The name on the banners of the revolutionary students should
be Chayanov, not Che; and this for? three reasons. First, Chayanov’s theory of peasant behaviour is central to any solution of the world’s worst problem, rural poverty.
Second, the study of that problem is itself undergoing radical change, in which Chayanov’s pioneering work points the way from armchair speculation towards real theory based on measuring what farmers do.
Third, rural development studies are transforming our understanding of the whole nature of social science, and revealing at once
the scope and the limits of the extreme empiricism currently in
Alexander Chayanov, Russia’s leading agricultural economist
from the early l920s to his arrest in 1930, was a heroic pioneer
in the study of rural development, which more than any other area
of intellectual endeavour holds the key to the future condition of
mankind. One human being in three depends on farming south of the
Tropic of Cancer.
They live for the most part in racking poverty, hungry often and badly nourished always, seldom rising to a condition where they are openly manipulated or alienated, and thus seldom assisted by the well-nourished but parochial protesters of Paris or Columbia. It was Chayanov who revealed the links between this sort of mass rural poverty, the size and age-composition of the family, and the farmer’s choice between income and leisure.
He drew on the most thorough field study ever made of an impoverished agriculture: the 4,000-odd volumes of district (zemstvo) statistics collected in Russia in the late nineteenth century.
His understanding of the irrelevance of Stalinist methods to rural
welfare, and his use of western “marginalist” analysis to explain
peasant behaviour, caused Chayanov to be imprisoned from 1930 to his death in l939.