SOME TIME ago we had expressed our intention of taking up the agrarian question for deeper study in the pages of the journal. In keeping with this intention, we devote the current number of Social Scientist exclusively to a discussion of capitalist transition in agriculture.
The overall transformation of a society in the direction of capitalism, as is well-known, need not entail an immediate, parallel development towards a preponderance of capitalist (i.e., wage labour-based) farming in agriculture. Lenin had noted this phenomenon for the United States. But whether it is the U.S. or France or Japan, agriculture in advanced capitalist countries is far from being characterised by the exclusive preponderance of wage-based cultivation and this situation is not even likely to change in the near future. This however does not mean that agriculture in the countries remains partly pre-capitalist in any meaningful sense of the term. Rather, as Terry Byres argues in the lead article, agrarian transition within the overall context of capitalist transformation of society can take diverse forms. Capitalist transition in agriculture must not be understood narrowly to imply exclusively a transition to the capitalist form of cultivation;
rather, it should be understood in the somewhat broader sense of entailing a transformation of the agricultural sector in a manner which subserves'the overall capitalist transformation of society. The precise form of the agrarian transformation has varied from case to case, depending upon the precise historical context and the class-configuration obtaining therein. Classical Marxist discussions of the subject have focussed attention on two particular variants of this transformation : the Prussian and the American paths. But, the author feels, it would be entirely in the tradition of Lenin's analysis to extend the comparative method, so richly and fruitfully employed by him, to distinguish between several alternative variants. He accordingly discusses the form that this transition took in a number of different cases, England, France, U.S., Prussia and Japan, bringing out the specificities in each case, and locating them within the overall context of capitalist transformation in each situation.
Utsa Patnaik's paper is based on another important insight of Lenin, namely that developments in agriculture are often obscured by an incorrect aggregation of data, which permits the drawing of a host of neo-populist and anti-Marxist conclusions, e.g., the superiority of petty-pro-