Article — From the February 1955 issue

Marx Was a City Boy

Or, why communism may fail

The men in the Kremlin have never liked—or understood—the farmer. A distinguished student of the Soviets explains why the resulting blunders by Russia and her satellites might prove fatal to their power.

I am by profession an economist and economic historian. The bulk of my academic life has been taken up with studying the world’s economic development during the nineteenth century. I have just ended three years’ work on the Soviet Union and Communist China. The task there was
not to study Communist economies but to discern, if possible, the shape and prospects for change in the whole societies now dominated from Moscow and Peking: their politics, social life, foreign policy, and their economies.

The title of this article reflects perhaps the most important single idea about Communism which I have acquired during these three years of study.

I believe that Marx failed to understand the farmer. From that misunderstanding has flowed a century of Communist theory and practice, And, more important, from Communist theory and practice has arisen a set of problems whose solution or failure of solution may well wreck the international Communist movement—or force profound and wholesome change upon it.

Perhaps the most dangerous enemy of Communism is the stoic, passive peasant in Eastern Germany, Poland, the Soviet Union itself, China, and Northern Vietnam. He will certainly not revolt on his own under present circumstances; but even a police state cannot make him increase his output on the scale Communist plans require.

The passive figure of the peasant, trapped in totalitarianism, is joined as a potentially mortal enemy of Communism by the farmer in the Free World—notably in the underdeveloped areas and perhaps most notably, at the moment, by the awakening Indian peasant.

This, in any case, is my theme. I should like to develop it by tracing out how Communism has come to tangle at cross purposes with the peasant; the consequences of this generally quiet struggle: the problems which it creates for the Communist leadership; and the opportunities it opens to the Free World.

The story begins with Marx himself. There is an excellent book by David Mitrany called Marx Against the Peasant. Mr. Mitrany’s book examines the trouble Communism had from the beginning with agriculture and the farmer. Marx’s theory of history—though couched in the heavy and pretentious style of Germanic scholarship—is essentially a simple one. He believed that by an inevitable series of class struggles, bourgeois capitalism had conquered feudalism; and that the urban working class, created by industrial capitalism, would inevitably inherit power and authority when capitalism had dug its grave.

This theory represented Marx’s reading of British history as he looked backward and forward from the middle of the nineteenth century. As he wrote he could see in England a decline of the political power of agriculture and an increasing dependence of Britain on imported rather than home-produced food. This—plus the fact that he was a bookish city fellow—led him to dispose of the farmer, in his theory and his prescriptions for the future, in a highly casual way. For example, the Communist Manifesto of 1848, in making its recommendations for the future, simply had this to say about agriculture:

The establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture. Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of distinction between town and country, by a more equable distribution of the population over the country.

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