Differentiation of the Peasantry in Bangladesh 1950s to 1980s
Introduction: Situating the Problem
THE ECONOMIC backwardness of most Third World countries including Bangladesh is to a great extent explained by the unresolved agrarian question. The manner in which the latter is resolved in a way determines the way out of the impasse called underdevelopment. Given the different experiences of even this, any analysis of the agrarian question necessitates :
...delineation of the complex and varied means whereby capitalism became the dominant mode of production in agriculture : growing out of simple commodity production, here via the landlord class and there via a peasantry which gradually became differentiated (so providing the extremes, a stratum of rich peasants who ultimately become capitalist farmers and a stratum of poor peasants who were transformed into agricultural labourers or who joined the urban proletariat); slowly penetrating the countryside, developing the forces of production in manifold ways and raising agricultural productiveness; eroding feudal and semi-feudal relations of production and replacing them with the stark opposition of a class of capitalist farmers and one of wage labourers. This, the agrarian transition to capitalism (which, to be brief, we may call the agrarian transition), represented a conditio sine qua non for resolving of the agrarian question.1
Thus, in order to locate the possible terrain of the resolution of the agrarian question in the specific context of Bangladesh, it is imperative that one should investigate the composition of its peasantry and assess whether that composition is changing.2
Early Marxists, especially Engels, at the end of the nineteenth century, investigated these issues purely out of political concern. They were preoccupied with the problem of how to capture political power in European countries in which capitalism was developing apace, but had not yet, as it was expected ultimately to do, swept away all before it in the countryside. It is due to this underdeveloped nature of capitalism, that Marx and Engels stressed the political apathy of the peasants : an apathy born, in part,
* Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, Dhaka.