Book Reviews: ‘The Great Climate Robbery’, ‘Into The Open Economy’, & ‘Rebel Footprints’
Grains of Truth
‘The Great Climate Robbery’. New Internationalist, £9.99.
This volume has been produced by GRAIN, ‘a small international non-profit organisation that works to support small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems’ (grain.org). It consists primarily of excerpts from or summaries of reports issued by them, focussing on how global warming is in part caused by current methods of food production, but also dealing with a number of other topics.
It is claimed that ‘the industrial food system is a major driver of climate change’, with around half of greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the food system. This covers deforestation, food waste, refrigeration, transport, processing and packaging. Farming practices contribute as well, in the form of petrol to run machinery and the use of chemical fertilisers. A small number of giant fertiliser companies are the major users of shale gas from fracking, and, once applied to the soil, fertilisers result in large amounts of nitrous oxide, which is far more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Cutting out the use of chemical fertilisers could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to ten percent, it is argued, and would allow farmers to rebuild organic matter in the soil and so increase fertility. Of course profit is the force behind these industrial farming methods.
Different kinds of food make different contributions to climate change. The worst are red meat, cheese, fish and poultry, with lentils, fruit, milk and vegetables having the least impact. Processed foods, which use soybeans and palm oil among other products, are big greenhouse gas emitters and are being consumed more and more. Cutting down on meat and dairy production – which does not imply everyone becoming vegan – could make a major change in emissions.
If industrial agriculture is the main enemy, small farmers are seen as very much part of the solution. Peasants occupy only a quarter of the world’s agricultural land but, it is claimed, produce most of the world’s food. A brief discussion is given of what counts as a family farm, since some large industrial farms are ‘family-owned’, but there is no consistent definition of what is a small farm (it varies from one country to another), and it is not even clear from the text whether a small farmer is the same as a peasant. About half of all small farms are in China and India, but small farms have in general been getting smaller. Small farms are more productive than really large ones, and contribute much less to climate change.
The reader is told that ‘global food production could be doubled within a decade’ if better policies towards small farmers were adopted. But also, ‘the world produces plenty of food to feed everyone, year after year’, with hunger being caused by poverty and exclusion, not a lack of food. Some further discussion of these points would have been a very good idea.
A couple of chapters contain some interesting material that does not relate very directly to the book’s main theme. One deals with restrictions on the use of seeds, which further penalise, and indeed criminalise, small farmers. Another covers aspects of the control of the global food system; for instance, the Gates Foundation has spent $3bn in agricultural grants, but little of this money actually goes to farmers.
It is not possible now to say definitively how food production will be organised in socialism, but considerations such as those raised here will certainly be central.
‘Into The Open Economy’. By Colin R. Turner. (Applied Image. 80 pages)
In 2011 Colin Turner put a short video Free World Charter on the internet (www.freeworld.org/en) making the case for a moneyless world of free access and making the same point (but not in the language) that we do: that, while the world is capable of providing enough to feed everyone and allow them a decent life, most people’s access to what they need is rationed by the amount of money they earn from working for a wage or salary. The video didn’t suggest doing anything other than signing an online charter to show you supported the idea of ‘a world without money’.
By comparison, this short book is a disappointment. Turner’s approach is to show that what he calls an ‘open economy’ is possible by pointing to the many examples today where people cooperate to do things without money and where they are motivated to act by other aims than the pursuit of money. This is true of course but Turner goes further and argues that the way to an eventually money-free society is through encouraging and extending these examples.
This is to underestimate what is involved in ‘abolishing money’. Money is a feature of a society where goods and services are produced to be bought and sold because they are privately owned. Capitalism is the highest form of such a society, one where the means of production are monopolised by a few who own and control them via companies or the state and who pay people to operate them with a view to making a profit.
To get to a society where people can have free access to what they need instead of having to pay for it, capitalist ownership of the means of production has to be ended and control over their use transferred to the community as a whole,. Dispossessing the privileged owning class requires political action on the part of the excluded majority. But not the kind of political action within the system that Turner rightly criticises in the section headed ‘The Limitations of Governance’:
‘Being itself part of the economy, the government is limited by what it can do … Government – and its individual members – are all very much subject to the economy, and therefore have only very limited control over it … State spending and interest rates do not control the economy – they are merely reactions to it. When the economy is good, the government spends, when the economy is bad, the government cuts back. Instead of shaping the economy, all the government is really doing is ‘housekeeping’ the best it can with the fruits of the wider economy on its doorstep.’
But this is not a case for throwing the baby out with the bathwater and rejecting political action altogether in favour of the small-scale local activities Turner mentions (growing your own food, tool libraries, car-pooling, using open source software, building your own home, etc). It’s a case for rejecting reformist political action within the system in favour of political action aimed exclusively at revolutionising the basis of society from minority class ownership to democratic common ownership (thereby making money redundant).
‘Rebel Footprints’. By David Rosenberg, (Pluto Press)
Labour history, like all history, is seen through various lenses, distorting and magnifying certain aspects of reality, filtering out unwanted intrusions. Its resulting narratives reflect fundamental assumptions and serve to boost and consolidate those convictions. Here, David Rosenberg, presents us with a particular view of Radical London designed with a particular aim in mind. One which, since it already carries ‘likes’ from Corbyn and the TUC, ought to be pretty obvious.
Such it is not to the uncritical eye. For the best propaganda does not look like propaganda. Ostensibly, this book really does tell the story of ‘how defiant grassroots Londoners responded to their circumstances from the beginning of the 1830s until the end of the 1930s’ in relation to localities in which they occurred. Here, indeed, are the strikes, the campaigns, the events which any historian of the subject would be bound to include.
Already, however, our vision is limited time-wise. Why 1939? Did history magically end, Fukuyama style, with the invasion of Poland? Of course, this is not Year Zero at all. For the Left Labourite, the Golden Age began and history ended with the general election of July 1945. Hurrah for the use of troops to smash the dockers! Hurrah for the Indian massacres! Hurrah for the atom bomb! Go Clement go! And since that time, the Labour Party has been a most integral part of the political ruling class, so any account of strikes, campaigns, would inevitably be a Jeremiad (!) against that very Labour Party, which Rosenberg has come to praise. And not, like us, to bury.
What then, is the point of these campaigns, these strikes, that Rosenberg (to give him credit) accurately (bar a few niggles) and with an attractive liveliness (if with also butterfly flitting) describes? Whereto is the admirable sense of solidarity generated by the action of working together for a common cause directed? And how are the questions inevitably posed by such campaigns answered? Why, sir, need you ask! Instead of directing such justifiable anger, such togetherness, such criticism, against the system, the Labourite, consciously or unconsciously, co-opts these sentiments for their own ends.
And these are made clear: A change of political masters; Government charity – ‘free’ wigs, a council flat, and a nice job on the bins – for the worker; and a comfy seat on the board for ‘his’ rep. Apart from capitalism as normal, its wars, its poverty, its misery, this is all we can expect from the resurrection of Corbynite Old Labour. That this alternative to the Blairite New Labour holds any sort of appeal shows the depth to which we have sunk, propelled thence by the twin millstones of Leninist ‘Communism’ and Labour’s ‘Socialism’ – both in reality one and the same state capitalist nightmare.
As to the alternative, the world turned upside down, the lowly made high and the masters downtrodden, of this, to which a good half of those namedropped herein subscribed, nominally or genuinely, there is no mention. We, and those like us, do not want ‘justice and equality’, our path is not mere protest, defensive and backward looking, but the revolutionary road to the world made anew.