ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Agrarian Question and the Marxist Method

The Agrarian Question in Marx and His Successors, Vol I and II edited by Utsa Patnaik (New Delhi: LeftWord Books), Vol I: 2007; pp 319, Rs 450; Vol II: 2011; pp 332, Rs 500.

In periods of economic crisis there is always a tendency to read/reread Karl Marx to understand his formulation of crisis. In the present context, where the crisis in the economy and the agrarian sector has been accelerated by the neo-liberal policies, the two volumes titled The Agrarian Question in Marx and His Successors edited by an eminent Marxist scholar on agrarian questions are a welcome addition. Given the existence of alternate methods of analysis of agrarian situation, these two edited volumes present a strong case for the appropriateness of Marxist method to analyse the agrarian question and issues of agrarian transformation.

Utsa Patnaik presents a case for the need to go back to the works of Marx and his successors such as Vladimir Lenin, Karl Kautsky and Rosa Luxemburg. The compilation of articles in these two volumes broadly addresses two sets of issues. The first volume is a collection of articles, predominantly by Marx, to understand the agrarian question and transformation. These articles focus on two issues: one, on pre-capitalist relations and aspects of primitive accumulation and two, on the issue of identification of different forms of rent and importance of ground rent. The second volume has a collection of articles, by successors of Marx, on application of the Marxist method of analysis to study the agrarian question in Russia and to some extent in China. Patnaik seems to have two objectives – one, to present the Marxist method of analysis as a suitable method to study the process of development and two, to provide an incisive criticism on inadequacy of mainstream economic theories, as they are not equipped to handle the agrarian question for economies under transition. One important illustration given in the introduction is the issue of rent while studying the agrarian question in developing countries. Mainstream economics, following the Ricardian tradition to analyse rent, relegates the alternate conception on rent by Smith-Marx to the background. In her opinion the latter has more relevance when studying the agrarian question in developing economies.

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