Confronting Industrial Agriculture
Our movement has had some great successes in the last seven years. Campaigns against infrastructure growth like Manchester and Newbury have highlighted ecological destruction, involved thousands, inspired thousands more, and actually stopped hundreds of projects. However we are in danger of giving the illusion that ecological destruction happens primarily in the realm of 'mega-developments'. In fact the way we grow our food is the main cause of devastation in this country.
Many who have been involved in campaigns against infrastructural growth have increasingly put energy into fighting industrial agriculture- from the destruction of genetic crop test sites to the successful direct action camps at Offham. A 'Farmageddon' campaign was set up as a result of meetings at last summer's Earth First! Gathering and large actions are in the offing. This article then is an attempt to give a background for those who want to get involved along with some suggestions on future strategy.
Britain Post 1945: Agriculture's War on the Wild
Agriculture has always been ecologically destructive, but the rate of destruction in Britain has increased amazingly since the industrialisation that swept British agriculture after World War Two.
'In 1940, the German Luftwaffe made an aerial survey of much of Britain, especially the east and the south. 'These magnificent photographs', wrote Oliver Rackham in 1986, 'record every tree, hedge, bush, pingo and pond in several counties'. They show that 'except for town expansion, almost every hedge, wood, heath, fen etc. on the Ordnance Survey map of 1870 is still there on the air photographs of 1940. The seventy eventful years between, and even World War Two itself, were less destructive than any five years since'. The commonest cause of this post war orgy of vandalism, Rackham concludes, 'has been destruction by modern agriculture…'1
Hedges, ponds, woods and wetlands were cleared aside to make way for new machines and methods.
There were four main aspects of post war agricultural industrialisation that affected the rural ecology:
- The area of land under the plough was expanded at the expense of woods, marshes, downland, hedges and heaths.
- Farms were enlarged and standardised which resulted in the destruction of many woods, hedges, copses, banks, ponds and streams.
- New ways of exploiting animals were introduced. Many cattle already confined within the fences and daily routine of the farm, were removed entirely from any semblance of their natural habitat. No longer permitted to munch their way through diverse fiowery meadows, many have been imprisoned indoors (along with many pigs and chicken). Former pastures have been turned over to crops like barley, most of which is then manufactured into concentrated animal feed. Monoculture replaces diversity. Where animals are left outdoors, farmers have 'improved' old pasture by intensive chemicalisation. Nitrogen fertilisers rain down accompanied by herbicide and grass seed. The old mixtures of wild grasses and plants are replaced with specially bred strains - perennial ryegrasses with evocative names like S24 & S32.
- There has been a massive increase in the use of artificial fertiliser and pesticide on land already under crops. This has almost entirely destroyed the wildlife of the cornfields - the poppies, cornfiowers, hares and partridges-as well as disrupting (and often sterilising) the balance of nature in nearby streams, dykes and rivers.2
These four changes in agriculture since WW2 have been responsible for the following mind blowing list of ecological destruction.
Ninety seven percent of British meadows - along with their rich and varied fiora and fauna - have been destroyed in the last forty years.3 The expansion of cereal growing during the six years up to 1984 alone was accompanied by the removal of 17,500 miles of hedgerows and the clearance of 93 square miles of deciduous woodland.4
Since 1945 Britain has lost around 30% of its rough grazing land, 65% of song thrushes, 50% of lowland woodlands, 50% of its heaths and fens and 140,000 miles of hedgerow.5 80% of British chalk downland has been destroyed since World War Two.6
Birds and mammals that feed on soil invertebrates (particularly earthworms) have been hard hit: the sterilisation of the soil that results from the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides has robbed them of their food supply. For example, an English study found a close correlation between badger populations and the abundance of earthworms.7
What has happened in Suffolk is pretty representative. In the 50 years between 1933 and 1983 Suffolk saw 38% of her ancient woodlands clear cut and turned over to farmland or cut down and restocked with conifers. Largely as a result 29 species of fiowering plant have become extinct in Suffolk between 1950 and 1982, while 189 species have gone from being common to rare. The national populations of most UK Flora have dropped. 12 native fiowering plants and ferns died out completely between 1930 and 1984. Agricultural intensification was responsible for two thirds of these extinctions.8
Industrial Agriculture's war on the wild is being waged just as hard in the rest of Western Europe. A multi-year Danish study that tracked bird populations found that 24 species of birds, all important farmland species, were more abundant on organic farms than on land farmed industrially. 11 of these 24 species had declined since 1976.9
According to the European Commission, twenty five million hectares of farmland in Europe are threatened by soil erosion - an area eight times the size of the Netherlands.10 One study in Germany showed that five hundred and thirteen plant species are endangered or extinct as a result of agriculture, making it the leading contributor to the decline in biodiversity in the country.11
In this war between the remnants of wild Britain and the marching forces of monoculture nature does not lie dormant and passive. For on the land that it controls, agriculture is in a rearguard battle to stop the wild's constant attempt to reassert itself.
The American radical ecologist William Kotke wrote in ' The Final Empire':
'"When the climax ecosystem is cleared for agriculture, the earth seeks by all means at its disposal to heal the wound. It sends in the first aid crew to revegetate the area and cover the poor oxidising and eroding, bare soil.
"If life finds some unnatural abundance of exotic plants there, like soybeans or designer fiowers, it calls in all the species of fungus, micro-organism and insects that can eat up that sickly or unnatural life and reconvert it back into the life stream.
"What this means is, that it takes energy to fight life which is making an effort to rebalance itself. To do this requires fertilisers, poisons, petroleum, steel mills, agricultural universities, polluted waters, dead seas and so on and on…"12
Industrial Agriculture and the Global Industrial System
The problems caused by the industrial farm do not end at the farm gate. In industrial agriculture every farmer relies on energy and chemical weaponry from all over the globe. One industrial farm needs a whole global industrial system to back it up.
The effects of a farmer spraying his fields on a brisk spring day not only have ramfications for the local rivers, for the wild leafy shoots sprouting from the bare soil. It also affects places, peoples and ecology thousands of miles away.
The diesel that gives the tractor power to spray the land will usually either originate from the North Sea or from the Third World. If from the North Sea its extraction from its natural resting place under the seabed will have left whole marine ecosystems sterile. Oil spills are even more likely if it originated in the Third World. In the petroleum fuelled dictatorships blood is spilt as routinely as the oil. Whether it's the BP supported Colombian death gangs or the 'Shell Police' in Ogoniland - oil means death. However, for industrial agriculture, oil is its lifeblood.
The industrial way of providing food is so dependent on oil that, by the time the food arrives on our plates, for every calorie of energy in that food, approximately ten calories of fossil fuel energy have been expended to produce it.13
After destroying communities and polluting land and sea in its extraction. After providing the power to intensify agriculture and destroy land in its use; agriculturally used oil contributes to the largest change in the biosphere man has yet managed - global climate change. Largely as a result of this oil addiction agriculture is responsible for approximately one quarter of human created carbon dioxide emissions, (as well as, by the way, nearly 60% of methane emissions - a secondary greenhouse gas).14
Enough about the fuel that drives the tractor, what about what the tractor is spraying? On this particular hypothetical morning of ours it happens to be the fertiliser holy trinity, Nitrogen, Potassium & Phosphorous or NKP as it is usually known. Nitrogen fertilisers are responsible for 80% of nitrous oxide emissions - another greenhouse gas.15 Nitrous oxide is also one of the main agents behind acid rain - so, used to enhance artificial growth at one end, it wipes out natural vegetation at the other. Phosphate is found in relatively few places in the world. One such place is the Western Sahara which contains the third biggest reserves of phosphates on the Earth. For its extraction the largest conveyor belt system in the world has been built, and one of the longest colonial wars has been waged.16
Spain colonised Western Sahara in 1884 but it wasn't until it discovered the rich phosphate deposits that it really became interested, quickly building the infrastructure to export. The population, which had previously lived in nomadic tribes, first began to mobilise in the 1960's. In 1970 a national uprising was effectively quashed by the Spanish Foreign Legion. Five years later Spain handed over Western Sahara to Morocco & Mauritania. The three year old Sahawari organisation 'The Polisario Front' pitted itself through armed struggle against the joint invasion. Most Sahawaris were forced to fiee to refugee camps in Algeria, where most still live 22 years later. After many battles Mauritania withdrew totally from Western Sahara in 1978 and since then the struggle has been fought against Morocco. Morocco is the world's largest exporter of phosphates. Despite being desperately outgunned Polisario have managed to maintain a large tract of Western Sahara as liberated territory and have forced Morocco to the negotiation table.
Though the tractor spraying NKP in Norfolk may seem 1000 miles away from Saharan struggles (it's actually 1,700 miles away), they are intimately connected. If one had the time and space one could find almost limitless connections between our hypothetical Norfolk farm and destruction and enslavement world-wide. However the above examples outline the obvious. For industrial agriculture to produce food in the North, industry must destroy ecologies and communities throughout the South. The post war industrial boom in production is fertilised on the blood of the third world.
And boom it has been. The food industry has more companies in the world's top 1,000 corporations than any other sector. As Industry Week pointed out "feeding the world is …quite profitable". Trade in foodstuffs is dominated by the US company Cargill, the largest private company in the world; it not only trades but also transports and warehouses agricultural and other bulk commodities - grains, oilseeds, fruits, fruit juices, tropical commodities and fibres, meats, eggs, salt, petroleum, feeds, seeds and fertilisers - which it supplies to restaurants, food service institutions, grocery retailers, wholesalers and food manufacturers. 17
While the South is exporting 'resources' to the North, the North is exporting its brand of agriculture - industrial monoculture. The industrialisation process that swept most of the North after World War Two, wrecking ecology and destroying the small farmer was named 'progress'. In the South the moulding of most of the world's agricultural systems into a resource base for corporate interests was dressed up as 'development' and 'aid'.
Post war agricultural development involved 'high yielding' hybrid seeds and petro-chemical inputs. The introduction and spread of this input- and capital-intensive form of agriculture into the Third World, is commonly referred to as, (sickeningly), the 'Green Revolution'. The new 'High Yielding Varieties' (HYV's) require the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides and large amounts of irrigation water. Without these inputs, the traditional varieties outperform the HYVs, and (thanks to their uniformity) HYVs become highly susceptible to pests.18
The 'Green Revolution' pushes out small and subsistence farmers and ties those remaining large farm units into constant reliance on corporate products. This process continues to intensify. India is one of the oft cited successes of the 'green revolution' and is still at the forefront of confiicts between corporate and peasant power. Edward Goldsmith, publisher of The Ecologist and co-founder of the Green Party, puts it like this:
'Small farmers cannot afford the inputs needed for industrial agriculture, so they're pushed off the land and into the slums. It's very simple, India has 800 million people, 600 million live off the land. If you adopt modern agriculture… and we get farms of 500 acres and we have 2 or 3% of the population producing the food for everyone else - the food is produced by 20 million people. What do you do with the other 580 million?'19
This process of dispossession and enclosure really has its roots in the first conquest of modern agriculture and the market system, Britain.
Global Soil Erosion
The machinations of elite power and increased population growth collaborate to destroy our food's very foundation - soil fertility. As a result, agricultural systems throughout the world are now experiencing unsustainable levels of soil loss. Half of the world's cropland is losing topsoil at a rate which undermines its long-term productivity.21 Satellite images show huge plumes of airborne soil moving from North Africa over the Atlantic, sometimes producing a dense haze. Estimates of African soil lost to the wind range from 100 to 400 million tons per year.22 As soil moves from healthy to poor, yields drop by about half. Now think what that means when since mid-century, the world has lost nearly one fifth of the topsoil from its crop-land.23
Enclosure: The Root of the Problem
"The first man who, having enclosed a plot of ground, took upon himself to say 'This is mine', and found people silly enough to believe him, was the real founder of civilisation. How many wars, how many murders, how much misery and horror, would have been spared if someone, tearing up the fence and filling in the ditch, had cried out to his fellows: 'Give no heed to this impostor; you are lost if you forget that the fruits of the earth belong to all, the land to no one.'"
- Rousseau, 1753 24
To understand why the British countryside is like it is, we need to look back to the birth of modern agriculture and the society which it feeds. Just as the industrialisation of the cities was a method of social control rather than a natural result of technological innovation; so too was the industrialisation of agriculture and the dispossession and eventual depopulation of the countryside.
Enclosure, the process by which communally held land (commons) and the people that use it are incorporated into the money economy, is the foundation of industrial agriculture and capitalist society in general.
'The creation of empires and states, business conglomerates and dictatorships…has only been possible through dismantling the commons and harnessing the fragments…[in] the interests of the dominant minority… The market economy has expanded primarily by enabling state and commercial interests to gain control of territory that has traditionally been used and cherished by others, and by transforming that territory - together with the people themselves - into expendable "resources" for exploitation…
Only in this way has it been possible to convert peasants into labour for a global economy, replace traditional with modern agriculture, and free up the commons for the industrial economy. Similarly, only by atomising tasks and separating workers from the moral authority, crafts and natural surroundings created by their communities has it been possible to transform them into modern, universal individuals susceptible to "management".' 25
Although the enclosure of commons has taken place at many different moments throughout world history, it was in Britain between the 15th and 19th centuries that the phenomenon became identifiable as a historical process. It is worth looking at the land war that gave industrial agriculture its birth - because the history of enclosure is the history of our dispossession.
Throughout the middle ages the commons system, unfenced and communally managed strips of land, predominated in England. Though in no way a utopia it did guarantee land to the bulk of the population.
In the 16th century the price of grain was relatively low compared with that of wool. To take advantage of this the elite carried out a vicious campaign of enclosure. Whole villages of commoners were evicted. 'Fair fields full of folk' were turned to desolate sheep walks. The dispossessed peasants became labourers or joined the ever increasing hordes of vagrants wandering through the countryside.
The peasantry did not resign itself to fate, but fought back. Numerous local and regional revolts were waged against enclosure. One of the largest - the 'Kett's Men Revolt' - was started in Wymondham, near Norwich; (450 years later Wymondham would host one of the first anti-road camps).
'In July 1543…a mob of smallholders had assembled under an old oak tree on the common outside the village. They demanded an end to the enclosure of common land. Kett made a rousing speech and the mob marched off to Norwich, gathering strength as they went. Soon Kett's army numbered 20,000 and captured Norwich castle…[Unfortunately, after other battles with the King's soldiers] Kett was captured, condemned for treason and hung. His oak tree has survived…[but the common on which it stands has long since been enclosed and is now fields of oil seed rape.] 26
A new class entered the land war around this time. In 1536 Henry the 8th dissolved the monasteries, seizing the land of the Church which covered a fifth of the land surface of England and Wales. Most of this was then sold to middle class professionals such as merchants and members of the legal system. These new landowners had even less respect for the poor than the feudal lords. More and more enclosures were carried out and the protracted struggle between the classes continued.
It was rare for a committed landlord's enclosure plans to be stopped, but resistance continued nonetheless. There were literally hundreds of riots and revolts against enclosure throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. May 1607, for instance, saw a month of sustained and widespread rioting in Northamptonshire, a county in which many parishes had experienced such complete enclosure that road verges represented the only remaining common land. The armies of the landowners put down the rebels, executing some. In spite of this defeat, further enclosure riots erupted in neighbouring midland counties.
'In 1649, to St.George's Hill, A ragged band they called the diggers came to show the people's will. They defied the landlords, they defied the laws. They were the dispossessed reclaiming what was theirs. …The Sin of property, we do disdain, No man has any right to buy & sell the earth for private gain. By theft and murder, they took the land. Now everywhere the walls spring up at their command…'28
With the force of arms stacked against them commoners relied on surprise and collective action. For example on June 6th 1638 a football match on Burnt Fen was the guise for anti-enclosure rioters from Ely and Lakenheath to assemble and destroy the drainage ditches. 27
A few years later power struggles between factions of the ruling class would boil over into civil war. After parliamentary victory 1,677 royalist estates were seized by Oliver Cromwell. This signalled the end of feudalism and the coming into birth of the new merchant culture - capitalism.
In this period of massive upheaval many radical movements formed. They ranged from raucous millenarian revolutionaries such as the ranters to the more docile movements like the Quakers. One of the most prominent groups at the time was the diggers.
The diggers were one of the first groups for centuries to question the very basis of private property. They occupied commons all over the country calling on the poor to join them in challenging the landowners. The first colony at St.George's Hill 29 was eventually evicted and most others suffered a similar fate. Despite dozens of occupations they never managed to involve more than (at most) a few thousands. Without the participation of the majority of the poor they were easily crushed in the political clampdown that followed the parliamentary victory. Their vision lives still and on direct action camps the diggers' song is a firepit favourite.
The eighteenth century saw a heightened period of enclosure. Hundreds of thousands of smallholders lost their land and cottages. The 145 years preceding the General Enclosure Act of 1845 saw an estimated 8,000 private enclosures covering around 14 million acres.30
On June 1st 1771 a crowd of women destroyed the fences around Rewhay Common, but were caught in the act and arrested. Another mob rose up and marched on Burton-on Trent where they freed their comrades and carried them away in triumph.31
Football was again used as a mask to assemble when a notice was posted in the Northampton Mercury inviting "well wishers to the Cause now in Hand" to a football match at West Handon, on the 1st of August 1795. On the day, a mob pulled down and burnt the fences enclosing the commons.
In the next half-century, despite resistance in many areas, the majority of the remaining commons were enclosed. Without the relative independence they had maintained by working the commons, the rural poor were now merely labourers - wage slaves. It was their labour that grew the nation's food but their meagre pay would often not even buy back enough food for them to survive. The introduction of threshing machines that could do the work of half a dozen men resulted in many families' entire livelihoods being taken away. Starvation, still births, bad health, over-work and early death ravaged the country poor. They had only one choice: to rise up!
Fifty nine years after the Rewhay Common riot, (to the day), Mr. Moyer, a Kent farmer, looked out of his farmhouse window to see his ricks and barns burning. In the next couple of months such bonfires would light up the sky all over the country.
Three months later on Sunday 29th of August, at Hardres, near Canterbury, four hundred labourers marched through the countryside destroying the hated threshing machines. It wasn't until the next day that two magistrates with a hundred special constables and some soldiers turned up, by which time the rioters had disappeared32. The rural rising spread quickly throughout the Dover area and all through September mobs roamed Kent. The 'Swing riots' had started.
With village inns acting as rallying points, news spread from village to village. Inspired by the success of the first actions, communities all over the country begun to act. The uprising of 1830 was to become the most successful machine breaking episode in English history.
In Sussex the labourers successfully smashed hundreds of threshing machines; frightened farmers sometimes even destroyed their own as a conciliatory gesture. The Brighton Chronicle, published on the 6th October 1830, reported that the High Sheriff went to a gathering of labourers in Ringmer in an attempt to negotiate with them. He was told:
'We will destroy the cornstacks and threshing machines this year, next year we will have a turn with the parsons, and the third we will make war upon the statesmen.'
Barbara Hammond, author of one of the best books on the Swing Riots, described the State of the country thus: 'Several counties in the south of England were in a state bordering on insurrection; London was in a panic …and those who had tried to forget the price that had to be paid [by the poor] for the splendour of the rich… [were reminded with] red skies, broken mills, mob diplomacy and villages in arms.'33
Farmers and landowners all over the country were receiving letters warning them to pay better wages and to do away with the hated machines before they were 'visited'. Many of these letters were signed Captain Swing. Though the labourers described themselves as 'Captain Swing's soldiers' - Swing was not an actual person. Disparate communities could feel like they were part of something larger than themselves by imagining they were part of the army of (a fictional) Captain Swing. Such non-existent leaders are a regular feature of British rebellions: 'Ned Ludd', the 'Rebecca' riots etc. This is not that different from the way groups in different towns and countries unite behind the banner of Earth First! to feel part of something big.
From the Shaftesbury rioters in the south-west who successfully liberated five comrades from jail, (29th of November), to the northern mob that assembled to prevent burning ricks being put out around Carlisle (12th of December),34 hundreds of thousands were rising up. The crackling of bonfires and the sound of sledgehammers smashing machines could be heard all over Britain.
It was as near to a national movement as so spontaneous and unorganised an upsurge could be. It occurred mainly in the low wage South and East, ie: in the area comprising the confines of Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, most of Cambridge, Bedford, Huntingdon, Hertford, Middlesex, Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Berkshire, Wiltshire, Hampshire and parts of the counties of Northampton, Buckingham, Oxford, Gloucester, Somerset and Dorset. It was not the whole of England- but in so far as England remained an agricultural country, it contained the core.
'The 30th of November eighteen hundred and thirty,
The Owslebury lads they did prepare all for the machinery,
And when they did get there, how they let fiy!
The machinery fiew to pieces in the twinkling of an eye.
Chorus: The mob, such a mob you never had seen before,
And if you live for a hundred years you never will no more
Oh then to Winchester we were sent, our trial for to take,
…When the judges did begin, I'm sorry for to say,
So many there were transported for life and some were cast to die.'
The village of Owslebury is one of the nearest villages to Twyford Down, the birthplace of British direct action anti-roads campaigns. The prison which initially housed the Green Anarchist three, was 160 years beforehand stuffed with machine hating labourers. The Special Commission began hearings at Winchester on the 18th of November 1830. In a representative case, of the 245 Hampshire prisoners the majority were found guilty of destroying machinery and extorting money. Their punishments ranged from fines and/or transportation to Australia to hanging. In the end only two brave souls were strung up. Though thousands were arrested country wide, tens of thousands more carried out daring raids without paying with their liberty.
The rising was in the end destroyed by a combination of state force and the simple fact that many of the demands of those rising up were met. For though repressed, Swing is far more of a success than Ludd: agricultural wages were forced higher and the introduction of mechanisation was blocked for decades. The risings may not have developed into full blown social change but then their stated objective never had, for the most, been revolution. The revolts essentially stayed within the economic sphere. Few demanded the land. Instead thanks to moderation, (often infiuenced by the active mediation of Methodist ministers), they merely demanded the right to survive. The right to be employed, working the land primarily for the interest of the landlords. Considering the emerging struggles in the industrial towns perhaps the greatest tragedy was that the rural labourers never managed to link up with their brethren in the cities. If such a unity had been forged it would have been unbeatable.
Resistance continued through the next century but never on such a national scale. According to the 'official' history the last battle on English soil occurred on 31st of May 1838, as armed Kentish peasants clashed with troops at Bosendon Wood. 35
Due to space constraints the above history is sparse and selective. However its aim is to show in what context industrial agriculture was born. The landowners constantly proclaim that they are the protectors of the countryside; that we predominately urban activists should not interfere. The truth is that they are the destroyers of the countryside. We live in the cities because their predecessors, through enclosure with sheer force, took the land from under the feet of our ancestors and forced them into the slums. Industrial agriculture was born as a means of control over people as much as means of control over nature. This process of enclosure continues - as does the resistance to it.
On the Attack: The Farmaggedon Campaign
The ecology is Offham Marsh, and the camp that saved it from the plough.
Campaigns against enclosure are growing. One of the main focuses for action in the last couple of years has been against genetic engineering, the enclosure of the seed. In the Netherlands the 'raging diggers' have been digging over genetic test sites, while in Germany activists have been squatting them (see DoD #6). In France, (the only country in Europe growing commercial genetic crops), 100 farmers stormed a Novartis conditioning and storage plan on January the 8th. After looking around they found 5 tons of transgenic maize which they mixed with non-modified maize before humidifying it - rendering it useless. Novartis is claiming the action cost them 1 million US Dollars. Irish campaigners have been out with their spades too, successfully destroying the only test site in Ireland. In Britain over half a dozen test sites have been trashed, along with a handful of office actions. Test site trashing has turned out to be a very effective tactic. If a field experiment is destroyed half way through it has to start all over again, and it has to wait to the next growing season to do so. Minimal action has a disproportionate effect. Such actions are likely to increase in number.
Special Areas of Scientific Interest (SSSI) are the ecological backbone of Britain. More are affected by farming than any other factor. Last April at Offham in Sussex, the first ever anti-industrial agriculture camp was set up to stop the ploughing of a rare wildlife-rich downland. Direct action saved the SSSI (see page 62 in DoD No.6) but the farmer didn't learn his lesson. After discovering he wanted to drain and plough an important marshland SSSI, (full to the brim with newts, water spiders, frogs etc), a second camp was set up. He let a bull into the field and paid a tribe of 11 year olds to throw rocks at us. Despite such tricks we stayed put through August and September until he was ordered by an embarrassed Michael Meacher, (the Environment Minister), to back down. The camps at Offham have shown that tactics which stretch the state at sites like Newbury, can bring farmers to their knees.
Mass fence burning outside Lewes, land occupations in London, camp overs on noxious landowners' estates and a land squat near the original diggers' colony, have been just some of the actions around land 'issues' in the last couple of years. Most have been a result of the formation of the group 'The Land is Ours' (TLIO) which describes itself as 'a landrights movement for Britain',36. TLIO started off as quite a centralised, personality led organisation but thankfully it is now more of a network, with half a dozen groups involved in active local work. They are planning a number of occupations and trespasses this spring.
Animal liberationists continue to fight against the imprisonment, enslavement and murder that industrial agriculture forces on millions of animals every year. The view of agribusiness towards our fellow creatures is well summed up in a farming magazine.
'Forget the pig is an animal, treat him just like a machine in a factory. Schedule treatments like you would lubrication. Breeding season like the first step in an assembly line. And marketing like the delivery of finished goods' 37
In the last year the ALF has liberated thousands of animals from such slavery.
Resistance to industrial agriculture is fractured. The media and campaigners themselves build up fences around their favourite 'single issue'. If we are to have any chance of stopping the situation getting worse then we must link up campaigns against genetic engineering, for animal liberation and land 'rights' into a holistic struggle which can adequately take on the landowners.
At the EF! gathering last year there were workshops about setting up a campaign that could do this. Out of those discussions a number of projects are happening. A large land squat is planned in late May to bring together activists. The idea is to take a genetic test field, squat it and turn it into an experiment in ecological agriculture. The land squat will aim to hold the land for a month, and there will be workshops and talks ranging from how to do forest gardening to the history of land struggle.
The newly formed Farming Environment Network will also be touring gatherings and festivals throughout the summer doing educational work. At harvest in August/September there will be a large national action against industrial agriculture.
Actions Coming Up!
March 28th & 29th: The Land Is Ours is organising a two day occupation (near Luton) in commemoration of the Diggers. April 1st: They will also be holding an anniversary trespass on the site of the first digger colony at St.George's Hill. Late May will see a land squat (somewhere in Britain) set up on a genetic test field and it is hoped the site will last for a month, contact Norfolk EF! On June 14th in Sussex there will be a mass trespass over areas the landed exclude us from. A second trespass will be on July 5th. Contact South Downs EF! Sometime in August there will be a large action against industrial agriculture, talk to Norfolk EF!
If we concentrate our energies in places where our actions will have most effect; and if we succeed in uniting campaigners from different 'issues' into a solid front against industrial agriculture, then we can really start to become a threat.
The objectives of the Farmageddon campaign should be primarily to halt further advancement in agri-business technologies, like genetics, agrochemicals and intensive battery farming. It should also aim to educate people on why we need to de-industrialise agriculture and challenge the power of the landowners.
Consolidation: Resistance is Growing!
'The 'Dig for Victory' campaigns of the two world wars showed that the British people can feed themselves with judicious land management. In the latter part of the twentieth century we must think in terms of 'Dig for Revolution!'38
We need to bite the hand that feeds us, and we need to sink our teeth into it now. Being eco warriors in the field(s) but passive consumers at dinner time is not good enough. If we are to effectively confront corporate agribusiness then we, the landless, need to develop our imagination and rediscover skills so that we can start to unplug ourselves from the machine, (and unplug the machine itself).
We can create viable agricultural systems by learning from nature and from the many millions of farmers - mostly in the South - who farm much as their ancestors did. The main principle of ecological agriculture is to work with nature not against it. It makes sense to model your agricultural system on the climax ecosystem of your bioregion. In most of Britain it's woodland and a lot of radical ecologists over the last few decades have been working on 'forest farming' or 'agro-forestry' as it's sometimes known. (See 'Forest Farming' Box).
To feed everyone on this island, industrial agri-business requires the dispossession of peoples and the destruction of land, all over the planet. Yet, we could all feed ourselves without importing food or resources at all. Colin Tudge, the author of 'The Famine Business', has estimated that if Britain's farming activity was aimed just at supporting our population, rather than feeding cows etc., we would need only a fifth of the land at present under cultivation.39
It's worth stopping and thinking about that fact. Only a fifth of the land presently under cultivation could make us self reliant, if we all went vegan. Even those who don't care about animal suffering should consider the increased burden their dairy/meat addiction places on the earth. This is also a good point on which to build unity between the movements of radical ecology and animal liberation. Even if his calculations were a bit exaggerated, (and from his methodology there is no reason to presume this), we're talking about at least three fifths of the land occupied by industrial agriculture in Britain no longer needed to feed our population. What would we do with it?
Shock, Horror! We could have wilderness again in Britain. Vast expanses of land could regenerate into the wildwoods of old. Exploding with diversity, and resounding with the sounds of wild animals. A land repopulated with bears, beavers, boars and bison! Earth First! is a movement for the wild, and our re-incorporation in it. The stark battle lines between the wild and the domesticated could fade away as the edges of our forest farms receded into the dappled shadows of the wildwood. Let your imagination run wild!
We are needless to say, a long way away from such a land. At the moment less than 1% of agricultural land is even farmed organically40. Of this small percentage of land most is still farmed industrially for profit, using mechanisation to produce for distant markets. A minute amount of land is under cultivation by ecologically minded folk. For all but the children of the upper middle classes, buying land is just too expensive.
The 'ecological agriculture movement' (if one can talk of one at all) is concerned primarily with buying small farms and selling produce through 'organic box schemes' and the like. Consumers pay a regular fixed amount and in return receive a box of seasonal vegetables every week or so. These small scale local producer-consumer links (bypassing the supermarkets) are a positive trend but they're still well within the realms of the commodity economy and are often assimilated leaving nothing but the ordinary division between producers and consumers.
How then can we, the landless, obtain some land to sustain ourselves outside the commodity economy and learn the skills we need? Quite a few long term EF!ers are forming together to buy land collectively. A 15 acre patch of deciduous woodland costs around £20,000 - a sum beyond the reach of most of us. However twenty activists all putting in a grand begins to sound more feasible - anyone can raise a grand in a year, even if it means a couple of months washing dishes in restaurant kitchens. Seed communities like these will be essential models for future farming but such projects are rare. However there are other ways we can start to grow our own food.
For a start most of us have access to a window sill or two. An old gardening saying is that 'the most productive plot in the garden is the one you can see from the kitchen.'. What then could be more productive than a few pots and windowboxes filled with herbs on your kitchen windowsill? It may seem a humble beginning but it will develop your green fingers. A significant amount of vegetables can be grown inside the house too.
Our ancestors, the machine smashers and rick burners of 1830, though they had the land stolen from them, leave us an inheritance. At the end of the last decade there were half a million small plots of land, usually between a tenth and a quarter of an acre, available to anyone to rent at around £15 a year41.
Some rare sites are two hundred years old but allotments really started to multiply after the Swing riots. Faced with an immiserated urban and country populace reformers supported the growth of allotments for egalitarian reasons. However, the main reason for their spread was the outbreak of 'violent protest'.
Reeling from the riots and rural insurrections of the 1830s the rich gave the poor allotments, thinking it better that they gave reforms than received revolution. The 1843 Parliamentary Report of the Select Committee on the Labouring Poor backs this claim up:
'It was not until 1830, when discontent had been so painfully exhibited amongst the peasants of the southern region that this method of alleviating their situation was much resorted to.'
Kent, which had seen the birth of Captain Swing, was one of the first counties to declare for allotments. Though it was commonly thought among the elite to be a necessary evil, many farmers objected for reasons a Kent writer outlined at the time.
'The farmers are apt to think that the holding of an allotment will give the labourer a spirit of independence that will interfere with the service he owes his master "The more they work for themselves, the less they work for us."'42
The amount of allotments today is dwarfed by the figures then. Nottingham was representative of most towns.
'In those days Nottingham was surrounded by allotments, not in their hundreds but in their tens of thousands, and the great Dean Hole…estimated that in his day, about a hundred years ago, there were some 20,000 of them scattered around what was then an important town but not yet a city, and the home of under 200,000 people - an allotment for about every third family. Most of them, I imagine, were like our family a few decades later, growing virtually all their own vegetables and thereby making themselves independent of everyone else for at least a large portion of the daily diet'.43
Sites are thriving communities, allotment holders cooperate together on many projects. The site where our allotments are, consists of a small dipping valley, with a path weaving its way along the bottom. Once we'd settled in and were well known, every time we walked down the path we'd be accosted by someone giving us their excess carrots, offering us clippings etc. While it would be pushing it to say allotments are anarchy in action, (the rigid boundaries of each plot are rarely broken down), they are definitely an example of mutual aid.
Hundreds of thousands are drawn to allotments, to scrunch the soil between their fingers and see the green shoots grow. Around the same amount of people work allotments as work in the entire 'official' agricultural sector. It's astounding to find that one in 40 households in Britain has an allotment.44
With the welfare state (another reform to hold back revolution) being dismembered allotments will become more important than ever. It doesn't matter how hard up you are you can still eat good healthy organic fruit and veg. Allotments teach more people about self organisation than the radical ecological movement ever has.
Andre Gorz, author of 'Ecology as Politics' has written that the elite,
'…whether conscious or not, has preserved those marginal zones of autonomy formed by the allotments…For as long as workers own a set of tools enabling them to produce for their own needs, and a plot of land to grow some vegetables…[their wage slavery] will be felt to be reversible…'45.
Unsurprisingly allotments are under attack, councils are selling them off to raise revenue. Railtrack is threatening to sell off its 10,000 allotments, making an estimated £500,000 an acre. Since the last election the government has approved the disposal of over 50 allotment sites - many for house building46. In Bath the church wanted to bulldoze the St. Stephens allotment site to construct two luxury homes - each with parking spaces for four cars! Activists and plotholders set up a phone tree and the threat of direct action seems to have scared the developers off - for now47.
Allotments allow us all the ability to learn to grow food. It is no good, squatting land only to find no one knows how to grow anything. In the coming struggle between the landed and the landless, it'll be cityfolk who march out into the land they have been banished from. But it'll be our allotments we'll be marching out from.
Wherever you are on Earth the most sustainable and earth-friendly way to grow food is the way which is most like the natural vegetation of that area. In each part of the world a different natural vegetation has evolved over the ages to fit perfectly with the climate and other local conditions. In Britain it is woodland.
A forest garden is a garden modelled on a natural woodland and like woodland it has three layers of vegetation: trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants. In an edible forest garden the first two layers contain fruit and nut trees & bushes, the ground layer perennial vegetables and herbs. Many gardens contain the same things as a forest garden, but usually each is grown separately, as orchard, soft fruit area, vegetable patch and herb bed. What distinguishes a forest garden is that all are grown together on the same piece of ground, one above the other. A forest garden will produce less top fruit than a simple orchard, less berries than a pure stand of soft fruit bushes, and less vegetables than a simple vegetable garden. But the combined produce of the garden's three layers will create a much larger yield than any single layer system.
The more complete and self replicating an ecosystem the less work we have to do to maintain it. Therefore the soil is not dug, and annual vegetables are not normally included unless they can reproduce by self-seeding. Our diet is significantly less diverse than that of our gatherer-hunter ancestors. Eating a wide range of different foods is good for our health; forest gardening, being a very diverse growing system, produces a wide variety of plants.
Gardens like this have long been cultivated in many tropical countries, and still are in places as far apart as Central America, Tanzania and the Indian state of Kerala, to name but three. Soon we shall see swathes of forest gardens spread across Britain.
Transcendence: Goodbye to the Countryside & the City
'Long before 2030 the trend toward ever larger cities and an increasing ratio of urban-to-rural dwellers is likely to have reversed…The proper question is not whether the urban tide will ebb but when, how rapidly, and whether by foresight or happenstance. …the choice is whether those returning to rural areas in the century ahead will do so, in the main, willingly and expectantly with the appropriate knowledge, attitudes, and skills as homecomers or arrive as ecological refugees driven by necessity, perhaps desperation.' 48
We should try to build towards having large self supporting barrios in Britain in the next few years. They could be much like those the Movement of the Landless (MST) have been running in Brazil (see p.88). Such a situation is not as far away as it may seem. Shortly after the war over 45,000 squatted abandoned army camps, all over Britain. With 1,038 camps squatted the government was in a panic. With no way to destroy the squats they tried to assimilate them. It was struggles such as these that ushered in the welfare state. With the welfare state now under attack we are going to have to look again at these collective actions.
More recently travellers have been living on what amounts to barrios for two decades. Throughout the 1980s there were tens of thousands occupying land, in vehicles, trailers and benders. State force has literally driven thousands of travellers out of the country, and discouraged more from going on the road. The introduction of smack has destroyed much of the communal atmosphere that used to exist. Despite this there are still dozens of good sites around the country, filled with radical and green people. In fact many of our best activists come from travelling backgrounds and action camps themselves have become (ironically) some of the safest sites around for travellers to live on.
If we do set up large land communities we will have to make sure that we are prepared. That they are not media stunts or seen by ordinary people as the realm of the young and alternative. We will need to build a real counter-culture not an escapist dystopia.
The conclusion of this overly long article is that industrial agriculture can only be understood and fought in the wider context of industrial society.
The r-evolution we desire will be a long process, there are no short cuts. We will have to build a movement that has the knowledge and ability to both sustain itself ecologically and effectively combat the state.
We must go on the offensive to defend the gains previous struggles have given us and stop the situation getting worse. Most importantly halting the sell offs of allotment sites and destroying the growth of genetics. This is going to take a combination of community organising and militant direct action.
At the same time we can begin to consolidate by learning the skills to grow our own food, live communally and ecologically. We will need to break out of the radical/alternative ghetto that we imprison ourselves in and show that what are horrifically labelled 'lifestyles' are relevant to ordinary people. The amount of people using allotments, growing in their own gardens etc needs to increase. We should use offensive campaigns as catalysts to build up and consolidate the movement.
A campaign against industrial agriculture should understand that without the destruction of industrial capitalist culture the attainment of an ecological society is impossible. We should give ourselves no illusions - transcendence will no doubt be a protracted and bloody process. History, and other struggles worldwide, show us that however nonviolent a movement is, when the power of the rich and landed is threatened they always reply with hard force. But just as we reject pacifism we too should reject the romanticisation of violence. Transcendence without insurrection is impossible but insurrection, as Alexander Berkman once said, 'is merely the rolling up of the sleeves, the real work is yet to be done'. Once we have rid ourselves of the landowners, bosses and tyrants; done away with our own ideologies and old behaviour we will be at the beginning of a long journey. Such a path will be mapped by millions of feet, not one Earth First!er.
Be Realistic, Demand the Impossible!
Land & Liberty!
For details of groups that are 'going back to the land' contact: The Land is Ours Rural Resettlement Officer c/o The Land is Ours, Box E, 111 Magdalen Road, Oxford, OX4 1RQ Tel: 01865 722016.
If you want to get involved in actions or in educational work contact Norfolk EF!
Take part in the fight against genetic engineering by contacting the Genetic Engineering Network, PO BOX 9656, London, N4 4JY 0181 3749516. News and pictures of test site trashing can be found on the SHAG, website: http:/www.envirolink.org/orgs/shag/x-files.html
General requests for information, rabid criticism, strange drawings, letter bombs and dead bees etc. can be sent to the author of this article via the Do or Die collective.
Understand the Problem
'Food Insecurity: Who Gets to eat?', The Ecologist magazine, Nov/Dec '96, 75 A4 pgs, £4 Thorough analysis on why 800 million people are malnourished, hungry or starving. Published to counter the lies, myths & hypocrisy of the global elite at the 'World Food Summit' in Rome '96.
From the Ground Up: Rethinking Industrial Agriculture', International Society for Ecology & Culture, 1993, 120 pgs, £6 A coherent overview of the nature of industrial agriculture, excellent though a bit liberal.
Agriculture: The Demon Engine of Civilisation', John Zerzan, in 'Elements of Refusal', Left Bank Books, Seattle 1988, £6 Available from Dead Trees. See your worldview collapse before you!
'Colonising the Seed: Genetic Engineering and Techno-Industrial Agriculture' Gyorgy Scrinis, £3 + 50p postage, 47 A5 pgs. Excellent primer on genetics. Good for helping you understand genetic science as well as the power games at play in modern agri-business. Available from AK Press (see Reviews section).
Learn your History
'Captain Swing', E.J. Hobsbawm & George Rude, Pimlico 1993, 384 pgs First published in 1969 but still the best book on the Swing riots.
'This Land is Our Land: The Struggle for Britain's Countryside', Marion Shoard, Gaia Books, 1997, 522 pgs, £10.99 Good overview of British land issues. Sections on land struggle history and who owns Britain shine, leaving the reformist conclusions out of place. Everyone should read this book.
Plant the Seeds of Revolution
'The Allotment: Its Landscape & Culture', David Crouch & Colin Ward, 1988 Everything you wanted to know about allotments, from two long term anarchists.
'Dig For Revolution' A snazzy little 14 page A6 zine full of useful snippets of advice on allotment growing as well as bits of good eco-anarcho rant. Send an SAE & donation to: Graham, Land and Liberty, 35 Rayleigh Ave, Westcliff-on-sea, Essex.
'How to Make a Forest Garden', Patrick Whitefield, Permanent Publications, 168 A4 pgs, £14.99 A practical guide to creating a forest garden in a temperate country
Notes and References
1 Oliver Rackham quoted in 'Low Impact Development: Planning & People in a Sustainable Countryside', Simon Fairlie, 1996, p13
2 Marion Shoard describes these four main aspects of post war agriculture in 'This Land Is Our Land', p158 (See Further reading)
3 'Focus on Meadows' RSNC, England, 1991
4 C.Barr et al, 'Landscape Changes in Britain' Huntingdon: Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, 1986.
5 'Biodiversity and the British Isles', Do or Die No.4, p.34.
6 Nature Conservancy Council, 'Nature Conservation in Great Britain' Peterborough: NCC, 1984, p.105, 56
7 Arden-Clarke, C "Farming Systems Impact on Wildlife Habitat'. In 'The Environmental Effects of Conventional and Organic/Biological Farming Systems', Part IV, Oxford, 1988
8 Nature Conservancy Council, op cit, p.56
9 'Fuglefaunaen pa konventionelle og okologiske landbrug', Miloprojekt. Nr 102, Miljostyrelsen, 1988 .
10 'Free Trade & Farm Fallacies', The Ecologist Magazine, vol 26, no.6, Nov/Dec '96
11 Korneck, D, Sukopp, H. 'Rote Liste der in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland ausgestorbenann, verschollen und gefahrdetan farn- und Blutenpfianzen und ihre Auswertung fur den Biotop-und Artenschutz'. Bonn, 1988
12 William Kotke, 'The Final Empire', Arrow Point Press, USA, 1993
13 See 'Meeting the Expectations of the Land', eds Wes Jackson, Wendell Berry & Bruce Coleman, North Point Press, San Francisco, 1983.
14 Peter Bunyard, 'Industrial Agriculture- Driving Climate Change?', p292, The Ecologist, Nov/Dec 1996
15 Peter Bunyard Ibid
16 'War & Refugees: The Western Sahara Confiict', ed. R. Lawless & L.Monahan, Pinter Publishers, London 1987
17 For a good insight into the leading companies in the transnational food industry see: 'Transnational Corporations and Food', by Sarah Sexton, The Ecologist, Nov/Dec 1996
18 For a short approachable introduction to the 'green revolution' try 'Colonising the Seed'- see further reading.
19 Taken from the video 'The Future of Progress: Refiections on Environment & Development'. £12 from the International Society for Ecology & Culture, 21 Victoria Square, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 4ES
20 See 'We all Live in Bhopal' by George Bradford, 10p + SAE from Dead Trees Distribution. See also 'Unfinished Business: Bhopal Ten Years After', by Ward Morehouse, The Ecologist, Sept/Oct 1994.
21 Lester R. Brown and Edward C. Wolf. 'Soil Erosion: Quiet Crisis in the World Economy'. Worldwatch Institute, Washington DC, 1984, p40
22 Ibid p16
23 Lester R. Brown, 'State of the World 1990', W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 1990.
24 J.Rousseau, 'Discussion on the Origin of Inequality Between Men', 1753
25 The Ecologist, 'Whose Common Future: Reclaiming the Commons', Earthscan, London 1993, p21
26 Thomas Pakenham, 'Meetings with Remarkable Trees', 1997, p115
27 'Calendar Riots', page 17 See page 151 of this issue for a full review.
28 The Diggers Song, Leon Rosselson.
29 On St.George's Day 1995 The Land is Ours organised a memorial occupation on the Hill. Wanting to avoid confrontation with the police the organisers fell back from occupying the hill itself, now a golf course, instead setting up nearly a mile away. See Letters section of DoD #5
30 See the chapter by Gilbert Slater, 'A Historical Outline of Land Ownership in England', in 'The Land: The Report of the Land Enquiry Committee', Hodder & Stoughton, 1913.
31 'Calender Riots', op cit 27
32 J.L Hammond & Barbara Hammond, 'The Village Labourer', Longman, p180.
33 Ibid p178
34 'Calendar Riots', op cit 27, p16
36 Seen as the next big thing after Newbury, The Land is Ours unfortunately used much of its massive coverage to push a reformist agenda and criticise other campaigns:
'There've been a lot of mindless direct action campaigns where there's been a lack of thoughtfulness or creativity. Direct action by itself will do nothing. Absolutely nothing. But direct action mixed with political lobbying can achieve a lot of results'. It continues 'Critical mass [bike actions] is great, but it's got to be very clear that what it's all about is generating political pressure - as opposed to trying to generate change at the time. The traffic jam is a means to an end - not the end in itself ', Monbiot: Pure Genius?', London Cyclist, August/September 1996, p14).
Of course direct action has (without the aid of lobbyists) done considerably more than 'absolutely nothing'. It has decimated the biggest road building programme in Europe, and radicalised tens of thousands. The conversion of direct action into a lobbying tactic misses the entire point. Actions like Critical Mass or Reclaim the Streets are attempts to 'generate change at the time'. They are not primarily innovative ways of causing traffic jams. The importance lies inside the demonstration not outside in the jams. Space is liberated, a sense of freedom reigns and we create windows into a future world. In a similar vein TLIO saw the land squats as essentially publicity stunts and this led to a number of problems, not least what to do once the cameras were gone. Some Reclaim the Streets activists wrote a good analysis of The Land is Ours entitled 'The Land is Theirs', published in Black Flag in 1996.
37 'Hog Farm Management', September 1976, Quoted in J. Robbins, 'Diet for a New America', 1987
38 Graham, 'Dig For Revolution', see Further Reading.
39 Marion Shoard, op cit 2, page 153
40 Organic farming given seal of the skylark', BBC Wildlife magazine, March '98
41 David Crouch & Colin Ward, 'The Allotment: Its Landscape & Culture', 1988, p81
42 Ibid, p50
43 Harry Wheatcroft, 'My life with Roses', Odhams, 1959
44 David Crouch, op cit, p239
45 Andre Gorz, 'Farewell to the Working Class'; Pluto Press, 1982
46 'Losing the Plot', The Guardian, p4 Society section, 18.2.97
47 For more info on the St. Stephen's allotments campaign tel. 01225-317072
48 David. W Orr, From a talk entitled 'The Greening of Education' as part of the Schumacher Lecture Series in Bristol, October 29, 1994