Under communism… Who will be in charge of agriculture? In a communist society, won't we have pineapples, oranges or coffee?
In various ways several readers have asked us what agriculture will be like under communism. As always the first thing to say is that communist society will not be the product of a preconceived plan to be imposed, but the result of a social process which will open up as we free ourselves from the contradictions of capitalism. However, we can read the trends already underway and explore them in a new installment of our series on communist society.
The question: who will do the harvesting under communism? Will there be coffee, pineapples and avocados for everyone? What about Nature?
In communism... Who will do the farming? Who will reap the harvest under communist society? Besides, if production and transportation damage the environment, will it all be local production, will we not have oranges, coffee or avocados? And if we eat pineapples, won't that mean that communism will also have a fundamental contradiction with Nature?
The contradictions of capitalist agriculture
Day laborers' camp in Italy
The first question we must ask ourselves is why it is harder for us to imagine the abundance intrinsic to a communist society when we think of agriculture than when we think of, for instance, access to artistic works, pharmaceuticals or industrial goods.
The reason is obvious: capitalist agriculture produces more than other sectors infamous working conditions, produces brutal contradictions with the natural environment, ends up producing a dysfunctional food system that throws away food en masse while denying food to a good part of the world's population and impoverishes to the point of sterilizing the very lands it uses while polluting the waters it needs, as we see in the recent disaster of the Mar Menor or in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest...
These are not extraordinary events. The last two years have been very illustrative of the contradictions of capitalist agriculture today. We have seen how the smallholder farmers' poor ability to attract capital - compared to industry and services- leads farmers to pay poverty wages as a characteristic way of resisting concentration.
Even before the pandemic we saw them react violently against the minimum wage hike. The lockdown that followed afterwards 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.
Pineapples, that French colonial product...
And if we think about fruits, especially those which travel halfway around the world so we can eat them, the images that spring to mind are not much better: plantations with unbearable working conditions, misery and destruction of large natural reserves.
It all began when, at the end of the 19th century, the emergence of a series of technological advances in transport and refrigeration in the midst of the first imperialist expansion created a market for fresh fruit in Britain, France and the USA. The orange groves of Oran and Jaffa or the pineapples of the Ivory Coast and Guatemala represented a greater logistical challenge than tea, cocoa and coffee had represented, but they implanted themselves strongly. Capitalism, which completed the world market, was outlining a universal diet, just as it was beginning to clothe the entire world in cotton - until not long ago a luxury fabric.
As with everything else, what at first showed an obvious element of progress and laid the foundations for a reunited Humanity, soon showed increasingly glaring contradictions.
The plantation economy did not create a modern mass proletariat in the same way that the destruction of social relations in the European countryside had created a factory working class and a stable agricultural proletariat. The fruit trees themselves - like cotton, tea, cocoa or tobacco before them - were a problem: on the one hand they were of no use to feed the urban working class at low cost, they were a luxury product for export; on the other hand they needed large amounts of labor... once or at most, twice a year.
Result: in countries and regions where fruit growing (and other colonial plantations for export) became the main agricultural activity, industrial capital did not prosper in the cities because it did not have a sufficient urban proletariat, nor, in most cases, was it cheap enough to feed. So in the countryside a permanent surplus of labor was fixed, which in turn allowed the employers to pay pittance wages...which made it unnecessary for them to bet on automation.
So when we think of fruit orchards or sugar cane today, we still think of two things: heavy seasonal demands for labor and misery. The very opposite of what we expect from a communist society.
United States Slave Trade
The mechanism we have described was the same one that in the middle of the 19th century had driven the large landowners of the U.S. South - and their allies in the British industrial textile bourgeoisie - to preserve slavery.
It was not enough for them to subjugate the workers and pay them miserable wages for if they were recognized as free workers they would have migrated to the industrial areas to work as manual laborers. Even after the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves, there was a massive use of forced labor because a truly unified labor market would have raised wages. The whole ideological, repressive and even racist land-use planning apparatus organized by the Democratic Party had no real function other than to divide the workers in order to maintain a captive and quasi-cost free labor force.
If today we have no difficulty thinking about the existence of cotton garments under communism, it is because the First World War, the global capitalist crisis and the accompanying restructuring and concentration of capital forced the U.S. cotton agrarian bourgeoisie to initiate automation.
The development of productive forces under communist society: automation and socialization
The fact that capitalism has been unable to automate the fruit orchards is just another sign of its anti-historical character. Not of its impossibility.
In fact already nowadays, even the very minimal expression of socialization of production allowed by the system in the form of big data and its productive processing -the so-called Artificial Intelligence- allows an effective automation of fruit crops.
And also of pest control, eliminating even in quite a few cases the need to use pesticides.
Even the very delicate coffee bush would be less damaged by robotic harvesting.
Communist society will be worldwide and will form a common metabolism with Nature, its logistics will be as well
Capitalist ecological disasters and the argumentative trappings of the Green Deal however raise a new issue. Some readers are making this argument to us almost verbatim:
Okay, fine, in communism what you call the liberation of productive forces will make it possible to produce abundant and healthy food for everyone with non-destructive agriculture and animal husbandry and with virtually no expense of working hours. But it will have to be a local agriculture. Not everyone will be able to eat everything, just as not everyone will be able to travel as much as they do now. Communist society will be a society of local communities and proximity agriculture, using large transport systems, making fruit travel thousands of kilometers, involves an unacceptable ecological cost.
In reality the global character of communist society is the starting point. socialism is not possible in a single country and even less so in a single county simply because to eliminate wage labor and scarcity requires productive forces that only exist on a world level and which are precisely the main legacy of capitalism, the conditions that make it possible to overcome it. And the main productive force is the world proletariat itself, without it it is impossible to think of a truly human society, that is to say, a universal one.
That is, the global nature of production is something indispensable. And it is true that this implies global and non-destructive logistical and transportation capabilities. But capitalism itself has already developed technologies that make this possible.
In a couple of years, the first electric-powered cargo ship line will open in Norway. It will be a ship with a loading capacity of 300 standard containers (average weight 14 metric tons) that is also conceived as a robot within a fully automated process: stowage and unstowage do not require direct human intervention.
This is admittedly a coastal vessel of the feeder type, the smallest-sized container ships. But it's not hard to think of similar vessels of larger tonnage or transoceanic designs.
In fact, there are already ships in production that combine hydrogen or battery-powered engines with rigid sails designed for this purpose. Wallenius Marine, a Swedish shipping company, expects to carry 7,000 cars per trip with one of these ships between Sweden and the U.S.
We do not intend to show that all the technologies that will be used under communism already exist. They don't. Moreover, many of them, even if they exist today will not be used nor developed unless we get rid of this system.
What these inventions and technologies show is that capitalism has already created the conditions for an automation and socialization of production and its forms, guided by universal human needs, to produce abundance without irreversibly destroying the natural environment.
We don't know whether communism will use rigid sails or hydrogen-powered ships, batteries, solar panels or anything else. What we do know is that communist society will be able to transform the fruits of the species' labor and knowledge into universal satisfaction of human needs.
Yes, in communism we will probably eat mangoes and pineapples, and drink coffee and chocolate. And if we do not do so it will not be because it is impossible to produce them without exploitation - it is possible - nor because it is not possible to bring them to everyone without destroying the world - it would be possible even today - but because society may no longer consider it desirable, just as we no longer consider it desirable to eat things that in other times were exquisite and today are considered unappetizing or bad for our health.