From General Redistribution to the Nationalisation of Land

[Published in two parts in September-October and November issues of Liberation, 1993.]


Our agrarian revolution has three basic propositions:

1. It is a part of democratic revolution and the content of this revolution will be the liberation of countryside from feudal remnants.

2. In its social and economic aspect, this agrarian revolution will be a bourgeois-democratic revolution. It will not weaken but stimulate the development of capitalism and capitalist class contradictions.

3. Communists must support and lead this revolution in a most resolute fashion, and while not tying their hands to certain commitments, they must formulate their immediate demands to facilitate thoroughgoing cleansing of feudal remnants, or in other words, to achieve the maximum bourgeois democratic reforms.

Regarding the orientation of communist party programme, Lenin often approvingly referred to the following quote of Kautsky:

"The communist programme is not written for the given moment, as far as possible it should cover all eventualities in present-day society. It should serve not only for practical action, but for propaganda as well; in the form of concrete demands it should indicate more vividly than abstract programmes can do, the direction in which we can set ourselves without straying into utopian speculation, the better the direction in which we are advancing will be all the clearer to the masses — even to those who are unable to grasp our theoretical premises. The programme should show what we demand of existing society or of the existing state and not what we expect of it."

After the question of propositions of agrarian revolution and the orientation of the communist programme is settled, it will not be out of place to understand the crucial difference between the agrarian programmes of communist parties in developed countries and those in undeveloped or under-developed capitalist countries where feudal remnants continue to remain very powerful in the agrarian sphere.

To quote Lenin again: " In the West, agrarian programmes are written for the purpose of drawing those who are half-peasants, half-workers into the communist movement against the bourgeoisie; while in our countries such programmes are meant to draw the peasant masses into the democratic movement against the remnants of the serf-owning system. That is why in the West the significance of the agrarian programme will become all the greater, the more agricultural capitalism develops. The practical significance of our agrarian programme will decrease as far as most of its demands are concerned, the more agrarian capitalism develops, since the remnants of serf ownership this programme is directed against are dying out, both of themselves and as a result of the governmental policy".

This situation brings two options before communists that divide them into two camps of opportunists and revolutionaries. The opportunist section advocates spontaneity and even turns into an appendage of the government under the pretext of pressurising it to move at a faster pace. Some even go to the extent of advocating entrepreneurship on the part of activists to accelerate the process of agrarian capitalism; thus deserting the communist camp, they go to the non-political way of social reforms under the auspices of voluntary organisations and in collaboration with the bureaucracy.

The revolutionary section, on the other hand, advocates a radical agrarian programme to seize the political initiative and mobilise peasant masses for a speedy and thoroughgoing sweeping away of feudal remnants.

Here we must also remember that remnants of feudal relationship in the countryside are often closely interwoven with capitalist relationships and peasants, including even small peasants, are linked to this or that extent with the market mechanism where the state plays a mediator’s role through credits, subsidies, procurement, etc. Hence in the period of political changes it is often seen that the governments are able to split the peasants and weaken their revolutionary spirit by announcing certain concessions like waiving loans etc. In most of the cases, these are minor and insignificant concessions, and that too, to a small number of petty proprietors. The more the government reaches an agreement with the conservative section of peasantry, the more radical will be our demands with which to arouse the revolutionary sections of peasantry to move forward, while pocketing whatever little concessions are available to them.

Coming to the central demand of the peasantry, the question of general redistribution of land comes first. It must be kept in mind that this demand too is interpreted as socialist by the advocates of peasant socialism, i.e., those who consider peasants and not workers as the vehicle of socialist revolution. They imagine that by a general redistribution of land, small peasant production can be generalised and made a perpetual system. We reject this reactionary utopian idea of peasant socialism and point out that general redistribution will only facilitate capitalism, the differentiation of peasantry and the class contradictions. Still we support this demand because it contains the revolutionary element of sweeping away by means of a peasant revolt all the remnants of feudalism.


First of all, it must be made clear that nationalisation of land in bourgeois democratic revolution essentially means the transfer of rent to the state. It does not contradict the general democratic slogan of land to the tiller. Land is transferred to the tiller in both the cases of general redistribution and nationalisation of land as well. The question essentially relates to the form of ownership. In the former case, the ownership is transferred to the peasants, and in the latter, it rests with the state which allots the land to the tiller on a lease-basis for a definite period of time on a definite rent. In nationalisation all middlemen between the state and the peasant are abolished.

Nationalisation of land is often contused with socialisation of agricultural production. In socialisation not only land but all other means of production are nationalised and the cultivation is organised collectively in big state farms. It is obvious that what we are talking about is the bourgeois nationalisation of land which will do away with all feudal remnants, help organise the cultivation in a most rational way and thus accelerate the fullest development of capitalism.

Capitalism invariably reorganises the old feudal land ownerships. It does so, however, by different methods in different countries.

In Germany, the reshaping of medieval forms of landed property proceeded in a reformist way. The feudal estates were slowly converted into Junker estates. In England, this reshaping proceeded in a revolutionary violent way; but the violence was practised for the benefit of landlords; it was practised on the masses of peasants who were taxed to exhaustion and driven from the villages.

In America this reshaping went on in a violent way as regards the slave farms in southern states. There violence was applied against the slave-owning landlords. Their estates were broken up, and the large feudal estates were transformed into small bourgeois farms.

The view that nationalisation is feasible only at a high stage of development of capitalism has been consistently repudiated by Lenin.

Says Lenin, "Theoretically, nationalisation is the ‘ideally’ pure development of capitalism in agriculture. The question whether such a combination of conditions and such a relation of forces as would permit of nationalisation in capitalist society often occur in history is another matter. But nationalisation is not only an effect of, but also a condition for, the rapid development of capitalism. To think that nationalisation is possible only at a very high stage of development of capitalism in agriculture means, if anything the repudiation of nationalisation as a measure of bourgeois progress; for everywhere the high development of agricultural capitalism has already placed on the order of the day (and will in time inevitably place on the order of the day in other countries) the ‘socialisation of agricultural production’, i.e., the socialist revolution. No measure of bourgeois progress, as a bourgeois measure, is conceivable when the class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is very acute. Such a measure is more likely in a young bourgeois country, which has not yet developed its strength, has not yet developed its contradictions to the full, and has not yet created a proletariat strong enough to strive directly towards the socialist revolution. And Marx allowed the possibility of, and sometimes directly advocated, the nationalisation of land, not only in the epoch of the bourgeois revolution in Germany in 1848, but also in 1846 for America, which, as he most accurately pointed out at that time, was only just starting its industrial development. The experience of various capitalist countries gives us no example of the nationalisation of land in anything like its pure form. We see something similar to it in New Zealand, a young capitalist democracy, where there is no evidence of highly developed agricultural capitalism. Something similar to it existed in America when the government passed the Homestead Act and distributed plots of land to small farmers at a nominal rent." (Lenin, Agrarian Programme of Social Democracy)

Marx never mentioned the underdeveloped state of capitalism in agriculture as an obstacle to the achievement of nationalisation. In his Theories of Surplus Value, Marx pointed out that the landowner is an absolutely superfluous figure in capitalist production, that the purpose of the latter is fully answered if the land belongs to the state.

Although in theory the radical bourgeois arrives at the repudiation of private landed property, in practice he is scared of nationalisation, as Marx pointed out, for two reasons.

Firstly, the radical bourgeois lacks the courage to attack private landed property because of the danger of a socialist attack on all private property, i.e., the danger of a socialist revolution.

Secondly, because the bourgeois mode of production has already entrenched itself in private landed property, i.e., that this private property has become far more bourgeois than feudal in developed capitalist countries. When the bourgeoisie, as a class, has already "territorialised itself", "settled on the land’, fully subordinated landed properly to itself, then a genuine social movement of the bourgeoisie in favour of nationalisation is impossible. It is impossible for the simple reason that no class ever goes against itself.

Speaking of Russia, however, Lenin says, "In all these respects the Russian bourgeois revolution finds itself in particularly favourable conditions. Arguing from the purely economic point of view, we must certainly admit the existence of a maximum of survivals of feudalism in Russia. Under such circumstances, the contradiction between relatively developed capitalism in industry and the appalling backwardness of the countryside becomes glaring and, owing to objective causes, makes the bourgeois revolution extremely far-reaching and creates conditions for the most rapid agricultural progress. The nationalisation of the land is precisely a condition for the most rapid capitalist progress in our agriculture. We have a ‘radical bourgeois’ in Russia who has not yet ‘territorialised’ himself, who cannot at present, fear a proletarian ‘attack’. That radical bourgeois is Russian peasant." (Ibid.)

Aren’t the Indian conditions similar to this description of Russian scene?