An Anarchist Critique of the Farm

Anarchism relates to several aspects of the farm including labour, alienated property, territory, patriarchy, ecology, colonialism and animal rights. I’ve not seen a critique like this before and since I’ve spent the majority of my life on a farm I thought I could be the one to write it. My father is a farmer, I’m not, but for the sake of rhetoric I will write as if the ‘I’ of the text is a farmer.

Labour

My labour is not rewarded with paper money and thus not alienated. Instead, there is no clear distinction between my life and my labour. I live where I work. When I repair the buildings on the farm, I labour on both my workplace and my home at the same time. To me there is little difference between mowing the lawn for aesthetic reasons and mowing the hay field for economic reasons; in both cases the end goal is my own pleasure. I plan my work years in advance, I own the product of my labour, I personally benefit from it and I can immediately see the result of my labour and make further use of it. In the feudal age, the workers were more or less slaves and modern farms are just profit-driven factories with hundreds of employees. I guess that makes me an anomaly.

Alienated Property

Most of the wealth of a farm is embodied in the means of production. Much of this is never sold, but worn down until it can no longer be repaired. On a dairy farm, most of the crops become fodder which can be understood as fuel for the meat machines. The machines, the cows, produce milk in quantities that are thousands of times greater than what I can consume. This milk is the main form of alien commodity on a dairy farm. By contrast, animals raised only for meat are disposable as they are themselves the main commodity. Even so, there is a lot of alienated property on a dairy farm. I can only make use of so many machines at one time as I am only one person and most of the metal machines are only taken out of storage a few times a year, for preparing the soil, sowing the seeds, harvesting the crops etc. The efficiency of modern farming that allows me to manage the entire farm by myself also requires that a great deal of high-tech property sits idle most of the time.

Territory

The most peculiar property on a farm are the fields. On the one hand, they are distant and left alone most of the year as nature does its thing. One the other hand, like the lawn, I can see them all around me at all times. I feel part of nature and yet nature is objectified at the same time. The plants are living organisms and symbolize money at the same time. Other people are not allowed to take part of the plants, except look at them at a distance. If animals try to eat them, I feel justified in chasing those animals away.

In the same way, the two-dimensional territory is mine by state contract. The boundaries of the fields are expressed in this contract as an abstraction, a symbolic divorce between the reality of nature and social constructions. Ultimately, this illusion is enabled by the violent enforcement of the state, which itself is predicated on the concept of territory. People living in cities, like the majority does, think of farms as belonging to nature in the division of urban and rural. However, the farm is a city distinct from natural processes. The farm has houses, factories, roads, electricity, Internet and other infrastructure. It is artificial in its conception, an attempt at manipulating nature through technology. The fields are more like a park in a city than nature untouched by humans and just like we can occupy Wall Street, it is possible to occupy the fields. However, neither occupation is sufficient in itself since power and control are distributed in many more spaces in society. A big city is of course much more socially complex and living in apartment blocks with hundreds of other people creates a bigger separation between yourself and nature. Still, territory and space are just two aspects of organization and neither is a sufficient basis for organization so in principle the same solutions are valid for both cities and farms. Both are physical centres, which by extension centralizes politics.

Territory, and farm life in particular, is part of the ideal exemplified by the Nazi concept of Blood and Soil and the Swedish concept of the Odal farmer. Odal means your father’s father’s father’s father’s father had to have owned the land and passed it on through the paternal line to you in order for you to be able to claim to own it. Otherwise, you are just a guest, a migrant, an Other.

Understanding territory in general is helpful in understanding the element of space in politics. Everyone wants a home, but we are mobile creatures and home doesn’t have to be a physical location. Sure, you might want four walls as protection if e.g. your parents controlled the key to your door, but e.g. a fish in the open ocean may find safety in the shoal. Virtual spaces also requires an understanding of political space. Though, regardless of how we imagine the ideal organization of space, it is unavoidable to factor in history. Anti-territorialism must therefore necessarily address the historical relocation of physical resources, including humans, to the West. The infrastructure amassed on Western land, including the farms, would look very different without those resources and either we must disassemble the infrastructure or redistribute the access to the space itself.

Whereas Marx thought labour output had a metaphysical value, a lot of people attribute that value and subsequent  ownership to the actual objects that labour is poured into. The latter is called homesteading. I think rather that nature does most of the work on a farm and I think value lies in consumption, not in our labour or the things which embody that labour. This is probably closer to one of Stirner’s ideas, i.e. that ownership can be described as what I can get a grip on (Merleau-Ponty’s prise). How to organize this in relation to others is a difficult political question, but I don’t think it’s impossible to answer in practice.

Patriarchy

Historically, the cultural spread of animal husbandry is connected to the spread of patriarchy. As the paternal god was seen as better than humans, so humans were seen as better than other animals and man was seen as better than woman. This hierarchical thinking also allowed for some men to be enslaved by other men. Consequently, farms in the past 5,000 years have typically been owned by men. The extended family, and later the nuclear family, supports the patriarch. E.g. during the harvest, nature dictates that everyone has to help out at the right time, quickly securing the harvest before it’s too late. The family is also rewarded as a unit afterwards in the harvest festival. As this is not wage labour, it is informative as a form of cooperative work. The family and neighbours pitch in, not always because the patriarchs order it, but because for them too there is no clear distinction between workplace and home.

By the way, the word capital comes from a Latin word meaning ‘head’, as in the number of heads in a herd of cattle. This is how I count the cows in the pasture, since their heads are relatively distinct compared to how their camouflaged bodies seem to blend into each other. Cattle, as the prominent form of alienated property, was fundamental to the ideology of capitalism.

Ecology

The ecology of a farm has to be in some kind of balance, but only to the extent that this balance serves humans. As farms become more like other factories, with a CEO and hundreds of employees, short-term profit replaces the only positive thing about farming, namely that the farm is a home and that its environment must be taken care of. Nutrients in the soil need to be replenished and I must adapt to circumstances regarding sunlight, air and water. But with short-term profit in mind, it doesn’t matter what happens after you spray the land with nutrients, fungicides and pesticides. These things, as well as greenhouse gases, don’t care about symbolic lines in the sand, they spread throughout nature. Therefore it is not enough to care only about what the law says is your territory. In the case of e.g. bananas, this is not a natural balance. Bananas sold in stores are all clones from a single species of banana. Any virus of bacteria that afflicts this species will spread rapidly and reduce the amount of bananas in our consumption because the lack of diversity means there is no plan B. The homogenization of agriculture is comparable to the colonialization of human cultures.

Some soil can only support grass. Humans can’t eat grass, so we need a cow to eat the grass and then we can eat the cow. Unlike when homogenizing savannah ecosystems to grow soy beans for fodder, the grass would grow there anyway. The carbon-dioxide produced by the cattle is naturally returned to the grass which is made of carbon. However, this is only relevant if we can justify eating the cows, which normally isn’t the case. We don’t even need soil in theory; soil is just the natural accumulation of dead organisms, a thin layer of compost which is only relevant to us because it contains nutrients from organic life.

The planet is a closed system, the nutrients we have are the only ones we will have. The only addition comes from the electromagnetic energy of the sun and possibly from harvesting other celestial bodies some time in the distant future. This means that our consumption is part of a cycle of finite resources. In other words, after we put food in our mouths, whatever comes out of our bodies must eventually return in some form or other to our mouths. If the planet is to sustain an animal population mainly consisting of humans, then the main source of food will be derived from human excrement. As long as we are disturbed by this idea, we will not make any progress is managing the food cycle. Solving the problem is just a question of time; the more people we wish to feed, the faster we have to turn the poo into food. This becomes a question of technology and logistics; can we gather, filter and distribute the poo efficiently enough and can we invent, cultivate and redistribute food stuff like plants fast enough to keep everyone alive? The profit-driven economy will most likely churn out artificial food stuffs, until there is so much excrement that it becomes profitable to recycle it.

Colonialism & Animal Rights

The effort to control nature in farming can be described as colonialism and it functions just as capitalism and other forms of imperialism in that it continually seeks to expand the power and reach of its control. If nothing else, the enslavement of cows is colonialism. They may be better off in some ways, always having access to shelter and food, but they are not free and they are genetically modified to serve humans better, even if this means discomfort for the cows. They are milked daily to keep producing milk even though their calves are taken from them at birth. I can see it in their eyes. The old cows are dull and compliant, but the young ones can be different. During the summer, we let them out to pasture far from the farm (only the young bulls and the heifers which haven’t had a calf yet.) At the end of the summer when we come to get them, after several months of managing their own lives free from humans (within the confines of the pasture) that’s when I see it. It’s a look of keenness, a determination driven by the combination of freedom to live and responsibility for their own lives. They react faster, with more suspicion but also with more interest, they are more alive. It’s difficult to communicate with cows and therefore difficult to form organizations based on mutual interests, but considering that it’s difficult to do the same with other humans, this is just a practical problem and not one of principle.

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