How did our Agrarian Programme Evolve?

- Arindam Sen

The general programme adopted at the time of party foundation did contain a clear enough programmatic guideline for the agrarian front. Yet the need for “a comprehensive agrarian programme” was felt since the early 1980s “given the complexity of class relations in the countryside and the impending peasant upsurge”, as the Third All India Party Congress (December 1982) put it.

Agrarian Programme 1982

One of the main achievements of the post-rectification advancement in our party line, the 1982 programme remains unsurpassed as the first real breakthrough in this field. Among the salient contributions of this programme, we must take note of the following points.

(1) This is probably the first document in the history of CPI (ML) that recognises the two faces of the peasantry:

“So long as the peasantry is in semi-servitude, scattered and passive, it remains a pillar of autocratic rule as well as that of parliamentary corruption. Once imbibed with revolutionary democratic ideas and organised, and given the courage to assert its own right, this great mass of peasantry becomes the gravedigger of autocracy and the strongest bastion of consistent democracy.”

The responsibility of the proletarian party to carry revolutionary consciousness from without, to ideologically remould and organise the peasantry, is thus strongly highlighted here, in the Preamble itself.

(2) The first chapter calls attention to the great heterogeneity in agrarian practices and relations: ranging from a comparatively developed farming in certain pockets — counterposed against prevalence of subsistence farming throughout the country — to jhum (shifting) cultivation in the North East, from free wage labour to various forms of tenancy, labour services and bonded/semi bonded labour, and so on. Yet, “in spite of all limitations and the terrible backwardness, one can discern a definite trend of capitalist development in agriculture. This capitalism is weak and not evenly developed, but it is an emerging feature.... in a sense, new productive forces in the rural areas are getting more and more matured, but they are overshadowed by the pre-capitalist, feudal relations of production.” Recognition of capitalism as an “emerging trend” in agriculture, though caught in a web of all sorts of pre-capitalist relations, was another basic theoretical contribution of the Third Party Congress.

(3) The next chapter titled “Colonial Aspects” rightly recalls the history of “colonisation of Indian agriculture” and goes on to describe, with a strong pool of data and analyses, the post-47 continuation of the process. Capital penetration and other interventions on the part of different imperialist powers in particular segments of the agrarian economy and related sectors — e.g., the US in ‘green revolution’ inputs like HYV seeds, pesticides etc., the UK in plantations — are briefly described. The document then notes,

“Imperialist capital has infiltrated deeply in the multipurpose River-Valley projects, power plants, chemical fertiliser factories, tractor plants (out of 12 tractor plants 9 have foreign collaborations), factories producing insecticides and pesticides, community development projects, voluntary organisations for reform and education, agricultural research etc.” In the process, “a new class of intermediaries is coming up with the help of the state machinery due to the large scale penetration of imperialist capital in the rural areas.”

Anticipating all that we almost routinely say today about the WTO-dictated liberalisation package, the dynamics of the class alliance dominating Indian agriculture is described thus:

“This alliance of imperialism, comprador capital and feudalism in which the latter serves as the basis, has been the root cause of the general crisis, marked by severe ones at some intervals, in agriculture. The form of this alliance changes, causing some complexities in the relations among various socio-economic forces, but the alliance remains intact.”

In other words the essence continues, the forms and techniques are changing.

(4) The next two chapters narrate the progression from land reform measures (followed by so-called community development projects) of the 1950s to the mid-sixties strategy of ‘green revolution’. Regarding the measures of 1950s it is observed:

“The greatest beneficiaries of the land reform 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 lakhs by landlords in the name of resuming self-cultivation...”

The green revolution is described as “the Indian type of landlord path of capitalist development”, which “has a narrow social base and this path of development is super-imposed on the predominant semi-feudal economy.”

By the late 1970s, the crisis of the green revolution itself compelled the ruling classes to “search for a new strategy”. It was quite clear however that any new strategy “will primarily serve the interests of... the Indian Junker type of landlords”, while “the benefits accruing to the capitalist farmers will only be secondary. Democratic sections of the peasantry will continue to get ‘relief’ without any of their basic problems being touched.”

As we can see today, this prognosis has fully come true with the adoption of the new agrarian policy in 1990.

The fourth chapter brings Section I, which gives us a broad overview of the agrarian scene, to a close, making way for a more focused discussion in Section II.

(5) The first chapter in this Section (II) sums up the “basic characteristics” of Indian agriculture as a predominantly small peasant economy, more feudalistic than capitalist but in a transitory phase towards the landlord path of capitalist development where, in addition to capitalist landlords and the Indian big bourgeoisie, “imperialists also have a stake.”

Why a small peasant economy, when nearly 70 per cent of cultivated land remains under the control of rich peasants, capitalist farmers and landlords? In the first place, a vast—and increasing (thanks to continuing fragmentation) –- number of men and women eke out a living by cultivating small plots; even those who are categorised as agrarian labourers are often found to also operate small plots of their own as a complementary source of subsistence. Moreover, a large part of even big holders’ lands are cultivated in a small peasant manner, being leased out to small tenants, who normally consume their share of the produce – or the greater part of it — without taking it to the market.

To help develop a Marxist understanding of small peasant economy which comprises mainly of peasant ownership of land parcels, a passage is quoted from the chapter “Genesis of Capitalist Ground Rent” in Capital, Volume III. Three most relevant points emerge from this quote:

(i)In modern times, proprietorship of land parcels arises from dissolution of feudal land ownership (semi-feudalism in our terminology) as a transitory stage and presupposes a backward capitalism. As a rule, only a small part of the produce becomes commodities.

(ii)The small peasant cultivates his/her land not as a landlord seeking rent, nor as a capitalist under the normal rule of earning average profit (or profit plus rent), but simply for subsistence, even when he/she markets a part of the produce. So long as the price covers the minimum wage (i.e., price of production minus costs) he/she pays herself/himself for just managing somehow to live on, the small peasant will continue to cultivate the plot. This practice keeps depressed both grain prices and wage levels.

(iii)As a transitional form, the small peasant economy is designed to collapse sooner or later. “The causes which bring about its downfall show its limitations. These are: destruction of rural domestic industry, which forms its normal supplement as a result of the development of large-scale industries; a gradual impoverishment and exhaustion of the soil subjected to this cultivation; usurpation by big landowners of the common lands, which constitute the second supplement of the management of land parcels everywhere and which alone enable it to raise cattle; competition, either of the plantation system or large-scale capitalist agriculture. Improvements in agriculture, which on the one hand cause a fall in agricultural prices and, on the other, require greater outlays and more extensive material conditions of production, also contribute towards this…

Proprietorship of land parcels by its very nature excludes the development of social productive forces of labour, social forms of labour, social concentration of capital, large-scale cattle-raising, and the progressive application of science.

Usury and a taxation system must impoverish it everywhere. The expenditure of capital in the price of the land withdraws this capital from cultivation. An infinite fragmentation of means of production, and isolation of the producers themselves. Monstrous waste of human energy. Progressive deterioration of conditions of production and increased prices of means of production — an inevitable law of proprietorship of parcels. Calamity of seasonal abundance for this mode of production.”

“Added with the colonial aspect”, exclaims our 1982 programme, “how aptly the above description defines the Indian agriculture!”

One basic point we learn here is why the proletarian party must not endorse the peasant, i.e. petty bourgeois, attitude to small peasant farming and eulogise or seek to perpetuate it. We are for land redistribution among the landless only with the aim of “step-by-step collectivization”. The first agrarian programme drafted by our party takes special care about elucidating such basic Marxist tenets, and this is the main reason why we should seriously study this ‘old’ document which never gets old.

(6) The third chapter of Section II discusses how the revisionists, and the State governments run by them, actually abandoned the programme of radical land reform and were reining in class struggle in the countryside in the name of ‘peasant unity’. Here we get an early yet accurate evaluation of ‘Operation Barga’:

“It is true that where the poor and the middle peasants were organised, they could snatch benefits out of this campaign, but as a whole it did not make their holdings economically viable or change the basic subsistence character of these holdings. The campaign remained only another measure of social relief to them.

Only a minority of well-to-do middle and rich peasants, who with their assured rights over land could invest substantial capital in their small and medium-sized farms through bank loans etc, were able to make their holdings economically viable.”

The correctness of the above assessment stands out in bold relief now, when a significant number of poor sharecroppers, unable to continue cultivation in the absence of institutional and governmental support, either sell out their ‘registered’ right to till ‘voluntarily’, or simply get evicted.

Next comes a summing up of the experience from the Telengana to the Naxalbari periods to the then ongoing upsurge in central Bihar on issues like social dignity and land. Wrong trends are also discussed, including that of the PCC organisation and, more interesting, of a sort of Narodnik tendency within our own peasant organization. The latter opposed modern farming, eulogized India’s old village community system, put forward “building independent and self-reliant villages” as the central slogan and even opposed peasant struggles in the name of “constructive work” (canals, roads etc). Here we may note in passing that there are strong objective grounds for such tendencies to resurface, maybe in less conspicuous forms, so we must be on our guard.

(7) On the theoretical-political ground thus prepared, Section III builds a “Class Analysis” followed by “Basic Programme” and “Immediate Tasks”. A good study of Punjab and a few statistical tables are appended, with a declaration that further studies like these will be published later. The conclusion thus heralds the continuation of research.

BPKS Programme 1984

Fifteen months after the Party adopted its agrarian programme, the Bihar Pradesh Kishan Sabha adopted its own programme in its inaugural conference (Patna, March 1984). A comparative study of this programme (excerpted in the appendix to “Report from the Flaming Fields of Bihar”, henceforth shortened as FFB) with the “Basic Programme” and “Immediate Tasks” in the 1982 programme makes an interesting reading. It illustrates how in the light of a comprehensive party guideline a mass organization in a particular state should draw up its action programme.

Programmatic Part of FFB (1986)

The FFB (August 1986), acclaimed as our best theoretical-political publication till date, contains much that needs to be studied, discussed and enriched with new information, new realisations. The database is old, but we have much to learn about data-processing. For example, by using the category “operational holdings” in isolation from the question of ownership and actual control, the FFB points out, census data tends to “show a continuing increase in the number of, and area under, small and marginal holdings at the expense of a corresponding decrease in the number of, and area under, medium and large holdings”. This conveys an exaggerated impression of the decline of large-scale holdings. But in many cases the small operators are tenants-at-will, with ownership and control retained by big owners; moreover, in north Bihar in particular, land is held in the names of family members (including minors) and even in fictitious names, with real control resting with the estate/family. Actual land relations and extent of concentration – the survivals of feudalism, in other words – are thus concealed. It is therefore always necessary to check census data and other official statistics with our own experience and survey results.

Agrarian Programme 1992

Adopted in the Fifth Party Congress, this is a trimmed, updated and theoretically enriched version of the 1982 programme. As the Introduction puts it,

“…in its phase of transition from feudalism to capitalism, Indian agriculture presents a very complex scenario. In the midst of the continuing conflict and coexistence of different modes of production, one finds a new coalition of class forces taking shape in the countryside. The complexity reflects itself in yet unresolved debates among Marxist academicians and Marxist parties and groups regarding the mode of production, the nature of farmers’ movements, the role of middle peasantry, the relevance of land struggles, the organisation of agrarian labourers etc.

The agrarian programme which we are developing since the Third Congress is essentially the party’s response to these questions. It is based primarily on two premises:

(i) uniting the broad masses of peasantry in a determined struggle against feudal remnants, and

(ii) intensifying the class struggle of rural proletariatagainst the rural bourgeoisie.

Now in 2005 we can say the twin premises still hold; only we might consider whether it would be necessary today to add the words “and new onslaughts of imperialism” after “feudal remnants”.

One of the points which appear especially important from today’s perspective concerns agrarian labourers:

“In Indian conditions, the class of agrarian labourers has existed since time immemorial. Under the Asiatic mode of production, this class, without exception, belonged to lower castes, was attached to the castes holding land rights and languished in slavery and serfdom. They had to work in the periphery of predetermined villages for their predetermined masters and were remunerated by a customary share of the produce. The advent of capitalism in the countryside enabled them to come out of serfdom to a great extent. They started refusing begari, selecting their own masters and moving out to other villages and places for better wages. Now this class, accounting for anything between 30 to 40 per cent of the rural population, is locked in sharp class contradiction with both old and new landlords and capitalist farmers for better wages and better living conditions. This struggle, which has taken armed dimensions in the States of Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, is also developing in the areas of Green Revolution parallel to the growth of the farmers’ movements. In fact, apart from kulaks this is the only other class in the countryside which is showing signs of consolidating into a class for itself.”

The main strand of class struggle in the countryside is clearly identified as one “between the capitalist landlords and capitalist farmers on the one hand and the agrarian labourers and the poor peasants on the other”.

Policy Resolutions on Agrarian Question, 1997

This document, adopted in the Sixth Party Congress, declares that the assertion of agrarian workers is “bound to become the dominant trend in the future. It is necessary to organise them as an independent class in an independent organisation. In fact this practice had already started in some States. Overall, “Land and Liberty ” is projected as the central slogan.

Many other policy matters are also clarified in this document, e.g.:

Nationalisation of land is the most consistent and thoroughgoing means for redistribution of land and realising the slogan of land to the tiller. This radical bourgeois measure — which however can be realised only under people’s power – is all the more relevant under conditions of distorted and, in some states downright farcical, implementation of land reforms and the rise of new landlordism. While land nationalisation would remain the cornerstone of our agrarian policy for the entire country, this would be raised as an immediate, propaganda and agitational slogan at certain stages and in certain States depending upon the level of development of the agrarian movement and under specific political conditions.”

Another important point is the clarification of our approach to the farmers’ movement:

“We support the farmers’ movement as a general democratic movement directed against the bureaucrat capital despite its kulak leadership and our support to the demands for remunerative prices has the added dimension that realising high prices – which however would be very difficult on a continuous basis under bureaucrat capital’s hegemony—would go a long way in further clearing away feudal remnants.

We support the popular farmers’ movements for cheaper input prices subject to our basic stance of opposition to any subsidy to big and large farmers.

We should wean away small and middle peasants from under the influence of kulak leadership in such movements and may launch price movements in our areas under our leadership to win over middle peasants.”

Paper on Agricultural Labour 2001

In keeping with the enhanced emphasis placed in our Sixth Party Congress on agricultural workers’ struggles, the next central party school had a paper on this subject by Comrade B Sivaraman. Here we shall briefly discuss some of the theoretical issues raised in this paper.

1. “Emergence of free casual labour is supposed to mark the ushering in of free labour market in agriculture where the wages are to be determined freely by market forces. … But in conditions of underdeveloped capitalism in agriculture, the emerging forces of capitalism like the kulaks and capitalist landlords continue to make use of the old forms of labour for their extra-economic coercion.”

Indeed, numerous have been the forms and features of the struggle against attached labour practices and caste oppression in different parts of the country. The paper discusses the roles of DMK (TN), CPI (M) (Kerala) etc in leading these struggles; we might add that in West Bengal too the CPI (M) organized such struggles in the 1960s with an accent on removing caste humiliation. But it is our party alone which conducted the struggle from a long-term revolutionary position and therefore did not stop at this bourgeois reform. As for the CPI and CPI(M), they failed to “advance to the next phase… to launch wage struggles of free labourers with a different dynamics.”

2. Even after such reforms, however nearly the same set of “power equations between the classes on a larger plane” continues. “The extra economic coercion at the individual level” is “replaced by” organised terror of landlords. In Bihar we see the senas, in other states other associations including caste panchayats play that role by different means.

3. For discussing the experience of new forms of struggle of free agricultural labourers, the paper focuses on Kerala and not on our main areas of work. This was the approach Marx adopted when he chose not his own country, nor France , the “most revolutionary nation” at the time, but England — capitalistically the most developed country – for understanding capital. As for Bihar , it remains for us to develop a similar – and more elaborate, maybe a district-wise – study.

4. Agricultural labourers, observes the paper, “ cultivate tiny plots of land even if they don’t fully own them. Apart from wages and land, their demands might include credit, inputs, means of production and other productive assets. Of course, Lenin talked, in a certain context, about ‘warning the rural proletariat against being tempted by small-scale ownership, which cannot, so long as commodity production exists, abolish poverty among the masses’. But what we are confronted with here is a rural proletariat that is still in the making, and which still combines renting in small plots for cultivation with the sale of labour power.” In other words, our task is to help quicken “the process of final separation” and not to preserve the entanglement, but we must not do it mechanically. As our 1997 policy resolution observed, “By being agricultural labourers they have not ceased to be landless peasants in good many cases.”

Pamphlet on
Agrarian Scene in
Bengal , 2002

Continuing the study of revisionist agrarian programme and its effects, a study we have been conducting since the 1982 agrarian programme, the Central Committee brought out a pamphlet on the subject in 2002, when the LFG completed 25 years in office. Some of the general theoretical points discussed in this study by Arindam Sen merits our attention.

1. The “law that the independent development of merchant’s capital is inversely proportional to the degree of development of capitalist production”, as Marx wrote in Capital, Vol. III, chapter 20, strikingly illustrates the present Indian experience. Marx further observed:

“The transition from the feudal mode of production is twofold. The producer becomes merchant and capitalist, in contrast to the natural agriculture economy… this is the really revolutionary path. Or else, the merchant establishes direct sway over production. However much this serves historically as a steppingstone… it cannot by itself contribute to the overthrow of the old mode of production, but tends rather to preserve and retain it as its precondition… this system… worsens the conditions of the direct producers, turns them into mere wage workers and proletarians under conditions worse than those under the immediate control of capital, and appropriates their surplus-labour on the basis of the old mode of production.”

In our case, the “old mode” should be taken to mean not feudalism proper but mainly a small peasant economy in a semi-feudal, semi-colonial setting. Merchant’s/usurious capital “enables the present smallholding and small tenancy structure to survive in the face of unequal competition from developed rich peasant farming and the pressures exerted by market forces. Of course, it is a losing battle but the small cultivator carries on, and the price he pays for unviable farming is perpetual anxiety and a life standard sometimes going below that of the rural proletariat.”

2. In “The Agrarian Question in Russia Towards the Close of the 19 th Century”, Lenin discussed “the formation of capitalist relations within this very [i.e., accompanied by “feudal features”] renting of land”. In our country this is witnessed in several forms:

(i) “Flabby and conservative that it is, capital in India penetrates agriculture not in steady steps sweeping away the remnants of feudalism, but in hesitant detours accommodating and utilizing those remnants. One of the many symptoms of these is that traditional bhagchas (share cropping) is being replaced not so much by direct cultivation by capitalist landowners as by small-scale thika chas (lease cultivation). The latter refers to fixed rent (to be paid in cash or in crop) seasonal tenancy, i.e., release contract for one season or year which may or may not be renewed for the next season(s).

(ii) “Another new trend is reverse tenancy – substantive farmers leasing in land usually on seasonal or yearly contract.”

(iii)”In sharp contrast with such profit-oriented tenancy stands the subsistence on tenancy of the poor bhagchasi whose innate share of the produce ( after deducting the expenses he incurs in cultivation and commerce just what is needed for subsistence. So what he gets amounts, in terms of economic content, to reform – in a semi-feudal falling, one might say – of wage, i.e. the value of labour power. Such tenants are agrarian workers in disguise also, as day-labourers in farm or off-farm employment; in the true nature of things they personify and the present a process of painful metamorphosis of landless poor peasant into the rural proletariat/semi-proletariat as a consequence of retarded and tortuous transition to capitalism.”

3. Important changes in conditions and methods of cultivation (multi-cropping, mechanization, shift from mainly rain-fed to mainly irrigation-dependent farming, etc.) are leading to new modes of surplus accumulation and hegemony. Sale of water lifted by power durables, hiring out of tractors and other implements, sale of fertilizers and other imports on credit – many other new ways in which capitalist landlords and kulaks exploit middle and poor peasants, generating in the process new ties of dependence or that patron-client relationship. To transform such ties into issues of class struggle, issues for mobilizing middle and poor peasants against the rural rich remains a task of the peasant association.

Documents of First National Conference of AIALA, 2003

While the three latest documents — manifesto, aims and orientation and immediate programme — must be thoroughly studied and implemented, a few points made by the Party General Secretary in his concluding speech deserve special attention:

“For us the question of land reforms is essentially a question of restructuring the existing relations. Land is an important means of production, land relation is an important component of production relations and consequently also the relations of power. Ending land concentration, i.e., the concentrated control of a small section over the bulk of cultivated land, is therefore central to any democratization of the rural society.”

“The new buzzword is land rights, right to hold small plots of land within a skewed pattern of land distribution. From reforming the overall or ‘macro’, the focus has shifted to ensuring individual ‘rights’, a micro-level arrangement that does not challenge, let alone change, the macro-level picture. On the face of it, land rights or bhoo-adhikar sounds quite a step forward from the discourse revolving around bhoodan. But a closer look would reveal that the emphasis is clearly on promoting the land market, facilitating sale and purchase of land and thus encouraging a new kind of land concentration….

The communist vision of revolutionary land reforms aims at transferring effective control over land to the real producers and thus unleashing the fullest potential of productive forces and increasing productivity. And land means not just land, but also all those resources without which land cannot be put to its most productive use. So our fight for land reform goes hand-in-hand with the fight for provision of cheap credit, cheap imports, guaranteed procurement and extensive public distribution.”

Also very important is “the question of rural development and employment-generation schemes. Successive governments have been busy deceiving the people by endlessly renaming and recycling the same old schemes with small changes here and there. The hollowness of these schemes is best exposed by the growing incidence of starvation, suicides and acute agrarian crisis. But the fact remains that considerable amount of capital is being injected into the countryside, but it is being systematically looted and siphoned off by powerful vested interests and networks of middlemen. The rural poor have to wage a major fight on this question. From demanding information and accountability through effective intervention in matters of implementation to having effective say in the designing of these schemes and in the formulation of concerned policies and allocation of resources, the arena of struggle is indeed quite large. The panchayat-level units of AIALA must play an energetic and pro-active role on these issues as well.”

Omissions exempted, such in barest outline was the process of evolution of our agrarian programme over some 25 years. It is perhaps necessary now to produce a fresh document (say in the Eighth Party Congress) in the light of (a) impact of globalisation and the new agrarian policy of the Indian ruling classes and (b) the rich pool of our experience, rural surveys and research work conducted by ourselves as well as by others. As the stormy eighties had shown, such theoretical work would definitely be rewarded with movemental reinvigoration and expansion of both the agrarian labourers’ and peasants’ associations.

SC Losing Touch With PILs – A Bold Constitutional Remedy


The Editor, Liberation

Dear Sir,

The Supreme Court’s recent direction to a PIL petitioner (in a petition against Mulayam Singh amassing wealth disproportionate to his income) to file an affidavit that he is not affiliated with any political party is eccentric. This excessive firman will curtail article 51A (the fundamental duties of a citizen) and will consequently be ultra vires to the Constitution of India. What the judges should concern themselves with, is the merit of the case and not ask the petitioner to “Swear that your PIL is not political.”

The increase in the price of rail tickets, the prohibition on carrying out processions, starvation deaths, corruption and even the increase in prices of onions and potatoes is governance politics. Are the judges trying to say that a member of a political party cannot take a PIL in the court in these above situations too? Politics, by definition, is an art of making things possible. What the judiciary has to examine is whether the motive behind a PIL is power politics vis-à-vis judicial principles (Justice, Equity and Good conscience).

Today, the Judges are adopting a biased and narrow view of a PIL. Earlier in 1997, it was the corrupt babus and MPs who had tried introducing a Bill in Parliament that required a complainant to deposit Rs. 1 lakh before filing a PIL. Over the past few years, from my observation of the attitude of SC judges (many term PIL as Political Interest Litigation, Private Interest Litigation, Publicity Interest Litigation and Paise Interest Litigation), it seems that the Supreme Court is losing its touch with this bold Constitutional remedy which Justice V. R Krishna Iyer and P. N Bhagwati gave this country. As Law Minister, Mr. H. R Bharadwaj aptly remarked recently: “The Supreme Court has killed its image of civil liberty”.

Liberal and bold judges are the need of the hour.

Yours frankly,

Human Rights Activist