File spoon-archives/marxism-international.archive/marxism-international_1997/marxism-international.9710, message 554

Date: Tue, 28 Oct 1997 10:36:57 +0000
Subject: Re: M-I: CAP

In message <>, Rebecca Peoples
<> writes
>Hi Folks,
>I have been giving some thought to the question of EU agriculture.
>However I cannot understand why the EU has been paying so much of its
>budget out to agirculture. What has European capitalism got to gain
>from the massive aid and distortion of the market when it comes to
>Euripean agriculture.
>Apparently there are currently attempts to reduce the volume of budget
>revenue going to the farming community.
>In short can anybody explain in a succint and clear way why European
>capitalism has been so kind to farming and why it has promoted the
>massive distortion of the market for farming commodities.

All of the developed nations subsidised agriculture after the Second
World War, in part because of their sensitivity to the charge that
capitalism = famine (as had been the case in Bangladesh, where some 3.5
million died under British rule). Resting on the suppression of working
class consumption, individual capitalists usually need some official
persuading to get into markets that rely on it, like housing or food. In
the post-war world, food became a weapon in the struggle against Stalin.
Truman's inauguration of food aid was entirely framed in terms of
defending the West, and promoting US values. As Michael Maren explains
in The Road To Hell, food aid is a gigantic boondoggle for US farmers,
who are paid massively over the odds by the govt. to dump food in
fragile African economies.

In Europe and Japan, the problem of food was closer to home. Britain
retained food rationing right up to 1950, and my mother has a distinct
memory of the minister for nutrition, one-time Marxist John Strachey,
seriously singing the praises of home-made nettle pie on the radio. In
Europe and Japan, governments engaged in direct subsidy to get their
agriculture back on its feet. After steel, European economic cooperation
turned to agriculture.

Clearly it did not take long for British, French and German farmers to
realise that this was a gravy-train and agricultural production rapidly
outstripped domestic needs. Eventually the surplus product was being
stored in 'beef mountains' and 'wine lakes'. A few years ago I was out
of work and was entitled to receive, on top of the cash benefits, a
whole tin of preserved European beef mountain a fortnight. It was never
that tempting, but I often wish that I had, so that I could put it on
the mantle-piece next to the fragment of Berlin wall.

The real reason that the beef mountain was sustained as long as it was
was political, not economic. An unexpected side-effect of the
agricultural subsidies was that the parties of the right in Europe were
supported by rural districts. Less populated than urban areas, electoral
boundaries tend to give greater weight to rural voters, who proved to be
a useful counter-weight to urban voters, who tended to the left.

Throughout the seventies and eighties, any attempt to curb the
agricultural subsidies provoked a fierce response from farmers,
especially in France. As these people were an important social base for
the Christian Democratic parties, they got a hearing.

Only recently has the left-right divide in European politics begun to
break down. Working class support for parties of the left is less active
than it was, and the middle classes have largely taken them over as
electoral machines. The traditional parties of the right are much less
important to the ruling classes today because they do not feel the need
to mobilise popular support against the left. Everywhere, the case for
subsidising rural districts by subsidising agriculture has fallen away.

As a measure of how widespread this process is, even in Japan, where the
ruling Liberal Democratic Party relied on a rural voters to make up the
numbers, there has been an attack on the subsidies to farmers of the
famous beer-fed and massaged Kobe beef. That attack coincides with the
break-up and corruption disgrace of the LDP.

The current campaign against Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) is a
part of the process of downsizing European agriculture. This disease
which has been in cattle for years and sheep (where it's called Scrapie)
for two hundred years is alleged to be the source of a similar human
condition (Creutzfeld Jakob Disease, CJD). No evidence exists of any
cross-infection and CJD is still thankfully rare (except where the
Health Service infected everybody who gets pituitary gland treatment
with CJD). The compulsory herd culling and the restrictions on exports
have led to a considerable shake-out not just in British agriculture,
but throughout Europe, where bef-sales have plummeted.

It was the sense of persecution of the countryside that led to the big
demonstration against the proposed ban on fox-hunting here. Not that
many people are involved in fox-hunting, but by calling the demo a
'countryside rally' the organisers tapped into a considerable well of
rural resentment against the New Labour city-folk.


In message <l0310281cb07ac451d514-AT-[]>, Doug Henwood
<> writes
>James Heartfield wrote:
>>Don't Chinese people deserve cars and fridges?
>It's not a question of deserving. Life on earth will become impossible if
>Chinese were to consume at American, or even Western European, levels.
>Cars, and the highways they ride on, are deadly. Life on earth will become
>impossible if Americans and Western Europeans continue to consume at
>present levels. This is not fashionable greenish sentiment, nor is it a
>product of the decline of the workers' movement, it is a scientific fact,
>and for a guy who loves science, you should admit this.

Well, this is a very convenient science that demands the restriction of
consumption levels in China, Western Europe and America. It sounds
suspiciously like the science that says that black people are poor
because of a natural condition, not a social barrier. Greater
technological development means more efficient use of resources, not
less. Roads and refigerators aren't deadly, they bring life. They don't
waste resources they save them. Rotten food is a waste. People dying
because the ambulance cannot reach them is a waste. The 2000 mile
journey from Brasilia to the coast is a waste, because the distance as
the crow flies is only 500 miles. That means a week out of every single
person's life, every single time they leave their own capital city. Life
expectancy in countries with developed transport infrastructures is
generally much higher than that in those without. It's not a
coincidence. It's fresh fruit and vegetables, medical supplies, going
away to college and all those other things that widen your life chances.
No wonder socialism is unpopular in the United States if you are going
around telling them that they will have to give up their cars and
fridges! That's not socialism, it's austerity. Doubtless the capitalists
would be delighted to see such a spectacular reduction in the wages of
their employees as well as doing over their competitors in Europe and
the Far East, though it might entail some diversification. Why not start
at home, Doug? I know a charity that will take your computer to a
schoolroom in Africa.

James Heartfield

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