Farmers and livestock breeders are returning to the protests that started last February and continued until they were interrupted by the pandemic. This time however, protest will be concentrated in Andalusia. This is no small matter: the region accounts for 34% of agricultural landowners and is the source of 40% of Spanish agricultural exports. Two new issues at the forefront: the consequences for the countryside of the Green Deal and the alleged colonial status of Spain’s southern regions.
The agricultural branch of the Green Deal
Not all of the European Green Deal is about power generation. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has been, until the implementation of the recovery funds, the EU’s main expenditure item. It could not be sidelined. Last October 20 the European Council -that is, the member states’ governments- agreed on the CAP reform package that has to start being implemented this year.
The CAP is based on two pillars that are really two sets of subsidy systems. The first pillar is guaranteed prices for certain products (the OMCs) and direct aids; the second one is the rural development subsidies.
The aim of the reform is to make the support system contingent on green transformations. As regards the first pillar, direct aid is reduced by almost 40 billion for Europe as a whole, partly as a consequence of Brexit – there is one country less to pay – and partly as a way of increasing the resources available for conditional policies. In the second pillar – aids for farm transformation – a good part of them will be conditional on the introduction of a series of practices – the so-called green schemes – aimed at transforming production towards the bio and eco sectors.
And when applied in Andalusia this means…
When the agreement has been implemented by the government, it has become clear that this means increasing the share of total subsidies that goes to large farms. First of all because direct aids have become conditional on surface area instead of production. And to top it off, because the second pillar subsidies did the same thing. Which is logical if the purpose of the subsidy is to introduce pulses to reclaim land or to introduce elements of biodiversity to control pests.
But adding it all up, the outcome is, according to Andalusian farmers’ organizations, that the total aid they would receive would go from 1,500 million to just over 900 million euros. The cause: the average Andalusian farm covers 17.5 hectares and is dedicated to intensive cultivation. The Spanish average is, by contrast, 50 hectares.
The Spanish adaptation of the CAP reform aggravates the concentration in porductivity, and therefore the contradiction between small and large capitals, and between regions of small intensive property and regions of large extensive property.
The plight of the agrarian petty bourgeoisie
We already saw how the smallholder farmers’ poor capacity to attract capital -compared to industry and services- leads farmers to pay poverty wages as a characteristic way of resisting concentration. The fact that they reacted violently against the minimum wage hike some time later and that this was their main rallying cry at the outbreak of the mobilizations only confirmed the known facts. The lockdown that followed during the subsequent months further taught us how the same force that necessarily pushes the small owner against the most basic needs of his workers-the logic of accumulation-leads to an increasingly wasteful and unhealthy food system.
In the background, over and over again the published data confirm the analysis: the agrarian petty bourgeoisie is being left out of the bulk of the sector’s profitability increases because increasing capitalization in a profitable way is only viable from certain scales they cannot reach.Resistance and state aid to keep them in the countryside have only served to concentrate profitability in large companies without concentrating land ownership, which continues to be distributed among many smallholders.
A 7% of macro-agricultural enterprises already account for half of the increase in productive value. Despite the 3.6% increase in agricultural income the sector has lost 67,000 employed in 2020, a decrease of 7.9% compared to 2019.Since 2003, the agricultural sector accumulates a loss of income of 12.2% and a reduction of 235,000 employed, many of them self-employed professionals who have had to abandon the activity in the face of the technical bankruptcy of their farm. Agriculture is doing well, but only for some. The ‘macro’ figures mask the delicate micro situation. The extreme volatility of prices, the upward spiral of costs (+31.6% in the last decade) and uncontrolled imports from third countries threaten the profitability and job creation capacity of small and medium-sized family farms.La Información
Is Andalusia a semi-colonial country?
Whenever the contradictions between the petty bourgeoisie and the general dynamics of accumulation manifest themselves in territorial differences, as in this case, accusations of the alleged colonial status of the southern – and African – regions of Spain in the structure of the market and national capital inevitably appear.
This is conceptual nonsense from the outset. The colonial regime as such only existed where the imposition of political domination allowed capital to absorb and incorporate into the metropolitan market a pre-capitalist production in a foreign territory. It is a process of implantation of capitalism -and formation of a certain national market- in which -in some cases- a national bourgeoisie with its own interests and opposed to those of the metropolis eventually developed. This is not the case, not even remotely, in the Andalusia of the last two hundred years and even less so in today’s Andalusia.
The contradictions of the Andalusian economy also bear little resemblance to those of semi-colonial countries. Neither the state taxes exports, nor diverts rents from the export sector to artificially support industry, nor does it suffer a permanent tension between capital flight and currency devaluation.
And yet the idea of a territorial contradiction with both the European powers and the more capitalized regions of the northern third of the peninsula persists. We often hear about the supposed extractive nature of industries and about a foreign capital which does not reinvest in the territory the profits it generates in our land, etc etc etc.
Fundamentally, under that complaint is the perspective of the regional petty bourgeoisie -especially the agrarian- who would like the regional administration to capture income from some industries in the form of local and national taxes (regional financing) and convert them into income for their own farms. Remember when Anguita (Spanish stalinist politician from Andalusia) called for a special tax against Auchan and other large hypermarkets, claiming that they take every day their proceeds to France? Although it may sound like a paradox, the dream of a good part of the regional petty bourgeoisie -not only the Andalusian one- is for the autonomous regions to behave like the government of a semicolonial state.
But there is an element of truth in this as well: the capital flows of the different regions of a unified market are never balanced. The logic of capital accumulation manifests itself as potential laws that give increasing relative advantages to the leading capitals. This applies to the competition for capital between some sectors and others, this differential in attractiveness for capital is what the countryside as a whole suffers in relation to industry and services; it is also a factor that marginalizes small landowners from productivity gains compared to large ones; and for the same reasons, it tends to cumulatively increase the differences in income between the more industrialized territories and the less industrialized ones.
Within Spain, as in any European state, this tendency is partly counteracted by state spending, which ensures a relative rise in the consumption of the less capitalized regions. Within the EU, where so far internal transfers through common expenditures have been negligible relative to joint GDP, it exacerbates imperialist tensions between some states and others.
But even if, for the sake of cohesion, the state alleviates the relative backwardness of the regions with a strong presence of the agricultural sector, this will not solve the problem. What is known as backwardness actually is backwardness with respect to capital accumulation, a process which, as we have seen, is characterized by the concentration of productive resources. The concentration in some sectors, scales and regions results in the relative backwardness of the others.
The relative backwardness of the southern regions of Spain, as of the Italian or Greek regions, is a tendency inserted in the logic of capital which will not be reversed neither by an increase in public spending nor by transfers to farmers and the rest of the regional petty bourgeoisie. Only the overcoming of the system can do it. And for that to happen we have to look for the horizon in the opposite direction to the one the farmers and local nationalists are looking at.