A WORLD TO WIN    #20   (1995)


On the Political Economy of Mexico Agrarian Revolution and Semi-Feudalism

This article is excerpted from the pamphlet of the same name by Isidro Serrano which originally appeared in 1991 in Mexico. AWTW


In ordinary times, the countryside and the peasants are hidden, almost forgotten by Mexican society. The official society is that of the city, an urban one, and even more so that of the capital, Mexico City. The peasants search for a refuge from the hunger that threatens the countryside, they move in the shadows of the city dwellers as squatters, street vendors, beggars, proletarians with minuscule salaries. They come out of the shadows for an instant to be given the anonymous fame of being "the illegal immigrant problem of the United States". The government, preoccupied by "social peace", constantly promises them "justice". But in the countryside they are almost invisible.

They burst out every now and again in the city in one protest or another. Sometimes vague, brief journalist's notes mention the massacre of another half dozen peasants the murder of just one is almost not considered to be "news". The rest of the time they pay attention to the peasants only as it concerns how to extract more production, more exports and more foreign exchange.

With all of this, in the crucial moments in the life of the country, from this almost invisible world, from this vast oblivion, from these "humble" peasants, have risen up ardent and ferocious legions have arisen from among the peasants that have ignited the entire country with the flames of revolution, while official society staggered with shock and fear. They tell us that this is all a thing of the past; Mexico is no longer an agricultural country; much of the land has already been divided up; now everything is capitalist (or a "mixed economy"); now the peasants are only a sector that can either provide the [ruling] PRI with captive audiences or the opposition with votes.

Those who think this are mistaken. There are innumerable signs that indicate that the country is approaching a decisive moment once again. The downtrodden will arise again from the shadows and in their ranks the bitter cry from the countryside will be heard once more. If the revolutionaries know how to act correctly, that cry will herald a new revolutionary storm, and the peasants, in firm unity with their proletarian brothers in the city, will finally find their own voice in the melody of people's war.


The oppression of the peasants in Mexico has its historic roots in the feudal and colonial society which Spain imposed on us. There exist two roads to overcome feudalism in the countryside: the landlord road and the peasant road. The landlord road is the conservative road of slow transformation of the feudal landlords into capitalists. The peasant road is the revolutionary road of overcoming feudalism through confiscating the land belonging to the landlords without compensation and dividing it among the peasants.1

In spite of the so-called agrarian reform, the road followed by Mexico has essentially been the landlord road, the road of the gradual transformation of the feudal landlords into capitalists. The reform helped to accelerate the transformation of the feudal landlords into agricultural capitalists by taking away their marginal lands. On a few occasions peasants were given good lands to hold back and stop their revolutionary struggle. But there is no doubt that the transformation of the feudal landlords into bourgeoisie has been the main road to the expansion of capitalist relations in the countryside. The peasant economy, on the other hand, has been hemmed in, restricted and subordinated at each step.

The landlord road is the conservative and counter-revolutionary road. It fully corresponds to the maintenance of the semi-colonial character of the country and its domination by imperialism, mainly US imperialism. The big bourgeoisie which has arisen in the countryside from this road is a bureaucrat-comprador bourgeoisie, dependent and subordinate to imperialism. Capitalism generated by imperialist capital and its Mexican minor partner is bureaucrat capitalism in the sense given to this term by Mao: capitalism that is completely subordinated to imperialism and closely linked to semi-feudal relations, both in the state-owned and the private forms of capital. This bureaucrat capitalism is the "state-owned monopoly, comprador and feudal capitalism" that arises in the colonial or semi-colonial and semi-feudal countries under imperialist domination.2

Even though the landlord road and the expansion of imperialist and bureaucrat-comprador capital in a semi-colonial country like ours tends, in the long run, toward the elimination of feudal relations, in the medium term this transforms them only partly, adapts them to the needs of big capital and reproduces them partially. That is the reason why semi-feudalism persists in the Mexican countryside and, as we will see, still plays an important role in the operation of the system as a whole. Even where feudal relations are transformed into capitalist relations, transformation through the landlord road is always counter-revolutionary in the political sense, that is to say, it always reproduces the subordination and oppression of the rural workers, albeit in a more capitalist form.

Which road today opposes the landlord road? The rise of the struggle in the 1970s proved without doubt that the main opposition in the countryside is the peasant struggle, mainly the struggle for land.3 It proved that, in spite of the considerable expansion of capitalist relations through the landlord road in the postwar period, the peasant road continues to be the immediate alternative bursting forth from the concrete reality of the class struggle in the countryside.

The peasant road, in its most radical expression, is the revolutionary road that destroys feudalism, not through the gradual transformation of feudal landlords into bourgeoisie, but through the complete expropriation of the landlord class, the distribution of all the land among the peasants and the consequent elimination of the oppression and exploitation of the peasants by the landlords. Today, with significant bourgeoisification of the landlords and the ever greater presence of imperialist capital in the agro-industrial complex, the peasant struggle has not only a deep anti-feudal content but it also directly confronts big imperialist and bureaucrat-comprador capital. This creates an even firmer objective basis to forge the worker-peasant alliance under proletarian leadership.

In fact, the main conflict in the countryside is between the continuation of the landlord road under the command of big capital subordinated to imperialism and tied to semi-feudalism, and the peasant road which is most sharply expressed in the struggle to wipe out the domination of imperialism, bureaucrat capitalism and semi-feudalism in the countryside and replace it with a peasant economy. Whoever opposes or downplays this peasant struggle, whoever underestimates the revolutionary potential of the peasants, is not a true revolutionary, and in the final analysis not even a consistent democrat. Such is the case of the "workerists" who, after a lot of hemming and hawing, conclude that the hundreds of thousands of peasants who have risen in struggle for land in the last decades were mistaken and should abandon "the populist fiction according to which it is necessary to promote the distribution of land to strengthen the small peasant economy".4 The peasants, they say, did not concern themselves with the truly "proletarian" struggle...the struggle for trade unions for jornaleros [day labourers their payment is on a daily, not hourly, basis]! Incredibly, they even say this without blushing.

Of course there is nothing wrong in itself that jornaleros try to organize a union. What is extremely wrong and revisionist is that so-called "Marxists" tell the peasants that the most important and "proletarian" struggle is the struggle for jornalero unions. For the revolutionary proletariat, the trade union struggle is not even the most important or "proletarian" struggle for urban proletarians that point of view, Lenin teaches us, is economism and serves the political interests of the bourgeoisie. All the worse to propose it to the peasants, where it can only serve as a cover for contempt and even opposition to the main current which the struggle has adopted, especially among the poor peasants (and jornaleros), in the periods of their most radical surges: the struggle for land. The method, the attitude toward the peasantry and the political point of view which are manifested here have much in common with those of a previous "workerist" tendency: the Mensheviks during the Russian Revolution.5

Likewise, the struggle for land, as any other struggle, can lend itself to purely reformist purposes and the Secretariat of Agrarian Reform exists to ensure it does. After all, history shows that obtaining land without armed struggle for political power only reproduces the subordination of the masses to the reactionary system. The task of the revolutionary communists is not to passively support the spontaneous peasant struggle, but to encourage the tendency toward the highest form of class struggle: people's war.

In this essay we do not consider the very important questions of military strategy, but it is not possible to correctly focus on the agrarian question or any other question of revolution without taking into account the simple conclusion of historical materialism that true revolutionary transformation occurs only through the road of armed struggle. Revolutionary victory is unthinkable without the uprising of the oppressed in the countryside in a country like ours where more or less half of the people can be found in towns with less than 15,000 inhabitants6 and this does not include millions from the countryside who are temporary immigrants in the USA or migrant workers in the cities of Mexico.

The revolutionary participation of the peasants in the history of the country has always expressed itself through armed forms, and this revolutionary force has not yet been exhausted. There is in fact a war in the countryside: according to the fragmentary reports available, a peasant is murdered every three days in the course of struggling for land or against the political bosses (caciques) or in other peasant struggles.7 The problem is that this war is very unequal, in spite of the occasional outbreaks of spontaneous armed resistance by the peasants. For the revolutionary peasants the final solution has always been and continues to be replying to reactionary violence with revolutionary violence of the masses.

For all these reasons, in spite of the big differences between contemporary Mexico and China before liberation, the challenge which Mao posed continues to be a dividing line for us: the peasants "will rise like a mighty storm, like a hurricane, a force so swift and violent that no power, however great, will be able to hold them back. They will smash all the trammels that bind them and rush forward along the road to liberation..... Every revolutionary party and every revolutionary comrade will be put to the test, to be accepted or rejected as they decide. There are three alternatives. To march at their head and lead them? To trail behind them, gesticulating and criticizing, or to stand in their way and oppose them? Every(one) is free to choose, but events will force you to make the choice quickly."8


We have said that whoever in fact opposes the peasant struggle is not a revolutionary, and not even a consistent democrat. Considering the question from another perspective, in the agrarian revolution the class-conscious proletariat must consider as allies not only the (true) socialists but also every democrat who supports the struggle above all the revolutionary struggle of the peasants. The immediate struggle is not a directly socialist struggle, rather it is a struggle between the landlord road and the peasant road. This peasant road in its most consistent expression leads to an agrarian revolution that divides all the land among the peasants, confiscates imperialist and bureaucrat-comprador capital and makes possible the free development of the peasant economy. It is a democratic revolution.

The democratic forces, even the "campesinistas" [those who exaggerate the qualities of the peasants, thinking they alone will carry out revolution AWTW], who do not see beyond the "free development" of the peasant economy and promote various ideas and theories, can be political allies to the extent that they support and promote this agrarian revolution and the national revolution of which it is part. Where revolutionary communists distinguish themselves from their democratic allies in the agrarian revolution is in understanding that leaving the "free development of the peasant economy" to its spontaneous course, according to the laws of the market, is in the end also capitalist development: a more open and democratic development than that brought about by the landlord road, but capitalist development nonetheless.

This does not prevent the communists from putting themselves in the vanguard of the agrarian revolution, because it is the most revolutionary transformation possible in the present conditions and because that revolution opens the road not only to a possible capitalist development but also to the possibility of the broader and more deep-going participation of the peasants in a subsequent socialist transformation of the countryside and the whole society. In order to bring about this latter possibility, the communists must not get carried away by the populist tales of the inherently "anti-capitalist" or "socialist" nature of the peasant struggle, or of how "harmful" the leadership of the proletariat and its Marxist-Leninist-Maoist party is, and the like.

We must say to the peasants openly: the first stage of the agrarian revolution will mean a great blow to the ruling system and all must unite and struggle for it. However, once they have the land and the means to make it produce, two roads will open up to the peasants: 1) development according to the laws of the market, which inevitably leads to class polarization within the peasantry and the exploitation of the immense majority by the new bourgeoisie which could only ally itself with imperialism and restore semi-colonial oppression on the country; or, 2) the socialist road which passes through the voluntary collectivization of the countryside as an integral part of the socialist transformation of the entire society.

Socialist collectivization represents a second great revolution in the countryside, which confronts real enemies who want to take the capitalist road. Socialist collectivization is the only salvation for the great majority of the peasants, the only way to avoid being subjected once again to exploitation. Therefore "the poor and lower-middle peasants... enthusiastically want to continue the socialist road".9 The final goal of the proletariat revolution is not the utopian and impossible attempt of indefinitely prolonging the peasant economy, but the definitive liberation of humanity: communism, classless society, throughout the world.

To prepare the transition to socialist revolution both in the agrarian revolution and in the national-democratic revolution, the leadership of the revolutionary proletariat and its Marxist-Leninist-Maoist Party is indispensable. There is no need for another democratic revolution of the old type, that is, led by the bourgeoisie, like the revolution of 1910 which in the final analysis was incapable of resolving the great problems which still afflict the country. What is necessary is a new-democratic revolution led by the proletariat and its party which smashes imperialism, bureaucrat capitalism and semi-feudalism, establishes the people's democratic dictatorship and begins the socialist revolution.

To sum up, the policy of the revolutionary communists in the agrarian revolution is guided by two fundamental principles. First, the agrarian revolution in its present stage corresponds necessarily to the peasant road, the peasants represent the principal revolutionary force and the communists must lead their struggle above all their armed struggle against imperialism, bureaucrat capitalism and semi-feudalism. Second, this first stage of the agrarian revolution can pave the way either to a new capitalist development, even if it is under the signboard of the free development of the peasant economy, or else to socialist transformation, and the latter is always the strategic perspective of the revolutionary proletariat and its most important ally, the poor peasants.


Both the landlord road and the peasant road are ways of overcoming feudalism in the country. But, what is feudalism?

The essence of feudalism lies in the latifundia system and serfdom, that is feudal ownership of land and the corresponding relations of production and exploitation. Under feudalism, control of the land is the key to exploitation: appropriation by the exploiting class (the landlords) of the surplus produced by the exploited (the peasants). By contrast, under capitalism land is only one among many forces of production and it is the control of capital, not only of land, that makes exploitation possible.

The feudal landlord class often gives the peasants parcels of land on which they can produce their sustenance as a condition of their exploitation by the landlords, whether in the form of land rent, peonage or others. Since in this way the peasants actually possess some land and its products, exploitation always implies the existence of what Marx calls "extra-economic coercion": open or disguised coercion to obtain the surplus, in other words, servitude in its broadest sense.

Thus under feudalism the direct producer (the peasant) is linked to the land; capitalism, instead, presupposes the complete separation of the direct producer (the wage worker) from the land or any other means of subsistence. Under feudalism the peasant produces their own sustenance; under capitalism the workers have to buy their sustenance with their salary. Feudal exploitation requires to one degree or another extra-economic coercion servitude while for wage workers under capitalism, economic coercion is enough: "if you don't work, you don't eat". Workers under capitalism are free in a double sense, Marx tells us: "free" of means of production with which to produce their own sustenance and free of any pressure and requirement to work other than the simple necessity of earning a living.10

Both Marx11 and Lenin12 point out that the most basic and simple form of feudal exploitation consists of the peasant working part of the time on the land of the landlord without payment to produce a surplus. This basic configuration is found in the history of Mexico in the specific form of the encomienda, the first colonial form of exploitation of indigenous labour. Its owner, the encomiendero, received from the Crown the right to the labour (as well as tribute in the form of products) of the Indians of his encomienda, giving them no compensation at all. Of course this feudal system of forced labour was based on the most cruel coercion and violence against the Indians and contributed to a great extent to the genocide perpetuated against them.

The basic form of feudal exploitation was transformed and modified in two main directions, without ever completely breaking out of the framework of the feudal system. In terms of the exploitation of the peasant parcel, the evolution of land rent (to which Marx paid particular attention) passed from the basic form, already described, of rent in labour, to rent in products (or sharecropping)13 and rent in money. Feudal rent, even in the case of money rent which is often a transitional form, is the typical form of exploitation, of the appropriation of the surplus, and as such it comprehends all or almost all of the surplus. This is the distinction between capitalist land rent, which is paid in money and which represents only a fraction subtracted, and the typical form of capitalist exploitation: profit realized through the exploitation of wage labour.14

The feudal form of "personal prestation" ["prestation" refers to the rendering of services due under feudal custom AWTW] by the peasants (or "payment through labour") their unpaid labour on the lands of the landlord also went through a process of development.15 Beginning with unpaid labour on the lands of the landlord as a feudal obligation in exchange for the peasant's use of the parcel in other words, the same basic form already described, considered from its other aspect it developed into labour on the lands of the landlord with some remuneration in products and to labour partially remunerated with money. This feudal "personal prestation", partially remunerated with money, is distinguished from capitalist wage labour by the subsistence that the labourer derives from his production on the parcel or receives in kind over and above his wage in money, and by the existence of various forms of servitude, of non-free forms of labour. Over and above these basic forms of feudal exploitation land rent and personal prestation there are numerous other specific forms of exploitation of the peasants by the landlord class in any given feudal society.

In Mexico during the Colony there was a process of development and transformation of feudal relations. There was the rise of repartimiento which was distinguished from the encomienda in two fundamental ways. First, the supply of indigenous labour was in the hands of colonial authorities who parcelled the Indians out among the particular landlords, in an attempt by the Crown to prevent the creation in New Spain of independent fiefdoms that could undermine its rule. Second, the Indians received (at least in theory) a nominal payment in money, with the object being to mitigate the purely coercive character of the labour system and to slow the rapid extinction of the Indians (and therefore of the source of exploited labour). Payment in money was purely nominal. It did not compensate the labour of the Indians, whose sustenance continued to come essentially from their own production (from which they had to still pay tribute as well), nor did it eliminate the need for coercion or the forced character of labour. For all these reasons it must be considered a feudal form of exploitation.

Finally the hacienda [the large landed estate AWTW] made its appearance. This would represent the typical form of feudal and semi-feudal relations in Mexico until well into the twentieth century. The two basic forms of production relations characteristic of the haciendas were land rent (principally sharecropping) and personal prestation in the form of peonage, although the feudal landlord class also exploited the peasants in other forms, such as usury, commercial retention of products, tribute, tithing, taxes, etc., which we will not analyze in detail here. (It should also be mentioned that colonial society was not purely feudal because slavery also existed.)

Under the regime of mediania, or sharecropping on hacienda lands, the sharecropper had to deliver part of his harvest (generally about half) to the hacienda, and in many cases the sharecropper and/or his family members also had to work for a time without pay on the hacienda. This form is clearly feudal in character and was very important in the hacienda system, a fact which often is omitted in attempts to characterize the hacienda as "capitalist".

Peonage assumed two forms: those called acasillados and the temporary peons. The acasillados lived and worked permanently on the hacienda and in exchange received a parcel of land (pejugal), a ration of corn and other basic food and a wage. That is, it was personal prestation compensated by the usufruct of the land, products and money. As in the case of repartimiento, in spite of the wage, it is a basically feudal form, in the first place because the labourer continues to be tied to the land and the greater part of his subsistence and compensation corresponds to his production on the parcel and payment in kind. Even the supposed wage was typically more of a form of internal accounting of payment in kind by the hacienda, since most of the peon's small wage was discounted to pay for provisions obtained in the hacienda "company store".16 The acasillado also was not a free labourer, rather typically he was tied to the hacienda through the mechanism of debt when other terms of his treatment were insufficient to maintain a permanent labour force.

The temporary peons who either lived near the hacienda or came from outside and lived temporarily on the hacienda at times received parcels of land or were paid a wage, often with a ration of corn. The exploitation of the temporary peons was feudal in that their sustenance came principally from their own production in their village (supplemented with payment in kind when they did receive it), and therefore the hacienda could pay a wage that did not even cover their sustenance (which is, however, the "normal" case in the capitalist system) and which for the most part they never saw in the form of money but which disappeared into the accounts of the hacienda's company store as payment of their debts.

Although the link of the temporary peons with the hacienda was not as tight as that of the acasillados, theirs was not free labour either. The Indians of the villages "naturally resisted being temporarily rented out to the haciendas because this meant abandoning their crops, yet without receiving any of the advantages of the acasillados. When in these cases the promises and advance payments didn't have the desired effect, the owners of the haciendas chose to bribe the bosses of the villages to obtain the Indians they needed, and as a final resort they used violence." "The system of debts also was used to entice' or attract the Indians to the hacienda. It was also very common to get Indians in by giving them advances in the form of goods or wages for a day's work, or paying debts they owed as tribute or obligations to the royal hacienda or to the Church."17 All these forms are "tied", not free labour forms; they are forms of servitude and therefore essentially feudal.

These feudal production relations required an entire system of extra-economic coercion which, besides the features already mentioned, included the armed forces and private jails which the hacienda owners used to impose their own laws. The system of coercion often involved the Indian villages either through direct intervention, or through the cacique bosses. Finally, the government authorities and their armed forces reinforced the system where the power of the hacienda owner alone was not enough, including through passing legislation which recognised that the peons were attached to the hacienda, spelling out that upon the sale of the hacienda the peons would belong to the new buyer.18

The feudal production relations which defined the feudal character of the society corresponded, as in feudal societies in general, to relatively rudimentary forces of production and to a small-scale agricultural and artisan economy. Even where agrarian exploitation proceeded on a larger scale, for example, in the plantations, it was extensive exploitation which achieved the larger scale not through revolutionizing the forces of production but essentially through repetition and aggregation on a single site of the productive techniques characteristic of small-scale economy. Moreover, production was carried out repeatedly on the same technical base, and technological change was notably slow. This was in contrast to capitalism, where "the bourgeoisie cannot exist except by incessantly revolutionizing the instruments of production...".19 Although capital begins with the forces of production inherited from feudalism, "only large industry with its machinery provides a firm basis for capitalist agriculture".20

Finally, the feudal character of the relations of production determined that production for use21 would predominate in the economy, since the peasants usually directly produced most of their own sustenance, and a part of the surplus product either stayed on the hacienda for use by the hacienda owner and his hangers on, or else went to the direct use of the civilian and religious authorities through tribute and in-kind tithing.

However, part of the surplus product typically was destined for the market including the world market unlike the feudal societies of Europe, Japan, China, etc, which existed before the rise of capitalism and the world market. A part of the fruits of feudal and colonial exploitation in New Spain passed through Spain, which still was in a late stage of feudalism, to end up in the hands of the capitalists of England, thus contributing to the so-called "primitive accumulation" of capital. This fact has confused some researchers like Frank, who claims that production in the Colony was oriented to the market and that therefore "Iberoamerica (was) capitalist not only in its cradle but even from conception".22

The basic methodological error of locating the essential difference between feudalism and capitalism in the sphere of circulation (production for use vs. production for the market) instead of proceeding from the relations of production, as a Marxist does, has been widely criticized, including by Marx himself.23 On the other hand, as we have stated before, the greater part of the production of the economy was indeed for use and although production for use naturally tends to predominate under feudalism, a greater or lesser part of the surplus typically is destined for the market, and this was the case even in "classic" European feudalism.24 The link with the world market was certainly an important factor which shaped the particular character of feudal and colonial society in Mexico, but it does not contradict the essentially feudal character of the relations of production and therefore of the society.


In the postwar period, the country experienced a rapid development of bureaucrat capitalism (or bureaucrat-comprador, which is the same thing), that is to say, capitalism in both the State sector and "private enterprise" tied to imperialism and still linked to semi-feudalism. Mexico became a semi-colonial and semi-feudal country with significant growth in bureaucrat-comprador capitalism.

This process of transformation took two main roads: industrialization through import substitution, sponsored by imperialist capital, and the formation of a capitalist sector in agriculture. The agrarian reform of the 1930s promoted the disintegration of the hacienda as the dominant structure in the countryside and laid the basic pattern for the subsequent transformation of land ownership. However, the main direct impulse to the greater development of bureaucrat capitalism in agriculture was the "green revolution". And the green revolution was a project of U.S. imperialism.

The Office of Special Studies, which would lead the technical innovations of the green revolution, was created in 1943, formally as a semi-autonomous bureau of the Agriculture Secretariat, but in reality a creature of the well-known Yankee imperialist political instrument, the Rockefeller Foundation. The Foundation named the head of the Office, provided the majority of the budget and hired all of the scientific personnel. According to the Foundation report, the initiative came from suggestions of the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Josephus Daniels, who got Vice President Henry Wallace to support it in the Roosevelt administration.25

The Office developed "improved seeds" and a whole package of inputs irrigation, machinery, fertilizers, insecticides, etc. necessary to achieve the predicted higher yields. Technological development is not politically and socially "neutral". The programme was based from the beginning on the presupposition of conditions typical of big capitalist agriculture. The proposals of various Mexican scientists to orient the programme to the conditions and needs of peasant agriculture were rejected.26 In the 1950s and especially beginning in the 1960s, the Rockefeller Foundation began to promote this "green revolution" strategy, tested in Mexico, for other countries in the Western bloc. The International Centre for Improvement of Corn and Wheat, based in Mexico and financed mainly by the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, the Agency for International Development, the World Bank, etc, has played a key role in this effort.27

In Mexico the promotion of this technical package was accompanied by a battery of government measures to foster large-scale capitalist agriculture: large investments in irrigation, highways and aid to marketing efforts, and other large subsidies granted to big producers through guaranteed prices, credit policies, etc.28 These initiatives were financed in great measure by imperialist capital through loans from international banks and various "development" institutions. At the same time direct foreign investment became important in the formation of an agro-industrial complex which provides inputs and processes the product of commercial agriculture.

As a result, the character of large-scale agriculture in the country was significantly transformed. Consider the example of wheat, a key crop in the first phases of the green revolution. In 1944 only Sonora cultivated wheat in more or less capitalist conditions, reflected in a certain level of mechanization of harvesting. In other regions of the country the primitive technique characteristic of feudal agriculture a wooden plough pulled by oxen or mules was the general rule.29

An important change got under way. From 1940 to 1960 the value of agricultural machinery in the country multiplied almost eight times in real pesos [Mexico's currency].30 In 1950 the national consumption of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in fertilizers still was only at the level of 11,700 tons, but by 1970 it reached 554,400 tons.31 Similar changes occurred in other areas of inputs linked to modern agriculture.

These changes in the means of production correspond to the formation of a large-scale agricultural sector in which the directly feudal and semi-feudal relations characteristic of the old hacienda no longer predominated and were replaced by relations of bureaucrat capitalism which, nevertheless, continued to be closely tied to semi-feudal relations in agriculture taken as a whole.


This new sector, which is predominantly capitalist in its internal relations, is on the one hand extremely dependent on imperialist capital and on the many aids and subsidies from the semi-colonial State. On the other hand, it has subordinated, partially transformed and integrated into its functioning the feudal relations in the entire countryside. Feudal relations have been modified to a greater or lesser degree as a result of its more direct subordination to big capital. This is why we speak of semi-feudal relations and semi-feudalism.

In the countryside, there are very few cases of purely capitalist relations in which wages are the only source of maintenance for the worker and his family and no form of extra-economic coercion intervenes. The majority of those living in the countryside continue to be linked to the peasant economy which suffers from semi-feudal oppression. One part of big agriculture still is marked by important semi-feudal features; and even that part of big agriculture which is predominantly capitalist in its internal relations depends on the wage complement which comes from the peasant economy and semi-feudalism in the countryside in general as the essential basis for the super-exploitation of the overwhelming majority of its workers, the jornaleros. Therefore we can affirm that in spite of the formation of a bigger or smaller capitalist sector in its internal relations, the system of exploitation in the countryside continues to be predominantly semi-feudal.

The core of today's semi-feudalism can be found in the persistence of the latifundio system, the fact that the subordination of the peasant economy continues to be the essential basis of the exploitation carried out by the large agricultural holdings and, therefore, serfdom is still in effect, and coercion is exercised against the oppressed in the countryside, although in a modified manner. The latifundio system persists in the system of land holding with large and small landed estates, which is found in many countries of Latin America and elsewhere, and in Mexico expresses itself principally in the form of large holdings and communal holdings (ejidos). In most cases the best lands the area covered by the old hacienda and also new irrigated lands remain in the hands of the landlords, either in the form of direct property, or through renting of peasant lands, control of the latter by way of contracts, open despoliation, etc.

What has changed is that production in these lands is according to norms which are more or less capitalist we say "more or less" because open semi-feudal forms, such as sharecropping, the system of recruiting and indebtedness, unpaid labour, etc., are still practised to some degree on part of these large land holdings, and extensive production which has not yet reached the level of typical capitalist dynamics persists above all in the large land holdings dedicated to cattle raising. With the development of capitalist production, the landlords have become more bourgeois and more integrated with the bourgeoisie at the national level, and some capitalists in other sectors have also entered into agricultural production.

The essential basis of the system of exploitation is still the domination and exploitation of the peasant economy, which takes two forms: the system of peonage and the direct exploitation of peasant production. The essential role of peasant production is obvious in the case of the direct exploitation of the peasant economy by means of sharecropping, usury, commerce, etc. In the peonage system, although the form of exploiting jornaleros is capitalist wage labour (often mixed with open semi-feudal forms, with which we will deal later) the system presupposes that the jornalero complements his wage with peasant production because the wage is insufficient for his maintenance and reproduction. In other words, the complement provided by the peasant economy makes possible the absolute superexploitation of the jornalero, payment below the minimum for the physical survival of the jornalero and his family.

Therefore the overwhelming majority of the jornaleros are still linked to the peasant economy. Either they own a small piece of land, or they may have access to land through their relatives, share tenancy, etc., or they may take part in activities linked with the peasant economy, as artisans or small traders.32 The minority of jornaleros who are not able to complement their wage the so-called golondrinas (swallows) live a very precarious existence, in that they find it almost impossible to have a family and children, that is, to reproduce their labour power.

Thus there is an essentially semi-feudal root to both the system of peonage as well as the direct exploitation of the peasant economy. We have said that "pure" capitalism and capitalist wage labour consist in the complete separation of the direct producers, the workers, from the land or any other means by which they could produce their subsistence. Consequently, all their compensation is paid in the form of a money wage. In general, this is not yet the case of the agricultural day labourers.

In contrast, feudalism is distinguished by the link between the direct producers, the peasants, with the land, with which they directly produce most of what is needed for their subsistence, turning over the surplus to the landlord, either in the form of labour ("personal prestation", "payment through work"), products (sharecropping) or money rent. Or, as Lenin said, feudalism consists in that "the land was divided between the big territorial landholders, the feudal landlords, and that these assigned land to the peasants to exploit them; therefore the land has been something like a wage in kind; it provided the peasant with the necessities to produce surplus product for the landlord; land constituted the basis that made it possible for the peasants to deliver tributes to the landlord".33

For this reason Lenin considered, for example, the parcels of land the German landlords provided their salaried workers as "a direct survival" of feudalism under capitalism, because "as an economic system, serfdom differs from capitalism precisely in that the former provides land to the labourer while the latter separates the labourer from the land; the former gives the labourer the means of subsistence in kind (or obliges him to produce this on his parcel of land, whereas the latter pays the worker in money with which he buys the means of subsistence".34

Moreover, the system of exploitation in the Mexican countryside still assigns land (marginal lands in general) to the peasants as an essential condition of their exploitation, either directly or through peonage, and this fact constitutes the marrow of semi-feudalism in the countryside. In its main form the State assigns them land, as a landlord in fact, through the "ejido" system and in the interests of the exploiting class as a whole. The survival of the latifundio system under the regime of bureaucrat capitalism, which we have already outlined, is accompanied by serfdom: unpaid labour; "tied", not free, forms of labour; the personal dependence which sharecropping, usury, etc., entail; the boss system, lack of freedom in general in short, extra-economic coercion.

There are those who appreciate the enormous importance of the dialectic between big agriculture and peasant economy but maintain that this relation is completely capitalist because, in contrast to the hacienda which contained the peasant's subsistence parcel, that parcel is now outside, formally independent of the large production entities.35 This point of view confounds the particular form with the essential content of the relation. The system of allotment (repartimiento) sent Indian peasants who lived and reproduced in formally independent villages and lands to do forced labour, and this did not cause it to cease to be a feudal labour system. And the hacienda itself did not absorb the great majority of the peasant parcels until the Porfiriato [dictatorial regime established in Mexico by General Porfirio Diaz between 1876 and 1991 AWTW].

The system of exploitation of the feudal hacienda is based upon the dialectic between the subsistence parcels inside or outside the hacienda and the surplus work, the surplus product obtained by the landholder through peonage and sharecropping on the lands of the hacienda. After more than a century of transformation via the landlord road, the dialectic between large holdings and small peasant plots is still the essential basis of the system of exploitation. To this essentially feudal foundation can be added various openly semifeudal forms which are reinforced by this dialectic. Like a string, on one end there appears the apparently capitalist advanced large-scale agriculture and on the other a backward peasant agriculture still wrapped in multiple forms of semi-feudal oppression. Between them there exist various intermediate cases: big property that still maintains openly semi-feudal features, peasant economy in more prosperous areas which suffers more "modern" and capitalist forms of exploitation.

They are not disconnected fragments or distinct economies. They are two poles of a single system, of a necessary relationship. From the peasant areas flow not only the labourers who work for less than a pittance in the capitalist agriculture but also surplus value sucked out of the peasant economy through usury, sharecropping, etc. an intermediary mechanism that ultimately increases the profitability of big capital. Thus the dialectic of exploitation is repeated: between big and peasant agriculture, between irrigation and dry land, between plain and mountain, between North and South the dialectic of a bureaucrat capitalism which still cannot do without semi-feudalism.

XV. The Revolutionary Programme

The immediate alternative that stands out sharply in the class struggle in the countryside is the peasant road. The main form of the spontaneous struggle the struggle for land that moreover arises from the most revolutionary strata in the countryside the poor peasants aims at the destruction of large agricultural holdings and the generalization of the peasant economy. All of the other important forms of spontaneous struggle the struggle against the political bosses (caciquismo), against repression, against the imposition of corporativism, for higher prices and better working conditions, for independent unions, etc. have an essentially democratic character. The character of the struggle is not directly socialist but rather democratic, a democratic struggle which attacks imperialism, bureaucrat capitalism and semi-feudalism.

In the name of this struggle various reforms have been proposed which supposedly favour the peasantry. Reforms alone will not lead to liberation, even when they are instituted by the revolutionary bourgeoisie. This is the lesson of three bourgeois revolutions (Independence, the Reform and the Revolution) and more than 70 years of agrarian reforms. Today among the "socialists" (the great majority of whom are not socialists at all but bourgeois forces, in terms of their ideology and programme), two favourite proposals are the promotion of collective ejidos and the amendment of the Agrarian Reform law to limit so-called "small land holdings" to 20 hectares (50 acres) of irrigated land or its equivalent in non-irrigated land.

It was correct to denounce the failed efforts at collectivization under Echeveria as an attempt to set up, on peasant lands, capitalist enterprises completely subordinate to and directed by the reactionary state.36 The myth of the Cardenist collective ejidos has endured longer, in part because the government decided afterwards to dismantle the majority of them, not because they represented a "socialist alternative" or some such trash, but because they were often bastions of political forces which it sought to undermine (the Mexican Communist Party, the PPS). Nevertheless, in the few collective ejidos that have survived and been successful, we can see the typical results of this reformism: the members, the ejidatarios, no longer work their land but instead leave all the labour to wage workers and live off the profits.37 Under capitalism, without a genuine revolution, in the best of cases such "collectivization" will be no more than that: relative privilege for a handful of "partners" in a capitalist enterprise while the large majority continue to live in misery.

Even more insidious is the proposal to amend the Agrarian Reform law to limit agrarian property to 20 hectares of irrigated land, because in appearance it incorporates the peasants' demand for land, but it does so in a form which will only assure continued oppression. Over the last 70 years it has not even occurred to these gentlemen, these respectable "socialists", that the Agrarian Reform law is a reactionary instrument of the bureaucrat bourgeoisie. What an ultra-leftist idea! It would be better to reform the Reform so that the worshippers of bourgeois legalism can fall for it another 70 years.... Lenin was fully justified in saying that the opportunists are better defenders of the bourgeoisie than the bourgeoisie itself.

Why is it that 70 years after the Agrarian Reform the peasants are worse off than ever? Why is it that many of the political bosses of later years in the beginning were "leaders" of that reform who emerged from the Agrarian Reform struggle of the 1930s? Why did that reform establish the basis for the complete subjugation of the peasantry to the bureaucrat bourgeoisie? It was not because the limit of the "small" holdings was 100 hectares instead of 20. It was because the law and the Constitution guaranteed and continue to guarantee that the turning over of the land would depend upon the decision of the bourgeois state, in a completely conscious effort by the bourgeoisie to subdue and control the revolutionary struggle of the peasants which the authors of the 1917 Constitution drowned in blood at the same time as they were writing their precious document. That type of agrarian reform that depends upon the "good will" of the bourgeois state, even if it had a formal limit of 20 acres (or 10 or 5), will always be gotten around in part; but even more important, even if it were applied to the letter of the law, the turning over of the land will always come at the price of the subordination and domination of the peasants by the reactionary state. And therefore the domination of big capital and imperialism will remain intact.

The only road to liberation is revolution, and a revolution, as Engels had occasion to remind the reformist socialist of his day, is an act of violence by which one class overthrows another. The road to liberation is People's War which smashes the bourgeois state instead of trying to reform it. That is the first requirement. That revolution must be a New Democratic revolution led by the proletariat and its Marxist-Leninist-Maoist party to overthrow imperialism, big capitalism and semi-feudalism, establish the people's democratic dictatorship of the revolutionary classes and launch the socialist revolution. This is the second requirement. (Is it necessary to add that the new revolutionary state will not base itself on the bourgeois Constitution of 1917?) Outside the general framework of these two requirements, the true liberation of the oppressed, whether in the countryside or the cities, is an impossible illusion.

In this context, the agrarian revolution must be carried out in two phases. The peasants themselves, arms in hand, will seize without compensation the lands of the big capitalists and the big landlords (in accordance with the concrete conditions it could be correct to offer some form of compensation to intermediate forces) and redistribute all of the land. Of course this process must be guided by general criteria formulated by the party and the new revolutionary state, but it must be the work of the revolutionary peasants themselves, since simply handing over the land as a "gift" from the state, even if that state is thoroughly revolutionary, cannot unleash the conscious revolutionary initiative of the masses, which is the only thing that can guarantee the victory of the socialist cause. In this redistribution, the historic rights of Indian groups to the land must be respected as part of the overall struggle to eliminate the oppression of these national minorities.

Imperialist capital and its enterprises as well as those of the comprador bourgeoisie must be confiscated. Their enterprises that provide inputs to the agricultural sector or that market and process its products must become the property of the nation. A struggle will have to be waged to transform the character of former private and state-owned enterprises so that they may serve the agrarian revolution and the peasants, the socialist transformation of the country, and the world proletarian revolution. In terms of enterprises that are specifically agricultural, in general the machinery and some other means of production should not simply be turned over to the peasants who happen to receive the land where these are located, since this would reproduce the current irrational and unequal concentration. Mechanisms must be established for their equal distribution and their collective use.

The first phase of the agrarian revolution will do away completely with semi-feudalism and will smash imperialism and bureaucrat-comprador capital. It will create an opening for a nascent socialist economic sector and a new free peasant economy and will represent a great step forward. However, in the end, the "free" (spontaneous) development of the peasant economy according to the laws of the market is a form of capitalist development which leads to polarization of the peasantry into a minority of capitalists and a great majority of exploited. Only socialism can liberate the peasants. Collectivization, a useless reform under capitalism, in the context of the political power of the proletariat and the other revolutionary classes and the initiation of the socialist revolution throughout society, becomes the road to socialism in the countryside.

Why if bureaucrat capitalism in many cases has already socialised to a significant degree the process of agricultural production do we call for dividing up the land only to later call for socializing production through collectivization? Why not convert the large agricultural holdings directly into state or collective property? There are some means of production like high-tech cow milk production that should be made use of, and in which some form of social property will be necessary from the beginning; and as already stated, agricultural machinery in general will have to be employed in some form that allows for a more equitable distribution and collective use. However, the division of the land among the peasants is in a general sense a necessary step for three reasons:

First, it corresponds to the most thorough elimination of semi-feudal relations and the subordination of the peasant economy, and will lead (along with more equal distribution of machinery, credit and other inputs) to minimizing today's large disequilibriums, distortions and inequalities in agriculture. In contrast, the direct conversion of the large agricultural enterprises into state property or collective enterprises, which would inevitably involve only a minority of peasants, would leave intact the concentrations of the means of production in a limited sector and maintain the backwardness of the overall peasant economy.

Second, true revolutionary transformation requires the most profound rupture with imperialism: self-sufficiency, abolition of technological dependency on the supply of machinery and other inputs, the reorientation of production for the imperialist markets toward production for the needs of the masses, etc. All of this (and the revolutionary war itself) implies certain disruptions in highly technological forms of production. The peasants, in contrast, have a great wealth of experience in production with limited technology. On the other hand, the peasant economy adapts naturally to the production of basic foodstuffs, and agriculture will have to be reoriented urgently toward that sort of production. In contrast, the policy of directly converting the large holdings into state property in situations in which agriculture is still not capitalist has been part of the programme which leaves intact essential elements of the dependency on imperialism (of both blocs) for technology, machinery, credits, and markets. This has been the experience of the Cuban and Nicaraguan revolutions which did not overcome the structure of agricultural/export dependency.

Finally, the most important reason is political: the main struggle of the oppressed in the countryside today is the struggle for land, and that struggle must be respected. The redivision of the land by the revolutionary peasants will strengthen the worker-peasant alliance under proletarian leadership as the core of the new state power and will create the firmest possible basis for collectivization to be truly voluntary and a conscious act of the peasants themselves. The successful struggle in China, which culminated with the formation of the communes, showed that when collectivization is the product of the conscious revolutionary struggle of the peasants under the leadership of the communist party, the process gives a great boost to the enthusiasm and initiative of the masses in the socialist revolution. In contrast, the errors committed in the first historic experience of collectivization in the Soviet Union illustrate that even when collectivization is carried forward by a genuinely socialist government (as was the Soviet government at that time), if it cannot count on the full support and participation of the poor and lower middle peasants in the struggle against very real enemies who wish to consolidate capitalist relations, it can undermine the initiative of the masses and end up weakening the very base of the socialist government itself.

Thus we must make sure that the peasants' struggle for land reaches its ultimate revolutionary objective and that the peasants demonstrate, with their own experience, that only socialism, only the road of collectivization, can liberate them. In the course of the struggle we must support every spark of cooperation, and it is possible that in some cases, upon redistributing the land, the peasants will choose to immediately organize collective forms of production. At all times the impulse toward such transformations must come from the communist party's political leadership of the conscious revolutionary struggle of the peasants, and not from bureaucratic methods.

In reality, the line of going "directly to socialism" in the countryside, which is pushed by the various revisionist forces who are in the habit of negating the existence of semi-feudal relations, is simply a line which would speed up the development of bureaucrat capitalism. It is possible to overcome semi-feudal relations either by the peasant road or the landlord road. In negating the continued existence of semi-feudal relations, they are rejecting the revolutionary road the road of the peasants and opting for an acceleration of the reactionary landlord road. This idea goes no further than converting the large holdings into state property, which leaves intact both its dependence on imperialism and the inequalities and disarticulation inherent in the relationship between large and small holdings. The general programme of these forces is not socialist nor even democratic. It does not seek a radical rupture with the world system, but at most to develop closer ties with Soviet social-imperialism and negotiate a "better arrangement" with Yankee imperialism.

For all these reasons, the distribution of the land is a necessary culmination of the democratic revolution in the countryside. The subsequent collectivization will represent an immense and historic socialist transformation of the Mexican countryside. However, the struggle will not stop there. As we have been taught by Mao and by the experience of both the Chinese revolution and the restoration of capitalism there and in the Soviet Union, it will be necessary to continue the revolution within socialism. It will be necessary to combat the new bourgeois elements that inevitably emerge inside the socialist forms of property and inside the communist party itself. It will be necessary to struggle to overcome the many inequalities that still remain and which provide a basis for such bourgeois forces. Only the triumph of communism, of classless society, throughout the world will represent the final victory. Even so, the great revolution whose agrarian component we have outlined here will be a great advance, not only for the people of Mexico, but also for the oppressed throughout the world in their struggle for this promising future.

In the countryside, as throughout the country, the old order is in a deep crisis. Let the government shed crocodile tears for the "poor peasants". Let the reformists promise this or that reform if only we vote for them or sign up for one of their organizations. This is the role they are supposed to be playing. The role of revolutionaries, in contrast, is to arouse the "invisible" people the proletarians and the peasants arouse them not only to cry out loud and bitter denunciations which they now only murmur, not only to rise up with swords and bullets against injustice, but also so that the invisible people can come out from their shadows this time for good and smash and uproot the evil forces which have bled them dry in the darkness, and with great revolutionary strides begin to build a new and shining society in their own image.


1. See Lenin, V.I., The Agrarian Programme and Social Democracy in the First Russian Revolution (1905-1907), sections 5 and 6 of Chapter 1.

2. Mao Tsetung, "The Current Situation and Our Tasks", Selected Works, Vol. 4.

3. Bartra, Armando, Los harederos de Zapata, Era, 1985; Paré, Luisa, El proletariado agrícola en México, Siglo XXI, Mexico, 1982, p. 40.

4. Bartra, Roger, "Campesinado y poder político en México", in Roger Bartra, et al., Caciquismo y poder político en el México rural, Siglo XXI, Mexico, 1975, p. 18.

5. See, for example, Lenin, V.I., Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Russian Revolution.

6. 48% of the population lives in concentrations of less than 15,000 inhabitants according to the figures of the X Censo de poblacion y vivienda 1980 reproduced in Banamex, México social 1985-1986, p. 64. The official figures tend to underestimate the rural population.

7. According to a report drawn up by professors at the Universidad de Chapingo and the PMS parliamentary group for the period January 1982-July 1987, La Jornada, 19 and 31 August 1987.

8. Mao Tsetung, "Report on an Investigation into the Hunan Peasant Movement", Selected Works, Vol. 1.

9. Mao Tsetung, "On the Problem of agricultural collectivization", Selected Works, Vol. 5.

10. Marx, Karl, Capital, Vol. I, Chapter XXIV.

11. Ibid., Vol. III, Chapter XLVII, part 2.

12. Lenin, V.I., The Development of Capitalism in Russia, particularly Chapter III.

13. Marx makes a distinction between "rent in products", in which the peasant works the land with his own animals and implements (which is a purely feudal form, because all the surplus corresponds to land rent), and "sharecropping", in which the landlord, besides, the land, also supplies draft animals, implements, etc. In this last case, rent includes, besides land rent, a recompense for the instruments of production provided in advance by the landlord, and Marx considers it a transitional form toward capitalism, and thus itself semifeudal. In Mexico, the term "sharecropping" has typically been used to refer to both forms, and for reasons of simplicity we will continue this usage here. On the other hand, the greater proliferation of the sharecropping form (in the strict sense used by Marx) relative to rent in products during the second half of the 19th century did reflect the beginning of the transition to capitalism. However, the existence of sharecropping in the strict sense in a far earlier period was due principally to the fact that it was the Spaniards who introduced draft animals here. This particularity of the development of feudalism in Mexico also determined that the use by the peasants of their own draft animals in their "personal prestation", that is, in their unpaid labour on the lands of the landlord, never achieved much importance in New Spain [the Spanish viceroyship in America which coincides with contemporary Mexico AWTW].

14. Marx, Capital, Vol. III, Chapter XLVII.

15. Lenin analyzed this in the Russian case: see The Development of Capitalism in Russia, Chapter III.

16. Esteva, Gustavo, La batalla en el México rural, Siglo XXI, Mexico, 1985, p. 135; Espin, Jaime y Patricia de Leonardo, Economía y sociedad en Los Altos de Jalisco, Nueva Imagen, Mexico, 1978, p. 65.

17. Florescano, Enrique, Origen y desarrollo de los problemas agrarios de México 1500-182, Era, Mexico, 1976, pages 106, 107.

18. Ibid., pages 107-108.

19. Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party.

20. Marx, Capital, Vol. I.

21. Solis, Leopoldo, La realidad economica mexicana, Mexico, Siglo XXI, 1983, p. 17.

22. Gunder Frank, André, et al., America Latina, feudalismo o capitalismo, Ed. Quinto Sol, Mexico, p. 64.

23. See the Dobb - Sweezy critique in Hilton, Rodney, La transicion del feudalismo al capitalismo, Ed. Grijalbo, Barcelona, 1977, as well as the comments by Marx in Capital, Vol. III, Chapter XX.

24. Hilton, op. cit., pages 20, 156, etc.

25. Esteva, op. cit., pages 62-63; Hewitt de Alcántara, Cynthia, La modernización de la agricultura mexicana 1940-1970, Siglo XXI, Mexico, 1982, pages 32-33.

26. Hewitt de A., op.cit., pages 46-49 and in general Chapter 1, "Las implicaciones sociales de la investigación agrícola en México".

27. Ibid., pages 53-55.

28. Ibid., Chapter 2, "El marco institutional para el crecimiento agrícola".

29. Ibid., p. 37.

30. Ibid., p. 76.

31. Ibid., p. 83.

32. Esteva, op.cit. p. 156-158; Astorga Lira, Enrique, Mercado de trabajo rural en México, La mercancia humana, Era, Mexico, 1985, pages 51, 111; Paré, Luisa, El proletariado agricola en México, Siglo XXI, Mexico, 1982, p. 8.

33. Lenin, V.I. Who Are the "Friends of the People" and How They Fight the Social-Democrats, Vol. 1.

34. Lenin, V.I., "The Capitalist System of Modern Agriculture, Collected Works, Vol. 16.

35. De Janvy, Alain, The Agrarian Question, John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1981, p. 209.

36, Warman, Arturo, "La colectivizacion en el campo: una critica", Ensayos sobre el campesinado en México, Nueva Imagen, Mexico, 1984.

37. Hewitt de Alcantara, op.cit., pages 195-214.