Alt Left: Rural Land Reforms: An Overview

What’s odd is that imperialism went along with land reforms in a lot of other places such as Europe and the Middle East. All of the Middle East has done a land reform.

That was one thing the wave of Arab nationalist leaders who came to power in 1950-1970 did right away, including the Baath in Iraq and Syria, Yemen, Nasser in Egypt, the FLN in Algeria, Tunisia, and Qaddafi in Libya.

I believe there was some type of land reform done in Palestine too. If you read Ghassan Kanafani, the Palestinian Leftist, in the 1930’s, he talked about how terribly exploited the Arab fellahin or peasants were in Palestine.

If you went to Yemen in the 1960’s, there was a portrait of Nasser in every house.

I’m not sure if a land reform was ever done in Morocco. It’s been ruled by a fairly rightwing king for a long time.

A land reform was probably done in Lebanon, but I don’t have details. Likewise with Jordan.

Nothing grows in the Gulf anyway, so there’s no need for a reform.

I’m not sure about Sudan or Mauritania, but I doubt much grows in Mauritania except date palms.

In all of these places, land reform was a very easy sell for whatever reason, probably because neoliberal capitalism seems to be antithetical to Islam itself. The feudal lords of the former Ottoman Empire had tried to justify feudalism on the basis that in the Koran it says something like, “Some are rich and some are poor, and this is a natural thing” but that never went over too well.

The idea that in an Islamic country, the rich Muslims were viciously exploit the poor Muslims is nearly haram on its face. You just can’t do that. All Muslims are part of the ummah. All the Muslim men are your brothers and all the Muslim women are your sisters. Also individualism never made it to any part of the Muslim World other than the Hindu variety in Pakistan and Bangladesh, but that’s not really the same radical individualism that we have in the West. It’s just an ancient caste based system.

The first thing the Communists did in Eastern Europe was to do a land reform. You will never hear it here in the West, but until 1960, the Communist regimes in the East were very popular with industrial workers and also with the peasants.

In most of the world, peasants and rural dwellers are leftwingers. This is even the case in Western Europe in France.

The US is odd in that it’s farmers are so reactionary. That goes against the usual trend.

Yes, farmers are said to be conservatives, but that usually just means social conservatism. In most of the world, peasants are literally Alt Left: left on economics and right on social and cultural issues.

A land reform was definitely done in Iran.

Obviously one was done in the USSR, and the large landowners have not yet consolidated themselves in the former USSR, mostly because everybody hates them. Large landowners have taken over some of the state farms in Russia, but for whatever reason, they are not very productive. In fact, many of the state farms are still in existence. I am not sure what sort of arrangement they have now.

50% of the food in the Russia comes from small farms, typically grown on dachas. Dachas were vacation homes that were given to all Soviet workers. They were also given a bit of land, enough to grow some crops on. After 1991, all workers were allowed to keep their dachas and small plots. This was a great idea because most of the produce in Russia is coming right off of these farms.

After World War 2, the US supported land reforms in some places as a way of heading off a Communist threat. This is one great thing about the Communists. So many great steps of social progress were only done out of fear or terror that if these were not done, the Communists would take over. Now that that threat is gone, one wonders what motivation the oligarchs have to give up anything.

In particular, land reforms were done in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. They went over very easily. And in fact, the subsequent economic growth occurred right on the back of these reforms. There is a good argument that you can never develop a proper economy without first doing a land reform.

First of all, you need to get rid of the problem of rural poverty.

Second of all, you need to feed your own people. Large landowners in these countries typically grow food for export or simply fallow the land and keep it as an income base or a source of wealth.

When crops are grown for export, there is a problem in that the nation does not grow enough food to feed its people. This is a problem in Cuba and Venezuela right now, and it should not be. These are very fertile countries and there is no need to import food, but they have gotten hooked on some sort of “crack” of importing their food for whatever reason, possibly because most of their farmland was being used to grow crops for export.

When a nation can feed itself, this means it can feed its urban workers. This is extremely important and it is part of the reason that Stalin went at such breakneck speed in his collectivization. He had to feed his urban workers so he could industrialize because even back then, he was looking into the future and seeing that he was going to have to fight Hitler.

I’m not quite sure why, but no country seems to be able to properly industrialize and develop as long as the problem of rural poverty exists.

And once you are feeding your own people, you have solved a lot of other problems. Money that would be wasted importing inferior food from the West, especially the US, can now be spent on actual development of a national economy. The elimination of rural poverty gets rid of a constant revolutionary bur in the side of the state.

The US has always opposed land reform in Latin America because large US corporations are usually involved in growing foods for export down there. See Dole Pineapple in Guatemala. We want all of their agricultural land to go for export crops so US corporations can grow those crops or make money importing them. And we do not want them to grow their own food. That way there won’t be so much land for export crops which we need to make money off of.

Also, we want them to spend all of their food money importing lousy processed food from the US. So we make money on food both ways – importing food from crops grown for export to the US and in exporting processed food to the Latin America. This processed food is not very good for you and it is implicated in a lot of health problems in these places.

This is why the US opposes most efforts at land reform in the Americas.

An exception was made in El Salvador. After 200,000 people died, the US and the Salvadoran oligarchs were forced to the negotiating table and a land reform was one of the first things they pushed. I recall a piece written soon afterwards where the reporter went out to the rural areas and interviewed recipients of the land reform. They basically said, “Well, at least we can eat now. It wasn’t like that before.”

In semi-feudal countries, there is debt bondage whereby large landowners rent out their land to sharecroppers or peasants who never seem to get out of debt. This is a very primitive form of development.

The Philippines is notable that there has never been a land reform. And of course they have a vicious Communist insurgency.

Nor has there been one in Colombia, Guatemala, Haiti, Paraguay, Honduras, or Argentina. The first five countries are horribly screwed up. Colombia and Paraguay have active armed leftwing guerrillas, and Guatemala did for many years. Haiti is a disaster. Honduras has a vicious rightwing dictatorship that has murdered over 1,000 people.

Argentina is mostly urbanized, but the landed rural elite still runs the country. Any talk at all of land reform or even taxation of large estates as was done recently under Christine Fernandez, and the ruling class starts making ominous threats of a coup. I assume something similar is going on in Uruguay. Those countries are urbanized though, so large landownership is not such a problem.

I’m not sure if there has ever been a land reform in Brazil, but there is no dearth of large landowners.

The fact that Colombia, Guatemala, and Haiti are so backwards is largely because there has never been a land reform.

The land reform was incomplete in Venezuela.

It is interesting that every country that fails to do a land reform seems to end up with a Communist or Leftist insurgency at some point or another. It’s almost without fail. This goes to show you that most Communist insurgencies in the Third World are over the most basic things dating all the way back to French Revolution: land and bread (food).

As far as land reforms go, they were done in Mexico, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Venezuela, and Peru.

I’m not sure about Uruguay, Ecuador, Bolivia, Panama, Jamaica, Belize, the Guyanas, Chile, and most of the Caribbean.

And I’m not sure if one ever got done in the Dominican Republic after Bosch.

In El Salvador, 200,000 had to die in order for a land reform to take place. Roberto D’Aubission, the godfather of the Salvadoran death squads and the most favored visitor at the US Embassy, once said that “We will have to kill 200,000 people in order to prevent socialism in El Salvador.” What he meant by socialism was land reform.

It is notable that no land reform was ever done in India, nor in Pakistan or even Bangladesh. I had a friend whose parents were large feudal landowners in Pakistan who rented out land to farmers who ended up in debt peonage. In 1986, 14 million people a year were dying of starvation related diseases in the capitalist world. Most of that was in South Asia in Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India. Most of these deaths were attributed to the problem of the private ownership of land.

There is a problem with the private ownership of land. In the US, we think this is sacrosanct, but on a worldwide basis, it doesn’t work very well. What do you need all that land for? What do you need more than, say, an acre and a house? Nothing, unless you are a farmer.

In China, all land is owned by the state. All homeowners lease the land, often on 100 year leases. I’m not sure how it works in the countryside.

In Mexico, much of the land is owned by the state also, a product of the land reform that occurred after the Revolution. One of the major demands of the Revolution was land reform. Pre-revolution, most peasants usually lived like serfs. The state land in Mexico is called ejidos.

If you ever can’t make it in the city, if you become unemployed or homeless, you can always go out to the countryside and take up residence in an ejido, which are something like communal lands that are formed by the group that makes up the ejido. You join this group, work the land, and get a share of the crop. At least you have enough food to eat. So in Mexico the ejidos are a stopgap measure.

In China too, if you can’t make it in the city, you can always go back to the rural areas, take up residence, and work the land. At least you will have enough to food to eat. It is illegal to be homeless in China. If you are homeless, the police pick you up and put you in shelters, which are something like college dorms. They also encourage you to go back to the countryside if you have relatives back there. In recent years, many people have moved from the countryside to the cities to make more money. Those that don’t make it can always move back to the farm.

There was debate a while back about privatizing state land, but it ran aground on the idea that the state ownership of land was necessary as a stopgap measure in the event of urban poverty. In addition, state ownership of land has prevented the development of a national oligarchy or plutocracy.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been adamant that the  development of a national oligarchy or plutocracy must be prevented at all costs. Once they develop, they are sort of like an infection in that they soon spread and take over society. The CCP has billionaire party members who are members of the People’s Assembly.

Guess what these “Communists” are advocating for? Reduction or elimination of taxes on the rich, massive reductions in social spending, state repression of labor, and the privatization of land along with most of the rest of the economy. I think this goes to show you that billionaires are the same everywhere. Whether in a Communist or capitalist country, a rightwing or leftwing country, billionaires always have precisely the same class interests that barely vary at all. It’s usually something like this:

Reduction or elimination of taxes on the rich, massive reductions in social spending, state repression of labor, and the privatization of land along with most of the rest of the economy.

This goes to show that class interests of various classes are nearly a  law in a mathematical sense and not even a theory of social science. This was what Marx was getting at when he spoke of the laws of economics. They are so predictable that we can almost class them with the laws, theorems, and corollaries of mathematics instead of the typical “true for now” theories of most of the sciences.

I have a feeling that a Hell of a lot more things are laws, too, especially in terms of basic human behavior. So many of these things seem almost unchangeable. Of course they would never apply to everyone, but it’s pretty obvious that they are general tendencies.

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5 thoughts on “Alt Left: Rural Land Reforms: An Overview”

  1. It is a myth that 50% of the food in the former Soviet Union was produced on small privately owned farms. The 50% refers to the monetary value, not to the feeding capacity. How do you measure food? There are so many types of food. A quart of strawberries may cost as much as a loaf of bread, but it contains far fewer categories. A pound of beef is far more expensive than a loaf of bread, but it contains fewer calories.

    What these owners of small plots were doing in the Soviet Union was to grow things like strawberries and flowers, and to produce eggs or pork. If I own 1 acre and grow strawberries on it, and you own 100 acres and grow wheat, it is quite possible that the monetary value of my output is higher than yours, but I certainly can’t feed more people.

    There is the so-called Dutch fallacy. It refers to the fact that a small country like the Netherlands is the world’s second biggest food exporter. How can that be? In a small country, there can’t be much crop farming, but there can be a lot of animal farming because feed can be imported. That’s what Dutch farmers do. They import huge quantities of feed grain and oil seeds, which are then fed to poultry, pigs and dairy cattle. The Netherlands then exports a lot of dairy, meat and eggs. Per capita milk production in the NL is almost 900 liters. Dairy, meat and eggs cost far more than grain, hence the high value of Dutch food exports.

    In addition, there is a lot of greenhouse gardening in the NL. That means that a lot of vegetables can be grown on a small area. Again, these vegetables have high monetary value, even though they are about 95% water. Vegetables are important for a balanced diet, but they can’t provide the bulk of your calories. Try to get your daily caloric intake from cabbage.

    So, Dutch farmers import all that feed, which contains far more calories than the dairy, meat and eggs exported, but the manure remains in the NL. There is a huge manure problem in the NL, aggravated by the fact that a lot of the animal farming is concentrated in the 2 Southern provinces. The manure problems are becoming so bad that a reduction of Dutch livestock has become inevitable.

    In conclusion, it is complete nonsense to argue that the world could solve its food supply problems if all countries did what the NL does. That is the Dutch fallacy. The caloric value contained in the Dutch feed imports are far, far greater than the caloric value contained in the Dutch food exports.

    1. No, 50% of the food (produce) in Russia today is produced from these small farms, mostly on dachas. I don’t know about the USSR. I doubt if half the food was produced on dachas.

      1. When the Soviet Union still existed, I heard or read quite often that 50% of the Soviet Union was produced on the 2% of agricultural land that was privately owned. It was nonsense!. I also believe that the same claim about Russia is nonsense. If 50% of the Russian food supply comes from small dachas, then they can’t be that small. Once again, how do you measure food?

        Suppose that you grow 8 tons of wheat on 1 hectare. I produce 40 tons of potatoes on 1 hectare. Am I a bigger food producer? Actually, no. Wheat is about 75% dry matter, and potatoes are about 15% dry matter. So, 40 tons of potatoes have as many calories as 8 tons of wheat, although potatoes are nutritionally superior because they also have vitamin C and better-quality protein.

        1. When the Soviet Union still existed, I heard or read quite often that 50% of the Soviet Union was produced on the 2% of agricultural land that was privately owned.

          Oh, that’s a rightwing argument. And there was no privately owned land in the USSR.

          I also believe that the same claim about Russia is nonsense. If 50% of the Russian food supply comes from small dachas, then they can’t be that small.

          I think that is just produce. Like fruits and vegetables. They gave everyone a house and an acre or two. You can grow quite a bit of produce on an acre or two of land. And it was socialist policy to give everyone those houses and that small bit of land.

          Suppose that you grow 8 tons of wheat on 1 hectare.

          When they talk about the dachas, they are not talking about stuff like wheat. They are just talking basic fruits and vegetables.

          1. I saw this on Facebook with a discussion about Communism and this is a statement from a libertarian: “The Marxist delusion of no government always leads to absolute tyranny. The anarcho-communists sweep away tolerably governments and pave the way for the Stalins, Maos, Pol Pots, Castros, Mugabes, Chavezes, etc. It’s not that they justify Stalinism, but that they justify measures that always result in Stalinism, and they still don’t have a clue as to why that keeps happening.”

            I disagree with his statement that the governments before these revolutions were tolerable.

            The CIA supported Pol Pot:

            Can you refute the arguments made in this essay:

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