Agrarian socialism is a political ideology that promotes social ownership of agrarian and agricultural production as opposed to private ownership.[1] Agrarian socialism involves equally distributing agricultural land among collectivized peasant villages.[2] Many agrarian socialist movements have tended to be rural (with an emphasis on decentralization and non-state forms of collective ownership), locally focused, and traditional.[2] Governments and political parties seeking agrarian socialist policies have existed throughout the world, in regions including Europe, Asia, North America, Latin America, and Africa.

Examples of agrarian socialist parties in Europe include the Socialist Revolutionary Party (the SRs). The SRs were a prominent agrarian socialist political party in early 20th-century Russia during the Russian Revolution.[3] The SRs garnered much support among Russia's rural peasantry, who in particular supported their program of land socialization as opposed to the Bolshevik program of land nationalization—division of land among peasant tenants rather than collectivization in authoritarian state management.[3]

Examples in Asia include the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from the 1940s to the 1970s, and the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK) in the 1970s. Throughout the mid-20th century, the CCP pursued an agrarian socialist policy agenda in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Inspired by the CCP’s Great Leap Forward, from 1975 to 1979, the CPK and the Khmer Rouge implemented an extreme policy of moving the entire urban population to the countryside to become farmers, which contributed to a famine.

Examples of agrarian socialist parties in North America include the Socialist Party of Oklahoma and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) in Canada. In the United States, the Socialist Party of Oklahoma enjoyed local political significance in the first 20 years of the twentieth century as an agrarian socialist party. In 1944, the CCF formed North America’s first democratic socialist government, in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan.

Examples in Latin America include agrarian socialist movements and sentiments that were developed in 19th-century Mexico by the indigenous Huastecan culture as part of its clash with Spanish imperialism. In the 20th century, examples include the Landless Workers’ Movement of Brazil and the Communist Party of Cuba. Founded in 1984, the Landless Workers’ Movement of Brazil was a socialist movement pursuing land reform in Brazil. Following the Cuban Revolution, the new Communist Party of Cuba pursued agrarian socialist policies, including the Agrarian Reform Law of 1959 and the Agrarian Reform Law of 1963.

Theory and praxis

Agrarian socialism is a political ideology combining principles from agrarianism and socialism.[4] Agrarian socialism pursues the collectivization of rural populations as opposed to agricultural policies that promote capitalistic farming.[4] Agricultural collectivization seeks to contribute to the efficiency and productivity of large-scale farming while mitigating related issues of landlessness or overmigration to urban districts.[4]

Agrarian socialism emphasizes the social control, ownership, and utilization of the means of production (such as farms) in a rural society. Additionally, principles like community, sharing, and local ownership are emphasized under agrarian socialism. For instance, in rural communities in post-Soviet Russia, “social organization of labor in the peasant household is based upon highly dense networks of mutual trust and interdependences” that diminished the need for manager-employee styles of labor.[5] Nationalist ideology can also be seen coupled with agrarian socialist ideology, sometimes serving as the foundation for peasant-led revolutions. For instance, nationalist propaganda from the fledging Chinese communist party during the Sino-Japanese War era “furthered the mobilization of the masses and helped determine the form this mobilization took.”[6]



The Diggers, a 17th-century group of religious and political dissidents in England, are associated with agrarian socialism.[7]

Russian populist tradition and Socialist Revolutionary Party

1917 Socialist–Revolutionary election poster: the caption in red reads партия соц-рев (in Russian), short for "Socialist Revolutionary Party." The banner bears the party's motto В борьбе обретешь ты право свое ("In struggle you take your rights"), and the globe bears the slogan земля и воля ("land and freedom"); they express the party's agrarian socialist ideology.

The Socialist Revolutionary Party was a major political party in early-20th-century Russia and a key player in the Russian Revolution. After the February Revolution of 1917 it shared power with liberal, social democratic, and other socialist parties within the Russian Provisional Government.[8] In November 1917, it won a plurality of the national vote in Russia's first-ever democratic elections (to the Russian Constituent Assembly), but the soviets had gained control of the country, and the Bolsheviks maneuvered and eliminated the other parties within the soviets, including the Socialist Revolutionaries, and seized power. That sparked the Russian Civil War and the subsequent persecution.

The Socialist Revolutionaries' ideology was built upon the philosophical foundation of Russia's narodnik, a populist movement of the 1860s and the 1870s and its worldview developed primarily by Alexander Herzen and Pyotr Lavrov.[9] After a period of decline and marginalization in the 1880s, the narodnik school of thought about social change in Russia was revived and substantially modified by a group of writers and activists known as "neonarodniki" (neo-populists), particularly Viktor Chernov. Their main innovation was a renewed dialogue with Marxism and the integration of some of the key Marxist concepts into their thinking and practice. In that way, with the economic spurt and the industrialization in Russia in the 1890s, they attempted to broaden their appeal to attract the rapidly growing urban workforce to their traditionally peasant-oriented program.

The intention was to widen the concept of the "people" so that it encompassed all elements in the society that were opposed to the Tsarist regime.

The party's program was both socialist and democratic in nature and garnered much support among Russia's rural peasantry, which particularly supported the program of land-socialization, as opposed to the Bolsheviks' program of nationalization of the land. The Socialist Revolutionaries wanted the division of land for the peasant tenants, rather than the Bolsheviks' desire of collectivization in authoritarian state management. The SR policy platform differed from that of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Parties, both Bolshevik and Menshevik, in that it was not officially Marxist though some of its ideologues considered themselves to be Marxists. The SRs believed that the "laboring peasantry" and the industrial proletariat were revolutionary classes in Russia, but the Bolsheviks considered the industrial proletariat to be exclusively revolutionary.

The Socialist Revolutionaries defined class membership in terms of ownership of the means of production, but Chernov and other theorists defined class membership in terms of extraction of surplus value from labor. Under the first definition, smallholding subsistence farmers who do not employ wage labor are, as owners of their land, would be members of the petty bourgeoisie. Under the second definition, they can be grouped with all who provide, rather than purchase, labor power and hence with the proletariat as part of the "laboring class." Chernov, nevertheless, considered the proletariat the "vanguard," with the peasantry forming the "main body" of the revolutionary army.[10]


Chinese Communist Party

In 1950, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) enacted the Agrarian Reform Law, which confiscated the property of feudal landlords and redistributed it to the peasants.[11] The CCP began implementing agricultural collectivization in 1952. From 1952 to 1958, agricultural production grew steadily.[12] Economists then considered Chinese agricultural policy implementation to be a success relative to the Soviet Union's collectivization in 1929.[12] However, China's agricultural output started to decrease significantly for three years in a row in 1959.[12] The agricultural crisis led to 30 million deaths by the famine.[12]

The specific cause of the agricultural crisis and resultant famine is debated, yet many sources attribute it to the Great Leap Forward.[12][13][14][15] From 1958 to 1962, the Chinese Communist Party orchestrated a socioeconomic campaign, referred to as the Great Leap Forward, to rapidly develop the nation’s agricultural and industrial economies.[13]

Communist Party of Kampuchea

Once the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK) came to power in Cambodia in 1975, the government commenced the implementation of agrarian socialist policies in the nation’s agricultural sector.[16] The leadership outlined a policy agenda that included the establishment of agricultural cooperatives and collectivization.[16] It referred to these policy priorities as the plan to realize a "Super Great Leap Forward" to an agrarian-socialist polity that was linguistically and ideologically inspired by Mao Zedong's Great Leap Forward in China.[16][17] An emphasis on autarkic independence and self-reliance characterized the plan.[18] To achieve complete autarky, CPK leadership asserted that the revolution would be sustained by agriculture, rice production in particular.[18] The leadership sought to triple Cambodian rice production within a year.[19] It evacuated urban residents en masse to rural agriculture-zones, which led to a large supply of agricultural labor.[20] The agricultural reform policies coincided with a period of mass starvation and famine from 1975 to 1979.[18]

The Cambodian Super Great Leap Forward differed from the Chinese Great Leap Forward in several key ways.[17] The Chinese communes were intended to decentralize state power, but in Cambodia, all facets of labor and production on the communes were controlled by the state.[17] Additionally, Cambodian policy held an underlying sentiment of anti-industrial and anti-urban ideology.[17] Furthermore, urban centers managed to mitigate the total collapse of China’s rural economy, but rural Cambodia did not have any urban centers from which to receive aid.[17]

Dr. Kate Frieson, a researcher and policy analyst at Royal Roads University, considers those conditions to have led to the collapse of Cambodia’s agricultural economy and to the resultant famine.[17]

North America

Socialist Party of Oklahoma

Relative to socialist parties elsewhere in the United States, the Socialist Party of Oklahoma enjoyed political significance in the first 20 years of the twentieth century.[21] The party’s electoral prominence peaked in the elections of 1914, when over 175 socialist candidates were elected to local and county positions, and six were elected to the Oklahoma state legislature.[21] In the gubernatorial elections, socialist candidate Fred W. Holt received over 20 percent of the statewide vote.[22] Virtually all of the Socialist Party’s support derived from wheat-growing regions, and significant support came from farmers.[21]

As a semi-autonomous affiliate of the Socialist Party of America (SPA), the Socialist Party of Oklahoma possessed a uniquely agrarian socialist agenda in contrast to other branches of the SPA.[23] Many party leaders originated from prior agrarian movements, including the Farmers' Alliance and the Farmers' Union.[23] The Socialist Party of Oklahoma advocated for agricultural collectivization and worker-owned farms and against the crop lien system, usury, and tenancy.[23]

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation

The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) was a democratic socialist political party founded in 1932 in Alberta, Canada, by a merger of socialist, agrarian, and labor organizations.[24] The CCF held the realization of socialism as an explicit political goal.[25]

Saskatchewan was primarily a rural and agricultural province throughout much of the twentieth century, with 58 percent of the labor force employed in agriculture in 1941.[26] In 1944, the CCF formed North America’s first democratic socialist government in an unprecedented electoral victory. CCF leadership soon implemented universal Medicare in Saskatchewan.[25] Following this victory, the CCF government remained in power for twenty years.[25]

Latin America

Landless Rural Workers' Movement of Brazil

Founded in January of 1984, the Landless Rural Workers' Movement of Brazil, was a socialist movement looking to challenge the status quo and promote the rights of labor over capital. Getting their start from the land gifted to them by the Catholic and Lutheran churches, members of this movement's first priority was to attain permanence on their settled land. Once settled, various MST branches were legitimized under the “social function” component of the Republic of Brazil’s constitution, meaning that their contributions to society were recognized by the government. Next, the MST looked for a way to promote their socialist values. The answer came in the form of collectivization, taking inspiration from cooperatives found in Cuba. One MST leader stated “Only agricultural cooperation would allow settlements to best develop their production, introduce the division of labor, allow access to credit and new technologies…”.[27] However, they did not find immediate success as the rationalization of labor in these settlements sparked a great deal of tension between members.  Factors such as the inability to become profitable and the paralleled behaviors between landlords and administrators of the cooperatives stagnated the progress of the MST. However, a reevaluation of the MST’s ideals helped them refocus their struggle. First was the reintroduction of Campones tradition which placed the good of the family or community at center of decisions made on the farms. They also substituted large-scale production and rationalization of labor for subsistence farming which allowed for a less rigid organization of labor. The MST also partook in communal living, another significant element of Campones culture that encouraged families on the same cooperatives to live closely with one another. Finally, money earned by the cooperative was reinvested into the settlement to help sustain their farming technology, healthcare, and educational facilities amongst other things. The success of this rebrand created a number of opportunities for the MST. For example, in 1992 the Confederation of Agrarian Reform Cooperatives of Brazil provided the organization with support on a national level for things like education, technical training, and organizational support. The following year the MST established its first cooperative training course which became a part of the Technical Institute of Training and Research on Agrarian Reform. Furthermore, by 2008 “the MST had helped establish 161 cooperatives of various kinds, including 140 agro-industries”.[27] Additionally, the MST collaborated with the Brazilian government to create economic stability in their settlements through the Food Acquisition Program, which requires 30% of milk served to Brazilian public Schools to be bought from agrarian reform settlements.


Leading up to the July 26 Revolution, both the Cuban government and Cuban citizens, especially those involved with agriculture, were heavily discontent with the sugar trade. Under this capitalist system, American enterprises claimed land previously belonging to small farmers for their own agricultural monopolies. Poverty, unemployment, and illiteracy grew tenfold, but Cubans did not have the means to stop it without causing severe harm to their economy.

However, the success of the revolution resulted in a resurgence of peasant-favoring and socialist ideals in Cuba. That was part of the anti-imperial and anti-colonial campaign promoted by the newly-established Republic of Cuba. Under this new government, both the Agrarian Reform Law of 1959 and the Agrarian Reform Law of 1963 were enacted. These laws acted as a catalyst for social and economic reform as they allowed for land to be redistributed amongst thousands of peasants and abolished foreign ownership of rural lands. Previously corporate-owned farms were soon turned over to small family farmers or obtained by the state for their own mass food production purposes. Cooperative farms were another product from that period of reform, which allowed small farms to group together. That strengthened the voice and power of the agricultural population in Cuba when it came to the political sphere. The cooperatives were also highly effective, with over 75% becoming profitable in 1990, compared to 27% of state-owned farms claiming the same profitability.[25]

As time progressed, more land was given to small farmers with state-sponsored farms in Cuba occupying 82% of cultivated land in 1988, but only 19.9% of cultivated land 2018.[25]

Huasteco agrarian socialism

Indigenous Huastecan culture positioned community and local ownership above all else. Sharing resources and farming for the entire village was a normal occurrence in daily life. Spanish colonization and continued imperialization from other countries made that way of life fall under great duress. Huastecos lost the rights to their land and faced a caste system in which they were placed at the bottom. In the 19th century, creole and mestizo Mexican elites oppressed Huastecans by expropriating their land and privatizing it for their own political goals, which included building railroads and other capital-accumulating developments. The process of socialist radicalization for Huastecan peasants largely came from nationalist sentiments that arose after armed conflicts.

After fighting in the Mexican War of Independence and against the U.S. and the French during their respective invasions, the Huastecans developed a sense of identity as Mexican citizens. They further developed another facet of their identity from the oppression they faced from other Mexicans. A combination of radicalization efforts by anarchists from Mexico City and Socialist priests, for instance, Padre Mauricio Zavala, and oppression from the creole and mestizo elite helped Huasteacans develop their peasant class consciousness. Their national and class identities fused together creating the spirit of rebellion based on the principles of abolishing private property, reclaiming land rights, obtaining access to government representation, and other civil liberties. The Huasteco people spread their ideology using pamphlets, books, and flags. The final root of the peasant revolution of 1879 occurred in 1876, when General Porfirio Diaz enlisted the help of peasants to overthrow the current president Sebastian Lerdo de Tejada in exchange for the return of peasant land rights.

However, he betrayed them by choosing to implement liberal reforms, which strengthened private property laws and further persecuted Huastecans instead. Other peasant groups, for instance, the Morelo people of Mexico experienced the same fate as the Huastecans under the dictatorship rule of Diaz. The peasant groups combined their strengths and began a new socialist revolution that would abolish “any new revolutionary government that failed to address the needs of Mexico’s impoverished and politically excluded rural population…”.[28]

See also



  1. ^ Lofchie, Michael F. "Review: Agrarian Socialism in the Third World: The Tanzanian Case ." Comparative Politics 8.3 (1976): 479-99. Web. JSTOR 421410
  2. ^ a b Saka, Mark Saad (2013). For God and revolution : priest, peasant, and agrarian socialism in the Mexican Huasteca. Albuquerque. ISBN 978-0-8263-5339-9 OCLC 854583739.
  3. ^ a b Macfarlane, Leslie J. (1998), "From Russian Socialism to Soviet Communism", Socialism, Social Ownership and Social Justice, Palgrave Macmillan UK, pp. 142–174, doi:10.1007/978-1-349-26987-7_9, ISBN 978-1-349-26989-1
  4. ^ a b c Lofchie, Michael F. "Review: Agrarian Socialism in the Third World: The Tanzanian Case ." Comparative Politics 8.3 (1976): 479-99. Web. JSTOR 421410.
  5. ^ O'Brien, David J.; Wegren, Stephen K.; Patsiorkovski, Valeri V. (2004-04-03). "Contemporary Rural Responses to Reform from Above". Russian Review. 63 (2): 256–276. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9434.2004.00316.x. ISSN 0036-0341 – via Wiley Online Library.
  6. ^ Johnson, Chalmers A. (2021-11-25). Peasant Nationalism and Communist Power. Stanford University Press. doi:10.1515/9781503620582 ISBN 978-1-5036-2058-2 S2CID 244717495
  7. ^ Campbell, Heather M (2009), The Britannica Guide to Political Science and Social Movements That Changed the Modern World, The Rosen Publishing Group, 2009, pp. 127–129. ISBN 978-1-61530-062-4
  8. ^ Badcock, Sarah (2001). "'We're for the Muzhiks' Party!' Peasant Support for the Socialist Revolutionary Party during 1917". Europe-Asia Studies. 53 (1): 133–149. doi:10.1080/09668130124440. JSTOR 826242. S2CID 153536229.
  9. ^ Macfarlane, Leslie J. (1998), "From Russian Socialism to Soviet Communism", Socialism, Social Ownership and Social Justice, Palgrave Macmillan UK, pp. 142–174, doi:10.1007/978-1-349-26987-7_9, ISBN 978-1-349-26989-1
  10. ^ Hildermeier, M., Die Sozialrevolutionäre Partei Russlands. Cologne 1978.
  11. ^ Ganguli, B. N. (1953). "An Analysis of New China's Agrarian Reform Law". Indian Economic Review. 1 (3): 14–32. ISSN 0019-4670. JSTOR 45149657.
  12. ^ a b c d e Lin, Justin Yifu (1990). "Collectivization and China's Agricultural Crisis in 1959-1961". Journal of Political Economy. 98 (6): 1228–1252. doi:10.1086/261732. ISSN 0022-3808. JSTOR 2937756. S2CID 154544362.
  13. ^ a b Smil V. (1999). China's great famine: 40 years later. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 319(7225), 1619–1621. doi:10.1136/bmj.319.7225.1619
  14. ^ "China's Great Leap Forward". Retrieved 2023-04-25.
  15. ^ "China's Great Leap Forward". Association for Asian Studies. Retrieved 2023-04-25.
  16. ^ a b c "Khmer Rouge History | Cambodia Tribunal Monitor". Retrieved 2023-04-25.
  17. ^ a b c d e f Frieson, Kate (1988). "The Political Nature of Democratic Kampuchea". Pacific Affairs. 61 (3): 405–427. doi:10.2307/2760458. ISSN 0030-851X. JSTOR 2760458.
  18. ^ a b c Defalco, Randle C. (2014). "Justice and Starvation in Cambodia: The Khmer Rouge Famine" The Cambodia Law and Policy Journal. 3. Web.,Rouge%20military%20with%20precious%20rice.
  19. ^ Fletcher, Dan (17 February 2009). The Khmer Rouge. Time. Archived from the original on 21 February 2009. Retrieved 30 July 2019.
  20. ^ Kiernan, Ben (2004). How Pol Pot Came to Power: Colonialism, Nationalism, and Communism in Cambodia, 1930–1975. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-10262-8
  21. ^ a b c Bisset, Jim. "Socialist Party". The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture | Oklahoma Historical Society. Retrieved 2023-04-25.
  22. ^ "1914-1916 results" (PDF). Oklahoma State Election Board. Archived (PDF) from the original on February 5, 2022.
  23. ^ a b c Bissett, Jim. Agrarian Socialism in America : Marx, Jefferson, and Jesus in the Oklahoma Countryside, 1904-1920. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1999.
  24. ^ Alvin Finkel (1997). Our Lives: Canada After 1945. James Lorimer & Company. p. 5. ISBN 978-1-55028-551-2 Retrieved 20 August 2012.
  25. ^ a b c d e Lipset, S. M. Agrarian Socialism: The Cooperative Commonwealth Federation in Saskatchewan. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1950. Print.
  26. ^ MARIER, P. (2013). A Swedish Welfare State in North America? The Creation and Expansion of the Saskatchewan Welfare State, 1944-1982. Journal of Policy History : JPH, 25(4), 614-637. doi:10.1017/S0898030613000328
  27. ^ a b Diniz, Aldiva Sales; Gilbert, Bruce (2013-07-04). "Socialist Values and Cooperation in Brazil's Landless Rural Workers' Movement". Latin American Perspectives. 40 (4): 19–34. doi:10.1177/0094582X13484290. S2CID 143810405 – via JSTOR.
  28. ^ Hart, Paul (2005). Bitter Harvest: The Social Transformation of Morelos, Mexico, and the Origins of the Zapatista Revolution, 1840-1910. Albuquerque, New Mexico: University of New Mexico Press. pp. 1–5. ISBN 978-0-8263-3663-7.


Further reading