1960s >> 1962 >> no-699-november-1962

Finance and Industry: Trouble in Agriculture

One of the big question marks over the Common Market talks has to do with agriculture. British farmers are worried about what might happen to them if Britain is accepted by the Six, and Commonwealth countries like Australia, Canada, and New Zealand are afraid for their exports of wheat, meat, and dairy produce.


British fruit growers and market gardeners see a dire threat to their interests from efficient Dutch production and from cheap Italian output ripened under natural sunshine instead of in heated glasshouses. And if Denmark eventually joins there will also be intensified competition from Danish bacon and butter.


But looming over all of them, British or Common Market, is the shadow of French competition. Only now beginning to rise to its full potentialities, with one half of the total agricultural land of the Six, the most favourable climate for agriculture in Europe, and soil fertility higher than the average, French agriculture threatens them all. With a negligible amount of farm machinery at work on its farms after the war, it is now mechanising rapidly. Tractors and combine harvesters are now replacing animals and men in ever-increasing numbers.


The shadow of surplus
Production has been rising steadily in recent years and the French Government is becoming increasingly concerned about rapidly mounting surpluses of cereals, butter and milk products, and beef, as well as fruit and vegetables. This year there will be a record wheat harvest of 13 million tons (the previous highest was 11½  million tons in 1959) which compares with the present U.K. estimate of 3.3 million tons. The French export surplus is likely to exceed in fact the total U.K. output.


The situation will be eased somewhat since the maize crop has been cut to a quarter of normal by drought. But this year’s results in general have served to re-inforce the warning to the rest of Europe that with every year that passes France will be a more and more dangerous threat—and to the French Government that they are in for bigger and bigger headaches. The French Minister of Agriculture has already announced that “ the fighting aim of 1963 will be the conquest of the external markets.”


The same pattern
As usual under capitalism, this ever increasing production is coming from fewer and fewer workers. Statistics show that, as in most other countries, the population living off the land is falling. The farmers are leaving the land and going into the towns. In France, there are 12 per cent. less people in agriculture than there were six years ago. Just how far this process still has to go is shown by the fact that it still leaves 20 per cent. of the population on the land, compared with 3 per cent. in this country.


There are clearly still great changes to come in French agriculture—and their repercussions are likely to be wide.


More absurdity
The shattering losses made by B.O.A.C. this year (no less than £65 million) reflect once more the crazy capitalist world we live in.


One of the main reasons for these losses has been, we are told, the frantic efforts made by the company to keep up with the constant developments in aircraft. So swift are the changes that planes have to be put on the scrap heap long before they have given their full term of useful life. That nearly all the other major airlines of the world are doing the same thing, and suffering equally crippling losses in the process, only makes the situation more farcical.


The apologist for capitalism will, of course, reply that progress must always be allowed full scope and that the new planes constantly coming forward will be better and safer than their predecessors. Even this is not true. The Press has been full of stories recently about whether safety is not being sacrificed in the bitter struggle among the national airlines. Allegations have been made that the strain of the new and ever more complicated aircraft on their pilots is becoming too intense, that they are being worked more hours than is safe, and that many airfields are just incapable of meeting properly the demands of the new machines.


We discuss elsewhere Professor Titmuss’s new book exploding the myth of growing economic equality—a subject incidentally to which we have ourselves given attention in recent issues. Samuel Brittan in the Observer (he is Economic Editor) gave a useful review of it recently. But the most interesting few lines of his article were those in which he defined the capitalist class in a paragraph at the end. Here they are:

  The existence of a separate class of people who own the means of production (including land) and are not therefore dependent on their own personal earning power is still the basic characteristic of capitalism. . . .


Our own definition, in fact. True he spoils it all by bringing in Russia later on, but it’s a crumb of enlightenment al! the same.


Stan Hampson