A Reply to Gary Grant's Comments on the Draft Programme
Part 1

by a Draft Programme Writing Group

Revolutionary Worker #1212, September 14, 2003, posted at rwor.org

A few months ago you wrote some thoughts about the Revolutionary Communist Party's Draft Programme and its approach to agriculture. Your comments are much appreciated, and have been studied closely by those of us who had more direct responsibility for drafting the agriculture section of the Programme. We hope our response will not only speak to some of your concerns but also open up further dialogue.

You raise a number of important points in your post, but we feel two issues in particular are especially relevant to the ongoing discussion and debate about the Draft Programme. The first is a disagreement you have with our view of nationalization. As you put it: "I question why nationalization of land must stand at the center of your plan under socialism to carry out the revolution in agriculture? Does the solution lie in what is produced by the farmer or--as I contend--how it is distributed?" And you go on to say, "Why not nationalize the market? Why can't we maintain private ownership of our land and then have the distribution socialized for the good of society?"

The second issue has to do with the historic right of Black people to land. You express concern that the Black farmer, who has been subject to systematic dispossession of land and other resources, be able to own and maintain ownership of land under any new system: "Given the continuing land theft up to this day, we are not anxious to trade one `massa' for another, be they called capitalist, socialist or communist."

In responding to your post, we want to focus on why the Party puts the emphasis it does on nationalization (socialized ownership) of land; and how the new socialist society can address the needs and just demands of Black and other oppressed nationality farmers, who for generations have battled to obtain and hold on to land.

What We Mean By Nationalization of Land and State Ownership

Nationalization of land has been a controversial point in some of the responses we've gotten to the Draft Programme. So we want to explain this policy a bit more.

When we say land will be nationalized, we are saying that all land, not just farmland, will become social-public property. The exclusive possession of land by individual, corporate, or institutional property holders...the buying and selling of land...the treatment of land as an investment or speculative asset...the capacity of those in possession of land to extract rent from other...all this will be transformed by the socialist revolution into socialized ownership.

The essence of nationalization of land under socialism is that land will be placed at the collective disposal of society, utilized for the collective benefit of society, and treated as a collective resource of society.

When we look at the landscape of U.S. society today--its factories and fields; its cities, suburbs, and rural areas; its shopping centers, parks, roads, and highways--we find a landscape carved out and degraded according to the profit-above-all-else dictates of capitalism. There is no society-wide planning; there is no abiding concern for the environment and the future. The division of land into privately owned and privately managed parcels is an obstacle to this.

A socialist society will function differently. Nationalization of land will make it possible to implement a coherent and sustainable policy of land use, land development, and land protection and reclamation. Farmland will be managed on a society-wide basis as part of an environmentally sound agricultural system. Society will act as the custodian of the land, preserving and improving land and soil for future generations. It will be doing so in the context of a larger social effort to consciously direct economic development.

All this requires a system of social ownership and social planning. In the socialist stage of the revolution, which is a transition to communism, social ownership of land and other major means of production will take the form of state ownership. Once communism has been achieved, social ownership will be in the form of ownership by the people as a whole, by communist society without the existence of a state.

The socialist revolution stands for socializing the major means of production, including land. But in carrying out its policies of socializing ownership, the revolution makes a distinction in its approach to corporations and large-scale exploiters generally, on the one hand, and, on the other, to small-scale owners and operators. The holdings of the corporations and big capitalists will be seized more or less immediately, and without compensation, by the socialist state. Small-scale owners will be phased out more gradually and provided some compensation by the state.

A New Kind of State

But what kind of state will be carrying out these and other measures? The state power we are talking about will be qualitatively different than what has come before. This is not a state that safeguards the interests of the minority of exploiters. It is not a state that lords it over and suppresses the people, that functions as a "new massa," as you are concerned about.

The new proletarian state concentrates and represents the revolutionary interests of the proletariat and its allies. It serves the goal of eliminating exploitation. It serves the goal of abolishing classes and class distinctions, uprooting inequality among different nationalities and between men and women, and doing away with all forms of oppression.

Economic resources under socialism will no longer be employed to maximize profit for a minority class of exploiters but will be utilized to meet the fundamental needs and interests of the masses of people. One of the defining features of socialist state ownership and state planning is that political and social goals will guide economic growth and development--and a central concern of the new society and economy will be the elimination of the legacy of the oppression of Black people and other oppressed nationalities.

In its methods, too, the new proletarian state will be different from the bourgeois state. It will rely on the conscious activism of people and will marshal the energy and understanding of the formerly exploited and oppressed to bring a new world into being. This state will help create the conditions enabling the masses of people to take ever-more conscious responsibility for running society. It will promote broad debate and discussion about the purposes of economic development and the political and social goals of the revolution. The new society will organize itself according to socialist, cooperative principles and mobilize and motivate people not on the basis of narrow self-interest but according to the spirit of "serve the people."

We're not saying that this kind of state and system of political-social institutions will come about smoothly and automatically. There will be struggle at all levels of society, including at the top levels of the socialist state itself, over this broad vision of emancipation and over particular policies serving that vision. There will be struggle at all levels of society over whether to continue the revolution, or to drag society back to the old ways. But to wage this struggle and fight it through in the interests of the broad masses requires this new kind of state and a far-sighted vanguard leadership, which our Party is dedicated to being.

Why Nationalization of Land is a Core Principle of the Revolutionary Programme

You question why nationalization (social ownership) of land should be such a core principle for creating a new economic and social system. We see three basic reasons.

1). Nationalization of land is an essential political measure carried out by the proletariat to consolidate its class rule . It strikes a decisive blow at the economic power of the big land-holding capitalists and banks and other institutions that exercise effective title to land through mortgage and lending activities. The economic base of power of the bourgeoisie, and the condition that enables it to exploit millions of people, is its control over the major means of production, including land. The socialist revolution has to put a stop to exploitation and has to break the old exploiting class's stranglehold over the economy. It must strip the old owning class of means of production--which requires turning these means of production into social-public property under the direction of the new proletarian state.

2). Social ownership of land is an essential economic condition for developing a balanced, sustainable, and socialized system of agriculture that serves the development of a liberating economy. The proletariat aims to establish an economic and social system that allows society's resources and people's skills, creativity, and talents to be mobilized to meet social need and overcome the terrible scars, inequalities, and injustices of class society. A new socialist economy aims to create a system of agriculture that can conserve the resource base and provide a plentiful, safe, and nutritious food supply.

Our Draft Programme envisions a society in which agriculture and industry will be linked in new ways...in which people will live and work in closer proximity to agriculture... in which people will shift between different jobs and activities (in the urban and rural areas)...in which private-profit, "quick returns," and quick "technical fixes" will give way to a concern for both the immediate and long-term environmental consequences of economic and social activity, and appreciation for nature.

3). Social ownership of land provides the necessary basis for the proletariat to unite with and lead its farmer allies (those owner-operators who exploit little or no labor). These farmers will be encouraged to take part in a new system of farming. Socialism will provide security of livelihood to these farmers. It will do so first and foremost by canceling all debt and mortgages, and guaranteeing a stable, living income to farmers. Many such farmers will be assigned shares of nationalized land to farm. This land will be farmed under their responsibility but in the service of society.

The revolution will unleash the know-how and energy of these farmers in the new socialist economy we're describing. Society will work to socialize the conditions of work and life of these farmers--to break their isolation and link them more closely with other farmers, with farm and industrial-service workers, with scientific personnel, with youth, and with other sectors of society.

This vision of a new society cannot be achieved if land is privately owned. Only on the basis of social ownership and social control of land, and of the major means of production necessary to farm the land, will it be possible to achieve planned, all-sided, and egalitarian development.

Why Not Leave Small Farms in Private Hands?

You and several others who have commented on the Draft Programme have asked us: Why not just take over the holdings of the monopoly capitalists and keep private ownership for small and independent farmers?

We look at the issue from two angles. There's the question of the small family farm, as it exists today; and there's the question of the potential in society for something different and better.

The family-owned or leased farm functions within the overall web of the capitalist economic system. It produces for the market, relies on the market for inputs, and seeks to maximize income flows within the larger framework of capitalist competition and market relations. While small, and even large-scale, owner- operated family farms are not the same as big capitalist agro-enterprise and corporate agribusiness, they cannot avoid operating according to the laws and principles of the capitalist economy. At the same time, since the U.S. economy is dominated by monopoly capital, these farms--surrounded on the input and output side by agribusiness--lead a fragile existence.

The majority of small farms in the U.S. earn the great bulk of their income through off-farm activities. Moreover, one-third of total farm sales are made to large corporations under fixed-price contracts--moving many farmers, such as in poultry and eggs, into a kind of halfway position, between owner-operator and wage-worker. Growing numbers of small farmers are specializing in high-value "niche" crops. And many small and medium-sized farmers, barely able to cover costs, are being driven out of business.

Operationally, the small and family-owned farm is highly susceptible to the uncertainties of nature and the market. As a result, the owner-operator tends to sacrifice long-term planning to short-term solvency, though he or she tries, against great odds, to make plans covering several seasons to ensure soil fertility and health.

In developing the policies of the Draft Programme, we have tried to make an all-sided assessment of the family-owned farm.

We recognize that there are certain strong points associated with the small, owner-operated farm. These strong points include the intense motivation of the operator; his or her extensive knowledge of land and animals, which encourages technical choices and adaptations sensitive to local conditions, the cultivation of multiple crops, which, unlike the monoculture [single-crop farming--eds.] of agribusiness, is more consistent with sustainable farm practices. But when we look at the whole picture, the conclusion we reach is that the owner-operated farm can be improved upon greatly. Why?

For one thing, small-scale ownership, and private ownership in general, is not suited to the kind of social planning that a rational and truly sustainable agricultural system calls for. Socialist sustainable agriculture would need to establish production priorities--which require different levels and units of the economy pulling together. It would need to deal with the ecology of crop interactions and combinations, and water, pest, and disease management on local, regional, and larger scales--which requires integrated planning. It would need to achieve balance between urban and rural development--which requires society- wide decision-making and allocation of resources.

These are necessary features of a socially just, economically rational, and environmentally responsible agricultural system. But if land is chopped up into private decision-making units, you can't achieve this kind of planning and management. You can't set out production goals and coordinate and integrate efforts on the social level that's needed. You can't develop the social spirit and commitment necessary to move society in a new direction. Private ownership is an obstacle to this. It begets the outlook of people "going their own way," of each unit of ownership and sphere of control putting its interests first.

The Potential to Organize Things Differently

We also come at this question of private ownership in agriculture (whether small- or large-scale) from the angle of whether something better is possible. And we think the potential exists to organize things much more socially and cooperatively.

The fact is that every farmer or rancher in the United States today, even the most solitary and "independent," is linked to and depends on a larger network of social production and social activity. He or she requires seed, fertilizer, irrigation, tractors and other fixed assets, transport, and communication systems and other infrastructure, along with research and social-scientific knowledge. These are all social products: the result of the interlinked activities of workers and others in many different sectors of the economy (and often from many different parts of the world).

As we see it, the highly developed and interdependent character of agricultural production in the U.S. provides a material basis to plan, produce, and cooperate on a broad social scale. An example from your letter drives home this point. You mention that different farmers have different experiences in confronting the uncertainties of nature, that some do better than others. But a system of social ownership would allow for and promote constant learning and sharing and mutual assistance. People would not be so cut off from each other.

We also think that small farmers, exactly because they are so close to the land, can be won to take a lofty attitude towards the land--to see themselves not as owners but as caretakers of the earth for all of society. Actually, one purpose of drawing up our Draft Programme and circulating it among farmers and other sections of people is to promote that spirit, as well as to stir discussion and debate about these issues. We also think that as the revolutionary struggle develops in society, as more collective forms of resistance develop, there will be more of a basis to win sections of small farmers to this outlook.

Social Ownership Does Not Mean Everything is Large Scale

Now in emphasizing that the small, privately-owned farm is not optimally suited for utilizing society's human and technological potential, we are not saying that agricultural production and management under socialism will only be conducted in large-scale units.

We envision a mixed and diversified agriculture.

The socialist economy can make use of large-scale fields and operations to achieve certain production efficiencies--although this would be very different from the agribusiness model of commercialized monoculture, with its harmful effects on environment and health. At the same time, small and medium-sized farms will be vital components of a socialist agricultural and food system.

Small-scale and medium-size units of production and management will be necessitated by specific circumstances, like particular crop and regional conditions. The new socialist economy will also promote the development of small- and medium-scale polyculture [complementary combinations of crops, trees, and animals--eds.]. It will encourage the design and production of farm machinery appropriate to this kind of farming.

Small- and medium-scale farms will also be called forth by particular historical and social factors-- including honoring the rights of Black, Chicano, Native American and other oppressed nationality farmers, their being able to cultivate traditional crops, and so forth.

And small- and medium-scale operations will play a role not just in farming but also in other sectors of the new socialist economy as well. This will provide the economy with a certain flexibility and adaptability.

Our Draft Programme emphasizes that a socialist economy requires both society-wide coordination and control and decentralized initiative and responsibility. This is an essential political and operational principle of Maoist economics.

To be continued.

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