In the present era of the dominance of finance capital, we see a new process of primitive accumulation, in which the resources of the Third World peasantry, and in particular its land assets, are sought to be appropriated by large-scale corporate capital for diverse purposes including speculation. A segment of this capital that is interested in accessing primary goods to supply domestic and foreign retail chains is seeking to formally subordinate the Third World peasantry under capital using contract systems, without the real subsumption of labor under capital, namely, without necessarily instituting direct wage-labor-based large-scale capitalist production.

This paper has argued that it would be an incorrect reading to see these processes as signifying the “end of the peasantry” or “the disappearance of the peasantry” and the development of purely capitalist relations of production based on wage-paid labor. It bases the argument on a radically different reading of the historical role of the primary sector in the rise of industrial capitalism in Europe and in the European population’s extended territories in North America, from the conventional reading of history. The conventional or mainstream reading says that the end of the peasant as peasant and the transition to capitalist agriculture (“agricultural revolution”) successfully provided from domestic sources the increased wage good and raw materials requirements of industrialization. Rejecting this conventional view, this paper says that successful “agricultural revolution” in today’s advanced capitalist countries is a myth, and the transition to large-scale capitalist agriculture in these countries did not, in practice, ever provide in adequate volumes the required wage goods and raw materials for industrial development and so entailed increasing import dependence. From their very inception and throughout their rise to dominance through imperialism, capitalist economies constituting today’s advanced countries have relied on sharply rising volumes of imports of basic wage goods and raw materials from the Third World countries with most of these imports not being paid for, since they were tax financed or rent financed. The advanced countries continue, in the present era, to make heavy, increasing demands on the varied productive capacity of tropical lands to maintain and improve the import-dependent lifestyle of its population. It is taken for granted that importing primary goods from Third World countries is good for them, too, which is a false proposition based on the logically incorrect Ricardian theory of comparative advantage.

Because land is not a product of human labor, diversion of tropical lands from food grains to export crops to keep supermarket shelves in distant lands stocked throughout the year has always entailed a decline in both food production and access to food for the poorer mass of Third World populations. Such a trend of decline in food security is clearly visible in the last quarter century as well, since neoliberal reforms, including trade liberalization, were introduced in virtually all developing countries to smash protective barriers to trade, to pry open agriculture to a renewed round of exports, and to formally subsume peasants under international capital. This has again brought about a crisis of food production and of increasing undernutrition for the majority of the rural population. These propositions have been illustrated in this paper using the specific case of India.

Although neither economic theory nor the extant histories of industrialization cognize this basic reality, the very rise and stability of the capitalist system in advanced countries has historically entailed its exploitative coupling with peasant agriculture in distant lands and has entailed, under certain conditions, the famishment of the peasantry. This coupling is not about to end today, first because if the Third World peasantry is completely torn asunder from its means of production, it has nowhere to go, unlike the displaced peasantries of Europe who were absorbed into alternative employment or migrated to lands seized from indigenous populations elsewhere. Second, nonagricultural employment opportunities are not expanding adequately given the high levels of labor-displacing technical change that are mandatory under modern competitive globalized manufacturing. For these reasons, the peasantry is fiercely defending its right to retain its land and to continue its cycle of petty production.

Large-scale capitalist agriculture in advanced countries is unable to produce even temperate primary goods cheaply and cannot produce a vast range of tropical primary goods at all. Advanced countries whose populations depend on imported primary products to provide a large part of the physical basis of their high living standards, therefore, need to continue the coupling of their economies with distant peasant agriculture, a coupling marked by a dialectic of deteriorating the living conditions of the peasantry without absorbing them into alternative productive employment at the global level. The immediate prognosis is a continuation under conditions of increasing distress for the peasantry, of the exploitative coupling between advanced country consumption patterns and Third World peasant production. The long-term prognosis is a strong revival, as a reaction to increasing distress, of alternative radical paradigms of development in the Third World based on stabilizing and improving peasant production through cooperative effort, rather than continued passive subservience to the ongoing processes of the formal subsumption of the peasantry under international capital.

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