Only a Cooperative Society Can End Hunger
“More than a billion people suffer from chronic malnutrition. . . . More than thirty million people die of malnutrition and starvation every year – nearly 100,000 every day.” – Global Policy Forum, “World Food and Hunger”.
U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in the 1970s said, “Control oil and you control nations, control food and you control people.” The demand for food is a powerful force, perhaps the most powerful force in social conflict and revolutionary motion: Food riots during the French revolution and the Russian revolution’s banner of Bread and Freedom are two of many examples.
The uniqueness of humans began with our ancestors’ mastery of fire. Fire offered many advantages, including the ability to roast meat. Roasted meat, easier to chew and digest than raw foods and thus a richer source of energy, made possible our larger brains and smaller teeth and guts.
From this remarkable achievement over a million years ago until recent times, a principal activity of human society has been the acquisition, preparation and consumption of food.
For most of human history everyone contributed to acquiring food and consuming it. Human society was organized in a simple form of communism, procuring and producing what was needed with distribution according to need. Everyone worked; everyone ate.
Tools and skills advanced. Flints and spears contributed to more successful hunting. The use of starch grains, pounded into flour with crude mortars and pestles, mixed with water and baked into bread, which was portable, nutrient dense and resisted spoilage, goes back thousands of years before early humans started settling in agricultural communities around 12,000 years ago.
Agricultural production kept pace with human population growth, which numbered around 500 million people by1500 BC. As populations increased, people extended agriculture to more land and new areas, sufficient to support growing populations. Natural resources were abundant.
With the domestication of animals and cultivation (rather than gathering) of grain and corn, humans started settling down, and more complex organized societies developed over hundreds of generations. The relationship between production and distribution of the earlier communism gave way to new social and political organization in settled agricultural lands. Tools and products now became the possessions of those who used them. Communal ownership or non-ownership of land of the simple hunter-gatherer communities broke down.
Those who controlled the land, tools and food controlled society. With the ability to produce surplus over and above the immediate needs of the family or tribe, those who controlled the surplus controlled how it was distributed over time and to whom.
Some of the surplus was held as seed for future cultivation, or held in storage for communal use in event of drought, fire or other environmental hazards, and some went to the owning class for their personal satisfaction. This was the beginning of class society, with some owning property and the vast majority working without owning and thus at the mercy of the owning class.
Private property, Class and State
Settled communities gave rise to the need for defense against raids and attacks. Now a special group no longer involved in food production came into being – those who governed and those who served as armed defenders and protectors of the owning class. The State – a special apparatus dominating through force – came into being with the beginning of class society.
By the 11th century European improvements in the use of plows and draft animals (whose primitive use began many thousands of years earlier) greatly increased farmers’ ability to cultivate larger fields. Farmers learned how to maintain soil fertility. Within agricultural society, as productive capability grew and surpluses increased, new divisions of labor arose, including artisans, craftsmen, usurers and merchants with expanded trade between communities, trade over continents, and travel and trade across seas to distant continents.
Stage by stage the surplus provided by the increased productivity of agriculture paved the way for the beginnings of manufacture and production of commodities for sale. By the 1800s food surpluses were sufficient to support urban populations and factory workers.
Commodity production provided the capital that made possible the industrial revolution. Wool and cotton provided the raw materials for the textile industry, while the peasants thrown off the land provided labor for the factories. No longer fed by the land they worked, their survival depended upon wages.
A new class of owners of private property arose to challenge the supremacy of the landowners and kings and feudal lords. Fierce revolutionary battles were fought as society made the transition from an agricultural base to an industrial base of production and from feudalism to capitalism, (and in the case of the Soviet Union, to industrialization under the leadership of the proletariat.)
Agricultural productivity increased dramatically, requiring fewer and fewer workers on the land. In the 1850s, in the U.S., rural labor was 60% of the total workforce; 40% in 1900; 15% in 1950; and 2% since 1995.
From industry to industrial agriculture to speculation
The 1960s marked the beginning of industrial agriculture. Chemical inputs and mechanized methods of farming and food production became the norm. Industrial animal agriculture began as large numbers were raised in crowded indoor facilities. These developments resulted in dramatic yield increases along with significant hidden costs to society in disease and environmental degradation.
Corporate giants linking consumers and producers have subordinated both to their will. By controlling international markets for grains, fertilizers, pesticides and seeds, corporate giants Cargill, Nestle, Monsanto, ConAgra, and Archer Daniels Midland dominate the world’s food system from the farm to the supermarket. Large supermarket owners and farm equipment manufacturers also profit as agribusiness giants.
At the present time, in the era of electronic production, with capital seeking financial gain through asset inflation and financial manipulation, speculation is causing havoc with prices at both producing and consuming ends. To secure favorable positions in the financial market, the corporate giants and speculators are rapidly creating a global market for agricultural land, bringing other powerful actors into the system of profiteering from food.
They shape government food policy. They squeeze out small farmers, promote energy-hungry industrial agriculture, and create an unsustainable system of production and distribution.
Merger of State and Corporations
This orgy of speculation was made possible by deregulation in the U.S. financial sector, which began with the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999. More recently, and particularly in regards to food policy, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 (CFMA) exempted commodity futures trading from regulatory oversight.
Speculators withheld huge amounts of food from entering the market, contributing to volatile price increases. Edward Miller, in an article published in the October 5, 2011 issue of Global Research, wrote that “Between 2005 and 2008 the price of maize nearly tripled, wheat prices increased by 127%, and rice by 170%. Throughout the crisis at least 40 million people were driven into hunger, and the number of people driven into extreme poverty rose from 130 to 150 million.” Food riots erupted across the developing world, from Haiti to Mozambique.
“And worse,” he continued, “this speculation wasn’t limited to the 2007-2008 period. While commodity prices fell again in 2009, the latter half of 2010 saw them again skyrocket, reaching an all-time high at the end of that year and remaining high into this year. Today over a billion people remain hungry while wealthy investors continue to reap huge profits by gambling on the stomachs of the world’s most vulnerable.”
Attempts to reestablish control over speculation through the Dodd-Frank bill of 2010 have been thwarted by the corporations and speculators who dominate the federal government.
Further, instead of alleviating the distress of impoverished families unable to afford the increased prices of food, the U.S. government cut food stamp benefits by 13.6%. 48 million Americans – that’s one in seven – receives the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. In almost half of the households receiving help someone is working. This means a loss of approximately nine dollars per person per month.
People who rely on food stamps are facing their second threat in less than three months. As lawmakers finalize a new farm bill it’s widely reported the law will cut another $9 billion from food stamps over the next decade, depriving more than 800,000 households of up to $90 in aid per month.
The demand for food is at the heart of uprisings around the world. With the increasingly extreme polarity between those with gluttonous wealth and those who face hunger and starvation, such uprisings are inevitable in the U.S. also.
From Communism to Communism
Scientists have estimated that when society was organized in the simple form of communism, the world population was under 3 million people. Today the global population is greater than 7 billion. During the ensuing millennia humanity has made tremendous strides in producing food. In the days of hunting and gathering all or almost all humans were involved in obtaining food for the family or tribe, and even as agricultural settlements became the norm, the vast majority of people were needed to work the land. Hardship and privation were common.
The astonishing increase in technology and agricultural knowledge has freed humans from agricultural labor. Instead of most people working the land, now the world can have all their food needs satisfied by the work of only 2% of the labor force, thus freeing the vast majority for other pursuits.
What stands in the way of distributing this potential abundance for the benefit of all the peoples of the world is the system of private property, the private ownership of land and resources, and the State which protects the interests of private property.
The end of hunger and starvation – providing nourishment for the billions who are malnourished, and saving the lives of hundreds of thousands who die daily of hunger in a world of agricultural richness – can only be achieved by ending private ownership of land and resources, and establishing a system of communal ownership with distribution according to need.
This article originated in Rally, Comrades!
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The age-old vision of a world without scarcity, without exploitation, class domination, organized violence, and stultifying labor has been the dream of millenia. The new completely socialized labor-eliminating means of production ... sets the basis for its realization. Now human history can begin, the light of the individual shining in the full brightness of liberated life, that can only be realized within true equality and cooperation: communism, a cooperative society.'Without Vision, the People Perish'
Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011