Food Biotechnology: Promising Havoc or Hope for the Poor? [was: Re: Rain]

Brian James hillbily at
Fri Nov 24 16:54:20 MST 2000

Louis Proyect :
>Urban living? Sorry, old bean, it will have to be altered radically. If you
>really want to get a handle on the ecological contradictions imbedded in
>late capitalist urban life, I recommend Mike Davis's "Ecology of Fear"
>about Lost Angeles.

>Freedom from toil is another thing entirely. That is doable. Typically
>we'll be living in cities of perhaps 100,000 revolving around some
>interrelated industries and farming. Doo-doo will be recycled, of course.
>Everything you eat will be in season and free of poisons. My dad had a
>fruit store in the good old days and everything he sold was in season. I
>have never eaten a peach as good as those he sold back in 1953. Of course
>you can only get them 2 or 3 months out of the year, but that's just as well.

>In the early transition period to communism, you will regrettably have to
>work at least 20 hours a week. In your free time you will have to occupy
>yourself by bike-riding, fishing, folk-dancing and other pasttimes.

I've heard Marx accused of being a Romantic before, but I didn't expect
to find support for it here.

Earlier you quote Marx and Engels from the Manifesto demanding as part
of a socialist transition:

- - --Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the state;
the bringing into cultivation of waste lands, and the improvement of the
soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
- - --Equal obligation of all to work. Establishment of industrial armies,
especially for agriculture.
- - --Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual
abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable
distribution of the populace over the country.

Clearly M & E are promoting the "industrialization" of agriculture in
this passage, though in ways aimed at preventing soil depletion. Today
that's called sustainable development in agriculture. But sustainable
agriculture is not necessarily "organic."

The challenge facing us today is to meet the world's growing demand for
food without putting more land under the plow or exhausting what is
used. A socialist restructuring of production and distribution would do
much towards that end, but could it reach its goals under "traditional"
methods alone?

Responsible use of biotechnology offers solutions that were not foreseen
nor necessary in Marx's time. It would be foolish to militate against
them on the grounds that capitalism produced them. The whole modern
world is the product of capitalism. Are some things worth keeping and
further developing, or do we reject the whole thing?

You also quote:

"The moral of the tale is that the capitalist system runs counter to a
rational agriculture, or that a rational agriculture is incompatible with
the capitalist system (even if the latter promotes technical development in
agriculture) and needs either small farmers working for themselves or the
control of the associated producers." (Capital vol. III, chapter 6,
section 2).

I don't think Marx here means that just because a technology was
developed under capitalism it could not be transformed into something
progressive or rational. On the contrary, his aside comment "even if the
latter promotes technical development in agriculture" is clearly an
assertion that capitalism does in fact produce something progressive in
"technical development." (Marxist cliché #8: Capitalism is progressive
in so far as it develops the means of production.)

I don't read books with "Fear" in the title unless they were written by
Hunter S. Thompson.

Brian ("Old Bean") James

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