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The Land and Agrarian Question in Zimbabwe

Sam Moyo

17-18 December 2004

This work-in-progress paper is posted with permission of the author.
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Land reform, the agrarian question and national development

Recent debates on the land and agrarian question query the relevance of land reform in the current context of globalisation. Some argue that the agrarian question in the ‘north’, has been resolved, which forebode the end of the “classic” land and agrarian reforms, except in isolated parts of the south (Bernstein, 2002). The socio-economic destruction of peasantries and their limited capacity to struggle for land redistribution in Africa is considered to constrain the potential for popular land reforms (Ibid). Allegedly the unique “3rd Chimurenga” in Zimbabwe is viewed as a politically “contrived” reform (Ibid). Yet, because uneven development and the manipulation of ‘northern’ markets and structural adjustments (SAPs), have depressed agricultural production and prices in the ‘south’, intense land questions and resistance to neo-liberalism have re-emerged in land struggles led by new social movements (Petras and Veltmeyer 2001; Ghimire 2001; Moyo 2001 and Yeros, 2000 quoted in Moyo and Yeros, 2004a).

Land reform is a necessary but not sufficient condition for agrarian reform and national development. From the 1980s, under the influence of international finance and neoliberal economics, state-led and interventionist land reform was removed from the development agenda and replaced by market-based land policies, pursuant of the privatization of land and market based land transfers. This led to the abandonment of the project of integrating agriculture and industry on a national basis and the promotion instead of their integration into global markets, and resulted in decreased economic and social security, intensified migration to urban areas, and deepening maldevelopment (Moyo and Yeros, 2004b). With the end of the Cold War and of white rule in southern Africa, land reform returned to the development agenda, albeit largely under market principles. The purpose for land reform in national development during the neoliberal era is now widely contested ideologically and politically, as is manifested in the reemergence of various organized land movements and sporadic land conflicts (ibid).

Land reform is a fundamental dimension of the agrarian question, while the agrarian question is a fundamental dimension of the national question. The classic agrarian question, concerned with the transition from feudal/agrarian society to capitalist/industrial society, has only been partly resolved by developments since the post-war period (Ibid). Many countries have not become industrialized and the international division of labour in industrial and agricultural production persists, with only partial transformation. The deepening of integration among Northern economies, and a few new industrial satellites, has led to new divisions of labour within global industry and agriculture, based on technological capabilities, financial privileges, and mercantilist trade policies (Ibid). The failure to resolve the agrarian question through “development” in the south has compromised the national question and self-determination. While the ideology of ‘globalisation’ claims the end of national sovereignty and the states-system (Ibid), the limits of global accumulation, characterised by overproduction in world industry and agriculture, and by the financialisation of capital, recalls the national question.

Resolving the national question continues to depend on addressing the agrarian question (Moyo and Yeros, 2004a). While national capital has largely been absorbed by international capital in a number of countries and rapid agricultural mechanisation has occurred, national economies have become more dependent on international markets, and an the international monetary system which has abandoned commitments to stable exchange rates, and fair adjustment mechanisms between commercial surplus and deficit states. Capital controls have been removed and international financial markets now control national macro-economic policies, while the new trade rules and procedures push forward liberalisation and subordinate developing states to mercantilist trading partners in the North. Regionalism has spread throughout the world, and has the potential of being progressive, but in practice it has been subordinated to global integration.

Under these conditions, national development strategy and the purpose of land and agrarian reform have become convoluted. Agrarian reform was always understood to serve national industrialization and development, and continues to have this potential, although recent debates underplay it (Ibid). There are generally three views on the purpose of agrarian reform: the ‘social’, the ‘economic’, and the ‘political’, all of them underlain by questions of social justice (AIAS Mimeo). The social version emphasizes a welfarist focus which aims to redistribute some land to the poor, alongside maintenance of the large ‘modern farm sector’. The economic version argues for promoting redistribution towards developing efficient small commercial farmers to create employment and multiplier effects which integrate the home market. The political version argues for challenging the political power of the landed and transforming the entire agrarian structure, as a basis for an introverted development strategy. These diverse versions of the purpose and approach to land reform can combine in various forms, depending on the specific political and economic conditions of nations over time.

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