The Political Economy of Agrarian Capitalism
The enigma of capital and its unique relation with agriculture has been the subject of great interest to the classical political economists, both from the liberal as well as Marxist tradition. Though the nature of this relation has undergone major transmutations, yet it always occupies a central place for political and academic praxis. The amount of literature generated by the postwar Marxist debate enriched our understanding of this relation but not without raising fresh questions which were earlier either considered insignificant or were looked from totally different vantage point. The latest debate of the 1970s on the nature of mode of production in Indian agriculture was one in the series whose end, though, was not that happy one. Patnaik (1986:37) concluded the debate in these words: the very posing of the question—what is the mode of production in Indian Agriculture?—is a theoretically impermissible use of the category.
Neo-marxists, in their attempt to reinterpret the genealogy of capitalism, have brought the relation of circulation to the centre. And hence modern capitalism, in their opinion, dates back to the sixteenth century. Brenner (1986:35; 1987:180) restores the primacy of the relation of production in determining the character of British agriculture, but as far as the dating of mature capitalism is concerned, he stands by the Neo-Marxists. In response to Brenner, the timely intervention from Albritton(1993:437) is an attempt to put things in order and he stretches down the date of British agrarian capitalism to as late as the mid-nineteenth century. How can there be a gap of two and a half centuries in dating capitalism when both Brenner and Albritton agree on the crucial element of commodified labour-power as an indispensable pre-requisite of agrarian capitalism? Further, why the presence of highly idealized version of commodified wage-labour can only nteet the requirement of capitalist agriculture? To insist on this requirement seems at odd when Albritton (1993:428) himself is aware of the difficulties involved to achieve it due to the determinate nature of the labour process in agriculture. According to him family farming, whether on leased land or on owned land, is strictly against the tenets of capitalist agriculture. This reminds us of the dilemma of Indian debate of the 1970s on the subject when Marxist writers screened village after village in search of capitalist farmer, but many of them, to their great disappointment, could, instead, locate only "feudal" or at the most "semi-feudal" landlord.
Department of Sociology, Punjab University, Chandigarh.
Social Scientist, Vol. 25, Nos. 11-12, November-December 1997