The Maturing of Capitalist Agriculture: Farmer as Proletarian


  • Richard C. Lewontin





We are all familiar with the classical story of how capitalism came to dominate industrial production and how capitalist relations of production swallowed up the individual artisanal producer. We recognize the power that the capitalist model to infiltrate and finally transform other forms of the organization of production and exchange. We sometimes think that the power of that transformation is so great that all of the significant action already occurred in the past, at least in Europe and North America, and was essentially over by the end of the nineteenth century. In the society we inhabit, it is a fait accompli, whose dynamic we can only understand by reconstructing the past because it is not happening around us. On second thought we realize that the transition was still in progress until very recently in a few skilled domains like medical care and entertainment, where individual artisans were able to ply their trade throughout most of this century, but these fossils of early capitalist relations seem exceptional because of their requirement of special talents or of necessary skills acquired by long training. But the view that the transition to mature capitalism is essentially over except at the margins of the main body of commodity production is clearly wrong, because it ignores an immense sector of basic essential commodity production, agriculture, which is still in the throes of the transition.