Down on the farm

I’m not usually a great one for going to demos in Dublin. The whole ritual of walking up and down O’Connell Street and then listening to longwinded speeches from the usual suspects just doesn’t have the appeal that it used to have. But, strange to say, I’m actually a little sorry that I missed the big farmers’ demo last week. Oddly enough, most of the Dublin left also seems to have missed this important event. Perhaps it’s just their knee-jerk view that the Irish farmer is an agent of Satan. Or maybe it’s because you can advance the class struggle much better by picketing beauty pageants…

It seems elementary to me that, if Peter Mandelson is hell-bent on destroying Irish agriculture in the name of the New European Empire, then he has to be opposed and any manifestation of the Irish farming class against Mandy is to be welcomed. And if that means lending support to a tougher Franco-Irish stance against the New Labour weasel’s antics in the WTO, then so be it. Even Fianna Fáil can sometimes move in the right direction, if there’s enough pressure behind them.

It may be a little unfashionable to say so, but I think it’s Economics 101 not to go about frittering away your natural resources but rather to use them for national development. Bear in mind that agriculture is still one of Ireland’s major industries. Hell, for a long time it was the only serious industry. Now remember that this was one of the basic political fault lines in the Revolutionary period. I’m grossly simplifying here, but basically the Cumann na nGaedheal programme was for Ireland to remain Britain’s market garden (the same sort of way that Bulgaria was the Soviet Union’s market garden) and hope for some trickle-down benefits. The original Fianna Fáil programme, for what little that’s worth now, was to establish self-sufficiency and then to plough the surplus into light industry. That’s what the Economic War was all about.

(Incidentally, the de Valera programme suggests itself as a possible path forward for underdeveloped countries today. In fact, Uncle Bob’s original programme for Zimbabwe was very similar. Unfortunately, it foundered on the corruption and brutality of the Mugabe regime, as well as the Brits reneging on their promise to buy out the white farmers.)

So we’re faced with a situation where the Mandelson position of today is actually a regression from the Cumann na nGaedheal position of the 1920s. Indeed, no politician with an actual mandate in Ireland (Mandy of course has no mandate anywhere) could contemplate putting forward proposals which, if the IFA is to be believed, could cost 50,000 rural jobs and the closure of a further 50,000 farms. For that reason I say, go farmers!

And this is not just an economic but also a cultural issue. Really, the two are inseparable. I’ve never been able to understand why so many Irish people who ordinarily have no time for the market are so laissez-faire about urbanisation, which they seem to regard as an unequivocally Good Thing. I don’t think so. Maybe this is an old Éire Nua streak in me coming out, but I don’t see it as Progress if half the population of Donegal has to move to Dublin. I think the depopulation and impoverishment of the West, combined with the unrestrained overdevelopment of Dublin, have a lot to do with why modern Ireland doesn’t work very well. And I don’t see why Ireland should aspire to the condition of Britain, where only about 2% of the population live on the land, and the countryside is divided up between multinational agribusiness on the one hand and the leisure needs of the upper and middle classes on the other.

No, we have an important and relatively successful economic sector here, not to mention a major natural resource. Any government with balls will be fighting tooth and nail to save it.


  1. WorldbyStorm said,

    April 26, 2008 at 8:25 pm

    Couldn’t agree more, and you’re completely right that when it comes to the land there’s a weird aversion on the part of the left, all parts as it happens. And I think you’re spot on about urbanisation. It’s not just the West either, many other parts of the island have suffered similar patterns (actually, one could argue that this started long long ago).

  2. charliemarks said,

    April 26, 2008 at 11:46 pm

    One thing I’ve always noticed about Ireland is that the food’s much better than here in England. Don’t we want to be going the way of locally produced food, isn’t there a green argument here (in a few senses of the word!)

    What impact does this whole issue have on the treaty vote?

  3. splinteredsunrise said,

    April 27, 2008 at 2:07 pm

    The farmers are usually rock solid for any EU vote – be interesting if Mandy tips them in the other direction.

  4. Jack R said,

    April 27, 2008 at 5:07 pm

    not something I know a great deal about, but hasn’t the French far left always got a modest amount of support traditionally from rural areas for defending the diversity and strength of agriculture?

    Suppose the counter-argument is that CAP payments supposedly work against third world farmers (but then, in an ideal world they’d be producing for domestic consumption too…)

  5. chekov said,

    April 27, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    I suspect that your research into this article consisted of noting that Mandy is involved and therefore, the other lot must be wrong. Most CAP money, by far, goes to agri-business. It has next to nothing to do with protecting small farmers or rural diversity.

  6. chekov said,

    April 27, 2008 at 5:59 pm

    arrgh, typo: change “wrong” for “right” above

  7. April 28, 2008 at 9:58 am

    Where did you take your fine photographic portrait of our esteemed Left List comrades? Were they in your neighborhood baaracking the kulaks? Or were they merely baagaining for votes?

    Four legs good …

    I can see the lot of ’em with mint sauce, all washed down with a nice tumbler of whiskey — with an “E”, please note. (Such a warm ‘n’ fuzzy narcotic. We should put it in their tea urn coz they need it, the poor blighters.).

  8. Cian said,

    April 28, 2008 at 10:08 am

    Most production is from large agri-business, so that’s not really surprising. I agree that its a disgrace how much money has gone towards large agri-business and if Mandy was going to shut that down I would support him. But he isn’t – in fact last time I checked the reforms would mean that agri-business would get a larger share of what is available.

  9. Cian said,

    April 28, 2008 at 10:10 am

    Oh, and it probably will destroy a lot of small farmers who are barely hanging on. Ironically this is at a time when there is growing demand for exactly the kind of stuff they are producing. EU farm subsidies need massive reforms, but that doesn’t mean that any reform is a good thing. Its quite possible to make a bad situation worse – and Mandy is the master of that.

  10. chekov said,

    April 28, 2008 at 5:57 pm

    “Its quite possible to make a bad situation worse – and Mandy is the master of that.”

    I completely agree with that. A non-existant agricultural sector would be worse than the current CAP system which has basically aimed at replacing peasant farming with agri-business. This, however, is not even closely related to Splinty’s argument – which is merely using the situation to have a go at the left’s disdain for farming. The problem with his position is that he doesn’t appear to know anything about the CAP or the economic reality of farming nowadays – it’s ironical that he presents a pretty good example of his own point about leftists being poor on matters rural.

  11. splinteredsunrise said,

    April 28, 2008 at 6:12 pm

    That’s me told. I should really have demonstrated that I know the price of a sheep before joshing around… actually, though I don’t farm, I do have reasonably good farming connections. My general view is that I’m in favour of rejigging the CAP in favour of small farmers who actually need the money. It’s the subsidising of big agribusiness that’s the scandal, but big agribusiness will come out more or less unscathed.

    But yeah, on the Irish left in general having a streak of unthinking anti-ruralism? I stand by that. Bill Warren has a lot to answer for.

  12. chekov said,

    April 28, 2008 at 11:50 pm

    “But yeah, on the Irish left in general having a streak of unthinking anti-ruralism? I stand by that. Bill Warren has a lot to answer for.”

    Well, that I’d agree with, but I’d say that it’s Marx who has a lot to answer for rather than Bill Warren – whoever he is, Marx was definitely a slightly more influential figure on the left and the source of most of the anti-peasant thought on the left.

    I’d also point out that the bias of the CAP towards agri-business is integral to the policy rather than being something that could be massaged away.

  13. D.J.P. O'Kane said,

    April 29, 2008 at 3:26 am

    As any fule kno, towards the end of his life Marx modified his views on the peasant question, at least in relation to Russia, after correspondence with Vera Zasulich and her pals.

    There is something in what you say, mind. The Dublin-centric Irish left may well feel that the Irish peasantry are a Dark Mass ready to support the sort of reactionary politics that in France supported Napoleon III and in Ireland supported, well just about everyone in Irish politics was (and is) reactionary one way or another.

    I’d say the Irish left’s problem with the farmers starts with Connolly himself. I don’t think he ever grasped the political implications of land reform in the countryside.

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