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(en) France, OCL CA #340 - How agriculture adapts to the different phases of capitalism (ca, de, fr, it, pt, tr)[machine translation]

Date Thu, 13 Jun 2024 08:56:50 +0300


Evolution of agriculture from the end of the Second World War to the recent agricultural crisis ---- We cannot say that there exists, at present, a "capitalist agriculture" which would be completely opposed to a "non-capitalist" peasant agriculture, the different forms of agriculture, even if peasant agriculture does not produce the same social and ecological devastation as industrial agriculture, still follow a dynamic specific to the general evolution of capitalism itself. ---- Before the CAP, capitalist integration already at work in the agricultural sector

During the 1940s and at the end of the Second World War, there was truly a massive increase in state spending financed on credit (through the issuance of state bonds, therefore a form of financialization of the State in reaction to the economic crisis of the 1930s) which will lead to an increase in productive capacities, generating a new phase of capital accumulation associated with a new need for labor, which will lead to the departure of certain peasants from the countryside will partly answer. During this period, the emergence of the Welfare State was not a challenge to the capitalist mode of production, but rather a condition for its new development. This growth will occur in particular through the generalization of the Fordist mode of production to numerous sectors of production (beyond just automobile production, to which this mode of production was generally confined during the interwar period), including agro-food production.

Capitalist agriculture?
As a structurally dynamic logic, it seems important to us not to confuse capitalism with any of its particular historical stages. Indeed, the neo-liberal period is not "more capitalist" than the previous period, and certain agricultural union movements, including the Confédération Paysanne, do not hesitate to want to rehabilitate certain characteristics of the agricultural policies of capitalism of the 30 glorious years in the current period to respond to the multiple crises facing the sector. This appears to be wishful thinking if the exit from the crisis is not considered as an exit from capitalism strictly speaking, to the extent that it is impossible to return to the "previous" stages of capitalism, which is today structurally globalized and financialized. In the same way, "firm" agriculture (where the capital of the agricultural operation does not belong to agricultural workers) is not necessarily "more capitalist" than so-called "family" agriculture (where the one of the characteristics is the unity, around the family, between work, capital and land). Indeed, in the trajectory of French agriculture in the 20th century, family farming or cooperatives may have been transitional stages and even presented certain advantages in the integration of agriculture within capitalism. Agriculture is even an interesting subject to focus on to avoid the pitfall, common on the left, of glorifying certain socio-economic characteristics of the glorious 30s in relation to the (admittedly more violent) phase of current neo-liberal capitalism. Indeed, the widespread chemicalization of agriculture and its industrial standardization are not phenomena specific to the neo-liberal period alone and emerged decades before. As such, agriculture (and its developments) is therefore an object whose historical dynamics it is interesting to follow in order to develop a critique of capitalism over a long period of time, aiming to grasp the foundations of a dynamic that is particularly ecologically and socio-economically worrying.

If historiography often places the agricultural policy of the 1960s (with the agricultural orientation laws of 1960 and 1962) as the main break marking the entry of French agriculture into productivism, the changes experienced by credit in agriculture associated with the implementation of vast investment programs in the 1950s already contributed to a profound metamorphosis of the agricultural sector in the immediate post-war period. The year 1950 marks, for example, the establishment of the Agricultural Investment Program (PIA), whose investments will be directed towards the purchase of machines, land improvement (agricultural hydraulics, roads, etc.), certain industrial investments , etc. At the same time, the increase in credit resources generated by the issuance of government bonds increased the outstanding credit for agriculture from 6.3 billion in 1944 to 999.3 billion in 1959. The share of credits to agriculture in the overall economy increases, from 5.4% of all credits allocated in 1945 to 9.2% in 1959, highlighting the centrality of agricultural development during this period. Development which then plays the triple role of consumer of inputs and tractors; as a supplier of raw materials at increasingly low costs for the booming agro-industry; and producer of low-cost food making it possible to ensure a reduction in the cost of food (and the cost of reproducing the labor force) at a time when households must absorb into their budget the sharp increase in goods from the generalization of Fordist production methods within industry. In 1950, there were still only 137,000 tractors in France, this figure rose to 1 million in 1960 (1), marking the entry into the race for motorized mechanization that agriculture would then experience. At the same time, fertilizer consumption increased fivefold between 1950 and 1973. The active agricultural population fell from 31 to 17% of the total population between 1954 and 1968.

The CAP intensifies the process of capitalist integration of the agricultural sector
The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was established in 1962, following the establishment of the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957 (then bringing together six States). The objectives of the CAP and its national variations within Europe are to strengthen the increase in labor productivity in agriculture (which will be multiplied on average by 5 between 1960 and 2007) and to stabilize markets while ensuring low prices among consumers. The various instruments put in place will be customs barriers (across European borders) for most agricultural goods and export subsidies for certain goods, associated with community purchasing offers at guaranteed prices. Farmers will thus be "protected" from the competition that imports could represent, with the notable exception of American soya, but will at the same time have to face internal competition between European countries, generating a necessary catch-up for France in terms of productivity. farms, particularly compared to farms in Germany or the Netherlands. Concerning animal feed, the USA conditioned the fact that Europe protects the rest of its market on the establishment of zero customs duties on oilseeds and protein crops, on which the United States had export capacity. , notably through soy production. So much so that in retrospect, we can say that the CAP was in reality based on two central aspects: the regulation of markets and prices for most European agricultural production and the importation (which will become more widespread) of vegetable proteins, notably through import of soya, at the heart of the development of intensive livestock farming which will benefit from low-cost animal feed.
In France, the years 1960 and 1962 marked the beginning of a very proactive agricultural policy on the side of the State, which provided itself with both means and institutional structures to promote this new stage towards the modernization of family farms. The agricultural policies implemented in France aimed to ensure modernization of farms within the framework of controlled land concentration (via SAFER and control of structures), while continuing to promote the family as the central social support of production. agricultural. During this period, agriculture as a whole strengthened its transformation into a vast complex combining agricultural production units (farms that became "farms"), processing units and collection and distribution tools. The beginning of the industrialization of slaughtering and meat processing also began after the Second World War in France (2).
Overall, the interpenetration of agriculture and agro-industry makes agriculture all the more sensitive to the economic difficulties that industry and the economy in general may experience, and agriculture, just like the rest of the economy, will not escape the difficulties linked to the period of stagflation of the 1970s, a symptom of the running out of steam of capitalism centered on the State of the 30 glorious years which, to renew itself, will switch towards a financialized and less centered capitalism only in national consumption spaces. On this last point, and as an example, the volumes of cereals exported from France increased from one or two million tonnes during the 1950s to seventeen million in 1973 to reach more than 35 million tonnes in 2015. (i.e. one ton out of two exported).

Economic crisis followed by liberalization of the CAP
The very high specialization of agricultural production associated with the significant material production capacities in agriculture will thus lead to the national and European markets becoming too restricted to ensure the entire flow of French production, reinforcing the need to confront more significantly to the world market from the end of the 1980s. The guaranteed price system of the 1960s and 1970s led to sharply increasing expenditure for the community budget, particularly with the strong price inflation during the period of stagflation from the end of the 1970s. The operations consisting of buying with European funds when prices were too low and putting part of the production back on the market when prices were rising no longer found their balance (3). The situation of overproduction associated with the difficulties of maintaining the guaranteed price mechanism then leads, in a first phase, to logics of production quotas, by putting in place both milk quotas (in 1984), and a freeze on production. 'part of the land cultivated with cereals and oilseeds (in 1988) in order to limit expenses linked to massive interventions and to continue to guarantee part of the prices (but by limiting production rather than only using market intervention mechanisms). These measures having not been enough to contain the expenditure of the European budget devoted to agriculture, a more profound reform took place in 1992, opening a new era in the functioning of the CAP. As European farms are not competitive enough compared to certain agro-exporting countries, they will see their agricultural goods confronted with world market prices while benefiting from a system of production aid, proportional to the cultivated areas and the number of animals present on farms. Indeed, faced with world prices, the accumulation potential is almost zero without subsidies for a large part of the existing farms. A large part of them will find themselves in a situation where the sales of their production cover their expenses, and the subsidies thus make it possible to maintain an income(4) for structures introduced into global competition, within which the injunction competitiveness is strengthening. The 1992 reform aroused strong fears within agricultural unions and led to a restructuring of the political landscape in agriculture. Rural Coordination emerged during this period (the union was created in 1992), in opposition to the system of direct aid disconnected from production, with the slogan "prices not bonuses".

Following the period of economic uncertainty in the 1970s and the crisis of certain agricultural structures that were unable to continue the race for productivity during the rise in interest rates in the 1980s, the dichotomy of agriculture in one "two-speed" agriculture will strengthen. The neo-liberal turn will effectively be followed by the strengthening of cohabitation between large agricultural structures integrated into productivism and small agricultural structures which will fit more specifically into a logic of quality labels, local sales or more generally of diversification of activities. The maintenance of certain small structures over time, while medium-sized structures disappear more quickly in favor of the concentration of larger ones, is partly the result of a strengthening of income inequalities within households in recent decades. of the period of financialized capitalism. Indeed, the increase in income inequalities and the strengthening of irreducible budgetary constraints (transport and rent in particular) on the most modest budgets push the consumption of food products at very low costs and therefore reinforce this two-speed diet which is materializes in production in an agriculture itself at two speeds: one which continues its movement of concentration, intensification and specialization and the other which strengthens its position in quality production and/or poly-activity .

Union positions in the current crisis
Faced with these dynamics of agriculture within capitalism, and although we can have more sympathy for the Confédération Paysanne (left-wing union, more internationalist and more concerned with ecological and social issues) than for the Rural Coordination (union of right or even extreme right), the two unions however share "certain criticisms" with regard to the current regulation of the European agricultural sector on: the overly export orientation of the French and European agricultural model; bringing European agricultural goods into competition with agricultural goods from non-European countries produced under social and environmental conditions meeting standards lower than European standards; the lack of support for the development of transversal producer organizations in order to strengthen the negotiating power of farmers vis-à-vis processors and distributors; or even exposure to different forms of financialization. These relate to the arrival of financial actors taking part in the capital of agricultural operations when farmers' debt possibilities reach saturation or relating to exposure to international markets and the volatility of their prices, constraining indirectly producers to resort to financial products such as futures markets and various insurance to protect themselves from these structural price variations.

Conditions for the emergence of the Peasant Workers' union
The insertion of agriculture into a vast agro-industrial complex, leaving very little room for maneuver for farmers, will serve as breeding ground for the emergence of the "Peasant Workers" union (a of the political roots of the current Peasant Confederation), launched in the 1970s. One of the reasonings which will lead to the emergence of Peasant Workers is the following: the level of integration of farms in the industrial process is such that the The farmer, caught between the constraints of his suppliers and the demands of buyers of his production, ultimately has no room for maneuver in the organization of his farm and finds himself, although possessing his production tool , in a situation almost similar to that of the proletarian governed by the tool of industrial production. The example put forward at the time, vigorously denounced by the Peasant Workers, is the case of poultry farmers in the West of France, to whom the industry provided chicks and feed, only to buy back the chickens a few months later from the producers. . Bernard Lambert, at the head of this union, then compares these producers to workers in the factory production chain. This demonstration aims in part at a certain form of identification with the proletariat, with the aim of bringing peasant struggles closer to worker struggles, the figure of the exploiter being here postponed a notch, to the level of the cooperatives, of agro-industry and distribution.

In recent agricultural crises, hitting distinct sectors depending on the year, exposure to fluctuations in world prices and difficulties in reaching certain production standards lead certain producers to experience difficulties in promoting their production and guaranteeing their income, which translates into two main positions within farmers' unions. While the majority of FNSEA members consider that the State and Europe should stop regulating the use of inputs to help strengthen the competitiveness of French producers on the world market, the Confédération Paysanne, and in certain respects the Rural Coordination (even if the latter continues to be part of the productivist paradigm), consider the liberalization of markets as a strategy of financial elites and agri-food companies to impose low agricultural prices and increase their profits. They propose state regulation involving less exporting (in particular the Confédération Paysanne) and converting part of the French and European land dedicated to wheat into protein crops to avoid imports of soya for animal feed and limit wheat exports. They believe this would increase wheat prices by reducing exposure to global markets and limiting marketing to European markets only. According to them, stronger regulation of markets and this change in direction of land use would allow "a return to fair prices" which would prevent the financialization of the agricultural sector (because fair prices would limit the need for recourse to instruments financial).

In reality, the modern State, having to structurally allow capitalism in crisis to find new conditions for its reproduction, is not able to put in place the regulations invoked by the Peasant Confederation (and, to a lesser extent , Rural Coordination) in the current capitalist dynamic. It therefore only proposes, in the face of the recent agricultural crisis, to go back on the few weak pseudo-environmental improvements that it had been able to bring to national/European agricultural production through a few minimalist regulations in the face of undifferentiated global production.

William Loveluck

Notes
1. Gervais, M., Jollivet, M. and Tavernier, Y., The end of peasant France from 1914 to the present day, vol. IV de Duby, G. and Wallon, A. (eds.), History of rural France, Paris, Seuil, 1976, p.158-159.
2. Note that slaughtering and meat processing became industrialized much earlier in the United States, during the second half of the 19th century. Slaughter lines and their organization of work will even be a source of inspiration for Ford and its applications of assembly line work in the automobile industry.
3. See the article by Maurice Desriers, "French agriculture for fifty years: from small family farms to single payment rights", Cahiers Agreste, 2007: "from 1975 to 1980, the market support expenditure of the European Fund agricultural guarantee (EAGGF) have been multiplied by 2.5 in current currency at European level.»
4. In 2015, the current result before taxes (RCAI) was negative without subsidies for 69% of cereal farms and for 89% of cattle farms intended for meat production.

http://oclibertaire.lautre.net/spip.php?article4167
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