[Marxism] Food imperialism: Norman Borlaug and the Green Revolution

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Sep 20 15:22:00 MDT 2009

When Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, died last 
Monday at the age of 95, I could not help but wonder if special issues 
of the Nation Magazine and the Monthly Review, the authoritative voices 
of American liberalism and radicalism respectively might have cause the 
old buzzard to croak. The September 21 issue of the Nation was titled 
“Food for All” and took on the myths of the Green Revolution, just as 
does the July-August issue of Monthly Review. The MR has the added 
distinction of being co-edited by Fred Magdoff, Harry’s son, who is one 
of the leading Marxist experts on sustainable agriculture.

Borlaug was very clear about his political goals, as were his acolytes 
in the bourgeois press. Take, for example, the moniker Green Revolution. 
The term was a conscious alternative to the Red Revolutions that were 
driven by a desire for Bread in the Russian, Chinese, Cuban and 
Vietnamese countryside. The imperialists thought they had discovered a 
philosopher’s stone in Borlaug’s wheat and rice hybrids. Now every poor 
person could enjoy three square meals a day and forsake the need to take 
up arms.

The bourgeoisie rewarded Borlaug with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, a 
choice that recognized the obvious connection between an adequate diet 
and social peace. Given the turmoil of the Vietnam War, Borlaug’s 
research seemed like an exit ramp from the colonial revolution that was 
now in full bore across the world. Although the Oct. 22nd New York Times 
concurred with majority opinion that Borlaug was some kind of saint, it 
did worry a bit. “Through increased productivity, the green revolution 
may mean less employment in Asia—and scores of millions are already 
living in tragic misery. So far there has been no outcry to stop the 
insistence on birth control as a means of dealing with overpopulation.”

Indeed, Borlaug had come to the neo-Malthusian conclusion that birth 
control was a necessary handmaiden to his agricultural breakthroughs. In 
his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, he warned: “There can be no permanent 
progress in the battle against hunger until the agencies that fight for 
increased food production and those that fight for population control 
unite in a common effort.” This position has been embraced by Lester 
Brown, a founder of the Worldwatch Institute, and founder and president 
of the Earth Policy Institute, both nominally “environmentalist” 
organizations. This is just a sign of how difficult it is to lump all 
environmentalists together without a class analysis. The approach of 
radical environmentalists like Fred Magdoff has been to both attack the 
intellectual and scientific foundations of the Green Revolution as well 
as defend the right of poor people not to have birth control rammed down 
their throat. It is just a reminder that you cannot figure out the 
environmental movement without an ideological road map.

Borlaug got started in the 1940s under the auspices of the Rockefeller 
Foundation, which despite its philanthropic pretensions, was worried 
about threats to its holdings both in Mexico and in the rest of Latin 
America.  It should be mentioned that the Rockefellers also provided the 
initial funding for Lester Brown’s Worldwatch Institute. The 
Rockefellers have consistently been in favor of “preserving” natural 
resources as well as preventing poor people from having too many babies.

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