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Hugo Oehler

The Communists and the Agrarian Crisis

(March 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 12 (Whole No. 108), 19 March 1932, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

(Continued from last issue)

In America the problem of city and country has taken on new dimensions. The 1930 census reports a 68,954,823 urban population and a 53,820,223 rural population. The majority are urban, the overwhelming majority are proletarian while, in the country where we seized power first, the overwhelming majority were peasants. Rural, in no sense means farmers. For example of the rurals only 30,447,229 make up the farm population. In other words the farm population is only 56% of the rural and only 24.8% of the total population. The bourgeois economist presents the problem as though it is about 50–50 for town and country, for “farmers and city people” and the average worker has accepted this trash. The farm population as 24.8% of the total population are by no means farmers. This means all persons living on farms without regard to occupation.

Taking this 24.8% and seeing what makes it up we find it is further narrowed by analysis. Under occupations, gainfully employed, the census lists (1920 figures – the 1930 figures not available, are even more in our favor) as dairy farmers, farmers and stock raisers; 6,201,261, and for dairy farm, farm and stock, laborers; 3,041,027. This means 6 million farmers and 4 million as agricultural workers. But of, these 6 million farmers we find (1920 figures) 2,454,804 as tenant farmers, 1,461,306 as mortgaged farmers and 2,074,325 as farmers owing their farms. However, I am sure the 1930 figures, when published, will show even less farm owners today.

The big agricultural population in the last analysis boils down considerably, and the farmer as an ally does not lose any of his significance but he does lose much of his specific weight for America. The farm population as 24% of the teal (1920) is composed of about 40% agricultural workers, 25% tenant farmers, 15% mortgaged farmers and 20% farm owners. This does not settle the problem and does not prove that the majority are revolutionary. One knows the majority of the American industrial workers are not revolutionary. However, once we obtain a proper perspective it shows the relation of the workers and farmers in the coming revolution.

This block of agricultural workers on cattle raising and dairy farms are not approached as farmers, but are won as workers. They are not allies, they are ours as a class. The varied forms of cropper dirt farmer and tenant farmer which make up the poor and middle farmer are our allies. As for the owners, yes even some of them will make good allies. As for the capitalist farmer – they are not allies, they are enemies and will be treated as such. We will waste no time in winning them over. Our allies lie in the percentage between the agrarian workers and the capitalist farmers. These must be won. Their relation to the workers in the problem of the American revolution is the most “insignificant” any proletariat in any advanced country has to contend with, maybe with the exception of England. In the Russian revolution, the minority, the proletariat, was the decisive force over the overwhelming majority of peasantry. In America a revolution which will release the energies of the American proletariat, who stand as the vast majority will call forth proletarian energy unknown in the past.

America has developed its wheat belt, corn belt, cotton belt and has its agricultural states and its industrial states, but as its stands today, it is of no value for analysis of class forces in the revolution. The line of demarcation between industrial and. agricultural states is of little value, because the most important industrial states are also the most important agricultural producers, too. Agricultural states as such, only have a meaning when the problem is confined within the states, and we show that the products from agriculture are of greater value than the products from industry, etc. But when one compares the amount and value of the products from agriculture with the agricultural products of the leading industrial states, one finds that the industrial states in many cases are more productive in agricultural products than the agricultural states, and where there is a close margin the industrial states make a good showing for themselves. New York Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio and the other important industrial states are also states producing more foodstuffs than the majority of the so-called agricultural states.

The industrial centers where the proletariat, the decisive force of revolution, resides, also has in its immediate vicinity the production of the food supply of first importance for short periods. It is not an easy matter to bottle up a proletariat in an industrial center if power is in their hands, with all the avenues of modern transportation to nearby food supplies. The agricultural worker will do his share and the poor and middle farmer must be won over.

The tremendous grain elevators, meat and food storage plants for the products of the country are controlled by the city and who controls the city controls this supply. American capitalism does not worry about peasant economy holding back on it as do some other capitalist nations with carry overs of natural economy where the rural population can hold without the city. The machine development and its use on American farms in a lesser or greater degree forces the agricultural economy to rest upon the industrial city. The methods of farming, storing, transportation, selling, etc., all bring capitalist agricultural relations under the industrial city to which it is bound and from which American agriculture cannot escape, not retreat, not to mention the financial network that encompasses agriculture and ties it, binds it to the city.

In capitalist countries with feudal carry-overs, with peasant economy still lingering, we have a far more difficult problem. Although at that level, capital has already shown itself to be master of the house, it by no means has a free reign. The peasant economy weighs heavy upon capital and its development, but nevertheless, capital, and in turn the proletarian class is the decisive force in the relationship of the class struggle. What is true in these backward sections,

where the country can eke out an existence even if the city goes to hell, but where in the city cannot continue without the country; is more so true, in developed capitalist countries like America. In fact, however, the problem is turned around. The city needs the country and has safe-guarded this need by a thousand and one ties that bind the country to the city, but the country on the other hand cannot exist without the city, – not in advanced America. Not on the present mode of production. That is only possible by stepping back a stage or two and this is not an overnight step but one which would follow a chaos, when neither capitalist nor proletarian rules.

The very connections of city and countries under developed capitalism give the American proletariat the advantage of the problem of revolution once this is concretely put on the agenda for the seizure of power. The very relation of forces with the overwhelming majority of the population being proletarian and the “farmers” divided into agrarian workers, tenant farmer, mortgaged farmer and capitalist farmer, with a section of the owner-farmer as allies, makes the problem different and in our favor.

The Farmer-Labor Party is reactionary and will only lead the proletariat into the swamp of opportunism, this even Centrism understands now after years of blunders; but the idea of a “Workers and Farmers Government” and the slogan for it that Centrism still peddles, is just as reactionary, and can lead to nothing but national reformism.

The agrarian workers must be won as workers, the middle and poor farmers as allies according to the form of the problem. Negro and white, share cropper, contract farmer, dirt farmer, etc., and the capitalist farmer should not bother us. The agrarian crisis will not let up, even though there will be ebbs and flows, its basic effects will not be remedied through agrarian reforms. For the capitalist system, the remedy is greater concentration and pulling agriculture more into the orbit of capitalist production, putting agriculture more on the basis of an industry of capitalism – but this lets loose dynamite, which has its most deadly explosive, effects not in the country but in the city. For the agrarian worker and our allies, the poor and middle farmers, the remedy is nothing short; of the Proletarian Revolution and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. This is the means of transforming of the negative base of the agriculture industry into an industry of the socialist mode of production, completing Ihe cycle agriculture has passed through – and opening the door to a new positive cycle of its development.

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