Translated and Edited by Mike Baker: published by the
Movement for Workers' Councils, London 1990.
Marked up by Jonas Holmgren for the Marxists Internet Archive.
It is a well-known principle that every new society is born within the womb of the old. In the course of its tempestuous development, the capitalist system has brought into being an ever more powerful and concentrated productive apparatus, in the course of which on the one hand the numbers of bourgeois proprietors of industry, in whose hands control over that apparatus is concentrated, becomes ever more restricted; whilst, on the other hand, the army of the proletarians grows continually to an unheard of degree. This development simultaneously creates the conditions which ultimately lead to the fall of capitalism. The necessary precondition for this unrelenting growth in the numerical size of the proletariat is an ever more intensive concomitant rate of exploitation, whilst at the same time the general insecurity of material existence keeps equal pace with this. (See K. Marx: Wage Labour & Capital). Under these conditions there remains for the proletariat to an ever increasing degree only one solution: communism.
However, if we observe along side this development in industry that simultaneously taking place in agriculture, then we perceive a completely different picture. In spite of all the prophesies that the same degree of concentration would also become a feature of the agricultural economy, and that the small and middle peasants would to an increasing degree be ruined and destroyed by large agrarian consortia, in reality little has been seen of such a development. Not only the middle peasants but even the small ones have managed to hold their ground, whilst nothing has been seen of any developments similar to those depicted above. In fact, the very opposite has been the case; recent decades have actually witnessed a significant increase in the numbers of small-scale holdings in agriculture.
The course taken by agricultural development has brought a big disappointment for the theoreticians of State communism. Whilst, in industry, the labour process has acquired an ever more pronounced social character, the agricultural economy has, in their opinion, remained isolated and backward. Whilst in industry the productive establishments have become ever more "mature" for communism, as they perceive it, in the agricultural sector of the economy production relations have simply refused to become "mature" in preparation for central State administration.
In the eyes of the State communists, agriculture for this reason is and remains an active barrier to the establishment of a communist society. Our opinion, on the contrary, is that capitalism is creating the conditions for communism in the most thoroughgoing way, in agriculture as well as in the rest of the economy. It all depends upon where one's vantage point lies: whether one envisages placing the responsibility for the administration of agricultural production in the hands of a central government office, or whether one understands that it will be carried out be the producers themselves.
To begin with, it is necessary to examine present-day agriculture very carefully. There is no doubt that here we do not find the same colossal concentration of production as it has been observed to be the case in industry. However, in spite of this fact, agricultural cultivation has become capitalist through and through.
Commodity production is the characteristic hallmark of the capitalist mode of production. Commodities are use-values which the producer, given the conditions of private ownership of the means of production, does not produce for his own use but for the use of others. The producer of commodities creates precisely those articles which he himself does not require and he consumes precisely those which he himself has not produced. It is in the market that the general exchange of commodities takes place. Insofar as the producer of commodities has not produced for his own use but for that of society, his labour is social labour. In the great social process of exchange, all commodity producers are bound together, they live in complete mutual dependence and thus form an integral whole.
For the peasant economy of bygone ages, however, the production of commodities was only a subsidiary activity. The isolated domestic economy of the peasant satisfied virtually his entire requirements from within its own resources. The peasant laboured for his own family circle. His production was not socially interdependent. So long as he was able to obtain the tools necessary for his production from his own labour, the circle of his productivity extended no further than the narrow limits of his farmyard. Only that which was not required for his own use, his surplus production, was destined for the market, whereby those products then acquired the character of commodities. The peasant economy thus formed no part of general social labour, and this also provides the explanation for the independent conditions of existence typical of the peasantry.
Commodity production on an industrial scale has broken up these isolated economic conditions. Whereas on the one hand capitalism has scattered a plethora of cheap products over the entire land, on the other hand the development of capitalism has had the effect of raising the average level of agricultural rent, whilst simultaneously the State has demanded ever higher taxes. It forms no part of our task here to pursue the course through which the destruction of the isolated peasant economy has been carried out (see Rosa Luxemburg: The Accumulation of Capital). Here we need take note only of the result, which has become ever clearer for all to see: the peasant has found himself in need of more and more money-capital in order to be able to discharge his economic obligations. He can, however, obtain such money-capital only be motivating himself as a commodity producer, by bringing more and more products to the market. To achieve this aim, two methods were open to him: either it was necessary for him to consume less whilst productivity remained static; or else he was compelled to raise the productivity of his labour. To whittle down his consumption, like a peasant of the old stamp, proved to be an impossibility. Thus an increase in productivity presented itself to be the sole solution.
It was at this point that the economists began to go astray on their speculations for the future. They assumed the same course of development for the agricultural economy as had occurred in industry. In industry, an ever higher level of productivity was reached by means of the amalgamation of many capitals, by means of ever more modern and more productive machinery which could only find application in huge establishments. They believed that the same processes of concentration would of necessity take place in agriculture. According to this vision, the small and middle peasants were destined in the main to disappear, whilst the decisive role in the agricultural economy would devolve upon vast agrarian combines.
In this respect, then, our economists have erred. An understandable error perhaps, because they were able to base their forecasts only upon the known possibilities. What is especially noteworthy, however, is that it was industrial development itself, which in their scheme of things was destined to bring about economic concentration in the agricultural economy, which in fact prepared the ground for the completely different course taken by agrarian development. The chief instruments responsible for raising the productivity of agricultural production to such a significant degree were in particular the motor vehicle, artificial fertilisers and the application of agrarian science. As a result of modern fertilisation methods the inherent fertility of the land began to play a subordinate role, the yield per hectare grew enormously, by which means the peasant was enabled to deliver a much greater volume of commodities to the market than previously, whilst at the same time modern methods of communication provided the general means of transport. Simultaneous with the increase of the yield per hectare another factor of tremendous significance began to play a role. As soon as production has been placed on a scientific foundation, the phenomenon of specialisation makes its appearance as a compelling imperative. "The specialist, as a cave-dweller, perceives only a tiny ray of light in the entire universe, but that one ray he sees extremely clearly", says Multatuli, somewhere or other. Thus we see that the peasant arranges his affairs in such a way that he supplies only one particular product, but in that narrow field he achieves the very highest level of productivity of which modern science and his own financial resources are capable. He organises his production on the basis of this narrow specialisation, that is to say, he procures just those tools and equipment which he needs for that specific product.
The above describes the situation over a large part of Western Europe. The characteristics described above are seen in their most pronounced form in Holland and Denmark, whilst France, England and Germany follow closely behind in the move towards specialisation. In the case of livestock rearing and vegetable farming in the immediate environs of the larger cities, the transition to this type of agriculture has been carried through to completion in the above countries. The peasant, or farmer, has therewith become a commodity producer in the fullest sense of the word. He no longer brings merely his surplus product to the market, but his whole output. He produces that which he himself does not require, and he consumes precisely those products which he himself has not created. Thus he labours not for himself, but for others, for society, and with the completion of that process his labour has become fully integrated with social labour in general. The closed domestic economy has been destroyed by specialisation, and the agrarian economy has been transformed into a sector of industrial production.
Even if the peasant has remained to some extent the owner of his own small piece of land, his general economic situation has, along with this, deteriorated to an enormous degree. Nevertheless, under favourable market conditions he can still make profitable transactions. The difference is that he is now totally dependent upon the fluctuations of the market. Furthermore, he is now highly vulnerable to the vagaries of nature, and poor weather conditions in one year or disease in a particular crop in the next, or any one among many factors outside his control, can ruin him completely.
These uncertainties of economic experience may indeed also apply to the sphere of industrial production - with this important difference, however: that the latter in not so strongly dependent upon natural conditions. In the case of industry, productivity was increased to such a degree that accelerated accumulation was made possible through the application of ever more productive machinery, the final outcome of which was a process of concentration of industrial holdings. In the case of agriculture, however, increases in productivity held for the peasant a totally different significance, one which nevertheless was also dependent on the level of technology in combination with the specific production conditions in the individual farm enterprises. In the case of agriculture, accumulation was made possible through the availability of artificial fertilisers, motor vehicles and tractors and the organisation of production around a specialised product.
Hand in hand with the above developments a further phenomenon made its appearance. In order to achieve as strong a position in the market as possible, the peasants combined into peasant cooperatives, by which means they were enabled to exert a closer control over price policy and so were able by collective means to procure improved machinery for soil preparation and harvesting. Thus livestock farmers, for instance, were able to establish for themselves dairy farms, which became the means by which this industry was directly integrated with that of livestock rearing. As a result, dairy farming has now become the focal centre dominating a wide circle of subordinate forms of production. In this way the farmers have created an organ which indissolubly binds them all together. By these means not only arable farming and livestock rearing, but also horticulture have become strongly concentrated, whilst at the same time there can be no question of any amalgamation of enterprises in the industrial sense of the word having taken place.
In summarising the above, it must be observed that contemporary agriculture is characterised by a strong degree of specialisation and has also developed into the stage of full commodity production for the market. Increases in production were made possible by modern technology, without however bringing about any equivalent and simultaneous degree of concentration in the ownership of enterprises. A parallel development has been the growth of peasant cooperatives, which link the various separate farming enterprises together by creating areas of common economic interest. At the same time, this leads to a loss of independence on the part of the peasants (for instance, the frequent loss of the right to dispose as they wish of their product).