Ladejinsky, Wolf 1899-1975
Wolf Isaac Ladejinsky significantly influenced global debates and policy surrounding rural development and cold war strategy. He was perhaps the most influential advocate of using agrarian reforms to win the support of the peasantry in order to preempt communist appeals—“stealing communist thunder,” in one of his memorable formulations. The most significant effect of his policies was, perhaps, the decade of social conservatism resulting from post–World War II land reforms in Taiwan and, especially, Japan.
Ladejinsky fled Soviet power in the Ukraine in 1922, after expropriation of his father’s business. His life was subsequently dedicated to the defeat of communism. In his view—much influenced by Bolshevik successes—communist mobilization fed on unattended peasant grievances; the remedy was preemptive policy against rural injustice.
Four years after landing in New York City, Ladejinsky entered Columbia University; he graduated in 1928. Though he made extensive studies of Soviet state farms as a graduate student, he did not finish his PhD Ladejinsky began working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1935; by the end of the World War II, he was head of the Department’s Far East division. In 1945 he joined General Douglas McArthur’s staff overseeing American occupation forces in Japan, where he forcefully advocated land reform to promote social peace and centrist politics during reconstruction. Ladejinsky’s “root-and-branch” land reform in Japan under occupation authority broke the power of large landlords and established the landless as small farmers. Farmers became the backbone of conservative governance that served many American foreign-policy objectives. Contemporary consensus is that land reforms contributed significantly to postwar Japan’s political stability and economic growth. Ladejinsky’s model of “stealing communist thunder” by redistributing land was also successful in Taiwan, in ways parallel to developments in Japan, but proved impossible to implement in China, where Mao Zedong’s revolution promoted agrarian reform.
Time magazine observed in 1955 that the “Americanization of Wolf Ladejinsky was a copybook success story. An immigrant, he won an education and renown as a U.S. agricultural expert who helped to stymie the Communists in the Far East.” Ironically, this successful anticommunist was accused of having communist sympathies by Eisenhower’s secretary of agriculture; Ladejinsky lost his job in 1955 as one of many victims of anticommunist hysteria organized by Senator Joseph McCarthy.
After having had both success and failure in Asia, and losing his government job, Ladejinsky served as adviser to the U.S.-backed Diem regime in South Vietnam from 1956 to 1961. Vietnam proved more like China than Japan; Ladejinsky’s attempt to use land reform as the antidote to communism foundered on the inability of Diem’s regime to confront landlords. Ladejinsky subsequently served as adviser to the Ford Foundation and World Bank, concerned with Indonesia, Nepal, and the Philippines. He ended his career in India, keenly observing rural dynamics and promoting agrarian reform until his death in 1975.
SEE ALSO Land Reform; Landlords
Rorty, James. 1955. “The Dossier of Wolf Ladejinsky.” Commentary 19 (4): 326–334.
Rosen, George. 1977. “Wolf Ladejinsky: 1899–1975.” Journal of Asian Studies 36 (2): 327–328.
Stavis, Ben. 2004. “Tireless (and Frustrated) Advocate of Land Reform.” http://astro.temple.edu/~bstavis/courses/215-ladejinsky.htm.
Ronald J. Herring