Classical Marxism and the Agrarian Question


Pancho Romero in bodega.jpg (33286 bytes)For Marx, himself, however, this wasn’t as much of a problem as it was to become, and remains, for later Marxists. This is because Marx’s economic analysis led him to believe that the peasantry could not survive in the long term. In the third volume of Das Kapital, Marx in fact mentions various processes which might ‘conserve’ peasant agriculture in the short to medium term. Pancho Romero portrait.jpg (38482 bytes)He noted, for example, that because peasant farmers were under no complusion to realize the average rate of profit on capital, grain prices would be low where peasant proprietorship predominated (Capital, Vol. III: 805-6). This observation anticipates a point which has become central in more modern Marxist discussions about the ‘survival’ of peasant farming, though it hasn’t generally been noted by most commentators on Marx for some reason. But it remains true that Marx didn’t think that peasant farming could survive in the long term. He argued that it was only compatible with a limited development of industrial capitalism, and insisted that in the longer term the peasantry would be destroyed through impoverishment. As commodity production and merchant-usurer’s capital tightened its grip on the countryside, Marx assumed that the peasantry would be progressively squeezed until they were forced into the ranks of the proletariat.

A traditional village corn merchant and money lender (above and right) in his warehouse