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Journal of Agrarian Change, Vol. 4 Nos. 1 and 2, January and April 2004, pp. 190 225.

190 Henry Bernstein

Changing Before Our Very Eyes: Agrarian Questions and the Politics of Land in Capitalism Today

This paper endorses the criticisms of neo-classical populism and its advocacy of redistributive land reform provided by other contributions to this special issue of the Journal, to which it adds several further points. If GKI propose a version of an agrarian question of small or family farming, and its resolution through a familiar (Chayanovian) path of development, much of the critique rests, in one way or another, on the classic agrarian question in capitalist transition, in effect the agrarian question of capital in which the agrarian question of labour was once subsumed. Here the question is posed whether, in the conditions of contemporary globalization and its tendency to the fragmentation of labour, there might be a new agrarian question of labour, now detached from that of capital, and which generates a new politics of struggles over land (and its distribution). Even to conceive of this question is beyond the analytical and political eld of vision of neo-classical populism. Some of the dimensions of an agrarian question of labour are illustrated in a brief consideration of recent, and highly contradictory, events in Zimbabwe: a unique case of comprehensive, regime-sanctioned, conscatory land redistribution in the world today. Keywords: agrarian question, capitalism, land reform, Zimbabwe INTRODUCTION At the core of current debates about land reform are diverging ideas about productivity and productivity growth in farming; rural poverty and its reduction; employment and employment generation in the countryside and the links between these concerns as well as, to varying degrees, their (inter-sectoral) links with accumulation and growth in the wider economy. Positions in these debates are registered in contestations of the coherence and plausibility of different theoretical approaches and arguments, the methodologies of their testing, and evaluation of the evidence they deploy. All this is evident in the article on Poverty and the Distribution of Land by Keith Grifn, Azizur Rahman Khan
Henry Bernstein, Department of Development Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG, UK. e-mail: hb4@soas.ac.uk I am grateful to T.J. Byres for comments that prevented certain errors and improved presentation; problems that remain are entirely (and obstinately) of my own making. Blackwell Publishing Ltd, Henry Bernstein and Terence J. Byres 2004.

Agrarian Questions and the Politics of Land in Capitalism Today 191 and Amy Ickowitz (2002; hereafter GKI) and the various responses to it presented in this special issue. While the object of current debate, land reform, of course, has a much longer history in relation to agrarian questions in transitions to capitalism and transformations of capitalism, and the times and places of these world-historical processes (Bernstein 2002), it also has a broader history in the sense that the economic concerns noted are intimately, and inevitably, bound up with ideas about inequality and social (in)justice and the political struggles informed by such ideas. The potency of models inspired by particular historical experiences consists in how they are generalized and applied, explicitly or implicitly; whether such application facilitates or hinders analysis of the dynamics of other times and places, including what may be changing before our very eyes;1 and the implications of such analysis for the real worlds of politics. THE AGRARIAN QUESTION OF THE FAMILY FARM(ER) Dj Vu The basic continuity of GKI with Grifns work of three decades ago is traced by T.J. Byres in his contribution to this special issue, as are aspects of its longer historical lineage. Grifns The Political Economy of Agrarian Change appeared in 1974, a few years before Michael Liptons highly inuential Why Poor People Stay Poor in 1977. The apt term neo-classical populism was coined in a review of Grifn (1974) by Scott (1977), and Byres (1979) subjected Lipton (1977) to an extensive and powerful critique that remains a landmark in the trajectory of the debate. Grifn (1974) and Lipton (1977) converged in much of their analysis, argument and advocacy, and still do. GKIs recent (re)statement of the case for redistributive land reform is the stimulus to this special issue; Liptons voice, more anonymously but no less recognizably, permeates the International Fund for Agricultural Developments global Rural Poverty Report 2001 (IFAD 2001), of which he was the intellectual architect (see also Sender and Johnston). To a large extent then, so far so familiar: the dj vu observed by Byres. As he summarizes the core of neo-classical populism: The emphasis upon unequal distribution of land, other productive resources and political power, and the preoccupation with egalitarian solutions, is archetypally populist; the stress upon factor market imperfections and efciency is quintessentially neo-classical. (p. 25) The theoretical model, analytical methods, and use of evidence by GKI are subjected to wide-ranging criticism in other contributions to this special issue. Here I add some additional comments.

This phrase is adapted from T.J. Byress paper in this special issue; hereafter citations without dates of Bramall, Byres, Dyer, Karshenas, Khan, Kitching and Sender and Johnston, refer to their contributions to this special issue of the Journal.


Henry Bernstein

Some Twists and Turns Grifn (1974) and Lipton (1977) were published in a particular conjuncture in the career of modern development discourse, a moment towards the end of the golden age of post-war developmentalism, whose presumption (across a wide ideological spectrum) of state-led development was about to give way to the subsequent, and gathering, ascendancy of neo-liberalism. How then have they adapted, or shaded, recent versions of their argument for redistributive land reform in todays conditions of the hegemony of neo-liberalism? As noted elsewhere (Bernstein 2002, 448, 458 note 64), and whether for reasons of expediency or conviction, Liptons adaptation appears more extensive, not least in embracing the World Banks current stance on the benets of new wave market-led land redistribution (and its associated baggage): Previous land reform programmes have been unduly conscatory. New wave land reform . . . is decentralized, market-friendly and involves civil society action and consensus (IFAD 2001, 75); Lipton likewise envisaged a consensual reduction of the worlds most severe (and most racialized) inequality through (new wave) land reform in post-apartheid South Africa (Lipton et al. 1996b, x).2 GKI present an apparently more radical political stance. They recognize that major land reforms in modern history have typically resulted from social and political upheavals; they reject notions that reform on the scale they advocate can result from market-driven processes; they recommend the necessity of conscation, or otherwise low-cost acquisition, of large-scale landholdings in many circumstances; indeed, they present their conception of land reform as a redistribution of wealth (assets) effected by political means.3 Nonetheless, what is wrapped in this more radical cloth is a package of familiar argument from neo-classical economics, and claiming the support of evidence which is strongly contested by most of the contributions presented here, not least in relation to the inverse relationship (between farm size and land productivity) that features so centrally in contemporary neo-populism (see Byres, Dyer, Khan and Sender and Johnston, in particular). The key point is that having invoked more radical political means for effecting land reform to establish an egalitarian agrarian structure of small (family) farms, with appropriate measures of support (principally removing urban bias and industrialization bias), the future of small-scale farming is then projected as a seamless reproduction of the virtuous equilibrium established especially, as GKI (2002, 315) stress, where

On new wave land reform see Deere and Len (2001) and Borras (2003), and the many references therein; also Sender and Johnston. 3 These positions resonate more oppositional currents in the populist tradition manifested, for example, in GKIs declaration that Land reform is not a technocratic exercise; it is a transforming political event (2002, 317). GKI combine this stance with more technocratic currents, based in neo-classical economics, and in which Lipton is evidently located (Bernstein 2002, 44950). It is also interesting that their theoretical case for land redistribution focuses so strongly not just on its (self-) employment and income benets (as does Liptons), but also on an argument about agricultural labour markets and labour regimes, if hardly consistently or convincingly so (see Khan, and further below).

Agrarian Questions and the Politics of Land in Capitalism Today 193 market forces are given considerable room to operate. This, of course, resonates the rationale of a Chayanovian path of development (the resolution of the agrarian question of the small/family farm). And timeless as well as seamless, one expression of the notably static quality of their model emphasized by Byres and Dyer to which I would add this observation. Apparently robust forms of family farming (petty commodity production, middle peasantry, etc.) in contemporary capitalism, where they exist and which most approximate the ideal advocated by GKI are themselves one kind of outcome of processes of class differentiation.4 This outcome, and the conditions and prospects of reproduction of such family farming which, moreover (and uncomfortably for neo-classical populism), typically include rural labour markets and labour hiring5 always require investigation of their specic historical circumstances. Another crucial problem is GKIs treatment of the central categories of landed property, farm enterprise and rural/agrarian labour.6 This is an effect of the characteristic tendency of neo-classical populism to abstract the size of landed property/farming enterprise from any serious consideration of the social conditions of existence (relations of production, social divisions of labour, labour processes etc.) of forms of landed property and production in different times and places and processes of change/transition. Thus their many references to large (typically large landholdings rather than farms) consistently ignore, hence conceal, differences between pre-capitalist landed property, capitalist landed property and large farm enterprises that may be established on either.7 For example, the overview of the four main types of tenure contract or land tenure systems . . . throughout the world with which their analysis begins (2002, 2804) can be summarized as follows (and according to their numbering):

As is well-known, agrarian populism tends to naturalize as well as idealize a middle peasant model, as both denitive of an antecedent natural economy (with a subsistence ethic etc.) and able to adapt successfully to subsequent market (commodity) production, in effect to modernize the specically Chayanovian notion of a small farm path of development, noted above and evident in GKI, as in Lipton. When this path of development is not realized, for neo-classical populism this is an effect of market and/or policy distortions. The observation also has implications for materialist analysis, to the extent that some applications of Lenins schema of peasant class differentiation view middle peasants as the residual of an antecedent pre-capitalism, whose transformation into, rst, rich and poor peasants, and subsequently into (fully-edged) agrarian capital and wage labour, has yet to be accomplished or completed, rather than investigating whether particular middle peasantries are the outcome of specic processes of historical change in capitalism (Bernstein 2000). 5 Also observed by Khan and Sender and Johnston. 6 Not least as manifested in their lack of any determinate concept of capitalist agriculture, as Byres and Dyer emphasize. 7 See Banaji (1976, 2001) on large-scale commodity production on pre-capitalist landed property, on agrarian estates in European feudalism and in Roman Egypt in late antiquity (fourth to seventh centuries), respectively.


Henry Bernstein
Small-scale property Large-scale property 3. Household labour farm on rented land with xed rent 4. Household labour farm on rented land with xed share of output 2. Landowner farm with hired labour

Small-scale production

1. Owner-operated with household labour

Large-scale production

It is evident that land tenure systems thus designated combine aspects of form and size of property with form and scale of production in ways that obscure more than illuminate, as well as eliding (different types of ) pre-capitalist and capitalist landed property and agrarian production.8 Tenure types 3 and 4 are already farmed as small enterprises with household labour, hence redistributive land reform entails only the transfer of property rights from large landowners to those small farm(er)s, thereby both relieving them of the burdens of rent and tenure insecurity and presenting them with much improved incentives to investment and productivity. This corresponds most closely to those historic land reforms directed against predatory pre-capitalist landed property, and their emblematic notion of land to the tiller. For GKI, in three of their East Asian land reform successes, namely Taiwan, South Korea and Japan, absentee or non-cultivating ownership was high, operational holdings appear to have been evenly distributed and the incidence of wage labour was low (2002, 309; my emphasis). In fact, the absence of a rural labour question and of a class of labour (rural proletariat) is, as GKI tell it, a strongly positive feature of the preconditions of all ve of their East Asian successes (the other two following decollectivization in China and Vietnam). In short, GKIs success stories of land reform apply to circumstances that are completely different from those for which their theoretical model linking (monopolistic) landed property, large-scale production and the conditions of rural wage employment (tenure of type 4) makes its principal claims: The agrarian problem arises from the monopolization of land, the most important factor of production, and the consequences of this monopolization for the labour market.

Collective farms would constitute another type in the cell large-scale property/large-scale production but, presumably, are now deemed historically obsolete with decollectivization and the happy outcomes it has produced in China and Vietnam, by GKIs account, if not in Russia. What of the blank cell in the matrix (small-scale property/large-scale production)? I suspect that this could not be thought (to use an Althusserian expression) in their framework because of the ways in which GKI both separate and conate the distribution of property in land and the organization of production. Lenin observed practices of poor peasants, who lacked other means of production needed to farm, renting out land in late nineteenth-century Russia. The syndrome of those who have rights to land but are too poor to farm is widespread in Asia and Africa today; Dyer and Khan note instances of renting out of land by smaller/poorer peasants to larger/richer farmers in Pakistan and Bangladesh, respectively.

Agrarian Questions and the Politics of Land in Capitalism Today 195 The purpose of land reform is to rupture the system of labour controls and bring to an end the monopoly and monopsony powers of large landowners. (2002, 2834, 291, emphases added) The inescapable conclusion is that only a transcendental notion of size of landholding can hold together the rationale of GKIs case, necessarily divorced from all those determinations of scale shaped by the social organization of production and reproduction, its relations and contradictions, central to any properly dynamic study of agrarian change. It also helps to deect attention from the fact that, by contrast with reforms of types 3 and 4 tenure arrangements, redistributive land reform of type 2 tenure arrangements would require the division of large-farm enterprises as well as of large-scale property.9 Times and Places I use this term as a shorthand for those historical specicities through which the exploration of more general themes/questions/issues is pursued and against which they are tested. Elements of particular historical experiences are easily incorporated, if often implicitly, in versions of more general themes in ways that shape their emphases and silences, and how well they travel, so to speak. GKI claim the universal relevance of their argument for redistributive land reform across the South and the former Soviet bloc. In an important sense, then, this universalism supercedes what they term varieties of regional experience (2002, 292302), although their selection of regions, uneven coverage of them, and some of their specic observations, are of symptomatic interest, perhaps those concerning Latin America above all (pp. 2957). First, this is a region that Keith Grifn studied extensively earlier in his career, and at a time of land reforms and rural political volatility that inspired much commentary and analysis from a range of (and combinations of ) radical populist and materialist perspectives.10 Second, GKI recognize the role of land reforms in some Latin American countries in spurring a transition from (predatory) latifundia to large-scale capitalist farming. This is their only direct reference to capitalist agriculture (see note 6 above) and hints at a kind of Latin American exceptionalism that signals a fate the rest of the South can still escape. Ironically, then, Latin America registered both a failure of the kind of (pro-poor) redistributive land reform they advocate and a realization of the logic of transition of the classic agrarian question (outlined below): land reform in Latin America altered the agrarian structure, not by raising the economic status of the rural poor, but by

And in opposition to which the critics of GKI are perhaps most united, although only Sender and Johnston confront this head on in the context of Southern Africa (see further below). 10 And political aspirations; see Grifn (1969). Other works of the same conjuncture focused on agrarian structures and struggles in Latin America included Stavenhagen (1970), Feder (1971), Petras and LaPorte (1971), Barraclough (1973) and Huizer (1973); see also Veltmeyer (forthcoming), who states that in the wake of the Cuban revolution the struggle for land and land reform was at the very epicentre of the class struggle in Central and South America.


Henry Bernstein

putting the fear of expropriation into the minds of the rural rich (p. 297). Thereafter, GKI are notably reticent about dividing large capitalist farms in Latin America by any redistributive programme, but transpose the (lost) hopes of that earlier time and place of land reform to their prescriptions for the former Soviet bloc, in which (quasi-)privatized state and collective farms and their individual household plots are presented as analogues of Latin American latifundia and minifundia and analogues that do not travel well as Kitching makes clear. GKIs land reform successes are all from East Asia: the transfer of property rights to small-scale farmers from large-scale landed property, both private ( Japan, Taiwan, South Korea) and collective (China and Vietnam).11 One striking feature of the conditions of these exemplary successes, already noted, is that all lacked large-scale production deploying coerced labour: the case on which GKIs model centres its claims and which is itself haunted by the ghost of the (pre-reform) Latin American latifundia? Another striking feature is a different kind of silence related to issues traversing, and connecting, times and places. GKI provide no examples, as well as very little discussion, of redistributive land reform that entails the division of large-scale agricultural enterprises. The moment of redistributive land reform in Latin America appears dj pass. Their account of Latin America is, in effect, a retrospective of that lost moment, while that of sub-Saharan Africa is mostly concerned to caution against land-titling programmes in areas of communal tenure as Western-style land privatization that may be unnecessary . . . (and also) undesirable (2002, 294).12 The only candidate today that is targeted explicitly for breaking up large farms and symptomatically so? is Russia. Given the emphasis on East Asian success, why did GKI not concentrate their attention on the obvious comparable (and near adjacent) region of South Asia? This would seem the most appropriate candidate to test the lessons of their model, given both the salience of ancient, densely populated agrarian heartlands (Davis 2001, 239) in East and South Asia and the dramatic contrasts of recent economic history, structure and performance between the two regions. And a nal silence: having readily acknowledged the role of social and political upheaval in the major redistributive land reforms of the past, why are they so reticent about land struggles from below today, of which Latin America (as elsewhere) provides many examples, notably the MST (Movimento Rural Sem Terra) in Brazil?

Karshenass discussion of urban bias in GKIs model (in which it lacks benet or burden? of economic history) is an exemplary demonstration of how place means little without time: the when as well as where (and how) of change. 12 GKIs section on sub-Saharan Africa is ill informed as well as thin. For example, they say that under colonialism European notions of private property rights were gradually introduced, displacing African tenure systems based on communal ownership rights (2002, 293), in apparent ignorance that much of the intense debates about land rights in sub-Saharan Africa hinges on the ways in which colonial administrations tried to dene and administer land tenure according to their own (typically misconceived) notions of communal ownership in Africa and their desire (selectively) to preserve African tradition and custom in the interests of social stability and cheap government (indirect rule). For excellent reviews of these debates, see Peters (2002, forthcoming).

Agrarian Questions and the Politics of Land in Capitalism Today 197 Beyond Critique The critique of GKIs economic model in both the precise argument of Khan, and the broader terms deployed by Byres and Dyer is convincing, as are the criticisms by Bramall, Dyer, Khan and Sender and Johnston of GKIs (and similar) uses of evidence. The methodological critique mostly centres, in one way or another, on the kinds of aggregation and other devices used to support claims for the inverse relationship. These include how the intervals of farm class sizes are determined, and what is excluded at either or both ends of possible size distributions; and aggregations across farming zones that differ in their ecological, settlement and demographic patterns, across different branches of crop and livestock production, and across farms with different compositions of activity.13 Specifying all this is essential, but provides a primarily negative critique. The force of that critique suggests that if neo-classical populism rests on a transcendental opposition of the small farm (and its virtues) and the large farm (and its vices), innocent of any conception or analysis of social relations of production and historical change, then it is not enough for an alternative approach simply to reverse this allocation of productive virtue and vice by farm size. The purpose, and outcome, of any negative critique, of course, should be to identify and establish the space for alternative approaches that can do better. This is signposted by Dyer: Clearly we must go deeper than the size of holding categories to the underlying social relations of production (p. 57). In short, farm size is better understood as an effect of social relations and their dynamics than as the source or cause of productive virtue and vice, as in neo-classical populism on the one hand, technicist conceptions of economies of scale on the other hand. Understanding the determinants of farm sizes and their distribution, and of the relations between farm(er)s of different sizes and between farmers and agrarian labour, requires the investigation of historical specicities, utilizing the analytical means provided by more general theoretical models. THE AGRARIAN QUESTION OF CAPITAL Toujours Pass Byres suggests that GKIs argument is dj pass, that is, now anachronistic. However, from the viewpoint of the classic agrarian question in historical materialism, one can suggest that populist arguments for redistributive land reform, as a means of resolution of the agrarian question of small or family

My view concurs with that argued by Utsa Patnaik (1972, 1987): that scale which includes types and levels of capitalization of the means of production deployed is a more effective criterion of differentiation of farms than their size (of land holding). That farm scale, in this sense, and farm size do not necessarily coincide, is acknowledged in passing by Dyer and by Sender and Johnston who observe the absence of a smooth size-productivity relationship (p. 150, note 9).


Henry Bernstein

farming, were always misconceived toujours pass, in effect.14 Here is a highly stylized outline of key aspects of the classic agrarian question: 1. pre-capitalist agrarian formations are characterized, above all, by the social relation (social property relation in Robert Brenners term) between landed property and peasant labour: the surplus labour of the latter is appropriated by the former through rent; 2. the transition to capitalism requires a process of primitive or primary accumulation that establishes the conditions of market dependence (again Brenners term, signifying the necessity of commodity production for social reproduction); 3. this process is registered in the formation (over time) of classes or at least class places (Neocosmos 1986) that exemplify a new (capitalist) social property relation: capitalist landed property, agrarian capital and (proletarian) agrarian labour;15 4. the logic of the capitalist social property relation, not least the competitive disciplines of market dependence, drives the growth of productivity of both labour and land (yields) in agriculture, especially through technical innovation and new technical and social divisions of labour (development of the productive forces). Furthermore: 5. an enhanced surplus generated by agricultural productivity growth can be mobilized for industrial accumulation; whether this happens or not depends on the balance of forces between agrarian surplus appropriating classes (agrarian capital, landed property, rich peasants) and emergent industrial capital, with the state typically central to the contributions, whether positive or negative, of agriculture to (initial) industrialization (Byres 1996); 6. dispossession of peasants (in primary accumulation) together with agricultural productivity growth frees labour required by the development of industry (and associated non-agricultural activities/sectors); 7. productivity growth in farming and especially in food staple production lowers the reproduction costs of an increasing industrial and urban proletariat, thereby contributing to accumulation. Capitalist landed property and agrarian capital (point 3 in the schema) can emerge by different paths in different historical circumstances, including: through (i) the internal metamorphosis of pre-capitalist landed property (in Lenins phrase for the Prussian or Junker path), (ii) the class differentiation of peasants/petty commodity producers, or (iii) some combination of these two dynamics; while proletarian labour is generated from the dispossession of tenant peasantries by (capitalizing) landed property and/or from class differentiation of the peasantry.

An observation illuminated by Kitchings account (1982) of the formation and re-formation of populist ideas and ideologies throughout the long history of capitalist development, from nineteenthcentury France and Russia to the South in the 1970s. In fact, Byres (p. 37) refers to a sense of circumstances, which, if they ever existed, are clearly in the past (my emphasis). 15 Class places that are also constitutive of petty commodity production in capitalism; see Gibbon and Neocosmos (1985).

Agrarian Questions and the Politics of Land in Capitalism Today 199 In circumstances where pre-capitalist landed property is unable or unwilling to metamorphose itself, redistributive land reform becomes a necessary condition of transitions to agrarian capitalism along a peasant path (of subsequent class differentiation; Lenins American path). Once pre-capitalist landed property with its predatory appropriation of rent (vs productive accumulation) is destroyed, and a fundamental condition of capitalist agrarian transition thereby satised, there remains no rationale for redistributive land reform. Indeed, as the capitalist social property relation establishes itself and delivers the anticipated productivity gains, any notion of redistributive land reform that advocates the division of larger, more productive enterprises (capitalist and/or rich peasant farms) is ipso facto both reactionary and utopian.16 It is reactionary in seeking to turn back the clock of progress, and utopian in two ways: rst, that it is unlikely to be implemented as a political programme and second, even if it were, it could not achieve its stated objective of efciency and equity, of increasing agricultural productivity and rural employment and incomes on the basis of an egalitarian agrarian structure of family farms. The World Historical of Capital The schema of the classic agrarian question is part of what Marx considered the world-historical nature and consequences of the emergence of capitalism, that is, of a general logic of social change which, once established, applies to indeed imposes itself on all parts of a world made up of (pre-capitalist) social formations destined to confront, and to follow, the schema outlined, by one route (of primitive accumulation) or another, more or less rapidly, with greater or lesser upheaval and violence. This is the sense of the much-quoted observations in the Preface to the rst edition of Capital that The country that is more developed industrially only shows, to the less developed, the image of its own future, and that continental Western Europe (by contrast with Britain) suffer(s) not only from the development of capitalist production, but also from the incompleteness of that development (Marx 1976, 91). At the same time, Marxs observations point towards another, and highly charged, area of issues concerning the world historical of capitalism, namely the ways in which its uneven development on a global scale manifests not only different trajectories, mechanisms and forms of capitalist transformation but also affects the prospects of completing that transformation, as anticipated by Marx (above). The investigation and explanation of (as yet) incomplete capitalist development and the suffering it generates, to invoke Marx once more can follow the central thrust of either of the senses of the world historical sketched: on one hand, the persistence (or reconguration) of pre-capitalist social relations and practices as barrier to capitalist transformation (as in Dyers semi-feudalism) and, on the other hand, the modes of functioning of international/global capital, and the policies and powers of the leading capitalist states, as barrier to (national) accumulation/

Both epithets are used in the concluding section of Byress paper.


Henry Bernstein

capitalist development in the South.17 Alternatively, these two perspectives can be combined, with all the challenges of method this suggests. Once a capitalist world economy, and its constituent international divisions of labour and markets, started to be shaped by industrialization in the course of the nineteenth century, and by modern imperialism by the end of that century, this was bound to have effects for the realization, or otherwise, of the logic of capitalist development outlined above in the schema of the classic agrarian question. To put it somewhat differently, the trajectories and forms of the transition to capitalism in social formations where it is deemed yet incomplete are affected by both earlier transitions to capitalism elsewhere and subsequent transformations within capitalism in its dominant formations and global circuits. The classic agrarian question, I would suggest, is the agrarian question of capital. To the extent that its logic of agrarian transition succeeded (and may still succeed?) in accomplishing the social transformation and technical development of agriculture (points 14 of the schema above), and in ways that contribute to industrialization (points 57 of the schema), then the agrarian question of capital is also that of labour as the two denitive classes of a new mode of production, representing historical progress. Changing Before Our Very Eyes? How might changes in capitalism (and especially in the second, global, sense of its world historical noted) reshape the conditions of the agrarian question of capital, and expectations of its resolution, across the times and places of the capitalist world? I have tried to consider this question in very broad terms elsewhere (Bernstein 1996a, 2000, 2002, 2003), and here only sketch some theses that bear on how changing conditions may reshape expectations of the resolutions of the agrarian question as both capitalist transformation of agriculture and its contributions to industrialization. Thesis 1: By the time of independence in Asia and Africa, the economies of their former colonial territories were permeated (like those of Latin America) by generalized commodity production, i.e. capitalist social relations of production and reproduction.18 Thesis 2: Generalized commodity production includes both (i) the internalization of capitalist social relations in the organization of economic activity (including peasant production)19 and (ii) how economies are located in international divisions of labour, markets, and circuits of capital and commodities.

The latter was the terrain of erstwhile underdevelopment and dependency theories, and now the terrain of some theories of globalization. 18 Recently Ellen Wood (2003) has argued that a properly or fully capitalist imperialism only commenced with, and could only commence with, the end of direct colonial rule. 19 See Gibbon and Neocosmos (1985); Bernstein (2000). This does not mean that the forms of production and social relations of poorer countries resemble those of an ideal-typied stereotypical in Lenins term (advanced) capitalism. It might suggest, however, that backward agriculture is more likely to manifest backward capitalism than semi-feudalism.

Agrarian Questions and the Politics of Land in Capitalism Today 201 Thesis 3: Agrarian capital can have a range of sources beyond the countryside and its original, localized (indigenous) rural classes of landed property and peasantry; the range of non-agrarian, non-indigenous sources of agrarian capital is likely to expand and diversify, and their signicance to increase, over the history of capitalism. Thesis 4: Different types of agrarian capital (in capitalist and petty commodity production, among different peasant classes) are increasingly likely to be combined or articulated with forms of activity and income in non-agricultural sectors, or spaces in social divisions of labour, with (variant) effects for the specic forms of organization, scale, economic performance and simple or expanded reproduction of farming enterprises. Thesis 5: There are similar tendencies to the decomposition of (notionally) once pure classes of agrarian labour (including that combined with capital in petty commodity production) that have to diversify their forms, and spaces, of employment (and self-employment) to meet their simple reproduction needs as labour (survival), and in the case of petty commodity producers as capital too.20 Thesis 6: The agricultural sector in capitalism today is not simply a set of relations between agrarian classes (landed property, agrarian capital, labour) nor an aggregation of farm enterprises of different types, but is increasingly, if unevenly, integrated, organized and regulated by the relations between agrarian classes and types of farms, on the one hand, and (often highly concentrated) capital upstream and downstream of farming, on the other hand; moreover, such integration and regulation operates through global as well as national (and more local) social divisions of labour, circuits of capital, commodity chains, and sources and types of technical change (including in transport and industrial processing as well as farming). Thesis 7: Important globalizing tendencies that affect agriculture in capitalism today include new strategies of sourcing by transnational agribusiness; new forms of organization and regulation of global commodity chains for agricultural products; the high prole of agricultural trade and its regulation in the agenda of,


As Sender and Johnston observe: small scale agriculture has, in many parts of Africa, become impossible without inputs purchased through labour migrant remittances (p. 153). Theses 35 more generally indicate the wide range of forms capitalist farming can take, as emphasized by Banaji (2002, 115), who argues that there is no (single) class structure that is prototypical of agrarian capitalism. Khan notes of Bangladesh today: while these large farms were not identiably capitalist in the classical sense, they had innovated new institutional forms to deal with specic management issues (p. 90), notably concerning labour recruitment and the organization of labour processes. He continues: Whether this is a transitional form on the road to more recognizable capitalist forms must for the time being remain an open question.


Henry Bernstein

rst, GATT from the mid-1980s and now of the WTO; and the drive of transnational agribusiness (chemical and seed) companies to patent, monopolize, produce and sell genetic (plant and animal) material, and to lock in farmers (in both North and South) to its use. The salience of the processes and tendencies sketched for particular branches and types of agricultural production, and forms of agrarian capital and labour, in different times and places is a matter of investigation which, of course, is bound to reveal massive unevenness and variation. But recognition of such processes and tendencies (as of others relevant to the world of contemporary capitalism) can inform the agenda of identifying (and seeking to explain) what may be changing before our very eyes. Here is a further, and nal, thesis: with contemporary globalization and the massive development of the productive forces in (advanced) capitalist agriculture, the centrality of the classic agrarian question to industrialization is no longer signicant for international capital. In this sense, then, there is no longer an agrarian question of capital on a world scale, even when the agrarian question as a basis of national accumulation and industrialization has not been resolved in many countries of the South, and principally those poorest countries characterized by Kitching (2001, 149) as peasant economies.21 If there is no longer an agrarian question of capital on a world scale, nor of national capitals (and developmental states)22 in poorer countries today, might there be a (new) agrarian question of labour, separated from its historic connection to that of capital and manifested in struggles for land against actually existing forms of capitalist landed property? This, of course, is a question that GKI are ill equipped even to ask. The golden age of land to the tiller via social revolution, to which they refer, is safely in the past, at best the source of a vicarious nostalgia. Neo-populism, and especially qua policy discourse, is characteristically uneasy with awkward questions of class and class struggle (Byres, p. 19) and especially here and now.


Kitching observes that many of todays largest commercial agricultural economies did not have to undergo the peasant elimination process to create a capitalist agricultural sector and that all of the poorest countries of the world today are peasant economies (2001, 149). He continues: neither the contemporary industrial technology context, nor the population growth context, nor the price or terms of trade context is anywhere near as conducive to peasant elimination as it was when the European world accomplished its (demographically much smaller) transformation (p. 152). That a peasant path of development of capitalist agriculture (peasant elimination, in Kitchings term, by class differentiation) has been largely absent in experiences of (successful) agrarian transition and industrialization is supported by Byres seminal comparison of European, North American and East Asian cases (Byres 1991, 1996, 2002; also Bernstein 1996a). 22 Because they lack the intent or the means, or both. It is clear that while Marx and Lenin had a keen sense of the international dimensions of the world historical of capitalism, both conceived of the transition to capitalism primarily in terms of a national framework. Thus Marx on the country that is more developed industrially . . . (as cited above), while the analysis of Lenins The Development of Capitalism in Russia (1964) the fullest study in classic Marxism of contemporary processes of development in a backward country proceeds with virtually no reference to the international capitalist economy in which late nineteenth-century Russia was located (and by which, in effect, its backwardness was dened) nor to its effects for capitalist development in Russia.

Agrarian Questions and the Politics of Land in Capitalism Today 203 AN AGRARIAN QUESTION OF LABOUR? The Golden Age of Land Reform Above I suggested how the schema of the classic agrarian question incorporates the function of redistributive land reform in certain historical circumstances (i.e. as the gravedigger of predatory landed property). That elaboration is (deceptively) simple because underlying it is a series of momentous social upheavals that traverse the history of capitalism from the French Revolution and which, I have suggested elsewhere (Bernstein 2002), culminated with particular intensity across much of the world in a period from the 1910s to the 1970s: the period par excellence of Eric Wolf s peasant wars of the twentieth century (Wolf 1969).23 While communist and socialist parties allied themselves with (and sometimes led) such peasant wars against the reactionary weight of pre-capitalist landed property/landlordism and a fortiori in contexts of anti-imperialist and national liberation struggles and often supported (at least initially) redistributive land reforms generated by the course of those struggles, they then confronted issues of the subsequent path of agrarian transition/development and the growth of scale it was deemed to require. And here is a tension of epic consequence for the political programmes, practices and fortunes of parties of the Left in primarily agrarian countries. They had allied themselves with popular sentiments, energies and practices, often of a deeply radical character, mobilized in opposition to exploitation and oppression, extreme social inequality and injustice. Were such concerns to be abandoned once predatory landed property was overturned, in the name of a path of development justied by a primarily economic theory/ logic of transition like that outlined above?24 While materialism, unlike populism, does not shrink from the question is structural inequality of resource access the precondition for accelerated growth under capitalism? (Scott 1977, 248, as cited by Byres) nor from answering it afrmatively (Byres, p. 41), how might the political formations of the Left present their answer to classes of poor peasants and workers, whose support they seek and whose interests they claim to represent? A New Politics of Land? In effect, it is on the ideological and political plane, and especially in the real worlds of politics, that agrarian populism presents materialist analysis and socialist practice with far greater challenges than it does on the plane of intellectual contestation. On one hand, the principal interest of the classic agrarian question is establishing the social conditions of the development of the productive forces

And which both peasant wars and Wolf s treatment of them were key stimuli to the formation of a radical peasant studies in the 1970s (Bernstein and Byres 2001). 24 In capitalist transition and its socialist analogues, the growth of the productive forces in agriculture was typically equated with economies of scale common to large-scale property, whether private as in capitalist development or collective as in socialist construction.


Henry Bernstein

in agriculture, an end to which redistributive land reform may provide an expedient (temporary as well as transitional) means, according to historical circumstances. On the other hand, populist ideologies, of various stripes and in various ways, claim to articulate the injuries of exploitation, oppression and injustice generated by structural inequality of resource access in the countryside, and to address them through redistributive land reforms. However weak the economic logic and evidence they deploy concerning productivity, what gives such claims their ideological resonance is the links they make between redistribution and rural employment/poverty. And that resonance is the more potent to the extent that materialist analysis and socialist practice are unable to provide plausible alternatives to the problems of employment, poverty and insecurity that dene the daily existence of the rural (and urban) majorities of the South. Is it enough to observe, as Byres does, that industrial growth . . . has been the means by which massive rural poverty has been eradicated in the past (p. 41; emphasis added)? I do not think so, and would cite in support of my scepticism the conclusion of his own valuable international comparison of labour-force statistics over a long historical period: Clearly, capitalist industrialization, to the extent that it is proceeding (today), is absorbing a signicantly smaller share of the labour force than in the past (Byres 2003, 200, emphasis added). My argument is not that signicant industrialization of poorer countries, and its prospects, is itself dj pass, but I would make three points. First, that the times and places the when, where and how of past histories of comprehensive capitalist industrialization themselves have to be specied and explained, in terms of both their internal and international conditions, class dynamics and mechanisms of accumulation.25 Second, it can not be doubted that poorer countries today confront more formidable barriers to comprehensive industrialization and a fortiori to the generation of comparable levels of industrial employment than did the advanced industrial countries in the past.26 Third: the underlying contradiction of a world capitalist system that promotes the formation of a world proletariat but cannot accommodate a generalized living wage (that is, the most basic of reproduction costs), far from being solved, has become more acute than ever (Arrighi and Moore 2001, 75). The reverse side of the thesis that globalization represents a new phase of the centralization and concentration, as well as mobility (and nancialization), of capital, is that it also generates an intensication of the fragmentation of labour. That is, the growing global army (or reserve army) of labour pursues


See Schwartz (2000) for a recent account, of real historical depth and illumination, of the emergence of a global economy. 26 In part for reasons indicated by Kitching, as cited in note 21 above, although his recent book (2001) argues for the benets to date and future promise of globalization in generating industrialization and substantial industrial employment in the South. The two countries he cites with the (demographically) greatest burden of peasant elimination are the evident cases of India and China, but strangely so large a proportion of new jobs in manufacturing created globally in recent times (the principal empirical plank of his argument) are in China.

Agrarian Questions and the Politics of Land in Capitalism Today 205 its reproduction in conditions of increasingly insecure and oppressive wage employment combined with a range of likewise insecure informal sector (survival) activity, typically subject to its own forms of differentiation and oppression along intersecting lines of class, gender, generation, caste and ethnicity.27 And, of course, many of its number pursue their means of reproduction across different sites of the social division of labour: urban and rural, agricultural and non-agricultural, wage employment and self-employment: footloose labour indeed (Breman 1996). It is thus the crisis of labour as a crisis of employment certainly not unique to capitalism today but undoubtedly intensied by its globalizing tendencies that compels attention. Point 6 in the schema of the classic agrarian question, outlined earlier, is that the development of the productive forces in agriculture and its manifestation in the rising productivity of farm labour has the function (among others) of releasing/expelling labour required by the growth of industry (and associated urban branches of activity).28 But what if the forms of capitalism, including industrialization (to the extent that it is proceeding), in poorer countries today are incapable of generating sufcient, and sufciently secure, employment to provide a living wage to the great majority? One response, in a marked departure from the logic of point 6 of the classic schema, is that some forms of capitalist agriculture may create net additional employment in farming, and thereby have at least some impact in reducing rural poverty. This is noted, in passing, by Dyer and Khan, and addressed more explicitly and assertively by Sender and Johnston who advance two arguments, one positive and one negative. The rst concerns the benecial employment effects of some forms of contemporary capitalist agriculture, for example, agribusiness specialized in high-value export commodities (e.g. horticultural products) produced in ways that are both capital- and labour-intensive, as well as internationally competitive. The second is that recent land reforms in Southern Africa have had negative consequences for employment and poverty, and especially for the weakest groups in rural labour markets. Sender and Johnstons position, then, is especially interesting: it represents an attempt, unique among the contributions to this special issue, to marry the classic insistence on the superior productivity of large-scale (capitalist) farming with a forceful argument that it delivers greater employment and income benets, especially to the poorest of the (rural) poor, than small-scale farming. In short, Sender and Johnston

For example, the world of unorganized (or fragmented as it is termed here) labour is well mapped for India by Harriss-White and Gooptu, who observe that Out of Indias huge labour force, over 390 million strong, only 7 per cent are in the organized sector (2000, 89; see also Harriss-White 2003). 28 Especially emblematic of the development of the productive forces is mechanization, as a labour saving form of technology. The key historical source of the productive and symbolic potency of mechanization was the massive expansion of wheat production in the sparsely populated late nineteenthcentury farming frontiers or virgin prairie soils of Argentina, Australia, Canada and above all the USA, whence it was drafted into the iconology of the Soviet collectivization of agriculture.



Henry Bernstein

take on current (neo-populist) policy discourse on the terrain that it claims as its own, that of development that reduces rural poverty; and I come back to their argument below. A different response is to start from the many popular struggles over land today that are driven by experiences of the fragmentation of labour (including losses of relatively stable wage employment in manufacturing and mining, as well as agriculture), by contestations of class inequality, and by collective demands and actions for better conditions of living (survival, stability of livelihood, economic security), and of which the most dramatic instances are land invasions and occupations. There is now a revival and restatement of the signicance of struggles over land to the social dynamics and class politics of the South during the current period of globalization and neo-liberalism. While of wider relevance, this restatement has a strong Latin American frame of reference that can be traced in the work of James Petras (from Petras and LaPorte, 1971, for example, cited in note 10, to Petras 1997, 1998), and interestingly so given the massive rates of continuing ruralurban migration over the last three decades in Latin America, as well as the continents generally much more developed capitalist agriculture and industry relative to South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Moreover, in these conditions, writers like Petras, and Veltmeyer (forthcoming), emphasize that contemporary land struggles in Latin America are signicantly different from the (classic) peasant movements of the past, and are much more rooted in the semi-proletarian condition: that of a workforce in motion, within rural areas, across the ruralurban divide, and beyond international boundaries (Yeros 2002b, 9; also Yeros 2002a). It seems to me that this literature similarly contains commentary and analysis from a range of (and combinations of ) radical populist and materialist perspectives, as I remarked (above) of writing on Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s. I am unconvinced by the sweeping nature of its semi-proletarianization thesis, and its political conclusion that the struggle for land is, in effect, the principal form of working-class struggle throughout the South (for example, Moyo and Yeros, forthcoming). However, with all the exaggerations and analytical problems to which it is subject, this line of argument focuses attention on a strategic element of what is changing before our very eyes in the world of capitalism today, on which GKI remain silent.29 Sender and Johnston on South Africa Sender and Johnston exemplify their positive argument noted above, concerning the employment and income benets of capitalist agriculture and especially


Khan notes growing violence, corruption and contestation over land in Bangladesh today, which he relates to a particular trajectory of primitive accumulation and its politics that links countryside and town, cuts across class divisions, and in which intermediate classes (the urban petty-bourgeoisie, rich peasants, and middle-class professionals) play a key role due to their dominance in multi-class factional organizations (pp. 98105).

Agrarian Questions and the Politics of Land in Capitalism Today 207 agribusiness, by the Western Cape province of South Africa.30 Indeed, there is a kind of Western Cape effect at work here that, curiously, plays a similar role to the Punjab effect in Michael Liptons desire to universalize the virtues of smallscale farming (Bernstein 1998) and that raises similar issues despite their substantive opposition. One issue, analogous to Liptons claim that the (Green Revolution) Punjab exemplies a relatively egalitarian small-scale farm structure, is how convincing the paradigmatic case is: employment trends in the Western Cape are similar to those of (advanced) capitalist agriculture almost everywhere, namely a diminishing core of permanently employed, relatively secure, skilled farm workers; much larger (possibly growing) numbers of causally employed, insecure and poorly paid workers; and declining average real wages.31 Another problem is the plausibility of extrapolation from the paradigmatic case. The Western Cape is the most highly urbanized province of South Africa apart from Gauteng (which contains Johannesburg and Pretoria, the capital cities of business and government); capitalist agriculture has been established there (far) longer than anywhere else in South Africa; and its ecological conditions (including a Mediterranean type climate) and social conditions of farming are quite exceptional in South Africa (let alone the African tropics and sub-tropics elsewhere).32 Sender and Johnstons second, and negative, argument is especially important among the contributions here, as indicated earlier. First, because rather than simply suggesting the reactionary character of GKI-style redistributive land reform in relation to the long historical scale (and future projection) of transitions to a (fully) capitalist economy, they assert its immediate negative effects for rural employment and incomes, especially of farm workers (poorest of the rural poor). Second, the context of Southern Africa is one in which large-scale capitalist farming enterprises are already dominant, hence their employment as well as productivity benets (and macroeconomic benets such as foreign exchange

Albeit not unique to it; other examples from the region include agribusiness in the sub-tropical zones of Mpumalanga province in South Africa (Sender 2002), in branches of production like tobacco, as well as export horticulture, in Zimbabwe, and highly capitalized forms of ranching (especially of beef cattle) in both countries. 31 Moreover, Ewert and Hamman (1996) show the ethnic segmentation of agricultural labour in the Western Cape: core workers are drawn from the (Afrikaans-speaking) historic Coloured population, casual workers mostly from African migrants from the Eastern Cape, that is, footloose labour driven by distress. 32 For those interested in the compound ironies of this subject area: of Michael and Merle Liptons large study of Land, Labour and Livelihoods in Rural South Africa, funded by the British governments (then) Overseas Development Administration and the Development Bank of Southern Africa, the whole of the rst volume (Lipton, de Klerk and Lipton 1996) was devoted to the (exceptional) Western Cape, with the great majority of the 14 case studies failing to support the case for redistributive land reform pushed by the Liptons. As did their co-editor, Michael de Klerk, a respected agrarian political economist in South Africa, with the effect that the Introduction to the rst volume was written by the Liptons with their co-editor of the second volume, Frank Ellis. This produces a bizarre bibliographic effect, as a glance at the list of references at the back of this article shows. The second volume (Lipton, Ellis and Lipton 1996a) contained nine case studies of KwaZulu-Natal and six of Northern Province, one of South Africas poorest and most rural provinces created from a number of formerly white only farming areas and former bantustans. In sum, just six of a total of 29 commissioned case studies addressed South Africas areas of deep(est) rural social existence and poverty.



Henry Bernstein

earnings) are under direct threat from any redistributive land reform that divides up such enterprises. Sender and Johnston suggest that land distribution policies in South Africa have been strongly inuenced by the advice of the World Bank. In the early 1990s, the Bank recommended a broadly targeted injection of state subsidized purchasing power to allow some black South Africans to purchase land in the existing land market. (p. 156, emphasis added) In short, this was a new wave market-led land reform that many inside and outside South Africa criticized at the time and since precisely because it was unlikely to deliver much land at all to many (if any) of the rural poor.33 This is also, of course, the ground on which GKI express their dissatisfaction with market-led land reform (and those forces, like the World Bank, which promote it; 2002, 302). The fact that such reform in South Africa has been almost entirely gestural in terms of how much (i.e. little) land has been redistributed ought to be a cause of relief for Sender and Johnston surely, rather than of alarm? Second, why refer to black South Africans, black rural capitalists and black commercial farmers, as they do, without any mention of white landed property, agrarian capital, or economic and political power more generally, the products of three centuries of racialized dispossession, oppression and accumulation? Third, in reporting (negatively) some of the results of farming on the (little) land that was redistributed, why do Sender and Johnston not give any indications of the ownership, quality, uses, employment and income proles, and so on, of that land prior to its purchase for redistribution? (What is being compared, unfavourably, with what?) Fourth, to suggest that since 1994 . . . the governments populist pronouncements on land reform have resulted in a surge in wage labour shedding, motivated by employers fear of loss of control over land (p. 158) is to shift ground. If there was so little, if any, loss of farm jobs because so little land was redistributed, then the threat and moreover a populist threat of redistribution was enough to cause a surge in labour shedding.34 Here is an alternative view: agrarian capital in South Africa, established and supported by white minority rule over a long period, increasingly (re)positioned itself for the end of apartheid, not least by mass evictions of (black) workers, labour tenants and squatters from the 1980s, as well as a range of other manoeuvres pursued with the

33 Inter alios Levin and Weiner (1996), Bernstein (1998), Borras (2003), and the publications of the Programme in Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) of the University of the Western Cape, including its latest status report on land and agrarian reform by Turner (2002). 34 Government policy in South Africa since 1994 is hardly notable for any threats to existing property rights, and indeed has embarked on a wide range of privatization with considerable enthusiasm. Even Merle Lipton who hoped to see 250,000 plus (new) small-medium farmers established by redistributive land reform commended South Africas rst post-apartheid government for its caution, even difdence concerning redistribution by any radical means (1996, 425, 434), displaying a similar political coyness to that of GKI noted above.

Agrarian Questions and the Politics of Land in Capitalism Today 209 complicity of the National Party state (Pickles and Weiner 1991; Murray 1995; Bernstein 1996b). Immediately prior to and following the end of apartheid in 1994, it is likely that (white) agrarian capital was equally, if not more, exercised by the prospect of legislation protecting the rights of farm workers than by any signicant redistribution of land, that is, fear of loss of control of labour rather than of land. Are we to assume then that the objective of progressive policy should be to reassure capital of its property rights and control over labour, so that it can get on with what it does (accumulate, invest, develop the productive forces, create jobs, etc.)?35 Finally, one wonders if polemic has its own inverse relationship to the ability to inuence events and processes. The utopian pretensions of GKI are readily apparent, as their critics make clear. What then of the recommendation of policies to promote capitalist farming and the growth of decently remunerated agricultural wage employment in Africa, requiring far higher levels of public investment and a much more interventionist state (Sender and Johnston, p. 159)? That would be nice but until such time as these (policy) conditions are right,36 are seizures, occupations or other redistributions of capitalist landed property simply to be condemned as variations on a common theme, a generic and reactionary populism shared by GKI, Michael and Merle Lipton, the World Bank, President Mbekis government in South Africa, and no doubt many others? Sender and Johnston offer only brief comments on recent events in Zimbabwe, which they assimilate to their account of South Africa. In the nal section of this paper, I offer a somewhat different approach to those events which are of considerable, if hardly clear-cut or unambiguous, signicance: a unique case of comprehensive, regime-sanctioned, conscatory land redistribution in the world today that bears little resemblance to the prescriptive rationale of GKIs model of redistributive land reform.37


It would be of considerable benet if Sender and Johnston disaggregated South African agricultural wage employment and its trends by branch and location of production. For example, were agribusiness enterprises in the Western Cape shedding labour, and if so at similar rates to other branches of capitalist production elsewhere in South Africa? If not, why not? Also it should be noted that some white farm owners (not always themselves farmers) in some areas of the country were keen to exploit the opportunity to sell parts or all of their property at land market prices that had been maintained by National Party machinations during the political transition of 19904, like the vast sums of drought relief disbursed by the last apartheid government (Bernstein 1996b). 36 Like a change of heart in the current consensus of neo-liberalism, and the international nancial institutions that uphold it? That is, exactly what GKI want as well. It is one thing to argue for the ability of (certain types of ) capitalist agriculture to create jobs, another to see how farm labour could be adequately remunerated in conditions that prevail in Africa. Sender and Johnston (pp. 1534) point to the preference of large agribusiness in some parts of South Africa for foreign female migrant workers (from Lesotho and Mozambique), i.e. doubly disadvantaged by nationality and gender, because of their relatively weak bargaining power and the ease with which they could be controlled and disciplined (see also Sender 2002). 37 In their section on sub-Saharan Africa, GKI refer briey to large-scale alienation of (the best) land by settler colonialism, but offer no view of the merit or otherwise of redistributing it. One wonders, and would like to know, what they make of events in Zimbabwe.


Henry Bernstein

ZIMBABWE38 Context Liberation from the rule of minority political regimes, whether colonial and/or of settler provenance, came later in the southern African region than in most of the rest of the continent (and rest of the world): in Mozambique in 1975, Zimbabwe in 1980, Namibia in 1990, South Africa in 1994. For Mozambique and Zimbabwe, liberation was achieved in the decade when major shifts in the dynamics of international capitalism, soon to be termed globalization, were starting to be apparent. For Namibia and South Africa, liberation came at a moment when a globalizing capitalism was more evident, and its effects further ramied by the denitive event in the reconguration of its international political relations, the end of the Soviet Union. Second, the dialectic between the international conjuncture and its constituent forces and the trajectories of struggle, composition and balance of domestic political forces, resulted in a far more qualied settlement of national liberation/ national democratic revolution than its militants and popular base had envisaged. The possibilities of advance in independent Zimbabwe were restricted inter alia by the provisions of the Lancaster House Agreement (in force from 1980 to 1990); those in South Africa were restricted by the historic compromises of the transition of 19904, itself partly the product of a mutual exhaustion of contending forces, as Engels once put it. Third, then, while the political importance of the achievement of universal citizenship should not be underestimated, the limits to national democratic revolution were registered in continuities of historic relations of property, production and economic power. Fourth, this continuity was especially marked in the inherited distribution of land and its associated control of agricultural production which was, moreover, concentrated in large-scale capitalist farming, albeit juxtaposed with spatially and socially more extensive peasant farming in Zimbabwe than in South Africa. And, of course, both countries, and especially South Africa, were substantially more industrialized than other countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Finally, land questions deeply rooted in processes of encompassing, violent and racialized dispossession intrinsic to the formation of minority regimes in the region were more central to the course of liberation struggle in Rhodesia (and its guerilla campaigns in the countryside), and continued to be of greater political weight in Zimbabwe than in South Africa at any time since the early 1960s. In effect, both countries combine and concentrate features of different (world) historical processes and moments in potentially explosive ways. They are among the last instances of national liberation from minority regimes of colonial origin, with exceptionally unequal and racialized distributions of land and the most extensive (and advanced) sectors of capitalist farming in sub-Saharan Africa, and they exemplify the effects of what I have termed the fragmentation of

This section partly draws on, and also substantially elaborates and updates, Bernstein (2003).

Agrarian Questions and the Politics of Land in Capitalism Today 211 labour intensied (if not initiated) by globalization, manifested with particular acuteness in conditions of extreme social inequality. Class Structure and the Case for Land Reform: Worker-Peasants and Farm Workers Central to the history of capitalism in sub-Saharan Africa are combinations of hoe and wage (Cordell et al. 1996) or wage and hoe, as some might prefer in the context of the massive regional migratory labour regimes that supplied the mining complexes of Southern Africa, and of South Africa above all. Combinations of hoe and wage/wage and hoe, of farming and (migrant) wage employment, have their own distinctive historical lineages in much of sub-Saharan Africa, and especially Southern Africa, agged by ideas, and debates about worker-peasants. This is a vast area of issues with its own complexities and contentions represented in a rich empirical and analytical literature which, inter alia, pregures the more general thesis of the fragmentation of labour in contemporary globalization, stated so baldly above. Such conventional and pervasive distinctions/separations as urban and rural, worker and farmer, are blurred by the social logic of migratory labour systems.39 Ray Bush and Lionel Cliffe (1984), among others, have illustrated well the purchase of such conceptual categories/distinctions, that provide the conventions of discourses of modernization, on ofcial thinking about development in Rhodesia in the 1950s and 1960s and continuing in Zimbabwe after liberation. Their essay of 20 years ago, written during the rst round of (limited) land reform/resettlement in Zimbabwe, was noteworthy for its focus on agrarian reform in labour migrant societies, that is, in social formations where agrarian capital dominates land ownership and agricultural production and accumulation while combinations of hoe and wage (or wage and hoe) are key to the reproduction of labour. Their conclusion was that land redistribution should be concentrated rst and foremost on the overwhelming majority of rural dwellers . . . the dependents of migrants, the worker-peasant or semi-proletarian class, rather than rich peasants (as in colonial progressive farmer policies) and the near landless and jobless poor peasants, a kind of sub-proletariat (Bush and Cliffe 1984, 87, emphasis added). By the early 1990s, Ben Cousins et al. (1992) suggested that the numbers of worker-peasants in Zimbabwe were declining, while those of agricultural petty commodity producers, of a lumpen semi-peasantry, and of a rural petty bourgeoisie were increasing.40 Of course, achieving any statistical precision for
39 40

And which also contest the assumption of purely agrarian classes of capital and labour. The view of a growing rural petty bourgeoisie was inuenced by the spurt of commodity production of maize during the 1980s by better-off black farmers in resettlement areas and in those communal areas in more fertile parts of the country (principally in the three Mashonaland provinces), as they gained access to credit, input and marketing services previously restricted to white farmers (Amin 1992); there was also considerable growth of cotton production by the black peasantry. These trends may have inuenced (or reinforced) views of the merits of peasant (small, household etc.) farming in Zimbabwe (e.g. Moyo 2000, 8, who appeals to the literature on the inverse relationship), with the usual disregard of processes of differentiation underlying successful petty commodity (middle peasant) production (note 4 above).


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the numbers of people distributed between these, or other, social classications applied to various strata of the peasantry and of worker-peasants, is well-nigh impossible: because of the porous social boundaries of adjacent categories as well as complex processes of differentiation and in recent years the effects of Zimbabwes accelerating and encompassing economic misery, both of which I touch on below. The political conclusions of Cousins et al. were to argue for political and economic democratization, in which the crucial link may be the rst part of that hybrid category, worker-peasant through struggles in the urban workplace. Democratization should include land redistribution as part of real agrarian reform, requiring an alliance of worker-peasants with the growing numbers of lumpen semi-peasants (1992, 212). In the very different conjuncture of Zimbabwe since February 2000, Paris Yeros (as cited above) also connects redistributive land reform with semiproletarianization. Moreover, he does so in terms that revive some of the central motifs of the classic agrarian question: Zimbabwes mass land occupation movement, even if state-patronized and streamlined, remains an historic opportunity to break the inherited structure of the home market. Redistributive land reform is necessary but not sufcient for the widening of the home market which also needs state support to build the requisite infrastructure . . . (for) dynamic accumulation . . . in the smallholder sector and to co-ordinate inter-sectoral linkages to transcend disarticulated accumulation (Yeros 2002b, 1213, emphases added; see also Moyo 2003). In a way, this seems to propose a peasant (or American, in Lenins designation) path of development, with the novel feature, of course, that the conditions of this path in Zimbabwe are established by the division of capitalist, rather than pre-capitalist, landed property (and production). As always, it is difcult to imagine how dynamic accumulation can occur without rural labour markets, which means differentiation, and worker-peasants or semi-proletarians are no more homogenous or immune to differentiation than peasants/petty commodity producers. Sophisticated understandings of the historical trajectories of worker-peasants in Southern Africa (inter alios First 1983; Bush and Cliffe 1984; Levin and Neocosomos 1989; Cousins et al. 1992; OLaughlin 1998) recognize these tendencies to class differentiation and their implications. It is not only that (typically female) rural subsistence production subsidizes the wages paid to (typically male) labour migrants, but that remittances and savings from wage employment contribute to the monetary costs of reproducing farming (see note 20 above), including through hiring labour, and hence can contribute to accumulation (expanded reproduction) by some agricultural petty commodity enterprises. In effect, this discloses a further and distinctive source of fragmentation of labour among worker-peasants. In the absence of adequate public provision of the means of farming beyond access to land (as advocated by Yeros), only richer peasant or worker-peasant households can command the resources (capital) to establish production on new and/or additional and/or better land acquired through redistribution. Even without marked inequalities of initial conditions, the normal tendency to differentiation may generate increasing inequalities between those

Agrarian Questions and the Politics of Land in Capitalism Today 213 who benet from land redistribution, and ironically may do so even more in conjunction with structural and idiosyncratic or fortuitous factors that shape the (differential) fortunes in labour markets of those who combine hoe and wage. If semi-proletarianization or worker-peasant issues are central to serious attempts to characterize the class structure of the countryside in Zimbabwe, so as to elucidate issues of land reform, then another key element of that class structure and arguably the most clearly proletarian is conspicuous by its absence so far, namely workers on large-scale capitalist farms. At the end of the 1990s, there were an estimated 320,000350,000 farm workers in Zimbabwe. Together with 1.82 million other family members, they accounted for about 20 per cent of the countrys total population (a far greater proportion than in South Africa).41 Many of them are descendants of farm workers recruited from neighbouring colonial territories Nyasaland (now Malawi), Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) and Mozambique up to the 1960s. While the current generation was mostly born in Zimbabwe,42 they are often stigmatized as foreigners, especially as the discourses of the ruling party ZANU(PF) increasingly, and opportunistically, turned towards what has been termed authoritarian nationalism and depicted farm workers as both passive dependents of white farmers and potentially active allies of their employers in resistance to land redistribution (Rutherford 2001b). And, it has to be said, in many analyses of Zimbabwes agrarian questions from a progressive position like those briey surveyed above and preoccupied with semi-proletarianization on the one hand, the prospects of a peasant path on the other the position and interests of farm workers typically have been marginalized, if acknowledged at all.43 Land Redistribution: An Outline By contrast with insignicant land reform in South Africa after apartheid, Zimbabwe since February 2000 presents a unique case of sweeping, regimesanctioned, conscatory land redistribution in the world today and one that gets the attention of the international media, at least periodically: the most newsworthy rogue state in the realm of property rights?44 The markers of its trajectory

These and other gures on farm workers are from Sachinkonyes valuable report (2003); see also Rutherford (2001a). 42 About 70 per cent, according to a source cited by Sender and Johnston (p. 154, note 15). 43 An exception, if more prescriptive than analytically useful, is Moyo et al. (2000). Tandon (2001) addresses much more directly this manifest failure of political vision and analysis concerning farm workers, by far the largest single component of the working class in Zimbabwe a failure comparable in its seriousness to that in South Africa in the 1980s concerning migrant workers (especially from the then KwaZulu) whose hostels became bases for systematic violence against adjacent townships organized by the ANC and UDF (United Democratic Front); see Mamdani (1996, chapter 7), also Morris and Hindson (1992). 44 And thus a ready source of rhetoric for use elsewhere, for example, Scotland (with the highest concentration of private land ownership in the world) whose Parliament passed a land reform bill in January 2003. Some landowners have threatened legal action, saying the bill, which gives crofting communities the right to buy their land even if the landlord does not want to sell, is akin to President Mugabes land grab in Zimbabwe. A Conservative Party Member of the Scottish Parliament


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of land politics and policies since liberation are well known: the state-managed redistribution/resettlement of the early 1980s, constrained in its extent by, inter alia, the Lancaster House Agreement and its willing buyerwilling seller provision (to prevent conscation); following the end of the Lancaster House provisions in 1990 (and with the course of political events in Zimbabwe) the much more radical redistribution promised by the Land Act of 1992 and by the gazetting of 1471 large landed properties for compulsory acquisition in late 1997, both of which, however, delivered relatively little; and the comprehensive land occupations/conscations fast track resettlement from late February or March 2000, sanctioned by a regime increasingly mired in deep political trouble substantially of its own making. Some brief explanation of Table 1 is needed for familiar reasons: the land categories are ofcial designations and the gures for 1980 and 1997 are from government sources which can conceal as much as they reveal45 (gures for 2002 are compiled by Sachnikonye). The three principal categories of farm land in 1980 were taken over from the white minority regime replaced by Mugabes rst government. The LSCF category, then consisting exclusively of landed property of (white) settler origin, was occupied by some 6000 large farms. The SSCFA area was occupied by some 8500 (black) yeoman or progressive farmers, a characteristic category promoted by British colonialism in Africa, especially in its late developmental phase. Communal areas, a fundamental
Table 1. Land distribution in Zimbabwe 19802002 Land category LSCF LSCF (A2 model) CA SSCFA Resettlement State farms National parks Source: Sachikonye (2003, 22). Key: a approximation; LSCF: Large-scale commercial farm (white-owned, but see below); LSCF (A2) model: Large-scale commercial farm (black-owned); CA: Communal areas; SSCFA: Small-scale commercial farming area.
similarly spoke of this Mugabe-style land grab which has nothing to do with land reform and everything to do with other parties being obsessed by replaying the class war of 200 years ago presumably the Highland clearances of which Marx wrote (1976, 8915); all quotes from The Guardian (London), 24 January 2003. 45 In fact, the source of these gures is a paper by Dr T. Takavarasha, then Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Lands and Agriculture, Government of Zimbabwe, presented to a conference at SOAS in March 1998, and reported in Stoneman (2000). Most of the gures in what follows are taken from Sachikonye (2003), unless otherwise indicated.

1980 ha (m) 15.5 16.4 1.4 0.3 6.0

1997 ha (m) 12.1 16.4 1.4 3.6 0.8 6.0

2002 ha (m) 1.0a 2.0 16.4 1.4 11.0 0.6 6.0

Agrarian Questions and the Politics of Land in Capitalism Today 215 category of both colonial land tenure and the structuring of colonial state rule,46 contained some 700,000 (black) households, with 75 per cent of communal areas located in the countrys drier and less fertile agro-ecological zones. Under the post-independence resettlement programme, about 48,000 households from the communal areas were resettled by 1989, most of them by 1984 on land acquired between 1980 and 1982 and that was available as it had been abandoned by its owners in areas of guerilla attacks in the 1970s (Cliffe 2000). The pace of ofcial resettlement slowed considerably after the mid-1980s, with less than 20,000 households receiving land between 1990 and 1997. The much more extensive redistribution promised by the Land Act of 199247 and by the gazetting of 1471 large landed properties for compulsory acquisition in late 1997 (above) did not happen (Moyo 2000), principally for political reasons including the governments desire to avoid offending aid donors in the 1990s when Zimbabwes adoption of a structural adjustment programme coincided with serious economic downturn and a rapidly growing, and increasingly effective, political opposition of which the ZCTU (Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions) was a central component. What is missing in, or obscured by, Table 1 as well as by accounts that focus on lost opportunities for greater redistribution to communal area farmers from the mid-1980s to the end of the 1990s is the emergence and growth of large-scale black landed property. A commonly cited gure (e.g. by Moyo 2003) is that on the eve of fast track resettlement, there were some 4500 large landed properties/farms (down by a quarter since 1980) of which 800 or so were owned by black Zimbabweans drawn, presumably, from the ranks of the political elite, the most successful black capitalist farmers, and black investors from outside the agricultural sector.48 The political conjuncture of 1997 to February 2000 (when the government was defeated in a referendum on constitutional change) is key to what happened subsequently. In addition to continuing, and mounting, economic deterioration and political opposition, consolidated with the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) as a political party late in 1999, there were two key events. One was an extensive wave of spontaneous local invasions and occupations of large landed properties (mostly, but not exclusively, white farms) in 19978, some of which were followed by eviction and repression by state forces


The basis of its decentralized despotism, as analysed by Mamdani (1996); see also note 12 above. 47 Nick Amin observed of the 1992 Land Act at the time that Land redistribution on the scale planned is . . . not likely to be a nancially viable option. Against this, of course, is the view that the ruling party sees swift action to redistribute white-owned land to blacks as the only way to win back dwindling support (1992, 150), a view it nally acted on in 2000. 48 Whereas black landed property only makes its appearance in Table 1 after fast track resettlement in the category LSCF (A2 model). However, Sachinkonye notes that about 500 fully-edged (black) commercial farmers (2003, 22) were acknowledged ofcially by the mid-1990s, of whom about 80 per cent had bought farms with their own resources while the remainder rented government leasehold farms according to government gures but hardly the full story, it is safe to assume.


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(Moyo 2001; Marongwe forthcoming);49 the other was the increasing pressure on the government by the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNWLVA): . . . when sustained lobbying of government by ZNWLVA for greater nancial compensation, political recognition, and progress on land redistribution reached a dramatic crescendo in late 1997, President Mugabe gave in to their demands. Aware of the veterans political capital . . . and reluctant to lose their support or the prospect of an even more violent challenge from them as threatened, he yielded to their demands. He awarded all war veterans a one-off cash payment and an ongoing monthly pension, as well as a signicant percentage of all newly acquired land for resettlement. (Hammar and Raftopoulos forthcoming) It seems that the invasions and occupations of large landed properties that moved with ferocious speed from March 2002 were mostly initiated by the ZNWLVA, then rapidly accepted and proclaimed by the Mugabe regime (euphemistically) as fast track resettlement. The results are dramatic as the nal column of Table 1 indicates, above all in the cells for LSCF (white-owned and A2 model) and resettlement. By the end of 2002, there were estimated to be 600800 white farmers remaining on their properties of approximately 1 million hectares in total,50 while some 30,000 black commercial farmers (60 per cent of the target gure) had acquired 2 million hectares under the rubric of the A2 model. In the A1 model of resettlement from communal areas, some 300,000 rural households are estimated to have moved on to about 7.4 million hectares (the resettlement gure for 2002 less that for 1997 in Table 1).51 Fast Track Resettlement: Some Immediate Effects Land acquisition, especially in the mostly chaotic fashion in which it occurred in Zimbabwe in the space of two years, is not the same as the immediate (re)settlement of farmers nor (re)settlement with the immediate commencement

There was also an unprecedented level of strikes on commercial farms across the country in October 1997 and, to a lesser extent, in July 1998 (Tandon 2001, 216). The regimess fear of workers organization and politics was thus compounded by a new level of militancy of farm workers usually stigmatized as passive. Sachikonye (2003, 7) reports that a new state-sponsored Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions (ZFTU), established to counter the ZCTU, has been trying to recruit farm workers in Masvingo and elsewhere. 50 Even within this comprehensive acquisition (in the ofcial jargon) of white farms there was considerable (and erratic) local variation, as in all aspects of the process in the countryside from early 2000 (see further below). For example, larger estates and plantations, those specialising in sugar, tea and timber production in particular, were spared from acquisition in Midlands province, as were some tea estates in Manicaland, sugar plantations in Masvingo, and citrus estates in Mashonaland Central (Sachikonye 2003, 43). 51 Again these rough gures do not identify the land grabbing by members of the political elite that undoubtedly took place. Against the commonly cited gure of some 11 million hectares of white farm land redistributed by the end of 2002 (e.g. by Moyo 2003; Sachinkonye 2003), there are some 1.6 million hectares missing in the last column of Table 1.

Agrarian Questions and the Politics of Land in Capitalism Today 217 of farming, let alone at a level that replaces production on land seized, as available data readily conrm. First, substantial annual reductions in output for the three years from 2000 to 2002, and anticipated for 2003, are reported for tobacco, wheat, maize, soya and livestock (Sachikonye 2003, 67, 41), of which the decline in tobacco is especially signicant for foreign exchange earnings. Sachikonyes survey supports a general picture of substantial declines in production on acquired farms, albeit with marked variations between different areas. Second, the disruptions of production coincided with a severe drought, and both compounded problems of food production and domestic food supply that were already evident before fast track resettlement (Hammar and Raftopoulos, forthcoming). Third, it is estimated that By the beginning of 2003, only about 100,000 farm workers, a third of the original workforce, were still employed on the farms and plantations (Sachikonye 2003, 5). Sachikonye summarizes thus some of the ndings of his (unique) survey in OctoberNovember 2002, covering nearly 1000 farm workers on 125 commercial farms in all eight rural provinces: . . . up to 50 per cent of farm workers stayed on even if they no longer held jobs. In general, female workers suffered greater loss of employment . . . more than 50 per cent of permanent female workers and nearly 60 per cent of seasonal female workers lost their jobs. This compares with 30 per cent and 33 per cent respectively for permanent and seasonal male workers. The data also indicate a decline in permanent and seasonal female workers (by 63 per cent and 42 per cent respectively) living on farms. That substantial proportion of female and male workers no longer living on farms must be experiencing considerable hardship, wherever they are now. In the survey sample, only about a quarter of the farm workers who lost jobs had received severance packages by the end of 2002 . . . (While) the new farmers, both small and large (have been) . . . beneciaries of land reform, (farm workers) have not, despite appeals for land through their union, the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union (GAPWUZ). A somewhat uneasy relationship exists between the beneciaries and the farm workers. There have been conicts over continued access to farm housing for farm workers, and over resources such as land, water and food. However, there are also instances of peaceful co-existence on some farms . . . Not surprisingly, (those interviewed) . . . identied the more immediate needs of farm workers as food and land . . . Other priority needs were income generating projects (requested in particular by women respondents), crop inputs, social infrastructure and services. (Sachikonye 2003, 79) In sum, the immediate effects of land redistribution in Zimbabwe in the past few years support Sender and Johnstons conclusions, above all concerning farm workers (and especially female farm workers) and with a force that the South


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African experience does not. Moreover, as should be obvious, the political circumstances and processes of fast track resettlement in Zimbabwe were entirely different to the minimal implementation in South Africa of World Bank-style new wave, market-led land reform. Politics of Land Redistribution in Zimbabwe The conjuncture of fast track resettlement, as noted above, was one of intense economic crisis in Zimbabwe as well as of a fragile and volatile political situation. Some 300,000 jobs (of 1,300,000) in formal employment were lost in the 1990s (Hammar and Raftopoulos, forthcoming), and a crisis of daily reproduction was experienced by large sections of the (urban) middle class and petty bourgeoisie (as in many other parts of Africa in the era of structural adjustment and globalization) as well as by workers, semi-proletarians, poor farmers and the rural landless. Moreover, the majority of the urban population, across the class structure, retain strong rural links (and interests) of various kinds.52 There was also an intense democratic struggle against the depredations, agrant corruption and repression of the ZANU(PF) regime of Mugabe that put it under increasing pressure. That pressure was symbolized by the moment of its defeat in the referendum on constitutional reform in February 2002, widely regarded as the immediate trigger of the launch of fast track resettlement. Fast track resettlement, of course, occurred in a context of both longstanding and more recent complexities and contradictions of land questions in Zimbabwe that include, if not exhaustively: struggles over land within areas of peasant farming and especially perhaps on their frontiers; the dynamics and effects of patterns of substantial ruralrural migration since independence discourses of squatting and associated practices of eviction are not conned to the spaces of large commercial landed property (Nyambara 2001); the extent to which, and ways in which, the gathering crisis of the reproduction of labour during the 1990s added instances of urbanrural migration in a quest for land to the tensions noted; the effects of shifts in land use, and claims on land, generated by new, and highly protable, branches of export production and by the stratagems of eco-tourism capital and its practices of displacement and eviction (Hughes 2001); and how all these processes impact on, and are shaped by, class and gender differentiation in the countryside (Cousins et al. 1992). The translation of such social facts into political facts (to adopt the formulation of Mamdani 1996, 219) includes how the kinds of processes sketched are mediated through the often fragile political alliances and erratic practices of local accumulators and the similarly erratic, and contested, interventions of the local state, in which native/stranger distinctions, squatting and eviction also feature (Hammar 2001); the continuous if low prole local land disputes and

52 A sociological reality that goes beyond the ruralurban linkages of solely cyclical labour migration from a rural residential base, emphasized in much of the semi-proletarianization literature (as above).

Agrarian Questions and the Politics of Land in Capitalism Today 219 occupations from the moment of independence, moving to high prole/high intensity local land occupations in 19978 (Moyo 2000, 2001), noted above; the multiple ambiguities of ideological representations of farm workers, and their political sources and effects (Rutherford 2001b), also noted; the insertion of the war veterans, as a nationally organized political force, in this intensication of land politics in the late 1990s and their role in the moment of February 2000 (Moyo 2001); the reasons why, and means by which, Mugabes politically embattled regime (nally) declared its support for, and sought political benet from, sweeping land redistribution, after twenty years of vacillation and inconsistency. In reviewing the various instances, locations, timings and agents of land occupation during the upsurge of 2000, Moyo (2001) acknowledges its numerous localized and contradictory waves; the great range of actors involved, with a focus on the actual or aspiring leadership of party politicians, state ofcials, war veterans and chiefs, acting in concert with or independently of national directives from ZNLWA and ZANU(PF); and the heterogeneous social mix of participants, from rural communities to some members of the urban middle class and, one should add, the unemployed youth mobilized by ZANU(PF) that a number of observers noted.53 Key questions for the future, of course, are who got what land, what are they doing with it, and what will they do with it?54 For reasons that have been indicated, almost all classes in the context of Zimbabwes manifold crisis have some or other interest in getting rights to land that was being so massively (and chaotically) redistributed, except for (white) landed property/agrarian capital. Whether farm workers (and which farm workers) wanted land in addition to their jobs is not known. Certainly, it seems that farm workers have mostly, if not entirely, lost out on reallocated land, as did others who are members or supporters of the opposition MDC, or were accused of being so (Marongwe forthcoming).55 Otherwise, one would expect that those rural (and urban) social groups that lack political power and/or connections (for example, through local and wider relations of patronage) no doubt got very little, if any, of the land acquired (seized) and redistributed, including presumably the great majority of the rural poor and especially poor women, as Sender and Johnston emphasize (and see note 56 below). My concern here is to suggest the historical signicance of Zimbabwes unique redistributive land reform, and to illustrate its amalgam of contradictory social forces and meanings, rather than to evaluate it as a development policy


Rural as well as urban youth, and especially those drawn from the ranks of the rural sub-proletariat or lumpen semi-peasantry (Bush and Cliffe 1984, and Cousins et al. 1992, as cited earlier)? See also Marongwe (forthcoming) and Sachikonye (2003) for instances of the immense local variation in farm occupations and their politics. 54 Questions that Sam Moyo, among others, is currently trying to answer (Moyo 2003, and personal communication). 55 Another ugly aspect, among many, of the Mugabe regimes vicious attempts to crush the MDC, is the refusal to provide government and party [ZANU(PF)] managed emergency food relief to areas, groups and individuals associated with the MDC.


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intervention,56 which it was not pace the regimes presentation of it in this way and the attempts of others (like Moyo and Yeros) to assess its potential for a different (superior) path of agrarian development. This requires grappling with the multiple, and uid, complexities and contradictions of the conjuncture in Zimbabwe at the end of the 1990s, of which only some elements were briey sketched above. Any concrete analysis of a concrete situation is going to involve alertness to multiple determinations (in Marxs term) and, in my view, needs to shed any expectations of class (or any other) purism (Bernstein 2000, 402), or evaluation of success or failure on the criteria of some rationalist plan of policy (i.e. objective, means, outcome) removed from the real worlds of politics. The land question in Zimbabwe is entangled with struggle for democracy in a number of senses: the struggle against landed property and agrarian capital of colonial/settler provenance, the reproduction of which registers the limits of national democratic revolution;57 the struggles of fragmented (and divided) labour for means of livelihood and reproduction (the agrarian question of labour proposed above); and the specic (and variant) sources, trajectories and fortunes of political opposition to the Mugabe regime.58 On all these connected terrains, the agrarian question of labour is only one of a number of class (and other social) forces in a volatile, complex and contradictory dynamic in Zimbabwe, with the additional irony of the part (belatedly) played in comprehensive land redistribution by a regime antagonistic to the concerns and interests of labour. The most signicant cost of the processes described was the failure of political vision and commitment to nd means of negotiating and combining the interests of the key fragments of labour not least worker-peasants and farm workers in the face of the many ways that power fragment(s) the circumstances and experiences of the oppressed (Mamdani 1996, 272). CONCLUSION The paper began by registering its agreement with other contributions to this special issue that advance potent criticisms of neo-populism, specically in the GKI version, as theoretical model, empirical account of agrarian structure, and not least development ideology as Byres (p. 19) aptly reminds us, and which


Which Sender and Johnston tend to do? Their point that land reforms in practice, depending I would add on the balance of political forces and its trajectories, do not help the rural poor (or poorest) is undoubtedly often valid (and the same criticism of Latin American land reforms made by GKI). This applies especially to existing structures and processes of patriarchy (in its various forms), the struggles they generate, and their effects for the benets (if any) that women farmers, rural workers and worker-peasants get from redistributive land reforms; see Jacobs (1997), Deere and Len (2001) and Razavi (2003) among a large literature on this. 57 And however perverse, as well as opportunistic, the appropriation of that struggle in the anti-imperialist discourse of the Mugabe regime, itself a typical example of what happens in the real worlds of politics. 58 Ben Cousins (forthcoming) provides a wide-ranging and more systematic discussion of land and agrarian questions in relation to issues of democracy and democratization in the Southern African region.

Agrarian Questions and the Politics of Land in Capitalism Today 221 I suggested proposes a solution to the agrarian question of small or family farmers. In opposition to that ideology is the classic agrarian question of the transition to capitalism, that is, the agrarian question of (industrial) capital, which also historically subsumed the agrarian question of labour. I advanced some (highly schematic) theses concerning the world historical of capitalism to suggest that there is no longer an agrarian question of capital on a world scale, as an effect of changes within capitalism characterized as globalization. The tendency of globalization to fragment labour in the sense indicated led to the question whether there might be a (new) agrarian question of labour now detached from that of capital, rooted in crises of employment, and manifested in struggles over, and for, land to secure some part of its reproduction needs. The purpose is to provoke ways of recognizing, and investigating, what is changing before our very eyes in this period of a globalizing capitalism, to enlarge the agenda of the contemporary concerns of agrarian political economy. A stance taken here, for better or worse, is that struggles over land today that might correspond to, or incorporate, a (new) agrarian question of labour demand a kind of respect in their interrogation and analysis that is not required in disposing of the claims of development ideology (and ideologues) even when representations by those waging such struggles may draw on discursive elements shared with development ideology.59 This is not to write a blank cheque for each and every instance claiming the credentials of a land struggle from below nor, as noted above, to accept that land struggle is the denitive political practice of the semi-proletarian condition throughout the South or the cutting edge of world revolution. Rather it is to suggest that issues of redistributive land reform in capitalism today should not be surrendered to the concerns (or fantasies) of neoclassical populism nor otherwise assigned to the dustbin of history marked anachronistic, reactionary, utopian (or all three), a view I sought to illustrate by the sketch of land redistribution in Zimbabwe with all its manifold contradictions. REFERENCES
Amin, N., 1992. State and Peasantry in Zimbabwe since Independence. European Journal of Development Research, 4 (1): 11262. Arrighi, G. and J.W. Moore, 2001. Capitalist Development in World Historical Perspective. In Phases of Capitalist Development. Booms, Crises and Globalizations, eds R. Albritton, M. Itoh, R. Westra and A. Zuege, 5675. London: Palgrave.


Which, as we know only too well, is entirely promiscuous in its varieties of ideological dress as well as fairly constant in its core message: just trying to do its best for those who need its help most. Perhaps one of the effects of neo-liberal hegemony today is to increase the scale of ideological crossdressing as Nixon (1994, 152) memorably put it in the context of South Africas political transition, when the forces that had ourished under apartheid were busy reinventing themselves to claim their place in the new rainbow nation in ways that deed belief (as Nixon said) and not least (white) agrarian capital and its institutions (Bernstein 1996b, 1998). On the other hand, in some cases the adoption of certain discursive elements in popular struggles as on the part of established ruling class interests may manifest a quite denite and conscious political tactic rather than indicating a fundamental ideological delusion.


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