Away with all pests, revisited:
Ecological agriculture as policy will strengthen Marxism and promote ecological civilisation
Summary: An ecological civilisation is one of the outstanding goals of the Communist Party of China. As the CPC has pointed out, achieving it requires a comprehensive, Marxist approach to meet human needs.
Ecological agriculture, which was developed and largely implemented in Cuba in the 1990s, will be one of the pillars of an ecological civilisation. Its approach is scientific and comprehensive. By contrast, capitalist agricultural methods worsen the exploitation of both people and nature; they are not sustainable.
Cooperation between Cuba and China on agro-ecology can help strengthen both, and the international working class. Agro-ecology can protect against the very real threats from imperialism, which uses food as a weapon. This is because agro-ecology promotes food self-sufficiency, including food production in cities, and socially and environmentally sustainable practices.
Key words: Ecological civilisation; Communist Party of China; Marxism; agro-ecology; Cuba-China cooperation; exploitation of people and nature; Richard Levins
The Communist Manifesto suggests a few measures that the working class should take after seizing power. Perhaps surprisingly, “improvement of the soil” is on the list, along with “gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country”1. Both are necessary because of exploitation. The Communist movement has also committed to overcoming the opposition between intellectual and manual labor, which also reflects exploitation.
Exploitation arose with adoption of agriculture and the development of storable surpluses 10,000 years ago. Classes formed, and the state (organised class repression) emerged.
A few homes were luxurious
Even in early agricultural settlements, a minority of housing was more luxurious than most. Here are the incipient classes, and the division of labor that accompanied their rise.
As Marxism clarified, the state arose to enforce exploitation. Since the actual producers were not about to give up the surplus voluntarily, organised repression also developed to enforce the exploiting classes’ appropriation of the surplus: the birth of the state. States took many forms, in all cases the producers were up against the exploiters.2
Marked social inequality developed, including between men and women and parents and children. Before agriculture’s rise, there was approximate social equality between men and women, such as in hunting-gathering societies, according to scientific evidence3.
Communists do not idealise hunting-gathering. But we do not lose sight that agriculture gave birth to sustained social inequalities between men and women, and between parents and children, inequalities born of relations of exploitation.
Indeed, an entire “culture of exploitation” gradually developed after the adoption of agriculture. This included religions, idealist philosophies and value systems that obscured or justified exploitation, while promoting “cooperation” of the exploited with the exploiters.4
The “culture of exploitation” extended to institutions. Even schools came to reflect exploitation by largely separating intellectual learning from life, including production.
The “culture of exploitation” extends to nature!
The “culture of exploitation” extended to nature, which the propertied classes treated as their private property – and garbage dumps! Scientists have even found geological evidence of unsustainable environmental practices in agriculture’s early days.5
Today, capitalist agriculture accounts for more than 40% of all damage to nature – not just the climate-disrupting pollution, but also the poisoning of rivers, soil, surface air, the oceans, and life in those environments.
A recent study, for example, found that agricultural emissions account for “more than half” of urban air pollution in the US, and an even greater portion in Europe, China and the Russian Federation. Research indicates that deadly air pollution in cities forms when gases from synthetic fertilisers and animal waste combine with emissions from vehicles and industry.6
Ecological agriculture can reduce the poisoning of the environment
Ecological agriculture can cut the general poisoning of the environment significantly, and relatively quickly. It was developed by Marxists and the Communist Party of Cuba, and largely implemented in a decade, in the 1990s.7 With conscious effort, it can also reduce forms of human exploitation, such as the inequality between men and women or between intellectual and manual labor.
Ecological agriculture takes a systems-approach to food production consistent with ecology. It reduces or eliminates use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides, in favour of fungi, bacteria, ants, and other natural approaches. In time, this leads to increased yields compared to capitalist agriculture. Furthermore, agro-ecology’s methods are sustainable.
State control of the land is essential. This is in part because agro-ecology requires that land use be a shifting mosaic. Significant land must be devoted to forest, which acts as a reservoir of the micro-organisms, insects, wildlife and other natural resources essential to agro-ecology. Who is going to pay the farmer whose land is devoted to forest? Ecological considerations may also require considerable change in what is produced from year to year, or decade to decade. State support is essential for that, too.
Capitalist countries are incapable of implementing agro-ecology
Private land ownership is one of the many reasons why capitalist countries are incapable of implementing agro-ecology. Deepening poverty is another.8 Only states where the working class holds power, such as China, Vietnam and Cuba today, can achieve large-scale progress in agro-ecology.
And even progress in those states is limited. Why? Because the capitalist class still rules in most of the world; its accelerating destruction of humanity’s social and environmental foundations threatens all.
Cuba’s achievements in agro-ecology are remarkable. Yet it still imports a considerable portion of its food needs, mostly industrially-produced. Global factors are a major reason.
State-supported cooperatives and agro-ecology
A communist society, in a sense, will be one big cooperative, standing atop an advanced technical, cultural and social base. State-supported cooperatives can be a “school”, one of the steps towards an ecological civilisation.
Before Lenin died, he became a strong advocate of state-supported cooperatives, basing his appreciation in part on Alexander Chayanov’s important studies.9 Soviet planners believed the development of cooperatives required at least four steps. (Various pressures prevented them from implementing the steps.)
First is cooperation in purchasing, where the advantages to an individual producer are evident – the cost in time and money is lower, and little trust is required as the goods purchased need not be paid for until delivered. The second step involves cooperation in obtaining credit, and the advantages should also be evident. The third step requires greater trust, as a farmer or producer delivers goods to the cooperative. The benefits are higher prices and, again reduced cost in time, but the farmer must generally await sale before being paid. The final step is cooperation in production – collectives. Skipping steps can be counter-productive, as we need to find a balance between individual incentives, social incentives, markets, state support, and so on.
Cuban studies show that ecological agriculture will result in higher (and sustainable) physical yields than capitalist agriculture, but may require greater unit labor time. But agro-ecology can be a school in quality of time vs. quantity. Some of this writer’s favorite time in the labor movement and at work has involved doing repetitive tasks, such as preparing mailings of literature, or assembly work, in an unpressured, social setting. By contrast, the extremely pressured conditions of manual labor under capitalism are deadly to mind and body, even if unit productivity is higher.
State-supported cooperatives can also be a conscious step towards reducing traces of exploitation, for example by integrating learning with production and enjoyment of life, and the organisation of labor (as opposed to division of labor) to minimise the inequalities between men and women or parents and children.
Agro-towns were briefly discussed in early Soviet history, but never implemented. Agro-towns are designed to combine food production with the industrial and cultural facilities of a city. Properly planned, they can be consistent with agro-ecology. They would immensely reduce the costs associated with industrial food production, including transport, packaging and storage, and the resulting waste.
Today, probably only the states formed by socialist revolutions can experiment with agro-towns. For the future, however, agro-towns may prove immensely important to address the many national questions in capitalist countries. How?
Since the 1960s, well over one billion people have been pushed off the land and into slums. The overwhelming majority of these were peasants from oppressed nations and nationalities. Conditions in slums are unspeakable, and most in slums dream of having ‘their own’ land as the only imaginable security in life.10
But necessary agricultural skills can be lost in just a few years off the land. Agro-towns may be a way that the working class can address bourgeois-democratic land tasks while helping members of oppressed nations rebuild their lives.
Cuba-China cooperation can protect both states against imperialist threats
Today, cooperation in agro-ecology between Cuba and China – and hopefully the three other existing states formed by socialist revolutions – can protect and strengthen these states, and workers and oppressed worldwide. How?
Imperialism treats food as a weapon; its threats are very real. The Soviet experience in World War II should be warning enough. Agro-ecology partially addresses that threat by promoting self-sufficiency in food, and encouraging sustainable food production in cities.
There are many additional benefits. Air quality in China, for example, could improve relatively quickly just through reduction in the use of artificial fertilisers and industrial livestock farming. As we have seen, agricultural emissions account for more than half of air pollution in cities.
Human health, and the nutritional value of food, also improves with reduction or elimination of artificial fertilisers and pesticides, improvements in soil quality, and reduced food waste.
Agro-ecology’s methods also cut the risk of the spreading deadly pathogens associated with capitalist agricultural methods, with their crowding of livestock, birds and fish, and heavy use of antibiotics.11
Capitalism is the biggest, deadliest pest in history. Ecological agriculture will be a foundation of an ecological civilisation that reverses the capitalist plague of exploitation of people and nature.
Cooperation between China and Cuba on agro-ecology can strengthen both, and the world working class, in the face of the social, environmental and military threats from capitalism.
Ideas expressed in this paper do not necessarily represent those of the CPUSA. This paper was prepared in an individual capacity for the Seventh World Socialism Forum, hosted by the World Socialism Research Center of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and the China Center for Contemporary World Studies of the International Department, Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.
Special thanks to Miguel Angel Vales Garcia of the Communist Party of Cuba, the Cuban Academy of Sciences, and the Institute of Ecology and Systematics, Havana; and to my wife and comrade Sandy Rosen and other CPUSA comrades and friends, including Richard Levins, Eric Brooks, Gary Hicks, and Al Sargis; and to comrades in China, including Li Shenming, Chen Shuoying, Wu Xiangdong, Li Jianhui, Song Tian, Chen Shuoying, and Fan Yajie.
This paper is dedicated to Richard Levins, my teacher and friend, who died in January 2016. He was one of the architects of agro-ecology in Cuba, in theory and practice. His commitment to Marxism was complete, not just in theory.
- The Communist Manifesto. A footnote in the Chinese edition published in 1964 (and its 1972 English translation) informs us that the word “antithesis” (rather than “distinction”) was used in the original German edition of 1848. Towns arose from exploitation of countryside.
- Lenin’s State and Revolution remains an essential Marxist work explaining the rise of the state, and identifying tasks to end all repression. State and Revolution helps us understand that the US state apparatus’ antagonism towards the Chinese state is a class antagonism; one of a state of the exploiters towards a state of the exploited.
- See, for example, “Sex equality can explain the unique social structure of hunter-gatherer bands”, M.Dyble et al, Science 15 May 2015, and its references.
- See “Birth of the Moralizing Gods”, Science 28 August 2015. Before agriculture, “religion” was just magic associated with the sun, moon, stars and natural phenomena, and did not incorporate social values. That changed with the rise of agriculture and large settlements: religion now involved “moralizing” to assure the subordination and cooperation of the exploited. The authors of this insightful research (A.Norenzayan, J.Henrich and others) ignore or downplay the rise of exploitation, weakening their work.
- Geological evidence of agriculture’s unsustainable practices over centuries is presented in Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations by David R. Montgomery (2007).
- “Significant atmospheric aerosol pollution [is] caused by world food cultivation”, S.Bauer et al, Geophysical Research Letters, April 2016. The study focused on near-surface urban air quality, and does not consider the impact of deforestation also associated with capitalist agricultural practices.
- Richard Levins, “How Cuba is Going Ecological”, Capitalism, Nature, Socialism (2005). This comprehensive article challenges the widespread but erroneous belief that Cuba adopted ecological agriculture only as an emergency measure following counter-revolution in the Soviet Union, Poland, etc. The article identifies the social and scientific foundations developed after the working class took power in Cuba in 1960 that made agro-ecology possible.
- The deepening poverty in almost all capitalist countries since 1973 is a critical reason that capitalism is incapable of halting social and environmental destruction. Capital’s top-down-only rule, its periodic crises, the consequent inability to plan, and the weight of debt, are among other reasons. A socialist revolution makes some progress possible. From W.Halabi, “Ten Considerations: The Political Economy of Scientific Development in this Epoch”, published in Chinese in the Economics Study of the Shanghai School, Vol.23 (2008)
- See The Theory of Peasant Cooperatives by Alexander Chayanov (1921, English translation 1991)
- See Planet of Slums by Mike Davis (2006). There may now be nearly two billion people living in slums, the overwhelming majority from oppressed nations and nationalities. About two-thirds were farmers and peasants mainly displaced since the 1960s by the “green revolution” capitalisation of the countryside and by wars.
- Infectious diseases spread by industrial agriculture are examined in Rob Wallace’s Big Farms Make Big Flu, Monthly Review Press, 2016. The book makes a strong case against industrial agriculture, but does not differentiate between capitalist countries and states formed by socialist revolutions, such as China and Vietnam. Working class organisations, including our unions, parties and states, can face the truth and correct errors; the exploiters cannot face the truth.