Bordiga

Bordiga is the best of the anti-Bolshevik communists and Goldner a marvellous interpreter. And the Bordigists are obviously correct in specifying the historical mission of Bolshevism/Stalinism as the recreation of a facsimile of bourgeois urban industrial society. What holes them and every other kind of reflexive anti-stalinism below the waterline, of course, is the equally obvious fact that the alternative to stalinism was the africanisation of Russia which we see now.

I haven't seen the Monthly Review special yet tho I hope to shortly. As a matter of fact the history of rural capitalism, outwork, the freeing up of labour, enclosure and the decanting of the landless into the towns is not a novelty, obviously: you can still hardly do better than the Hammonds, who were writing almost a century ago (not to speak of Marx!). A wonderful summation of early Soviet historiography is Isaac Ilyich Rubin's 'A History of Economic Thought' (Ink Links 1979); his account of early English rural capitalism can hardly be bettered. A recent book in what we sixties students of the English Landed Interest used to call the 'revisionist' school of Chambers & Mingay (whose classic study of the English Agrarian Revolution was meant to be a 'definitive' debunking of the Marxian thesis the capitalist take-off depended on a capitalist countryside) is Mark Overton's 'Agricultural Revolution in England - The Transformation of the Agrarian Economy 1500- 1850' (Cambridge University Press 1996). Altho this book reproduces Chambers & Mingay's central error, it's good because it updates the massive amount of ersearch that's been done in the past 30 years, especially by local historians whose delving into C17 parish records has produced quite new demographic insights into what really was going on in English protocapitalism. Mingay in his review of Overton points out that the agrarian revolution saw a doubling of English agricultural production in the C16 and a similar rise after 1750: "output is one matter, of course (as Professor Overton points out), and productivity another. The first can be achieved merely by bringing additional resources into play, while the second depends on advances in the modes of exploiting existing resources of land, livestock and labour. It is therefore to a rise in productivity, and the causes of it, that the argument for an agricultural revolution must look. For lack of adequate source materials the rise in livestock productivity cannot be properly charted, although the author concludes that there were considerable advances well before the later eighteenth century, in the hundred years following 1660. It is possible, however, to produce figures for the productivity of land which suggest that this more than doubled between 1700 and 1850, with the larger part of the increase coming after 1800. Figures for cereal yields also point to the eighteenth century as the era of breakthrough, with only a slow improvement in the yields occurring before 1700, and a major improvement in the following half-century. The productivity of labour showed a sustained rise from at least 1700, as a result, it is believed, of the gradual substitution of horse for human power, an increase in the size of farms which made for the more economical use of labour, the development of better hand tools, and from the middle nineteenth century the mechanisation of more farming operations.

Further figures indicate that over the period 1700 - 1850 it may be concluded that, in general, output rose by some 170 -180 per cent on a total farm area that had risen by only one third; the productivity of land had rather more than doubled, cereal yields rose two and a half times, and the productivity of labour roughly doubled.

What explanation is there for this revival of the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth centuries as the crucible of agricultural revolution ? As we have long known, there were already in 1700 a variety of advances in the improvement of pastures and the growing of new fodder crops, some of the innovations going back well before 1660, but Professor Overton puts his main emphasis on the spread after 1750 of the growing of fodder crops on a large scale as the key to technical change. He bases this argument, in part, on the research carried out by B.M.S. Campbell and himself into Norfolk farming, where it was found that the production of legumes made no advance over medieval levels, in terms of sown area,until some time between 1739 and 1836, while clover and turnips, not grown at all previously, occupied between them nine per cent of the sown area in 1660-1739, and as much as 49 per cent by 1836.

The spread in Norfolk and else where of the 'new' fodder crops resulted, as it is well known, in the reduction of land Iying fallow and a big injection of nitrogen into the soil. These advances were encouraged by a number of accompanying developments, most notably the growth of the market for agricultural produce and a variety of institutional changes involving the spread of leasehold tenures and the sweeping away of common fields and common rights. Enclosure, in particular, made for greater flexibility in land use while the institution of sole occupation of land over a larger proportion of the farmland, enabled farmers to be more readily responsive to shifts in markets and prices. p> The extent to which markets expanded may be judged more clearly now than in the past by resort to E.A. Wrigley's 1985 figures for the non- agricultural population, both urban and rural (reprinted by Professor Overton). These indicate that the non- agricultural population rose from under a quarter of the whole in 1520 to as much as 45 per cent by 1700, and to as high as nearly 64 per cent by 1801. In consequence, the numbers of landholders farming primarily for subsistence and selling relatively little produce in the markets (estimated at 80 per cent of the total in 1520) must have fallen gradually to a much lower level. By the eighteenth century market forces, together with institutional changes in landowning and land tenure, had brought into being an agricultural system dominated by farms that had grown in average size and were mainly occupied by landlord' s tenants concerned with producing for the market. Although the small freeholders may have declined, there still remained, in addition to the tenants of landed estates, numbers of larger freeholders, and if we may believe Arthur Young, these substantial independent cultivators were among the most progressive farmers of his time. "

It is the specific mix of what Mingay euphemistically calls 'institutional' changes (ie, privatisation of the commons, land clearances, insertion of property rights into all forms of tenure) and technological changes which is the key. Why it happened first in England is very much to do with the stabilisation of the English internal market and the absence of war: and, most crucially, the triangular relationship between England, the New World, and the newly-colonial world of Africa and India. New research shows for example the extent to which the reforms and investment in the countryside depended upon the existence of a new class of landlord -- many of whom were merchants recycling the capital won from colonial trade and from the New World. This is where work done by our own Jim Blaut and others is pathbreaking and has opened up a new sphere of research, into the dynamic linkages between the development of English protocapitalism, and the place of England within the C17- C18 world system. It is the world system dimension, however, which is still mostly lacking in accounts of the factors producing the English take-off. In Soviet Russia, of course, neither landed property-forms nor a colonial empire were in evidence; instead there was the conscription of the peasantry thru collectivisation and the forced march to industrialisation, to provide the key inputs to mechanise the countryside and release surplus labour. Thus dynamic was tremendously powerful in the 1930s and is the specific achievement of High Stalinism. And it is hard to see how the process could have taken any other form than it did, even without the spur of encirclement and the obvious preparations in the West for the Hitler war. History is the best critique of Bordigism here, too. The antistalinists have never satisfactorily explained what the alternatives were. If Trotsky's notion of 'permanent revolution' was the only 'Bolshevik' alternative to Stalin's 'socialism in one country', one is entitled to wonder if this too does anything more than underscore the necessity and inevitability of stalinism in the given historical circumstances.

 -- Mark Jones