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2011

Mode of Production debate in Indian Agriculture

2011

Banaras Hindu University


Dr C D Adhikary

MODE OF PRODUCTION
DEBATE IN INDIAN
AGRICULTURE
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Mode of Production debate in Indian Agriculture

2011

Mode of Production debate in Indian Agriculture


The production process involves the interaction of three elements with one
another. The first element is the object of labour, that is, that which is the
objective of human activity. It embraces two groups: a) materials directly
obtained in natural conditions and converted into a product. It may be land
as the universal object of labour, deposits of minerals and oil, ores, fish in
natural water reservoirs etc, and b) previously processed materials. These
are called raw materials (for instance, yarn in textile production, metals or
plastics at an engineering plant, etc.. The second element is the instruments
of labour or the implements of labour, that is, that by means of which man
exerts an influence, whether directly or indirectly, on the diverse objects of
labour. This includes the simplest instruments like the hammer and the
spade, and the most diverse machines, like tractors, excavators, machinetools, automatic lines and the most complicated assemblies. Among the
instruments of labour exerting an indirect influence on the process of
production are buildings, factories and plants, transport routes, airports and
seaports, and storage facilities. The objects of labour and the instruments of
labour, taken together, comprise the means of production. The interaction of
these two elements or the means of production with the third element that
is, labour itself which involves peoples conscientious and purposeful activity
by which they alter natural objects, adapting them to satisfy their own
requirements taken together characterise the productive power of labour,
the productive forces of the society.
The relations of production correspond to a definite stage of development of
their

material

productive

forces

and

hence

with

different

levels

of

development of the productive forces, different relations of production are


observed. These constitute an intricate and highly ramified system covering
the relations, which people establish with each other in the process of

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Mode of Production debate in Indian Agriculture

2011

production, distribution, exchange and consumption of the goods of life. They


are the social form of production through which people appropriate the
objects of nature. Central to the whole system of relations of production are
the relations of property in the means of production. These are the relations
that determine the existence of the various classes and social groups, their
status in the society, and their living conditions.
Mode of production implies an integrated complex or unity of these two
inter-dependent entitiesproductive forces or forces of production and social
relations of production. Mode of production is an articulated combination of
relations and forces of production.
Concepts
Pre capitalist mode of Production:
It is a low level of technique or simple reproduction with inexpensive and
simple instruments of production. The division of labour being at a very
primitive level of development. Self-sufficient subsistence production for the
immediate needs of a household or a village community rather than a wider
market. Unfree labour taking a variety of different forms. Extra-economic
coercion in the extraction of surplus from the direct producer, political
decentralisation and a fusion of economic and political power at the point of
production and a localised structure of power wherein judicial or quasijudicial powers in relation to the dependent population of direct producers is
exercised by the landlords.
1. Petty production
2. localised production, circulation and appropriation
3. Non-monetisation
4. Production for use rather than for exchange
5. Investment of capital in trade and usury
6. Absolute rent rather than ground rent
7. Rent in kind rather than rent in money

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Mode of Production debate in Indian Agriculture

2011

8. Low pace of technology and lack of Mechanisation

Capitalist Mode of Production:


1. Free Wage Labourer,
2. Market,
3. Capital Reinvestment and Surplus Appropriation,
4. Profit accumulation,
5. Generalised Commodity Production
6. Class Contradiction
The Debate:
The genesis of this debate can be traced to the exchange between Maurice
Dobb (Studies in the development of Capitalism) and Paul Sweezy in the
early 50s about the transition from feudalism to capitalism that occurred in
early modern Europe. From here on the debate has spread to different parts
of the world. The debate also owes much to the arguments between A G
Frank and Ernesto Lacalu on their understanding of Development and
underdevelopment in Latin America. Andre Gunder Frank in Sociology of
Development

and

Underdevelopment

of

Sociology

viewed

the

underdevelopment in L. America as a result of being involved in the world


economy or as frank put it for Chile underdevelopment is the necessary
product of four centuries old capitalism itself. The Latin American economy,
for Frank, is engaged in a generalized commodity production and is part of a
world capitalist system as opposed to localized production and appropriation
in feudal mode of production. Contrary to the position taken by Frank,
Ernesto Lacalu in Feudalism and capitalism in Latin America (1971) refuses
to accept latin America as capitalist. Instead Lacalu accuses Frank of blurring
the distinction between two concepts of Capitalist Mode of Production and
Participation in A World Capitalist System. For Laclau, it made no sense to

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Mode of Production debate in Indian Agriculture

2011

talk about capitalism in Latn America if un-free labor was involved. Since
Latin America was typified by un-free labor, ranging from slavery (as in
plantations) to the feudal-like 'mita' system (as in Mines) it is more a case of
feudalism and capitalism co-existing in the same economic system. For
Laclau, feudalism and capitalism exist side-by-side in countries such as Peru
in the 20th century. In the countryside, where peasants are subject to forms
of debt peonage, feudalism would seem to be the problem. In fact Laclau
argued that the problem in Latin America was not capitalism, but insufficient
capitalism.
The Debate in Indian Agriculture:
Similar debate has been raised in India on the nature of Indian agrarian
economy. Early mention can be made of a study on differentiation of
peasantry by S C Gupta (1962) who classified farmers into a. Capitalist
farmers b. Market Oriented large Family farms c. Small Holders. However the
debate got a head start with the publication of a study in 1969 on Big
Farmers of Punjab by Ashok Rudra, A Majid and B D Talib carried out by the
Agro-Economic Research Centre of the University of Delhi. The study more
for a search for capitalist farmer which are identified by the following
characteristics:
A capitalist farmer will tend to cultivate his land himself rather than give it
out on lease; (b) he would tend to use hired labour in a much greater
proportion than family labour; (c) he would tend to use farm machinery;
(d) he would be market-oriented; i e, he would tend to market an
important share of his produce; and, (e) he would be profit-minded; i.e,
he would tend to so organise his production as to yield a high rate of
return on his investments.
Taking the above characteristics the study sought to test positive or negative
correlation among the following variables.

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Mode of Production debate in Indian Agriculture

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If the above expected features are the explicandum, we have used as explicata the following variables: (1) percentage of land rented out to total
land owned; (2) wage payment in cash per acre of farm size (X2); (3)
value of modern capital equipment per acre of farm size (X3); (4)
percentage of produce marketed to total produce (X4); and (5) cash profit
per acre. (X5).
The study findings pointed to the negative correlation between variables
suggesting the absence of a class of capitalist farmer. These rather negative
conclusions were responded to first by Daniel Thorner, a longtime observer of
India's agriculture,

and also Kotovsky in West Bengal earlier, who had

concluded from his own rural tours that a new era of capitalist agriculture
was beginning. Then in 1971 Utsa Patnaik argued, from her own study of
1969, that a new capitalist farmer class was indeed beginning to emerge.
Rudra contested this, Patnaik replied, Paresh Chattopadhyay intervened with
crucial theoretical points and the famous Indian debate on the 'mode of
production in agriculture' was on. Ranjit Sau, Hamza Alavi, Jairus Banraji,
Harry Cleaver, Amit Bhaduri, Pradhan Prasad (1973, 74) and numerous other
Indian and foreign scholars became involved, and journals in Europe and
elsewhere published summaries and further interpretations. Mc Eachern
sums up the debate around four indicators of capitalist agriculture:
Generalised Commodity Production, Emergence of free wage labour, Capital
Investment, Irrevalence of share-cropping, usury and tenancy.
Amit Bhaduri (1973) in his study of West Bengal characterised the system as
'semi-feudalism' because of (i) an extensive non-legalised share-cropping
system, (ii) perpetual indebtedness of the small tenants, (iii) the 'ruling' class
in rural areas operating as both' landowners and lenders to small tenants,
(iv) small tenants having incomplete access to the rural 'markets' and being
forcibly

involved

in

involuntary

exchanges

because

of

the

peculiar

organisation of these 'markets'. In effect, Bhaduri says, the set-up prevents


capital investment in agriculture. He concludes the existence of "semi-feudal
mode of production" in East Indian agriculture. Pradhan Prasad (1973,74)

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Mode of Production debate in Indian Agriculture

2011

also found in his study of Bihar that the social formation in rural Bihar is
predominantly semi-feudal. He lists four prominent features of semifeudalism: Sharecropping, Perpetual indebtedness of the small tenants,
Concentration of two modes of exploitation, namely usury & land ownership
in the hands of the same economic class and lack of access to the market by
small

farmers.

Prasad

in

fact

found

that

big

landowners

decline

mechanization & irrigation so that they need not have to free the small
tenants from bondage and exploitation (Sahay, Op. cit, p. 18)

Utsha Patanaik giving her comment on the debate opines that agricultural
wage labourers do exist but they are unfree in so far as they are tied to
agriculture. Paresh Chattopadhyay contends that agricultural labourer is tied
to agriculture as industrial wage labourer is tied to industry. According to
Utsha Pattanaik the distinction between pre-capitalist/Feudal mode of
Production and a capitalist variant lies not in whether labour is free or unfree but rather on the productive reinvestment of surplus and accumulation
of capital. So pattanaik asserts that that Indian agriculture is largely precapitalist, though there exists within a prevailing non-capitalist mode of
production, a small but growing class of capitalist. However the mode of
production is predominantly pre-capitalist because 1. Non-existence of
accumulation for investment and reinvestment, 2. Prevalence of personalized
relations of dependence between landowners and
Inordinate

development

of

capital

in

the

landless labourers, 3.

sphere

of

exchange,

i.e.,

usury/moneylending and trade. (Sahay, G R, Village Studies in India, Rawat.


P. 13)

Humza Alvi and also Jairus Bannerji, point to a colonial mode of production in
agriculture. The real changes happening in agriculture has its genesis in the
demands of imperialism and its agrarian policy. Further the changing

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Mode of Production debate in Indian Agriculture

2011

framework of class alignment in the Indian political system warranted by a


host of factors like class based congress politics in post independent India
and the consequent shift in agrarian policy, Land reforms, CDP and Extension
services, Vote bank politics, package programmes like Green Revolution and
Intensive agricultural district programmes also added to the changing
agrarian landscape in India. Thus the present changes in agriculture has a
distinct colonial legacy and hence it can be better understood as a colonial
mode of production.
Gail Omvedt is of the opinion that the debate over the 'mode of production in
Indian agriculture grew out of a milieu where scholars steeped in classic
Marxist notions of feudalism, capitalism and imperialism confronted a
changing empirical reality. In retrospect, it now appears that the data base of
the whole debate was scanty, though by the late 1960s, important economic
changes in agriculture had been initiated, and the process of destroying preindependence forms of landlordism and laying of the foundations of an
industrial and infrastructural development that could supply inputs to
agriculture was beginning to produce real changes. But though Indian
agriculture was becoming capitalist, the debate on the mode of production
centered itself on the colonial period and failed to analyze the qualitatively
different processes at 'work in the post-colonial phase. Drawing on data from
different sources like agriculture Census, National Sample Survey and all
India debt and Investment Survey, She argues that the mode of production
in agriculture have become all the more complex over the years and three
classes can be discerned today in agriculture, namely, capitalist farmers,
middle Peasants and semi-Proletarianised poor peasants and labourers.
Omvedt also point to the fact that the Capitalism we find today is a
capitalism that is developing within a post-colonial economy totally bound up
with imperialism affected in specific ways by the disarticulation between
small-scale capitalism and large-scale industry, characteristic of such
economies and by the still potent retrogressive impact of certain semi-feudal

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Mode of Production debate in Indian Agriculture

2011

features of Indian social organization, including caste and oppression of


women.
Clearly the 'mode of production' de-bate was provoked by real changes
occurring in Indian agriculture, expressed politically in the Naxalbari revolt,
new organising of agricultural labourers and the repression of this organising by the rural elite as symbolised in the 1968 Kilvenmani massacre, first of
a long series of 'atrocities on Harijans'. It grew out of a milieu where scholars
steeped

in

the

classic

Marxist

notions

of

feudalism,

capitalism

and

imperialism confronted a changing empirical reality, and the concern of all


participants about the connection of research with revolutionary practice was
perhaps best expressed in the catch-phrase.

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