Marxism: Factory Workers vs. Farmers

Something interesting I learned from several videos by TIK History on the Soviet Union before, during, and after WW2: Marxism in the Soviet Union was largely factory workers vs. farmers. This got me thinking about Marxism more generally, and the implications of class conflict being central to Marxist theory.

On a surface-level reading, Marxism is about pitting workers against owners. This is evil since all people should love each other, of course, but more relevant here (because it’s not so obvious) is that the owner-worker distinction fails to capture a large fraction of humanity. A great many people are neither the owners of someplace other people work, nor workers in a business owned by someone else. There are, of course, children, which Marxism utterly fails to deal with (except by, in effect, putting them into childcare/indoctrination factories). There are people (mostly women) whose primary work is raising their children and doing other domestic work. And there are people who own their own means of production.

In this latter group are—during the time of much of the soviet union—farmers. Family-owned farms are still common even today, despite the predominance of large factory farms, but they were extremely common in the Soviet Union for various reasons relating to the state of technology. It is true that there was a major push to collectivize the farms, but this only got so far, especially since the collective farms so often failed miserably. Part of the problem is that farms are intrinsically large and so people simply have to be spaced out enough that they exercise their own judgement. Farms also are not factories—you need knowledge (both general and local) and to exercise judgement to farm successfully.

The upshot is that farmers simply aren’t like factory workers. They have different interests. And factory workers desperately need what farmers produce—food. Factory workers—or those concerned with them—are also necessarily removed from farmers, since the factories tend to be located in or near cities. It is easy for factory workers to view farmers simply as a nuisance. The more food costs, the less money factory workers have for other things. And farmers are remote and their concerns unreal to city dwellers with extremely different concerns. Moreover, under any even slightly socialist system factory workers cannot earn more money by working harder or longer. Their income is fixed; only their expenses vary. In consequence, they only benefit (so far as they can see) the more farmers are squeezed.

And factory workers fit the Marxist model far better than farmers do. Farmers will always have independence and some degree of ownership, at least if you don’t want everyone to starve to death. Farmers can very naturally own their own means of production, but also be the laborers. Non-collectivized farms simply break the Marxist model since they are owner-workers. The perennial temptation, then, will be for Marxists to hold that these owner-workers are evil in virtue of being owners and thus are exploiting the workers who buy the food the farmers produce.

Since something like 60% of the people in the Soviet Union worked in agriculture, especially in the first half of its existence, this meant that a minority of the population was oppressing a majority of the population in the name of preventing that majority from oppressing it.

Curiously, if you look at Marxists today, they tend to want to do the exact same thing—to oppress the majority in the name of protecting themselves from oppression, while saying that they’re on the side of everyone.

I suppose a tiger doesn’t change his stripes after all.

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