The Restoration of the Peasantries

With especial reference to that of India

by G.T. Wrench

Chapter 9

The Restoration of the Peasants

IN the last chapter we found that many features of the village system still survived in parts of India, in a weakened condition it is true but not beyond restoration. They were the joint family system; the panchyat; the village control of education, of poor relief, sanitation, watch and ward, justice; ryot ownership of the land; payment of taxes in kind; and forms of co-operation. On the other hand, the money system of the peasants of British India had been suppressed, and the central money system, with its urban thinking in terms of money in place of the agricultural thinking in terms of goods, established.

We also reviewed the restoration of family farming in Denmark, brought about by self-directed education, intensive farming, local self-government, co-operation, and political power, in accordance with the numbers of farming families, in a government which regards agriculture as the soul, the foundation of the kingdom and strives to make trade the servant of agriculture and home industry.

We have then to express the welfare of the peasants in terms of goods. The peasants' products are their wealth, that which brings them their "weal" or welfare. The primary step in the restoration of the peasants is, therefore, the strengthening of their products. Their products depend upon the soil; therefore the primary strengthening of the peasants lies in the preservation of the soil itself against erosion and exhaustion.

The prevention of erosion locally can be substantially carried out by peasants themselves. The Chinese peasants, in particular, have proved themselves masters in local control work. Accounts of methods of local control usable by peasants can be found in official pamphlets published upon a subject which has in recent years aroused alarm in many governments. Mr. A. F. Gustafson describes them fully in his recent manual on the Conservation of the Soil, 1937.

But the combating and prevention of erosion on a general scale is beyond the resources of the peasants. It requires a large-scale, technically trained organization. India, at present, is but meagrely armed for large-scale prevention of erosion.

Of the United States an official map, published in 1937, shows the major part of its land as being more or less eroded. There is now a huge organization, called the Soil Conservation Service, under the Department of Agriculture. The Service maintains centres for the control of erosion in all the chief agricultural regions; a network of demonstration areas extending into forty-three States; nurseries for the propagation of erosion-control plants; survey work relating to the nature and extent of erosion, and its effect upon the silting up of rivers, of ordinary reservoirs, of reservoirs for hydraulic power stations, upon floods and similar related physical and economic effects of erosion.

Allied to this service is the Forest Service, which administers the national forests and co-operates with the States and with the private owners (Jacks and Whyte).

"Japan," write the same authorities, "offers an example of a country with highly erodible soils and topography and torrential rainfall, where erosion is effectively held in check by methods adopted regardless of cost and from a realization that the alternative to their adoption would be national disaster."

Skilled agriculture can do much to control erosion locally. Of this the Chinese are the historical examples. Their methods are strong because they are whole. They include not only the embankment of local rivers, the tendance of canals, the terraced cultivation of hilly slopes, the levelling of fields, the regulated supply of water to terraced and levelled fields by irrigation, but also the soundest preservation of the fertility of the soil that has been and is practised by any farmers in the world. These many practices are in no way confined to them, but they are the people of greatest number and endurance, who have followed them and thereby earned Mr. Thorp's assertion from the National Geological Survey of China, 1936, that they "have probably done more erosion control work than any other people in the entire world."

Professor F. H. King, from whose book Farmers of Forty Centuries I have already quoted, was the first and remains the chief western authority upon Chinese agriculture. It is to its aspect in preserving the fertility of the soil that I shall here apply myself.

The first principle of the Chinese preservation of the fertility of the soil is that all that which has taken its life from the soil must, after use, be returned to the soil. It is the principle of the forest and prairie where nothing is wasted, for all is returned.

The Chinese take all that has once had life from the soil and make it into soil food or compost and return it to the soil. King describes a number of different processes of preparing compost, which he saw in different parts of China. One he witnessed being carried out in compost pits at the edge of a canal, a process entailing "tremendous labour of body and amount of forethought." Four months before his visit, men had brought stable waste from Shanghai, a distance of fifteen miles by water. This they had deposited upon the bank of the canal between layers of thin mud dipped from the canal bottom, mud composed of silt and decayed vegetable matter from the hills and fields. The eight men at King's visit had nearly filled the compost pit with stable refuse and canal silt. The pit was in a field, in which clover, with its peculiar power of taking the soil food, nitrogen, from the air, was in blossom. This clover was later to be cut and piled to a height of five to eight feet upon the compost in the pit, and also saturated with layer by layer of canal mud. It would then be left to ferment, until the juices set free had been absorbed by the winter compost underneath. Meanwhile the adjacent land was being made ready for the coming crop. The compost would finally be spread by the men over the field.

Elsewhere, King saw a compost pit within a village, in which had been placed all the manure and waste of the households and streets, all stubble and waste roughage of the fields, all ashes not to be directly applied to the land, mixed up with some soil. All fibres of organic matter were broken down by working and reworking, with frequent additions of water and stirring for aeration. Finally the mixture became a rich fertiliser. It was then spread out to dry, mixed with further soil and ashes, repeatedly stirred and turned for aeration and finally pulverised before being spread upon the land.

Every foot of land, says King, is made to provide food, fuel, or fabric. "The wastes of the body, of fuel and fabric, are taken back to the field; before doing so they are housed against waste from weather, intelligently compounded and patiently worked at through one, three, or even six months, in order to bring them into the most efficient form to serve as manure or as feed for the crop."

There is no human waste. "While the ultra-civilized Western elaborates destructors for burning garbage at a financial loss and turns sewage into the sea, the Chinaman uses both for manure," reported Dr. Arthur Stanley, Health Officer at Shanghai, in 1899, and quoted by King: "He wastes nothing while the sacred duty of agriculture is uppermost in his mind. And in reality recent bacterial work has shown that faecal matter and house refuse are best destroyed by returning them to the clean soil, where natural purification takes place. The question of destroying garbage can, I think, under present conditions in Shanghai, be answered in a decided negative; while, to adopt the water-carriage system for sewage and turn it into the river would be an act of sanitary suicide."

No elements of life are wasted, but are returned to the eternal wheel of life. They are in a constant state of transition, in which in certain combinations they receive a temporary individuality, which is itself a stage in the transition. The spirit of life is continuous. In this conception, I feel, there is the thought of the Hindu scriptures, and, to illustrate this, I here permit myself to touch upon the sacred doctrine of Brahma. The soul of man and the universal soul of Brahma are one. Brahma is the all which is within everything that is apparently personal, separate, individual. Man's life appears ordinarily personal, separate, individual. It is by chaining his life to the individual that he shuts himself from Brahma and remains confined to the individual. The teaching of the Upanishads is that of the method of his liberation. For this, knowledge is the principal means, the knowledge that is gained by perception and meditation. By perception he acquires a knowledge of external objects, which appear to him as static, individual facts of existence. By meditation, with the mind isolated by quietude, he comes to realize that they are not separate entities, but in a continuous state of transition. The vegetable, for example, becomes animal, the vegetable and animal become soil, the soil becomes vegetable again. Even so solid and definite an entity as a surface rock is in a state of transition and its temporary entity powders to soil as the result of cause and effect. All things and individuals as such are similarly transitional results of cause and effect. So through meditation, the individual, the personal, the particular lose their individuality, their personality, their particularity, and the qualities which are similar in all things, such as their transitory manifestations of an all-pervading Brahma, become realized.

As the result of their adherence to the principle of the transition of the elements of life, the Chinese farmers have preserved for forty centuries the full fertility of their soil. Theirs has been the practical exemplification of the Hindu doctrine. No other people can make an equal claim. King calculated a maintenance of 1,783 people upon a square mile of farmed lands in strictly rural conditions in China compared to 61 per square mile of improved farm lands in his own country of the United States in the year 1900. The soil is preserved by being able to support a more or less continuous cover of crops, sheltering it from erosion due to rain, sun, and wind. The fullness of perfect feeding gives the fulness of perfect return from the soil. How closely the ground itself may be crowded with plants, King shows in a photograph of a Japanese "peach orchard, whose tree-tops were six feet through, planted in rows 22 feet apart, had also ten rows of cabbages, two rows of large windsor beans and a row of garden peas. Thirteen rows of vegetables in 22 feet, all luxuriant and strong!"

I have claimed that the perception and philosophic thought of the rule of return is inherent in the Hindu belief. But in India at the present day the rule of return, with its labour and science, is not followed. Yet, looking back to the time of Hindu independence, two writers testify to an age, in which one may conceive that the rule was followed as a part of a far higher form of agriculture than has existed since.

Professor Radharaman Gangopadyay in Agriculture and Agriculturists in Ancient India, 1932, writes: "The extinction of the later Guptas is synchronous with the beginning of India's degradation. Agriculture suffered and came to be relegated to the lowest strata of the population. In India it is no longer a matter of expert knowledge. The ancient agricultural formulas are now buried in Sanskrit books, which are neither available nor understandable by the illiterate agriculturists of to-day." Only a few formulas reach the peasants by means of the popular maxims of Khana.

Professor Rao Bahadur K. V. Ramswami Aiyanger, in his Aspects of Ancient Indian Economic Thought, 1934, writes of the high degree to which agriculture reached according to the writings of the sages Kautilya and Sukra and the Smriti literature: "Such matters as irrigation by rain, rivers, channels, tanks and mechanical agencies, agricultural drainage, the use of fertilizers, the rotation of crops, the adjustment of crops to soil and the modification of crops to suit soils, the relative benefits of intensive and extensive cultivation, the value of even inferior land in the vicinity of centres of population, the relative advantages of large and small scale farming according to the crops cultivated, the prevention, correction and eradication of the numerous risks or blights to which agriculture is liable, such as excessive rain, hail, drought, ravages of field mice, locusts and insect pests, antelopes, wild pigs and birds, the wisdom of carefully selected seed grain, the interdependence of agriculture and cattle farming, the value of forest conservation and game preservation to the agriculturist, the use of fallow, the beneficial effects of opening up communications, the evils of fragmentation of holdings and the substitution of non-agricultural classes as owners of land, are all clearly understood."

With such a wealth of knowledge in their acknowledged authorities it is clear that ancient Hindu agriculture reached a high grade, and might have retained it had the barriers of the Himalaya and the Hindu Kush shut out the invaders.

The rule of returning all that took life from the soil to the soil after use is not given in the Professor's list. If followed, the Hindu agriculture, free from the continuous effect of conquerors, might well have pursued the same path as that of the Chinese. If not followed, its omission may account for the superior history of the Chinese and their more tenacious and spirited attitude to their invaders and conquerors.

For national health and spirit depend upon agriculture and the food it produces, so largely indeed that the differing histories of the two peoples in their relation to the invaders, who were driven by the infertility of the Central Asiatic belt across great mountain barriers, may well be in part due to the difference in the character and quality of the foods their respective agricultures produced.

Whether the ancient agriculturists of India used human excreta in their compost on the same wide scale and with the same meticulous care is also a question that has not been answered as far as I can ascertain. Human excreta are sometimes, but far from generally, used to-day. Sir Albert Howard and Mr. Y. D. Wad, in The Waste Products o f Agriculture, 1931, state that night-soil is used to a limited extent as manure. Mr. F. K. Jackson and Mr. Y. D. Wad in the Indian Medical Gazette of February, 1934, write that, though composting of night-soil is in no way general in India, it is used in some areas. In the same number of the Indian Medical Gazette, in an article entitled "Organic Manure from Street Refuse and Night-soil at Mysore City," Mr. J. J. Mieldazis, Sanitary Engineer, writes: "The manurial value of a mixture of street rubbish and night-soil is recognized to such an extent that agriculturists make periodic trips to the cities for the collection of these ingredients -- garbage is almost unknown -- the agriculturist loads his cart with alternate layers of this heterogenous mass of refuse and night soil -- and carts the mixture to his fields, where it is formed into piles and allowed to decompose for four to six months. When it is sufficiently broken down to an odourless humus mass, it is used as a fertilizer on the fields." He adds a description of how the municipal authorities aid the conservation and collection of rubbish and night-soil and place them at the disposal of the farmers.

Messrs. Jackson and Wad, in their paper, show how they apply the method of composting, founded on the Chinese principles described by Professor King and elaborated by Sir Albert Howard and Mr. Wad at the Institute of Plant Industry, Indore, to the rubbish and night-soil of the city of Indore, the Neemuch Cantonment, Secunderabad Cantonment, Nande, Saparanpur, Sabour, Rewa, Jaipur, Alwa, Bharatpur, Datia, and parts of Ceylon and Bengal.

The Indore compost, commonly made of farm refuse and farm manure, is used on many tea estates of north-eastern India, southern India, Ceylon, on a few sugar cane estates in India, some rice culture in the State of Hyderabad and the delta of the Ganges, on some cotton areas of Sind, the Punjab and the United Provinces, in some estates in Kenya, Tanganyika, Malay, the West Indies, South America, and on general farms in England. Everywhere that it has been adopted the improvement in the quality, increase, and health of the products of the soil has been remarkable. Moreover the health of animals, feeding on the plants grown, has been greatly improved. Disease of both plant and animal has been largely overcome. There is also reason to believe that the same health of the soil is handed on to man, who lives of the soil's products.

The proof of this is to be found pre-eminently in the work of scientists in India. Sir Robert McCarrison, who was appointed Director of Nutrition Research in India at Coonoor in 1927, found from his experiments that rats were disease-free, if, with clean cages, fresh air, sunlight and freedom from alarm, they were given the foods of the Sikhs, who, as Captain Bingley asserts in The Sikhs, 1899, are unrivalled as family cultivators. They were, on the other hand, sick with diseases of the lungs, nose, eyes, ears, heart, stomach, liver, intestines, glands, sexual organs, skin, blood, and nervous system, if they were fed on the foods eaten by the millions of the poor Bengalis and Madrassis, or such foods as the poorer class of the British eat. He was able to classify Indian foods according to the health or ill-health they conferred on rats, which were fed on them. The complete diet, as prepared and eaten by seven different peoples of India, was given to different groups of rats of like age and similar living conditions, and the health conferred on them occurred in the following order: Sikh, Pathan, Mahratta, Goorka, Kanarese, Bengali, Madrassi. This is also well-known to be the order in physique and health, which these seven peoples in India take. The difference between them in these respects seems to lie largely in their food.

Sir Albert Howard held the post of Imperial Economic Botanist to the Government of India, 1905-1924, and that of Director of the Institute of Plant Industry, Indore, 1924-1931. In the first office he was given a farm of 75 acres at Pusa, and there he worked at the problem of why domestic plants and animals get diseases and found the answer in the ill-nourishment of the soil under man's methods of farming. In Indore he continued his success in the improvement of the soil by feeding it on the principles and by the methods of the Chinese farmers, described by Professor King, and finally, with Mr. Wad, evolved the Indore process for the making of compost.

With this compost he maintained a health of the soil of such a high degree that he was able to record that his plants and animals, fed upon its products, were as free from disease as were the rats of Coonoor fed on such foods as is taken by the Sikhs. "At Indore," he reports, "during the seven years I was there, I cannot recall a single case of insect or fungus attack"; and again: "For twenty-one years (1910-1931), I was able to study the reaction of well-fed animals to epidemic diseases such as rinderpest, foot and mouth disease, septicaemia, and so forth, which frequently devastated the countryside. None of my animals were segregated: none were inoculated; they frequently came into contact with diseased stock. No infectious cases of disease occurred. The reward of well-nourished protoplasm was a high degree of disease resistance, which might even be described as immunity."

Further, Sir Robert McCarrison, in the early years of his service, had under his professional charge the Hunza people of the Gilgit Agency. Shut in a deep valley set between the greatest mountain ranges of the world, the Hunza people have been singularly isolated from the effects of modern civilization. They have for centuries carried out an agriculture, in which they return to the soil that which has taken life from the soil with the same meticulous care which the Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese have observed. As regards erosion, the Hunza have made themselves definitely the superior of the Chinese. By gigantic labour, comparable, on its very limited scale, to that of the ancient people of Peru, they have ensured their fields against erosion. Here, then, if anywhere, should be the proof that a healthy soil and healthy agriculture produce a healthy people. The result does not belie the anticipation. Of the Hunza people Sir Robert writes: "These people, are unsurpassed by any Indian race in perfection of physique; they are long-lived, vigorous in youth and age, capable of great endurance, and enjoy a remarkable freedom of disease in general."

The conclusion from this work in India is incontrovertible; it is that the health of man, animals, and plants depend upon that of the soil, and that of the soil upon the continuous and meticulous work and wisdom of the cultivators. The healthily-fed soil transfers health to the plant, the plant transfers health to animal and man, and man, by his wise agriculture, transfers it back to the soil. This is the Wheel of Health, and its attainment is within the reach of all peasant holders and cultivators.

[For a full exposition of this vital subject, see The Wheel of Health, by the present author (The C. W. Daniel Co. Ltd.).]

Healthy life and vigour, then, depend upon healthy agriculture. The decadence of western civilization lies, as I have shown, at the very roots of life. Healthy agriculture has been neglected, peasants have been uprooted, and the soil treated as a source of money rather than as a source of healthy crops. Viscount Lymington, himself a practising farmer, in his powerful book, Starvation in England, 1938, speaks of "the dismal picture of our own agriculture which is parallel to the agriculture of all non-peasant countries, and in a lesser degree to peasant countries, which have to exploit their land to pay rates and taxes"; and concludes: "We must return to peasant farming and more individual care in farming." Lord Ernle was no less a champion of peasant ownership. "If the attractions of towns are to be counteracted, and agricultural labourers lifted from apathy and hopelessness to contentment and activity, a reality, a purpose must be given to village life. Probably this can only be done effectively by giving labourers ready access to the land, and access as owners. Tenancies may to a certain extent produce similar results. They may stimulate pride in work, provide variety of interest, offer scope for ambition. But the incentive of ownership is incomparably the stronger ... It is only by ownership that the atmosphere can be re-created in which the peasant became part of the land and the land part of him."

What "the attractions of the towns" are to the dispossessed ryots may be read in the Report of the Royal Commission on Labour in India of 1929. They are as damnable, in many respects, as they were in English manufacturing and industrial towns in the early part of the nineteenth century. There is a time-gap here also between two tragic periods of urban labour. With that time-gap, however, this work is not concerned.

It is concerned with the peasants of India, and, by inference, those of other countries, remaining part of the land and the land part of them. The very great mass of Indian workers and, with them, the land of India remains agricultural under the remnants of the ryotwari system. The acknowledged greatest sage of present India, Mahatma Gandhi, is the chief advocate of the defence of its essentially deep agricultural peasant character. He it is who sees that the many millions of the peasants and their 700,000 villages cannot be saved by any of the up-to-date specifics which have arisen from urban distress. He realizes that they cannot be preserved or served by the modern urge to get more and more possessions, but that they must adhere to the precepts of simplicity and self-control, which are taught by their traditional religion. He preaches the happiness and contentment which arise from these precepts as dominant ideas. He believes neither in capitalism nor in communism, as being based on the increase of man's numberless wants and differing only in methods of distribution. He believes in something the opposite of these, the foundation of India's life on the restoration of agriculture and the self-government of a strengthened peasantry and village life.

Mr. Gandhi founds his doctrine upon the conflict between the dominant ideas of modern civilization and those of an agriculture founded upon the peasantries. He teaches that the invention of machines and science has been wrongly directed; it has been directed by man's numberless wants and has been based upon a tenet such as that voiced by Professor Roscher: "Every advance in culture made by man finds expression in the number and in the keenness of his rational wants." The inhabitants of western civilization are thereby pressed into a mad speed of making and obtaining more and more material things. Their appetite is not controlled but goaded and stimulated by manufacturers and merchants eager for a large turnover; by finance eager to manufacture loans; newspapers, dependent upon the number of their advertisements; transit, with its seductive and miraculous speed; doctrinaires. The capital of the soil, of the deep earth, and even of the sea, is being ravaged to feed this full-speeded growth of men's desires and appetites. Not only is the soil, the giver of life, being rapidly depleted, but the treasures of the deep earth are being eaten up with amazing avidity. In the leading industrial country, the United States of America, the percentage exhaustion of her iron is 28 per cent, copper 52 per cent, lead 66 per cent, zinc 58 per cent, oil 55 per cent and timber 76 per cent. The figures are taken from Rich Land, Poor Land, 1936, by Mr. S. Chase, a protagonist of the conservation of agriculture in the U.S.A.

Moreover, Mr. Chase states that the leading countries of the world are in want of many raw materials, which have become actual necessities owing to their hugely increased national appetites. The United States is short of rubber and somewhat short of chromite, antimony and tin. She, of all modern countries, is also most rapidly becoming short of fertile soil. Russia is short of rubber, antimony, tin, tungsten, and somewhat short of nickel and aluminium. The British Empire is short of mercury, antimony, potash, and somewhat short of petroleum, sulphur, cotton and phosphates. Germany (1936) is short of petroleum, cotton, aluminium, rubber, manganese, nickel, chromite, tungsten, wool, phosphates, antimony, tin, mercury, mica, and somewhat short of lead, sulphur and zinc; she is only sure of coal, iron, nitrates and potash. France is short of petroleum, copper, zinc, rubber, tungsten, wool, tin, mercury, and somewhat short of lead, sulphur, manganese, phosphate and mica; she is only sure of coal, iron, nitrates, aluminium, nickel, chromite, potash and antimony. Italy is short of everything except iron, lead, nitrates, sulphur, aluminium, zinc and mercury. Japan is short of everything except coal, iron, copper, nitrates, sulphur, chromite, tungsten and mica. The greed of the nations for the raw materials which they lack is enforced upon them by their dominant values. In the welter that ensues and the immediate danger threatened or made actual to undefended peoples, one cannot wonder that certain Indian leaders, eager for independence military and political, feel that realism compels them towards the ruthless but swift industrialization which is being enforced in Russia.

Mr. Gandhi, with other men of vision, stands aghast at the foreboding picture which the world today presents. He has, as has been said, no faith in capitalism, communism, fascism, because they all strive for mastery within the ambit of the same dominant idea. He attacks modern civilization at the very roots. He preaches a change of heart, a change of values, a return to the dominant idea, not of the satisfaction, but of the control of man's "numberless wants." He begins with the providers of the world's food and clothing, the agriculturists, above all the peasants. He makes the village of the peasants the human unit of his reform.

He desires to restore and maintain the ideal of the controlled life, in more popular language the simple life with the human pleasures that arise in a self-governing community. To permit this community to recreate itself in India to-day, he preaches the abolition of untouchability, so that children and adults of the village meet together with unobstructed human fellowship. He wishes the peasants to have cleaner villages and cleaner water supply; to pursue better agriculture and a greater care for the fertility of the soil; an education which is directed to their own pursuits of agriculture and village crafts; the attainment of self-sufficiency in the necessities of a simple and controlled life. Thereby he will restore the village basis and its dominant idea to India, and recreate for her a life of continuity and stable culture, which will preserve her from the chaos that threatens the western world, through surrendering itself to a creed of unlimited wealth in a limited world.

But Mr. Gandhi is not as purely agrarian as were the Danish peasants who produced the agrarian revolution in Denmark. As is well known, he has played a leading part in politics of the most modern kind. Supported by funds from large industrial interests, he organized a revolutionary movement upon the usual lines described in Chapter VI. He clothed the movement, it is true, with Indian emotionalism and intensified it with those profound feelings which are reached through a people's traditional religion, the renouncing by the individual of his worldly position and possessions to increase the force of the soul in attaining a purpose, the power of resistance of the humble brought into being by patient persistence, the avoidance of violence, in brief the three Hindu doctrines of satagraha, dhurna, and ahimsa. But he entirely omitted any historical basis and seemingly any historical understanding, thereby confirming what Spengler pronounces as eminently characteristic of Indian culture, namely "the perfectly ahistoric soul." There is, he points out, no real historical literature in India. So Mr. Gandhi, though realizing, almost as a peasant himself, the needs of the peasant, nevertheless has involved himself in movements and theories -- for he is not averse to aspects of socialism -- that have arisen from industrial conditions, and are not based upon an historical demonstration of the basis of peasant existence.

Nor, as far as I know, has any other Indian leader shown any comprehension of the peasants' position and value in terms of history, which relates them to a definite period and to the stories of peasantries in other lands. Being ahistorical, men belong to their times so confinedly that they can neither create nor understand the creation of such a foreshadowing as that of the restoration of the peasantries. They can only appreciate it when it becomes visible substance in the events of the day in which they themselves live. They await the event, and, as that event first effects those actually in contact with the soil, namely the agriculturists, it is the agriculturists who bring it into visible being, and not the politicians and publicists.

What, then, is the service of the thinkers, what in short is their use? Not much, some may answer, especially those who regard the ascendancy of money and mechanism as a final inevitability, and the lamenting of their ascendancy as romantic and feeble. Here it must be said that this ascendancy has indubitably to be accepted as an inevitability. Money and mechanism are the characters of the civilization in which we live. They have been and are the power of our present day; we ourselves are their offspring; to imagine anything else is a mere attempt to escape from their reality. But a yet greater reality than they is the soil. Historical periods of culture and civilization come and go, but the soil, the producer of life, is lasting. It continues, while they wax and wane. And, if a civilization is such that it degrades the soil, then it is the civilization, and not the soil, that comes to an end.

Such a danger threatens our present civilization. It is from the pivot of that threat that thinkers send their encircling gaze. And, in their review, they see, amongst others, one great period of the ascendancy of money, which passed without the ultimate destruction of a civilization based upon family cultivation of the land, the period of Chinese history beginning, in China itself, with the first Chin Emperor, Chin Chi Huangti (246-202 B.C.) and continuing into the Han dynasty (202 B.C.-A.D. 220), in which the family cultivation was after a long struggle restored. They see that the period of uncontrolled or free individual enterprise upon the land began with the change of values effected by an economic philosopher, Chang Yang (350 B.C.) in the State of Chin, and was ended by the restoration of the older dominant ideas and values under the Han dynasty.

It is with such a change of values, and not with political, social, and economic alterations without any transvaluation of values, that the thinkers are concerned. It is not to the leaders nor to the reformers nor to the revolutionaries of the day that they look for the initiatory visible substance of the change of values to those which include the restoration of the peasantries as a necessary sequel. It is to the men whose lives are spent in intimate union with the soil that they look. These men are facts of being, not abstracts of thought, and it is from amongst them that the action takes its being. The thinkers do but prepare and anticipate the time for the appearance of these men in action; by establishing a change in the sphere of thought they help to create a change of values in the sphere of action. It is not the thinkers' function to direct or control the actions of the men intimate with the soil, but to bring about positions which promote that action. They are not the actors, but by prevision they assist the men of the fields to become actors in the fields of social life or politics as well as those of agriculture. The choice of values is the sphere of the thinkers, that of action the sphere of the agriculturists.

The times, though threatening, are nevertheless not altogether unfavourable towards the restoration of the peasantries. In India, however, it is not in positive re-creative action arising from the peasants themselves, as it arose from the Danish peasants, that anything favourable to their restoration can be found. The chief present propulsive force towards restoration lies, indeed, in the general acknowledgment of the extreme degree of their degradation, which has almost reached the point of extinction, for example, in Bengal, the province of the Permanent Settlement. There the remaining small cultivators, who are tenant farmers, not ryots, are rapidly going the way of the already dispossessed. They have no money with which to pay their rents or the interest on their loans, and are destined, like their predecessors, soon to succumb to the pressure of landlords and moneylenders. They belong to or soon will join the majority of whom Dr. Bentley, the Director of the Public Health Department, Government of Bengal, writes in his report of 1927/1928: "The peasantry of Bengal are in a very large proportion taking to a dietary on which even rats could not live for more than five weeks. Their vitality is so undermined by inadequate diet that they cannot stand the infection of foul diseases." With the peasants' degradation, the land is degrading also, large tracts reverting to swamp or jungle; in short, there are in Bengal all the features, with which we are familiar, of a peasantry reaching the point of extinction. It is this picture, and others not so grave yet grave enough, in India, which offer the something not altogether unfavourable to the restoration of the peasantry, because India does not stand alone in this great need. The restoration and protection of the peasantries are questions beginning to stir throughout the whole world, and it is in India that perhaps one finds the most lucid picture of their urgency, and, therefore, a fitting field for this limited study of conditions which are visiting all other countries.

The British Empire as a whole is moving, with a speed that it not yet visible to the eyes of a general public, but which is evident to a number of its governments, administrators, and agriculturists, to the absolute need of the preservation of the soil, the increase and care of its fertility, and the recognition of it, and its partners, as the primary factor of social life. It is becoming widely understood that an era of dominant urbanism has been antagonistic to primary human health; has based itself, not upon the principle, which the Chinese peasants so well understand, namely that to get something healthy in this life one must give as abundantly, but upon one which urges men to buy in the cheapest and sell in the dearest market; and has brought to us a period of ominous decline in the grade of our manhood and our morality, for which a remedy is to be sought in the restoration of agriculture and with it the strengthening or restoration of the peasantry. Messrs. Jacks and Whyte have summarized the dangers to which the world's agriculture is exposed. Pamphlets pour out from the governmental presses of the United States, Australia, Canada, and the African Colonies upon the need for their governments to face this problem unflinchingly. Signor Mussolini is devoting much of his dynamic energy to the restoration of family farming in Italy by the wide extension of the traditional métayer and cooperative guild systems. In Germany Herr Hitler has followed Bismarck in protecting peasant holders from the loss of their land owing to debt, and is striving for the self-sufficiency of agriculture. In Russia the Soviets are becoming yearly more aware of the peril to the people of farm methods that lead to soil-exhaustion and erosion. Quite recently Mexico has adopted a peasant-family ownership. Throughout the rural world there is a widening fear that agriculture, the very source of life, is in grave danger, and, combined with it, a growing conviction of the value of landowning peasants. A plea, therefore, for a landowning peasantry is not out of season.

Indeed, one can assert that a plea for the restoration or strengthening of the peasantries is never out of season. The peasantries, being partners with the soil, can be reconstructed as a part of the conservation of the soil. They can be strengthened as a part of the real conservatism of man, that of the soil, which is the organic foundation upon which his whole superstructure rests. Unless this organic foundation is sound, unless soil fertility enables the peasant-family to enjoy a simple prosperity, the superstructure built up from it cannot be sound. So it comes about that an urban civilization, which ignores the agricultural values, cannot itself be sound. Nor can any of the reforms, which it institutes for betterment within itself, be anything more than re-adjustments. They cannot be fundamental reforms. They can only result in fragmentary, not radical improvements. They can only occupy a throne of authority until they are deposed by the next batch of reforms. In spite of the succession of reforms, the decline of urban civilization towards deterioration and depopulation pursues its inevitable path. Nothing within itself can change its course. By no act of man can any reform succeed, if it does not begin with the organic foundation of man's individual and social being. Man is a metamorphosis of the re-creating power of the soil. His welfare is based upon its welfare. That is the imperishable fact upon which his associations, cultures, and civilizations will continue to be based, while human life endures.

Table of Contents
1. British and Native Systems of Government in India
2. Conflicting Dominant Ideas
3. The First Agricultural Path
4. The Second Agricultural Path
5. The Degradation of the Peasants
6. The Ascendancy of the Town
7. The Degradation of the Soil
8. The Village System
9. The Restoration of the Peasants

Back to the Small Farms Library Index

Community development | Rural development
City farms | Organic gardening | Composting | Small farms | Biofuel | Solar box cookers
Trees, soil and water | Seeds of the world | Appropriate technology | Project vehicles

Home | What people are saying about us | About Handmade Projects 
Projects | Internet | Schools projects | Sitemap | Site Search | Donations |