Posts Tagged ‘Collective Farms’

How Labour Can Become a Party of the Countryside

April 2, 2017

Last Thursday Mike put up a piece asking ‘How can Labour become the party of the countryside again?’, following the announcement by the Fabian Society that it was launching a project to investigate ways in which the Labour party could start winning over rural communities in England and Wales. The Society stated that the government had promised to match the subsidies granted to farmers and rural communities under the Common Agricultural Policy until 2020. However, farmers are faced with the devastating prospect of losing access to European markets, while being undercut by cheap foreign imports. Environmental regulations are also threatened, which also affect the continuing beauty of the English and Welsh countryside.

The Society recognises that agriculture isn’t the only issue affecting rural communities. They also suffer from a range of problems from housing, education, transport and the closure of local services. Rural communities pay more for their transport, and are served worst. At the same time, incomes in the countryside are an average of £4,000 lower than in the towns, but prices are also higher. Many market towns, pit villages and other rural communities have been abandoned as their inhabitants have sought better opportunities in the towns.

The Society is asking Labour members in rural communities to fill out a survey, to which Mike’s article is linked, and give their views on how the party can succeed in the countryside.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/03/28/how-can-labour-become-the-party-of-the-countryside-again/

This is a fascinating project, and if successful would see Labour challenge the Tories and Lib Dems in their heartlands. The Tories in particular seem to see themselves as the party of the countryside since the 18th and 19th centuries, when they represented the Anglican aristocracy, who tried to emphasise the rural traditions of a mythical prosperous ‘merrie England’ against the threat of the towns of the growth of the Liberal middle class.

Mike states that one of the problems he’s faced as a Labour party campaigner in his part of rural Wales is the myth that ‘Labour wants to nationalise farms’. Clearly, this is the part of the same complaint I remembering hearing from middle class children at school that ‘Labour wanted to nationalise everything’. It was to allay these suspicions that Blair went off and got rid of Clause 4 as part of his assault on Labour as the party of the working class. But even before then it was nonsense.

Following Labour’s defeat in the 1950 elections, the party halted its programme of nationalisation. Labour was in any case committed to nationalise only when it was necessary and popular. Thus, Atlee’s government set up the NHS and nationalised the utilities, with very little opposition from the Tories, but did not proceed further. And the Social Democratic section of the party, led by Tony Crosland, argued very strongly against nationalisation on the grounds that it was not only unpopular, but the benefits of nationalisation could be achieved in other ways, such as a strong trade union movement, a welfare state and progressive taxation.

This held sway until the 1970s, when the Keynsian consensus began to break down. Labour’s response in 1973 was to recommend a more comprehensive programme of nationalisation. They put forward a list of 25 companies, including the sugar giant, Tate & Lyle, which they wanted taken into public ownership. How large this number seems to be, it is far short complete nationalisation.

The party was strongly aware of the massive problems the Soviet Union had in feeding its population, thanks to the collectivisation of agriculture. Most of the food produced in the USSR came from the private plots the peasants were allowed on their kholkozy – collective farms. Tito’s government in Yugoslavia had attempted to avoid that by letting the farms remain in private hands. At the same time, only companies that employed more than 20 people were to be nationalised.

Even in the 1930s and 40s I don’t think the nationalisation of farmland was quite an option. Looking through the contents of one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham, I found an old copy of Production for the People, published by the Left Book Club in the 1940s. This explored ways in which Socialists could raise production in industry and agriculture, to the benefit of working people. The section on agriculture was almost wholly devoted to the question of subsidies and suitable government infrastructure to support farmers. I can’t remember there being any mention of nationalisation. The closest the book came was to argue for an expansion of rural cooperatives.

This project may well embarrass the Fabian Society. I’ve got the distinct impression that the Society is now staffed very strongly with Blairites, and it is Blairism as a barely left extension of Thatcherism that is at the heart of so many of the problems of rural communities. Blair, for example, like Major and now the administrations of Cameron and May, strongly supported the big supermarket chains. But the supermarket chains have done immense damage to Britain’s small businessmen and farmers. They force small shopkeepers out of business, and impose very exploitative contracts on their suppliers. See the chapter on them in George Monbiot’s Captive State. Yet national and local governments have fallen over to grant their every wish up and down the country. David Sainsbury even had some place in one of Blair’s quangos. I think he even was science minister, at one point.

If Labour would like to benefit farmers and traders, they could try and overturn the power of the supermarket chains, so that farmers get a proper price for their products and are not faced with the shouldering the costs while Sainsbury’s, Tescos and so on reap all the profits. At the same time, your local shops together employ more people than the local supermarket. So if you cut down on the number of supermarkets in an area, you’d actually boost employment. But this is unlikely to go down well with the Blairites, looking for corporate donations and a seat on the board with these pernicious companies when they retire or lose their seat.

At the same time, rural communities and livelihoods are also under attack from the privatisation of the forestry service. Fracking is also a threat to the environment, as is the Tories campaign against green energy. A number of villages around Britain, including in Somerset, have set up local energy companies generating power from the sun and wind. But the current government is sponsored heavily by the oil and nuclear companies, and so is desperate to close these projects down, just like the Republicans are doing in America.

The same goes for the problems of transport. After Maggie Thatcher decided to deregulate bus services, the new bus companies immediately started cutting unprofitable services, which included those to rural areas. If Labour really wants to combat this problem, it means putting back in place some of the regulations that Thatcher removed.

Also, maintaining rural communities as living towns and villages also means building more houses at prices that people in the countryside can afford. It may also mean limiting the purchase of housing stock as convenient second homes for wealthy urbanites. The Welsh Nats in the ’70s and ’80s became notorious for burning down holiday homes in Wales owned by the English. In actual fact, I think it’s now come out that only a tiny number – perhaps as low as 1 – were actually destroyed by Welsh nationalists. The rest were insurance jobs. But I can remember my Welsh geographer teacher at school explaining why the genuine arsonists were so angry. As holiday homes, they’re vacant for most of the year. The people, who own them don’t live locally, and so don’t use local services, except for the couple of weeks they’re there. Furthermore, by buying these homes, they raise the prices beyond the ability of local people to buy them, thus forcing them out.

This is a problem facing rural communities in England, not just Wales, and there are some vile people, who see nothing wrong with it. I’ve a friend, who was quite involved in local politics down in Somerset. He told me how he’d had an argument on one of the Somerset or rural British websites with a very right-wing, obnoxious specimen, who not only saw nothing wrong with forcing local country people out of their homes, but actually celebrated it. This particular nutter ranted on about how it was a ‘new highland clearances’. I bet he really wouldn’t like to say that in Scotland!

Labour may also be able to pick up votes by attacking the myth of the fox hunting lobby as really representing rural Britain. Well, Oscar Wilde once described them as ‘the unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible’. Which about accurately describes them. They were resented in the early 19th century, when some farmers and squires started ‘subscription hunts’. Their members where wealthy urban businessmen, off for a day’s ‘sport’ in the country. At the same time, harsh laws were passed against poaching, which saw starving farm workers transported.

Mike’s put up statistics several times on his blog, which show very much that very many, perhaps even the majority, of rural people do not support fox hunting. And I know people from rural Britain, who actively loathed and detested it. I had a friend at College, who came from Devon. He bitterly hated the Tories and the fox hunters, not least because the latter had ridden down a deer into school playing field and killed it in front of the children.

Another friend of mine comes from East Anglia. He told me how many of the tenant farmers over there also hated the fox hunting crowd, not least because of the cavalier way they assumed they had the right to ride over the land of the small farmers in pursuit of the ‘game’.

The fox hunting crowd do not represent rural Britain as a whole, and their claim to do so should be attacked and shown to be massively wrong at every opportunity. As for the Tories’ claim to be the party of the countryside, they have represented the interests only of the rich landed gentry, and the deregulation and privatisation introduced by Maggie Thatcher and carried on by successive right-wing administrations, including May and Cameron, have done nothing but harm real working people in rural Britain. The bitter persecution of the farmworker’s unions set up in the 19th century clearly demonstrate how far back this hatred and contempt goes.

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The Ballardian Totalitarianism of Cameron’s Britain

November 17, 2013

Last Thursday the Mirror ran a story reporting the Conservative’s deletion of their election promises from their website. They noted that this was the re-writing of history like that done by Big Brother’s totalitarian dictatorship in Orwell’s classic 1984. It was Orwell, who coined the classic statement that he who controls the past, controls the present and future, though he phrased it far better than my own memory allows here. The Mirror also reported that, astonishingly, Conservative Central Office attempted to defend their actions with the excuse that they were trying to help visitors find their way around their website better. The Mirror did not, however, pick up the similar totalitarian impulses behind this attitude. While Orwell’s description of the way absolute dictatorships distort and re-write history is well-known, this last aspect of such tyrannical regimes is far less famous. It comes not from Orwell, but from that old author of transgressive SF, J.G. Ballard.

Ballard’s novels and short stories, such as High Rise, Concrete Island, The Atrocity Exhibition and Super Cannes, are set in depersonalised, alienated futures, inhabited by psychopaths and characterised by social breakdown and savage, extreme violence. His novel, Crash, filmed in the 1990s by David Cronenberg, is about a subculture of the victims of motor accidents, who gain sexual pleasure from car crashes. The novel itself was so shocking that the publisher’s reviewer wrote a note about it say, ‘Author mentally deranged – do not publish’. Cronenberg’s film was so extreme that it sent the Daily Mail into another moral panic. Acting once again as the guardian of the nation’s moral purity, the Mail launched a campaign against it and the film flopped as a result. Many see it as a classic of SF and transgressive cinema. Ballard himself was completely different from the violent and psychotic characters in his work. Visitors to his home were surprised to find him living in respectable suburban domesticity, caring for his sick wife and raising his children. Listening to his cultured Oxbridge tones on the radio brought to mind a gentleman, who enjoyed a good malt and a good cigar, and whose favourite reading was Wisden, rather than the delineator of brutal violence and bizarre and extreme sexuality. Ballard is now recognised as one of the great SF writers of the 20th century, and his work has garnered respect outside the SF ghetto in the literary mainstream. This is partly due to the way it examines the role played by the media, including news reportage, in shaping the post-modern condition.

Back in the 1990s Radio 3 ran a short series of five interviews with writers, artists and scientists. Entitled Grave New Worlds, the series explored the transhuman condition. Amongst the guests on the programmes were the SF author Paul J. McAuley, the performance artist Stelarc, feminist writers on women and digital technology, and J.G. Ballard. The conversation got on to the subject of Ballard’s then recent novels, in which the heroes enter gated, corporate communities. Instead of peace and harmony, the heroes find that these communities are based on violence, in which brutal attacks on outsiders are used to bond together the communities’ inmates. Talking about these savage dystopias, Ballard stated that in his opinion the totalitarianism of the future would not use force, but would be characterised by servility and obsequiousness. It would claim to help you.

There is an element of this spurious claim in previous totalitarian regimes. At times both the Nazis and Stalin’s Communist states claimed to be somehow helping their victims. The propaganda films produced by the Nazis to allay international concerns about their treatment of the Jews, purported to show the victims of their deportations happily working on their new, luxurious plot of land in the special areas allocated to them in the East, rather than the violence and horrific, mass murder of the Concentration Camps. The Jews featured in these films were all forced to do so by the Nazis, the victims of beatings and torture before and after they appeared in front of the camera. Immediately after the filming was over, I believe some were taken away to be killed in the death camps.

Stalin’s propaganda for his collectivisation campaign similarly showed crowds of joyous peasants voluntarily entering collective farms bursting with food and abundance. Kniper’s stirring song, Wheatlands, written for this campaign, contains lines where the peasant subjects of the song declare that they weren’t forced iinto them. They certainly did not show the squalor and deprivation within the collective farms, nor the mass starvation caused by the campaign in the Ukraine and other areas of the former Soviet countryside.

Back in Nazi Germany, a group of shopkeeper’s in Munich took the Nazi’s professed commitment to the Corporate state at face value, and attempted to set up a similar corporation themselves. This new body was expected to regulate trade and prices. The result, however, was inflation. The Nazis reacted by dissolving it and arresting its members. They pasted notices over the arrested individuals’ shops, stating their offence and that they were ‘now in protective custody at Dachau’. This somehow suggests that it was for the victims’ benefit, rather than their punishment.

Ballard himself was a high Tory, who felt that increased legislation was stifling Britain by making it too safe. He wrote Crash while he was a correspondent for a motoring magazine. Driving along the new motorways, he felt the experience was too bland and antiseptic, and so in his imagination created a cult around a charismatic psychologist, Vaughn, whose members got their sexual kicks from staging the very accidents road and motor vehicle legislation was intended to remove. The violence in his novels, like Super Cannes, was a deliberate attempt by these societies to counteract the debilitating ennui experienced by their wealthy members by stimulating them at the most primal level through violent threats to their lives.

Now my memory of the 1970s was rather different from Ballard’s. Admittedly, I was only a boy at the time, but I do remember the road safety films. ‘Clunk Click, every trip’, with the vile Jimmy Savile, told you to wear a seatbelt. ‘Don’t be an Amber Gambler’ warned drivers of trying to rush through the orange light at crossings. There were also campaigns against drunk driving and speeding. Dave Prowse, the man behind the Darth Vader costume, appeared in one set as the ‘Green Cross Man’, helping kids cross the road safely. Alvin Stardust also appeared in one of these. Rather than the bland landscape of antiseptic safety Ballard complained about, these public information films traumatised a generation of children with images of mayhem, destruction and carnage. Cars were totalled, and drivers, passengers and pedestrians ground to bloody pulps on regular programming slots – usually just before Grandstand on Saturday afternoons. Rather than senses-dulling boredom, I’m surprised these films didn’t turn everyone watching them into quivering nervous wrecks at the thought of venturing out on the highway.

Despite Ballard’s own Right-wing political views, his observation that future totalitarian regimes will be manipulative and claiming to serve their victims, rather than adopting the naked use of force, does describe the style of Cameron’s own administration and its steady erosion of personal freedom. The ostensible rationale behind the Work Programme and Work Fare, is supposedly to get the unemployed back into work by helping them acquire the necessary skills and the habit of working. The terms and conditions imposed on Job Seekers by the DWP is presented as a ‘Job Seekers’ Agreement’, as if it were a bargain struck between two equal parties, and freely accepted by the unemployed, rather than forced on them through economic necessity. Esther McVey even had the gall last week to claim that the people suffering from sanctions on their benefit, were those ‘who refused the system’s help’. They were made to look like recalcitrant, who had gone back to recidivist scroungers, rather than the victims of a highly exploitative system that sought for even the smallest reason to deprive the poor of an income.

The papers also this week carried the news that the legislation proposed by the government to replace the ASBOs would also allow local councils to ban peaceful protests and demonstrations on the grounds that these constituted a public nuisance, or would annoy, upset or inconvenience local residents. It’s a totalitarian attack on free speech, but again masked by the claim that somehow people are being protected. Now the authorities will act to curb and ban demonstrations that may lead to violence or a breach of the peace, such as Protestant marches in Northern Ireland that go through Roman Catholic areas or demonstrations by the BNP or English Defence League that enter Black or Muslim areas. While the authorities’ actions against such marches are resented by the groups planning them, I doubt many people object to the bans on the grounds that the marches are deliberately provocative and would result in violence. Cameron’s legislation goes further than these entire reasonable concerns. Instead, they allow public protests to be banned simply because the residents in the area in which they are held may find them simply inconvenient, like being too noisy. The legislation’s main objective is to stop political protest. It is, however, disguised with the claim that it is giving local people the power to stop troublesome individuals upsetting the rest of the community, like the cantankerous pensioner, who was given an ASBO to stop him being sarcastic to his neighbours.

There is also something Ballardian about Cameron, Osborne and Boris Johnson’s own background. They were members of the elite Bullingdon Club after all, an elite society of the extremely wealthy. Even if they don’t go around beating, maiming and killing non-members as an exercise in corporate bonding, nevertheless they seem to have a shared contempt for the poor coming from their common background.

So Ballard was exactly right. The new totalitarianism does indeed claim to be helpful and somehow serving you, even as it takes it away its citizens’ incomes, their rights to free speech and assembly, and their pride. It’s just that Ballard got the political direction wrong. He thought it was going to come from the Left, rather than the Libertarian advocates of deregulation on the Right.