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Communist Manifesto, Late Marx and the Farmers’ Struggle

 

 

Spot the difference between the two quotations below.

“The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life. Just as it has made the country dependent on the towns, so it has made barbarian and semi-barbarian countries dependent on the civilised ones, nations of peasants on nations of bourgeois, the East on the West.” – [Marx and Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, 1848. Emphasis added]

Farmers’ protest at Delhi borders, image courtesy New Indian Express

“Hence, the historical movement which changes the producers into wage-workers, appears, on the one hand, as their emancipation from serfdom and from the fetters of the guilds, and this side alone exists for our bourgeois historians. But, on the other hand, these new freedmen became sellers of themselves only after they had been robbed of all their own means of production, and of all the guarantees of existence afforded by the old feudal arrangements. And the history of this, their expropriation, is written in the annals of mankind in letters of blood and fire.” – [Karl Marx, Capital Volume 1, Chapter 26, ‘The Secret of Primitive Accumulation’. 1867. All emphasis added]

Look closely at both, and if you have any doubts, you can return to the original texts from which these two passages have been extracted – the Communist Manifesto, by the youthful Marx and Engels, published in 1848 and Capital, Volume I, published in 1867. If the Communist Manifesto almost celebrates the ‘fact’ that capitalism has “rescued a considerable part of the population [i.e. the peasant] from the idiocy of rural life”, what does the text of Capital say? It underlines that precisely these people who had been thus ‘rescued’, “became sellers of themselves after they had been robbed of all their means of production“.

And if we take a step outside their context and read these lines in the context of contemporary India – from Singur and Nandigram to the ongoing saga of the epic farmers’ struggle – it is not difficult to see why the text of Capital insists that the history of their expropriation is written in “letters of blood and fire.” The big difference is that while literally millions perished in the storm of capitalist industrialization in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries in Europe and simply disappeared into history; today, the peasants, farmers and indigenous people – all the so-called ‘pre-capitalist’ populations  –  are fighting back. There were no institutions of democracy, no language of struggle back then; it was the sheer exercise of naked power by the rising bourgeoisie that enforced the expropriation of agrarian and artisanal communities.

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