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

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The Agrarian Question in the 21st Century

Drawing from the late Archie Mafeje's work and revolutionary spirit, this article revisits the "classical" agrarian question and responds to scholars who argue that the "agrarian question is dead"--indeed, those who feel that "we have been liberated from the constraints of agriculture, land and nature." Far from being dead, it is argued that the agrarian question remains real to people's politics in the 21st century and will remain so, especially in the global South where rural movements are finding alternative ways to wrestle monopoly-finance capital that continues to run amok.

This article is a substantially revised version of the presentation made at the conference, “Land Reform and Democracy in South Africa: Organised in Honour of Late Prof Archie Mafeje” at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

Our intention in this article is to reflect on the “classical” agrarian question and how we might look ahead to the 21st century.

Such a reflection continues to require a critique of Eurocentric and economistic tendencies which have been influential in Marxian political economy, to the point of pronouncing the classical agrarian question dead, purportedly for no longer serving its primordial function, industrialisation. Absent in these approaches is acknowledgement of a series of questions, namely, the national question and its land and peasant components, which are irreducible to industrialisation (Moyo, Jha and Yeros 2013). These are precisely the questions that marked the culmination of the classical agrarian question, and remain the cornerstone of the contemporary agrarian questions. However, before beginning to reflect upon Mafeje’s views, we find it important to trace the trajectory of the “classical myth of the agrarian question,” particularly its obsession with industrialisation.

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