Category Archives: Land Use

Masters of Illusion: Sociopathy from the Very Rich on Down

Nothing Changes With the Rich!

You just can’t make this stuff up as a fiction writer (also, see below, at the end of this piece**). Demonic, but sturdy. Boring actuarial folk, or in this guy’s case, making loot illegally in the legal channel that is Illegal Wall Street:

Thomas Peterffy became one of the world’s richest people by mastering risk on Wall Street. Building his Mediterranean-style mansion seven years ago on a vulnerable stretch of Florida’s Palm Beach Island was a matter of seeing the odds clearly once again. The consequences of climate change will play out over decades, and Peterffy is 76 years old.

“I don’t have a care about it at all,” he said over lunch at Mar-a-Lago earlier this year, just down the street from his home. “If something needs to be done to save it,” he added, “it’s not going to be my problem.” The founder of Interactive Brokers Group has a fortune of more than $21 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Thomas Peterffy with Lynne Wheat in Palm Beach in 2017 (Nick Mele/Patrick McMullan/Getty Images)

Glaser is building a new waterfront mansion designed by architect Kobi Karp, replacing a now-demolished estate owned by Jeffrey Epstein.
Seawall installation at property on the intracoastal in Palm Beach.

Nice guy, uh? And even younger ones, in the billionaire class, they whisper that, though they do have bullshit smoke and mirrors philanthropies and foundations to, well, shelter taxes and corrupt the world more with their sociopathy. In the old days, it would have been, “Eat the Rich,” “Kill the Rich,” “Banish the Rich.” Now, though, since they have created a vampire class of millionaires and media mental midgets with millions stashed away, the Rich Are a Protected Class. Until we get daily reminders of the collective insanity of Western culture, Western capitalism, Western cults. This is the rich, giving a damn about the future, or, spending millions and billions on their vaults and prison garden homes. Then, there are 10,000 in Del Rio, Texass:

a group of people in a forest: Large Migration Surge Crosses Rio Grande Into Del Rio, Texas

The temporary camp has grown six-fold since Monday and more migrants are expected in the coming days. Del Rio Mayor Bruno Lozano made a disaster declaration Friday. “I had thought that the alarm was sent on Monday. This is setting the nuclear bomb alarm that this is no longer sustainable or acceptable,” he said. Congressman Tony Gonzales, a Texas Republican, is calling on the Biden administration to come up with a solution for the chaos. “Please get engaged, get involved, do something. This is unsustainable. This is not America. This is not the way things should be,” he said. “Folks are coming over and across as if there is no border.” Also Friday, CBP closed the Del Rio Port of Entry and re-routed traffic.

Elevating a property in Palm Beach.

Elevating a property in Palm Beach.

I have years of writing about and researching urban planning, regional planning, all the gold, silver, platinum of LEED/Sustainability/New Urbanism building. It is a mighty thing to have a few degrees from elite schools (my schools, they are not elite), and then getting placed into the star chambers of planning, architecture and design. To the point of, the Eichmanns are deep into this lie, and there is really, the way they want smart cities and internet of bodies for the future, no global warming, no global climate chaos, no collapsing systems, water shortages, deaths in the millions annually just from air pollutants. No deaths in the hundreds of thousands because of higher and higher bulb temperatures. No reality about water shortages, failing sewage treatment, endless fires, pests-poisons-pestilence vis-a-vis profits at any cost, at costs to anyone or anything, albeit, not against the elite and star chamber folk. The reality is if you believe in capitalism, in all for one, or that technology is going to get us out of the muck, then, you are a denier. The worse kind!

If this doesn’t tell it all, here we are, the great profession (sic) of planners (misshapers, building and real estate protection racketeers) having yet another fake event, virtually. Imagine that, so planners are supposed to be on the land, in the muck, in neighborhoods, looking at systems, ecosystems, people, communities, towns and mega-cities, and, here the gutless wonders are, well, hiding again, in underwear and Snoopy slippers. This was a group I was sort of a member of when I was getting my graduate degree in , well, urban and regional planning:

Save the Date: 2021 OAPA/APA WA Virtual Joint Planning Conference

The 2021 conference continues with the theme of Growing Together Virtually, recognizing the importance and challenges of planning for evolving communities, large and small, in these challenging and polarizing times. The conference will offer more sessions than last year, allowing for greater variety in session content.

Oh, in polite company, we can’t call this a bunch of fucking shit, no? All the communities now within communities, the so-called subcommunities, struggling with forced jabs, forced passports, forced scrutiny, forced surveillance, facial recognition just to enter a football game or concert. Work, sure, servicing those maskless wonders with masks on, but not enough cash to pay the rent, or, all the cash for the rent. No health care, nothing of those safety nets that the RICH have, and do not get goofy on me to profess that the rich do not have entire lobbies upon lobbies in their sophisticated protection racket. The planners — many of them looking for sustainability and gardens and walkability and healthy small downsized living — in the end buckle under the weight of bureaucracy and the rich and powerful controlling the narrative and their own money stream. Look, I understand that every arena I have entered into since, oh, age 13, those places are sacred to liberals, lights, conservative, lights, and that I would also be an outlier or outcast anywhere, or the enemy in some regard, but now, it is way beyond “enemy” or “persona non grata” I represent. It is a matter of outcasting, men, an untouchable, while the APA-WA branch, peddles more lies, meaningless doublespeak:

“What is Planning? Planning is a dynamic profession that works to improve the welfare of people and their communities. Professional planners make great communities happen by working with civic leaders, businesses, and citizens to envision new possibilities and solutions to community problems.”

I wonder what the planners might do around those Haitians, all those cities that are in disrepair, all the rough sleepers, the homeless-in-vehicles, the sheltered-in-basements/garages/hotels. How to plan, man, those smart cities, those hipster places, those virtual venues, the Zoom Rooms, the isolation chambers, the places of mediocrity sold as cutting edge Musk-Apple joints. Imagine, maybe in a year, the Planners can hook into the Bezos Ejaculatory Space Suit Freaks, and have a live feed with Bezos and ask him what’s next in planning cities around his Gestapo-Gulag-Retail-Surveillance-Cloud world. In so many ways, I found the planning profession to be vapid, dead of creativity, and certainly no rabble rousers or deep thinkers in the bunch. They talk a good talk, but in the end, their jobs are the work of the real estate, developer, building and construction lobbies, and the planners I know would never speak up at a Chamber of Commerce meeting. They are the epitome of Eichmann, updated and retrofitted for Cancel Culture and Oh So Hip Stylists.

How about his Salem group, Salem for Refugees? You think planners would want to create grants for people like me to study the dynamics of community building-engagement-employment around these newest immigrants?


With the unfolding situation in Afghanistan, thousands of people are fleeing their home and looking for protection in the US. We have been preparing for refugees and SIV cases. Now we are preparing to also provide resettlement services for individuals who have been identified as special risk (journalists, NGO workers, humanitarian workers, political activists, etc.). Due to the rapid nature of the situation, this group of individuals will have a special Parolee status which will allow for immediate work authorization but limited access to State social services or Medicaid benefits. We need your help in bridging this gap and providing for the needs of these people. In an effort to bring Afghan Evacuees to Salem, the State Department has given us an early approval as an affiliate of World Relief and we are now an official Resettlement Agency! We will begin receiving cases through the Afghanistan Placement Assistance Program and in January for all other refugees through the Reception and Placement program!

The good old days when we truly hated the rich:

In 1920, Wall Street reporter Edwin Lefèvre derided “some wretchedly rich people” in a Post article called “The Annoyances of Being Rich Today.” Without naming names, Lefèvre detailed conversations with bankers and heirs about their gripes with imperfect service and ungrateful butlers. One rich man told the author that he feared a revolution was afoot after he asked a waiter for bread and — instead of silent obedience — the response came: “Sure thing!” Others complained about accusations of vanity or the prospect of their service staff seeking higher wages.

Lefèvre sums up the groans of the plutocrats by casting wealth as a sort of illness:

I am convinced that there is a definite social disease which we may call gold poisoning. When a man has too much gold, some of it gets into the system; through the pores, it almost seems. It causes deafness and affects the sight. These ailments, gold deafness and gold blindness, are responsible for most of the annoyances of which the stricken rich so bitterly complain today. Instead of seeing or hearing, they are merely aware of a rumbling sound—the tread of their fellow men marching toward them, armed with bombs, bitterness, and taxes.

Newspaper article

John Stuart Mill called the rich, “the unearned excrement.” Oh, what a day it would be to see that again, lifted up high, daily, in the media, but this is a world of valorizing the rich, listening to the liars and grifters — the thespians — and all the handlers, the hangers-on the rich-super rich employ to massage their messages.

Larry Glickman, a professor of history at Cornell University, says he has used this clip in one of his classes to illustrate the criticism of so-called robber barons of the late nineteenth century: “In the Gilded Age, ‘capitalist’ was really a term given by its enemies to people who had earned wealth in an unfair, immoral way, so a lot of small business men said something similar to what Hickenlooper said.” Glickman says the distrust of robber barons (or capitalists) comes back to the question of hard work. “There was this idea that you had labor producing things, and that accumulating wealth through honest production was a good thing,” he says, “but there was a new class of people called capitalists getting their wealth through unproductive, exploitative ways.” (Saturday Evening Post).

** So, Bloomberg the Billionaire with Billionaire Bloomberg News, has the answer for inequities, which in any other language is, well, wage theft, tax fraud, tax evasion, thievery of a general nature, war profiteering, penury, slave/sweatshop economy. The news just continues with these abhorrent items:

Amazon’s massive new distribution centers, soon to be surrounded by infrastructure built to serve workers, are being compared to Gilded Age company towns. While many are aghast at the idea, fellow billionaires are praising it.

The e-commerce empire founded by Jeff Bezos will offer the American working class a better option than scraping to get by in increasingly expensive cities, investment adviser Conor Sen wrote in a Friday oped for Bloomberg, the financial news outlet whose namesake is billionaire former New York mayor and failed presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg.

“Let’s call them ‘factory towns,’” Sen suggests, apparently in an effort to avoid the baggage that accompanies the concept of “company towns.” Popular in the late 19th century among the new breed of mega-corporations – railroads, steel mills, and the like – many of these dormitory communities held workers as veritable prisoners, paying them in scrip that was only redeemable at the company-run store and retaining groups of thuggish Pinkerton “detectives” to stamp out any attempts to unionize. (source)

Yet, Bezos is a joke with the power of deflection, the power of the rich to believe his own dirty secrets of domination. No number of jokes piled on by the millionaire comedian class or insightful (sic) commentaries by the millionaire presstitutes can buckle the Amazon formula. Here, the sweatshops of Amazon, providing slaves with, well, boxes of time out:

Amazon offers 'wellness chamber' for stressed staff - BBC News

 

The post Masters of Illusion: Sociopathy from the Very Rich on Down first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Smashing The Heads of Farmers: A Global Struggle Against Tyranny

According to Reuters, more than 500,000 farmers attended a rally in the city of Muzaffarnagar in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh on 5 September. Hundreds of thousands more turned out for other rallies in the state.

Rakesh Tikait, a prominent farmers’ leader, said this would breathe fresh life into the Indian farmers’ protest movement.

He added:

We will intensify our protest by going to every single city and town of Uttar Pradesh to convey the message that Modi’s government is anti-farmer.

Tikait is a leader of the protest movement and a spokesperson of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Indian Farmers’ Union).

Since November 2020, tens of thousands of farmers have been encamped on the outskirts of Delhi in protest against three new farm laws that will effectively hand over the agrifood sector to corporates and place India at the mercy of international commodity and financial markets for its food security.

Aside from the rallies in Uttar Pradesh, thousands more farmers recently gathered in Karnal in the state of Haryana to continue to pressurise the Modi-led government to repeal the laws. This particular protest was also in response to police violence during another demonstration, also in Karnal (200 km north of Delhi), during late August when farmers had been blocking a highway. The police Lathi-charged them and at least 10 people were injured and one person died from a heart attack a day later.

A video that appeared on social media showed Ayush Sinha, a top government official, encouraging officers to “smash the heads of farmers” if they broke through the barricades placed on the highway.

Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar criticised the choice of words but said that “strictness had to be maintained to ensure law and order”.

But that is not quite true. “Strictness” – outright brutality – must be imposed to placate the scavengers abroad who are circling overhead with India’s agrifood sector firmly in their sights. As much as the authorities try to distance themselves from such language – ‘smashing heads’ is precisely what India’s rulers and the billionaire owners of foreign agrifood corporations require.

The government has to demonstrate to global agricapital that it is being tough on farmers in order to maintain ‘market confidence’ and attract foreign direct investment in the sector (aka the takeover of the sector).

The farmers’ protest in India represents a struggle for the heart and soul of the country: a conflict between the local and the global. Large-scale international agribusiness, retailers, traders and e-commerce companies are trying to displace small- and medium-size indigenous producers and enterprises and restructure the entire agrifood sector in their own image.

By capitulating to the needs of foreign agrifood conglomerates – which is what the three agriculture laws represent – India will be compelled to eradicate its buffer food stocks. It would then bid for them with borrowed funds on the open market or with its foreign reserves.

This approach is symptomatic of what has been happening since the 1990s, when India was compelled to embrace neoliberal economics. The country has become increasingly dependent on inflows of foreign capital. Policies are being governed by the drive to attract and retain foreign investment and maintain ‘market confidence’ by ceding to the demands of international capital which rides roughshod over democratic principles and the needs of hundreds of millions of ordinary people.

The authorities know they must be seen to be acting tough on farmers, thereby demonstrating a steely resolve to foreign agribusiness and investors in general.

The Indian government’s willingness to cede control of its agrifood sector would appear to represent a victory for US foreign policy.

Economist Prof Michael Hudson stated in 2014:

American foreign policy has almost always been based on agricultural exports… It’s by agriculture and control of the food supply that American diplomacy has been able to control most of the Third World. The World Bank’s geopolitical lending strategy has been to turn countries into food deficit areas by convincing them to grow cash crops – plantation export crops – not to feed themselves with their own food crops.

On the back of India’s foreign exchange crisis in the 1990s, the IMF and World Bank wanted India to shift hundreds of millions out of agriculture. In return for up to more than $120 billion in loans at the time, India was directed to dismantle its state-owned seed supply system, reduce subsidies, run down public agriculture institutions and offer incentives for the growing of cash crops to earn foreign exchange.

The drive is to drastically dilute the role of the public sector in agriculture, reducing it to a facilitator of private capital and leading to the entrenchment of industrial farming and the replacement of small-scale farms.

Smashing protesters’ heads

A December 2020 photograph published by the Press Trust of India defines the Indian government’s approach to protesting farmers. It shows a security official in paramilitary garb raising a lathi. An elder from the Sikh farming community was about to feel its full force.

But “smashing the heads of farmers” is symbolic of how near-totalitarian ‘liberal democracies’ the world over now regard many within their own populations.

The right to protest and gather in public as well as the right of free speech has been suspended in Australia, which currently resembles a giant penal colony as officials pursue a nonsensical ‘zero-COVID’ policy. Across Europe and in the US and Israel, unnecessary and discriminatory ‘COVID passports’ are being rolled out to restrict freedom of movement and access to services. And those who protest against any of this are often confronted by a massive, intimidating police presence (or actual police violence) and media smear campaigns.

Again, governments must demonstrate resolve to their billionaire masters in Big Finance, the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations, the World Economic Forum and the entire gamut of forces in the military-financial industrial complex behind the ‘Great Reset’, ‘4th Industrial Revolution, ‘New Normal’ or whichever other benign-sounding term its political and media lackeys use to disguise the restructuring of capitalism and the brutal impacts on ordinary people.

This too, like the restructuring of Indian agriculture – which will affect India’s entire 1.3-billion-plus population – is also part of a US foreign policy agenda that serves the interests of the Anglo-US elite.

COVID has ensured that trillions of dollars have been handed over to elite interests, while lockdowns and restrictions have been imposed on ordinary people and small businesses. The winners have been the likes of Amazon, Big Pharma and the tech giants. The losers have been small enterprises and the bulk of the population, deprived of their right to work and the entire panoply of civil rights their ancestors struggled and often died for. If a masterplan is required to deliver a knockout blow to small enterprises for the benefit of global players, then this is it.

Professor Michel Cossudovsky of the Centre for Research on Globalization says:

The Global Money financial institutions are the ‘creditors’ of the real economy which is in crisis. The closure of the global economy has triggered a process of global indebtedness. Unprecedented in World history, a multi-trillion bonanza of dollar denominated debts is hitting simultaneously the national economies of 193 countries.

In August 2020, a report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) stated:

The COVID-19 crisis has severely disrupted economies and labour markets in all world regions, with estimated losses of working hours equivalent to nearly 400 million full-time jobs in the second quarter of 2020, most of which are in emerging and developing countries.

Among the most vulnerable are the 1.6 billion informal economy workers, representing half of the global workforce, who are working in sectors experiencing major job losses or have seen their incomes seriously affected by lockdowns. Most of the workers affected (1.25 billion) are in retail, accommodation and food services and manufacturing. And most of these are self-employed and in low-income jobs in the informal sector.

India was especially affected in this respect when the government imposed a lockdown. The policy ended up pushing 230 million into poverty and wrecked the lives and livelihoods of many. A May 2021 report prepared by the Centre for Sustainable Employment at Azim Premji University (APU) has highlighted how employment and income had not recovered to pre-pandemic levels even by late 2020.

The report, ‘State of Working India 2021 – One year of Covid-19’ highlights how almost half of formal salaried workers moved into the informal sector and that 230 million people fell below the national minimum wage poverty line.

Even before COVID, India was experiencing its longest economic slowdown since 1991 with weak employment generation, uneven development and a largely informal economy. A recent article by the Research Unit for Political Economy highlights the structural weaknesses of the economy and the often desperate plight of ordinary people.

To survive Modi’s lockdown, the poorest 25% of households borrowed 3.8 times their median income, as against 1.4 times for the top 25%. The study noted the implications for debt traps.

Six months later, it was also noted that food intake was still at lockdown levels for 20% of vulnerable households.

Meanwhile, the rich were well taken care of. According to Left Voice:

The Modi government has handled the pandemic by prioritising the profits of big business and protecting the fortunes of billionaires over protecting the lives and livelihoods of workers.

Michel Chossudovsky says that governments are now under the control of global creditors and that the post-Covid era will see massive austerity measures, including the cancellation of workers’ benefits and social safety nets. An unpayable multi-trillion dollar public debt is unfolding: the creditors of the state are Big Money, which calls the shots in a process that will lead to the privatisation of the state.

Between April and July 2020, the total wealth held by billionaires around the world has grown from $8 trillion to more than $10 trillion. Chossudovsky says a new generation of billionaire innovators looks set to play a critical role in repairing the damage by using the growing repertoire of emerging technologies. He adds that tomorrow’s innovators will digitise, refresh and revolutionise the economy: but, as he notes, let us be under no illusions these corrupt billionaires are impoverishers.

With this in mind, a recent piece on the US Right To Know website exposes the Gates-led agenda for the future of food based on the programming of biology to produce synthetic and genetically engineered substances. The thinking reflects the programming of computers in the information economy. Of course, Gates and his ilk have patented, or are patenting, the processes and products involved.

For example, Ginkgo Bioworks, a Gates-backed start-up that makes ‘custom organisms’, recently went public in a $17.5 billion deal. It uses ‘cell programming’ technology to genetically engineer flavours and scents into commercial strains of engineered yeast and bacteria to create ‘natural’ ingredients, including vitamins, amino acids, enzymes and flavours for ultra-processed foods.

Ginkgo plans to create up to 20,000 engineered ‘cell programs’ (it now has five) for food products and many other uses. It plans to charge customers to use its ‘biological platform’. Its customers are not consumers or farmers but the world’s largest chemical, food and pharmaceutical companies.

Gates pushes fake food by way of his greenwash agenda. If he really is interested in avoiding ‘climate catastrophe’, helping farmers or producing enough food, instead of cementing the power and the control of corporations over our food, he should be facilitating community-based and lead agroecological approaches.

But he will not because there is no scope for patents, external proprietary inputs, commodification and dependency on global corporations which Gates sees as the answer to all of humanity’s problems in his quest to bypass democratic processes and roll out his agenda.

India should take heed because this is the future of ‘food’. If the farmers fail to get the farm bills repealed, India will again become dependent on food imports or on foreign food manufacturers and lab-made ‘food’. Fake food will displace traditional diets and cultivation methods will be driven by drones, genetically engineered seeds and farms without farmers, devastating the livelihoods (and health) of hundreds of millions.

This is a vision of the future courtesy of Klaus Schwab’s (of the elitist World Economic Forum) dystopic transhumanism and the Rockefellers’ 2010 lockstep scenario: genetically engineered food and genetically engineered people controlled by a technocratic elite whose plans are implemented through tighter top-down government control and more authoritarian leadership.

Since March 2020, we have seen the structural adjustment of the global capitalist system and labour’s relationship to it and an attempted adjustment of people’s thinking via endless government and media propaganda.

Whether it involves India’s farmers or the frequent rallies and marches against restrictions and COVID passports across the world, there is a common enemy. And there is also a common goal: liberty.

The post Smashing The Heads of Farmers: A Global Struggle Against Tyranny first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Divided We Stand: Eleven Regional Rivalries from Mountain People to the Swamps of Dixie

Orientation

The reason Yankee fans and Red Sox fans hate each other goes a lot deeper than sports. In his book American Nations, Colin Woodard identifies eleven regional cultures in the United States. He compares the conditions of the home country, settler conditions, climate, geography, religious history, population density and international loyalties. He points out the parallels between how settlers’ regional locations in England impacted the type of regional culture they developed in the United States. My purpose in this article is to:

  • reveal the political bankruptcy of trying to fit eleven different regions into two political parties; and,
  • reveal the economic bankruptcy of industrial capitalists in forming a single nation-state by attempting to pulverize the differences between these regions.

There are good reasons why the United States has rarely, if ever, unified, whether in war or peace. The notion that we were and are united  is pure political and economic propaganda.

Questions about regional rivalries

  • How might the time of settlement affect the culture of the region and how might the region feel about other regions?
  • How might the country of origin and its politics (feudal, capitalist) affect the politics of the region and how might that region feel about different regions?
  • How might the geography (rivers, rainfall, flat-mountainous, valleys, plains) and means of subsistence (hunting, fishing, farming, herding, trading, industry) affect the culture of the region and how might that region feel about different regions?
  • How might the religion of the region affect the culture and how might that region feel about different regions?
  • How might the size of the population of the region (dense or sparse) affect the culture of the region and how might that region feel about different regions?
  • How might the history of the region’s relationship with immigrants or native Americans affect the culture of the region and how might that region feel about other regions?
  • Given the answer to the first six questions, which regions will have the greatest tensions? Why might they have these tensions?
  • The author of the book implies that the United States is too big for a single nation-state. Whether you agree or not, are there any regions that might have enough in common to join together? Or would it be better to be broken into regions that become nation-states like European states?

I cannot address all these questions in this article. I intend to answer most of them and leave the rest to stimulate your thinking.

Issues that Divided the Regions of the United States

The federal government of the United States only began to try to unify the country from the Atlantic to the Pacific after the Civil War with massive architecture, street names, and flags in every classroom. it is questionable how successful they have been. To talk about a common national experience over such a large territory confronts many problems.

David Hackett Fischer in his book, Albion’s Seed, identified four major regions in the United States with significant differences in their means of subsistence, their religion, the conditions of settlement and the parts of England these first settlers were from. In his book American Nations, Colin Woodard has expanded these settlements from four to eleven regions. Please see Table A to understand which country of Europe settled the region, the time of settlement and the region of the U.S. it occupied.

For this section I will be following Woodard’s description. According to him, Americans have been divided since the days of Jamestown and Plymouth. Colonists saw each other as competitors for people to settle their land, for the land itself, as well their ability to draw capital to their settlement. Here are some of the issues that divided the colonies:

  • Loyalty to England: Royalist Virginia (Tidewater) vs Yankee Massachusetts
  • Individualism: Yankees and New Netherlands were for individualism vs social reform orientation of New France
  • Religion: Puritanism (Yankees, New England) vs Quakers’ freedom of conscience (Midlanders). In addition, there was a tension between the liberal and evangelical spectrum about how to practice their religion.
  • Politics:  The importance of politics for the Deep South and the Yankees as opposed to apathy to politics of the Quakers (Midlanders)
  • Use of force: Active use of force by Tidewater, the Deep South and Appalachia vs Midlanders, (Quakers) non-violence.
  • Secession: Not only Tidewater and the Deep South, but Appalachia and New England also considered secession.

These regions had differences in religion between Catholics, Puritans, Anglicans, Quakers and Mormons. Each region differed in the kind of work people did, from cattle rearing, hunting, fishing, fur trapping, agricultural capitalism (producing tobacco, sugar and cotton), subsistence farming, herding, and industrial production (mining, railroad work and smelting). These regions were formed with different intentions including for religious purposes, commercial purposes, political independence or as a home for refugees. The politics of the regions differed drastically, from authoritarian (Deep South) to egalitarian (New France) to liberal (New England town-hall and the Left Coast) to classical republican (Tidewater) to libertarian (Far West).

Regionalists in the U.S. respected neither state nor international boundaries. It was only when England began to treat these colonies as a single unit and implemented policies that threatened them all, that they formed a united force. It is important to realize the uniting against an enemy does not create unification after the confrontation is over. After all, the greatest regional battle in US history occurred almost a hundred years after Independence Day.

Woodard points out that Americans are one of the only countries in the world who do not make a distinction between a statehood and nationhood. A state is a sovereign political body that monopolizes the means of violence. A nation is a group who share a common culture, ethnic origin, language, historical experience, artifacts and symbols. Some nations are stateless like the Kurdish, Palestinians and Quebecers. Most agricultural states such as Egypt, China, Mesopotamia and India had states without being a single nation (Anthony D. Smith’s work is great for these distinctions). Using these criteria, the regions of the country are like the “nations” of America. Americans may have a federal state, but not a single nation. Before turning to the predominant struggle between regions, Table B contains a close-up of the differences between all eleven regions.

Neither the American Revolution Nor the Civil War United the Regions

It is tempting to think that the revolutionary war against England united the regions. This is far from true. Native Americans fought on both sides of the revolutionary war. It was the New England Yankees that were the backbone of the revolution. New Netherlands was the stronghold of the loyalists after England drove out the Dutch. In the Midlands:

The region would not have rebelled at all, if a majority of the states attending the Second Continental Congress hadn’t voted to suppress Pennsylvania’s government (132)

Until the battle of Lexington, the Deep South was torn as to who to join until it was rumored that the British were smuggling arms to the slaves. It was the prospect of freed slaves that made them fight the English. Southern Appalachia fought on the side of the English and lost.

Neither did the Civil War pulverize the regions into two. Woodard says that the Civil War was a conflict between two coalitions of the Deep South and Tidewater against the Yankees. The other regions wanted to remain neutral and were considering breaking off into their own confederations

The Conflict Between the South and the East Prior to the 19th Century

Slave aristocracy of the Deep South

To begin with, there was an aristocracy in the thirteen colonies  but this aristocracy did not rule over peasants who did subsistence farming. The plantation owners of the South ruled over slaves who produced commercial goods of sugar, tobacco and cotton for a world market. In the East, there were university educated professionals of lawyers and clergy(“Brahmins”) who joined with merchants attempting to develop home industry (rather than trade with England, as the plantation owners did.)

All regions are not economically equal

While all eleven regions had their conflicts with each other, some regions were settled longer and they concentrated more economic wealth at their disposal. For example, the mountain people Appalachia herded sheep, pigs and goats. They were in no position to compete for cultural dominance with the planters of Tidewater or the Deep South. The settlers of what became known as New France made their home in Canada and in Louisiana. They were fisherman, fur-trappers, and hunters. They could not compete with the Yankees of the Northeast or the fur traders of New York. Even those with capital who settled late, as in the Far West, did not have centuries to build up a culture the way those in Tidewater, the Deep South, Yankeedom and New Netherlands did. These regions had over a 200-year head start.

What does it mean to be an American?

When we compare the civilizational processes of the United States, we are really talking about the differences between the New Englanders, New Netherlands and Midlands and to a lesser extent, Appalachia. It is from these regions that the concept of an American grew. In the case of the other regions, El Norte was long abandoned by the Spanish and New France by the French. Both these regions were inhabited by people who never accumulated capital. Native American tribes were decimated. Tidewater and the Deep South are not cultures which are  termed “American”. While the Far West and the Left Coast certainly had wealth, they were settled too late to have civilizational impact.

There is a reason I am focused on the initial time of first settlement and not discussing these regions all the way to the present. It has to do with Wilbur Zelinsky’s “first effective settlement law”which says:

Whenever an empty territory undergoes settlement, or an earlier population is dislodged by invaders, the specific characteristics of the first group able to affect a viable self- perpetuating society are of crucial significance for the later social and cultural geography of the area, no matter how tiny the initial band of settler may have been. (American Nations, 16)

The fundamental arena in which American civilization played itself out, is between Tidewater and the Deep South on the one hand, and the Yankees and New Netherlands on the other. Civil War historians might call this the battle between the “North and the South”, but this crudely lumps the eleven regions we discussed into two. The people of Appalachia might technically be in the South but they always had animosity to the planters. The Midlanders of the North might have sided with Yankees and New Netherlands against the slave traders, but they were not industrial capitalists who had a material interest in luring poor farmers into their factories. Therefore, there are two processes of being civilized in the United States, one southern and the other East and Central parts of the United States.

Culture of honor in Colonial South

Roger Lane, in his book Murder in America: A History, traced the major differences between the North and the South to a southern “culture of honor” that did not exist in the North. But where does this culture of honor come from? Lane argues that the process begins when we examine the differences in the kinds of work people did in the regions of England that they came from before settling in America. The inhabitants of Tidewater came from the Scotch-Irish borderlands of Britain where they engaged in herding. With moveable property, herders always had to be on guard, otherwise their animals might be stolen. Because herding was a difficult life, herders were not competing with many other herders for grazing ground. The sparseness of the settlement pattern makes it difficult for herders to rely on others to protect their land.

Lastly, in both the borderlands of Britain or the areas of Virginia in which they settled, there was no centralized state to act as law enforcement. Under these conditions, herders develop very rigid protective mechanisms, being suspicious quickly, while reading body language for potential thievery. The culture of honor occurs when people cultivate a trust among equals. A culture of violence is the result of what happens when the culture of honor is violated. Someone who does not stand up for themselves has a sense of deep shame among herders. He has a reputation to defend. If insulted, the insult is addressed publicly in a duel or family feud.

Culture of Dignity in the Colonial North

On the other hand, the New England farmers came from East Anglia in England where farming was practiced.  Farming lends itself to living in close quarters, thus providing a social protection against theft. In addition, once they settled in New England, they lived near large cities and under the rule of law. This meant there was some legal ground for recovering stolen property. These conditions meant that farmers did not cultivate suspicion and a code of honor. Consequently, they were less likely to kill as a result of stolen property. Rather, the farmer cultivated a sense of “dignity” based on universal rights. These farmers were more likely to be self-constrained and feel guilty over imagined violations over God’s law. Violations are less likely to be settled publicly. Farmers do not engage in duels. Though farmers have been known to engage in family feuds, farmers are just as likely to bring their case to the law, depending on the region of the country and the social class of the farmer.

The South and the East in the 19th Century

By the 19th century, the capitalist interests in New England and New York area had crystalized into an investment in industry, building factories for textiles and railroads for transport. This form of capitalism was irreconcilable with the plantation economy of the South. As mass commodity production spread and geographical mobility of workers increased, it became more and more important that consumers were able to get along with strangers as they bought and sold goods. What being “civilized” in the East meant to treat strangers with an even-handed polite indifference or “tolerance”. It was also civilized for industrial capitalists to have same values as the Puritans: hard work, punctuality, planning and investing. In the East, the industrial capitalists were liberal politically.  To be conservative in the North in the 19th century had more to do with holding on to rural, Puritan traditions.

The plantation owners in the South had very different notions of what was civilized. In plantation life, most everyone knew everyone else and among other plantation owners there was a culture of honor which carried over from their south English heritage. Between plantation owners and slaves there was a deep expectation of deference. Encounters with strangers were much more loaded. While the Eastern cities cultivated a cool indifference to strangers, in the South what was civilized was “southern hospitality”, which meant bringing hospitality to a stranger. This meant being generous with time, food and culture. But strangers who, for whatever reason, were not candidates for southern hospitality were not ignored. They were driven out or killed.

Southern gentleman planters, like their aristocratic brothers in Europe, had a contempt for hard work and Puritanical values. What was civilized to them was the cultivation of taste in the arts, in manners and in clothing. For them, being civilized meant to enjoy life and display wealth. Politically, the Southern planters justified their existence as classical republicans who believed that liberty was only for the upper classes. They were contemptuous of the Enlightenment value of science and technology and saw themselves as the inheritors of Roman values. Please see Table C for a summary of these regions.

Manners in the East, the Midlands and Appalachia

Tocqueville famously commented that on one hand, Jacksonian America was far more egalitarian than anywhere in Europe, and less deferential. However, there was more bragging. His explanation was because of a lack of clear class boundaries, people bragged as a way to establish a status of which they remained unsure. According to  Stephen Mennell, (The American Civilizing Process) both Hegel and De Maistre commented on the lack of manners in America. Baudelaire described America in the 1850s as “a great hunk of barbarism illuminated by gas… a construction of hardened chewing gum and idiotic folklore.” Complaints about Americans chewing tobacco were common by Europeans. By the mid-19th century, Europeans also commented on what they saw as a general American obsession with cleanliness. But Yankees weren’t always like this.

Those who washed daily did so at the kitchen sink. Soap was mainly used for laundering clothes. By the 1830s, the bathtub and daily bath were beginning to spread beyond the very rich. Immigrants new to cities were taught by social workers, educators and employers how, where and how often to bathe with soap and warm water (66). In 1840, only a tiny minority of the wealthy city-dwellers had running water and flushing water closets in their homes (65). (The American Civilizing Process)

According to Mennell, books about American manners penetrated deeper into the class structure, in part because of the lack of the English social elite in the colonies to draw inspiration from and because a higher number of lower-class people could read.

How Did Frontiersmen See Eastern and Midlands Civilization?   

Mennell says that the following stereotypes were common among frontiersman about people in eastern cities. The East was seen as decadent, whereas the frontier was pristine. The East was mired in interdependent social ties such as proletarians linked to wage labor and factories in cities. The frontier, on the other hand, was the home of independent hunters, fur-trappers, ranchers or miners who called their own shots. While the East was the home of elite bankers and industrialists, there was a rough social equality on the frontier.

But what does living in a country with a frontier do to the civilizational process? Turner, in his book The Frontier in American History, traced the steady penetration of the frontier westward from the eastern seaboard in the 17th century all the way to the Rocky Mountains in the 19th. century. He distinguishes three phases:

  • the traders’ frontier—characteristic of French colonization and fur trade
  • the miners’ and ranchers’ frontier of the West
  • farmers’ frontier—which left the trademark of the English in the Midlands

Turner argued that the constant availability of free land meant that Americans would be less in danger of creating elite hierarchies because these hierarchies would be broken up since there was a constant return to more primitive conditions.

The Uncivilized Nature of the Frontier

According to Mennell, when people who have been socialized in more settled conditions are cast out into the margins of society, their behavior will change. The behavior will become more blatantly self-interested if they can get away with things that they couldn’t get away with under more settled conditions. This behavior will become even more confrontative if, because of the rough balance of power, calculations of what will happen are less predictable. These higher levels of danger will produce emotions that are more impulsive and more violent, just as Huizinga claimed occurred during the European Middle Ages.

According to historian Patricia Limerick, the image of the self-reliant and individually responsible pioneer was not supported by her research account that outside of every farm in the 1880’s stood a great mound of empty food cans. She further pointed out these “self-reliant” pioneers often blamed the federal government for their problems along with everyone else.

The consequences of the frontier process, according to Turner, were that:

  • The westward move diluted the predominantly English character of the eastern seaboard.
  • The advance of the frontier decreased America’s dependence on England for supplies.
  • It helped to develop the central government. The very fact that the unsettled lands had been vested in the federal government was vital to the federal government’s battle to control recalcitrant regions of the country.

The Western Frontier as Yankee romanticism

As Richard Slotkin warns us, we must distinguish between the people who actually lived on the frontier—hunters, trappers, miners, gold prospectors – and how the frontier was portrayed in American literature, as in dime-store novels and the work of Cooper’s Leatherstocking tales. We are interested in how the frontier romance in literature was a way for readers to:

  • escape the dark side of the industrialization process;
  • escape the increasingly militant class struggle taking place between New England, Yankeedom on the one hand and the southern plantation owners on the other;
  • muffle the class struggle in industrialized cities in hopes that the frontier stories could provide an outlet.

In the United States, the rebellion against civilization was directed not at an aristocratic class but at lawyers, merchants, industrialists and bankers of the East. Whatever their dissatisfactions were with relentlessness of the industrialization of the cities, it did not result in a romantic, organic view of nature as in Europe. In Europe, during the romantic period, many nation-states claimed their roots in more primitive peoples, whether they are Anglo-Saxons or Celts. But for Puritans, the heathen Native Americans were out of bounds as people to go back to nature with. To return to the pristine way of life was to adapt the way of the savages, which for them would be “hell on earth”. Puritans bitterly condemned those who “went native” and lost their souls.

While aristocratic romantics of Europe used tame country scenes to trigger collective memories of by-gone days, in the New World, what was romantic was pristine, wild and like the subtle paintings of the West by Remington and Thomas Moran. While romantics in Europe took the occasion to delve into the pre-modern world of the peasantry through the study of language and folklore, writers on American romanticism did not do this. In America, there was a deep anti-historical sense, and what appealed to romantics was the exotic world of mountains, rivers and forests that have not been seen before. In addition, the frontier was about trappers, hunters and miners who were half-way between Eastern decadent civilization and the “savagery” of the native Americans. Stories about the frontier were about Puritan’s “errand into the wilderness”. Puritans were terrified of the savagery of native Americans. Their roots were in Puritanism, not in knowing more about native culture that was from a non-Christian world.

In the New World, the sources of romanticism were men of action, men who fought Indians, gambled and blazed trails. Different frontiersman represented different regions of the country and utilized different means of subsistence. For example, stories about Daniel Boone took place in Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri. The stories of Kit Carsen were those of a fur trapper of the mountains. Stories about Davy Crockett were more about the frontier in the Southwest.

What romantics on both sides of the Atlantic had in common was a refusal to play roles. This was certainly true of the frontiersman attitude towards the ways of the East. Additionally, both kinds of romantics refused to act in ways that demonstrated they were civilized. While in the United States there was a championing of what was wild, unpredictable and dangerous, this did not lead to identification with mental illness as the romantics did in Europe. However, the romanticism of outcasts in the wild west, such as gun fighters like Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and Buffalo Bill was taken way beyond Europe. The glorification of the frontier, the west and the cowboy hasn’t let up even in the 21st century!

Conclusion

The purpose of this article is to show the deep political and economic fault-lines of the eleven regions of the United States. We began with eight questions about how the time of settlement, the country of origin, geography, religion, population density, attitudes to immigrants and natives might affect how these regions felt about each other. Where in the country would the greatest tensions between the regions be? What regions had the most in common where alliances could be formed? We then named six topics which were the deepest tension point in the regions. These tensions are hardly cosmetic. They remained throughout both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.

We then turned to the conflict between Tidewater, the Deep South, Appalachia and Yankees as the central struggle in the United States. Being an “American” was forged between four regions—Yankeedom, New Netherlands, Midlands and Appalachia. I closed my article with our focus on the West. This included how frontiersman themselves viewed the East as decadent and how writers of the East romanticized the West in dime store novels and paintings.

The United States of America is hardly united, nor has it ever been. The real physical economy today is hammered by lack of investment and lack of work due to COVID. Meanwhile finance capital continues to destabilize the economy with the mania of printing free money. As extreme weather pounds the regions from Florida to California and from Texas to North Dakota, it would be hardly surprising that as Anglo-American capitalism sinks into the bog, that part of the sinking will involve a fracturing of the regions in a good ole American style, with each region for itself, and the Devil taking the hindmost.

• First published in Socialist Planning Beyond Capitalism

The post Divided We Stand: Eleven Regional Rivalries from Mountain People to the Swamps of Dixie first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Walmart, Amazon and the Colonial Deindustrialisation of India

In June 2018, the Joint Action Committee against Foreign Retail and E-commerce (JACAFRE) issued a statement on Walmart’s acquisition of Flipkart. It argued that it undermines India’s economic and digital sovereignty and the livelihood of millions in India.

The deal would lead to Walmart and Amazon dominating India’s e-retail sector. These two US companies would also own India’s key consumer and other economic data, making them the country’s digital overlords, joining the ranks of Google and Facebook.

JACAFRE was formed to resist the entry of foreign corporations like Walmart and Amazon into India’s e-commerce market. Its members represent more than 100 national groups, including major trade, workers and farmers organisations.

On 8 January 2021, JACAFRE published an open letter saying that the three new farm laws, passed by parliament in September 2020, centre on enabling and facilitating the unregulated corporatisation of agriculture value chains. This will effectively make farmers and small traders of agricultural produce become subservient to the interests of a few agrifood and e-commerce giants or will eradicate them completely.

The government is facilitating the dominance of giant corporations, not least through digital or e-commerce platforms, to control the entire value chain. The letter states that if the new farm laws are closely examined, it will be evident that unregulated digitalisation is an important aspect of them.

And this is not lost on Parminder Jeet Singh from IT for Change (a member of JACAFRE). Referring to Walmart’s takeover of online retailer Flipkart, Singh notes that there was strong resistance to Walmart entering India with its physical stores; however, online and offline worlds are now merged.

That is because, today, e-commerce companies not only control data about consumption but also control data on production, logistics, who needs what, when they need it, who should produce it, who should move it and when it should be moved.

Through the control of data (knowledge), e-commerce platforms can shape the entire physical economy. What is concerning is that Amazon and Walmart have sufficient global clout to ensure they become a duopoly, more or less controlling much of India’s economy.

Singh says that whereas you can regulate an Indian company, this cannot be done with foreign players who have global data, global power and will be near-impossible to regulate.

While China succeeded in digital industrialisation by building up its own firms, Singh observes that the EU is now a digital colony of the US. The danger is clear for India. He states that India has its own skills and digital forms, so why is the government letting in US companies to dominate and buy India’s digital platforms?

And ‘platform’ is a key word here. We are seeing the eradication of the marketplace. Platforms will control everything from production to logistics to even primary activities like agriculture and farming. Data gives power to platforms to dictate what needs to be manufactured and in what quantities.

Singh argues that the digital platform is the brain of the whole system. The farmer will be told how much production is expected, how much rain is expected, what type of soil quality there is, what type of (genetically engineered) seeds and are inputs are required and when the produce needs to be ready.

This is not idle speculation. The recent article ‘Digital control: how big tech moves into food and farming (and what it means)’ on the grain.org website, describes how Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and others are moving in on the global agrifood sector.

Those traders, manufacturers and primary producers who survive will become slaves to platforms and lose their independence. Moreover, e-commerce platforms will become permanently embedded once artificial intelligence begins to plan and determine all of the above.

It is a clear concern that India will cede control of its economy, politics and culture to these all-powerful, modern-day East India companies.

Of course, things have been moving in this direction for a long time, especially since India began capitulating to the tenets of neoliberalism in the early 1990s and all that entails, not least an increasing dependence on borrowing and foreign capital inflows and subservience to destructive World Bank-IMF economic directives.

But what we are currently witnessing with the three farm bills and the growing role of (foreign) e-commerce will bring about the ultimate knock-out blow to the peasantry and many small independent enterprises. This has been the objective of powerful players who have regarded India as the potential jewel in the crown of their corporate empires for a long time.

The process resembles the structural adjustment programmes that were imposed on African countries some decades ago. Economics Professor Michel Chossudovsky notes in his 1997 book ‘The Globalization of Poverty’ that economies are:

opened up through the concurrent displacement of a pre-existing productive system. Small and medium-sized enterprises are pushed into bankruptcy or obliged to produce for a global distributor, state enterprises are privatised or closed down, independent agricultural producers are impoverished. (p. 16)

The game plan is clear and JACAFRE says the government should urgently consult all stakeholders – traders, farmers and other small and medium size players – towards a holistic new economic model where all economic actors are assured their due and appropriately valued role. Small and medium size economic actors cannot be allowed to be reduced to being helpless agents of a few digitally enabled mega-corporations.

JACAFRE concludes:

We appeal to the government that it should urgently address the issues raised by those farmers asking for the three laws to be repealed. Specifically, from a traders’ point of view, the role of small and medium traders all along the agri produce value chain has to be strengthened and protected against its unmitigated corporatisation.

The struggle for democracy

It is clear that the ongoing farmers’ protest in India is not just about farming. It represents a struggle for the heart and soul of the country. As the organisation GRAIN says on its website, there is an intensifying fight for space between local and territorial markets and global markets. The former are the domain of small-scale independent producers and enterprises; the latter are dominated by large-scale international retailers, traders and the rapidly growing influential e-commerce companies.

It is therefore essential to protect and strengthen local markets and indigenous, independent small-scale enterprises, whether farmers, hawkers, food processers or mom and pop corner stores. This will ensure that India has more control over its food supply, the ability to determine its own policies and economic independence: in other words, the protection of food and national sovereignty and a greater ability to pursue genuine democratic development.

Instead of this, we could, for instance, see India eradicating its buffer food stocks at the behest of global traders and agrifood players. India would then bid for them with borrowed funds on the open market. Instead of continuing to physically hold and control its own buffer stocks, thereby ensuring a degree of food security, India would hold foreign exchange reserves. It would need to attract foreign reserves and maintain ‘market confidence’ to ensure this inflow.

This is one intention of the recent farm legislation and constitutes a recipe for further dependency on foreign finance, unpredictable global events and unaccountable corporations. But mainstream economic thinking passes this subjugation off as ‘liberalisation’.

How is an inability to determine your own economic policies and surrendering food security to outside forces in any way liberating?

It is interesting to note that the BBC recently reported that, in its annual report on global political rights and liberties, the US-based non-profit Freedom House has downgraded India from a free democracy to a “partially free democracy”. It also reported that Sweden-based V-Dem Institute says India is now an “electoral autocracy”. India did not fare any better in a report by The Economist Intelligent Unit’s Democracy Index.

The BBC’s neglect of Britain’s own slide towards COVID-related authoritarianism aside, the report on India was not without substance. It focused on the increase in anti-Muslim feeling, diminishing of freedom of expression, the role of the media and the restrictions on civil society since PM Narendra Modi took power.

The undermining of liberties in all these areas is cause for concern in its own right. But this trend towards divisiveness and authoritarianism serves another purpose: it helps smooth the path for the corporate takeover of the country.

Whether it involves a ‘divide and rule’ strategy along religious lines to divert attention, the suppression of free speech or pushing unpopular farm bills through parliament without proper debate while using the police and the media to undermine the farmers’ protest, a major undemocratic heist is under way that will fundamentally adversely impact people’s livelihoods and the cultural and social fabric of India.

On one side, there are the interests of a handful of multi-billionaires who own the corporations and platforms that seek to control India. On the other, there are the interests of hundreds of millions of cultivators, vendors and various small-scale enterprises who are regarded by these rich individuals as mere collateral damage to be displaced in their quest for ever greater profit.

Indian farmers are currently on the front-line against global capitalism and the colonial-style deindustrialisation of the economy. This is where ultimately the struggle for democracy and the future of India is taking place.

The post Walmart, Amazon and the Colonial Deindustrialisation of India first appeared on Dissident Voice.

From the Murder of Berta Cáceres to Dam Disaster in Uttarakhand

March 2, 2021 was the five year anniversary of the murder of Berta Cáceres, who opposed the Agua Zarca dam in Honduras.  That date was less than one month after the deaths of dozens of people from Tehri Dam disaster in Uttarakhand, India.  The two stories together tell us far more about consequences of the insatiable greed of capitalism for more energy than either narrative does by itself.

In addition to being sacred to the indigenous Lenca people of Honduras, the Gualcarque River is a primary source of water for them to grow their food and harvest medicinal plants.  Dams can flood fertile plains and deprive communities of water for livestock and crops.  The Lenca knew what could happen if the company Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA) were to build the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque.  As Nina Lakhani describes in Who Killed Berta Cáceres?, the La Aurora Dam, which started generating electricity in 2012 “left four miles of the El Zapotal River bone dry and the surrounding forest bare.”

In 2015, Cáceres won the Goldman Environmental Prize for organizing opposition to the Agua Zarca.  She had been a co-founder of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH).  The following year, thousands of Lenca marched to the capital Tegucigalpa demanding schools, clinics, roads and protection of ancestral lands.  Indigenous groups uniting with them included Maya, Chorti, Misquitu, Tolupan, Tawahka and Pech.  Lakhani describes that “From the north coast came the colorfully dressed, drumming Garifunas: Afro-Hondurans who descend from West and Central African, Caribbean, European and Arawak people exiled to Central America by the British after a slave revolt in the late eighteenth century.”

A Garifuna leader, Miriam Miranda remembered that Berta stopped to sketch anti-imperialist murals on the US airbase in Palmerola.  As Berta and Miranda became close during the more than two decades of joint work Berta began to identify with the Garifuna.  She loved going with Miranda to the town of Vallecito to join Garifuna rituals with drums, smoke and dancing while enjoying herb-infused liquor.

She knew that the Garifuna suffered landgrabs parallel to rivergrabs the Lencas experienced.  Lakhani relates how the government ignored the ancestral land claims of the Garifuna as it gave land to “settlers” who sold them to palm oil magnates.  In less than a decade lands held by Garifuna communities plummeted from 200,000 to 400 hectares.

Similarly, in the Bajo Aguán region the government allowed construction of a resort on ancient Garifuna burial sites and ancestral lands. The community was not consulted prior to the landgrab and 150 people died resisting it.

Manufacturing Impressions

The dam-building elite had a thorn in its side that threatened the megaprojects.  Due in no small part to 1995 efforts of Berta’s mother Doña Austra, Honduras had signed onto the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention of the International Labor Organization (known as ILO 169).  It guarantees the right of indigenous communities to have “free, prior and informed consultations” for any development affecting their land, culture or way of life.

The first tactic of the elite for getting around this obstacle was to promise enormous benefits such as building roads and schools.  Or else, they claimed that the project would bring electricity for homes, a health clinic, an ambulance, and a flood of jobs.  By the time the project was completed, few or no benefits had materialized.  Who Killed Berta Cáceres? documents what happened in communities that did not fall for empty promises.  For the Honduran Los Encimos dam, the power brokers bused in hundreds of people from neighboring El Salvador to sign a decree favoring the project.  Following an October 2011 town hall meeting when residents voted 401 to 7 against the Agua Zarca dam, the mayor curried favor of the elite by issuing a permit for it two months later.

Representatives of the company owning the future dam, DESA, repeated the absurd claim that they only bought land from willing sellers.  Dam proponents then denounced Berta’s COPINH organization as causing the division.  In other words, the developers were skilled at shouting that project opponents were doing what they, the dam pushers, were, in fact, doing.  Outside observers would then have difficulty distinguishing fact from fiction.  If these impression management tricks failed to overcome Earth defenders, the method of threats and violence remained.

Threats and Hit Lists

Berta was rare as she “could understand and analyze local struggles in a global context and had the capacity to unite different movements, urban and rural, teachers and campesinos, indigenous groups and mestizos.”  More than any other reason, this meant that Berta would be targeted by the cabal of business owners, government heads, military brass and foreign investors.

Berta had told Lakhani that “Seventy million people were killed across the continent for our natural resources.”  When a researcher for the Goldman prize committee visited Berta in Tegucigalpa, she asked him what would happen if she died before receiving the prize money, a question no recipient had asked before.  She had been warned not to stay in the same hotel two nights in a row.

Nina Lakhani documents how widespread and intensely grisley the murders in Honduras were.  “Olvin Gustavo García Mejía was widely feared by COPINH.”  He boasted of having a personal hit list with Berta’s name on it.  In March 2015, Olvin used his machete to chop off the fingers of a dam opponent.

Even more revealing were eyewitness reports to Lakhani from First Sergeant Rodrigo Cruz who saw a military hit list which included Berta.  Cruz had survived a specialist training so grueling that only 8 of 200 completed it. The graduation ceremony included killing a dog, eating the raw meat, and getting a hug from the commander.

On one mission Cruz reported being “ordered to shovel decomposing human remains into sacks which they took to an isolated forest reserve, doused them in diesel, petrol and rubbish and burned.”  At Corocito he saw “torture instruments, chains, hammers and nails, no people, but fresh clots of blood.”  During his Trujillo mission “naval colleagues handed over plastic bags containing human remains.  Later that night they tossed them into a river heaving with crocodiles.”  After seeing Berta’s name on a hit list belonging to his lieutenant, Cruz was sent on an extensive leave.  When he heard that Berta was dead, he fled from Honduras fearing that he himself would be murdered.

The Honduran elite discovered another weapon for its arsenal against environmental defenders: criminalization.  During a 2020 interview with InSight Crime, Lakhani reported a pattern suggestively similar to that practiced in the US and many other countries: “People are still being killed but really the main weapon being used currently is criminalization.  There’s so much fear involved, and it can really break up and silence a movement. All of your energy and resources go to trying to stay out of prison.”

2009 Coup as a Game Changer

On January 27, 2006 Manuel Zelaya was inaugurated as president of Honduras as an advocate of modest reforms such as reforestation, small business assistance, reduction of fossil fuels and an end to open pit mining.  But even these baby steps were too much for the country’s increasingly corrupt elites, who had the military march him out of his home in pajamas and into exile on June 28, 2009.  As bad as the situation was before 2009, the coup intensified the violence.

Though Barack Obama acknowledged that the coup was a coup, his underling Hillary Clinton quickly altered the official rhetoric, claiming that it was not a coup.  She explained “in her 2014 memoir, Hard Choices, the US ensured that elections could take place before the ousted president, Manuel Zelaya, was restored to office.”  This helped the coup ensure that Zelaya and his tiny improvements would not show their face again.

The economic consequences of the coup were an avalanche of projects attacking the country’s land, water, air and indigenous cultures.  The congress rushed to approve them without studies or oversight required by Honduran law.  During the next eight years, almost 200 mining projects received a nod.  Lakhani records how, during one late night session in September 2010 congressional president Juan Orlando Hernández “sanctioned 40 hydroelectric dams without debate, consultation or adequate environmental impact studies.”  John Perry wrote in CounterPunch that “Cáceres received a leaked list of rivers, including the Gualcarque, that were to be secretly ‘sold off’ to produce hydroelectricity. The Honduran congress went on to approve dozens of such projects without any consultation with affected communities. Berta’s campaign to defend the rivers began on July 26, 2011 when she led the Lenca-based COPINH in a march on the presidential palace.”

Dubious Partners of Green Energy

So-called “green” energy companies profited at least as much as other corporations from the great sell-off of Honduran treasures.  Lakhani’s research reveals that on June 2, 2010, the National Electric Company approved contracts for eight renewable energy corporations, including DESA, the owners of the Agua Zarca dam project.  Though it had no track record of constructing anything, it received permits, a sales contract, and congressional approval.  A 50-year license for the dam sailed through without any free, prior or informed consent from the Lenca people.  Lakhani also documents that January 16, 2014 was a particularly good day

… for solar and wind entrepreneurs as congress approved 30 energy contracts for 21 companies in one quick sitting.  There was no bidding process… After the rivers were all sold, they started on wind and solar contracts…  Honduras boasts more than 200 tax exemption laws, which cost state coffers around $1.5 bn each year.  Renewable energy entrepreneurs have benefited enormously, saving a whopping $1.4 bn between 2012 and 2016.

Even the World Bank had its finger in the pie, despite its requirement to give socially responsible loans.  It sought to cover up its role in Agua Zarca by channeling funds through intermediaries.

Lakhani also relates stories of (a) how six members of congress embezzled $879,000 using a fake environmental group, Planeta Verde (Green Planet); (b) connections between a criminal family and the solar company Proderssa; and, (c) the link between the solar plant in Choluteca and Douglas Bustillo, who was sentenced to 30 years for his role in the murder of Berta.

Jorge Cuéllar writes that:

DESA’s Agua Zarca hydroelectric project, like similar megaprojects, effectively reconfigures communities into sacrifice zones for insatiable energy needs. “Alternative” energy (Alt E) is just one more category of energy which is added to the mix with fossil fuels.  Increases in Alt E are not replacing fossil fuels, but are mainly being used to create feelings of do-goody.  In cases where there is a preference for Alt E, it is due to short term profit.  As Lakhani explains, “African palms were the most profitable crops because the oil was sold to North America and Europe for biofuel and could be traded in the carbon credit market.

A Farcical Trial

On March 2, 2016 Berta Cáceres was brutally murdered in her hometown of La Esperanza in western Honduras.  The trial that followed was a transparent cover up.  As Vijay Prashad notes, none of the executives of DESA, the dam company responsible for the murder, were charged with the crime.  Lakhani reported in the InSight Crime interview that “The crime was never framed as political murder, as gender-based violence or a hate crime against indigenous people despite the vitriolic and racist language that was used in phone chats about the Lenca people. There was a decision to make sure that anybody political, and the military and police as institutions, would be completely left out.”

Adam Isacson hit the nail on the head in his blog when describing those found guilty as “… just trigger-pullers, mid-level planners, or scapegoats… They are employed by Honduras’s elite, but they aren’t of the elite. They’re on the make, and have found a rare path to social mobility in Honduras, beyond gang membership and drug trafficking.”

Lakhani’s own account reflects how bizarre and contrived the trial was.  She recalls that “My request to read the admitted documents was denied. ‘Yes, it’s a public trial, yes, the documents are public, no, you can’t read them,’ said the court archivist.”  She heard international observers being told “Don’t worry, people will be convicted” as if it was common knowledge that the outcome had been prescripted.   It was yet another exercise in impression management.

US Role

Though there is no evidence that the US directly planned and executed the 2009 coup, its role has been to ensure that the coup remains intact.  As Isacson asks, “Why did 1 in every 37 citizens of Honduras end up detained at the US-Mexico border in 2019, after fleeing all the way across Mexico? Why did 30,000 more Hondurans petition for asylum in Mexico that same year?”  People are fleeing Honduras in such numbers in large part because the coup gang has shown that if it can get away with murdering someone as well known as Berta, it can murder anyone.

In the New York Journal of Books, Dan Beeton observes that “authors of the assassination have yet to be brought to justice. The US government could insist that this happen; it could pressure Honduran authorities to find and arrest them, but it has not…”  In fact, Lakhani points out that the US is doing the opposite by persecuting those trying to escape from the violence: “… in 2010 US border patrol detained 13,580 Honduran nationals.  The numbers jumped to over 91,000 in 2014 under Deporter-in-Chief Barack Obama.”

Though the US insists that it does not train the executioners in the Honduran militarized police, it does not deny that it trains the trainers – many of torturers in Central America attended the notorious School of the Americas.  Even if the US were to withdraw its support from individual criminals in Honduras, they would be replaced by clones who would preserve the post-coup structure and power.  Control was successfully passed from a mildly reformist Zelaya government to a criminal extractionist network which permeates state and corporate institutions.  With aide and comfort from the US, the Honduran energy mob has reinvented itself.

Coming to Uttarakhand

The story of dams in India may seem highly different from events on the other side of the globe.  But lurking deep beneath surface appearances an eerie consistency links the two.  One similarity between the widely separated areas is that, as in Honduras, the Indian government has aggressively pursued a development strategy of mines, logging and hydro-power.  This often results in tribal people suffering the disruption of their farming systems and relocation.

On February 7, 2021 a deluge washed away two power plants of the Tehri Dam on the Bhagirathi River in the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand, India.  At least 32 people were found dead and more than 150 were missing.  The event barely made it to US media but has been extensively covered by the progressive Indian online publication Countercurrents.  With 34 people trapped, “Rescue workers armed with heavy construction equipment, drones and even sniffer dogs were struggling to penetrate the one-and-a-half-mile long tunnel that filled with ice-cold water, mud, rocks and debris.”

Years before construction of the Tehri Dam began, there was controversy regarding if it should even be built.  Bharat Dogra, a regular contributor to Countercurrents, wrote that “the Environmental Appraisal Committee (River Valley Projects) of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India … has come to the unanimous conclusion that the Tehri Dam Project, as proposed, should not be taken up as it does not merit environmental clearance.”

The region has a history of dam disasters:

At least 29 workers were killed in a serious accident at the Tehri dam site (in Uttarakhand) on August 2 2004… On 14 February 2010 six workers died and 16 were seriously injured in Kinnaur district (Himachal Pradesh) when stones and boulders destabilized by the blasting work carried out for dam construction… Over 154 workers were killed in a span of 12 years, as over one worker was killed every month during the construction of the Nagarjunasagar dam.

Actually Existing Dangers in the Himalayas 

Several factors compound dangers of dams which are built in hazard-prone region of the Himalayas.  First is the observation by seismologist Prof. James N. Brune that “No large rock-fill dam of the Tehri type has ever been tested by the shaking that an earthquake in this area could produce… Given the number of persons who live downstream, the risk factor is also extreme.”  Second, the reservoirs created by the dams can themselves increase the likelihood of quakes, a phenomenon called reservoir induced seismicity.  Third is the huge tectonic plate below India called the “Indian Plate.”

As economist Bharat Jhunjhunwala explains, “The rotation of the earth is causing this plate to continually move northward just like any matter moves to the top in a centrifugal machine. The Indian Plate crashes into the Tibetan Plate as it moves to the north. The pressure between these two plates is leading to the continual rise of the Himalayas and also earthquakes in Uttarakhand in particular.”   The result is an earthquake in the region roughly every 10 years.

Which of these was the primary cause of the February 2021 dam disaster?  None of them.  According to public health specialist Dr. Anamika Roy, the most likely cause was “retreating glaciers which result in the formation of proglacial lakes, which are often bounded by their sediments and stones, and therefore any breach in the boundaries may lead to a large stream of water rushing down the streams and lakes resulting in a flood down streams.”  Dr. Roy thinks that climate change is a leading factor in the formation of proglacial lakes.

Professor of glaciology and hydrology Dr. Farooq Azam suggests that a hanging glacier falling from 5600 meters could have caused a rock and ice avalanche, leading to the dam accident.  Taken together, these factors indicate that the Himalayan region is a very bad place to build a dam.  We might even say that the reason for the Tehri dam disaster was that the dam was built.

Social Problems of Dam Disasters 

Bharat Dogra details a host of problems for those constructing dams in very remote areas such as the Himalayas:

  • First, a large portion of those constructing dams are migrant workers who are less familiar with floods and other risks than are local residents;
  • Second, even if migrant workers begin to understand on-site risks, they have little or no ability to find other employment if companies order them to continue at their jobs;
  • Third, migrant workers typically live in temporary housing that offers little protection;
  • Fourth, not being near to family or friends, they have little ability to go to others with health problems, special needs, distress, or risk; and,
  • Fifth, it is easier for contractors to suppress information concerning accidents so that workers or surviving families may not receive compensatory payments.

Common to all of these issues is the fact that laboring in remote parts of the world leaves workers out of the pubic eye, meaning that they can easily be ignored or quickly forgotten after a tragedy.

A different type of tragedy results from the release of water from the dam reservoir.  The two types are (a) routine releases, which are typically scheduled to occur during peak demand for hydropower generation, and (b) emergency releases, which occur during heavy rain or other high water events.  Release disasters are typically due to emergency releases.  But, on April 11, 2005 thousands of pilgrims attending a religious fair at Dharaji in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh were in the water when 150 were swept away by a huge water surge, causing the death of 65.  This was caused by a routine water release from the Indira Sagar dam on the Narmada River.  Bad judgment during routine operation of a dam can be as deadly as bad judgment regarding where to build a dam.

Dams in the Time of Exponential Growth

It is an obscenity to call hydro-power “clean” when it is so closely tied to destruction of aquatic life, threats to land-dwelling flora and fauna, displacement of indigenous people and destruction of their culture, murder of Earth defenders, and exploitation of workers.  It is a double obscenity to claim that hydro-power is an “alternative” to fossil fuels when dams can produce more greenhouse gases than does coal.  Not only do their reservoirs produce methane by rotting organic matter, dams interfere with the ability of downstream ecosystems to remove carbon and they require massive amounts of fossil fuel for the manufacture of concrete and steel for their construction and removal of their debris when they reach the end of their live cycle.

Nor are dams “renewable.” They do not last nearly as long as the rivers they disrupt.  Concrete and steel eventually rot, which leads to construction of yet another dam.

A core problem of dams is their exponential growth during the 21st century as it becomes increasingly obvious that they can more rapidly replace fossil fuel energy than can solar and wind power.  The climate crisis is fundamentally due to the uncontrollable growth of capitalism, which requires exponential expansion of energy production.

Exponential expansion means that every year requires not just more energy but a larger quantity of new energy than the year before.  Eternal economic growth was the root cause behind the murder of Berta Cáceres and the hundreds or thousands of other Earth defenders in Honduras and across the globe.  The unquenchable thirst for energy is why India foreshadows a world building an increasing number of dams where dams should not be built.

To satisfy their need for energy, corporations first grab the low hanging fruit.  Energy fruit can be “low hanging” because it is in an extremely good location, and/or current land owners are eager for the development, and/or those living on the land can be easily swayed.  The nature of first picking that which is lowest hanging means that, once it is gone, the energy corporations will go to the next lowest hanging fruit.  As time goes by, capital will get closer and closer to the most difficult-to-pick fruit until the last drop of energy is sucked from the planet.  Obviously, having less corrupt politicians and an educated and organized people is much better.  But this will not stop them from being victimized – it will only place them later in line.

Is “free, prior and informed consent” real or an illusion?  As time passes, the commitment to infinite energy growth intensifies pressure to falsify consent.  What is presented to poor people throughout the world who do not have enough to feed and clothe their families is the question “Do you voluntarily choose to improve your life by giving consent to this project which will destroy the lives of your grandchildren or great-grandchildren after you are gone or do you chose to watch your children go without schools and medical care right now?  Thank you so much for your free and prior consent to this dam/wind farm/solar array.”

There are essential lessons to learn from the murder of environmentalists and dam collapses.  Capital must bring more violence to communities when using less violence for building dams is not as effective.  Capital must build in increasingly unsafe locations after the safest locations are used up.  If dams which threaten the fewest number of aquatic species are built first, then corporate expansion dictates that dams which threaten more riparian extinctions are next in line.  Capital must move into increasingly biodiverse environments after less biodiverse environments are no longer available.

This is true for the construction of dams just as it is true for fossil fuels.  It is also true for the location of solar arrays and the location of wind farms.  It is likewise the case for mining the massive number of minerals that go into the production of various type of energy.  This is why “alternative” energy cannot be “clean” or “renewable.”  Perhaps it is time to realize that there is only one form of “clean” energy – less energy.

A webinar at 7 pm CT on March 10, 2021 will honor the life of Berta Cáceres with a panel featuring Nina Lakhani, author of Who Killed Berta Cáceres?: Dams, Death Squads, and an Indigenous Defender’s Battle for the Planet.  Email the address of the author below for details.

The post From the Murder of Berta Cáceres to Dam Disaster in Uttarakhand first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Farmers’ Protest in India: Price of Failure Will Be immense

Globally, there is an ongoing trend of a handful of big companies determining what food is grown, how it is grown, what is in it and who sells it. This model involves highly processed food adulterated with chemical inputs ending up in large near-monopoly supermarket chains or fast-food outlets that rely on industrial-scale farming.

While the brands lining the shelves of giant retail outlets seem vast, a handful of food companies own these brands which, in turn, rely on a relatively narrow range of produce for ingredients. At the same time, this illusion of choice often comes at the expense of food security in poorer countries that were compelled to restructure their agriculture to facilitate agro-exports courtesy of the World Bank, IMF, the WTO and global agribusiness interests.

In Mexico, transnational food retail and processing companies have taken over food distribution channels, replacing local foods with cheap processed items, often with the direct support of the government. Free trade and investment agreements have been critical to this process and the consequences for public health have been catastrophic.

Mexico’s National Institute for Public Health released the results of a national survey of food security and nutrition in 2012. Between 1988 and 2012, the proportion of overweight women between the ages of 20 and 49 increased from 25 to 35 per cent and the number of obese women in this age group increased from 9 to 37 per cent. Some 29 per cent of Mexican children between the ages of 5 and 11 were found to be overweight, as were 35 per cent of the youngsters between 11 and 19, while one in ten school age children experienced anaemia.

Former Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, concludes that trade policies had favoured a greater reliance on heavily processed and refined foods with a long shelf life rather than on the consumption of fresh and more perishable foods, particularly fruit and vegetables. He added that the overweight and obesity emergency that Mexico faces could have been avoided.

In 2015, the non-profit organisation GRAIN reported that the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) led to the direct investment in food processing and a change in Mexico’s retail structure (towards supermarkets and convenience stores) as well as the emergence of global agribusiness and transnational food companies in the country.

NAFTA eliminated rules preventing foreign investors from owning more than 49 per cent of a company. It also prohibited minimum amounts of domestic content in production and increased rights for foreign investors to retain profits and returns from initial investments. By 1999, US companies had invested 5.3 billion dollars in Mexico’s food processing industry, a 25-fold increase in just 12 years.

US food corporations began to colonise the dominant food distribution networks of small-scale vendors, known as tiendas (corner shops). This helped spread nutritionally poor food as they allowed these corporations to sell and promote their foods to poorer populations in small towns and communities. By 2012, retail chains had displaced tiendas as Mexico’s main source of food sales.

In Mexico, the loss of food sovereignty induced catastrophic changes to the nation’s diet and many small-scale farmers lost their livelihoods, which was accelerated by the dumping of surplus commodities (produced at below the cost of production due to subsidies) from the US. NAFTA rapidly drove millions of Mexican farmers, ranchers and small business people into bankruptcy, leading to the flight of millions of immigrant workers.

Warning for India

What happened in Mexico should serve as a warning as Indian farmers continue their protest against three recent farm bills that are designed to fully corporatize the agrifood sector through contract farming, the massive roll-back of public sector support systems, a reliance on imports (boosted by a future US trade deal) and the acceleration of large-scale (online) retail.

If you want to know the eventual fate of India’s local markets and small retailers, look no further than what US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in 2019. He stated that Amazon had “destroyed the retail industry across the United States.”

And if you want to know the eventual fate of India’s farmers, look no further than the 1990s when the IMF and World Bank advised India to shift hundreds of millions out of agriculture in return for up to more than $120 billion in loans at the time.

India was directed to dismantle its state-owned seed supply system, reduce subsidies, run down public agriculture institutions and offer incentives for the growing of cash crops for export to earn foreign exchange. Part of the strategy would also involve changing land laws so that land could be sold and amalgamated for industrial-scale farming.

The plan was for foreign corporations to capture the sector, with the aforementioned policies having effectively weakened or displaced independent cultivators.

To date, this process has been slow but the recent legislation could finally deliver a knock-out blow to tens of millions of farmers and give what the likes of Amazon, Walmart, Facebook, Cargill, Archer Daniels Midlands, Louis Dreyfus, Bunge and the global agritech, seed and agrochemical corporations have wanted all along. It will also serve the retail/agribusiness/logistics interests of India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, and its sixth richest, Gautam Adani.

During their ongoing protests, farmers have been teargassed, smeared and beaten. Journalist Satya Sagar notes that government advisors fear that seeming to appear weak with the agitating farmers would not sit well with foreign agrifood investors and could stop the flow of big money into the sector – and the economy as a whole.

And it is indeed ‘big’ money. Facebook invested 5.5 billion dollars last year in Mukesh Ambani’s Jio Platforms (e-commerce retail). Google has also invested 4.5 billion dollars. Currently, Amazon and Flipkart (Walmart has an 81% stake) together control over 60% of the country’s overall e-commerce market. These and other international investors have a great deal to lose if the recent farm legislation is repealed. So does the Indian government.

Since the 1990s, when India opened up to neoliberal economics, the country has become increasingly dependent on inflows of foreign capital. Policies are being governed by the drive to attract and retain foreign investment and maintain ‘market confidence’ by ceding to the demands of international capital. ‘Foreign direct investment’ has thus become the holy grail of the Modi-led administration.

Little wonder the government needs to be seen as acting ‘tough’ on protesting farmers because now, more than ever, attracting and retaining foreign reserves will be required to purchase food on the international market once India surrenders responsibility for its food policy to private players by eliminating its buffer stocks.

The plan to radically restructure agrifood in the country is being sold to the public under the guise of ‘modernising’ the sector. And this is to be carried out by self-proclaimed ‘wealth creators’ like Zuckerberg, Bezos and Ambani who are highly experienced at creating wealth – for themselves.

According to the recent Oxfam report ‘The Inequality Virus’, Mukesh Ambani doubled his wealth between March and October 2020. The coronavirus-related lockdown in India resulted in the country’s billionaires increasing their wealth by around 35 per cent, while 170,000 people lost their jobs every hour in April 2020 alone.

Prior to the lockdown, Oxfam reported that 73 per cent of the wealth generated in 2017 went to the richest 1 per cent, while 670 million Indians, the poorest half of the population, saw only a 1 per cent increase in their wealth.

Moreover, the fortunes of India’s billionaires increased by almost 10 times over a decade and their total wealth was higher than the entire Union budget of India for the fiscal year 2018-19.

It is clear who these ‘wealth creators’ create wealth for. On the People’s Review site, Tanmoy Ibrahim writes a piece on India’s billionaire class, with a strong focus on Ambani and Adani. By outlining the nature of crony capitalism in India, it is clear that Modi’s ‘wealth creators’ are given carte blanche to plunder the public purse, people and the environment, while real wealth creators – not least the farmers – are fighting for existence.

The current struggle should not be regarded as a battle between the government and farmers. If what happened in Mexico is anything to go by, the outcome will adversely affect the entire nation in terms of the further deterioration of public health and the loss of livelihoods.

Consider that rates of obesity in India have already tripled in the last two decades and the nation is fast becoming the diabetes and heart disease capital of the world. According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4), between 2005 and 2015 the number of obese people doubled, even though one in five children in the 5-9 year age group were found to be stunted.

This will be just part of the cost of handing over the sector to billionaire (comprador) capitalists Mukesh Ambani and Gautum Adani and Jeff Bezos (world’s richest person), Mark Zukerberg (world’s fourth richest person), the Cargill business family (14 billionaires) and the Walmart business family (richest in the US).

These individuals are poised to siphon off the wealth of India’s agrifood sector while denying the livelihoods of many millions of small-scale farmers and local mom and pop retailers while undermining the health of the nation.

The post Farmers’ Protest in India: Price of Failure Will Be immense first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Viral Inequality and the Farmers’ Struggle in India  

According to a new report by Oxfam, ‘The Inequality Virus’, the wealth of the world’s billionaires increased by $3.9tn (trillion) between 18 March and 31 December 2020. Their total wealth now stands at $11.95tn. The world’s 10 richest billionaires have collectively seen their wealth increase by $540bn over this period. In September 2020, Jeff Bezos could have paid all 876,000 Amazon employees a $105,000 bonus and still be as wealthy as he was before COVID.

At the same time, hundreds of millions of people will lose (have lost) their jobs and face destitution and hunger. It is estimated that the total number of people living in poverty could have increased by between 200 million and 500 million in 2020. The number of people living in poverty might not return even to its pre-crisis level for over a decade.

Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man and head of Reliance Industries, which specialises in petrol, retail and telecommunications, doubled his wealth between March and October 2020. He now has $78.3bn. The average increase in Ambani’s wealth in just over four days represented more than the combined annual wages of all of Reliance Industries’ 195,000 employees.

The Oxfam report states that lockdown in India resulted in the country’s billionaires increasing their wealth by around 35 per cent. At the same time, 84 per cent of households suffered varying degrees of income loss. Some 170,000 people lost their jobs every hour in April 2020 alone.

The authors also noted that income increases for India’s top 100 billionaires since March 2020 was enough to give each of the 138 million poorest people a cheque for 94,045 rupees.

The report went on to state:

… it would take an unskilled worker 10,000 years to make what Ambani made in an hour during the pandemic… and three years to make what Ambani made in a second.

During lockdown and after, hundreds of thousands of migrant workers in the cities (who had no option but to escape the country’s avoidable but deepening agrarian crisis) were left without jobs, money, food or shelter.

It is clear that COVID has been used as cover for consolidating the power of the unimaginably rich. But plans for boosting their power and wealth will not stop there. One of the most lucrative sectors for these people is agrifood.

More than 60 per cent of India’s almost 1.4 billion population rely (directly or indirectly) on agriculture for their livelihood. Aside from foreign interests, Mukesh Ambani and fellow billionaire Gautam Adani (India’s second richest person with major agribusiness interests) are set to benefit most from the recently passed farm bills that will lead to the wholesale corporatisation of the agrifood sector.

Corporate consolidation

A recent article on the grain.org website, ‘Digital control: how big tech moves into food and farming (and what it means)’, describes how Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and others are closing in on the global agrifood sector while the likes of Bayer, Syngenta, Corteva and Cargill are cementing their stranglehold.

The tech giants entry into the sector will increasingly lead to a mutually beneficial integration between the companies that supply products to farmers (pesticides, seeds, fertilisers, tractors, drones, etc) and those that control the flow of data and have access to digital (cloud) infrastructure and food consumers. This system is based on corporate centralisation and concentration (monopolisation).

Grain notes that in India global corporations are also colonising the retail space through e-commerce. Walmart entered into India in 2016 by a US$3.3 billion take-over of the online retail start-up Jet.com which, in 2018, was followed by a US$16 billion take-over of India’s largest online retail platform Flipkart. Today, Walmart and Amazon now control almost two thirds of India’s digital retail sector.

Amazon and Walmart are using predatory pricing, deep discounts and other unfair business practices to lure customers towards their online platforms. According to Grain, when the two companies generated sales of over US$3 billion in just six days during a Diwali festival sales blitz, India’s small retailers called out in desperation for a boycott of online shopping.

In 2020, Facebook and the US-based private equity concern KKR committed over US$7 billion to Reliance Jio, the digital store of one of India’s biggest retail chains. Customers will soon be able to shop at Reliance Jio through Facebook’s chat application, WhatsApp.

The plan for retail is clear: the eradication of millions of small traders and retailers and neighbourhood mom and pop shops. It is similar in agriculture.

The aim is to buy up rural land, amalgamate it and roll out a system of chemically-drenched farmerless farms owned or controlled by financial speculators, the high-tech giants and traditional agribusiness concerns. The end-game is a system of contract farming that serves the interests of big tech, big agribusiness and big retail. Smallholder peasant agriculture is regarded as an impediment to be replaced by large industrial-scale farms.

This model will be based on driverless tractors, drones, genetically engineered/lab-produced food and all data pertaining to land, water, weather, seeds and soils patented and often pirated from peasant farmers.

Farmers possess centuries of accumulated knowledge that once gone will never be got back. Corporatisation of the sector has already destroyed or undermined functioning agrarian ecosystems that draw on centuries of traditional knowledge and are increasingly recognised as valid approaches to secure food security.

And what of the hundreds of millions to be displaced in order to fill the pockets of the billionaire owners of these corporations? Driven to cities to face a future of joblessness: mere ‘collateral damage’ resulting from a short-sighted system of dispossessive predatory capitalism that destroys the link between humans, ecology and nature to boost the bottom line of the immensely rich.

Imperial intent

India’s agrifood sector has been on the radar of global corporations for decades. With deep market penetration and near saturation having been achieved by agribusiness in the US and elsewhere, India represents an opportunity for expansion and maintaining business viability and all-important profit growth. And by teaming up with the high-tech players in Silicon Valley, multi-billion dollar data management markets are being created. From data and knowledge to land, weather and seeds, capitalism is compelled to eventually commodify (patent and own) all aspects of life and nature.

Foreign agricapital is applying enormous pressure on India to scrap its meagre (in comparison to the richer nations) agricultural subsidies. The public distribution system and publicly held buffer stocks constitute an obstacle to the profit-driven requirements of global agribusiness interests.

Such interests require India to become dependent on imports (alleviating the overproduction problem of Western agricapital – the vast stocks of grains that it already dumps on the Global South) and to restructure its own agriculture for growing crops (fruit, vegetables) that consumers in the richer countries demand. Instead of holding physical buffer stocks for its own use, India would hold foreign exchange reserves and purchase food stocks from global traders.

Successive administrations have made the country dependent on volatile flows of foreign capital via foreign direct investment (and loans). The fear of capital flight is ever present. Policies are often governed by the drive to attract and retain these inflows. This financialisation of agriculture serves to undermine the nation’s food security, placing it at the mercy of unforeseen global events (conflict, oil prices, public health crises) international commodity speculators and unstable foreign investment.

Current agricultural ‘reforms’ are part of a broader process of imperialism’s increasing capture of the Indian economy, which has led to its recolonization by foreign corporations as a result of neoliberalisation which began in 1991. By reducing public sector buffer stocks and introducing corporate-dictated contract farming and full-scale neoliberal marketisation for the sale and procurement of produce, India will be sacrificing its farmers and its own food security for the benefit of a handful of unscrupulous billionaires.

As independent cultivators are bankrupted, the aim is that land will eventually be amalgamated to facilitate large-scale industrial cultivation. Indeed, a recent piece on the Research Unit for Political Economy site, ‘The Kisans Are Right: Their Land Is At Stake‘, describes how the Indian government is ascertaining which land is owned by whom with the ultimate aim of making it easier to eventually sell it off (to foreign investors and agribusiness). Other developments are also part of the plan (such as the Karnataka Land Reform Act), which will make it easier for business to purchase agricultural land.

India could eventually see institutional investors with no connection to farming (pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, endowment funds and investments from governments, banks, insurance companies and high net worth individuals) purchasing land. This is an increasing trend globally and, again, India represents a huge potential market. The funds have no connection to farming, have no interest in food security and are involved just to make profit from land.

The recent farm bills – if not repealed – will impose the neoliberal shock therapy of dispossession and dependency, finally clearing the way to restructure the agri-food sector. The massive inequalities and injustices that have resulted from the COVID-related lockdowns are a mere taste of what is to come.

The hundreds of thousands of farmers who have been on the streets protesting against these bills are at the vanguard of the pushback – they cannot afford to fail. There is too much at stake.

The post Viral Inequality and the Farmers’ Struggle in India   first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Farmers’ Protests Reflect Existential Crisis of Indian Agriculture    

With over 800 million people, rural India is arguably the most interesting and complex place on the planet but is plagued by farmer suicides, child malnourishment, growing unemployment, increased informalisation, indebtedness and an overall collapse of agriculture.

Given that India is still an agrarian-based society, renowned journalist P Sainath says what is taking place can be described as a crisis of civilisation proportions and can be explained in just five words: hijack of agriculture by corporations. He notes the process by which it is being done in five words too: predatory commercialisation of the countryside. And another five words to describe the outcome: biggest displacement in our history.

In late November 2018, a charter was released by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (an umbrella group of around 250 farmers’ organisations) to coincide with the massive, well-publicised farmers’ march that was then taking place in Delhi.

The charter stated:

Farmers are not just a residue from our past; farmers, agriculture and village India are integral to the future of India and the world; as bearers of historic knowledge, skills and culture; as agents of food safety, security and sovereignty; and as guardians of biodiversity and ecological sustainability.

The farmers stated that they were alarmed at the economic, ecological, social and existential crisis of Indian agriculture as well as the persistent state neglect of the sector and discrimination against farming communities.

They were also concerned about the deepening penetration of large, predatory and profit hungry corporations, farmers’ suicide across the country and the unbearable burden of indebtedness and the widening disparities between farmers and other sectors.

The charter called on the Indian parliament to immediately hold a special session to pass and enact two bills that were of, by and for the farmers of India.

If passed by parliament, among other things, the Farmers’ Freedom from Indebtedness Bill 2018 would have provided for the complete loan waiver for all farmers and agricultural workers.

The second bill, The Farmers’ Right to Guaranteed Remunerative Minimum Support Prices for Agricultural Commodities Bill 2018, would have seen the government take measures to bring down the input cost of farming through specific regulation of the prices of seeds, agriculture machinery and equipment, diesel, fertilisers and insecticides, while making purchase of farm produce below the minimum support price (MSP) both illegal and punishable.

The charter also called for a special discussion on the universalisation of the public distribution system, the withdrawal of pesticides that have been banned elsewhere and the non-approval of genetically engineered seeds without a comprehensive need and impact assessment.

Other demands included no foreign direct investment in agriculture and food processing, the protection of farmers from corporate plunder in the name of contract farming, investment in farmers’ collectives to create farmer producer organisations and peasant cooperatives and the promotion of agroecology based on suitable cropping patterns and local seed diversity revival.

Now in 2020, rather than responding to these requirements, we see the Indian government’s promotion and facilitation of – by way of recent legislation – the corporatisation of agriculture and the dismantling of the public distribution system (and the MSP) as well as the laying of groundwork for contract farming.

This legislation comprises three acts: The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act 2020, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act 2020 and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020

Although the two aforementioned bills from 2018 have now lapsed, farmers are demanding that the new pro-corporate (anti-farmer) farms laws are replaced with a legal framework that guarantees the MSP to farmers.

According to an article by the Research Unit for Political Economy (RUPE), it is clear that the existence of MSPs, the Food Corporation of India, the public distribution system and publicly held buffer stocks constitute an obstacle to the profit-driven requirements of global agribusiness interests who have sat with government agencies and set out their wish-lists.

RUPE notes that India accounts for 15 per cent of world consumption of cereals. India’s buffer stocks are equivalent to 15-25 per cent of world stocks and 40 per cent of world trade in rice and wheat. Any large reduction in these stocks will almost certainly affect world prices: farmers would be hit by depressed prices; later, once India became dependent on imports, prices could rise on the international market and Indian consumers would be hit.

At the same time, the richer countries are applying enormous pressure on India to scrap its meagre agricultural subsidies; yet their own subsidies are vast multiples of India’s. The end result could be India becoming dependent on imports and the restructure of its own agriculture to crops destined for export.

RUPE concludes:

Vast buffer stocks would still exist; but instead of India holding these stocks, they would be held by multinational trading firms, and India would bid for them with borrowed funds.

Instead of holding physical buffer stocks, India would hold foreign exchange reserves.

Successive administrations have made the country dependent on volatile flows of foreign capital and India’s foreign exchange reserves have been built up by borrowing and foreign investments. The fear of capital flight is ever present. Policies are often governed by the drive to attract and retain these inflows and maintain market confidence by ceding to the demands of international capital.

This throttling of democracy and the ‘financialisation’ of agriculture would seriously undermine the nation’s food security and leave almost 1.4 billion people at the mercy of international speculators and foreign investment.

But agricapital’s free-for-all bonanza and the planned displacement of tens of millions of cultivators mirrors what has been happening across the world for many decades: the consolidation of a global food regime based on agro-export mono-cropping (often with non-food commodities taking up prime agricultural land) linked to sovereign debt repayment and foreign exchange inflows and earnings and World Bank/IMF ‘structural adjustment’ directives.

The outcomes have included a displacement of a food-producing peasantry, the dominance of Western agri-food oligopolies and the transformation of countries from food self-sufficiency to food deficiency. Little wonder then that among the owners of global agribusiness family firm Cargill 14 are now billionaires – the very company that profited from running down India’s edible oils sector in the 1990s.

It is not that India needs these people. It is already the world’s largest producer of milk, pulses and millets and the second-largest producer of rice, wheat, sugarcane, groundnuts, vegetables, fruit and cotton. This is despite India’s farmers already reeling from the effects of 30 years of neoliberal policies, decades of public underinvestment/disinvestment and a deliberate strategy to displace them at the behest of the World Bank and predatory global agri-food corporations.

If unrepealed, the recent legislation represents the ultimate betrayal of India’s farmers and democracy as well as the final surrender of food security and food sovereignty to unaccountable corporations. This legislation is wholly regressive and will eventually lead to the country relying on outside forces  to feed its population – and a possible return to hand-to-mouth imports, especially in an increasingly volatile world prone to conflict, public health scares, unregulated land and commodity speculation and price shocks.

A shift towards food sovereignty – encompassing local people’s right to healthy and culturally appropriate food and their ability to define and control their own food and agriculture systems – is key to achieving genuine independence, national sovereignty, food security and facilitating farmers’ demands.

The post Farmers’ Protests Reflect Existential Crisis of Indian Agriculture     first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Indian Farmers on the Frontline Against Global Capitalism

In a short video on the empirediaries.com YouTube channel, a protesting farmer camped near Delhi says that during lockdown and times of crisis farmers are treated like “gods”, but when they ask for their rights, they are smeared and labelled as “terrorists”.

He, along with thousands of other farmers, are mobilising against three important pieces of farm legislation that were recently forced through parliament. To all intents and purposes, these laws sound a neoliberal death knell for most of India’s cultivators and its small farms, the backbone of the nation’s food production.

The farmer says:

Corporates invested in Modi before the election and brought him to power. He has sold out and is an agent of Ambani and Adani. He is unable to repeal the bills because his owners will scold him. He is trapped. But we are not backing down either.

He then asks whether ministers know how many seeds are needed to grow wheat on an acre of land:

We farmers know. They made these farm laws sitting in air-conditioned rooms. And they are teaching us the benefits!

While the corporations that will move in on the sector due to the legislation will initially pay good money for crops, once the public sector markets (mandis) are gone, the farmer says they will become the only buyers and will beat prices down.

He asks why, in other sectors, do sellers get to put price tags on their products but not farmers:

Why can’t farmers put minimum prices on the crops we produce? A law must be brought to guarantee MSP [minimum support prices]. Whoever buys below MSP must be punished by law.

The recent agriculture legislation represents the final pieces of a 30-year-old plan which will benefit a handful of billionaires in the US and in India. It means the livelihoods of hundreds of millions (the majority of the population) who still (directly or indirectly) rely on agriculture for a living are to be sacrificed at the behest of these elite interests.

Consider that much of the UK’s wealth came from sucking $45 trillion from India alone according to renowned economist Utsa Patnaik. Britain grew rich by underdeveloping India. What amounts to little more than modern-day East India-type corporations are now in the process of helping themselves to the country’s most valuable asset – agriculture.

According to the World Bank’s lending report, based on data compiled up to 2015, India was easily the largest recipient of its loans in the history of the institution. The World Bank thus exerts a certain hold over India: on the back of India’s foreign exchange crisis in the 1990s, the IMF and World Bank wanted India to shift hundreds of millions out of agriculture.

In return for up to more than $120 billion in loans at the time, India was directed to dismantle its state-owned seed supply system, reduce subsidies, run down public agriculture institutions and offer incentives for the growing of cash crops to earn foreign exchange.

The plan involves shifting at least 400 million from the countryside into cities.

The details of this plan appear in a January 2021 article by the Research Unit for Political Economy, ‘Modi’s Farm Produce Act Was Authored Thirty Years Ago, in Washington DC’. The piece says that the current agricultural ‘reforms’ are part of a broader process of imperialism’s increasing capture of the Indian economy:

Indian business giants such as Reliance and Adani are major recipients of foreign investment, as we have seen in sectors such as telecom, retail, and energy. At the same time, multinational corporations and other financial investors in the sectors of agriculture, logistics and retail are also setting up their own operations in India. Multinational trading corporations dominate global trade in agricultural commodities. For all these reasons, international capital has a major stake in the restructuring of India’s agriculture… The opening of India’s agriculture and food economy to foreign investors and global agribusinesses is a longstanding project of the imperialist countries.”

The article provides details of a 1991 World Bank memorandum which set out the programme for India. It adds:

At the time, India was still in its foreign exchange crisis of 1990-91 and had just submitted itself to an IMF-monitored ‘structural adjustment’ programme. Thus, India’s July 1991 budget marked the fateful start of India’s neoliberal era.

It states that now the Modi government is dramatically advancing the implementation of the above programme, using the Covid-19 crisis as cover: the dismantling of the public procurement and distribution of food is to be implemented by the three agriculture-related acts passed by parliament.

The drive is to drastically dilute the role of the public sector in agriculture, reducing it to a facilitator of private capital and leading to the entrenchment of industrial farming and the replacement of small-scale farms. The norm will be industrial (GMO) commodity-crop agriculture suited to the needs of the likes of Cargill, Archer Daniels Midlands, Louis Dreyfus, Bunge and India’s retail and agribusiness giants as well as the global agritech, seed and agrochemical corporations. It could result in hundreds of millions of former rural dwellers without any work given that India is heading (has already reached) jobless growth.

As a result of the ongoing programme, more than 300,000 farmers in India have taken their lives since 1997 and many more are experiencing economic distress or have left farming as a result of debt, a shift to cash crops and economic liberalisation. The number of cultivators in India declined from 166 million to 146 million between 2004 and 2011. Some 6,700 left farming each day. Between 2015 and 2022, the number of cultivators is likely to decrease to around 127 million.

We have seen the running down of the sector for decades, spiraling input costs, withdrawal of government assistance and the impacts of cheap, subsidised imports which depress farmers’ incomes.

Take the cultivation of pulses, for instance. According to a report in the Indian Express (September 2017), pulses production increased by 40% during the previous 12 months (a year of record production). At the same time, however, imports also rose resulting in black gram selling at 4,000 rupees per quintal (much less than during the previous 12 months). This effectively pushed down prices thereby reducing farmers already meagre incomes.

We have already witnessed a running down of the indigenous edible oils sector thanks to Indonesian palm oil imports (which benefits Cargill) on the back of World Bank pressure to reduce tariffs (India was virtually self-sufficient in edible oils in the 1990s but now faces increasing import costs).

The pressure from the richer nations for the Indian government to further reduce support given to farmers and open up to imports and export-oriented ‘free market’ trade is based on nothing but hypocrisy.

On the ‘Down to Earth’ website in late 2017, it was stated some 3.2 million people were engaged in agriculture in the US in 2015. The US government provided them each with a subsidy of $7,860 on average. Japan provides a subsidy of $14,136 and New Zealand $2,623 to its farmers. In 2015, a British farmer earned $2,800 and $37,000 was added through subsidies. The Indian government provides on average a subsidy of $873 to farmers. However, between 2012 and 2014, India reduced the subsidy on agriculture and food security by $3 billion.

According to policy analyst Devinder Sharma subsidies provided to US wheat and rice farmers are more than the market worth of these two crops. He also notes that, per day, each cow in Europe receives subsidy worth more than an Indian farmer’s daily income.

The Indian farmer simply cannot compete with this. The World Bank, World Trade Organisation and the IMF have effectively served to undermine the indigenous farm sector in India. The long-term goal has been to displace the peasantry and consolidate a corporate-controlled model.

And now, by reducing public sector buffer stocks and introducing corporate-dictated contract farming and full-scale neoliberal marketisation for the sale and procurement of produce, India will be sacrificing its farmers and its own food security for the benefit of a handful of billionaires.

The post Indian Farmers on the Frontline Against Global Capitalism first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Imperial Intent: Destroying India’s Farm Sector

Agriculture in India is at a crossroads. Indeed, given that over 60 per cent of the country’s 1.3-billion-plus population still make a living from agriculture (directly or indirectly), what is at stake is the future of India. Unscrupulous interests are intent on destroying India’s indigenous agri-food sector and recasting it in their own image. Farmers are rising up in protest.

To appreciate what is happening to agriculture and farmers in India, we must first understand how the development paradigm has been subverted. Development used to be about breaking with colonial exploitation and radically redefining power structures. Today, neoliberal dogma masquerades as economic theory and the subsequent deregulation of international capital ensures giant transnational conglomerates are able to ride roughshod over national sovereignty.

The deregulation of international capital flows has turned the planet into a free-for-all bonanza for the world’s richest capitalists. Under the post-World-War Two Bretton Woods monetary regime, governments could to a large extent run their own macroeconomic policy without having to constantly seek market confidence or worry about capital flight. However, the deregulation of global capital movement has increased levels of dependency of nation states on capital markets and the elite interests who control them.

Globalisation

The dominant narrative calls this ‘globalisation’, a euphemism for a predatory neoliberal capitalism based on endless profit growth, crises of overproduction, overaccumulation and market saturation and a need to constantly seek out and exploit new, untapped (foreign) markets to maintain profitability.

In India, we can see the implications very clearly. Instead of pursuing a path of democratic development, India has chosen (or has been coerced) to submit to the regime of foreign finance, awaiting signals on how much it can spend, giving up any pretence of economic sovereignty and leaving the space open for private capital to move in on and capture markets.

India’s agri-food sector has indeed been flung open, making it ripe for takeover. The country has borrowed more money from the World Bank than any other country in that institution’s history. Back in the 1990s, the World Bank directed India to implement market reforms that would result in the displacement of 400 million people from the countryside. Moreover, the World Bank’s ‘Enabling the Business of Agriculture’ directives entail opening up markets to Western agribusiness and their fertilisers, pesticides, weedicides and patented seeds and compel farmers to work to supply transnational corporate global supply chains.

The aim is to let powerful corporations take control under the guise of ‘market reforms’. The very transnational corporations that receive massive taxpayer subsidies, manipulate markets, write trade agreements and institute a regime of intellectual property rights, thereby indicating that the ‘free’ market only exists in the warped delusions of those who churn out clichés about ‘price discovery’ and the sanctity of ‘the market’.

What could this mean for India? We only have to look at the business model that keeps these companies in profit in the US: an industrialised system that relies on massive taxpayer subsidies and has destroyed many small-scale farmers’ livelihoods.

The fact that US agriculture now employs a tiny fraction of the population serves as a stark reminder for what is in store for Indian farmers. Agribusiness companies’ taxpayer-subsidised business models are based on overproduction and dumping on the world market to depress prices and rob farmers elsewhere of the ability to cover the costs of production. The result is huge returns and depressed farmer incomes.

Indian agriculture is to be wholly commercialised with large-scale, mechanised (monocrop) enterprises replacing family-run farms that help sustain hundreds of millions of rural livelihoods while feeding the masses.

India’s agrarian base is being uprooted, the very foundation of the country, its (food and non-food) cultural traditions, communities and rural economy. When agri-food corporations like Bayer (and previously Monsanto) or Reliance say they need to expand the use of GMOs under the guise of feeding a burgeoning population or to ‘modernise’ the sector, they are trying to justify their real objective: displacing independent cultivators, food processors and ‘mom and pop’ retailers and capturing the entire sector to boost their bottom line.

Indian agriculture has witnessed gross underinvestment over the years, whereby it is now wrongly depicted as a basket case and underperforming and ripe for a sell off to those very interests who had a stake in its underinvestment.

Today, we hear much talk of ‘foreign direct investment’ and making India ‘business friendly’, but behind the benign-sounding jargon lies the hard-nosed approach of modern-day capitalism that is no less brutal for Indian farmers than early industrial capitalism was for English peasants whose access to their productive means was stolen and who were then compelled to work in factories.

The intention is for India’s displaced cultivators to be retrained to work as cheap labour in the West’s offshored plants, even though nowhere near the numbers of jobs necessary are being created and that under the World Economic Forum’s ‘great reset’ human labour is to be largely replaced by artificial intelligence-driven technology under the guise of a ‘4th Industrial Revolution’.

As independent cultivators are bankrupted, the aim is that land will eventually be amalgamated to facilitate large-scale industrial cultivation. Those who remain in farming will be absorbed into corporate supply chains and squeezed as they work on contracts dictated by large agribusiness and chain retailers.

Cocktail of deception

A 2016 UN report said that by 2030, Delhi’s population will be 37 million.

One of the report’s principal authors, Felix Creutzig, said:

The emerging mega-cities will rely increasingly on industrial-scale agricultural and supermarket chains, crowding out local food chains.

The drive is to entrench industrial agriculture, commercialise the countryside and to replace small-scale farming, the backbone of food production in India. It could mean hundreds of millions of former rural dwellers without any work. And given the trajectory the country seems to be on, it does not take much to imagine a countryside with vast swathes of chemically-drenched monocrop fields containing genetically modified plants and soils rapidly degrading to become a mere repository for a chemical cocktail of proprietary biocides.

Transnational corporate-backed front groups are also hard at work behind the scenes. According to a September 2019 report in the New York Times, ‘A Shadowy Industry Group Shapes Food Policy Around the World’, the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI) has been quietly infiltrating government health and nutrition bodies. The article lays bare ILSI’s influence on the shaping of high-level food policy globally, not least in India.

ILSI helps to shape narratives and policies that sanction the roll out of processed foods containing high levels of fat, sugar and salt. In India, ILSI’s expanding influence coincides with mounting rates of obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Accused of being little more than a front group for its 400 corporate members that provide its $17 million budget, ILSI’s members include Coca-Cola, DuPont, PepsiCo, General Mills and Danone. The report says ILSI has received more than $2 million from chemical companies, among them Monsanto. In 2016, a UN committee issued a ruling that glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s weed killer Roundup, was “probably not carcinogenic,” contradicting an earlier report by the WHO’s cancer agency. The committee was led by two ILSI officials.

From India to China, whether it has involved warning labels on unhealthy packaged food or shaping anti-obesity education campaigns that stress physical activity and divert attention from the role of food corporations, prominent figures with close ties to the corridors of power have been co-opted to influence policy in order to boost the interests of agri-food corporations.

Whether through IMF-World Bank structural adjustment programmes, as occurred in Africa, trade agreements like NAFTA and its impact on Mexico, the co-option of policy bodies at national and international levels or deregulated global trade rules, the outcome has been similar across the world: poor and less diverse diets and illnesses, resulting from the displacement of traditional, indigenous agriculture by a corporatised model centred on unregulated global markets and transnational monopolies.

For all the discussion in India about loan waivers for farmers and raising their income levels – as valid as this is – the core problems affecting agriculture remain.

Financialisation

Recent developments will merely serve to accelerate what is happening. For example, the Karnataka Land Reform Act will make it easier for business to purchase agricultural land, resulting in increased landlessness and urban migration.

Eventually, as a fully incorporated ‘asset’ of global capitalism, India could see private equity funds – pools of money that use pension funds, sovereign wealth funds, endowment funds and investments from governments, banks, insurance companies and high net worth individuals – being injected into the agriculture sector. A recent article on the grain.org website notes how across the world this money is being used to lease or buy up farms on the cheap and aggregate them into large-scale, US-style grain and soybean concerns.

This process of ‘financialisation’ is shifting power to remote board rooms occupied by people with no connection to farming and who are merely in it to make money. These funds tend to invest for a 10-15 year period, resulting in handsome returns for investors but can leave a trail of long-term environmental and social devastation and serve to undermine local and regional food insecurity.

This financialisation of agriculture perpetuates a model of commercialised, globalised farming that serves the interests of the agrochemical and seed giants, including one of the world’s biggest companies, Cargill, which is involved in almost every aspect of global agribusiness.

Cargill trades in purchasing and distributing various agricultural commodities, raises livestock and produces animal feed as well as food ingredients for application in processed foods and industrial use. Cargill also has a large financial services arm, which manages financial risks in the commodity markets for the company. This includes Black River Asset Management, a hedge fund with about $10 billion of assets and liabilities.

A recent article on the Unearthed website accused Cargill and its 14 billionaire owners of profiting from the use of child labour, rain forest destruction, the devastation of ancestral lands, the spread of pesticide use and pollution, contaminated food, antibiotic resistance and general health and environmental degradation.

While this model of corporate agriculture is highly financially lucrative for rich investors and billionaire owners, is this the type of ‘development’ – are these the types of companies –  that will benefit hundreds of millions involved in India’s agri-food sector or the country’s 1.3-billion-plus consumers and their health?

Farm bills and post-COVID

As we witness the undermining of the Agricultural Produce Market Committees or mandis, part of an ongoing process to dismantle India’s public distribution system and price support mechanisms for farmers, it is little wonder that massive protests by farmers have been taking place in the country.

Recent legislation based on three important farm bills are aimed at imposing the shock therapy of neoliberalism on the sector, finally clearing the way to restructure the agri-food sector for the benefit of large commodity traders and other (international) corporations: smallholder farmers will go to the wall in a landscape of ‘get big or get out’, mirroring the US model of food cultivation and retail.

This represents a final death knell for indigenous agriculture in India. The legislation will mean that mandis – state-run market locations for farmers to sell their agricultural produce via auction to traders – can be bypassed, allowing farmers to sell to private players elsewhere (physically and online), thereby undermining the regulatory role of the public sector. In trade areas open to the private sector, no fees will be levied (fees levied in mandis go to the states and, in principle, are used to enhance market infrastructure to help farmers).

This could incentivise the corporate sector operating outside of the mandis to (initially at least) offer better prices to farmers; however, as the mandi system is run down completely, these corporations will monopolise trade, capture the sector and dictate prices to farmers.

Another outcome could see the largely unregulated storage of produce and speculation, opening the farming sector to a free-for-all profiteering payday for the big players and jeopardising food security. The government will no longer regulate and make key produce available to consumers at fair prices. This policy ground has been ceded to market players – again under the pretence of ‘letting the market decide’ through ‘price discovery’.

The legislation will enable transnational agri-food corporations like Cargill and Walmart and India’s billionaire capitalists Gautam Adani (agribusiness conglomerate) and Mukesh Ambini (Reliance retail chain) to decide on what is to be cultivated at what price, how much of it is to be cultivated within India and how it is to be produced and processed.  Industrial agriculture will be the norm with all the devastating health, social and environmental costs that the model brings with it.

Of course, many millions have already been displaced from the Indian countryside and have had to seek work in the cities. And if the coronavirus-related lockdown has indicated anything, it is that many of these ‘migrant workers’ have failed to gain a secure foothold and were compelled to return ‘home’ to their villages. Their lives are defined by low pay and insecurity after 30 years of neoliberal ‘reforms’.

Today, there is talk of farmerless farms being manned by driverless machines and monitored by drones with lab-based food becoming the norm.  One may speculate what this could mean: commodity crops from patented GM seeds doused with chemicals and cultivated for industrial ‘biomatter’ to be processed by biotech companies and constituted into something resembling food.

Post-COVID, the World Bank talks about helping countries get back on track in return for structural reforms. Are even more smallholder Indian farmers to be displaced from their land in return for individual debt relief and universal basic income? The displacement of these farmers and the subsequent destruction of rural communities and their cultures was something the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation once called for and cynically termed “land mobility”.

It raises the question: what does the future hold for the hundreds of millions of others who will be victims of the dispossessive policies of an elite group of powerful interests?

The various lockdowns around the globe have already exposed the fragility of the global food system, dominated by long-line supply chains and global conglomerates. What we have seen underscores the need for a radical transformation of the prevailing globalised food regime which must be founded on localisation and food sovereignty and challenges dependency on global conglomerates and distant volatile commodity markets.

The post Imperial Intent: Destroying India’s Farm Sector first appeared on Dissident Voice.