Population and Employment
Working Paper No. 72
MIGRATION AND MODES OF EXPLOITATION:
THE SOCIAL ORIGINS OF IMMOBILITY
WORLD EMPLOYMENT PROGRAMME
Population and Employment Project
Population and Employment
Working Paper No. 72
MIGRATION AND MODES OF EXPLOITATION:
THE SOCIAL ORIGINS OF IMMOBILITY
These working papers are issued to stimulate
discussion and criticism. They should not be
quoted without the permission of the authors.
Copyright ) International Labour Organisation
The designation of countries employed and the
presentation of the material in this publication do not
imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the
part of the International Labour Office concerning the
legal status of any country or territory or of its
authorities, or concerning the elimination of its
The responsibility for opinions expressed in signed
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Labour Office of the opinions expressed therein.
Table of Contents
I. Introduction 1
II. Feudalism: Eras of Immobility 4
The feudal mode of production 4
The process of immobilisation 8
Land tenure and dependent insecurity 10
Usury and peasant mobility 14
Feudalism and rural bias 16
The role of the state 18
III. Semi-feudalism and Dependency 21
IV. Transitions to Capitalism 26
Feudal crises 28
Factors in the transition to capitalism 30
Forms of transition 33
The two routes to 'urban' capitalism:
Some lacunae and blind alleys 37
V. The Roles of Migration in the Transition to
VI. Concluding Remarks
This is a working paper which deserves that title more than is usually the
case. It is what some writers euphemistically describe as "a living document"
that is liable to evolve to the point where it bears little resemblance to the
present version. That is partly because it is designed to be supplemented by
several 'case studies'. But I do not wish to appear too defensive or apologetic,
for hopefully it is more than a seemingly casual 'think piece'. It stems in
part from a basic sense of frustration with much of what passes as the economic
analysis of labour migration, a sense that while insights have been provided they
have been lost in the plethora of ideologically questionable and often mechani-
cally trivial exercises that fill the dominant journals devoted to 'developmental'
issues. As an attempt to synthesise material that provides the nucleus of an
alternative approach it is hoped that anyone who picks up a copy will be generous
enough to provide comments, abusive or otherwise.
I apologise to those who dislike the term 'feudalism' for one of two reasons.
First, I apologise to those who dislike it for ideological reasons; my only excuse
is that I can think of no better term to describe the particular set of social
relationships which in one form or another has existed in most parts of the world.
Second, I apologise to those who, like Daniel Thorner, wanted to reject it for its
association with a particular historical epoch in a particular part of the world.
It seems to me, as to many others, that features characteristic of medieval
European feudalism have existed in so many parts of the world in more recent times
that to rename a familiar concept seems an unnecessary act of complication.
Although this is very much a working paper, which gives the writer a greater
range of tolerable error, I would particularly like to thank Peter Peek. Though
we may disagree on details,, we see eye-to-eye on the fundamentals.1 I would also
like to thank Eddy Lee, Gerry Rodgers, and Ren6 Wary, all of whom have been patient
enough to listen and discuss part or all of the contents of the paper. None I am
sure would want to be associated with the finished product. Finally, I am grate-
ful to Gabriele Davidson and Mary Fairbrother, who have greatly assisted in the
preparation of the paper.
1 The interested reader may care to consult his recent paper which was written
at about the same time as the present study. P. Peek: "Agrarian change and rural
emigration in Latin America", Rural Employment Policy Working Paper, WEP 10-6/WP.22
(Geneva, ILO, August 1978).
At risk of oversimplification economic analysis of migration has been domi-
nated by two models. The first of these is associated with Lewis' general equi-
librium and classical analysis by which underemployed labour moves from the tra-
ditional, subsistence, peasant sector to the capitalist, modern sector at a
constant real wage. As the industrial capitalist sector expands, the demand for
labour grows, and the perfectly elastic supply of labour exists because the mar-
ginal and average product of labour in the subsistence sector are less than the
market wage rate in the capitalist sector. But as development occurs the average
and marginal productivity of labour in the 'traditional' sector rise, so that
eventually market wages rise, which slows the growth of industrial employment and
thereby slows the rate of migration out of the traditional sector.
The second model which has figured prominently in migration research is the
partial equilibrium and neo-classical approach that places primary emphasis on
individualistic, rational behaviour. This could be classified as being princi-
pally concerned with the 'final form' in the explanation of migration, to use
Theil's econometric term; perhaps it ought to be called the lowest level of
abstraction. Those working with some variant of this model have explained
migration in terms of expected incomes, 'human capital' formation, or expected
costs and benefits.2
Most of those analyses have concentrated on individual motivations and choices
and have been dedicated to a remarkable proposition based on a remarkable premise,
the premise being that people are rational and the proposition that they will move
from areas of low economic opportunity to areas of greater opportunity. This is
true, but trivial. Where these approaches are not simple tautologies people
move because they think it is better for them to move, and we know that because
they move they tend to indicate that one personal or household characteristic is
more or less important than another. Such revelations are unquestionably useful,
but showing that more educated people are more likely to migrate than the less
educated, or that the rural-urban income differential tends to be positively
related to the migration rate, should only be a rather minor part of migration
W.A.'Lewis: "Economic development with unlimited supplies of labour",
The Manchester School of Economic and Social Studies, Vol. 22, No.2, 1954,
For a very sympathetic review of studies in this tradition, see
M.P. Todaro: Internal Migration in Developing Countries (Geneva, ILO, 1976).
SJ. Connell, G. Dasgupta, R. Laishley, and M. Lipton: Migration from Rural
Areas: The Evidence from Village Studies (New Delhi, Oxford University Press,
1976); R. Sabot and H. Barnum: Migration, Education and Urban Surplus Labour:
The Case of Tanzania (Paris, OECD, Development Centre Studies, Employment Series
- 2 -
research. The actual level of migration is scarcely explained, the tendency to
rationalise any particular statistical result is extremely strong, and most funda-
mentally of all, such approaches are ill-suited to explaining the role of migration
in the transformation of the socio-economic structure of production and distri-
However, whereas this second, partial approach tends to obscure by abstract-
ing from social, political and economic changes, thus leaving the process of mi-
gration essentially unexplained, the first Lewis-type approach is criticisable
precisely because it postulates the existence of a specific dualistic economy in
which the two sectors are unrelated other than by the supply of labour and in
which it is assumed that the "subsistence" or "traditional" sector is stagnant and
completely uncommercialised.1 It is assumed that there is a surplus population
ready and able to move to the urban areas at a constant real wage and that mass
'underemployment' exists prior to the existence and growth of the 'modern' capi-
talist sector. As such, dualistic models have tended to dichotomise "sectors" in
an artificial and obscurantist way, employing terms such as "modern" and "tra-
ditional", or "formal" and "informal", which are hard to define in any analytically
Dualistic models have been attacked because they have implied a policy of
promoting 'modern' industrial firms to accelerate the expansion of the modern
sector to the neglect of agriculture or 'non-modern' enterprises. They have been
undermined by evidence and analyses suggesting that there is a host of dualisms
in both urban and rural areas. And they have been criticised for neglecting the
awkward fact that to create the labour surplus for the emerging capitalist sector
diverse policies and economic tactics have often been deployed to raise the
'effort price' of labour force participation in 'traditional' economic activities.
There is considerable evidence that governments and industrial-urban capitalist
enterprises have actively forced down living standards in the rural 'traditional'
areas in order to create the 'underemployment' necessary to ensure the supply of
labour to industrial wage employment.
That last point is central to the following analysis. For the main objection
to both the neo-classical and dualistic approaches is that they divorce the analysis
from consideration of the social relations of production. And this is a wide-
spread tendency even among those who do not adhere strictly to either approach.
1 This is probably less true about Lewis' original 1954 article than about
some analyses stemming from it.
2 For a critique of dualistic models, see H. Brookfield: Interdependent
Development (London, Methuen and Co., 1975), pp. 53-84.
SSee, for instance, 0. Arrighi: "Labour supplies in historical perspective:
A study of the proletarianisation of the African peasantry in Rhodesia", Journal
of Development Studies, Vol. 6, No.3, April 1970, pp. 197-234; inter alia. Note
a difference of implication in that dualistic models have tended to present mi-
gration as a "good thing" providing labour for industrialisation whereas the
neo-classical models have tended to present it as a "bad thing" contributing to
Thus even when 'structural' factors, such as the 'distribution of land', land-
lessness, or extent of mechanisation, are considered as determinants of mi-
gration, most studies have abstracted from the associated social relations of
production. The failure to incorporate this crucial dimension has led some
observers to reject, for example, the eminently reasonable hypothesis that land
pressure and the associated rural economic stagnation have induced migration.
Some have questioned whether land pressure causes migration on the grounds that
in many Asian countries there was considerable land pressure before migration or
urbanisation occurred on any scale.1 This can only be adequately explained by
reference to the essentially feudal social relations of production in Asian agri-
culture. To argue too that the importance of land pressure should be down-
graded because many Latin American and African countries had rapid urban growth
without any over-all land pressure is also misleading.2 Again, it could be
explained by the prevailing social relations of production, which through the
land tenure system, restricted land utilisation and the development of productive
forces in rural areas.
The present paper is intended to provide a framework for the analysis of
migration which takes account of such inherent weaknesses in the neo-classical
and dualistic models. There is little or nothing that one would call novel in
the paper, which is merely a modest attempt to present what could reasonably be
described as a materialist approach to migration analysis. Thematically, in
contrast to both the neo-classical and dualistic models, the materialist approach
sets out to explain the level and pattern of migration by reference to social
relations of production, the forms of property and particularly land tenure
underlying those relations, and the limits to the development of the forces of
production within the specific social formation being studied.
To provide a framework for the comprehensive analysis of migration it is
necessary to consider the defining characteristics of specific social formations,
and this makes it necessary to analyse the growth and dissolution of identifiable
modes of production, and in particular the conditions for the transition from one
mode to another. To consider these issues in anything like a comprehensive
N.V. Sovanni: "The analysis of over-urbanisation", Economic Development
and Cultural Change, Vol. 7, No.2, January 1964, p. 27.
In any society the production and distribution of goods and services could
be organised in various modes of production. The principal distinguishing feature
of any particular mode is the method by which economic surplus is generated and
distributed. Any mode of production is characterized by its technical or
material organisation of productive forces (labour, machines, land, technological
skills, scientific knowledge) and by the social relations of production (the
relationships between the actual producers and those receiving economic surplus).
manner is clearly outside the scope of this study. Rather it concentrates on mi-
gration in the specific context of transitions from feudal or 'semi-feudal' to
capitalist societies. The focus on the feudal and capitalist modes of production
is justifiable because in various forms the transition from one to the other, or
the failure of the one to evolve into the other, has corresponded to the historical
experience of many countries, notably in Western Europe, Japan, and Russia, and
more recently in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia, large parts of Africa, and the
The paper briefly considers the nature of feudal societies and the pattern of
relative immobility in them; it then considers the causes of transition to capi-
talist relations of production, the principal forms that it can take, and finally,
the role of migration in the process. In that context, a complementary paper will
analyse the role of the state in controlling and influencing migration. Govern-
ment policies or the lack of them can only be understood in terms of the dominant
mode of production and distribution, and without considering the role of the state
the level and pattern of migration cannot be fully explained.
II. Feudalism: Eras of Immobility
The feudal mode of production
In some primitive modes of production, notably pastoralism, mobility consti-
tutes the form of life; Marx even called this "the first form of the mode of
existence".3 In many infertile regions of the world, where the density of
population is extremely low, this form of life has persisted for countless
generations. But if there is mobility, it is nevertheless group mobility,
particularly if hunting and gathering form the basis of production. The low and
unpredictable productivity of labour make co-operation and distribution a matter
of 'balanced reciprocity'. The defining characteristic is that production is
based on the temporary, communal appropriation and utilisation of land. Communal
I am aware that the term 'society' is not as unambiguous as the term
'social formation', which is to be preferred. However, like others before me, I
will use the terms interchangeably. To avoid misunderstanding it should be noted
that use of the term "transition" does not imply any mechanistic, teleological
paradigm.. There is no reason for feudalism to necessarily lead to capitalism,
though there are tendencies making that "progressive" movement likely. We should
certainly not rule out the possibility of regression.
2 A more general analysis, which is planned, would consider the possibility
of different patterns of migration in the context of the controversial "Asiatic"
and "African" or lineage modes of production. There are good reasons for dis-
pensing with the concept of an Asiatic mode; the so-called African mode has been
the subject of considerable research recently, especially among French anthropol-
ogists such as Meillassoux, Rey, Terray, and Coquery-Vidrovitch.
3 K. Marx: Grundisse (Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1973), p. 472.
Wealth is measured in movable property, notably by the size of the herds.
property also persists for some time when the tribe or clan settle, but in both
forms of primitive communalism there are tendencies leading to changes in property
relations and therefore social relations of production.1
In primitive communal societies the social appropriation of the surplus is
initially based on simple redistribution to clan or tribal members; this restricts
the development of productive forces through maintaining a rudimentary division of
labour.2 It is only when more complex distribution systems develop that a more
refined division of labour and thus greater development of the forces of pro-
duction become possible. Such changes allow and accompany population growth and
the growth of a group of unproductive members of the community, perhaps elders or
warriors, who receive part of the surplus as chiefs or heads of the clan or tribe.
Thus the beginning of alternative modes of production seems to lie in the
existence of tribute paid by clansmen or tribal members to chiefs and corresponds
to a certain, limited development of the forces of production which allow the
creation of a surplus product that can be transferred in that way. From that, the
transition to feudalism has historically evolved through clan rivalries and from
the imposition of quasi-military control of a particular territory and the people
living there. Thus the growth of the feudal mode of production and of course
the slave mode is intimately related to colonisation and conquest.
Although there is no reason for feudalism to stem from a process of land
grants to loyal supporters in return for services rendered to a powerful conqueror
or colonising leader, that has often been a feature of the growth of feudalism,
notably in Latin America.3 In such circumstances a tribute-hierarchy has been
institutionalized and has been associated with the transition to some form of
The feudal mode of production is essentially a system of production-for-use
based on a subject peasantry and complex ties of interdependence between members
of the dominant class and the peasants. The development of forces of production
is left to the actual producers, who are the peasants or serfs. Conversely, the
landlords or other receivers of the economic surplus have no direct involvement in
production. The transfer of surplus can take various forms, and need not be done
1The European developments have been brilliantly summarised by Anderson,
particularly in his discussion of Eastern Europe in the early middle-ages.
P. Anderson: Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism (London, New Left Books, 1974).
On an abstract, conceptual and excessively scholastic level, see also P. Hindess
and P. Hirst: Pre-Capitalist Modes of Production (London, Routledge and Kegan
For an interesting survey of such societies in contemporary times, see
M. Sahlins: Stone Age Economics (London, Tavistock, 1974). The controversy over
his concept of the 'domestic mode of production' has detracted from the many
insights provided by the book.
For a brief review of that process, see A. Pearse: The Latin American
Peasant (London, Frank Cass and Co., 1975), Chapter 1. For a global, historical
view, see J. Critchley: Feudalism (London, Allen and Unwin, 1978).
through the mchaanirm of feudal rent. Neverthcelo,;, feudal rent in one form or
another has been the most common form of exploitation. The classic form of
feudal rent consists of labour services, with the peasant having to provide labour
on the landlord's demesne in return for the usufruct right to a small plot of land
and access to communal land. But this strict form has co-existed with other forms
of rent or has been replaced by them. Thus it has been common for peasants to
transfer surplus product through sharecropping agreements or in the form of money
rent. Feudal elites have also acquired surplus through diverse forms of usury,
and in many societies systems of taxation have been developed to transfer part of
the surplus through the state to those elites. The latter has been regarded as a
key feature of the so-called 'Asiatic mode of production'.1 However, where taxes
fulfil the same function as feudal rent it would only complicate matters unnecess-
arily to regard as different a mode of production and distribution that was in other
respects similar but which relied primarily on taxes rather than on more direct
forms of rent.
In contrast to capitalist ground rent, which with interest payments consists
of expense deductions from profits, feudal rent in its various forms is the means
by which the surplus product is extracted from the actual producers. In feudal
societies the transfer of surplus relies on a systematic pattern of interdependent
relations, typically between landlords and peasants, marked by diverse forms of
reciprocal rights and obligations. But as such, whether the degree of benevolent
paternalism is great or small, the social relations of production consist unmis-
takably of hierarchical domination. In the course of the institutionalisation of
feudal society this evolves into a system of legalised inequality, as practices
become habits and as habits become traditions and traditions become laws. In the
process, distinct strata of the population come to have distinctive rights and
1 For a recent attempt to resuscitate the Asiatic mode of production, drawing
heavily on the work of Wittfogel and on the concept of the 'hydraulic' society, see
U. Melotti: Marx and the Third World (London, MacMillan Press, 1977), passim.
The effort is unconvincing.
Thus the distinction between feudal rent and absolute rent, the latter
being the capitalist form. Under capitalism, of course, the primary means by
which economic surplus is appropriated is the wage rate, the direct producer being
exploited through providing the employer with surplus value.
SIt is an apt aphorism that capitalism is a system of inequality based on
equality, whereas feudalism is a system of equality based on inequality. In capi-
talist society there is a presumption of equality of opportunity to become unequal,
immortalised by Tawney's tadpoles. In feudal society there is no such pretence;
but in the context of institutional and traditional restrictions on mobility between
social categories, there is a presumption of equality within such categories.
The class struggle which takes place in the feudal mode of production is a
struggle by the landlords to make the peasants into a body of subordinated pro-
ducers. Accordingly the landlords' objective is to separate the producers from
ownership and control of the means of production, to preserve and if possible
enlarge the number of workers under their control, so as to increase the amount of
surplus they can obtain. For their part, the peasants' objective has always been
to secure greater autonomy as producers.
Because of their class objective the landlord class and the state which
represents their interests have endeavoured to acquire an extensive monopolisation
of land ownership. And, because production has been primarily for use and because
land ownership has been primarily a power base, there has always been a systematic
underutilisation of land for cultivation purposes.2 Feudal elites rely on the
peasants to be the direct producers and there is clearly a limit to their rate of
exploitation. But the role of land ownership in the feudal social formation has
been very controversial; it is generally argued that the ownership of huge areas
of idle land has had as much to do with political power and social prestige as with
maximising income from production, but the. fact remains that such ownership
restricts opportunities for independent smallholding peasants and thus facilitates
a high level of exploitation.
Although the ownership and control of land has been an important determinant
of the ability of landlords and their ilk to appropriate surplus product, it is
clear that the classic version of feudalism as represented by the European experi-
ence has had many variants. For that reason it is more appropriate to consider
various combinations of feudal modes of exploitation rather than the feudal mode
of production per se. As a short form the latter term has a certain advantage,
but by emphasising feudal modes of exploitation it should be possible to avoid
spawning additional modes of production. In particular it should enable us to
avoid further discussion of the so-called Asiatic mode of production, even though
it is clear that the European form of feudalism had a different composition of
modes of exploitation than, say, the nineteenth century Chinese case,.where a class
of bureaucrats extracted surplus primarily through the mechanism of taxation, while
preserving a subordinated peasantry as the direct producers.
1 Without that autonomy they would not be motivated or able to develop the
forces of production on the land, because any surplus product above the socially
determined level of subsistence would be likely to go in expanded feudal exactions.
2 For instance, consistent with the predominantly feudal nature of most Latin
American countries at the time, it was estimated that in the 1960's the amount of
idle land was more than twice the amount of cultivated cropland on latifundios in
the combined area of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, and
Peru. E. Feder: The Rape of the Peasantry: Latin America's Landholding System
(New York, Anchor Books, 1971), p. 68. The estimate was based on a series of
national surveys carried out by CIDA. See also, S. Barraclough, assisted by
J. Collarte: Agrarian Structure in Latin America (Lexington, Mass., D.C. Heath
and Co., 1973).
The inmchanisms by which the surplus product is appropriated must be the focus
of any analysis of the dynamics of feudal societies. But thin can only be done
adequately through considering the social relations of production which in feudal
societies rest more on social traditions, obligations, and rights than on legal,
contractual arrangements. It is the combination of those relationships and the
degree of exploitation that determine the extent of peasant migration.
The process of immobilisation
The growth of feudal society has invariably amounted to little less than a
process of immobilisation. The forms that process has taken have varied to such
an extent that any generalisation is likely to be inadequate. Nevertheless, the
principal mechanisms by which the subordinated producers have been immobilised can
be identified and one can hypothesis that the way by which the process has been
achieved has depended in part on the nature of the previous mode of production and
on population density.
The influence of population density or more exactly the ratio of labour to
other means of production (in effect, land) can be illustrated by three schematic
scenarios. First, in relatively densely populated areas in which a peasant econ-
omy was firmly established,the feudal imposition would tend to be relatively loose
and indirect; monopolisation of landownership and the erosion of traditional live-
lihoods would be sufficient and easy enough to induce peasants to place themselves
in a position of 'dependent insecurity' on the estates. This is the case in which
the peasants are enticed into a feudal relationship, in which they provide labour
services in return for basic 'protection' against penury and destitution. But
once ensnared, the peasants are likely to experience a slow increase in feudal
In contrast, in sparsely populated areas, in which perhaps some sort of shift-
ing cultivation or hunting-and-gathering existence was prevalent, the imposition of
feudal ties would be more formal and rigid from the outset, making serfdom rela-
tively likely and leading to the widespread use of labour services. With a
sparsely populated region based on hunting-and-gathering, the sort of indirect
extraction of surpluses implied in the first scenario would be ineffectual because
the mode of production onto which feudal control was latched would generate little
in the way of surpluses. Nevertheless, there is a limit to the coercion that is
feasible. The subordinated producers have to be induced to produce a surplus and
be put in a position in which they are just not sufficiently exploited to find
desertion from the estate an acceptable risk. Ultimately, the rigidity of the
feudal mode of exploitation would depend on the political power of the landlord
1 The classic contrast is between Western Europe, in which feudal ties were
relaxed when the population density declined in the wake of the Black Death, and
Eastern Europe where labour scarcity led to the imposition of crushing labour
services in what is known as 'the second serfdom'.
To complete this illustrative comparison, it is clear that in extremely
sparsely populated areas feudal systems are unlikely to have existed in any form
because it was simply not worthwhile. In that case the only feudal exactions
would be indirect, through the state in the form of official tributes or taxes,
and actions by individual landlords or policies introduced by the state designed
to restrict access to such areas, thereby drawing smallholders or 'primitive'
cultivators into the nexus of the feudal economy.
As the first two scenarios seem more relevant, the process of immobilisation
in the early phases of feudal society can be conveniently summarised in the follow-
ing hypotheses. In relatively densely populated or 'labour surplus' regions
peasants would be lured into dependent insecurity, whereas in relatively sparsely
populated areas they would be forced into subordinated relationships. In
practice of course the situation would never have been so clear-cut, but the
balance of coercion and enticement could be expected to vary quite systematically.
The mechanisms by which mobility has been restricted in feudal societies can
be identified in the social relations of production and the various modes of
exploitation. In that context serfdom should only be regarded as the most insti-
tutionalised form of social control. Historically serfdom often verged on slavery
and was almost defined in terms of its attendant immobility. Thus in fourteenth
century Europe the legal definition of serfdom was glabae adscripti (bound to the
earth).1 As such the serfs' mobility was legally restricted. This is not to
suggest that migration did not occur in such circumstances. But if it did so on
any substantial scale it reflected a crisis in the mode of production. In general
migration was minimal.
Only marginally less oppressive than traditional serfdom have been elaborate
systems of indentured labour. These too have verged on slavery.' Since they
often involved wage payments their role will be briefly considered in a later
section in the context of semi-feudal relations of production. However, the
essence of this form of labour coercion has been that peasants, or more typically,
immigrant workers,have been lured into indentured employment and then bound to some
estate through a legally enforced long-term contract. Particularly characteristic
of sugar and tea plantations in colonial territories in the nineteenth century,
they were especially common in countries in which a chronic labour shortage was
Apart from such formal controls a number of more invidious mechanisms have
restricted mobility in feudal societies. The principal mechanisms are the nature
and level of rent, the extent of paternalism, usury and related forms of exploit-
ation, state policies geared to preserve feudal interests, and corresponding
controls on entry to the urban labour force.
1 M. Bloch: Les caracteres originaux de l'histoire rurale francaise
(Paris, 1952), pp. 89-90. Bloch's two volume Feudal Society is still essential
reading on medieval feudalism and contains interesting discussions of the legal
- 10 -
Land tenure and dependent insecurity
Perhaps the most powerful influence on peasant mobility is the land tenure
system and in particular the nature of rent. For fully grasping the constraints
to migration however, it is essential to distinguish between peasants formally
tied to feudal estates through some rental arrangement and those who are relatively
independent smallholders. In many feudal societies the size of the latter group
has been small, but in others the 'independent' peasants have comprised the largest
group even though the feudal landlord class has remained hegemonic. It is clear
that the potential for migration is greater the greater the independence of the
peasantry, if only because there is somewhat greater scope for saving and because
leaving the land does not involve loss of that land.
Such independence should not be exaggerated however, for typically where
feudal exactions have not been extended there have been very good reasons, the
most likely being that the fertility of the soil or the nature of the terrain makes
direct feudal controls inappropriate means of exploitation; the influence of popu-
lation density was mentioned earlier. While the peasants locked into the feudal
mode of production will be exploited primarily through forms of feudal rent, those
formally independent in the sense that they have ownership of land and other means
of production will typically be exploited through land taxes, the persistence of
traditional forms of tribute paid to the government (local and national), low
prices for peasant produce through the limited circulation of money and monopsonist
control of marketing outlets, or the need to complement peasant production with
casual wage labour on neighboring estates. To reiterate, given the dominance of
the feudal mode of production in any social formation, the mode of exploitation of
the peasantry will be determined by specific local and historical circumstances.
Moore addressed himself to this issue in his brilliant and already classic
comparative analysis of rural societies, during which he considered the relatively
static village structure in Japan between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries,
when there were persistently oligarchical social relations and an internal soli-
darity comprising effective vertical ties with higher authority. Moore's expla-
nation was that:
"... the landlords maintained most of the old village
structure because through it they could extract and sell
enough of a surplus to stay on top of the heap ... The
substitution of tenancy relations for pseudo-kinship was
the only institutional change needed. ... Unlike the
English landlord of the eighteenth century, the Prussian
Junker in the sixteenth, or the Russian Communists in the
twentieth, the Japanese ruling classes found that they
could get their way without destroying the prevailing
1 For this among other reasons the notion of a composite class of peasants
has caused considerable conceptual difficulty. On this see T. Shanin: The
Awkward Class (London, Oxford University Press, 1972); E.R. Wolf: Peasants
(Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall, 1966).
- 11 -
peasant society. If working through the traditional
social structure had not brought results, I doubt that
the Japanese landlord would have spared the village
any more than did landlords elsewhere."
To 'get their way' meant maximising the surplus product they could squeeze
out of the peasantry and to do that it was implicit that the peasants were
riveted to rural areas.
Such 'independent' peasants apart, most peasants in feudal societies have been
tenants of one kind or another. Evidence is sparse and certainly required, but it
seems reasonable to hypothesis that, for a given level of exploitation, peasant
migration will normally be less where labour rent is involved than where share-
cropping or cash rents prevail. In the first case the peasant and his family are
forced to provide regular labour services in return for the usufruct rights to a
small plot of land on which they produce minimal subsistence requirements. In such
circumstances the possibility of migration is strictly limited, because the peasant
has little or no opportunity to acquire any surplus or even a cash income the
undeveloped division of labour preventing output growth, and the limited circulation
of money making it extremely hard to save to finance migration. Moreover migrating
would mean surrendering the right of possession to the rented land.
With sharecropping tenancies a somewhat more flexible mode of exploitation
would be involved. Correspondingly, a somewhat greater proportion of the surplus
might be acquired by the peasants, especially in times of favourable harvests, and
some saving from sales could be made. Sharecroppers also have relatively weak ties
to the land and instability of tenure has been a chronic feature of many share-
cropping systems.2 In India, for example, the sharecropper was formally a "tenant
at will" and could be dismissed whenever the landlord wished. In so far as share-
croppers have a more tenuous relationship to both the land and the landlord, their
propensity to migrate could be expected to be greater than that of labour service
The peasants paying a money rent also could be expected to have a higher
tendency to migrate. Where the payment of rent was the only condition for retain-
ing possession of the land one or more members of a peasant family could leave the
land, either seasonally or for a longer period. Moreover, the landlord would be
less likely to place obstacles in the way of such movements.
However, the formal tenancy arrangements have been bolstered by more informal
controls. These include systematic denial of access to means of production,
coercive and demeaning domination, and diverse forms of paternalism. Most funda-
mentally of all peasants have only been able to cultivate small, often fragmented
1 B. Moore: Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant
in the Making of the Modern World (Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1967), pp. 312-3.
2 J.M. Paige: Agrarian Revolution: Social Movements and Export Agriculture
in the Underdeveloped World (New York and London, MacMillan, 1975), P. 60.
- 12 -
plots of land. The feudal elite's monopolisation of land ownership, or in some
cases the locking-up of land by the state through such devices as Crown Land
legislation, forced peasants onto small plots, such as the minifundios of Latin
America or what Tawney in the context of China called Lilliputian holdings.
Consequently, peasants had no margin to cover the risk of something like a harvest
failure, and that forced them to behave servilely to make a moral claim on the
benevolence of the landlord in times of crisis. Correspondingly, by limiting.the
peasants' access to the main means of production the landlords could actually
intensify the level of exploitation, simply by increasing the peasants' insecurity
As far as coercion is concerned, the landlords' exercise of arbitrary powers has
traditionally included physical punishment for petty offences or for failure to
perform some unwritten obligation. In many feudal communities landlords have
been able to stipulate that permission had to be obtained before a peasant could
leave an estate even temporarily. More importantly still, landlords have had a
monopoly of key resources such as water for irrigation, and bridges and footpaths
to the peasants' fields. Such powers have invariably placed peasants in a
position of subservient dependence, for their access to such facilities has
depended not only on their ability to pay but on the goodwill of the landlord.
By inducing a pervasive sense of dependent insecurity landlords .have under-
mined peasants' independence and initiative. By means of a web of restrictive
paternalistic practices, including ties of fictive kinship, the peasant is reminded
almost daily that he should be grateful to the landlord, not only for the use of a
plot of land, but for protection against the ever-present threat of complete
destitution. In return for all this, the peasant is expected to reciprocate by
servility, to provide labour or rent as required, and to remain on the land.
Paternalism and the essential vagueness of the social relations of production
in feudal communities have allowed landlords to alter the rate of exploitation
according to their perception of the amount of surplus they could extract from the
peasants.1 By that means they could prevent any accumulation of wealth by the
peasantry. As a corollary, the peasants remained on the borderline of subsistence
and destitution, a condition conducive to the conservative behaviour which has
always characterized peasant communities.
This conservative behaviour has tended to reduce the extent of income dif-
ferentiation within peasant communities. This is partly because peasants have
generally relied on some network of "balanced reciprocity", evolved as a customary
way of preserving the viability, subsistence, and survival of peasant families or
1 For instance, in Peru peasants found that any increase in their herds was
susceptible to confiscation by the patron on the grounds that the expansion some-
how showed the colono had not been paying sufficient attention to the patron's
land. Paige, 1975, op. cit., p. 155.
- 13 -
kinship groups.1 Where surplus is extracted systematically the levelling mechan-
isms, about which Nash and other economic anthropologists have written, are likely
to be particularly important. Admittedly, pressures on the relatively affluent
peasants to provide for less fortunate relatives or neighbours might contribute to
a desire to leave the community among those who consider themselves capable of
accumulating wealth through 'entrepreneurial' activity. But the nature of a peasant
economy in a feudal society, where personal aggrandisement is likely to be regarded
as contravening the 'moral economy' of peasant life, is likely to induce a high
propensity to share any 'windfall gains' and to make peasants willing to partici-
pate in simple co-operative forms of labour, such as exchange labour. Typically,
the survival of the community or family has relied on the joint efforts and div-
ision of labour of various family members. That has placed a burden on each
individual to fulfil certain customary obligations, and has in the process made
migration out of the community much more than an act of personal independence.
Indeed feudal exactions have often, implicitly or explicitly, turned the possi-
bility of individual migration into a threat to the livelihood of whole families.
A classic example is the type of sharecropping arrangement whereby the peasant is
forced to provide a level of output well in excess of one man's capabilities, which
forces him to rely on the labour input of family members.2
Similarly, it has been common for peasant families to be embroiled in a web
of exploitative relationships, with men having to perform certain duties and women
having others, and with the family having to provide labour servicesfor the local
religious institutions as well as for the landlord.3 In those circumstances it
has scarcely been possible for members of peasant families to migrate. Whenever
they have been able to do so-when they have been able to hire someone to carry out
their labour services or work for a wage or share of the product on the peasant
farm- it is surely indicative of a transition in the mode of production.
The fact that feudal exploitation has pushed the peasants to the margin of
bare subsistence and destitution, and the tendency for this to be perpetuated by
the peasants' behavioral adaptation by which any surplus left over is shared, has
left peasants in a precarious position. And that has meant that whenever the
subsistence level has been threatened by some adversity, such as a harvest failure
or an illness or an increase in taxes or rent, they have fallen foul of the most
1 M. Nash: Primitive and Peasant Economic Systems (San Francisco, Chandler
Publishing Co., 1966).
Incidentally, such arrangements clearly encourage population growth, just
as they discourage out-migration, and for the same reason.
SFor example, although making no mention of the religious obligations which
were important in other parts of Latin America, as they were in Europe and else-
where, Hobsbawm listed no less than eleven forms of 'universal or almost universal
services' which peasants were obliged to provide landlords in La Convenci6n in Peru.
E.J. Hobsbawm: "A case of neo-feudalism: La Convenci6n, Peru", Journal of Latin
American Studies, Vol. 1, No.1, 1969, pp. 39-40.
- 14 -
invidious form of exploitation by which peasants almost everywhere have been
locked into rural poverty and thus been constrained from migrating to areas where
income-earning opportunities were more favourable. This is chronic indebtedness.
Usury and peasant mobility
Whether a sub-class of usurious moneylenders has evolved in the 'pores' of
feudal society or whether landlords themselves have induced indebtedness as a means
of intensifying exploitation, usury has been an endemic feature of feudal-type
societies. Though its overriding function has been to increase the amount of
surplus appropriated from the peasantry it can be seen as a means of dispossessing
the peasants of ownership or control of means of production and at the same time
binding peasants to the land, their rural poverty, and to estate obligations in
particular. As such usury has typically been both a mode of exploitation and a
means of facilitating other forms of exploitation.
It is often assumed that low incomes in rural areas induce rural emigration.
Yet in view of the association of chronic indebtedness to poverty and to freedom
of movement it is apparent that a reduction in rural incomes may actually reduce
rural emigration, whereas a rise in income levels, by allowing debts to be paid
off, could increase migration, and in certain circumstances even be a necessary
precondition for migration.
The means by which peasants have been lured or forced into debt are numerous,
but it is characteristic of feudal society that the two major results of usury,
debt bondage and debt peonage, have been supported by the apparatus of the state,
which has been prepared to enforce onerous conditions on the debtor. The odious
practice of debt peonage, by which the debtor is forced to work on some estate
until such time as the debt has been paid, has been possible because the state has
legally enforced it. Debt bondage refers to other forms of indebtedness which
restrict the peasants' freedom of movement. Often landlords have lent money at
exhorbitant rates of interest to induce permanent indebtedness, sometimes having
themselves borrowed from local moneylenders.1 But the peasants have been forced
to resort to such loans by diverse means through being obliged to pay rents in
advance for their plot of land, having to request a loan to tie them over until
harvest time, or to compensate for a poor harvest, or to meet the cost of social
customs, or to meet many other contingencies.
In India, for example, moneylenders have lured peasants into bonded labour by
such means, and have done so with the support of the caste structure and religious
dogma. Rates of interest of 30 per cent or more have forced impoverished
villagers to work in the creditors' fields in lieu of the interest payment and left
them in a position of almost permanent indebtedness, unable to pay off the principal.
Feder, 1971, op. cit., p. 147.
2 M.K. Pandhe (ed.): Bonded Labour in India (Calcutta, Indian School of
Social Sciences, India Book Exchange, 1976).
- 15 -
This widespread phenomenon has persisted despite legislation passed in 1920 which
was ostensibly designed to prevent debt bondage. That legislation proved largely
ineffectual in many states of India (but particularly in such areas as Uttar
Pradesh, south Bihar, and Rajasthan) because the social relations of production in
the village economy allowed the non-cultivating class to preserve traditional forms
of exploitation. In doing so they were aided by patwaris and other local
officials and by the continuing illiteracy of the villagers, who remained ignorant
of their rights. So in circumstances of poverty and indebtedness a deeply
ingrained sense of fatalism was likely to preserve a set of attitudes conducive to
resignation and immobility.
To give another example: a recent analysis of labour exploitation in Bolivia
before the revolution of 1952 described the numerous ways by which the colonos, or
serfs, were exploited and put into debt, concluding that the colonato system was
"socially, psychologically, and economically enslaving to approximately 40 per
cent of the country's population".1 As such there was no hope of moving off a
hacienda, and as Pearse concluded
"Freedom for the peasant to wander in this society
with neither land rights nor a patron behind him was no
better than the freedom of a cockroach to walk about
Often the peasants have had to pay a rent for use of landlord's mill, or buy
provisions from the landlord's 'company store' at monopolistic prices, or having
been forced into debt have been obliged to sell their crops to the landlord at
harvest times when prices have been relatively low and buy back some proportion of
the crop later when prices have risen.
Whereas landlords have often tied peasants to the land as tenants, in other
cases they have restricted mobility of landowning peasants by lending mechanical
equipment or renting out crucial agricultural inputs and thereby putting peasants
into almost permanent debt. Thus it has been observed that as a result of the
ejido land reforms in Mexico "patrons-in-capital" replaced "patrons-in-land".
Similarly in Iraq in 1964 the sheikhs, having had their land expropriated, still
managed to take up to 90 per cent of the crops of former tribesmen in payment as
rent for mechanical equipment. By no means has the monopolisation of land been
a necessary condition for feudal exploitation and control.
1 S.M. Smith: "Labour exploitation on pre-1952 haciendas in the lower valley
of Cochabambu, Bolivia", The Journal of Developing Areas, Vol. 11, January 1977,
2 A. Pearse: "Peasants and revolution: The case of Bolivia", Community and
Society, Vol. I, November 1972, p. 270.
3 Pearse, 1975, op. cit., pp. 239-40.
4 R. King: Land Reform: A World Survey (London, Bell and Sons, 1977),
- 16 -
Moneylenders, cften richer peasants or outside traders, have been particu-
larly important agents in tying peasants to the land. Many peasants have been
lured into what could be described as commercial bondage. For instance, money-
lenders in contracting to purchase peasant produce, have supplied the peasant
producers with credit in the form of consumer goods rather than cash loans, and
have given those goods grossly inflated imputed prices. Once in debt the
peasants' bargaining position has been undermined. Similarly, in many cases
merchants, having lured peasants into debt, have turned the peasants' 'secondary
occupations' to their advantage, sometimes selling them the raw materials and buy-
ing back the finished product, making monopolist and monopsonist profits in the
course of a few days. Thus the indebted village worker has not only been put in a
subordinated position through indebtedness and dependency but been isolated from the
market and the source of the means of production.
Usury in its various forms is a feudal mode of exploitation and as such has
traditionally been a powerful means of restricting mobility. But if indebtedness
is not used in that way, or if examples of indebted tenants being evicted can be
cited, that does not mean that feudal relations of production are not operative.1
Whether landlords use indebtedness to tie peasants to the land or to evict those
incapable of providing high levels of rent will depend primarily on population
pressure on the land, on whether or not there is landless population. However,
what is important is that through the mechanism of indebtedness the non-cultivating
class can not only increase the amount of surplus pumped out of village artisans
and cultivators but, if necessary, control the level and pattern of rural
emigration. And in traditional feudal societies usury has been a widely used
method of restricting mobility.
Feudalism and rural bias
Feudalism is essentially, though not entirely, a mode of production based on
and suited to agriculture, or at least to an economy in which the division between
agriculture and industry has not been developed and where auto-production of food
is the main material basis of modes of exploitation. The existence of powerful
landlords or vast estates has meant that political, economic, and ideological power
has been based in the countryside. Correspondingly, the growth of feudal relations
of production has generally coincided with restrictions placed on urban expansion.
Urban centres have invariably predated feudalism, some having developed as a
result of clan concentrations for defensive purposes, as trading posts, or as
points where chiefs or their equivalent received, consumed, or spent the surplus
product. Cities have always had an important role, but that has varied, just as
1 J.M. Alier: "Relations of production in Andean haciendas: Peru", in
K. Duncan and I. Rutledge (eds.): Land and Labour in Latin America (Cambridge,
Cambridge University Press, 1977), pp. 145-149.
- 17 -
the power of different social classes has waxed and waned.1 However, feudalism is
the first mode of production which involves a sharp conflict between town and
country. Towns are not only points of refuge for escaping serfs or peasants
(welcomed there as an additional source of labour power) but are mercantile centres
in which burghers, merchants and craftsmen have a common interest in securing part
of the surplus product appropriated from the subordinated peasantry. Given the
inherent conflict, the dominance of the feudal mode of production implies the
temporary and rarely unchallenged triumph of rural over urban society.
Significantly, wherever feudalism has taken root towns and cities have tended
to decay, while the extent of urbanisation has stagnated or declined. In medieval
Europe the growth of feudalism coincided with urban stagnation, and in Latin
America in the early nineteenth century there was some de-urbanisation as feudal
relations of production were extended.2 It has been noted of the Brazilian urban
areas in the nineteenth century, "The role of the city was marginal, dependent on
the rural environment. Social control was in the hands of the powerful families.
... The city was only an entrepot where they went to get what they needed, the
little that their sugar mills did not produce." Similar ruralising tendencies
seem to have existed in India following British colonisation,with the resultant
retrenchment of the zamindars. Nothing could be more wrong than simplistic claims
that urbanisation is a linear positive function of 'economic growth'.
The dominance of 'rural' over 'urban' areas has typically been preserved by a
considerable degree of decentralisation of political power, a feature so character-
istic of feudal societies. Individual estates or clusters of villages have been
ruled by some powerful landlord or small group of otherwise privileged persons who
have generally assumed responsibility for local administration and judicial matters
in what have become almost autonomous, self-contained communities. As such
1 For instance, Anderson's analysis of the function of cities in classical
antiquity, particularly in Greece and in the Roman Empire, is illuminating.
Anderson, 1974, op. cit. On the influence of urban patterns in antiquity and in
the Iberian Peninsular on subsequent Latin American urban developments, see
R.M. Morse: "A framework for Latin American urban history", in J.E. Hardoy (ed.):
Urbanisation in Latin America: Approaches and Issues (New York, Anchor Books, 1975),
2 Morse identified a U-shaped curve in the ratio of urban to rural population
in Latin America from the mid-eighteenth to late nineteenth century. R.M. Morse:
"The development of urban systems in the Americas in the nineteenth century",
Journal of Inter-American Studies, Vol. 17, No.l, February 1975, P. 7.
SJ.A. Rios: "The cities of colonial Brazil", in L. Hanke (ed.): History of
Latin American Civilisation, Vol. I: The Colonial Experience (London, Methuen,
1969), p. 333.
Moore, 1967, op. cit., pp. 345-55. The zamindars' role as local desp6ts
had developed under the Mogul empire, their role being to extract and channel
surplus to the centre. Their local powers merely increased under Pax Britannica.
- 18 -
the landlords or other local despots have constructed a powerful set of political
controls over the movement of the subordinated producers in those areas. More-
over, the essentially self-contained nature of such communities has meant that
communication and transport systems have been undeveloped or allowed to fall into
a state of disrepair, which has made travel between rural and urban areas both
costly and inconvenient. But above all, migration has been impeded by the variety
of legal and extra-legal restrictions which powerful landlords have been able to
Finally, the slow growth of urban populations in feudal societies has also
been due to urban barriers to in-migration. In medieval Europe craft guilds
effectively barred entry by outsiders to a wide range of occupations and, in some
cases, made it impossible for migrant interlopers to earn a living. Elsewhere
race, religion, and language have been used as criteria for rigid social stratifi-
cation. In Latin America the traditional estament system served a similar func-
tion, as did the caste system in India. Perhaps the most widely recognized has
been the patronage system of Japan (known as oyabunkobun), which was established in
the eighteenth century and has persisted in modified form.1 In many countries
elaborate apprenticeship schemes, reflecting traditional hierarchical (rank-based)
property relations, made entry to many occupations by adult migrants hard or
impossible. In those circumstances the potential migrant could only expect to
earn a small fraction of the average income of urban workers, who in the main
occupied a niche tradition had allotted them. Although segmented labour markets
remain under capitalist relations of production they are much more widespread in
pre-capitalist economies in which the detailed division of labour has not been
developed. On the reasonable assumption that urban in-migration is a positive
function of expected income, which is a function of the extent of 'openness' of the
urban job market, a highly structured urban labour market could only help to dis-
courage rural-urban migration.
The role of the state
The law of the emperor yields to the customs of the village.
In feudal societies the central government's role has essentially been one of
non-intervention, thereby allowing the political decentralisation so characteristic
of such societies. Social and productive relations based on custom, power, and
patronage have been undisturbed. Generally, the government has abstained from
labour relations, particularly in the case of the great majority living in rural
areas, while few if any laws have been passed to protect workers. Property and
contract law has been undeveloped, or not enforced, and in particular no effective
system of property titles has existed. As a result peasant landholders have been
1 R.P. Dore: British Factory, Japanese Factory (London, George Allen and
- 19 -
in a precarious position, being unable to obtain access to institutional credit
because they had no land title to offer as security and being liable to lose land
and its assets to landlords or other powerful groups. Moreover, the lack of
secure titles prevented the development of a market for land.
Yet these various symptoms of a policy of non-intervention should not imply a
complete inability of central governments to formulate labour policies. In many
feudal societies the law has been used to enforce debt peonage. In others the
state apparatus has been used to coerce labour back to rural areas, often forcibly
sending migrants back from urban areas. The state has also contributed to
feudal exploitation by introducing and enforcing legislation stipulating long-term
contracts for indentured labourers, as in Malaya, Ceylon, and Brazil. In short,
where state intervention has been required to maintain feudal controls legislation
has been used.
Nevertheless the major feature of landlord-dominated states has been the
delegation of authority to areas controlled by individual landlords or their
representatives. As such, however rudimentary in form, local government machinery
has been manipulated to intensify feudal exploitation and restrict peasant mobility.
Besides local judicial control, landlords have often been able to introduce local
systems of taxation, involving diverse dues levied on various groups of the local
population. Often these have been extremely complex and burdensome; for instance,
one analysis estimated that in Rajasthan in India there were no less than 86 dif-
ferent types of tax which custom had sanctioned.2 Why should such complex 'tax'
systems be introduced in such an impoverished society in which the great majority
of the population were living on the margin of survival and in which there were few
consumer goods? The answer is surely that landlords or 'tax-lords' were eager to
extract as much of the economic surplus as possible, which was most effectively
achieved by imposing layers of demands, each of which in themselves were too small
to cause mass resistance. But the heavy total demand on the peasants' resources
was likely to force them into regular indebtedness, which restricted mobility,
especially where landlord-dominated courts could impose heavy fines and other
penalties on those attempting to flee their obligations.
For one account of government action to assist landlords in this way,
specifically in central and southern Mexico, see F. Katz: "Labour conditions on
haciendas in Porfirian, Mexico: Some trends and tendencies", Hispanic American
Historical Review, Vol. 54, No.l, February 1974, pp. 1-47.
2R. Pande: Agrarian Movement in Rajasthan (Delhi, University Publishers,
1975), p. 22.
Note that in many feudal-type societies the 'king', or central ruler,
awarded certain favoured individuals with an area (or fiefdom) from which to
collect tax revenue, ostensibly for the central government.
- 20 -
Other essentially feudal policies have also restricted mobility, some stemming
from the political decentralisation, others from control of the central government
machinery by powerful landowners.l Of the latter category, perhaps the most im-
portant has been trade policy. In traditional feudal societies trade policy could
be expected to consist of free trade in manufactured goods and protection for food
and other items of rural production, or merely general protection. With heavy
import duties on food, the rural-urban terms of trade would raise rural and depress
urban living standards, thereby incidentally discouraging rural-urban migration.
Moreover, free trade in manufactured goods would impede manufacturing investments,
thus lowering the growth of urban-industrial jobs and the opportunity for potential
migrants. By the same token, this combination of policies would enable rural
landlords to raise rents and reduce the size of the parcels of land rented to
peasant families. If industrial growth was allowed, such practices would encour-
age a flight from the countryside.
Within rural areas powerful landowners have often collaborated in impeding
modernisation, seeing it as a threat to their customary affluence, power, and
capacity for exploitation. It has even been suggested that in some Latin American
countries, such as Chile and Ecuador, hacienda owners long opposed railway construc-
tion in the regions they dominated precisely because they feared it would allow
outsiders into the provinces and provide peasants with a means of emigration.2
Indeed, there is plenty of evidence that in such societies estate owners have also
dominated local government in urban areas as well as rural areas, and have used
municipal legislation to consolidate their control of the land.3 They used urban
government machinery to enlarge their estates and restrict the opportunities of the
In that connection the various legal controls on rural-urban migration in such
societies have often been brought into force, though their effect on the level of
peasant emigration is hard to assess. Vagrancy laws have been common,as have less
legalistic controls. For instance, in imperial and colonial Vietnam those found
without a tax card showing their village affiliation were assumed to be bandits,
and were subject to immediate arrest. In such circumstances peasants were dis-
inclined to migrate or risk losing even a tiny plot of land.
1 The following is meant to merely mention some of the principal policies
that could be expected. For a somewhat extended analysis, see P. Peek and
G. Standing: "Government policies and rural-urban migration", International
Labour Review, forthcoming, 1979.
2 R. Mellafe: The Latifundio and the City in Latin American History (Toronto,
University of Toronto Press, 1971), p. 11.
SW. Glade: The Latin American Economies: A study of their institutional
Evolution (New York, American Books, 1969), pp. 61-2.
Paige, 1975, op. cit., p. 292.
- 21 -
Although Other policies and laws restricting mobility in feudal-type societies
could be mentioned, it is worth noting one that is more likely to be considered in
the context of semi-feudal relations of production, as discussed in the following
section. That is because it concerns the system of income relief for the landless
poor. Feudal society is based on non-wage forms of exploitation,but almost in-
variably some wage labour has existed. However, the availability of wage employ-
ment has been very limited, incomes have been low and erratic, and in many cases
those performing occasional wage labour have been the poor peasants with a sub-
subsistence plot of land. To preserve this segment of the population landlords
and other recipients of the rural surplus product have often fostered poor laws
along the lines of the Speenhamland System, introduced in England in the eighteenth
century. That was a convenient device for retaining an impoverished pool of
workers in rural areas,for it provided poverty relief only for those labourers who
had lived and worked in the area. To migrate therefore meant foregoing a claim
on social assistance.
Thus various types of local and national policies have been used in feudal
societies to restrict population mobility, or if not used directly for that purpose
have had the effect of impeding migration.
III. Semi-feudalism and Dependency
So far the analysis has concentrated on the significance of feudal modes of
exploitation and the associated restrictions on geographical mobility, without
considering the inherent instability of those restrictions (an issue for subsequent
sections) or trying to depict any particular social formation as wholly feudal.
Indeed the term feudal society has been left as somewhat vague and used only as a
means of focusing on the critical mechanisms of exploitation and control. But
before shifting the discussion to the question of transitionsfrom feudalism to
capitalism, and thus to the various functions of migration in that process, it
seems appropriate to insert a few notes on what can be described, not entirely
satisfactorily, as semi-feudal relations of production.
With semi-feudalism various feudal modes of exploitation are used to attract
and retain an adequate supply of wage labour. In other words, the primary capi-
talist mode of exploitation, wage labour, coexists with the primary feudal modes
of exploitation. Such combinations have featured in many so-called peripheral or
dependent economies where foreign capitalist interests have penetrated, either as
colonisers or as "neo-colonial" direct investors, and where pre-capitalist
relationships of production have been deliberately preserved and strengthened in
the interest of capitalist expansion. At an abstract level, with semi-feudalism
1Inter alia, see C. Bettelheim: "Theoretical comments", printed as an
appendix to A. Emmanuel: Unequal Exchange: A Study of Imperialism of Trade (London,
New Left Books, 1972), pp. 297-8; also J. Banaji: "Backward capitalism, primitive
accumulation and modes of production", Journal of Contemporary Asia, Vol. 3, No.l,
1973, pp. 393-413.
- 22 -
wage labour is an integral part of the social relations of production and there is
extensive commodity production, although the peasants continue production-for-use
rather than for exchange. But the transfer of surplus is done not only through
the wage mechanism (surplus labour) but through such pre-capitalist mechanisms as
feudal rent and usury, including debt bondage. These are functional to the
specific mode of production rather than mere vestiges of some waning mode. The
workers typically are also tenants of the employer, rent being deducted from the
wage, and are subject to indebtedness to the employers in their guise as money-
lenders, shop-owners, etc. Thus the characteristic feature of feudal societies
remains that of social, economic, and political subordination. But a priori the
primary means of exploitation is indeterminate.
An essential difference between the feudal and capitalist modes of production
is that with feudalism rising productivity on the land tends to lead to a reduction
in the rate of exploitation because of the tendency for feudal rent to be a fixed
sum (or at least only adjusted with a lag). The peasant can thus keep any increase
in the surplus product once the rent has been paid, which gives the direct producer
an immediate interest in improving productivity (developing the forces of pro-
duction). With capitalist relations of production it is the workers' income, the
wage, which is relatively fixed, so that increases in productivity tend to raise
the rate of exploitation, and are thus not in the immediate interests of the direct
producer. But semi-feudalism encompasses elements of both the feudal and capi-
talist modes. Surplus product is extracted by feudal 'rent', but the peasant is
left with any surplus above the rental payment. However, the peasant is also a
wage worker, so any increase in the peasant's productivity on his own or rented
plot reduces the wage which the employer has to pay to ensure the worker a sub-
sistence standard of living. Thus with semi-feudalism the peasant is discouraged
from developing the forces of production even though, unlike the worker in the
capitalist mode of production, he is not actually divorced from ownership or pos-
session of the means of reproduction. Furthermore the dominant class (the land-
lords, the plantocracy, or capitalists) also have an interest in restricting the
development of productive forces outside the dominant sector because that
threatens their labour supply. The result is what should be described as
contrived stagnation in the peasant economy.
Semi-feudal relations of production are most likely in rural areas penetrated
by capitalist forms of production where there is widespread availability of land
for possible peasant settlement. Such relations therefore have been much more
likely in 'land surplus' than in 'land scarce' countries. They have also been
characteristic of agrarian systems based on primitive technologies which have
relied on the relatively inefficient application of uncommitted, 'unskilled' labour,
1 Semi-feudal relations of production have been discussed most often in
terms of recent agricultural relations in India. Contributors to a protracted
debate in the Economic and Political Weekly included Alavi, Banaji, Cleaver,
Prasad, Saith, Sau, Rudra, and Patnaik.
- 23 -
characteristic of such a 'semi-proletarianised' work force. In other words, with
primitive technology a cheap, low-quality labour force would be adequate, whereas
a more advanced technology with higher potential productivity would require a more
fully committed, skilled (or in effect proletarianised) labour force.
Before considering the implications of semi-feudal relations of production for
mobility, it is worth delineating the three main types of 'semi-feudal' agrarian
organisation. All three are capitalist in the sense that they are geared to capi-
tal accumulation and rely on wage labour; but all three also appropriate surplus
product from the direct producers.
The first is the so-called 'modern hacienda' still found in many parts of
Central and South America, and in modified form elsewhere. Modern commercial
haciendas in Peru are an example of this type of system. Legislation passed in
the 1930's made community land inalienable, and thereby tied communeros to the land
by ruling out land sales and enabling haciendas to hire workers for less than sub-
sistence wages. In some cases cotton estate owners assisted in the registration
of so-called indigenous communities with the intention of legally binding peasants
to an inadequate amount of land so that they were forced to labour on neighboring
cotton estates.2 The coffee fincas of Central America have also traditionally
relied on daily wage workers who supply part of their subsistence requirements from
The second type of institution is the typical plantation, on which labourers
have received low wages supplemented by small rented plots of land on which to pro-
duce part of their subsistence requirements, and various paternalistic mechanisms
have helped tie workers to the estate and workers have been indirectly exploited by
induced indebtedness. Essentially semi-feudal indentured labour systems as applied
in many plantation-dominated economies, have often involved semi-feudal relations,
as did the Brazilian colonato system, for instance. And in the case of Peru, the
widely-discussed system of labour recruitment known as enganche (literally, the
hook) was used traditionally to lure workers into estate employment; cash advances
and the resultant indebtedness forced workers to work for very low wages from which
the plantation made substantial deductions.
The third main type of agricultural institution that could be described as
semi-feudal is the migratory labour estate. Such estates have been common in a
few countries, including Algeria, Kenya, Angola, and the State of California in the
1 For a general analysis of this phenomenon in Latin America, see E. Feder:
"Latifundio and agricultural labour in Latin America", in T. Shanin (ed.): Peasants
and peasant Societies (Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1971). Also, A. de Janvry and
C. Garram6n: "The dynamics of rural poverty in Latin America", Journal of Peasant
Studies, Vol. 4, No.3, April 1977, pp. 206-16.
2 Paige, 1975, op. cit., p. 340.
3 Among the many studies of the latter, see J.B. Lopes: "Capitalism in the
periphery: Agrarian conditions and the development of the working classes in Sao
Paulo" (Sao Paulo, CEBRAP, 1977, mimeo).
- 24 -
USA. For instance under colonial regimes they flourished as centres of grape
cultivation in Algeria, and of coffee cultivation in Angola and Kenya.1 Once
again, while wage labour has been used on such estates the wage rate has been less
than the cost of reproducing labour power, the wage being artificially depressed
by coercion and the expropriation of native lands. In Angola, for example, labour
contractors used hiring methods that were similar to the enganche system in Peru,
giving small advances to get workers to sign a long-term labour contract, or giv-
ing gifts to achieve the same objective. Once enmeshed in estate employment the
temporary migrant worker was expected to supply part of his subsistence needs
through peasant production by other family members. But, crucially, the migrants
received wages that provided a lower standard of living than that obtained by
smallholders growing coffee elsewhere in the country.
The immediate question is whether or not migration will be greater in the
context of some form of semi-feudal relations of production than in more purely
feudal societies. The first point to note is that with all these various semi-
feudal systems there is a greater degree of force and coercion involved than is
customary in societies characterized by traditional paternalistic landlord-peasant
relations. This is not to romanticise the latter in any way. But it is clear
that in most landlord-dominated societies the force has been more veiled and the
relationship between the exploitative class and the direct producers more personal,
even to the extent of fictive kinship arrangements and a web of customary reci-
procities. With semi-feudal relations the exploiting class is intent on acceler-
ating capital accumulation and is more involved in the actual production process.
In those circumstances the peasant-workers would be less tied to some village
community from any sense of dependent insecurity. Their insecurity would be much
more nakedly exposed. But in addition those workers who have only a tiny plot of
land from which the produce part of their subsistence requirements would be likely
to have less sense of attachment to the land than traditional peasants. This of
course would be even more the case for rural labourers without any land at all.
Being less committed to the land implies a greater propensity to emigrate from the
Moreover, with semi-feudal relations of production rural workers are less
isolated from the labour market and from the over-all labour process, making com-
munication and knowledge of labour market opportunities correspondingly greater.
And as plantations or estates essentially rely on an undifferentiated mass of un-
skilled workers, individual opportunities to improve incomes is minimal in
1 Paige, 1975, op. cit., p. 67.
2 S. Mintz: "The folk-urban continuum and the rural proletarian community",
American Journal of Sociology, Vol. LIX, No.2, 1953, pp. 136-43.
- 25 -
conditions of semi-proletarianisation.1 By the same token, there is less need
for reciprocal labour systems than are found in many peasant societies. And
that in itself could only weaken the ties to the village community and, most par-
ticularly, to the kinship network.
So, for several related reasons the propensity to migrate could be expected
to be greater in a community dominated by semi-feudal relations of production than
in more traditional feudal societies. But there is one further set of issues
which should be considered the nature of urbanisation in different types of
society. The topic is complex, and a few notes will have to suffice to indicate
the general dilemma. The basic issue is whether the nature of the agrarian system
influences the pattern of urbanisation, and thereby the pattern and level of rural-
In an influential article, Wolf and Mintz drew some distinctions between
haciendas and plantations. The latter have existed mainly to serve an export
market, whereas haciendas have mainly served local markets though there are
counter examples, such as the case of sugar plantations in Argentina. Wolf and
Mintz claimed that the basic difference was that the hacienda had "scarce capital"
and employed "factors of production" not only for capital accumulation but also
"to support the status aspirations of the owner", in contrast to the plantation
which was merely a means of furthering capital accumulation.3 Although their
distinctions have been shown to be oversimplified, it does seem likely that, where-
as all feudal and semi-feudal systems restrict urbanisation and rural emigration,
plantations would foster a different pattern of urban growth than would manorial
estates or haciendas. In medieval feudal society urban centres were typically
the locality of some feudal lord or group of nobles, where retinues of servants
congregated, small-scale handicrafts were conducted, and markets were located.
Traditional haciendas in Latin America generally fitted into that schema, making
urban decentralisation a feature of social formations dominated by haciendas. In
contrast, plantations have tended to restrict the development of internal markets,
and being export-oriented have fostered the development of primate cities, without
1 This point is considered by Paige as having an important influence on the
type of class struggle to be expected in rural societies. In traditional land-
lord-dominated communities in which access to the land is the main means of income
and security the class struggle typically takes the form of agrarian revolt and
land invasions. Where wage labour is the basis of income, the struggle is gener-
ally concerned with altering the distribution of income, and is therefore likely
to result in trade union reformist activity. However, achieving a socialist trans-
formation of productive relationships would presumably be easier in the latter case,
where there would be less of a tendency to want some small plot of land on which to
cling as an independent, petty producer.
2 C. Erasmus: "The occurrence and disappearance of reciprocal farm labour in
Latin America", in D.B. Heath and R.N. Adams (eds.): Contemporary Cultures and
Societies of Latin America (New York, Random House, 1965), pp. 173-199.
SE.R. Wolf and S.W. Mintz: "Haciendas and plantations in Middle America and
the Antilles", Social and Economic Studies, Vol. 6, No.3, September 1957, p. 380.
- 26 -
any substantial network of smaller towns. If that is the case rural-urban mi-
gt'atioli in an economy with a primate city would tend to be less, because of the
limited number of points of destination (definitionally) and because a larger pro-
portion of the population would be far away from an urban centre. However, in
the case of a primate city rural-urban migration would appear to have a greater
impact on the urban economy, and be more likely to be associated with urban unem-
ployment, congestion,and related phenomena found in many primate cities. But
whether rural-urban migration will be greater in societies having a high level of
urban primacy is an empirical question for which there appears to be little evi-
To sum up this and previous sections, with both feudal and semi-feudal
relations of production in rural communities labour mobility will be curbed.
Moreoever, not only will urbanisation be restricted, but the pattern of urbanis-
ation will reflect the nature of the dominant mode of production in those rural
areas. Above all, and in stark contrast to the assumption of dualistic models of
development, the existence of an 'underemployed' surplus population in rural areas
ready and available to move to the 'modern' capitalist sector in urban areas can-
not be presumed. Migration does not merely reflect a divergence in rural and
urban income levels, and rarely has the 'modern' sector acquired an unlimited
supply of labour without a struggle.
IV. Transitions to Capitalism
"At a certain stage of their development, the
material productive forces of society come into
conflict with the existing relations of production
or this merely expresses the same thing in legal
terms with the property relations within the
framework of which they have operated hitherto.
From forms of development of the productive forces
these relations turn into their fetters. Then
begins an era of social revolution."
The decline of feudalism and the question of the transition to capitalism,
both in its historical European context and as an on-going process in the world,
has been the subject of a vast, fascinating and rapidly growing literature which
it would be impossible to summarise in a short essay. Yet to place the phenomenon
of migration in its socio-economic context it is essential to grasp the main ele-
ments involved and that applies as much to transitions of any social formation as
to the specific case of the transition from feudalism to capitalism. The follow-
ing notes are, therefore, an attempt to identify the elements which, in one form or
1There is considerable empirical support for this hypothesis. Among the
indirect evidence, McGreevey found a strong correlation between exports per capital
and the degree of primacy in national economies. W.P. McGreevey: "A statistical
analysis of primacy and lognormality in the size distribution of Latin American
cities, 1750-1960", in R.M. Morse (ed.): The Urban Development of Latin America,
1750-1960 (Stanford University, Centre for Latin American Studies, 1971), p. 125.
2K. Marx: Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy
(1859) (London, Lawrence and Wishart, 1971), pp. 20-21.
another, should be considered in the analysis of the function and changing level
and pattern of migration in the development of capitalism.
The basic premise for any realistic analysis of a transition is that the
pressure to change will reflect the fact that the forces of production can no
longer develop within the limits imposed by the existing social relations of pro-
duction, making prior changes in those social relations a necessary condition for
the further development of material wealth.
In other words, the period preceding a transition will be one in which the
limits imposed on the development of the forces of production by the social
relations are such as to create stagnation and widespread social unrest, evidenced
by riots, rebellions, civil wars, or strikes, all of which might appear to be
directed at more narrowly defined issues but which in reality reflect the contra-
dictions inherent in a hitherto dominant mode of production. In the case of the
impending dissolution of feudalism, typical signs will be agricultural involution,
peasant uprisings (which are likely to be atavistically inclined rather than
directed at affecting a transition to capitalism or socialism), or what is a
reflection of the same malaise, a mass flight from the countryside.1
In considering the transition from feudalism to capitalism it is useful to
distinguish between those tendencies contributing to feudal dissolution and those
that cause the transition to capitalism. First, as with all modes of production
based on intrinsically antagonistic classes, there are various tendencies in the
feudal mode of production which make stagnation and declining living standards
likely, even though it is invalid to claim that there is no pressure to develop
the forces of production in feudal society, as even Lenin seems to have thought.
The fact is that crises will occur when the social relations of production not
only impede the development of productive forces but create conditions leading to
declining living standards and economic stagnation. Although there are others,
two factors deserve particular attention: population growth, and the struggle over
the distribution of surplus product.
1 It is a moot question whether rebellion and migration should be seen as in
some sense substitute reactions. To the extent they are substitutes, it would be
an important contribution to knowledge to determine the conditions tending to pro-
duce one rather than the other. Interestingly one Latin American study suggested
that migration was a substitute for revolution in the face of a conflict between
economic stagnation and enhanced aspirations ("a mental change"). G. Germani:
"Emigraci6n del campo a la ciudad y sus causes", in H. Gilbert, et al (eds.):
Sociedad, Economia y Reforma Agraria (Buenos Aires, 1965), P. 74.
2 V.I. Lenin: The Development of Capitalism in Russia, reprinted as
Collected Works, Vol-. II (London, Lawrence and Wishart, 1960), p. 66. Of course,
the Asiatic mode has been depicted as the static mode par excellence.
- ` 7 -
- 28 -
"There are districts in which the position of the
rural population is that of a man standing permanently
up to the neck in water, so that even a ripple is suf-
ficient to drown him."l
The growth of the peasant population has been encouraged by traditional feudal
oligarchies simply because the increase in numbers tends to push up the level of
rent. For their part peasants have responded to their own population growth by
attempting to intensify production on their landholdings. But their ability to do
so has been severely limited by primitive techniques of production, limited or no
access to financial resources for investment, and a division of labour dictated by
the household structure. Moreoever even where peasants have the wherewithal to
develop the forces of production, there tend to be social mechanisms designed to
prevent the more entrepreneurial or innovative peasants from benefiting at the
expense of the majority.2
Perhaps the most important long-term reason for stagnation and growing insta-
bility of peasant economies is the remorseless process of land fragmentation. In
general peasant land is not commoditised in feudal societies, and the main form of
land transfer is inheritance. This does not pose a threat to the stability of the
system with a constant population, but does do so if there is population growth.
The result has been that not only has the average size of peasant landholdings
declined but, perhaps more crucially, individual landholdings have come to exist
in a fragmented form, as peasant families have subdivided land to ensure equal (or
whatever the local concept of 'fair') shares of land of different quality or of
land in different locations in the village. It is common for small landholdings
to consist of scattered strips of land, each of which are barely worth farming.3
In peasant communities with a limited amount of land, population growth leads
to more intensive cultivation which, given primitive techniques of cultivation and
a process of land fragmentation which impairs productive efficiency, tends to lead
1 R.H. Tawney: Land and Labour in China (Boston, Beacon Press, 1966, first
published in 1932), p. 77.
2 Note the earlier discussion on 'balanced reciprocity'. For good recent
discussions of the various mechanisms designed to inhibit personal advance in tra-
ditional peasant communities see J.S. Migdal: Peasants, Politics and Revolution:
Pressures towards Political and Social Change in the Third World (Princeton,
Princeton University Press, 1974), Chapter IV, pp. 60-84; G. Hunter: Modernising
Peasant Societies: A Comparative Study of Asia and Africa (London, Oxford
University Press, 1969); Nash, 1960, op. cit.; Sahlins, 1974, op. cit.; inter
In analyses of agricultural production and the relative performance of dif-
ferent size-categories of farms, too much emphasis has been placed on the size of
landholdings per se. Although land fragmentation has been widely documented, most
economic studies have concentrated on simple size indicators. It is pertinent to
add that land fragmentation does not only arise as a result of inheritance customs
and population growth. In some ecologically sensitive areas (as in Vietnam) the
possession of scattered strips of land reduces the risk of total loss of crops and
income, and thus represents an insurance policy.
- 29 -
to soil erosion and exhaustion. At the limit this leads to what Geertz in his
analysis of the Javanese peasantry aptly described as agricultural involution.
However, the peasants' increasing distress is only directly related to population
growth in the sense that the social relations of production prevent the producers
from developing the productivity of the land and their labour.2 In that context,
the thesis associated with Boserup that population growth induces technological
change and thus the accelerated development of productive forces is incomplete.3
That will only be the case when and if the restrictive social relations of pro-
duction are transformed and population growth provides a spur to such changes.
Whereas the growth of the peasant population is associated with declining
living standards and a likely reduction in the surplus available for appropriation,
the growth in the size of the class of exploiters causes further tensions in the
social relationships. Whether or not feudal estates fragment themselves, the
simple arithmetic of a demographic expansion means an expansion in the amount of
surplus necessary to maintain the living standards of the dominant class. Conse-
quently landlords will be inclined to increase the rate of exploitation.
Thus there will be twin causes of increasing tension in the social relations
of production. As a result of population growth and the static nature of the
peasant economy the peasantry will experience a declining ability to meet pre-
existing obligations and living standards, while the feudal class' increasing need
for revenue will lead to a higher level of exploitation. Whatever the relative
contribution of these tendencies, the result will be a process of "decremental
deprivation" of the peasantry, which is likely to lead to unrest and rural
emigration. In such circumstances landlords could adopt either of two courses.
First, they could "tighten the screws", riveting the peasants more firmly to the
villages and attempting to increase the rate of exploitation to offset the declin-
ing level of surplus generated. In that case peasant rebellions are almost
inevitable, for very soon it would become truly a case of starving, degraded men
1 C. Geertz: Agricultural Involution: The Process of Ecological Change in
Indonesia (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1966).
2Clearly any quasi-Malthusian interpretation (leading to population control
as the recommended answer to poverty) would be thoroughly erroneous. As Marx
noted, in the course of perhaps his most pithy refutation of Malthusianism, "In
different modes of social production there are different laws of the increase of
population and of overpopulation; the latter identical with pauperism."
K. Marx: Grundisse, 1973, op. cit., p. 604. See also R.L. Meek (ed.): Marx and
Engels on the Population Bomb (Berkeley, Ramparts Press, 1971; first published in
1953). Meek's introduction was an early warning of the ideological nature of
'population control' policies.
E. Boserup: The Conditions of Agricultural Growth: The Economics of
Agrarian Change under Population Pressure (Chicago, Aldine, 1965).
On the concept of decremental deprivation, see T.R. Gurr: Why Men Rebel
(Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1970), pp. 46-50.
- 30 -
and women having little to lose but their feudal chains to rural impoverishment.1
The second reaction by the landlords, which comes through superbly in Moore's
work, is to relax the screws of feudal exploitation in an effort to retain control
of the peasants and appease their rising resentment and frustration. To pre-
serve exploitative relations exploitation is reduced to prevent the peasants
becoming so deprived of their basic needs that they have little alternative to
either the 'political' expedient of rebellion or the more passive expedient of
tramping off to some rural or urban wilderness. But such reductions in the level
of exploitation have generally represented a progressive change in the social
relations of production. At first the change may be only quantitative, but ulti-
mately it will become qualitative, if only because mere relaxation of feudal modes
of exploitation does not overcome the basic causes of stagnation. To the extent
that social relations of production were radically changed, the forces of pro-
duction could be developed, involving changes in the social and detailed division
of labour, technological innovation, etc. But such changes in the forces of pro-
duction could only follow changes in the social relations of production.3 And
even so, the causes of stagnation are not the causes of the transition to capi-
talist relations of production, or at least are not sufficient causes of that
Factors in the transition to capitalism
Once again it would be well beyond the limited purpose of this essay to go
into an exhaustive analysis of this question. At best we could hope that the
following comments capture the essence of the process in its various forms. For-
tunately there is a valuable literature which has effectively delineated the main
elements and in some cases attempted to identify the principal ones. Thus Maurice
Dobb in his seminal work correctly identified the inefficiency of the feudal mode
of production in contrast with emerging capitalism as the primary factor leading to
the penetration of capitalist relations of production, and in that context stressed
the motivational importance of the growing needs of the ruling class for revenue.
1 E.J. Hobsbawm: Primitive Rebels: Studies in Archaic Forms of Social Move-
ments in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Manchester, Manchester University
Press, 1959); and E.R. Wolf: Peasant Wars in the Twentieth Century (Manchester,
Manchester UniversityPress, 1969).
2 Moore, 1967, op. cit., passim. In a recent penetrating and provocative
analysis, Scott has highlighted this phenomenon in the context of South-East Asia.
J.C. Scott: The Moral Economy of the Peasant: Rebellion and Subsistence in South-
East Asia (New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1976).
3 Countless illustrations could be provided, but the crisis of feudalism in
medieval Western Europe is the classic example. Rural living standards only
started to rise after the onset of the feudal crisis. Anderson, 1974, op. cit.,
4 M.H. Dobb: Studies in the Development of Capitalism (London, Routledge and
Kegan Paul, 1963; originally published in 1946), p. 42.
- 31 -
As such, Hilt.on'n thesis that the struggle for rent was the "prime mover" in the
classic West European transition from feudalism to capitalism is compatible with
that analysis. More generally, it is clear that the principal factors are the
social struggle for the surplus product, whether that takes the form of feudal
rent, taxation, tributes, or some other form of feudal exploitation, and the inef-
ficiency of those forms of feudal exploitation compared with other forms of gener-
ating and distributing economic surplus. But that stated, it is equally clear
that this only identifies a condition for change.
It has to be assumed that the dominant class attempts to maximise the surplus
accruing to it in ways that are most suited to its particular capabilities and
mores. It is in that context that landed oligarchies have responded to popu-
lation pressure (density and growth) by altering the modes of exploitation at their
disposal as alternatives became more efficient.
Population growth is itself a reflection of social and economic development
and is by no means an autonomous phenomenon. Yet demographic expansion has tended
to undermine the ability of peasant families to meet their rental or other feudal
dues while retaining enough to preserve their level of subsistence. It has
also encouraged two changes that presage the shift to capitalist relations of pro-
duction -a change in forms of exploitation by landlords and the growth of class
differentiation of the peasantry. Population growth has generally resulted in the
growth of a body of itinerant workers,whose availability as cheap wage labour to
work on estates has encouraged the commutation of labour rent to rent in kind and
money rent. That transformation has sometimes been interpreted as the dissolution
of feudal exploitation. This is certainly not the case. But it has created
conditions for that dissolution and the growth of capitalism. One reason is that,
although the shift from labour rent to sharecropping rent and from that to cash
rent can be seen as shifts in forms of feudal rent, the implications for economic
growth are quite different, as they are for the growth of class differentiation.
The change from service tenancy to share tenancy may be an effective way of
increasing the landlords' revenue in so far as it induces increased production.
In Chile, for example, such a change was accompanied by a deliberate policy on the
part of some landlords to provide irrigated land to those peasants who seemed most
likely to be commercially successful.2 But above all, the change to money rent
stimulates the development of forces of production in the peasant economy, for the
surplus taken in that form tends to be a certain limited amount of money based on
R.H. Hilton (ed.): The Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism (London,
New Left Books, 1976). This reproduces a series of articles stemming from
Dobb's Studies. See also R.H. Hilton: Bond Men Made Free (London, Temple Smith,
Pearse, 1975, op. cit., pp. 90-1. Note that this is an example of a
change in the social relations of production being the antecedent of the further
development of productive forces.
- 32 -
some notion of productivity of an average peasant. The peasant workers are less
likely to make investments when, say, half the additional output would go to land-
lords than when they could expect to retain all or most of the additional output.
The change in rental form thus encourages three related developments an attempt
by all peasants in a position to do so to increase output on the land they occupy,
the growth of commodity production and exchange, and the growth in the class dif-
ferentiation of the peasantry, as some are able to take advantage of the new situ-
ation at the expense of others.
The importance of growing class differentiation of the peasantry lies in the
fact that the process of differentiation itself creates a domestic market for com-
modities, which is a necessary condition for the extensive growth of capitalist
relations of production, and which shows clearly how the development of forces of
production follows changes in the social relations of production. Where the
feudal oligarchy prevents class differentiation of the peasantry, the development
of capitalist relations will be slowed and stagnation and revolutionary situations
made more likely.
Feudal societies have rested most firmly on the basis of an essentially undif-
ferentiated middle peasantry, neither too affluent that they can assert their
independence and become capitalist farmers in competition with the feudal estates
for labour power and markets nor so impoverished that they cease to be able to pro-
vide a viable surplus, or to work as anything other than wage labourers, or to
retain ties of obligations to the landlords extracting surplus from them. But as
the feudal controls are relaxed, possibly in the wake of violent upheaval or in the
face of the fear of such an upheaval, class differentiation proceeds by polarising
the peasantry into two distinctive groups, both of which tend to purchase more
goods than the middle peasantry.2 The wealthier peasants purchase increasing
amounts of consumer goods (means of subsistence) and means of production, which are
thereby commoditised rather than being produced within peasant households. They
also exploit the weaker peasants by renting them equipment, leasing out plots of:
land, lending them cash or even food, as well as hiring them as wage workers.
1 In a recently published article, Hilton has argued that there was differen-
tiation of the peasantry at the height of medieval feudalism, but he presents no
evidence that that was class differentiation, only that some peasants had consider-
ably more land and assets than others. R.H. Hilton: "Reasons for inequality among
medieval peasants", Journal of Peasant Studies, Vol. 5, No.3, April 1978, pp. 271-84.
It is the role of groups in the production process that is crucial.
2 This of course is the major theme of Lenin's remarkable work on the tran-
sition to capitalism in nineteenth century Russia. V.I. Lenin: The Development of
Capitalism in Russia (Moscow, International Publishers, 1960).
SNote that the ownership of land may be a poor guide to such differentiation,
as Lenin clearly demonstrated. For one controversial but penetrating analysis of
an agrarian transition which uses such measures of stratification, see M. Abdel-Fadil:
Development, Income Distribution and Social Change in Rural Egypt (1952-1970):
A Study in the Political Economy of Agrarian Transition (Cambridge, Cambridge
University Press, 1975). The conceptual difficulty is that such measures are
inadequate proxies for stratifying peasants according to their role in the transition
- 33 -
Conversely, the poor peasants are converted into semi-proletarianised workers,
often alienating their land to moneylenders and no longer able to survive without
wage employment. As such they change from being a hindrance to the development
of production, through not being commodity consumers, to being both purchasers and
sellers of commodities. No longer able to produce their own means of subsistence,
they have to purchase them and thus become a source of profit to the emerging class
of capitalist farmers and industrialists. To enable them to purchase consumer
goods they have to sell the only commodity they possess, their labour power. Thus
the differentiation of the peasantry acts as a powerful stimulus to commodity cir-
culation and production.
Some observers have been misled by the apparent growth in the number of
peasant farmers in a phase of transition into arguing that the peasantry has not
been differentiated in the class sense. The signal is misleading. The process
of differentiation often involves an expansion in the number of those for whom
peasant agriculture is an auxiliary occupation.1 This is merely a transitional
phase in the process of proletarianisation, since the growing impoverishment of a
segment of the population forces them to diversify their activities, attempt
small-scale subsistence 'gardening', work longer hours, and so on. That is surely
a sign of growing pressures leading to class differentiation, where class is defined
by relation to the group's role in the production process. In this case it
signifies the typically agonising growth of a rural proletariat. And a rural
proletariat is nothing if not mobile.
Forms of transition
Yet while the class differentiation process has been a major aspect of tran-
sitional situations, it is clear that the dissolution of feudalism and the develop-
ment of capitalist relations of production in agriculture can take several forms.
In fact three distinctive routes have been identified, although in practice many
transitions have involved elements of each pattern. The first of these is the
classic model, associated with the English transition to capitalism, in which the
landlord class with the support of the state displaces quasi-independent peasants
and replaces them with tenant farmers a small number of capitalist farmers along-
side a growing body of landless or impoverished labourers.2 In this model the
landlord class gradually withdraws, having been instrumental in securing the tran-
sition. In short, rent becomes capitalist ground rent, and tenant farmers become
the nucleus of the agrarian capitalist class.
V.I. Lenin: The Agrarian Question and the "Critics of Marx" (Moscow,
Progress Publishers, 1976), p. 134.
2K. Marx: Capital (New York, International Publishers, 1967), Vol. I,
Part VIII, pp. 713-64.
As such the English transition has been described as "an agrarian revol-
ution from above". T. Kemp: Industrialisation in Nineteenth Century Europe
(London, Longmans, 1969), p. 43.
- 34 -
The other main forms were'most clearly identified by Lenin, and coincided with
the essential distinction which formed the basis of Moore's analysis of the con-
ditions leading from feudalism to parliamentary democracy, fascism, or communism.
Lenin saw the transition to agrarian capitalism taking one of two routes, either
evolving into what he described as the "Junker" economy, in which capitalism
retained feudal features, or taking a more "revolutionary" character, closer to the
classic model, but different to the extent that it is much more a case of a "revol-
ution from below", in which relics of feudalism are largely destroyed and where the
growth of small-scale capitalist agriculture leads to relatively rapid capital
accumulation.2 Elsewhere, referring to the development of capitalist production
in agriculture, Lenin summed up the two forms most clearly:
"The survivals of serfdom may fall away either as
a result of the transformation of landlord economy or
as a result of the abolition of the landlord latifundia,
i.e., either by reform or by revolution. Bourgeois
development may proceed by having big landlord economies
at the head, which will gradually become more and more
bourgeois and gradually substitute bourgeois for feudal
methods of exploitation. It may also proceed by having
small peasant economies at the head, which in a revol-
utionary way, will remove the "excrescence" of the feudal
latifundia from the social organism and then freely
develop without them along the path of capitalist economy
Those two paths of objectively possible bourgeois
development we would call the Prussian path and the
American path, respectively. In the first case feudal
landlord economy slowly evolves into bourgeois Junker
landlord economy, which condemns the peasants to decades
of most harrowing expropriations and bondage, while a
small minority of "big peasants" arises. In the second
case there is no landlord economy, or else it is broken
up by revolution, which confiscates and splits up the
feudal estates. In that case the peasant predominates,
becomes the sole agent of agriculture and evolves into
a capitalist farmer. In the first case the main content
of the evolution is transformation of feudal bondage into
servitude and capitalist exploitation on the land of the
feudal landlords Junkers. In the second case the main
background is transformation of the patriarchal peasant
into a bourgeois farmer."3
Moore, 1967, op. cit. It is perhaps regrettable that in his internation-
ally acclaimed work Moore chose to mention neither Lenin nor, except in an extremely
peripheral manner, Marx. In many respects Moore's schema was foreshadowed by Lenin,
in particular. It is perhaps as regrettable that he also neglected the seminal work
of Dobb, along with the various contributions that Dobb's work stimulated. However,
this criticism should not detract from the importance of Moore's work. The fact
that by not mentioning the origins of his thesis, Moore's work was likely to be more
influential only attests to the pervasive impact of ideology in social science.
2Lenin traced the two forms in the preface to the second (1908) edition of
his Development of Capitalism in Russia, 1960, op. cit., pp. 32-3.
3 V.I. Lenin: The Agrarian Programme of Social Democracy in the First Russian
Revolution (London, Lawrence and Wishart, 1954), Collected Works, Vol. 13, p. 239.
- 35 -
Variants of these forms of agrarian development have been characteristic of
many countries throughout the world. Very crudely and schematically the so-called
revolutionary way (or what is sometimes called the "American" route, or, more
recently, the via campesino) seems to have been followed in those two bastions of
recent capitalist development, Taiwan and South Korea. Although there have been
important regional variations, it also seems closer to the experience of Bolivia,
Venezuela, Peru, and Mexico, despite supposedly "pro-peasant" reforms in each case,
modified in the case of Mexico by ejido and in Venezuela by the role of peasant
unions. There have been signs of this type of transition in some African countries
as well. An interesting case is Rwanda. When it was a colony, the authority of
the Tutsi overlords was preserved by the Belgians, but the Tutsi were overthrown by
their Hutu serfs after Belgian withdrawal. This established a system of petty
commodity production and the basis for the growth of class differentiation and pri-
The Junker way is much more akin to the types of change that have occurred in,
for instance, the Philippines, Indonesia, Brazil, Chile, and much of India.2 But
these judgements need to be temporised and are presented merely as broad hypotheses.
The evolutionary Junker route has had several variants, mary countries
experiencing more than one. The essence has always been manipulation of the
relations of production, or modes of exploitation, in pursuit of higher levels of
surplus appropriation. One variant has been some form of enclosure movement,
involving the mass eviction of tenants. Often this has been done under the guise
of land reform, a convenient device for accelerating the transition to capitalist
relations of production. Another variant has been the incremental process of
conversion of labour rent to wage labour; Kay's recent analysis of that process in
Chile provides a good example. A third variant has been the extension of land
R. le Marchand: Rwanda and Burundi (New York, Praeger, 1970), pp. 170-71.
On the Philippines, see S.A. Resnick: "The second path to capitalism:
A model of international development", Journal of Contemporary Asia, Vol. 3, No.l,
1973, pp. 133-48; on Brazil, despite its romanticist and reactionary prognosis,
see S. Forman: The Brazilian Peasantry (New York, Columbia University Press,
1975); on India, see Moore, 1967, op. cit.; and the fine essay by Byres in which,
inter alia, he noted crucial differences between India and Japan. T.J..Byres:
"Land reform, industrialisation and the marketed surplus in India: An essay on the
power of rural bias", in D. Lehmann (ed.): Agrarian Reform and Agrarian Reformism:
Studies of Peru, Chile, China and India (London, Faber and Faber, 1974), pp. 221-61.
Peek and Standing, 1979, op. cit.; R. Stavenhagen (ed.): Agrarian
Problems and Peasant Movements in Latin America (Garden City, New York, Anchor
Books, 1970), especially the paper by Barraclough and Domike.
C. Kay: "The development of the Chilean hacienda system, 1850-1973", in
Duncan and Rutledge, 1977, op. cit., pp. 103-39.
- 36 -
control by estates or landlords or the state representing their interests -
thereby drawing a larger proportion of the population into the estate-dominated
zone. This was done in parts of the Andean countries with highland peasant com-
munities and was done through Crown Land regulations in a number of British
A fourth mechanism by which a surplus population has been created, and by
which a process of proletarianisation has been stimulated, has been by means of
the simple expedient of taxation. In short, in the interests of nascent capi-
talist farmers or growing estates, additional taxes have been imposed on the
peasant population. Notably in British, French,and Portuguese colonies in Africa,
hut or head taxes forced young adult natives to offer to work as wage workers, and
thereby contributed to the process of capital accumulation in the 'modern' sector
while weakening the viability of the 'traditional' peasantry.
Finally, a proletariat has sometimes been created by the device of forced or
voluntary mass immigration,as in the case of mainly European colonos in Brazil.
In such cases, as noted in an earlier section, semi-feudal characteristics have
typically persisted, while the pre-existing peasantry was slowly squeezed onto
more marginal land or driven into previously unsettled regions of the country.
No doubt, to many analysts the heterogeneity of the evolutionary transition
path is more striking than any sense of homogeneity. But the Junker-type tran-
sition has typically allowed the persistence of semi-feudal controls, and thus the
retention of some feudal ties to the land and indeed feudal modes of exploitation
and labour control generally.
That in turn implies that in such cases of transition attempts to restrict
migration out of rural areas are likely to have persisted to a greater extent than
in countries where the transition to capitalism has taken the form of either the
classic or 'revolutionary' routes. This too must remain as a general hypothesis,
which may be affected by other factors that would make cross-national empirical
comparisons extremely difficult. But the basic thesis seems eminently reasonable.
For it is surely valid that, while the transition to capitalist relations of pro-
duction is associated with relatively high levels of migration compared with the
situation in feudal societies (except when the latter are in crisis), the form that
transition takes will determine the extent and function of migration. And, as
argued later, the extent of migration will influence both the pace and nature of
the transition. But before turning to the question of the specific functions of
migration in the transition process, some comments are required on what could be
loosely described as the 'urban' role in that process.
1 T.H. Holloway: "The coffee colono of Sao Paulo, Brazil: Migration and
mobility, 1880-1930", in Duncan and Rutledge, 1977, op. cit., pp. 301-21.
- 37 -
The two routes to 'urban' capitalism: Some lacunae and blind alleys
So far, very schematically, the emphasis has been on rural developments con-
tributing to the dissolution of feudal relations of production and on necessary
conditions for the transition to capitalist production. However, the process of
industrial capital accumulation has usually been depicted in terms of the transfer
of surplus from agriculture to urban industrial capital. In this section three
issues arising from that seemingly crucial aspect of the transition will be dis-
cussed, necessarily in a cursory manner and only in so far as they relate to mi-
gration themes that will be considered in the subsequent section. The first
issue is the role of trade or commercial capital, the second the role of urban
areas in the transition to capitalism, and the third the two ways by which indus-
trial capitalism has evolved. Clearly these three issues are intrinsically inter-
A great many social scientists have depicted the transition to capitalism as
originating in the cities and the growth of commerce and trade. Indeed some
analysts, such as Weber, Pirenne, and Sweezy, have seen the growth of trade as
little less than the "prime mover" in the transition of feudalism to capitalism,
and have been taken to task for doing so.1 The subject was resurrected in a
modified form in the work of Frank and Wallerstein.2 Both emphasised the role of
international trade in creating 'dependent' satellite economies, Frank claiming
that as a result Latin America is and always was capitalist.3 There are several
major difficulties with that line of argument. The first is that the growth of
trade, while a feature of capitalist development, is compatible with other modes
of production and, as noted earlier, in colonial or neo-colonial (or 'dependent')
economies has actually encouraged a tightening of feudal relations of production
rather than the reverse. Commodity circulation by itself does not define capi-
talist relations of production. Analogously the role of merchant capital is at
best only a lubricant for the transition to industrial capitalism and can exist
without either fostering or needing capitalist relations of production. Indeed
usury by traders has often bolstered feudal relations of production.
1 The celebrated debate between Sweezy and Dobb et al is reproduced in
Hilton, 1976, op. cit.
A 2 A.G. Frank: Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Latin America (New York,
Monthly Review Press, 1969); I. Wallerstein: The Modern World System: Capitalist
Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century
(New York, Academic Press, 1974).
3 For a devastating attack on Frank's thesis, see E. Laclau: "Feudalism and
capitalism in Latin America", New Left Review, Vol. 67, May-June 1971, pp. 19-38;
see also G. Palma: "Dependency: A formal theory of underdevelopment, or a
methodology for the analysis of concrete situations of underdevelopment", World
Development, Vol. 6, No.7/8,November 1978, pp. 881-924.
It is instructive too that historians have correlated the rising oppor-
tunities for the export of wheat from Eastern to Western Europe in the late middle
ages with the onset of the second serfdom in Eastern Europe.
- 38 -
The point that needs to be made most forcefully is that in many feudal-type
societies merchant capital has helped create a widely dispersed category of rural
outworkers, often in the form of peasant artisans placed in a position of chronic
indebtedness and dependence. And having produced such a situation merchants have
taken care to preserve that relationship. Moreover, merchant capital by siphon-
ing off surplus and undermining traditional village handicrafts may well reduce
peasant communities to generalised poverty, in the process preventing class dif-
ferentiation and capital accumulation.
Nevertheless, merchant capital can play a progressive role where other con-
ditions are encouraging a capitalist transition. Its function can be seen in the
context of what have been identified as the two paths to industrial capitalism.
In the first the original merchant turns producer, typically by 'putting out' work
and by stages cutting off small producers from the market. The merchants them-
selves may emerge from the local (rural) community or from outside areas. But in
any event the major change is that merchant intervention in the production process
places workers in a dependent status, cut off from the market for their goods and
induced to purchase raw materials and other means of production from the merchants.
As the small producers' position is weakened by indebtedness and dependence they
have to respond to an increasing level of exploitation by such actions as lowering
the quality of their product, increasing turnover, using lower-quality materials,
leaving repairs undone, and then being forced to sell off their remaining assets.
This 'informal sector' dies in its birth. Sooner or later the small producers
are forced to give up production, leaving wage labour force participation as the
only option. And that in itself may well mean migration to the area in which the
merchant capitalist has set up a factory with the proceeds of their surplus labour.
That process of proletarianisation is one of the two classic methods by which
capitalist industrialisation has penetrated and absorbed 'peasant' production.
The other path is what Marx called "the really revolutionising way" and entails
the producer evolving into a merchant as well.1 Industrial capital grows in the
course of primary accumulation, class differentiation, and the growth of domestic
markets, and urban industrial areas emerge with the growing concentration and
division of labour.
It is in that context that the role of urban areas in the transition to indus-
trial capitalism must be seen in a proper perspective. Anderson has attributed a
decisive role in the dissolution of serfdom in Western Europe to "the urban sector,
structurally sheltered by the parcellisation of sovereignty in the medieval polity".2
1 Historically, the merchant class eventually becomes "an obstacle to the real
capitalist mode of production and goes under with its development", which is what is
implied in the claim that the other route is non-revolutionising. K. Marx:
Capital (New York, International Publishers, 1967), Vol. III, p. 334.
2 Anderson: Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism, 1974, op. cit., p. 205.
Many historians have noted that when market opportunities opened up for landlords
the existence in Western Europe of large urban areas precluded heightened feudal
exploitation, whereas the absence of such areas in Eastern Europe allowed the second
- 39 -
Then and in subsequent cases of transition, the growth of urban areas presents a
condition for the dissolution of the most static form of feudal exploitation,
serfdom, to the extent that towns are relatively "free oases in an unfree society",
as Dobb described them, acting as magnets to help peasants escape the worst
oppressions of feudal exploitation. The fact remains that feudal growth has tra-
ditionally coincided with the control of urban areas by landed oligarchies,for whom
the town provides a useful source of additional revenue. Despite that, it seems
likely that in urban areas the transition to capitalist relations of production
proceeds with less difficulty than in rural areas, despite mercantile and guild-
like restrictions associated with pre-capitalist urban employment. There are
also reasons for accepting that large urban areas have contributed to relaxation
of feudal relations in areas that are quite remote and have relatively low popu-
lation density. Historically, cities have provided areas of potential flight
from serfdom, and on occasion urban workers have provided support for peasant
revolts. Urban manufacturers have been unlikely to hinder either phenomenon;
they have in some cases been prominent in fomenting peasant insurrections and have
scarcely been likely to hinder the rural exodus, in so far as runaway serfs or
debt peons have provided a source of labour power made all the cheaper by their
Similarly, the existence of market towns with an array of goods and services
is likely to make rural landlords want to realise more of their total income in
monetary form. That and the fear that peasants would be driven into migration
perhaps encouraged the feudal class in medieval Western Europe, as in other areas
since that time, to commute labour services, rely more on money rents, and lease
out more of the feudal demesne. To that extent peasant migration would be made
easier, and conditions created for the growth of rural class differentiation.
Dobb, 1963, op. cit., p. 70.
2Ibid, p. 79. See also J. Merrington: "Town and country in the tran-
sition to capitalism", New Left Review, No. 93, September-October 1974, pp. 71-92.
SIn the European case the master-servant relationship in urban crafts and
the customary hierarchical features of craft guilds,which dominated established
towns and cities,were initially circumvented through the establishment of new
urban communities which grew, in part, because they were not subject to such tra-
ditional relations of production. Marx: Grundisse, 1973, op. cit., pp. 855-6.
The modification of the social relations of production in the urban-industrial
production process in more recent transitions has not received the attention it
deserves, and when it has much of the research has been in the largely American
'institutional' industrial.relations tradition. The implications for the
mobility of labour are considerable.
SIt is likely to lead to a substitution of what Veblen called a lifestyle
of "vicarious consumption" for one of "vicarious leisure". T. Veblen: The Theory
of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions (New York, 1899).
- 40 -
Nevertheless it would surely be wrong to attribute the dissolution of feudal-
ism in agriculture to the expansion of towns per se; one might more realistically
argue that the growth of towns reflects the dissolution of feudal relations of
production. It is when stagnation and related crises have shown the limits of
those relations of production that feudal control and authority will be undermined,
and it is then that the role of urban areas can be important in accelerating the
transition to capitalist relations of production. Once feudal controls have been.
relaxed, industrial capitalism will penetrate rural areas, dissolving petty com-
modity exchange and increasing the need for money,while reducing the peasants'
opportunity to produce either for personal use or exchange. Thus the introduction
of manufactured substitutes at lower costs and/or of higher 'quality' (maybe merely
having a greater prestige value) tends to dissolve primitive or other reciprocal
systems of exchange. As such, the destruction of peasants' supplementary activi-
ties extends the internal market for industrial and commercial capital, and allows
a growing concentration of production and commerce in urban areas.
Clearly urban growth is a correlate of capitalist industrialisation. It is
a correlate because the concentration of labour power is a necessary condition for
the growth of the detailed division of labour on which the development of pro-
ductive forces rests. But the transition to industrial capitalism can only occur
on the basis of the prior creation of a cheap and mobile supply of labour. That
means that feudal relations of production must be transformed, so that a surplus
population is available to move into industry. It also means thatthe develop-
ment of agriculture must be sufficiently advanced to ensure a surplus of food for
urban workers to keep down the industrial wage rate, i.e., the cost of reproducing
labour power. In sum, urban industrial growth relies on the creation of an econ-
omic surplus in agriculture a surplus for urban investment (normally) and a sur-
plus of food for urban consumption and it relies on the creation of a surplus
population for absorption in urban employment at sufficiently low wage rates to
permit capital accumulation.
V. The Roles of Migration in the Transition to Capitalism
"What does "attach importance" to migration
mean? If we take these words in their literal
sense, can there be a single economist of sound
mind and good memory who does not attach
importance to the annual migrations?"1
What then is the role of migration in the transition to a capitalist society?
The short answer is that it is crucial. In a general sense the necessity for
migration, and rural-urban migration in particular, lies in the fact that for indus-
trial capitalism to develop workers must be made "free" in the classic double sense,
1 V. Lenin: "Uncritical criticism", reprinted in Collected Works, Vol. III,
1960, op. cit., p. 625. Emphasis in the original.
- 41 -
being free of the means of production and free to hire themselves out as wage
workers (free of the means of subsistence). The first 'freedom' has implied
the creation of a relative surplus population, and capitalist development has only
been able to proceed on the basis of the prior creation of that surplus popu-
lation.2 To fully satisfy the second 'freedom' workers have had to be mobile, to
be able and willing to accept opportunities to migrate and in effect constitute
"an unlimited supply of labour". As Dobb noted with respect to the transition to
industrial capitalism in Western Europe:
"The commodity labour power had not merely to
exist: it had to be available in adequate
quantities in the places where it was most needed;
and here mobility of the labouring population was
an essential condition."3
Thus in periods of capitalist development there has always been a demand for
an unfettered labour market "free from the unwarranted interference of legislators
or charity mongers". All bourgeois revolutions have made a point of translating
that demand into effective practice.
More specifically, migration and in particular rural-urban migration has seven
major roles in the transition from a feudal society to one based predominantly on
capitalist relations of production. Most of these are closely inter-related,
making it convenient to depict them as one set of functions, although it is
apparent that some of these functions have been more important in particular cases
than have others. What is clear is that taken as a whole migration is a necessary
contributory factor to the development of a capitalist economy and is thus a
stimulus to economic growth.
However, first of all, it has to be recognized that peasant migration has
sometimes been a means of preserving feudal modes of exploitation. Thus increas-
ing population pressure on the available land, for instance, and the inability to
fully meet the demands of landlords have on occasion induced short-term migration
A third sense of the term 'free labour' has been used, and is most associ-
ated with Max Weber. That is freedom from 'extra-economic' coercion to labour.
This implies that workers respond as desired by employers because of wage and
income considerations. However, for many groups of workers it is undoubtedly the
case that various forms of coercion and control persist and may be intensified
during the period in which capitalist relations of production are established.
With alienated labour, they can never disappear. I have tried to discuss this
elsewhere in the context of the analysis of the notion of proletarianisation.
For instance, although the acceleration of the transition to capitalism in
parts of Latin America in the 1930's is often attributed to the crisis in the
'metropolitan' economies of Europe and North America, it was the availability of a
surplus population in Latin America at that time which made such development
3Dobb, 1963, op. cit., p. 274.
- 42 -
by one or more members of peasant families in order to secure the supplementary
income needed to relieve temporary or permanent stress.1 In India chronic indebt-
edness has led some debtors to send wives or daughters to urban areas to earn money
through prostitution. Landlords may welcome that form of migration and use it as
a means of augmenting the surplus they could extract. Thus migration need not be
directly corrosive of feudal relations of production. Nevertheless, migration is
one reflection of feudal decay, an index of a social formation under stress.
Migration is not merely.the outcome of poverty, though that has always been a
spur to it. Peasant migration has been caused by the combination of poverty and
the decay of the perceived legitimacy of the feudal forms of exploitation. Thus
to cite the classic case once more, Dobb argued that as a result of the growing
need for revenue the ruling feudal class made additional demands on the peasants
and that this led to the mass desertion of feudal demesnes which in turn contri-
buted to the decline of villeinage in England. In Egypt, where 'tax farming' was
a major feudal mode of exploitation, it has been argued that the optimum rate of
taxation was loosely determined by the extent of village emigration. Officials
(the Porte) who exceeded that tax level could expect to witness a mass village
emigration and a lower total income than at lower rates of local taxes. This
example highlights a general feature of feudal societies which is that the control
necessary to ensure feudal exploitation rests on a delicate combination of
coercion, the authority of the feudal class based on traditional, common-law
arrangements, and compliance to exploitation on the part of the peasantry.5
Of course, the notion of exploitation raises conceptual difficulties, but
those should not be used to deny the existence of exploitation. In its simplest
form it becomes a question of the amount of surplus produced by the workers which
the landlord class can appropriate. But in a feudal society there is always an
underlying struggle between the landlords, wanting to press the peasants to the
limits of bare subsistence, and the peasants, wanting to retain as much of the
surplus above that bare limit as possible. For the landlords, to maintain or
1 Migdal, 1974, op. cit., p. 118.
One recent study argued that such "trafficking in women" had been growing
as the Harijans had little or no more land to alienate. Pande, 1976, op. cit.,
3Dobb, 1963, op. cit., p. 46.
B. Hansen: "An economic model for Ottoman Egypt or the economics of
collective tax responsibility" (Berkeley, Institute of International Studies,
University of California, December 1973, mimeo), p. 44.
5Ultimately, it also rests on the continued dominance of the state by the
feudal class. But for the moment we are interested in the behavioral aspects
of the relationship between the exploiters and exploited.
- 43 -
increase exploitation overt coercion is rarely used except in times of crisis;
the weapons of coercion have usually existed, but widespread resort to them indi-
cated a feudal society in crisis; to be successful, the feudal class has gener-
ally relied on coercion merely as a veiled threat. The more immediately import-
ant factor has been the degree of legitimacy afforded by the peasants to certain
customary exploitative practices. In the main, that has been a function of the
intrinsic reciprocities of feudal society. If the peasant has a set of obli-
gations, it is also understood that he has certain, often well-defined rights;
in particular,the right to protection against acts of violence and against the
threat of economic insecurity are twin pillars on which the peasants' forebearance
of the feudal structure is based. To the extent that the feudal class fails or
is unable to provide those protections and related customary rights, peasants will
cease to accept the legitimacy of their traditional obligations.2 If they cannot
modify those obligations within the rural economy because of the inflexibility of
the exploitative mechanisms, then the peasants have essentially the two alterna-
tives of rebellion or migration. Quite often they have come together. In
either case it could be expected that preceding such acts of desperation the
peasants would have exhausted other options, such as those described by Geertz in
the context of agricultural involution in Indonesia.
Another example of migration reflecting the decay of legitimacy is one drawn
from Brazil. There landlords began to forfeit their right to the traditional
obligations of the peasants when they began to withdraw traditional rights and
forms of protection, including the provision of medical services. Many fazenda
(hazienda) owners became absentee landlords and moved to the towns, and in doing
so altered the relationship with the peasants, who could no longer rely on the
regular, personal assistance which had been part of the reciprocal 'social
1The fiction of the passive, stupified peasant fatalistically resigned to a
life of degradation has long been exploded, though that vision has continued to
2 In more normal times the diverse forms of reciprocal rights and obligations
are either hard or impossible to fully identify or cannot readily be matched in
terms of the relative 'weights' to be attached to particular elements in the con-
ventional nexus of social relationships. From this epistemological dilemma it
seems reasonable to formulate the dialectical proposition that crises afford the
most appropriate moments to understand normal behaviour. If that seems far-
fetched, consider the contrary practice of attempting to study behavioral phenomena
by analysing data collected in times of relative stability of social relationships.
As such it is hard to select the principal behavioral springs of change from a mass
of possibilities. Clearly inductive research is liable to build castles in the air.
I am grateful to Peter Peek and Ren6 Wery for listening while I clarified this point
in my own particular castle.
To give an example from another of the classic cases which have figured
prominently in this analysis, Lenin observed that the widespread emigration of the
Russian peasantry in the late nineteenth century followed their ruin and after an
unsuccessful "struggle for independence". Lenin: The Agrarian Question and the
"Critics of Marx", 1976, op. cit., p. 98.
Geertz, 1966, op. cit.
- 44 -
contract'.1 It was such abrogations that forced the peasants to actively ques-
tion the traditionally oppressive forms of exploitation and seek alternatives,
the most likely being migration. But it is worth asking what conditions have to
exist to make a peasant in a traditionally 'inward-oriented' community become a
It may seem trite, but the first condition is that the idea of migrating
must exist as an acceptable response to adversity or frustrated aspirations.2
The second condition is that the peasants would have to identify their oppression
as being unjust and not inevitable, which means in practice that some traditional
reciprocal relationship must have been violated to cause a sense of deprivation.
The third condition is that revolution or revolt must appear to have minimal
chance of success, or that the solidarity of the oppressed must have given way to
disjointed anomie. And the fourth condition is that, as already emphasised, the
potential migrant must have had cause to reject the traditional forms of
oppression and exploitation because of some sense of deprivation or inability to
satisfy the basic needs of a particular category to which the individual affects
to belong.3 It is in the context of these four conditions that the emigration
must be explained, not simply in terms of the expected incomes in urban areas
which, it hardly needs to be stated, is a necessary fifth condition.
One should ask one further question. Given the landlords' requirements, why
do they not take such action as is necessary to prevent widespread emigration?
Normally the feudal, or landlord, class could be expected to counter the possi-
bility of mass migration or rebellion by taking due account of the moral limits to
its exploitative capacity. As one analyst of Thai society in the nineteenth
"There was ... a mechanism which tended to restrain
the nai (nobles) from making excessive demands on the
services of their phrai (commoners). When the phrai
could no longer bear such excessive demands from their
nai, they could simply run away into the jungle."4
1 B. Galjart: "Class and 'following' in rural Brazil", America Latina,
Vol. 7, July-September 1974, pp. 3-23.
2The same condition has always had to exist to make an oppressed peasant or
worker into a revolutionary, and in many periods of history such a condition has
manifestly not existed. The modern worker in America or Western Europe would find
the idea of revolution little short of lunatic, which certainly does not mean he is
satisfied with his lot.
3 The migration of the relatively educated peasant can be considered in that
vein. As stressed elsewhere, it seems the migrant is most typically the marginal
person in any social context. G. Standing: Labour Force Participation and
Development (Geneva, ILO, 1978), pp. 207-11.
A. Rabibhadana: The Organisation of Thai Society in the Early Bangkok
Period, 1782-1873 (Ithaca, New York, Cornell University South-East Asia Program,
No. 196), quoted in Scott, 1976, op. cit., p.54.
- 45 -
In such circumstances, widespread migration could be taken as a sure sign of an
imbalance arising in feudal society due to excessive exploitation, whether that
resulted from a constant level of exploitation faced by a decline in the peasants'
productivity, or from an increase in the rate of exploitation by a beseiged or
complacent feudal class. In practice, the limits of exploitation defined by
custom are only likely to be overstepped when the landlords' power and authority
are threatened, when that group's own standard of living or expectations as custom-
arily defined are impaired. But if the reciprocal relationship of rights and
obligations are broached, widespread migration of peasants as a form of protest and
rejection can be expected.
Rural emigration will reflect the agrarian transition, growing in the wake of
rural proletarianisation, the growth of class differentiation, and the decay of
feudal legitimacy. But once migration becomes widespread it plays an important
role in accelerating the transition to industrial capitalism.
The first function played by migration is the negative one of accelerating the
decay of feudal relations, undermining the legitimacy of traditional peasant obli-
gations and also allowing landlords to withdraw from custom-bound obligations.
There are various ways by which migration undermines a sense of legitimacy in
landlord-dominated societies. It is an old adage that for injustice to be accept-
able it must resemble justice. In that sense migrants have been agents of change,
challenging the 'false consciousness' of their fellow villagers once they have seen
that modes of exploitation to which they had grown accustomed were neither just nor
inevitable. As Kautsky put it in his increasingly appreciated classic treatise,
"...while they constitute a backward element in
the towns, often acting as strikebreakers, or
impeding unionisation, they are tremendous agents
of progress in their own villages ... It is
often these elements who become agitators and
instigators of class discontent and class hatred
in their home villages."1
In other words, migration can accelerate the decay of feudal relations through
its effect on the aspirations and expectations of the rural poor and through weaken-
ing the implicit social contract between landlords and peasants.
It may also accelerate the demise of landlordism by inducing defensive reactions
on the part of landlords. If it induces them to "tighten the screws", then the
legitimacy of conventional social relationships will be further eroded as new degrees
of exploitation are added without compensating rights; that in itself will only
provide greater cause for migration. If it leads to concessions by landlords it
will mean that a growing amount of the surplus product will remain in the peasant-
artisan economy, which will encourage the growth of class differentiationand permit
Quoted in J. Banaji: "Kautsky on the agrarian question", Economy and
Society, Vol. 5, No.1, Februaryl976, pp. 2-49.
- 46 -
the more adaptive peasant minority to consolidate their position at the expense of
the middle and lower strata of the peasantry. Relaxation of feudal forms of
exploitation also means that barriers to migration are lowered; whether or not
peasants have leapt over them is another matter. Thus in terms of the classic
phases of transition, the shift from a system of compulsory labour services to
rents in kind (such as sharecropping) and the shift from either to cash rents
increases the opportunity for the peasant or some member of the peasant household
to become an absentee landholder. For rather than produce the rent through work-
ing on the landlord's estate or on his own allotment,the change implies that the
Peasant is able to acquire the means to pay the rent through migration in search
of wage-employment (or indeed any other form of work for cash income), leaving the
remainder of the household to produce the family's subsistence. Though it is dif-
ficult to cull generalisations from a multitude of historically-specific patterns
of change one point is clear: modifications to the traditional feudal modes of
exploitation have often been made to defuse a crisis and in doing so have induced
peasants to make adaptive responses as best they can. Many have migratedand, as
argued below, have thereby contributedto the transition of the rural economy.
Yet before considering those functions of migration it ought to be noted that
rural emigration may not only weaken the peasants' willingness to accept tra-
ditional controls.and obligations but will allow landlords to dispense with others
which were effectively impeding their efforts to transform pre-capitalist relations
of production. One recent study noted that the shift to the use of wage labour in
rural Peru was impeded in the 1950's because of the landlords' fear of turmoil had
they displaced Indian peasants and animals on the community lands.2 In such
situations it is reasonable to pose the question: What changes that situation?
Although it is often a case of the impasse being resolved by state intervention,
such as land reform, in the absence of such action the answer can be expressed in
terms of changes in the relative costs and benefits of such changes, including the
fact that the peasants' own reaction to decremental deprivation will depend, in
part, on their range of alternatives. In particular their destructive.resistance
will be inversely related to urban income-earning opportunities.
So, migration may be a means by which the feudal relations of production are
undermined. The second function of migration in the transition process is that
of contributing to the growth of class differentiation in rural areas. There are
various ways by which it does so. Clearly to the extent that the more fortunate
1This process has taken place in many countries. It seems to have been a
feature of Japanese development, where landlord farmers made concessions to dis-
courage dependent smallholders from migrating to the towns; wage labour was sub-
stituted for traditional and onerous labour services, and the concessions were
followed by the evolution of capitalist farmers among the peasantry. Moore, 1967,
op. cit., pp. 268-69.
2 Alier, 1977, op. cit., pp.145, 160.
- 47 -
migrants supplement 'domestic' production with the income from wage employment
such income can provide both the means and incentive to technological change
among the larger peasant farmers, while enabling those households to acquire new
means of production to expand commodity production. The role of remittances has
only recently attracted the attention it deserves; not only do they provide cash
to cover investments, as Waters emphasised in an interesting paper, but the
possibility of securing cash through migration as well as the actual remittances
reduce the risk factor, which traditionally has been a primary factor impeding
peasant investment. There is some evidence that the more successful migrants,
who are likely to come from the larger peasantry who could afford to raise more
educated children, send remittances that accelerate the differentiation process
through strengthening the larger peasants and stimulating technological inno-
vations, commodity circulation, and production.2 Money is a great polariser.
Migration also increases class differentiation by undermining the viability
of small units of production, depleting them of the labour input of family members
and forcing them to turn to the market for some items of consumption previously
produced in the domestic unit. Though out-migration will not lead to a labour
shortage in all households, for very many it will.3 Often it will do so in a
scarcely visible way, because the initial consequence will be that poorer house-
holds are merely precluded from taking advantage of new productive opportunities
or are forced to gradually abandon traditional domestic pursuits.
1 A.R. Waters: "Migration, remittances and the cash constraint in African
smallholder economic development", Oxford Economic Papers, Vol. 25, No.3,
November 1973, pp. 435-54. On the investment behaviour of peasants, see
M. Lipton: "The theory of the optimising peasant", Journal of Development Studies,
Vol. 4, No.3, April 1968, pp. 327-51; among studies which have shown that remit-
tances from migrants have encouraged risk-taking and supplied the necessary credit
for the purchase of farm tools, see the Egyptian study, A.M. Abou-Zaid: "Migrant
labour and social structure in Kharga Oasis", in J. Pitt-Rivers (ed.):
Mediterranean Countrymen: Essays in the Social Anthropology of. the Mediterranean
(Paris, Maison des Sciences de l'Homme, 1963), pp. 41-53; similar findings were
reached in a study in Pakistan: A. Mohammed, W.R. Butcher, and C.H. Gotsch:
Temporary Migration of Workers and Return Flow of Remittances in Pakistan (Harvard
Center for International Affairs, Economic Development Report No. 234, August 1973).
2For a review of the impact of remittances on technological innovation, a
review which does not dwell on the associated impact on class differentiation, see
0. Stark: "Rural-to-urban migration and some economic issues: A review utilising
findings of surveys and empirical studies covering the 1965-1975 period", Population
and Employment Working Paper No. 38 (Geneva, ILO, May 1976), pp. 22-26. This study
drew unwarranted conclusions about the effect of migration on the distribution of
income. That was largely because it considered only the possible effects on income
distribution between rural and urban areas, without taking account of the impact on
inequality within rural and urban areas.
There is of course no need to assume that this applies to all or even most
peasant households; clearly in some households there will be not only seasonal but
chronic 'labour surplus'. In low-income households, however, that can only exist
on the basis of the prior denial of means of production.
In many households,forced to respond to adversity or intensified exploitation
by having one or more members migrate in search of a supplementary, cash income,
living standards are likely to decline as a result of the dislocation. The
adaptive response may take the form of a greater intensity of work or self-
exploitation as Chayanov put it. The greater intensity of work facilitates a
higher rate of exploitation by landlords and others appropriating the surplus
product. But the additional work effort is liable to be associated with some
inattention to repairs, inadequate land preparation, and related forms of neglect,
all of which lead to declining yields and incomes (subsistence). Paradoxically,
this may be worsened by the limited forms of labour-saving innovation introduced
to offset migration or as a result of small remittances. If the lower-income
households cannot afford complementary inputs, the introduction of one input such
as a 'modern' plough may disturb the sensitive balance achieved in more tra-
ditional forms of cultivation. For example, in parts of Africa where the eco-
logical balance has been particularly sensitive peasant migration of adult men
has had disastrous consequences on soil quality because the absence of labour has
meant that bush clearance did not occur so often, which has led to the breakdown
of the indigenous system of shifting cultivation.2 Perhaps less dramatically but
elsewhere as well, migration has led to a disarticulation of the petty commodity
mode of production. To the extent that enforced adaptation leads to a reduction
in household incomes it will mean a corresponding reduction in the ability to
cover contingencies without resorting to local moneylenders and thus being caught
in the noose of debt. In sum, the precarious lot of the smaller peasant house-
holds is typically intensified by migration.
Conversely, the more affluent peasants are able to take advantage of the
deterioration of their neighbours, perhaps even with the help of remittances.
They may draw them into a web of indebtedness and eventual dispossession; they
may take away the smaller peasants' opportunity for commodity exchange through
their competitive ability to sell crops at lower prices or because they oblige
newly dependent peasants to buy from them. In some cases too, poorer peasants
may lease their small landholdings to the larger peasants, perhaps to become
migrant workers themselves. An interesting variant of this phenomenon has been
a recent feature of the Mexican ejido land tenure system, giving a traditional
exploitative relationship an ironical twist; small landholders unable to sell
their land or to earn a satisfactory income on it have leased it to sharecroppers
and migrated to seek wage employment.3
1 A.V. Chayanov: The Theory of Peasant Economy (eds., B. Kerblay, D. Thorner,
and R.E.F. Smith) (Homewood, American Economic Association, 1966).
2 See, for example, L. Cliffe: "Labour migration and peasant differentiation:
Zambian experiences", Journal of Peasant Studies, Vol. 5, No.3, April 1978,
pp. 332-33; E.P. Skinner: "Labour migration and its relationship to socio-
cultural change in Mossi society", Africa, Vol. XXX, October 1960, pp. 373-401.
SK. Finkler: "From sharecroppers to entrepreneurs: Peasant household
production strategies under the ejido system of Mexico", Economic Development and
Cultural Change, Vol. 27, No.l, October 1978, pp. 103-20.
- 48 -
- 49 -
Growing peasant differentiation has also been encouraged to the extent that
migration has been greatest among the middle-peasants, which evidence suggests has
been the case in many countries. The reasons for this are not altogether clear
though it may best be explained by the tendency for this group of peasants to most
experience a sense of decremental deprivation. Rather than sink into the rural
semi-proletariat they migrate. Unlike them, the low-income peasants seem less
likely to aspire to better living standards to the point of taking action to secure
them. Moreover, they are relatively unlikely to be able to afford to migrate and
more likely to be tied to rural areas by indebtedness and ignorance.
The third role of migration is that it contributes to the relative and absol-
ute growth of wage employment in rural areas. Migrant workers moving into areas
of peasant production, whether as seasonal migrants seeking short-term wage jobs
or as quais-permanent settlers, weaken the position of the middle and lower
peasantry, who survive by a judicious combination of wage labour and domestic agri-
culture. To the extent that they are dispossessed of the means of production
these peasants will be driven into the ranks of the rural proletariat. Moreover,
if the land and other means of production are transferred to the larger peasants,
they will be used in combination with wage labour, simply because the richer
peasants would not have been able to utilise the productive resources without such /
labour. Thus migration is a mechanism which contributes to increasing reliance
on wage labour in rural areas.
Fourthly, migration has been a means of increasing the social division of
labour. Empirically it is difficult to identify the specific contribution of
migration, if only because the development of the social and detailed division of
labour was ruled out under systems of production based on bonded labour, labour
services, and peasant households. In the latter cases any but the simplest forms
of the social division of labour were impractical or impossible to organise,
especially as specialisation was practically precluded. Migration within rural
areas, by increasing the availability of labour, encourages the extension of cul-
tivation, which in turn is associated with mechanisation, and thus higher wage
1M. Lipton: "Migration from rural areas of poor countries: The impact on
rural productivity and income distribution", paper prepared for IBRD, February 1976,
mimeo; Connell, et al, 1976, op. cit. The hypothesis is scarcely new. Lenin
noted that, during the transition to capitalism in nineteenth century Russia, it
was "mainly the peasants in medium circumstances who are leaving the areas of
emigration and mainly the extreme groups who are remaining at home". Lenin, 1960,
op. cit., pp. 182-83.
2 One should make a distinction between wishing and hoping. Nineteenth
century German peasants wished for a better life (though apparently not much better
than their actual life) but, as they held out little hope of it, were remarkably
passive in the face of traumatic proletarianisation. B. Moore: Injustice: The
Social Bases of Obedience and Revolt (London, Macmillan, 1978). It is the hope
which motivates action, the wish is often a distant relative of it.
- 50 -
rates. The use of machinery and other 'modern' inputs by the larger peasants
and by capitalist farmers, allied with the availability of (cheap) migrant labour
power, further weakens the position of the middle peasantry, who increasingly can-
not compete in the production of cash crops and have to resort to other crops and
items of production that are either not for exchange or are relatively unprofitable.
In agriculture, as in industry, the existence of a source of migrant workers
facilitates technological change if only because local workers used to traditional
methods of production have usually proved resistant to changes in routine and
skill-use, often responding to such changes by systematic reductions in their
"effort bargain". It is also evident that migrant landowners have proved particu-
larly innovative, nowhere more so than in the Indian Punjab where immigrant Sikhs
pioneered the Green Revolution. Such migrants have forced other landlords into
Migration that has contributed to land colonisation, or the establishment of
new areas of agricultural production in which there has been no.tradition of feudal
forms of exploitation, has also contributed to the growth of capitalist relations
of production, as well as mechanisation. Such colonisation schemes deserve to
to be analysed in some detail, as there is some suggestion that some have merely
reproduced traditional land tenure systems that were experiencing stress. How-
ever, colonisation of previously unsettled and unutilised land has been widely
associated with a growing social division of labour. This is especially so where
the settlement of specific areas has only been possible on the basis of the
acquisition from elsewhere of key items of consumption or inputs for production.
In other words, such colonisation can only take place if there is already extensive
commodity circulation, and only if commodity production is able to serve the needs
of those areas in which the migrants settle.
Conversely, as long as the mobility of the peasantry is checked the growth of
production and consumption will be minimal, as a result of such phenomena as soil
erosion, excessive intensity of work effort, deteriorating means of production, and
the restricted division of labour. Migration facilitates specialisation of pro-
duction by transforming consumption in kind into consumption of marketed commodities.
But above all migration out of traditional peasant communities is almost certain to
increase the social division of labour because it is so undeveloped in such com-
munities, comprised as they are of isolated, household units .of production, mainly
oriented to domestic requirements.
Incidentally, note a difficulty this causes for simple wage-differential
explanations of rural-urban migration. Mechanisation may well lead to higher
rural wage rates and even annual incomes, but is also likely to result in much
greater seasonality of labour requirements, thus freeing workers for seasonal
migration. Such migration introduces rural workers to urban lifestyles and
enables them to search for long-term wage jobs in urban areas. The opportunity
cost of that search activity would be close to zero.
2S. Barraclough and A. Domike: "Agrarian structure in seven Latin American
countries", in Stavenhagen, 1970, op. cit., p. 72.
- 51 -
The fifth function of migration in the transition to capitalism is to concen-
trate groups of workers with similar skills or part-skills, thus allowing the
development of the detailed division of labour. In practice this means shifting
an increasing proportion of the population to urban-based industries. For in
contrast to pre-capitalist societies capitalist development necessarily involves
increasing urbanisation, or an 'urban bias'.1 There is no need to labour this
point. Suffice it to state that capitalist development relies on the increasing
concentration of labour power to allow the detailed division of labour to develop.
Because of the need for rural-urban migration in the era of capitalist transition,
state policies have commonly been introduced to encourage the movement to urban
areas. In the period of capitalist transition in Britain, for example, there was
a need to increase the mobility of the rural population. In the early nineteenth
century that was restricted by the so-called Speenhamland system of poor relief,
which maintained a labour reserve of impoverished workers in villages, restraining
their movement to the new industrial towns. Consequently, it was replaced by the
Poor Law of 1834, which encouraged rural-urban migration by creating a free labour
market. It was designed to make life so intolerable for the rural paupers as to
force them to migrate to any job on offer; the result was a great increase in
rural-urban migration.2 In this case, and subsequently in many other countries,
migration became the main factor in the growth of urbanisation.
The sixth role of migration would be extremely hard to identify statistically.
Migration stimulates the development of capitalism through its effects on the
aspirations and habits of workers and their families.3 In various ways migrants
have been agents of change, stimulating the "taste" for commodities produced by
capitalist industry. As such migration has been a way by which social tastes have
1 Some developmentalists have tried to trace underdevelopment to 'urban bias'
rather than depicting urbanisation as a corollary of capitalist development. The
theme of urban bias has been trumpeted with much vigour but with little rigour by
Michael Lipton. His magnus opus deploys an interesting methodological technique.
It consists of assertion, supported by statements claiming that the assertion will
be 'empirically supported later', followed by reiteration, followed by deductions
from assertions "that were shown earlier". For the purity of the original, see
M. Lipton: Why Poor People Stay Poor: A Study of Urban Bias in World Development
(London, Temple Smith, 1977). Lipton's thesis is that the real conflict in low-
income countries is between the urban classes and the rural classes rather than
between such relatively well-defined class groupings of peasants and landlords, and
workers and capitalist employers.
2 E.J. Hobsbawm: The Age of Revolution: 1789-1848 (London, Abacus, 1977),
p. 188. Anderson considered that the 1834 Poor Law was the benchmark that estab-
lished free wage labour and thus the dominance of the capitalist mode of production.
P. Anderson: Lineages of the Absolutist State (London, New Left Books, 1974).
This theme was the core of Polanyi's much earlier study. K. Polanyi: The Great
Transformation (Boston, Beacon Press, 1963, originally published in 1944).
Interestingly Polanyi concluded that it was the extension of the Speenhamland
system to the towns that brought it down (pp. 282-3).
3This was a theme stressed by Lenin in the context of the development of a
home market in Russia. Lenin, 1960, op. cit., pp. 576-78.
- 52 -
been homogenised, and in allowing patterns of consumption to become standardised
have benefited the mass-production routines of large-scale industry. Moreover,
as long as there is a reasonable chance of realising them, in so far as aspirations
for 'modern' commodities are raised workers become more prepared to act as a disci-
plined proletariat in the quest for the means to satisfy those aspirations and
needs.1 This function of migration should not be stressed unduly, for clearly
there are other means by which such "commodity aspirations" are stimulated,
notably by the actual creation of a domestic market for commodity exchange.
Nevertheless, population mobility has undoubtedly been a contributory factor in
The seventh role of migration is probably the most important, and is certainly
the one most widely discussed. Migrants represent a major component, perhaps the
most important component, of the industrial labour reserve. The growth of a sur-
plus population is a necessary condition for the development of industrial capi-
talism and can be considered in the complementary contexts of the short-run and the
long-run supply of labour.
In the short-run analysis, the existence of a relative surplus population has
three functions to hold down wage rates, to provide a pool of workers who can be
shifted into new occupations and new areas of industrial growth without disruption
to over-all production, and to act as a disciplinary element contributing to the
growth of proletarianisation. As far as the last function is concerned, the
existence of unemployment allows the intensification of labour because of the threat
of the unemployed to the job-security of the employed and thus unemployment could
be said to increase labour supply!
In the long-run analysis, the generation of a relative surplus population is
in part an outcome of (primary) capital accumulation, to the extent that the
accumulation increases the demand for labour which, by raising incomes, tends to
stimulate population growth. The consequent increase in the dependent population
provides added pressure on the wage labour force to work with greater effort, for
longer, and more efficiently. It is this phenomenon which allows the integration
Recognising this phenomenon does not imply any sympathy with such ideo-
logically unsavoury modernisationn' theories as propounded by Redfield, Parsons,
SMcClelland, Rostow, et al. The gist of those theories is that people and
countries are poor because of attitudinal obstacles to modernisation. For those
scholars who adhere to such views the movement to an urban environment leads to
the substitution of "attitudinal modernity" for traditional, ascriptive, non-
achievement-oriented values. To explain poverty in this way on the basis of
individual values requires a great stretch of ideological imagination and a liberal
dose of condescension. Similar objections can be levelled against the related
"cultural contact" explanations of economic change.
- 53 -
of the short-run and long-run analyses of the relationship of the relative surplus
population to labour supply.
Given these roles in the development of industrial capitalism the labour
reserve can be divided into three categories the "floating", "stagnant", and
"latent" components of the surplus population.2 The stagnant category encompasses
those who are endemically unemployed or discouraged from labour force activity or
at most employed in marginal, low-income jobs. They comprise the lumpenproletariat
that have featured so prominently in periods of transition; often they have con-
sisted of those unable to come to terms with new social relations, or who have been
forced by repeated failure into vagabondage, prostitution, crime, alcoholism, and
a chronic state of anomie. In practice many are part of the surplus population
but scarcely part of the labour reserve.
The floating surplus consists of those who are irregularly employed in indus-
trial wage employment, experiencing spells of unemployment interspersed with
periods of what some observers have described as "occupational multiplicity".
Typically many are seasonal migrants, but in any case the floating surplus popu-
lation represents a mass of workers readily available to replace industrial wage
workers in employment. The job-seeking unemployed fit directly into this group.
The latent surplus is harder to define, but primarily it consists of those
living in rural areas who are potential migrants part of the reserve army but not
part of the active reserve, or those for whom Lewis' perfectly elastic supply of
labour would be most likely to apply and others outside the urban-industrial
labour force such as "housewives", who could be induced to enter it if their labour
power was required.
Migrants fit into all three categories of surplus labour, but particularly in
the latent and floating categories rather than as the major component of the
stagnant surplus. Justifiably, Marx described migrants as "the light infantry of
industrial capital", since they comprise a labour force which can be flexibly
It is hardly necessary to add that the relationship of incomes, employment,
and population is complex, and that we are only concerned with the labour supply
aspects. Incidentally, the argument suggested in the text seems consistent with
Marx's analysis. Thus in Volume III of Capital he concluded, "Prosperity would
have led to more marriages among labourers and reduced the decimation of off-
spring. While implying a real increase in population, this does not signify an
increase in the actual working population. But if affects the relations of the
labourer to capital in the same way as an increase of the number of actually work-
ing labourers would have affected time." K. Marx: Capital, Vol. III, op. cit.,
pp. 254-55. It is clear from the context that "prosperity" implied increased
employment, while an increase of "actually working labourers" meant an increase in
the size of the labour force, where that included the unemployed.
2 Ibid., pp. 640-42.
3This is a classic transitional form of labour. For a brief resume of the
traditional forms in one particular case, see G. Standing: "Labour force partici-
pation in historical perspective: Proletarianisation in Jamaica", Population and
Employment Working Paper No. 50 (Geneva, ILO, 1976).
- 54 -
deployed, available to be shifted to wherever there is a need for labour power to
enable commodity production to expand. Moreover, the existence of a surplus
population in rural areas helps reduce urban-industrial wage rates, whether or not
those concerned have migrated to the urban areas. But of course not only rural-
urban migration is involved; often it is a matter of intra-rural migration in
accordance with seasonal fluctuations in labour requirements. In some cases dis-
possessed peasants have moved to the towns in the wake of changing social relations
of production in agriculture, but have remained part of the rural labour reserve.
Such rural-urban migration could scarcely be explained by reference to relative
incomes. An interesting example is the b6ias-frias in Brazil.1 These constitute
a rural labour force consisting of town-dwellers, highly exploited as seasonal
workers on rural estates and combining that work with casual employment in the
towns at other times of the year. But above all migrants represent a major
source of relatively cheap labour power in urban-industrial areas.
Before discussing the reasons for expecting migrants to be relatively exploit-
able as an industrial proletariat, it must be stated that this expectation is in
stark contrast to the view of some observers who have depicted migrants as a lumpen-
proletariat or 'marginal mass'. Moreover, contrary to the expectations and hopes
of observers such as Franz Fanon, migrants to urban areas have generally proved the
least revolutionary element of the emerging working class. For them the move
itself has been in a personal sense revolutionary; typically they have contrasted
the exploitation of urban wage labourwith its relative freedoms with escape from
a feudal past. Their reference group is the village population they left behind,
not the urban middle class. Thus Perlman showed that in the favelas of Rio de
Janeiro migrants were politically and economically conservative, marginal only in
the sense that they were the most exploitable and exploited segment of the urban
1 For an interesting discussion of a number of studies of the b6ias-frias,
see D. Goodman and M. Redclift: "The b6ias-frias: Rural proletarianisation and
urban marginality in Brazil", International Journal of Urban and Regional Research
Vol. I, No.2, 1977, pp. 248-64. This type of phenomenon exists in Southern
Europe and no doubt in many other countries, but it has been insufficiently con-
sidered in analyses of migration.
2 A. Quijano: "The marginal pole of the economy and the marginalised labour
force", Economy and Society, Vol. 3, No.3, November 1974, pp. 393-428; Frank,
1972, op. cit., inter alia.
SFor Fanon's view, see F. Fanon: The Wretched of the Earth (London,
MacGildoon and Kee, 1965), p. 104. Hobsbawm suggested that rural migrants in
Latin American cities were unlikely to identify with working-class politics but
were likely to follow a populist leader, demonstrating the pervasive influence of
their experience of patronage and personal dependence. E.J. Hobsbawm: "Peasants
and rural migrants in politics", in C. Veliz (ed.): The Politics of Conformity in
Latin America (London, Oxford University Press, 1967), pp. 60-1.
SJ. Perlman: The Myth of Marginality: Urban Poverty and Politics in Rio
de Janeiro (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1976). For a recent global
presentation of somewhat similar arguments, see P. Lloyd: Slums of Hope? Shanty
Towns of the Third World (Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1979).
- 55 -
There are many reasons for expecting migrants to be a highly exploitable and
therefore relatively easily absorbed source of wage labour in urban-industrial
areas. In many cases the wage that it has been necessary to pay migrants to
induce them to work has been below the cost of reproducing labour power,because
they have been isolated individual workers or have continued to rely for part of
their subsistence on their family's production in the rural area from where they
migrated. This pattern has existed in many if not most parts of the world, but
nowhere more so than in Southern Africa. To attempt to depict that process as in
any way unique to Southern Africa would be the height of absurdity; such patterns
of migration have been an integral part of the development of the capitalist mode
of production, enabling industrial capital to realise surplus value through
'superexploitation', just as the migration of workers on a temporary basis may
originate as a means of realising surplus for the feudal class, as still seems to
be the case in parts of Latin America.
Meillassoux was among the first to argue that migrants were 'superexploited', \
in that not only was surplus value transferred but the migrant workers could be
paid less than the cost of reproducing their labour power. The difference
Meillassoux regarded as interest rentete de travail"), the migrant worker being
paid just enough to enable him to survive for the period of wage employment.2
Some have argued that for this to continue the migration must be seasonal or
'circular'.3 But in practice, as long as the migrant worker is insecure and
retains some ties with the rural areas, the actual duration of migration has no
limit. Indeed, the superexploitation could be affected through support-provided
by relatives working in the ubiquitous 'informal sector' (or sectors) in the urban
In either case, whether superexploitation is done at the expense of the
remaining rural population or the urban poor, the process is unstable. In par-
ticular, it will prevent the traditional community from fulfilling its traditional
role of providing social security for the old and sick. It is also unstable
because it means that the systematic withdrawal of rural surplus will tend to lead
to rural stagnation. In that case rural income levels will fall to the point that
H. Wolpe: "Capitalism and cheap labour power in South Africa", Economy and
Society, Vol. 1, No.2, 1972, p. 434; M. Legassick and H. Wolpe: "The Bantustans
and capital accumulation in South Africa", Review of African Political Economy,
No. 7, September-December 1976, pp. 87-102.
2 This subsistence wage he called "salaire d'appoint". C. Meillassoux:
Femmes, greniers et capitaux (Paris, Maspero, 1975).
T.J. Gerold-Scheepers and W.M.J. van Binsbergen: "Marxist and non-
Marxist approaches to migration in tropical Africa", in W.van Binsbergen and
H.A. Meilink (eds.): Migration and the Transformation of Modern African Society:
African Perspectives, 1978, No.1 (Leiden, Afrika-Studiecentrum, 1978), p. 26.
Wolpe, 1972, op. cit.; D. Clarke: "Social security and aged subsistence:
Roots of the predicament in Zimbabwe", South African Labour Bulletin, Vol. 3,
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mass migration to urban areas can be expected despite a lack of employment oppor-
tunities there. Many more of the latent surplus will become part of the active
surplus than can be immediately absorbed. The pool of urban unemployed may well
grow beyond the point of adequately serving as a labour reserve and pose a threat
to the process of capital accumulation. Indeed, arguably that phase in the
growth of industrial capitalism provides the greatest potential for revolution.
But that does not mean migrants themselves will be at the forefront of social
Historically, migrants have been a highly exploitable group because of their
lack of formal integration into urban society. Often they have lacked necessary
work permits or social security cards, and in such circumstances have been in a
pitifully weak bargaining position. For example, many migrants to Rio de Janeiro
in recent years have lacked the social benefits won by urban worker movements in
the 1930's because they have had difficulty in securing work cards for which a
birth certificate is required. In rural areas birth certificates were usually
unknown. Some employers insisted that workers they hired did not have an
appropriate work permit, so that they could avoid having to pay social security
contributions as part of the wage bill.1
In other cases it has been found that employers have taken advantage of
migrants' ignorance and precarious position to hire them as pseudo-apprentices.2
They have been paid either a very low wage or no wage at all, and thus for four or
five years have been expected to receive a subsistence income from urban relatives
and their family in the rural areas.
As many studies have reported, migrants have often been disproportionately
concentrated in the poorly-paid, low-status jobs. Some analysts have contended
that subsequently migrants' income and occupational mobility is such as to neutral-
ise initial differences. Others argue that the nature of a stratified urban
labour force and the role of labour market segmentation make upward mobility an
unlikely event for members of an urban proletariat. But whether or not migrants
do experience occupational and income mobility the fact is that migrants, at least
initially, have taken many of the low-income, low-status jobs.
1 Perlman, 1976, op. cit., p. 158.
2 E. le Bris: "Migration and the decline of a densely populated rural area:
The case of Vo Koutime in South-East Togo", in African Perspectives, 1978, No.l,
p. 122; for a similar phenomenon in Jamaica, see Standing, 1976, op. cit.
SY.L. Yap: "The attraction of cities: A review of the migration literature",
Journal of Development Economics, Vol. 4, 1977, PP. 253-54; H.L. Browning:
"Migrant selectivity and the growth of the large cities in developing societies",
in National Academy of Sciences: Rapid Population Growth: Consequences and Policy
Implications (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins Press, 1971), pp. 291-301.
G. Standing: "Migration, labour force absorption and mobility: Women in
Kingston, Jamaica", Population and Employment Working Paper No. 68 (Geneva, ILO,
1978), especially the appendix.
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In general, migrant workers have had relatively low wage aspirations and
expectations, being forced or resigned to work for lower wages and more intensely
than more 'urbanised' workers. Partly this is attributable to differences in
age, schooling, and family dependents. But it is partly due to the fact that
their perception of relative deprivation is a reflection of incomes and work
intensity in rural areas, whereas urban workers are more inclined to relate their
opportunity incomes to those of the urban middle class. Although.more is
* required, there is some evidence that not only have migrants taken low-income jobs
but have been able to avoid lengthy urban unemployment because of'their low
aspirations and expectations.1 As such, it is highly dubious to assume that the
unemployment rate of urban workers is an effective deterrent to rural-urban mi-
gration. For many jobs urban workers are virtually excluded.
Thus migrants represent an important labour reserve. Their role in holding
down urban wage levels is theoretically strong, even though empirically it is
extremely hard to unravel their full impact. To the extent that migrants are
resigned to work for relatively low wages their existence must tend to reduce the
level of urban wage rates, even making the strong assumption that 'modern
sector' wages are institutionally determined by legislation or collective bargain-
ing. The direct effect is through the supply of labour and their willingness to
take jobs for low wages. But the indirect effect is harder to assess. The
existence of a pool of cheap labour power must have an impact on employers' ability
to maintain low wages and on their moral authority in resisting upward pressures on
wage rates. Moreover those enterprises and sectors in which cheap migrant workers
are employed are likely to grow relative to other sectors to the extent that the
low wages mean a higher rate of surplus value and capital accumulation. That
effect of migration is hard to assess empirically and it appears that studies have
scarcely addressed the question.
VI. Concluding Remarks
There can be little doubt that in one way or another migration is a necessary
condition for the national and global extension of capitalism. Without rural out-
migration, the class differentiation of the peasantry would be slowed, feudal modes
of exploitation would be more likely to persist, the growth of commodity production
would be constrained, and thus primitive accumulation impeded. Without migration
to urban areas, the necessary source of cheap labour power would be insufficient,
traditional "feudal" forms of labour would be prolonged, and the division of labour
undeveloped, all of which would mean the corresponding undevelopment of, capitalist
industrialisation. In short, migration has to be understood in the context of the
1 G. Standing: "Aspiration wages, migration, and urban unemployment",
Journal of Development Studies, Vol. 14, No.2, January 1978, pp. 232-48.
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characteristically uneven development of industrial capital. And it is in that
context that, according to the dictates of capital, the sedentary existence of the
peasantry, once disturbed, is remorselessly swept away. In the process the
essential precondition for feudalism is taken away as well.
But if it is true that history is not on the side of either feudal landlords
or peasants, it is no less true that feudal l6ites throughout the world have
managed to hold up history for a remarkably long time. Their powers of survival
and assimilation to a world dominated by capitalism would have earned the envious
admiration of a King Canute. Perhaps the truth is that in more cases than not
they have avoided being drowned by moving their chairs back as the waves approached.
That most of the landlords themselves have ended up living in towns, benefiting
from the forces of production unleashed by their partial defeat, is one of the mild
ironies of history.