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date: 19 October 2019

Agrarian Question, The 

A Dictionary of Human Geography

Alisdair Rogers,

Noel Castree,

Rob Kitchin

An ongoing debate about the relationship between peasant agriculture and capitalist economic development. Although the issue was raised by Marx and Engels, the Agrarian Question can best be traced back to Karl Kautsky in a book of that name published in 1899 in Germany. Written in the context of a Europe-wide rural and agrarian crisis and falling farm incomes, Kautsky was concerned with three main problems: what was the impact of capitalism on small-scale or family farming?; how important was agriculture to capitalist development in general?; and what was the role of the peasantry in the political struggle for socialism and democracy? Contrary to Lenin’s argument, Kautsky argued that small farmers might persist rather than be swallowed up by capital-intensive farm enterprises. In part this was because they could draw upon family labour, but he also theorized the peculiar dependence of farming on natural cycles and conditions, which made it less attractive for capitalist investment. For Marxists such as Lenin, the key question was whether peasants would support revolutionary politics led by urban working classes, or whether they would prove to be conservative and so reactionary. Lenin was sceptical about the peasantry, but his views were challenged by A. V. Chayanov in the 1930s, who conceived of peasant farmers as an independent form of socialism (... ...

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