Rethinking the agrarian question in the capitalist epoch in the Global South

By Ruzivo Benza.

WHEN the colonized people of Africa took up arms to wage wars of liberation, it was not only to free themselves from the shackles of colonial bondage and attain political independence.

The fight also sought to improve societal standing from a highly unequal one to a just egalitarian community.

While political independence was achieved throughout the continent, the fight for equality is far from over.

Former colonialists have to a greater extent maintained a grip on their former colonies, prescribing policies that appear very helpful for economic growth but seeking to degrade Africa and its people, creating highly unequal societies.

The economic policy of neoliberalism is one weapon that has been used to fight developing nations in the post independent epoch.Through its prescriptions, it has led to the creation of global inequality and oppression.

The question becomes, what needs to be done to deal with oppression and inequality in the contemporary political setting. This question has been referred to as the agrarian question. Philosophers like Marx, Lenin and Mao proffered various suggestions on how oppression and inequality should be dealt with.

For Marx, the working class had to find ways of convincing the many peasants that they also represented them in their revolutionary politics. The national question concerned liberation of everyone but agrarian question was linked to leading to a socialist system.

Eventually after independence rural development became popular’ in other words the actions of the state would develop the rural people. Usually the agrarian question is thought of as an issue of state politics or development rather than politics.

This approach is usually referred to as the political economy approach and resulted mainly from Marxist approaches before neoliberalism became popular. As for Lenin he critiqued what he called ‘economism’.

Economism entailed a reduction of politics to political-economic structures in particular workers. For Lenin politics had to revolve around the idea of creating the conditions for the deepest and most widespread forms of democracy in both state and society.

Lenin feared that a particular group would compromise on democracy thus leaving traits of oppression. The oppressed had to push democracy to its utmost limits.

The greater and more extensive the democratic change the better this would be for particular groups like workers. In this Neocosmos (2016: 265) would argue that “in developing an understanding of politics in Africa today we need to foreground a theory of politics and not derive politics from political economy”.

For Mao socialism and communism were driven primarily by poor peasants and so the peasantry was not a ‘problem’ as such; neither could politics be simply fused with the social; as the poor peasantry was not a proletariat.

Mass mobilization under the direction of the communist Party would enable the poor peasants to stand up for themselves- to fanshen – to constitute themselves as a 1920s onwards China was shaken by mass peasant rebellions.

Mao went further than Lenin advocating the unity of the party with the masses. Lenin’s ideas were founded on an analysis of statism on peasants in Russia; Mao had studied a peasant movement in his home province.

Lenin began with political economy Mao with political rebellion. For Mao the proletariat is not formed by party policy.

It is not just the party but also the army has a role in politicizing; in mass mobilization; organizing peasants; implementing party directives- the revolutionary war is a war of the masses.

For Mao it’s rarely an agrarian question or peasant problem. Peasants are not the problem but the solution. Mao targeted to incorporate poor peasants more than rich peasants while firmly opposed to landlordism political force.

When the agrarian question came to Africa the arguments had now become integrated to modernization and stripped of popular/majority agency.

Demands incompatible with national unity were sidelined e.g. Zimbabwe and Tanzania did not have a mass peasant movement but several community groups that were brought into the nation.

The first period of agrarian reforms with clear state control over the land (African socialisms) took place between 1945 and 1980, but then a second period started in which market agrarian reforms have prevailed.

This work synthesizes agrarian structural reform policies (property systems and land tenure) between 1980 and 2016 in African countries, especially those that had or have bureaucratic bourgeoisie governments (one-party and/or African socialist).

The two periods are complementary, rather than being opposed to each other, as state agrarian reforms smoothed the path to market agrarian reforms.

Although there is not yet sufficient empirical research on the results of the agrarian reforms implemented during this period, our hypothesis is that they are helping to: increase the unequal structure of property; develop tenure systems and non-capitalist contractual labor relations in new ways, both non-associative (the grabbing of vast tracts of land) and associative (renewed control of customary lands by traditional authorities); and force peasant expropriation and the subsequent increase in the number of landless non-proletarianized peasants.

Therefore, the problem of poor agrarian structures in Africa is still unresolved. I recommend for politics that is inclusionary as the politics is for the people so they have to enjoy the benefits its activities in order to reduce disparity gaps between the rich and the poor.

Representation is no bad but let the peasants be represented by the peasants and elite be represented by the elite, as needs and wants vary to the level of availability of resources.

Failure to do so entails that the agrarian question remains unanswered. – Zimbabwe Voice

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