From an Irritatingly Orthodox Marxist Viewpoint

Ecological Farming

[One]

Whenever there is a discussion on Minimum Support Price of MSP of Agricultural products two things shadow our mind:

  1. Swaminathan committee report, and
  2. Remunerative price for rice, wheat, sugarcane, etc.

For the first, some must-know issues are – what is that Swaminathan committee? Who made it? And who is that particular Swaminathan?

Swaminathan Committee or Commission whatever that was was floated by the government of India and as usual, the farmers or peasants dis not asked to form that. There is no reason at all to give that such a recognition. And This Swaminathan is that very Swaminathan who was the blue-eyed son of the government of India who and whose mates brought Green Revolution in India.

Government, through its planners, agricultural experts starting from newly recruited grad BSc (Agriculture) extension officers to the most senior level like Dr Swaminathan and his friends, through governments fiscal and monetary measures, and in the backdrop the great chemical and petrochemical complex of the imperialist world, all together ‘persuaded’ the farmer/peasants to this new style of agriculture.

And then what happened in next 40+ years we all know. It is, to say the least, perhaps equal to culpable homicide plus culpable ecocide. And the men on the top, they were not just doing their work through education-persuasion etc gentle ways, they cruelly kicked out famous agricultural scientists like Dr Richaria, a ‘director of institute’ one day found his office room locked by some staff, a doorkeeper may be, because these scientists opposed this ‘green revolution’ the thoroughly unnatural way of agriculture. The upper echelon brainwashed students to think this is the only possible way to save impoverished world from hunger and ‘technology and science’ are colourless.

Now that Dr Swaminathan and other scientists of Green Revolution may say that they erred. But no, it is not such a light crime that one says ‘sorry’ and peasants say ‘okay let’s be friends again’. No. We are not buying any idea from them. The ministers might not have understood anything as they were not students of science and technology field. But scientists cannot be spared so easily by us, the clan of the fighting farmers and peasants. Before you started your “Green Revolution” (and why not that white revolution etc too) at least one book was available from a western country which they consider heaven: “The Silent Spring” [1], and another scientist from East was already experimenting successfully, who was practising natural agriculture “Mu 1: The God Revolution” and then “One Straw Revolution” [2].

Well, even if such doctors prescribe something to us, we shall go to our veterans like Madhav Gadgil or Bharat Jhunjhunwala or Bharat Dogra, to name a few, and teachers like them, as persons like Mira Behn, who could sense ‘Something is wrong in the Himalaya’ way back in 1950 to warn what a ‘little’ change in pant varieties can have a big consequence in nature, such farsighted persons have left this world earlier, and also Dr Agarwal who developed Environmental Engineering in India and dies fasting, praying govt intervention for the life of a river, the Ganga.

We should stop such unmindful slavish reverence as we often do, because we do not have so many degrees and papers and academic credentials.

[Two]

The prescription. “MSP should be at least 50% more than the weighted average cost of production.[3]”

Now MSP was only one out of half dozen major measures suggested by that Swaminathan committee. But now, even the govt want us to forget other measures suggested by their own committee, one of them discussing PDS! (NB: However, it may be recalled that just after PM’s initial announcement, BKU (Ekta Ugrahan) in their initial impromptu reaction mentioned the demand of PDS also, but not from the angle of the Commission’s report.]

Now even if we decide and demand, no, not 50%, but MSP should be 60% more than the weighted average cost of production, using the words “at least 50%” to add weight to our argument — well, well,

what is agriculture or Krishi, as done by millions in our country? Is this Krishi, if we use the western term farming as the ‘meaning’ of that, is Krishi a business? That it should yield say 50 or 60% ‘profit’ over investments and then we shall say it is ‘fair’, it is ‘remunerative’ and so on?

No ladies and gentlemen. Krishi as was practised by millions of us and billions of our ancestors for thousands of years even much before the Mohenjo-Daro and Keeladi and Gangaridai were there, this was not ‘business’, this was a way of life, the first planed interaction of nature and homo sapiens. Reading the first ever text o political-economy ad administration, the Arthashastra, one will not find agriculture was seen or even hinted as a business though there were thriving businesses in those days in Magadha.

This way of treating agriculture as an accumulation machine came much later, may be during the Enclosure period or the time of Physiocrats, well such histories are beyond the scope of this article.

The point is 50% or 60% ‘profit’ over investment cannot save even 20% of our “farmers” which include entrepreneurs or investors-managers-owners of “farms”. It is a question of life and death of nearly a billion. This MSP is only a sedative to them so as to make them forget they own this earth because they work on it feed nearly 1.4 billion+ people. Because 87% of our “farmers” own less than 2 Ha of land. And with 2 Ha you do not do business, you cannot even sustain yourself properly in most cases.

How do our “farmers” live? A cursory look at the following table may give some idea. [Non-Statutory Warning: readers may put that much faith in the authenticity of data by NSSO as much as it is done customarily and as much as desirable.]

Table – I
Average monthly income (Rs.) from different sources per agricultural household during July 2018 – June 2019 for each size class of land possessed (ha.) (Where net receipt is obtained considering ‘paid out expenses’ approach)

size class of land possessed (ha.) income from wages total incomewages as % of total income
 < 0.01 6,435 11,20457.43
 0.01 -0.40 4,491 7,52259.70
 0.40 -1.00 3,906 8,57145.57
 1.01 -2.00 3,647 11,44931.85
 2.01 -4.00 3,548 16,43521.59
 4.01 -10.00 4,273 28,29215.10
 10.00 + 3,943 60,7586.49
 all sizes 4,063 10,21839.76

Source: NSS 77th Round, Page 84 [4]

As we are not experts in capitalist economics, the economics our students read in colleges etc, we cannot and we should not suggest how to make that within this framework of market economics. You cannot trap us like that. It is not the duty of Marxists, revolutionaries, to ‘discover’ ways to survive in this cruel capitalism and then brand that way as a ‘solution’. We have totally different approach towards solution, but sorry, we cannot and will not answer ‘how that can be done under present condition’.

We are eyeing for changing your present condition not reforming it to save you and deceive our folks. It is for you ladies and gentlemen to see how far you can adjust your economics with these ideas, this movement.

And please do not think ‘this movement’ is just a year or couple of years episode. Our teachers Marx and Engels, much before they wrote about the “spectre that is haunting Europe” and “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”, penned such lines: “Workers’ disturbances, which even under the Byzantine Emperor Zeno led to the promulgation of a law (Zeno, de novis operibus constitutio [Decree on New Works]), which “flared up” in the fourteenth century in the form of the Jacquerie and Wat Tyler’s rebellion, in 1518 on the Evil May Day in London, and in 1549 in the great uprising of the tanner Kett.. and later gave rise to Act 15 of the second and third year of the reign of Edward VI, and a series of similar Acts of Parliament; the disturbances which soon afterwards, in 1640 and 1659 (eight uprisings in one year), took place in Paris and which already since the fourteenth century must have been frequent in France and England, judging by the legislation of the time; the constant war which since 1770 in England and since the revolution in France has been waged with might and cunning by the workers against the bourgeoisie — all this exists for Saint Max only “here and there”,..” [5]. Even your celebrated “End of History” could not end our lot and our fate, fate to live through struggles till classes exist.

[Three]

What is the way out, even a temporary one? We shall have to go to that even if we do some very preliminary and rough sketches of some temporary solution, some medicines which may try to keep the patient living till surgery can be completed. But before that we shall have o deal with another ‘correction’. It is regarding: What is this ‘famers’ movement’?

In the year 1987, K Balagopal in a review article wrote, “If farmers who grow commercial crops or a surplus of foodgrains want remunerative prices—or more—for their output there is no reason for anyone to find it surprising or immoral. [6]” This particular paper mentioned is just one of the innumerable examples that could be cited to show how our revered experts analysed the movement. “Farmers movement.” In that very article there is also usage of terms like “rich farmers’ movement”. Then in other articles we found, we learned and many of us used terms like

  • Farmers movement
  • Large or big farmers movement
  • Rich peasants’ movement
  • Kulak’s movement and so on so forth and easily swapped one term with other.

And even in one paper we find: “The widespread emergence of militant “farmers’ movements” in India is primarily a consequence of a new level of politicization among the “middle peasantry” rather than a new militancy among the rural rich. Remunerative prices for agricultural products is the common demand of these movements which have arisen, in isolation from each other and the political parties and leadership, in the late seventies and early eighties. To dismiss them as kulak movements, as is commonly done by many shades of political opinion, ignores, for one, the crucial question of why rich peasants as a whole would need or want to protest publicly when, as most analyses of Indian politics have concluded, they are well represented and their interests well protected by governments at the centre and in the states.” [7]

It may be said ‘what’s in a name’ ‘what’s in a term’ etc? apparently nothing. But really a whole or big difference. We forgot such a concept so ‘dear’ to Marx, Engels, Lenin, that they wanted to abolish that – class. To us kulak or a large farmer or a rich peasant, all ‘same’ to us, might be a person with say 30 hectares, harvesters, trucks, tractors and trailers, employing labourers thousands of man-days a year. A bourgeois practice overwhelmed even the Marxist academicians to accept ‘size classes’ marginal, small, large as social classes (according to relations of production), to forget, for example, what Engels meant by ‘middle classes’ and what was “middle class” that the US govt wanted to make US citizens believe (that they belong to “middle class”), as if middle class is a social class according to Marxist categories. And that meant much. Too much loss. Almost like becoming rudderless.

We can see what happened to Russia, more than a year after revolution was successful, how “conscious” were the Bolsheviks – just a single lecture by Lenin may stun us: “Soviet power demands that the poor do not pay anything, the middle peasants a moderate amount and the rich peasants a lot, although it is, of course, impossible to determine exactly who is rich and who is poor and there have been mistakes, but on the whole the peasants distribute the tax correctly. That’s as it should be.

“…we are in favour of the use of force against the kulak, but not of his complete expropriation, because he farms the land and part of what he has accumulated comes from his own labour. This is a difference that must be fully understood. The complete expropriation of the landowner and capitalists; not all the property of the kulak can be confiscated, there has been no such order; we want to convince the middle peasant and draw him over to us by example and persuasion. That is our programme. If there are deviations from it in the localities, they are infringements of the decrees of Soviet power either by people who do not want to carry out our decrees or by those who do not understand them.” [8] A rich peasant i.e., a Kulak, is a peasant and a peasant is one who does perform basic manual works related to Krishi, otherwise she cannot be a krishak, kisan; if she/he only performs managerial activities he/she can at best be called what Utsa Patnaik had described as “capitalist landlord”. [9]

There is another lecture in the eighth party congress to undo party members’ ideas regarding “middle peasants”.

But even Lenin was shocked, seeing his own ideas regarding, say agricultural labourers, farm labourers in communes or state farms getting shattered in reality. But these are out of the scope of this present discussion.

Anyway, Indian “lefts”, “communists”, swayed from one pole to the opposite. For example, in the twentieth century when they were in power of three states, the parliamentary lefts never came out in support of “remunerative prices”. Again, in journals of CPI (Marxist) or CPI (Maoist) we can find such bourgeois classifications and terms and using those as if like Marxist classification, for example during the 2004 Rajasthan “farmers” movement in which both those parties were interested.

What is the harm if that become acceptable? If one cannot differentiate a peasant, a ‘toiler’ and a landlord, an exploiter of labour and nature, how can one look into what is the meaning of agriculture, to who it is business and to who it is a way of life, a living? A rich peasant is partly a toiler and partly an exploiter of labour of others, and his inclination though in general, in peaceful times, is bourgeois, but it may be worse or otherwise depending on the circumstances and struggles around him, but anyway, our “stand” on MSP does not depend on what this stratum thinks. We are concerned with agricultural labourers, poor peasants (more labourer less owner-peasant) and middle peasant (not net exploiter of other’s labour).

[Four]

As agriculture and agrarian economy evolved in our country (also many others) the old type of ‘peasant’ is no more there. Everybody has to produce for market, sell the produce and buy, with the money got as sales proceed, essential items to live. Even a paddy-producing submarginal farmer (land less than 0.5 Ha) may have to sell all paddy produce and buy rice for family need from market.

This very petty producer is finding it difficult to live in a “simple commodity production” circuit or C – M – C. the second C is becoming less than the first C, and hence most of the “marginal” and “small” farmers have to earn from some out-of-own-farm income, by selling self out. And now even this effort is failing.

In such an absurd condition of living a real solution may be seemingly only apparently absurd solution. Such ‘absurd’ condition compelled Lenin, leader of a small minority, to face the ridicule presented by a minister – is there any party, any person, who can take the challenge and steer the country out of crisis in short term – with a stern answer: yes, we can. And within a month or two he was writing an absurd proposal: The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It. And within another month or two, the Soviet power was proclaimed. Then years of civil war before a somewhat peaceful condition with production level not even half of pre-war days. But somehow, they could reach pre-war level production within another couple of years. Such quick march may bring exhaustion, may distort the functioning of limbs or parts, that is a different thing.

So, what is the way out now? We should try best not to be a doctor to suggest that patients can live well under this imperialist capitalist system, all ‘solutions’ will be half-hearted, tasteless like half-baked bread and perhaps also bad in terms of metabolism. In this context we may take up and examine proposals, like one published only recently: “There is, in addition, a growing consensus among economists for guaranteeing minimum “incomes”, as against “prices”, to farmers. That would essentially entail making more direct cash transfers either on a flat per-acre (as in the Telangana government’s Rythu Bandhu scheme) or per-farm household (the Centre’s PM-Kisan) basis.” [10] These 47 words came at the very end of a thousand-word interview, but interestingly and sadly these words will remain mostly unseen, will not get importance after 950+ ‘pragmatic’ words!

If we opt for pragmatism, we must be ready to jump in a disorder, a turmoil, named free market of tis neo-liberal world. In this free market, postulations or assumptions of perfect competition and its price mechanisms are not only childishly foolish but deceptive. If we calculate all input costs which are controlled by the sellers, except ‘wages’ (ant this is important, we shall have to look into this different factor) and then provide a legal mechanism for guaranteeing minimum 50% “profit”, we know how much “relief” peasants will get from our past experiences, because the legal framework in no relief in itself. A “legal” MSP will ensure legally a bare minimum existence and also ensure that there will be Depeasantisation, pauperisation, flight to towns to live in shanties if that is “living” at all, and may other collaterals that market economy freely provide. It might almost be like — You do not want to hang yourself at village? Well, go to Tirupur and do that there.

Even if Legal MSP is guaranteed, that will also bring salvation. The capitalists who produce/supply all inputs and also other “necessities of life”, will pressurise for more accumulation, more profit and will increase prices of inputs and necessities. It will put pressure of peasants. Peasants will then (according to MSP logic) demand higher MSP and that in turn put pressure on both peasants and non-peasant toilers confronting as price rise. If govt subsidises all inputs, subsidies will come from exchequer and it will also be sucked from peasants and non-peasant toilers by indirect taxes. The vicious cycle of this capitalism will not let people stay in peace.

Now we can look from a different way. Agriculture, or farming, for the peasants is not a business. A peasant is a toiler who produce wealth naturally coupling with Nature. And that wealth produced in agriculture is not some pieces of promissory notes, it is the material for first two basic needs of society, food and clothing. It is the duty of the society to give peasants all the five or six basic needs as gratitude to the peasants. What society as a whole and so also the peasants may ask is – as it is still a capitalist system which can only deal with categories like commodity, value/price, exchange, money, profit and so on so forth – we can temporarily, till we get rid of capitalism, we may demand, on ad hoc basis:

  1. Govt take away the peasant’s produce the peasant wants to give, in exchange of her needs to sustain life, family and also agriculture (taking the simple commodity production cycle), and
  2. Govt supply peasants with all needs to sustain life, family and also agriculture.
  3. Govt should regulate industries, markets, prices and then that will not be capitalism per se, but even capitalism had to take recourse of such ‘perversions’ or ‘deviations’ in some situation in some countries. Also, a workers-peasants power or state can do that, but then, just because the ‘power’ in in the hand of ‘workers-peasants’ it will not be socialism per se [read the note given in 11] and can be done under capitalism, though with concussions, and the situation will be – either you perish capitalism or capitalism will perish you, same as now, but in a more vivid and blatant manner.

That is government should act as the intermediary, we transgress the state of absolute power of capitalism-imperialism as much present balance of forces permit, by the sheer force of struggle. If govt acts as intermediary, working as representative of the society, the peasants then can also think of going a step forward, forming their own collective agency, some form of cooperative, knowing fully well that cooperatives are also not socialist, those do not demand abolition of peasants’ ownership on land, rather a peasant has a ‘stake’, in proportion to land contributed to cooperative. Those not having land and also those having land has another type of ‘stake’ which will allow them earning, if land (nature) owners have stake so do the ‘human labour’ owners, i.e., owner of that another factor that creates all wealth, other than nature.

So much so with absurdities – because much before reaching this point readers may ask, well, tell concrete steps what can be done. And this also shows the ‘balance of forces’ as reflected in the domain of consciousness, that many constituents and supporters of this struggle are not yet ready to think of transgressing boundarie of capitalism at this juncture.

So, what will happen ultimately? As because the outcome does not solely depend of negotiation in round tables in some cool or cosy room, but depends more on what has happened and is happening in the streets. Things as they stand now may permit the movement to wrench some concession in the form of MSP be that becomes legal or not. Here also there will be ‘battle’, how many types of crops will have MSP coverage, 7, 17, 37 or 73 or so. Will all pulses, all oil seeds, all major vegetables (including potatoes, onions, etc) be covered? We saw the sufferings of Himachal apple growers, even if we are not aware at all of what is happening to Kashmir Apple agriculture.

It is not the duty of political organisations to specify such things, particularly when we have so many courageous food-producer fighters and a leadership that is wise and able, that could think of and steer such a big struggle which could never be done by ay coalition of parliamentary parties or the coalition of farmers organisation controlled by those parties – we have seen many such farmers’ struggle in the past 5 years including that “Tamil Nadu Farers Struggle” of 2017 that brough much gimmicks to be always visible in the bourgeois media (including the bourgeois owned controlled “social media”), including the Kisan Kranti Yatra of 2018 done by BKU controlled by Tikait, the Nasik-Mumbai march conducted by AIKS, the farmers movement under the aegis of Yogendra Yadav led co-ordination, etc. This farmers’ struggle has some constituents with some controlling power which were not present in this mode in previous struggles, or any “farmers struggle” whatsoever since Sharad Joshi days, (of course we exclude here the stream of “peasants” struggle that we had previously, the main demands of which was land to the tiller, abolition of zamindari (expropriation without compensation) forfeiture of usurers and loans, etc).

Therefore, there will be MSP, as much concession that can be wrenched by this struggle will be tried by the leadership, who will represent the battle of millions in the street that was going on for more than a year. And all fighting toilers must know that MSP will not solve the problem of their lives except providing a temporary relief.

[The next Part of Discussion]

In the next part of this discussion, we can go deeper into MSP issue on various aspects not discussed here, e.g.,

What about Price of Labour Power in Agriculture and allied activity? That is the ‘product’ farm labourers and other village labourer sell. What about its MSP? To some extent that could be influenced by the wage of 100-days-work. But that NREGA is very sickly nowadays, governments and parliamentary parties are not at all serious about this. During the last couple of years this govt misfunction added with covid made much downward pressure on wages. In many industries inside and just outside rural areas in WB, wages have gone down to ₹135-175 per day for even 10-12 hours work! In strictly agricultural operations, at times, somewhat better wages can still be had as there are pressure to finish a big operation in a very short period, and vagaries of nature, etc. but overall, the picture is bleak. This is leading to push in migration to some high-paying (and also culturally amicable) state like Kerala. But there is a limit as to how much ‘labour’ Kerala needs.

Then there are some difficult problems in agricultural field too. Does an average Marginal famer mean anything concrete? How varying can be the farmers included in this category of Marginal farmers. It is very much necessary as MSP will bring different result for different constituents belonging to the same category, “Marginal Farmer”.

What are other very important questions that are haunting our peasants but are not being discussed, questions that are relegated to some obscure corner – and this is regarding Agriculture, Nature and human-nature relations and their distortions. Panjab’s ad Haryana’s irrigation problem, condition of groundwater, etc are alarming. There are other such important issues too, and we cannot simply afford not to see that and instead focus on prices, subsidies, procurement etc etc. Can our agricultural practice that is being done now, continue? What abut Genetically Modified crops? What about newer type of pest infections? What about monoculture. We cannot avoid such issues in the name of pragmatism. We have seen pragmatic summer paddy production for 40-50 years in West Bengal, say. And how that very ‘scientific’ marvel generated another scientific mishap, Arsenic in drinking water is an issue one cannot avoid. How pesticide/insecticide can endanger peasants and all villagers and how insecticide production can generate exceptionally devastating accident as Bhopal (that Dec 3 of 1984) are things we cannot pretend to think those as ‘not important right now’.

[Sources]

[1] Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson, 1962.
[2] The One-Straw Revolution, by Masanobu Fukuoka, English Version 1978

[3] https://prsindia.org/policy/report-summaries/swaminathan-report-national-commission-farmers

[4] Situation Assessment of Agricultural Households and Land and Livestock Holdings of Households in Rural India, 2019. NSS 77th Round. September 2021

[5] The German Ideology, by Marx and Engels, 1845

[6] An Ideology for the Provincial Propertied Class, by K Balagopal,

Economic and Political Weekly September 5-12, 1987

[7] Sharad Joshi and the Farmers: The Middle Peasant Lives! by Cornelia Lenneberg, Pacific Affairs, Vol. 61, No. 3 (Autumn, 1988), pp. 446-464

[8] Speech at Session of The Petrograd Soviet, March 12, 1919, by V. I. Lenin

https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1919/mar/12.htm

[9] Class Differentiation within the Peasantry – An Approach to Analysis of Indian Agriculture Utsa Patnaik EPW Vol. 11, Issue No. 39, 25 Sep, 1976

[10] Explained: What meeting MSP demand would cost govt

The unions want the Modi government to enact legislation conferring mandatory status to MSP, rather than just being an indicative or desired price. Harish Damodaran | New Delhi | November 29, 2021 https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/what-meeting-msp-demand-would-cost-govt-farm-laws-7646398/

[11] Comrades, may I thank you all for your greetings and ask you to accept my greetings to your Congress. (Stormy applause.) Allow me to digress before dealing with the subject that directly concerns the work and tasks of this Congress and what the Soviet state expects of it.

As I was coming in through your hail just now, I saw a placard with this inscription: “The reign of the workers and peasants will last for ever.” When I read this odd placard, which, it is true, was not up in the usual place, but stood in a corner-perhaps it had occurred to someone that it was not very apt and he had moved it out of the way when I read this strange placard, I thought to myself: there you have some of the fundamental and elementary things we are still confused about. Indeed, if the reign of the workers and peasants would last for ever, we should never have socialism, for it implies the abolition of classes; and as long as there are workers and peasants, there will be different classes and, therefore, no full socialism. And as I pondered over the fact that three and a half years after the October Revolution we still have such odd placards (even if they are shifted out of the way) it occurred to me that there may still be great misunderstanding of the most common slogans in popular use. Take one of our most popular slogans which we all variously repeat: we all sing about our present fight being the last and decisive one. But I am afraid that if we were to ask a large section of the Communists against whom they are now waging this last battle (not the last one, of course, that’s putting it on a bit thick, but one of the last and crucial ones) 1 am afraid only a few would give the right answer showing a clear understanding against what, or whom, we are now waging one of our last and decisive battles. It also seems to me that, in view of the political events which have caught the attention of the broad masses of workers and peasants, we ought once again to ascertain, or, at any rate, try to ascertain, against whom we are waging one of our last and crucial battles this spring, at this very moment. Let me go over this point.

Speech Delivered At The All-Russia Congress Of Transport Workers, March 27, 1921, V. I. Lenin. https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1921/mar/27.htm

Sandeep Banerjee is an activist who writes on political and socioeconomic issues and also on environmental issues. Some of his articles are published in Frontier Weekly. He lives in West Bengal, India. Presently he is a research worker. He can be reached at sandeepbanerjee00@gmail.com

 


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