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.
The course of development sketched out above has prevented the formation of a numerous agrarian proletariat. Even if this proletariat is much larger numerically than the number of peasant proprietors, it is nevertheless a very long way from reaching the relatively overwhelming proportional size represented by the masses of the industrial proletariat in relation to the bourgeoisie. A further factor to be noted is that class contradictions in the countryside do not assume so sharp or prominent a form, precisely because the small and middle peasant works alongside the other members of his family. Whereas in the cities, forms of ownership have led to pure parasitism, in the case of small and middle peasant enterprise this is not the case. For all these reasons the prospect of a proletarian revolution in the countryside is beset by much more difficult problems than its counterpart in the cities. Nevertheless, a closer examination reveals that the perspective's are by no means as hopeless as they appear at first glance. It goes without saying that there is in the countryside a relatively large number of peasant owners, but these latter know perfectly well at bottom their status is not much more than that of agents of bank capital, whilst at the same time the burden of economic insecurity weighs very heavily upon them. On the other hand, it is undoubtedly true that the peasant proprietor will never be in the vanguard of the struggle for communism. The economic position which he holds, however, compels him to link up with those social groups which at any given moment are dominant in the economy. The precondition for this is, nevertheless, that he is not driven from his house and farmyard, and that he is not excluded from management and administration of his productive resources. The proletarian revolution can have no truck with rent or mortgage debts, since only the Average Social Reproduction Time (ASRT) of the products forms the basis of all economic relations, and to this extent at least the peasant question takes on a form which, as far as the Association of Free and Equal Producers is concerned, is perhaps not as anomalous as in the relationship of the so-called "mature" industrial establishments towards communism.
The fact that the peasant has become a commodity or market producer is a matter of the very greatest significance for the revolution, and the so-called "fear of the peasant" can to a great extent be attributed to the fact that the real position of the contemporary peasant has to a large extent been misunderstood. For instance, reference is often made to the fact that the proletariat is dependent upon the peasantry for its food supplies, and that, for that reason, it would be unwise to adopt too openly pronounced socio-economic measures against them.
These fears, however, rest upon an estimation of the situation in the agrarian economy which derives from a period now past. The question tends to be understood in such a way as to suggest that the peasant is still the peasant of earlier times and not the developed market producer that he is today, who brings to market not only the surplus output yielded by his isolated domestic economy but the whole of his product. In present day society the proletariat is no longer dependent upon the peasantry; indeed, the opposite is more the case. Should the peasants fail to deliver their product to the proletariat, then they themselves become as much a victim of hunger as the proletariat does, however paradoxical this may seem. In the final outcome, the peasant is compelled to sell his product, for the simple reason that he only produces that which he himself does not require and is compelled to consume that which he does not produce.
One often hears the observation that the peasant would rather feed his product to the animals than sell it under conditions of compulsion. This also represents a misunderstanding, one which rests upon an obsolete view reflecting the old isolated domestic peasant economy. Apart from auxiliary adjuncts, the livestock peasant possesses nothing but livestock, whilst the arable farmer possesses grain but no livestock, the chicken farmer several hundreds of chickens but no livestock, the vegetable farmer only a definite number of varieties of vegetables, and so on. They are all specialists.
In addition to the above, one often hears the fear expressed that, in the event of a revolutionary social transformation, the peasant would refuse to continue to cultivate his land; in other words, that he would attempt to return to the isolated domestic economy of earlier historical periods. But this path also is one that is closed to him. Even the most ingenious peasant is hardly so resourceful as to be able to move backwards 100 years and produce with his own labour everything that he needs. He cannot do this because he disposes neither of the necessary skills nor the tools required. Once the process of the socialisation of labour has been completed, no one section of the community is able to withdraw from it. Any movement backwards becomes impossible. From whatever direction one may view the matter, the peasantry forms a part of the crew manning the ship of society, and will sink or sail with it.