2. Conceptual Issues and Perspectives on the Land and Agrarian Question
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African Land Questions, Agrarian Transitions and the State 6 2 Conceptual Issues and Perspectives on the Land and Agrarian Question Recent debates on the land and agrarian question raise doubts about the relevance of land reform in the current context of globalisation. Some argue that in the era of unipolar power relations, neo-liberalism has resolved the agrarian question in the north through a process of market liberalisation, productivity growth and growing bio-technological substitutionism in agriculture. It is thus plausible to predict the end of the ‘classic’ land and agrarian reforms, even if reforms may have isolated relevance in parts of the south (Bernstein 2002). In the African context they perceive a process of the socio-economic destruction of its peasantries and their limited social capacity to wage struggles for radical land redistribution, thus limiting the potential significance of popular land reforms , except to a limited extent under some unique and contrived conditions such as in southern Africa (see Bernstein 2002). Yet the uneven development of global agrarian structures of production and markets, distorted by ‘northern’ manipulation of their own agricultural markets and by structural adjustments programmes (SAPs), has depressed agricultural production and deflated prices in the ‘south’, and provoked even more intense land questions and resistance to neo-liberalism. Evidence from Latin America and to a lesser degree in Africa, suggests the re-emergence of land struggles based on new social movements and political alliances, which challenge emergent land and agrarian markets because of the growing concentration of landholdings and the widespread marginalisation and poverty of the peasantry and semi-proletarian classes (Petras and Veltmeyer 2001; Ghimire 2001; Moyo 2001; Yeros 2000; Moyo and Yeros 2004). What therefore is the Moyo-sept-07.pmd 24/01/2008, 20:00 6 Conceptual Issues and Perspectives on the Land and Agrarian Question 7 land question in the context of the agrarian question, during the current era of neo-liberalism? How is the land question expressed on the African continent? This chapter discusses briefly the concept of the land question within the broad historical context of land and agrarian reform during the last six decades , and provides an overview critique of competing perspectives on these issues. In particular, we develop an overview argument on the unique nature of Africa’s land questions and the imperatives for land reform. In doing so the chapter defines a conceptual framework and some themes to improve our understanding of Africa’s land questions, as elaborated upon in chapters three to six. We begin with the debates on the changing nature of the land and agrarian questions at a global level. The land question in the era of neo-liberal developmentalism Bernstein (2002) following the seminal work of Byres (1991, 1996), argues that it is useful to distinguish three aspects of the ‘classic’ agrarian question. Firstly the agrarian question concerns the role of various agrarian classes (different peasant classes, agricultural workers) in struggles for democracy and socialism . Secondly, it concerns the transformation of the social relations of production and development of the productive forces in agriculture in transitions to capitalism. Thirdly it addresses how such transformations contribute, or otherwise , to the accumulation of capital resources on a classic transition toward the capitalist mode of production (Rodney 1982; Lenin 1964). The distinctive feature of such progression was that it would trickle to the peripheries or adjacent ‘backward’ regions and thus would be beneficial to ‘backward’ societies. This teleology of the agrarian transition however has not only been a subject of theoretical contestation, but can be questioned for its empirical relevance in general. Most radical strategies to counteract this agrarian capitalist transition focused on the nationalisation of land for the benefit of the majority (Veltmeyer 2004). Landlords, who under feudal conditions had contributed to deepening the poverty of the landless through relentless extraction of labour and land rentals, were the target of land reform. Collectivisation of agriculture aimed to resolve the ‘technical’ problem of agricultural production by establishing economies of scale as a basis for mechanisation and ‘scientific farming’ (Bernstein, Ibid). Such ‘socialist primitive accumulation’ assumed the de-accumulation of capital and labour among a few landlords who had accumulated land through rentals and further land acquisition from peasants. Therefore agrarian collectivisation marked a definitive resolution to the problem of agrarian class accuMoyo -sept-07.pmd 24/01/2008, 20:00 7 African Land Questions, Agrarian Transitions and the State 8 mulation and the conflicts and tensions of the worker-peasant alliance, vis-àvis landlords and emerging capitalists...


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