The agrarian question, pending question

The agrarian question, pending question

With the advent of the Second Republic, the first republican-socialist government wanted to face an ambitious program of political, economic, social and cultural reforms to get the country out of its secular backwardness. The challenge was enormous. Resources, scarce. The correlation of forces, precarious for the workers' left and the progressive petty bourgeoisie. The agrarian question was in Spain, in 1931, a pending question. Except for some areas and productive sectors, the agricultural panorama was characterized by low productivity per hectare, technological backwardness, extreme poverty and inequality, as well as the persistence of feudal vestiges in many areas.

The fundamental role of agriculture in economic development and the close relationship between the implementation of early agrarian reforms (19th century) and the highest level of development of a country is known. At the beginning of the 20th century, the progress of Northern and Western Europe - which had made its agrarian reforms in due time - contrasted with Mediterranean and Eastern Europe, backward and with greater internal inequality and greater rural social conflict. The latter was the case in Spain. Almost two centuries - from the mid-18th century to the 1930s - of timid and unsuccessful agrarian reforms of various kinds, had kept agriculture and the Spanish rural world in a notable structural backwardness with respect to the countries of Western Europe and from North. The failure of all these reformist attempts hampered the modernization of Spain and generated greater social conflict and political instability, manifested in a recurring cycle of civil wars, military pronouncements, failed revolutions and dictatorships. The agrarian question was a pending question to be resolved. And it was urgent to do so.

In 1931 Spain was eminently rural and agrarian. The population employed in agriculture represented 45.5% (4 million) of the total workforce and the agricultural GDP represented almost 24% of the national GDP. The vast majority of the population lived in rural areas. The main problems of Spanish agriculture in 1931 were the great concentration of property in large estates; the persistence of feudal vestiges, such as the question of the Forums in Galicia and the 'rabassaires' in Catalonia; the illiteracy of most of the rural population; the absenteeism of the great agrarian property, the persistence of the great property belonging to the nobility and the fragmentation of the small peasant exploitation. The excess rural-agrarian population could not be absorbed by the rest of the productive sectors, which meant enormous social pressure on the land, aggravated by the return of some 100,000 emigrants from 1900 to 1930, due to the international economic crisis. Result: increase in general and seasonal unemployment in the countryside (lacking unemployment aid), radicalization of the class struggle, upheavals and its violent repression.

For the progressive parties, solving the agrarian question was essential to establish democracy and achieve the modernization of the country. A need expressed from the beginning in the declarations of the President of the Republic of May 1931. For this reason, the provisional governments and those of the first reformist biennium had to immediately elaborate a broad program of reforms of agrarian activity - labor relations, conditions of labor of the workers of the field and of the small landless peasantry, sharecroppers and tenants -, to satisfy the demands of the peasants and the rural proletariat, who had welcomed the change of regime with hope.

In the first three months of the provisional government, ten important decrees were approved to end the abuses of the employers in the hiring of day laborers, improve wages and working conditions: Decree of municipal terms (April 21, 1931), to prevent the work of scabs coming from other towns to break workers' strikes, to accept lower wages or to avoid reprisals against local workers; Law of Mixed Juries of Rural Labor, Rustic Property and Agricultural Production and Industries (May 7, 1931), reinstating mediation and arbitration bodies in labor relations. Crop Intensification Decree, known as "forced tillage" (May 7, 1931), to combat absenteeism and abandonment of farms, increasing the intensification of agricultural work. Decree of April 29 ('anti-eviction'), which extended lease contracts for small tenants and prevent unjustified eviction; Decree of May 19, 1931 on collective leases, intended to provide large agricultural land to workers' societies and cooperatives. Decree of May 25, 1931 creating the "National Fund against forced unemployment." Decree of May 28, 1931 granting loans to municipalities to finance small farmers who employ day laborers. Decree of June 12, 1931 on "Work Accidents", establishing insurance for agricultural workers. Decree of July 1, 1931 establishing the 8-hour day in agriculture.

With these measures, in addition to modifying labor relations and working conditions in favor of the workers, instruments of social security were established, the role of the labor unions and the mediating and arbitration role of the State were reinforced. Some of them resulted in application problems. And those that elicited the most resistance were those that modified the labor market to end secular abuses.

The provisional government and those of the first biennium implemented other laws of greater scope (for the long term) related to hydraulic policy and colonization, taking up the regenerationist proposals (Joaquín Costa). Indalecio Prieto, Socialist Minister of Development, promoted the Works and Irrigation Law of 1932 (OPER law). Within the framework of this policy, the 1933 Hydraulic Works Plan was approved. The State Forest Heritage was also created. The prominence of the agrarian reform overshadowed the relevance of the OPER law. Political instability prevented this law from being developed and applied, when it implied a new conception of irrigation, with greater interventionism by the State, to change the agrarian geography of the country.

The Provisional Government in its decree of May 21, 1931 expressed its decision to undertake a vast agrarian reform in which the foundation of the social, political and industrial transformation of Spain would lie. The drafting of the agrarian reform law began in May 1931 (creation of the Agrarian Technical Commission), but it followed a tortuous parliamentary process, with succession of projects and with long and bitter debates between the Government parties (even within of the Executive itself) and those of the opposition, which practiced sectarian obstructionism, especially of the agrarian minority that represented the interests of the large landowners.

In this process, the law was progressively moderated with respect to the project of the Agrarian Technical Commission, but this did not prevent the rejection of the rights. Finally, the third project was the one approved in September 1932. Its application was complex and the body in charge of executing them, the Institute of Agrarian Reform (IRA), had scarce financial and human resources and was not very agile in its application. of the law. The slowness of the application of the LRA forced a new decree of Intensification of crops (October 1932), which allowed the temporary occupation of certain farms, affecting 1,500 farms in nine provinces and employing 40,108 families.

The governments of the conservative biennium eliminated the more progressive aspects of that law, especially under the government of the CEDA, which defended the interests of the powerful agrarian employers' organizations (among them, the National Association of Rural Property Owners). For their part, private banks boycotted the National Agricultural Credit Bank, created to finance the reform. The death knell for the agrarian reform was the Law of August 1, 1935, known as the agrarian counter-reform, in which the inventory of expropriated properties and expropriations without compensation were eliminated and the IRA budget was reduced, among other changes. .

The stoppage of the agrarian reform unleashed a great social upheaval of the period between 1933-1934, the radicalization of the workers' organizations and violently repressed agitations. The shortness of the reformist stage until the end of 1933, the succession of short-lived governments (19 to July 1936 with 12 different ministers of agriculture) and the obstacles of the right-wing parliamentary opposition and the economic power prevented most of these policies they will develop or achieve their objectives. Most of this legislation unleashed the ire of landowners and large farmers in parliament and in the press.

The Popular Front governments immediately repealed the 1935 law and reinstated that of September 1932. They accelerated the occupations of farms and settlements. In four months, 232,000 hectares were occupied and almost 72,000 farmers settled. More than in the previous four years. Red tape was eliminated and spontaneous occupations were legalized.

The reforms proposed by the first progressive governments were not revolutionary in themselves, since they had been or were being applied in the most advanced democratic European countries. But they were revolutionary for the interests of the great property, the nobility, the Church and the parties of the right that represented them.

The first reformist governments had to face these worker and peasant demands in an unfavorable context: national and international economic crisis, return of emigrants from abroad, high unemployment rates in the countryside, few economic resources, accumulation of problems (educational, military, territorial, ecclesiastical, all urgent), political instability, territorial disarticulation, high illiteracy rate, etc. But the reformist work of the progressive governments encountered head-on opposition from the parties and the right-wing press. The progressive coalition parties themselves had their share of responsibility, with serious divergences between them. With the exception of the Socialist Party, the other parties of the provisional governments and of the first biennium lacked a clear and consistent agrarian program.

The moderation of the text of the Law approved in 1932 and the slowness and failures in its application frustrated many expectations of the worker and peasant population and their organizations, which became radicalized. The Agrarian Law of 1932 did not serve to satisfy the aspirations of the workers and peasants, except in a few provinces. Social unrest increased, with dramatic events with deaths in different parts of rural Spain, especially during the conservative biennium.

On the other hand, it is remarkable the almost total absence of a specific policy for small farmers, who made up the great middle class of the countryside. An absence that the propaganda of the right, the Church and the Falange were in charge of exploiting for their benefit, presenting the agrarian policy of the reformist governments as a threat to petty exploitation.

During the Civil War, in the republican zone expropriations and occupations accelerated, while in the "national" zone, the return of expropriated and occupied lands was proceeded violently at times (the most) and at other times legally. the taxation of unpaid income and the reestablishment of traditional Sunday relationships.

The war put an end to a necessary and urgent reformist program of a European nature. A program that, if continued, would have modernized the agricultural sector and, with it, Spanish society, without subsequent trauma. But it was not like that. The failure of these reforms was another missed opportunity and delayed development and democracy in Spain for forty years.


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