in some land or work on the landlords’ land and in exchange get a tiny patch of land, the entire produce of which, or a part thereof, they are entitled to get. Still they are hardly able to manage six months this way. For the rest of the year, they have to sell their labour power. They also engage in petty trades and other side-line occupations. They are forced to resort to loans from moneylenders and landlords, which they are never able to repay. They suffer cruel oppression in the hand of landlords and traders. They usually have to sell a part of their produce at very cheap rates to pay for the interest on loans and to purchase daily necessities. It is on them that the agrarian revolution relies.
Poor peasants differ from the middle peasants in that the middle peasants need not sell their labour power whereas the poor peasants are forced to sell it. Poor peasants constitute the semi-proletariat.
Owning neither land nor implements, nor even proper house-sites, they live solely by selling their labour power. They are the predominant section of the rural proletariat. A section of them are free labourers, paid in cash or kind or in both. With the emergence of capitalist farming in agriculture, their number is rising and they are getting organised. However, they also suffer from cruel feudal exploitation in many cases and their problems are closely related to those of the poor peasants. In lean seasons they do not get jobs and are forced to work on lowest wages. They have to resort to seasonal migration in search of work, are subjected to cheating and cruel exploitation by agent-contractors, landlords and the police. In some regions, agricultural labourers resort to group-labour for contract, often at piece rate, under labour contractors in local agriculture itself.
A very minor section of farm labourers are engaged in permanent and regular jobs in mechanised farms. Other sections of farm labourers are mostly casual, day-labourers, while few of them live in conditions of bondage and semi-bondage, working on seasonal or yearly basis. In many cases in several regions, they are to work for 14 to 15 hours a day and are subjected to worst form of social indignities including caste atrocities. Those who resist are assaulted and even killed.
The main difference between the agricultural labourer and the poor peasant is that while the former gets a fixed wage in cash or in kind or in both for the sale of his/her labour power, at least a part of the latter’s required subsistence is directly produced by him/her for himself/herself as a holder of self-managed land parcel.
A section of peasants, in the face of brutal oppression by landlords and due to hatred towards them, form rebel gangs and resort to killings of landlords and take to banditry and extortion. They are brave fighters but destructive in their approach. Through patient education and correct handling over a long period of time, the majority of them can be transformed into revolutionary forces. There are also vagabonds in the countryside who do not engage in any productive work.
Apart from these broader classifications, there are many typical cases in different regions of India. Party organisations and peasant associations in their areas shall have to investigate these cases and educate their cadres in making class analysis correctly.
A vast majority of the people in our country, due to caste prejudices and other factors, do not plough themselves and resort to hiring labour; but their standard of living is akin to that of poor or middle peasants or in some cases to that of rich peasants. In such cases, differentiation should be made between persons taking part in any of the primary labour processes in agriculture, viz., sowing, ploughing, harvesting and threshing etc., those taking part in secondary labour and those not taking part in any labour at all. Keeping in mind these differentiations, their standard of living and their political and social attitude, they may be classified as poor, middle or rich peasants. Some of them may as well be termed as reactionaries and others as middle classes, taking into account their political leanings and cultural level.
There are also typical cases like a family of three persons — one selling his/her labour power, another engaging in self-cultivation and the third in some profession. Such cases should be decided on the basis of merits of each of them and characterisation of both the family as a whole and the individual members will have to be done separately, the individual positions being primarily taken into account.
To make the agrarian revolution successful, the party of the proletariat must, on the basis of this analysis of classes, follow the class line developed by Mao in the course of the Chinese revolution, “Rely on poor peasants, unite with the middle peasants, restrict the rich peasants and eliminate the landlords”.
In real life, the classes however do not exist as pure or ideal categories and are influenced by a host of other factors related to their social existence and hence in the course of implementation of this class line we must be prepared to face lots of complexities. For example, while middle peasants constitute a firm ally of the proletariat in the revolution, they keep oscillating between the landlords and proletariat because of their objective class position where they suffer at the hands of kulaks/landlords and at the same time have objective economic dependence on them. A large section of this class with a dual character gravitates towards the rural proletariat but a small section is oriented towards the peasant bourgeoisie and this is also rooted in the objective reality of differentiation. They are also wary of the wage demands of the rural proletariat.
The caste factor too often complicates the middle peasant question. In Bihar, sections of middle peasants have often been seen to come under the sway of the phenomenon of caste-based private armies led by landlords or kulaks of their respective castes. It takes a protracted struggle combining various forms to weaken and overcome such private armies and neutralize the hostility of peasants who are misled in the name of caste loyalty. With the rise of powerful regional parties identified with specific caste equations, middle peasants of concerned castes tend to follow the bourgeois-kulak leadership of such caste-based parties for a long time before getting disillusioned under the pressure of objective developments. This means we must be very patient and persistent in handling the middle peasant question and remain prepared for all sorts of twists and turns.
Like middle peasants, the question of rich peasants too merits careful analysis and attention. Under conditions of capitalist development in agriculture, a large section of the rich peasantry, which engages in direct cultivation and earns its surplus primarily through hired labour though expending a part of the own family labour, emerges as the peasant bourgeoisie/agrarian bourgeoisie/kulaks. As such the rural poor are usually locked in serious conflict with this class. Yet, in a situation of acute agrarian crisis a large section of this class also suffers despite a small section making significant gains from the policies of liberalization and globalization. Hence, rich peasants also have to embark on the path of direct struggles against the governments to varying extents on different issues. Wherever they join the path of direct struggle and to the extent they are willing to advance along this path, we can adopt a positive attitude towards these struggles. But such issue-based cooperation or unity must not be confused as an alliance with rich peasants as a class. Struggle with them would remain fundamental and our support to them against the policies of the state or the dictates of the WTO regime or the offensive of MNCs or Indian corporates should in no way weaken the direct class struggle of the rural proletariat against this class.
The peasantry in India is suffering from the twin yokes of landlordism and capital, to put it in Lenin’s words. Only an agrarian revolution that both sweeps away landlordism and puts an end to the domination of capital can liberate the peasantry. This alone can be the foundation of democratic revolution in India. This agrarian programme of ours is geared to fulfil that historic necessity. Many bourgeois ideologues, and even some Left spokespersons, have started arguing that there is no more scope for land reforms. Any further push to land reforms and land redistribution would only give marginal results, they argue. Instead, they favour lifting of ceiling limits and tenancy restrictions to enable “development of viable holdings”, and their “consolidation” through market forces. The World Bank, on the other hand, acknowledges land reforms merely as an anti-poverty measure but pushes for its implementation not by a thorough take over of ceiling-surplus and benami land but advocates land reforms through market forces, through setting up corporations to lend money to the landless to purchase land from willing landowners coming forward to sell their land. As Marx cautioned, the landed property has become so sacrosanct that it should not be violated but any amount of land can be grabbed from peasants for corporates!
Today the inter-relationship between the fight against landlordism and the struggle against capital is such that one cannot be successfully carried out in isolation from the other. This is precisely because the big landed gentry have become the main collaborators of big capital and vehicles for their penetration into agriculture. This is a new corporate zamindari and the new landlords are zamindars of Reliance and Bharati, Tatas and Wal-Marts, Monsantos and Cargills. This is also the objectively strengthened class base for the unity of agrarian proletariat and the broad peasantry in the new conditions.
The path of freest and broad-based development of capitalism — the path of democracy — is possible only by basing on the mass of impoverished peasantry, who at present absolutely lack capital resources and challenging head on the agrarian strategy of the bourgeoisie and its state. The rural proletariat can and must take the lead in this struggle forging firm unity with the broad mass of poor and middle peasants.
1. (a) All lands of the landlords and the public lands under their control shall be confiscated and distributed among the rural poor (agricultural labourers and poor peasantry) and the lower rungs of the toiling peasantry;
(b) The distribution will be on per capita basis and the rural poor will be provided with necessary assistance to cultivate the land preferably on a suitable collective basis;
(c) All agricultural implements, livestock, buildings, irrigation resources and assets of the landlords shall be confiscated and taken possession of by the People’s Government, for either distribution among the rural poor and the peasantry or allotted to them for their common use;
(d) After confiscation of land and assets, the landlords who do not play a reactionary role and the dependents of the reactionary landlords will be allotted land to carry on their living on the same basis as applicable to the peasants;
(e) The leased-out portion of the rich peasants’ land will be confiscated and the semi-feudal aspects of their exploitation will be abolished. They will however enjoy their rights over their self-cultivated lands;
(f) No portion of the lands of middle peasants, including well-to-do middle peasants, will be touched. Lower middle peasants will be allotted some land;
(g) Artisans and people of other professions in the rural areas, who wish to engage in cultivation, will also be allotted land
2. All loans and interests of moneylenders and landlords and all debts of toiling peasants owed to the state will be cancelled. The state will facilitate rescheduling and repayment of loans taken from any other source.
3. Village revolutionary committees composed of farm labourers and poor and middle peasants will have the authority to supervise the task of implementing thoroughgoing land reforms and ensuring abolition of the survivals of feudalism;
4. The revolutionary government will, with the active cooperation of various mass organisations of the peasantry, organise production and help peasants in developing various forms of mutual aid, including producers’ and consumers’ cooperatives;
5. All amenities and institutions catering to various needs of the people shall be freed from the control of the erstwhile landlords and other dominant classes and strata and run by people’s committees;
6. Rural workers will be guaranteed —
a) fair wages with 8 hours work day;
b) right to get employment; and
c) social security
7. (a) The livelihood of weavers and other artisans and petty producers will be guaranteed and there will be gradual modernisation and mechanisation of their production process;
(b) Fisherfolks will enjoy full fishing rights and ownership over their produce; their exploitation by moneylenders and big traders will be done away with;
8. Indigenous people and other forest dwellers will own the cultivable land in the forests; non-tribal kulaks and landlords who have occupied tribal land will be evicted and any dispute between non-tribal poor peasants cultivating any land that orginially belonged to the indigenous people will be settled amicably; the rights of indigenous people over the forest produce will be restored and the forest policy and forest department will be suitably reoriented to put an end to the exploitation and oppression of adivasi peasants by forest officials; indigenous people engaged in jhum (shifting) cultivation will be encouraged and enabled to switch over to settled agriculture and systematically develop their productive forces;
9. Large farms of big capitalist landlords, depending upon the conditions, may either be dismantled and the land distributed among the peasants or transferred as collective property to the farm labourers;
10. (a) Mechanised big farms of the comprador bourgeoisie and all state farms will be nationalised by the people’s government and developed as large-scale model farms, and
(b) Plantations of small and medium capitalists and farms of capitalist farmers will not be confiscated.
1. Seizure of surplus land above the ceiling limit, benami land, land held under illegitimate occupation of religious trusts and places of worship, and other such properties held by landlords, the lands of poor and middle peasants illegally captured by landlords, and government land; distribution of these among poor peasants and agrarian labourers. Efforts should be made to concentrate the struggle against big landlords and die-hard anti-people anti-poor elements among rich peasants, and in no case should there be any encroachment on the land of the middle peasants;
2. Given the pitiable record of land reforms in India and the obvious lack of political will in this regard the most effective means to achieve the above tasks is nationalization of land, i.e., vesting all land with the state to be leased out to actual tillers for individual, and wherever possible, collective cultivation. This demand may therefore be popularized at the appropriate level after taking into consideration various objective and subjective conditions;
3. Opposition to all forms of landgrab by corporate houses and real estate and land mafia; scrapping of the Special Economic Zone Act, 2005 and Land Acquisition Act of 1894;
4. Seizure of crops illegally held, and grains hoarded, by landlords to feed the starving rural poor; and fight against pilferage of subsidised foodgrains and for extension of the public distribution system to cover all sections of the rural poor
5. Fight against eviction of tenants and for reduction of rent and interest, and for the rights of sharecroppers. Fight for reduction of water tax and any other tax burden on the peasantry;
6. Fight against confiscation of peasants’ land and attachment of their properties and auction of these by the reactionary government in the event of the peasants’ failure to repay bank and other government loans, and fight for reduction of interest on bank and cooperative loans; fight for ban on usury;
7. Fight for abolition of bonded labour and child labour, fight against forced labour service and all other forms of extra-economic coercion in labour relations, and fight for increased wages and working conditions for agrarian labourers. Take up movements on their problems of drinking water and housing, health and education;
8. Support the struggles of peasants against big merchants, bureaucrat-capitalists, and imperialists for remunerative prices for their produce and fight for subsidised inputs for poor and middle peasants to be provided by the state; fight for a market stabilisation fund and agricultural tariff regulation commission with majority representation from peasant associations;
9. Oppose the plunder of forest wealth by the timber mafia, contractors, landlords, imperialists and bureaucrat-capitalists and government officials and fight for the proper restoration of the traditional rights of adivasis and other concerned sections of the people over forest wealth. Fight for the distribution of government land and cultivable forest land among adivasis and other forest dwellers and for pattas over their land;
10. Fight against the exploitation of fishermen by the owners of mechanised boats, trawlers, big traders and moneylenders and for a ban on foreign companies and vessels from fishing in Indian waters;
11. Fight against neo-liberal policies and the WTO regime, against various reactionary bills like Seed Bill 2004, and bills and acts on rollback of land reforms legislations, fight for a comprehensive legislation for agricultural labourers and for lowering of land ceilings and for proper implementation of acts like the Tribal Act 2006 and NREGA;
12. Fight for distribution of various government relief measures among the people through peasant and agricultural labour associations and not through corrupt government officials;
13. Raise the slogan that government officials be elected by and held accountable to the people. Fight for formation of land committees comprising agricultural labourers, poor peasants and middle peasants which will supervise the work of land reform;
14. Oppose atrocities on dalits, adivasis, Muslims, Christians and other minority communities and weaker sections of the society by casteist and communal forces and the police and security forces of the state; take up various positive programmes for developing the unity of the people of different castes and religions; work among the upper castes, promoting social reform to free their vast majority from feudal bias;
15. Develop such organisations of the people as “village self-defence corps”, “volunteer forces”, and “resistance squads of women” etc., to enable them to defend themselves from the attacks of the feudal forces, the police and goondas.
As conditions vary in different states and in different regions in the same state, agricultural labour and peasant organisations should take up particular demands according to the concrete conditions of their areas. While fighting for immediate demands, emphasis should always be placed on mobilising the masses in ever greater numbers and on raising their level of consciousness.
The Basic Programme cannot be implemented overnight and it is imperative to take up the immediate demands for the step-by-step mobilisation and organisation of the masses. But we must not lose sight of the basic programme while taking up immediate tasks. On the one hand, the Basic Programme and the Immediate Tasks are distinct categories which should not be confused; on the other, they are intimately linked up. If this orientation is lost, we will either be practising left opportunism or sheer economism.
Instead of liberating the productive forces, the reactionary and reformist solutions of the ruling classes have intensified all the contradiction in our society and aggravated the agrarian crisis. The imperialist onslaughts have also intensified. Class conflicts are becoming more and more intensified. The more the situation becomes complex and challenging, the greater becomes the necessity of clear and firm orientation and the role of the vanguard of the proletariat assumes greater importance.
Boldly rouse the tens of millions agricultural labourers and peasants – this is the call of the situation. The vanguard of the proletariat must make the utmost sacrifice and display the greatest heroism. They must develop the initiative, determination and boldness of the broad peasant masses and agricultural labourers, and organize them throughout the country. Indian peasants have fought heroically against feudalism and imperialism; hundreds and thousands of their finest sons and daughters have laid down their lives. The struggle for land, liberty and liberation continues, and the party of the revolutionary proletariat must lead it to its ultimate victory. Let us prepare ourselves to march at the head of the oncoming great upsurge of the rural poor.