The “John Deere brigade” war meme: from romanticism to class reality

13 March, 2022

John Deere, a symbol of war propaganda
John Deere, a symbol of war propaganda

The media continue to broadcast patriotic scenes of the war in Ukraine. One of the latest is the “John Deere Brigade”, a supposedly heartwarming scene where Ukrainian farmers are resisting the invasion by towing abandoned Russian armored vehicles towards Ukrainian forces. All of this while turning the brand new green John Deere tractors into a patriotic “symbol” garnished with light blue-yellow backgrounds and flags. But the war does not mean the same thing to the different social classes.

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What lies behind the “bucolic-military” image of the “John Deere brigade”?

A symbol of Ukrainian resistance. While tanks and armored vehicles bog down, get stuck and fall victim to the famous thawing mud, the Rasputitsa, the brave tractors continue to maneuver in the vast Ukrainian agricultural expanses. They constitute yet another challenge that Vladimir Putin’s army is struggling to overcome. […]

The “John Deere brigade” has struck again. Social networks quickly echoed these bucolic-military activities. Since the first days of the conflict, numerous videos have circulated showing the towing of Russian combat equipment and the misappropriation of these images (stickers, T-shirts, memes, etc.).

However, while a part of the local smallholder farmers drape themselves in the flag and cheer for war, the workers feel the crush of the war production machinery. The war propaganda and its bucolic-militaristic image featuring Deere tractors hide what bonds the exploited Ukrainian workers with the 10,000 U.S. workers who manufacture Deere tractors.

On the one hand, displaced Ukrainian workers are brought to the factories in appalling conditions to “save the homeland,” and on the other, Deere workers in the U.S. held a long strike late last year against shameful wages and conditions, which ended with the unions agreeing to a contract virtually identical to the original one offered by the company.

In the military industry, unions celebrate new orders while waving away the issue of war

The effort of capital to leap into militarism is international, as is the working class. The workers of the large national capitals which produce and export heavy weapons are in the vanguard position to exert pressure. The danger is evident for the ruling class in the U.S., which is already preparing for the consequences of a struggle in the military industry, for example in a Raytheon subsidiary on strike right now:

The potential disruption of the U.S. arms industry and the U.S. war effort by the company’s shutdown has already caused concern in ruling circles. Ohio Democratic Congressman Tim Ryan, vice chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, issued an open letter to the CEOs of Collins and Raytheon on February 24 calling on them to end the lockout: “As a member of the Defense Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, I am well aware of the critical role that Raytheon and its subsidiary, Collins Aerospace, play as part of the U.S. defense industrial base. In these uncertain times, it is more important than ever to have stable workforces at our major defense contractors.

Yet, faced with combative military industrial workers and the war, unions block or divert struggles. Not only at Raytheon, also the French unions call a strike at Dassault, but not only have they not called to fight against militarism by exerting pressure and blocking military production, instead they keep announcing the increase in military orders as something to be celebrated by the workers:

‘We should smile, we are getting orders for Rafale aircraft for export, work is assured, but it does not benefit us’, explains Yannick Duigou, elected representative of the CGT and secretary of the social and economic committee of the Dassault factory in Argenteuil (Val-d’Oise).

Although the media have been worrying about the effect of the strikes on military production – saying that workers are “dragging their feet” as orders increase – in reality the unions have ensured the pace of production is maintained.

At the Mérignac plant – where the final assembly of fighter jets is done – planes go out as if no strike were taking place, lest company profits and war production suffer. And no matter how much the unions call for “mobilizations against the war“, defensist parades in fact, they refuse to interrupt production or to question the policy of unbridled militarism to which the entire EU, with France at the helm, has plunged.

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