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Interview with Utsa Patnaik

Enjoy free access to Peasant Class Differentiation: A Study in Method with Reference to Haryana

New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1987, xi + 229 pp., ISBN 19 561914 5.

Conducted by A. Haroon Akram-Lodhi on 15 June 2018.

Haroon Akram-Lodhi (HAL): Can we start our conversation with a bit of background? What were your formative experiences in the 1950s and 1960s that led you into becoming a Marxist political economist?


Utsa Patnaik (UP): Perhaps it was a combination of seeing extreme inequality and deprivation around me when growing up in different parts of India, and having easy access to Marxist works at home because my father, an engineer in government service, was interested in Marxism as were so many of his generation who experienced the Great Depression and the War in their youth. I spent part of my childhood in a small town in a sparsely populated region where tribal children, clearly malnourished and suffering from with what I learnt later was kwashiorkor, would come to sell game birds that they had trapped. The peasantry of that region was hardy and poor, and I came into contact with their families while bicycling around the nearby villages and stopping to drink the sugarcane juice they offered. The rest of my formative years were spent by contrast in large cities – four years schooling up to 1958 in London, where my father was posted by the government, and thereafter school and university in Delhi. In London I experienced racialism, most unpleasant at the time, but educative in the longer run, making me aware to some extent of the feelings of the children who suffered caste-based social discrimination in my own country. In Delhi, the fast-expanding capital city, construction workers lived in temporary hovels beside the opulent residential houses they were building, and the misery of their lives was in stark contrast to the lives of the elite.

As regards the second influence, in my mid-teens during long summer vacations from school I was struggling through Anti-Dühring, The German Ideology and The Holy Family, trying to understand the first volume of Capital and failing, while Materialism and Emipirio-criticism was easier going. I never read simplified guides but plunged in at the deep end. On the whole I got the basic points regarding property concentration, class exploitation and class ideology. Marxist theory, though imperfectly absorbed, helped me to understand critically what I had directly observed. I read the Russian greats in Bengali and English translation in my teens – Pushkin, Tolstoy, Gorky, and starting from my stint in school in London, I read the English classics. Very few know of Tagore’s inspiring revolutionary poems that I read in my language, Bengali. At the age of 22, in 1967 I had married Prabhat Patnaik, a fellow student at the Delhi School of Economics whose father, initially in the Congress and later co-founder of the Communist Party of India in his home state, Orissa, had spent years leading peasant struggles and being jailed by the British. I learnt a lot about the freedom struggle and the communist movement from his family.

 As a university student in England from 1967 to 1973 I took part in the marches against the Vietnam War. In Cambridge we formed a short-lived women’s group with Penny Pollitt and others, calling ourselves Scarlet Women - I recollect giving a talk on the labour theory of value to this group. I read standard economics literature, but I also read Lenin and Mao carefully during this period in addition to Marx, as well as some of the European philosophers of Marxism. After a false start with a supervisor in Oxford who was not supportive of my political economy perspective, I was fortunate that Margaret Haswell was in Oxford, and after we shifted in 1969 to Cambridge, Maurice Dobb agreed to supervise my work.      


HAL: Why did the Indian mode of production debate emerge in the early 1970s? What were the key conjunctural reasons as to why it emerged then?

UP: The half-century before Independence had reduced rural producers in India to truly dire straits. The bulk of the peasantry was impoverished by rents and taxes, the Depression meant agrarian crisis and loss of land to creditors, while the burden of Allied war financing on the Indian budget, with forced savings achieved through rapid inflation, led to the death by starvation of 3 million persons in Bengal.

After nearly two centuries of being repressed and drained of foreign exchange earnings, India’s economy and society broke loose in 1947 and saw rapid changes in a mere fifteen years after Independence, and especially by 1972 when I completed my doctoral research. For one thing there was reform in land tenure systems and some land redistribution to the land-poor, albeit not in a revolutionary manner as in China, but in a partial, top-down legal manner. Parasitic feudal landlords had their wings clipped, sections of the peasantry saw considerable relief from labour services and rents, and they were now protected from the volatility of global prices. For another, in sharp contrast to the period before independence the state was spending budgetary resources freely on rural development and on building up an industrial base, and this both provided growing employment and created a fast growing internal market for basic necessities like food and clothing. This raised the profitability of farming for the first time in decades. The annual trend growth rate of foodgrains soared over 25- fold compared to the growth rate during the half century before independence – from 0.11 percent to 2.8 percent. The state was also promoting crop research and reaching new technology to farmers through extension services. A number of academics noted that a new process of capitalist investment in agriculture was getting under way and even urban moneyed people were turning to agriculture.

The question arose: did this process mean a real breakdown in the old system of production dominated by rentier landlordism, concomitant small scale tenancy, bonded labour and usury? Were agrarian relations changing in a capitalist direction, and, if so, who were the agents of change, where was the process most rapid, and where did it continue to meet impediments?

There were major theoretical differences in the approach and analysis to these questions among academics and activists alike.


HAL: What were the critical analytical issues in the Indian mode of production debate?


UP: One major issue, as indicated in the answer to the previous question, was whether a systemic change was taking place at all, not only in agriculture but in the economy as a whole. The debate drew in writers of a broadly left persuasion but with widely differing perspectives. An influential school of academics tended to align with a view summed up in a phrase current at that time – ‘Yeh azadi jhooti hai’ translating as ‘this independence is a lie’. The absence of a revolutionary transition to a new order; the political leadership and rule of a moderate bourgeois party, the Indian National Congress; the military suppression of communist-led armed peasant movements by the new state especially in Telengana; and the absence of radical redistributive land reforms were the factors that formed their views. This school was influential among many economists, who denied any major systemic change and stressed what they called semi-feudal relations of production with persisting high rents and high usurious interest rates that left large sections of the poor peasantry in a state of perpetual debt bondage to their landlords. They thought these relations permanently inhibited productive investment in agriculture because the combination of extracting rent and interest continued to be more paying. 

The other school of academics however pointed out that in many regions of the country there was a strong tendency toward the growth of capitalist relations in the agrarian sphere. The profitability of direct cultivation was rising and this was visibly inducing private investment in irrigation, and in working capital like new seeds and fertilisers, albeit mainly by the larger scale producers who had the means. The academics belonging this trend of thinking estimated the size of the capitalist sector on the basis of the extent of employment of hired labour.

I tended to agree with the second school; that while usury and high rents were indeed persistent, and could not be expected to disappear soon, nevertheless there was a new trend of investment in certain parts of the country. However I differed on the question of ‘hired labour’ and the large size of the capitalist sector as estimated by the second school, since forms of labour paid in-kind and in various types of bondage to landlords had existed for a long time in our history, and were not necessarily indicative of capitalist relations.


HAL: What do you think was your main contribution to the Indian mode of production debate?


UP: The main new issues I raised were four: first, explicitly drawing out the difference between the macroeconomic situation in the colonial and post-colonial periods. I have always agreed with Paul Baran’s statement ‘What is cooked in the kitchen, is not decided in the kitchen’ – changes in the agrarian sphere including in class relations were profoundly influenced by the overall trends in the economy. The reasons I gave in my answer to the second question were not mentioned by others (land reforms, fiscal expansionism, subsidies and price stabilisation, extension services) but for me they were definitive in indicating complete break with colonial policies.

The second was to point out the difference between ‘pauperisation’ and ‘proletarianisation’. This related to the specificity of colonial drain of wealth and de-industrialisation that had led to unemployment plus loss of land against debt by poor peasants who were pauperised, with the Great Depression adding the coup de grace. In India’s 1931 Census 38 percent of the rural population returned wages as a source of income compared to 26 percent a decade earlier, and rural income itself had fallen drastically. This was pauperisation, for there was no tendency of growth of capitalist enterprises that could absorb the displaced.

The third and related point was to emphasise the role of accumulation as a general characteristic of capitalism proper, whether in agriculture or elsewhere, and the importance of not taking the prevalence of hired labour, no doubt a necessary index of capitalist farming, as a sufficient index, since hired labour could be a result of pauperisation, or a legacy of earlier forms of caste-based tied labour. I co-edited a volume titled Chains of Servitude – Bondage and Slavery in India (1984) in which contributors had described and analysed many such forms of tied labour.

The fourth was to theorize absolute ground rent as a barrier to capitalist investment, taking Marx’s idea and adapting it to our conditions. In a situation of land-hunger there was a high rate of rent extraction in addition to high interest rates from usury. The latter represented return on money-capital, but the viability of putting money instead into productive investment in agriculture did not depend solely on the return to such investment exceeding usury interest rates: the barrier of absolute ground rent also had to be overcome. This barrier consisted in the fact that without making any outlay at all and solely owing to property right in land the owner could claim a large share of the tenant’s output as rent. So the return to direct productive investment of a given sum of money on a unit of land, had to be greater than the combined sum, of interest foregone on that sum and rent foregone. I was heartened by Joan Robinson’s positive reference to my argument on rent as barrier, in her book Aspects of Economic Development. I argued that overcoming the rent barrier was difficult but it was taking place wherever investment in new technology gave a quantum jump in yield and hence in surplus.


HAL: I have always thought that the labour-exploitation criterion was a remarkably innovative – and inspired – way of trying to empirically understand the characteristics of peasant classes. What was the creative impetus that led to you developing the labour-exploitation criterion (because it was wonderfully creative)?


UP: Because I was steeped in Marxist writings from an early age it was obvious to me that any meaningful analysis of the agrarian structure must be a class analysis, that the existing empirical methods obscured reality, and that some better way of capturing class status at the empirical level had to be devised. I had already tried out in my thesis Lenin’s suggestion (in “New data on the laws governing the development of capitalism in agriculture”, Vol.22 of the Collected Works) that grouping farms by their annual output value would be a better measure of the scale of production than the usual grouping by physical acreage.

I certainly cannot claim any conceptual originality for the idea behind the labour use index, for, as I explained in my book, the method of distinguishing classes was clearly explained both in Lenin’s ‘Preliminary Draft Theses on the Agrarian Question (presented to the Second Congress of the Comintern, 1920) and in Mao Zedong’s “How to Differentiate Classes in Rural Areas” which were in the nature of practical guides to land reform. The basic point of ownership of resources determining the pattern of labour use was clearly explained by both.

All I did was to extract the most important element of these ideas, that the type of labour use depended on and reflected the effective extent of command over land and other resources, and that this determined the economic class status of a rural household deriving its living from agriculture. This element was formalized into a simplified measure that was independent of units, namely a scalar, for classifying households into six classes, exactly the number discussed in Lenin and in Mao. As you know since you applied the index yourself in your early research, the labour exploitation index was demanding in that accurate information was required on family labour, hired out labour and hired in labour as well as on tenancy. Such data were seldom available from secondary sources but could be collected fairly easily in primary surveys.

            Note that the labour-exploitation index should never be applied in a mechanical manner, for there could well be cases of lack of members of working age in a family, that mandated the use of outside labour even when the household was poor.


HAL: One of the interesting aspects of Peasant Class Differentiation is its use of unusual econometric techniques. How did you come to learn of these techniques, and why did you think that they were appropriate to the specific empirical investigation that you were undertaking?


UP: The specific statistical technique applied to data depends on the question asked. My question was: how do we effectively separate out at the empirical level the different classes as conceptualised in Marxist theory; and was the index I had formulated for this purpose a robust one in ensuring such separation. The very notion of any meaningful ‘classification’ is that with respect to all crucial indicators, the households in a given class are closer to each other than any such household is to the households we put in a different class. Since I argued that the labour-use index captured the actual differences between classes better than the size-of-farm index, one obvious test to apply was the simple chi-square test of association between the two methods of grouping data, and this showed positive but moderate association.

The more advanced test, discriminant function analysis, is seldom used by economists partly because their training in statistics is heavily oriented to running regressions, which is inappropriate for identifying classes, as I had pointed out in the debate with Ashok Rudra, who was a statistician. Being market-oriented, for example, was not unique to capitalist farmers; poor peasants producing commercial crops could be market oriented, too. I had argued that set theory, especially the intersection of sets, would give a better identification of the emerging capitalists, since we needed to see which farms were at the same time market-oriented, mainly labour-hiring, investing more than the average, using modern technology, and so on. Group theory or discriminant function analysis does precisely that since it takes several variables at the same time to test the distance between the groups or classes. If our classification method is robust, then taking the variables mentioned the distance measure derived from such analysis, would show that our classes were so distant from each other that they had to belong to different populations (in the statistical sense). 

 Distance measure was used before me by Ednaldo Araquem da Silva who had applied my criterion (obtained from my 1976 Economic and Political Weekly paper) to his primary farm data from northeast Brazil, and had sent me his draft paper, sometime I think in 1981. He published the final version in 1984 in The Journal of Peasant Studies. During 1980-81 I was writing my book; I liked his use of this test and it gave me the idea of applying it to my own data, but I was handicapped by my lack of statistical literacy. My colleague who taught econometrics was encouraging. We at JNU used to interact sometimes with students and faculty of the Indian Statistical Institute, Delhi, which was located a stone’s throw away from our University, and a senior research scholar there who was interested in my area volunteered to carry out the actual calculation involved. He was greatly struck by the strength of the results that showed the level of significance of the distance measure to be 0.001 as compared to the usual 0.01, namely the likelihood of the classes - defined using the labour-exploitation criterion - belonging to the same population was one in a thousand as compared to one in a hundred, the level of significance usually considered to be very good. He actually re-did the test to make sure there was no mistake. So that is the story – I think it illustrates well the positive aspects of international and inter-institutional academic co-operation and also the very useful role played by the JPS that gave space to scholars from the developing countries. I published a short summary of some of the results of my book in the JPS in 1986 under the title “Ascertaining the economic characteristics of peasant classes-in-themselves in rural India”. 

            I remain ignorant of theoretical statistics but have never given up on common sense or logic. By 2004 the poverty estimates of the Indian Government and the World Bank made no sense at all, based on grotesquely low daily poverty level spending (‘the poverty line’) that would hardly buy a bottle of water while it was supposed to meet the entire daily cost of living. With much better desktop computational facilities available nowadays, I was able to analyse spending and nutrition data from the Reports of India’s National Sample Survey Organization for 8 rounds spanning 40 years, and construct over 500 charts myself. These showed that the nutritional standard has been continuously lowered owing to the logically faulty method of calculating the poverty line used officially (by governments and the World Bank). When the standard is held constant - and comparison is never valid without a constant standard - poverty both rural and urban showed a substantial rise from the 1990s onwards, and not a decline as falsely claimed. Research scholars who apply the labour-exploitation criterion today compare farm income not only with the official highly underestimated poverty line but also with the correct nutrition-invariant poverty lines I have calculated and published.


HAL: Can you explain why it took so long for the publisher to produce Peasant Class Differentiation?


UP: The labour-exploitation index was formulated properly only in 1976 in my paper “Class differentiation within the Peasantry’ (August Special Number of EPW). Although the germ of the idea was present it was not fully developed in my thesis submitted when I was 26 years old, in early 1972 for the D.Phil in Oxford. I published a number of papers from my thesis – one on farm size and farm scale, an estimate of marketable surplus, a critique of Chayanov’s theory, and the results of my own small primary survey of large labour hiring farms. But there was no proper formulation of the labour-exploitation index at this stage.

            The real genesis of the index was the stimulating debate I had with Ashok Rudra during 1973 to 1975, leading me to counter his argument that Marxists defined classes ‘on the basis of farm size’. I was taken aback by the immediate positive response to my 1976 EPW paper where the index was presented. Theodor Shanin wrote an entire essay in EPW generously comparing my effort positively to a battery of Soviet writers of the 1920s who had used class concepts for the peasantry, but he also chastised me for ‘linguistic laziness’, presumably for not reading these authors in the original Russian. ( I thought then, but did not say, that coping with three languages ­­– Bengali, Hindi and English with a soupçon of French added – was quite enough for me, and Shanin should have got translated from Russian the works he considered important). Shanin’s EPW paper was carried in the book edited by Eric J Hobsbawm and others, honouring Daniel Thorner. The widespread interest my paper generated induced a number of scholars already doing doctoral research and field work to apply the criterion immediately to analyse their own data, long before I had an opportunity to do so myself ! These scholars included two Brazilian scholars in England and a medical doctor from the Community Health Centre in my own university who applied it to study health indicators within the rural population. One of the Brazilian scholars was E. Araquem da Silva mentioned earlier, and the second scholar was from the LSE and published his thesis as a book – he sent me a copy but alas, owing to linguistic laziness I could not read Portuguese.

            My own primary data set from my thesis was not suitable for applying the labour exploitation index since it related to large scale labour-hiring farms alone. Around 1978 my colleague, Sheila Bhalla, offered to let me use the sub-sample of the data regularly collected every five years on employment within a proper sampling frame by India’s National Sample Survey Organization. She had access to this data and was analysing it to ascertain unemployment in Haryana. Since the labour use data had been carefully collected this was ideal for my purpose. Nearly two years went in re-tabulating and analysing the raw data from the schedules – remember, there were no fast data processors then – and I wrote up the book during a year’s sabbatical leave in 1980-81, the final typescript being accepted by Oxford University Press in early 1982. OUP took five years to bring it out, so the delay was on their part; I could not have finished the book earlier given the constraints of multi-tasking with a full-time job and a very young child. It should have appeared by 1983.

Why did the publisher take so long? In retrospect a senior editor, nearly two decades older than me, sat on the book for months running into years, perhaps because he was himself conservative and felt uncomfortable with the ideas you found ‘innovative’. On the strength of a PPE degree from Oxford, the editor was, I felt, unduly interfering: he kept asking me to include references to well-known Indian economists whose work on agrarian issues, no doubt of great independent merit, was not in the least connected to my own problematic, and I declined to do so. He deleted the word ‘positive’ every time ‘positive association’ between variables was mentioned - why should one have to explain that there could be negative association between variables? He then left OUP to start his own publishing house, leaving my typescript in limbo; after a new editor was assigned, the process started afresh; fortunately the new editor was professionally neutral. I find that with most publishers, with one or two exceptions, there are far too many uninformed alterations to one’s text, and especially to technical terms in economics, and a lot of one’s time is wasted in correcting such gratuitously introduced mistakes.

The editorial board of Social Scientist, to which I belong, encouraged the setting up of an independent progressive publishing house, Tulika Books, by Indu Chadrasekhar, whose first publication on Chinese development issues edited by Ashok Mitra came out in 1988 (it included a paper of mine on the contract responsibility system based on visits to rural communes in China). Since then many dozens of titles by noted authors have appeared. The production values of Tulika Books still remain among the best that I have come across, because they are not compromised by excessive cost-cutting, so visible in books by many publishers who take recourse to indifferent paper and small font.


HAL: Looking back, what do you think are the key analytical strengths of Peasant Class Differentiation?


UP: My purpose was mainly a methodological one, as the sub-title of the book indicates (A Study in Method with Reference to Haryana): to show that the theoretical framework employed in any work spanning the interface between economics and sociology was extremely important for the results of analysing data – in this case, the data was on farm economics, but the general principle applies to other areas as well such as health or education indicators. The inspiration was the debate between the Populists and the Marxists in pre-revolution Russia and Lenin’s exercises with zemstvo data that showed how the former took overall averages that totally obscured the actual extent of class differentiation. Lenin pioneered the idea behind the Lorenz curve of concentration, by dividing all peasant farms into three groups and comparing the data for the same proportion of holdings across the districts, in The Development of Capitalism in Russia. Lorenz published some years after Lenin, but the latter’s contribution is not recognized in the literature. I continue to use the three-groups method extensively myself for analysing land, assets and other types of concentration.

            I think I did succeed in bringing out the great difference made to the stylised picture we obtain of peasant farming, when we aggregate farm data by the labour-use index as opposed to the standard method of farm size. I paid particular attention to presenting the same variables grouped by both methods side by side, so that the difference could be compared. One important analytical result related to the idea of the superior ‘efficiency’ of family-labour based peasant farming as measured by yield per acre, compared to capitalist farming. This idea was put forward by A. V. Chayanov and we find it resurfacing in developing countries; in India Amartya K. Sen put forward the same idea in his 1966 paper “Peasants and Dualism with and without Surplus Labour”.

I had already written a theoretical critique in a paper titled “Neo-Populism and Marxism”. I met Terry Byres for the first time in Kerala, in the house of a mutual acquaintance - he was on a visit to India then, and learning of my paper he was very interested, and took it for Journal of Peasant Studies. That was my first publication in JPS, in 1979; later three more papers of mine were carried by JPS.  

It must be mentioned that those who talked of superior efficiency of small-scale family labour based farming, though apparently ‘pro-peasant’, in fact were in practice doing the peasantry a dis-service. Petty production badly needed the state support it received in the Nehruvian era of dirigisme by way of price support through crop procurement by the state and protection from global price swings, extension services and subsidies on inputs. All this was given up from the 1990s as neo-liberal policies were imposed, and this is when the crisis facing our agrarian producers began. It was not merely one affecting petty producers but also formerly stable and reasonably well-to-do sections of the peasantry. The votaries of alleged ‘peasant efficiency’ did not have a single word to say opposing these disastrous policies that have led to prolonged agrarian depression, lowered incomes for farmers and in areas of export crop production led to debt-induced farmer suicides – the tally since 1997 is over 300,000 suicides.

 Today farmers in India have turned at long last from suicides to resistance: as this interview takes place an India-wide agitation of farmers has started for price stabilisation through effectively implemented minimum support prices, for debt waiver, and for an income covering their basic needs. 


HAL: What do you now think is missing from the analysis contained in Peasant Class Differentiation?


UP: I do not think that anything essential is missing. Although I was criticised for not including interest and trader’s profits in formulating the index, I do not accept the criticism, because the point is that production relations are basic in identifying classes and the meaning and burden of other payments like interest and trading mark-up are determined by the basic class status. Interest payments were a huge burden on the rural poor (defined on the basis of production relations subsumed under the labour exploitation index) as I showed my book, but not so for the rural exploiters who had access to own funds and could obtain lower-cost bank credit. The latter obtained higher prices for the produce they carried to the market yards compared to the farm-gate prices obtained by the others. As for non-cultivation sources of income, the nature of that income (whether from wages or other sources) and its extent depends again on the basic class position, as my book showed and as many subsequent studies have shown. Even after including all income sources the rural poor comprising the majority of households, continue to fall short of reaching minimum nutritional standards, leave alone health, education and housing.

What has been missing relates not to the book per se but, owing to my personal circumstances, my inability to persuade people who are important in making policy to use sensible methods for identifying beneficiaries of debt waiver and other policies that are not based mechanically on the size of the farm alone.  


HAL: Do you think that the essential arguments within Peasant Class Differentiation remain valid more than 30 years later?


UP: As long as there is inequality in asset ownership (land and productive assets) they will remain valid. Far from reducing, inequality has been rising fast in the last quarter century in India under the neo-liberal reforms that started from the early 1990s. Indeed I have repeatedly shown that it is not simply increased inequality but absolute immiserization that has been taking place – some relevant data were presented in my 2007 book The Republic of Hunger and other Essays. The recent data show reverse trends compared to earlier; the top 5 percent of landowners – and these are not peasants but the former landlords now turned capitalist – have gained land at the expense of all other groups, and they get substantial income from investing in non-cultivation avenues. The food security issue has re-emerged as a serious one with the majority of the agriculture dependent population unable to access sufficient nutrition though their products fill supermarket shelves in the global North and sustain rising consumption for the local rich.


HAL: As a great admirer of Peasant Class Differentiation, it has always struck me that you never followed it up, say, by redoing the analysis decades later. Why did you never consider looking at the issues over time?


UP: I have supervised some fifteen doctoral theses over the years apart from as many shorter dissertations. Many research students expressed interest in class analysis of agrarian problems, and I guided them in applying the labour-exploitation criterion to their own primary data on farm economics collected from different regions of India. One former student has become a well-known activist in the left movement and is involved in organising peasant struggles. Some have published over the years, in the Journal of Peasant Studies, the Journal of Agrarian Change and the Cambridge Journal of Economics. Readers may not associate these papers with me because I discourage explicit acknowledgement (their use of the method is telling enough), and some are grand-students, namely students supervised by my own former students who are now professors in various universities. These studies have provided new insights into the ongoing processes of change. In Social Scientist March-April 2018 Shilpy Nagalia is the most recent scholar to present a brief summary of the results of applying the criterion to her field survey data.

            As regards why I did not carry out a resurvey myself, it would have been impossible for me to replicate the sampling frame of the National Sample Survey Organization. My own research interests shifted to looking at the historical roots of poverty and famines, to a critique of standard trade theory, to laying bare the formal mechanism of colonial transfers and to a critique of current poverty estimates. 

To pose new, meaningful questions is the real challenge of original research and for this a sustained effort is necessary to analyse the impact of changing state policies and global trends acting on the agrarian sector. Investigating the effects of neo-liberal trade and macroeconomic policies on Indian agriculture introduced a new range questions for students to explore while carrying out class analysis – for example, the revival of petty tenancy as the profitability of direct cultivation went down and the rent barrier again came into play; debt-induced land and other asset transfers; changes in the cropping pattern towards export crops; the conditions under which new contract farming is being carried out – all these matters required investigation. The labour exploitation criterion is a method of data analysis that gives sharp results, but the data set itself would be a seriously impoverished one if these new questions were not looked at. We would miss out on the dynamics of agrarian change. I have always stressed the importance of theoretical analysis and of tracking the larger trends in the economy and society, for this is essential for informed and meaningful empirical work based on a class perspective.


HAL: Thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions.

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