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Reimagining Regional Relationships

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 24/11/2020 - 4:27pm in


Melbourne’s second lockdown and the enforced separation of the city’s residents from those of regional Victoria and the rest of the world has proven a sobering time in which to reflect upon a complex relationship. Across Melbourne, lockdown has delivered a collective jolt to the senses, a striking realisation of how deeply integral mobility is, in its myriad forms, to our taken-for-granted sense of the rhythm and texture and stimulations of day-to-day life. 

For many of us our new physical immobility has been accompanied and enabled by a proliferation of digital connections. Whether for work, family or recreation, we have turned to digital technologies to keep us linked to ‘the world’, downloading and uploading content, communicating in groups small and large, observing and participating in events. While offering thin lines of connection, being ensconced in a Zoom box within an urban box within a quiet city hour after hour can be deeply disorienting. Like watching a film in the dark on a plane, only to pull the headphones off and hear nothing but a wall of white noise and see nothing but motionless shadowy figures around you, to live in lockdown Melbourne is to feel untethered from reality. Instead of the spatial mobility and digital disconnection experienced on a flight, it is spatial immobility and an overabundance of digital connection that now leave us with a sense of floating in space, disembedded from the Earth.

In both cases this sense of physical detachment is a dangerous mirage. It is a denial of the destructive physical processes underlying plane travel and digital systems, and it shores up the foundational phantasy of hypermodern capitalism: the figure of the human being as autonomous and disembodied, and the world as the mere ‘plastic modelling clay’ of capitalism, as Frédéric Neyrat puts it.1 More than the mere separation of humans from nature, today this vision imagines humans as ‘residing off-planet, outside the Earth, without any kind of vital relation with the ecosphere, detached and separated as far away as possible from the Earth object to be reformatted’.2 Lewis Mumford diagnosed the emergence of this imaginary in the 1960s:

Our age is passing from the primeval state of man [sic] marked by his invention of tools and weapons and for the purpose of achieving mastery over the forces of nature, to a radically different condition, in which he will have not only conquered nature, but detached himself as far as possible from the organic habitat.3  

Mumford was writing in the midst of the ‘space race’ that quite literally sought to sustain humans ‘off-planet’. It was a period of intensive research and development that delivered not only the airborne capsules needed for space travel but much of the computing, satellites and ICT that now enable our global digital connectivity and help sustain the belief that we can transcend geographical and natural constraints.

Mobile food

Many of us know that such a belief is ridiculous, notwithstanding the new force it has been given by the Silicon Valley space race accelerating in 2020. When offline, living in lockdown Melbourne has been a jolting reminder of how grounded and emplaced we are. Local parks have never been more popular, and many people seem to have directed their new spare time towards gardening, adding to what feels like a particularly spectacular spring, with blossoms and new growth in all directions. Home cooking has also had a resurgence, directing attention to what we eat and our households’ and bodies’ reliance on constant inflows of food. For some this has included sourcing food from new backyard ventures, whether vegetables, or eggs from some of the many chickens that have recently populated the suburbs. Some were lucky enough to have farmers markets still operating within their allowed 5-kilometre travel radius and were able to have their turn processing around stands of produce, walking the periphery of peri-urban Melbourne in miniature.  

For many Melburnians though, lockdown has led to an unprecedented reliance on their local supermarket. Today a ‘local’ supermarket is something of an oxymoron, referring merely to a nearby branch of one of a small number of interlinked global corporations, most likely Coles or Woolworths, which together account for approximately 70 per cent of Australian supermarket sales. Once a genuinely local shop in Melbourne, Coles is now part of Coles Group, selling not just groceries and liquor but petrol and financial products, and is owned primarily by UK-based bank HSBC, Australia’s largest company Wesfarmers (which trades in chemicals, fertilisers, coal mining, and industrial and safety products as well as retail), and US-based JP Morgan, the world’s largest financier of fossil fuels. Woolworths similarly began as a local shop in Sydney but is now part of the Woolworths group that also owns most of Australia’s liquor and hotel businesses, including the Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group, which operates more than 12,000 poker machines. Like Coles, Woolworths is majority-owned by HSBC and JP Morgan. Woolworths has enjoyed record sales during lockdown. Yet in the midst of the turmoil of the pandemic, the company was forced to compensate staff for $90 million in underpaid wages. It also quietly announced the redundancies of 1350 warehouse workers, who will be replaced with robots. 

Here, in the knotted bowels of the corporate world, we see once again the phantasy of disconnection. In such spaces, food appears on balance sheets as one commodity among others, its intimate relationship with particular ecosystems and human bodies peeled off and hidden from view. We, meanwhile, enter our local store and encounter a pricing system that magnetically draws us to products—two-dollar two-litre containers of milk, for example—with complete detachment from how such pricing comes about and its devastating consequences for dairy farmers. Just like the minerals and coal that are physically imbricated throughout food chains, food is now thoroughly financialised. 

Involved in this financialisation are what Jennifer Clapp calls two types of ‘distancing’. The first is the increasing number of actors involved in ‘adding value to’ (that is, extracting profit from) food chains, making many of them so long as to be virtually untraceable and unplaceable.4 As Jane Dixon notes, major supermarkets disembed local food economies through their global supply sourcing.5 Second, financialisation operates by separating food into material and nutritional components, abstracting them as commodities and reconfiguring them into ‘bundles of resources’ to be traded on derivatives markets.The result is that, as Marc Edelman writes, ‘the lion’s share of the vast wealth that rural zones produce…has accrued to shareholders in corporations and financial institutions headquartered in a handful of distant, economically dynamic urban centers’.6 

Wheat is a case in point. One of Australia’s major export crops, wheat exists in the world not only as a plant, a seed or even a material such as flour, but as ‘futures’ and other fictions traded on the Chicago Stock Exchange by financial actors with little interest in or concern about its value as food. As Lesley Head and colleagues describe in their analysis of Australian wheat in the global food system, besides existing as a genetic code, pharmaceutical filler and land use, wheat features as an information flow. ‘We could track flows of virtual wheat as currency traded through different markets. It flowed across computer screens in various symbolic ways—on graphs, in recipes, in mixtures of stock feed’.7 Wheat’s spaces thus stretch far beyond the rural ‘wheat belts’ of northwestern Victoria or southern Western Australia, and even beyond the trade routes, warehouses, feed lots and factories that feed off it, to encompass complex webs of digital abstractions and financial value, including information feeds flowing through computers and smart devices in home offices across Melbourne. The result is that while wheat has many points of connection in the world—indeed one of the most extensive fingerprints of any commodity—its real connections, its roots and soil and the intricate human dance involved in cultivating it, are hidden from view as it is blended into the plastic modelling clay of capitalism. 

For us kneading sourdough in lockdown Melbourne in an increasingly half-hearted effort to remain grounded and sane, it is worth appreciating the hypermobile, fragmented and capitalised world that our flour is part of. At the same time, bread is a quintessential staple—an age-old icon of reliable sustenance. As Justin Clemens wrote in Arena no. 3 in relation to the pandemic, even as funding has been turned off for everything the Coalition does not like: ‘it’s still the case that bread and circuses must never stop—especially not now in the end times, when so many people are forcibly locked down or otherwise holed up’. His point was about the Herculean effort devoted to ensuring that the circus of the AFL football season continued at all costs. But it turns out that we cannot take the more mundane matter of bread for granted. This was underlined during the early days of the pandemic, when people were stocking up on goods like well-trained preppers and Melbourne ran out of bread flour. On this and numerous other items, the logistics models that underpin supermarkets’ just-in-time supply chains failed to anticipate consumers’ emotional responses to the pandemic and the resultant surge in demand, despite their continuous flows of information from expensive NASA satellite-enabled smart technologies. These breaks in supply chains quickly led to confronting scenes of empty supermarket shelves, strengthening people’s suspicion that we could not trust existing systems to keep us fed and well. ‘Next we’ll be queuing for cabbages!’ we feared.

That bread flour in particular was missing from the shelves arguably said more about the pace of flour mills than the availability of wheat. As a highly preservable product, wheat is an exemplary foodstuff in the modern food system, highly amenable to the sort of purification, dehydration and long-term preservation that contemporary food technologies now regularly perform. Spin-offs from NASA’s ‘space food systems’, these technologies are used by corporations around the world not to provision shuttle crews but to process, preserve, package and deliver ingestible substances for non-astronauts. This includes the increasing use of controlled-environment technologies such as Airocide to purify air and stabilise temperatures in order to slow deterioration and eliminate pests and pathogens, including viruses. The resultant physical stability of the substances—what Bruno Latour might term ‘immutable mobiles’—immunises them against their surrounds, enables standardisation and deliberate decomposition, and provides a blank surface on which any financial value can be projected. It also implicates a wide range of other actors as food circulates through the global food system in capsules, encased in oil-based plastic as well as containers and hulls, all of which makes its arrival at any destination an achievement of the fossil-fuel and steel industries as much as the food industry. COVID-19 is amplifying this focus on prophylactic security, scaling the enclosures from food parcels to buildings, cities and nations.

The immutability of foodstuffs such as flour contrasts with the highly mutable and ‘recalcitrant’ character of wheat and the myriad other living things we grow to consume. Plant growth is a delicate undertaking. How seeds or seedlings react to the particular patterning of temperature, UV, atmospheric chemistry, rain, soil qualities and organisms in their immediate environment is difficult to completely control. They quite literally have a life of their own. Satellite-enabled environmental sensing and automated technologies do their best to create lab-like conditions, but there is always an element of chance. The resultant uncertainty calls for probabilistic thinkingand turns farming into an increasingly digitised form, crafted from flows of information and advice as much as seeds and soil. Farmers spend more and more time in offices glued to screens not dissimilar to those captivating the attention of the many urban actors integral to modern agricultural information ecologies trying to choreograph their production activities to the syncopated rhythms of international currencies, commodity markets, futures markets, energy and water prices, interest rates, brokers’ bets and seasonal forecasts. 

Among the uncertainties they have to deal with are those increasingly generated by the certainty of climate change. Rains no longer arrive on schedule or deliver as expected over winter. They often come in a rush over summer in destructive downpours, feeding weeds and groundwater more than crops, or cruelly catching the latter late in the season, on the cusp of harvest, when they have absorbed every investment and effort but are sitting vulnerable in the paddock, yet to offer a return. Temperatures are shifting and sparking across the calendar, rushing plants to bud and flower too early, throwing them under clear skies into the fridge of sudden winter frost, then thrusting them into the oven of a heatwave, often so quickly and locally that such events do not register in the information flows of urban media. Then there are the pests, whether considered by a farmer to be every organism other than the commodified species or a short list of specific tricksters that need to be carefully negotiated. 

Climate change is warping ecological relations as species respond individually and move across the landscape where they can, creating new problem ecologies and undermining the ‘ecological services’ our farming systems rely on, such as those of pest predation and pollination. In the northwestern Victorian wheat belt, the prevalent pest, the bird-cherry oat aphid, is likely to be negatively affected by climate change, migrating southward and disappearing off the coast of Victoria. Yet this depends in part on how stressed its host crop plants are by new climatic and other pressures. These include the yellow dwarf virus that the aphid carries, which is likely to quickly increase in higher temperatures as plants host the aphid earlier in the season and allow it to spread further.8 At the same time, climate change is beginning to affect the aphids’ predators, including migratory birds, whose numbers will likely fall as rainfall declines, depending on how soil moisture and vegetation respond to less rain.9 On farms, the result may be an increased turn to chemical pesticides, which are also sensitive to temperature, rain and wind and may prove unreliable allies in a changing climate.

As it turns out, pesticides are also sensitive to another virus—COVID-19. Among the pandemic’s innumerable impacts on the world has been the disruption of glyphosate production in China. Glyphosate is the key active ingredient of Roundup—the ‘miracle’ chemical that corporate behemoth Bayer is now being sued for by cancer-afflicted farmers—and its sudden inaccessibility ‘crippled’ farmers in Australia in the early days of the pandemic as they prepared to seize the autumnal climatic window when grain seeds are positioned to take root in their sanitised pockets of soil. Adding to the disruption were similar problems in flows of synthetic fertiliser from China. Among these fertilisers were not only those reliant on phosphate and potassium mines in Russia, Brazil, India and Canada but also those based on atmospheric nitrogen—an emissions-intensive chemical transformation devised by the father of chemical warfare, Fritz Haber. What the Germans call ‘brot aus luft’—making ‘bread from air’—the invention of nitrogenous fertiliser is a ‘miracle’ long hailed as proof of humans’ ability to overcome nature’s limits with technology.10 By disrupting the apparent ability to make bread from air—that is, by disrupting the long chains of intensive physical processes underpinning wheat production—COVID-19 exposed the global industrial complex into which Australian agriculture not only feeds commodified goods but also feeds off, in an attempt to control the lively mutability of production. 

Pushing against centrifugal forces

But this is not simply a story of COVID disruption. These are some of the ways in which agricultural production is embroiled in techno-capitalism’s globalised processes, processes that in turn connect rural communities to those of us stuck in the metropole. With the burgeoning of industrial-scale agriculture, many rural areas have become sites of extraction—‘sacrifice zones’, in the words of anthropologist Marc Edelman—where profit-making growth is the main game and wealth is generated and exported elsewhere in a model originating from early colonial days. Today Canadian superannuation funds are the single largest investor in Australian agriculture, though they still do not rival the United Kingdom, China or the United States in terms of foreign ownership of Australian farmland and water.

Technologised, neoliberal transformations in agriculture don’t just result in the mass exportation of food and economic wealth; they also lead to significant reductions in the number of people employed in agricultural work. While the populations of larger rural towns continue to grow steadily, the shifting nature of employment in these areas is telling: for example, in Mildura—regional centre of one of Victoria’s prime food bowls—between 2001 and 2016 there was a 50-per-cent reduction in the number of people directly employed in agricultural work and a simultaneous 84-per-cent increase in the number employed in ‘human services’. In a recent public talk,11 Mildura businessman and community leader Ross Lake painted a devastating picture of the disassociation, distress and fragmentation associated with the intergenerational stripping away of local controls over water, land and productive labour. While people live in rural places, they are increasingly likely to work in ways that result in their being as disconnected from the land and from each other as those who reside in metropolitan cities. 

Paradoxically, it is this same technologically enabled disconnection that fuels the latest COVID-driven imaginary of a mass exodus from the capital-city ‘bunker’ for a better ‘work–life balance’ in regional Australia. Work-from-home employees are now ‘liberated’ from the need to attend physical workplaces and thus look to ‘capitalise’ on cheaper real estate as well as an imagined simpler life in the country, a life free of the deadening weekday hours of commuter gridlock. What they may encounter in their rural retreat, however, are not just the wonders of internet connection. At least for those escaping Melbourne, there may be a familiar sense of being encased in white noise, not simply because of their underdeveloped local relationships but because Australia’s news and policy are so city-centric, leaving many outside the enclosures of capital cities feeling as left out as those in lockdown Melbourne. Also familiar will be the food on offer, given that an increasing proportion is supplied by the long arms of Coles and Woolworths. Known for ingesting its competition, Woolworths is now trying to purchase rural food supplier PFD, which would not only homogenise consumer choices but cut off a market for the small rural producers PFD currently supports, producers that try to resist the prevailing treatment of food as a mere widget of the capitalist economy. 

Such distanced, distinctively cultured ways of relating to rural places have a long tail. In 1946, Australian children’s author, farmer and environmentalist Elyne Mitchell made a rousing and impassioned plea for a national reimagination. In her book Soil and Civilization,12 Mitchell presciently tracks the disconnection of people from the earth via the growth of urban populations, industrialised agriculture, standardised education, the expansion of technologised communications and governance, and growing dependence on foreign trade for food. At the heart of her argument is the idea that soil fertility and health is foundational and symbiotically connected to the creativity and health of a people—a binding spiritual connection that Australia destroyed at colonisation. In its place we have built an industrial society hell-bent on exploiting the land, giving rise to erosion, desertification, dust bowls and people who are alienated and emptied out. 

Mitchell’s critique draws attention to the contingencies of energy flows—environmental, biological, electrical and spiritual—that should be symbiotically fused; a set of interlinked creative forces that we have fragmented and enabled to drain away. These ideas find passionate and practical force in the work of a new generation of farmers, activists and environmental writers, including American Wendell Berry, who writes of the need for human communities to exert ‘a kind of centripetal force, holding local soil and local memory in place’. Berry’s appeal to ‘the work of local culture’ is a plea to refuse the impoverished and toxic returns that flow to the country as a result of power being located in commercial centres, ‘which have drawn irresistibly into themselves both the products of the countryside and the people and talents of the country communities’. Berry echoes Mitchell’s warning that this is no simple opposition of city and country but rather an interpenetration of processes and orientations such that ‘country people more and more live like city people, and so connive in their own ruin’. 13 

Local cultures

Whether we approach these dilemmas through the ecological prism of soil or the social-philosophical idea of the common good, as Jane Goodall does in The Politics of the Common Good: Dispossession in Australia, the message is the same: without the cultivation of attention to and care for the specific conditions of the places in which we live and work we are destined to live a rootless life, regardless of where we live. Rootlessness in this sense is not a matter of mobility so much as attitude, understanding, commitment. It is an attitude that infuses too many of the policies that shape rural places, penned as they are by city-based or at least urbanised authors reliant on but intellectually disconnected from the realities of rural life.

To begin to explore what the ‘work of local culture’ might look like in any place in the present is not to overlook existing local cultures—especially Indigenous cultures, which have been battered by these processes the longest—nor is it to altogether dismiss globalisation. It is to spark a debate about the first principles and values we have lost sight of, or sold off, and that need to be brought back to the centre of shared concern. Australian society has been described as suffering selective amnesia as well as ‘settler innocence’.14 The former applies to those countless instances of governments wilfully bulldozing or selling off places of community value and heritage for the sake of corporate interest, in a bewildering kind of second-wave, self-colonising violence. 

To disentangle, make sense of and push back against these hollowing-out processes is also to ask what kinds of relationships need to be prioritised to foster flourishing regions. A first lead might be taken from those Aboriginal activists, fire ecologists and custodians of country working against the forces of prolonged drought, the confounding and sometimes competing layers of commercial governance of water and land, and the myriad effects of accelerating climate change. These activists have been moved to decentre the politics of Aboriginal land ownership in favour of a more urgent need to cultivate a new, collectively shared love and responsibility for country. In so doing, they do not diminish the specific forms of Indigenous association and relatedness; rather, they call for shared rejection of capital-organised attitudes to land, water, places, species, environments.15  

Berry identifies loss of memory as a crucial element of the erosion of local culture. ‘When a community loses its memory, its members no longer know each other. How can they know each other if they have forgotten or have never learned each other’s stories?’16 In settler-colonial nations like Australia, memory and storytelling are highly contested ground, integrally connected with the workings of power and legitimacy. The prospect of an enriched coexistence turns upon the possibility of a differently figured exchange of stories, memories and traditions. On this we must look first to Aboriginal communities, but also to the post–Second World War generations of migrants who brought with them distinctive traditions of working and honouring the land, drawing upon them as anchors and inspiration as they made new homes, families, businesses and communities, in cities and rural towns. 

For decades rural producers have relied on itinerant backpackers and fly-in, fly-out Pacific workers for seasonal work, including the harvesting and packing of fruit and vegetables. Pacific labourers bring with them specialist skills that Australian farmers value, including bodily familiarity, confidence and pleasure in working with the produce of the earth derived from their own customary practices of land cultivation. For these labourers, among our closest regional neighbours, seasonal stints in Australia offer rare opportunities to accumulate savings that, once remitted home, can be life transforming. But the closure of state and international borders has triggered a shortfall of as many as 26,000 workers needed to harvest Australian crops in coming months if the produce is not to be left to rot. Industry lobbyists are calling for exceptional travel permits to enable the continuing movement of Pacific labour migrants between their home countries and Australia. Domestically, the Morrison government is promising relocation payments to welfare recipients willing to move to areas where seasonal labour is needed. 

If earlier attempts to lure unemployed city residents to the bush have failed, why should this campaign be any different? Young city folk don’t readily see country-based work as an option. Nor do many young rural folk, who frequently grow up with the implicit message that personal ‘success’ involves getting an education and job in the city.17 Their consequent out migration strengthens the gravitational pull of the city on society and weighs against anyone without even family ties heading off to the country for work. 

Farmers too express anxieties about the government’s proposed quick-fix labour programs and make clear that they won’t tolerate workers who don’t approach their crops with care. At the same time, poorly regulated work conditions can be onerous and exploitative. The hotter temperatures emerging out of the intersection of industrial capitalism with the atmosphere are making physical work in the agricultural sector especially difficult and demanding. In October a North Queensland farmer was fined following the death of a Belgian backpacker who collapsed as a result of heat stress while picking pumpkins. The agricultural industry has long been characterised by a largely dismissive attitude towards occupational health and safety, and bodily vulnerability to heat is often pooh-poohed as a sign of ‘non-Australian’ weakness, even as most of us increasingly exist in air-conditioned enclaves.18 

Temporarily moving large numbers of labourers into Australia’s agricultural production zones during a pandemic is a complex exercise, and only one more factor that leaves open the question of how to approach the deeper webs of dependencies and denials that characterise urban–rural relationships and the broader global patterns  the pandemic has helped to reveal. Mitchell again: 

Can we see a living relationship between the city worker and the mountains from which comes the water for living bodies and for electric power? There must be such breadth of vision, the understanding of fusion between all living things, and between life and the inanimate environment, if we wish to save this world-wide civilization by halting the forces of disintegration and re-creating it as a living unity.19 

As partly documented by Charles Massy in Call of the Reed Warbler: A New Agriculture, a New Earth,20 thousands of small farmers and producers are already disentangling themselves from the disempowering relations that have captured agriculture and re-instating modes of production more re-productive and more re-generative of life, land and habitable futures for all of us. Neyrat advocates for such an ‘ecology of separation’, an approach that seeks to forge relationships that deny ‘Earth denial’ in order to ‘announce or propose another vision of the world…another configuration of existence’—one that reconnects to place and people.21 

Rebuilding regional life by prioritising its location, local cultures and crucial importance to urban existence would compel us to look with fresh eyes at the relationships that shape and constrain agricultural production, relationships between the residents of cities and the bush, relationships between white and black Australians and our Pacific neighbours. A post-COVID, post-neoliberal ordering of these relationships needs a new shared imagination to take us somewhere very different from where we find ourselves today, staring at digital wheat futures and unwrapping space-food in lockdown Melbourne.


1. Frédéric Neyrat, The Unconstructable Earth: An Ecology of Separation, translated by Drew Burk, New York: Fordham University Press, 2019, p. 19.

2. Neyrat, p. 5.

3. Lewis Mumford, The Myth of the Machine: Technics and Human Development, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1966, p. 3.

4. Jennifer Clapp, ‘Financialization, Distance and Global Food Politics’, The Journal of Peasant Studies, 41(5), 2014, p. 798.

5. Jane Dixon, ‘Supermarkets as New Food Authorities’, in David Burch and Geoffrey Lawrence (eds), Supermarkets and Agri-food Supply Chains: Transformations in the Production and Consumption of Foods, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2007, pp. 29–50.

6. Marc Edelman, ‘Hollowed Out Heartland, USA: How Capital Sacrificed Communities and Paved the Way for Authoritarian Populism’, Journal of Rural Studies, 2019,

7. Lesley Head, Jennifer Atchison and Alison Gates, Ingrained: A Human Bio-geography of Wheat, London: Ashgate Publishing, 2012, p. 131.

8. Sarina Macfayden, Garrick McDonald and Matthew Hill, ‘From Species Distributions to Climate Change Adaptation: Knowledge Gaps in Managing Invertebrate Pests in Broad-acre Grain Crops’, Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 253, 2018, pp 208–19; Hazel Parry, Sarina Macfadyen and Darren Kriticos, ‘The Geographical Distribution of Yellow Dwarf Viruses and Their Aphid Vectors in Australian Grasslands and Wheat’, Australasian Plant Pathology, 41, 2012, pp 375–87; Narelle Nancarrow, Fiona Constable, Kyla Finlay, Angela Freeman, Brendan Rodoni, Piotr Trebicki, Simone Vassiliadis, Alan Yen and Jo Luck, ‘The Effect of Elevated Temperature on Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus-PAV in Wheat’, Virus Research 186, 2014, pp 97–103; Piotr Trebicki, Narelle Nancarrow, Ellen Cole, Nilsa Bosque-Pérez, Fiona Constable, Angela Freeman, Brendan Rodoni, Alan Yen, Jo Luck and Glenn Fitzgerald, ‘Virus Disease in Wheat Predicted to Increase with a Changing Climate’, Global Change Biology, 21, 2015, pp 3511–19.

9. Ary Hoffmann, Andrew Weeks, Michael Nash, G. Peter Mangano and Paul Umina, ‘The Changing Status of Invertebrate Pests and the Future of Pest Management in the Australian Grains Industry’, Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture, 48, 2008, pp 1481–93.

10. Matt Huber, ‘Reinvigorating Class in Political Ecology: Nitrogen Capital and the Means of Degradation’, Geoforum 85, 2017, pp 345–52;

11. Ross Lake, ‘Food, Water, and Community’, public presentation at the Institute of Postcolonial Studies, December 2019; recording available at:

12. Elyne Mitchell, Soil and Civilization, Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1946.

13. Wendell Berry, ‘The Work of Local Culture’, available at:

14. John Hinkson, ‘The ‘Innocence’ of the Settler Imagination’, in Jon Altman and Melinda Hinkson (eds), Coercive Reconciliation: Stabilise, Normalise, Exit Aboriginal Australia, Melbourne: Arena Publications, pp 287–94.

15. Yin Paradies, ‘Unsettling Truths: Modernity, (de-)coloniality and Indigenous Futures’, Postcolonial Studies, 23(4), available at

16. Berry.

17. David Farrugia, ‘The Mobility Imperative for Rural Youth: The Structural, Symbolic and Non-Representational Dimensions Rural Youth Mobilities’, Journal of Youth Studies, 19, 2016, pp. 836–51.

18. Lauren Rickards and Elspeth Oppermann, ‘Battling the Tropics to Settle a Nation: Negotiating Multiple Energies, Frontiers and Feedback Loops in Australia’, Energy Research & Social Science 41, 2018, pp 97–108.

19. Mitchell, p. 46.

20. Charles Massy, Call of the Reed Warbler: A New Agriculture, A New Earth, Brisbane: University of Queensland Press, 2017.

21. Neyrat, p. 183.

Gorbachev’s Final Programme for the Russian Communist Party

Robert V. Daniels’ A Documentary History of Communism in Russia from Lenin to Gorbachev (Burlington, Vermont: University of Vermont Press 1993) contains the last party political programme Gorbachev. This was put forward at the last party plenum in 1991 before Communism finally collapsed. It’s an optimistic document which seeks to transform the totalitarian party and the Soviet Union’s command economy into a democratic party with a mixed economy. Gorbachev also cites as the principles underlying the transformation not just the values of the Communist party, but also the wider values of democracy, humanism and social justice.

The extract’s several pages long, and so I won’t quote it in full. But here some passages that are particularly interesting, beginning with Gorbachev’s statement of their values.

  1. Our Principles

… In its political activity the CPS will be guided by: – the interests of comprehensive social progress, which is assured by way of reforms…

-The principles of humanism and universal values.

-The principles of democracy and freedom in al ltheir various manifestations…

-The principles of social justice…

– The principles of of patriotism and internationalism…

-The interests of integrating the country into the world economy.

Section III, ‘Our Immediate Goals’ declares

… The CPSU stands for the achievement of the following goals:

In the political system. Development of the Soviet multinational state as a genuine democratic federation of sovereign republics;

setting up a state under the rule of law, and the development of democratic institutions; the system of soviets as the foundations of the state structure, as organs of popular rule and self-administration and of political representation of the interests of all strata of society; separation of powers – legislative, executive and judicial…

In the area of nationality relations: Equal rights for all people independently of their nationality and place of residence; equal rights and free development of all nationality under the unconditional priority of the rights of man…

In the economy. Structural rebuilding (perestroika) of the national economy, re-orienting it toward the consumer;

modernization of industry, construction, transport and communications on the basis of high technology, overcoming our lag behind the world scientific technical level, and thinking through the conversion of military production.

transition to a mixed economy based on the variety and legal equality of different forms of property – state, collective and private, joint stock and cooperative. Active cooperation in establishing the property of labour collectives and the priority development of this form of social prosperity;

formation of a regulated market economy as a means to stimulate the growth of economic efficiency, the expansion of social wealth, and the raising of the living standards of the people. This assumes free price formation with stage gains to needy groups of the population, the introduction of an active anti-monopoly policy, restoring the financial system to health, overcoming inflation, and achieving the convertibility of the ruble.

working out and introducing a modern agrarian policy; free development of the peasantry; allotment of land (including leaseholds with the right of inheritance) to all who are willing and able to work it effectively; state support of the agro-price parity in the exchange of the products of industry and agriculture;

comprehensive integration of the country in the world economy, and broad participation in world economic relations in the interest of the economic and social progress of Soviet society.

In the social sphere. Carrying out a state policy that allows us to reduce to a minimum the unavoidable difficulties and expenses connected with overcoming the crisis in the economy and making the transition to the market…

Averting the slide toward ecological catastrophe, solving the problems of [Lake] Baikal, the Aral Sea, and other zones of ecological impoverishment, and continuing the liquidation of the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster.

In education, science and culture. Spiritual development of the people, impoving the education and culture of each person, and strengthening morality, the sense of civic duty and responsibility and patriotism…

IV. Whose Interest the Party Expresses

… In cooperation with the labour movement and the trade unions we will defend the interests of the workers, to secure: due representation of the working class in the organs of power at all levels, real rights of labour collectives to run enterprises and dispose of the results of their labour, a reliable system of social protection…

We stand for freedom of conscience for all citizens. The party takes a respectful position toward the feelings of believers…

… We are against militant anti-Communism as a form of political extremism and negation of democracy that is extremely dangerous for the fate of society…

V. For a Party of Political Action

Communists are clearly aware that only a radically renewed party – a party of political action – can successfully solve new tasks.

The most important direction of renewal for the party is its profound democratization. This assumes the independence of the parties of the republics that belong to CPS, and space for the initiative of local and primary organizations.

… Guarantees must be worked out in the party so that its cadres never utilize their posts for mercenary interests, never speak contrary to conscience, and do not fear a hard struggle to achieve noble ends.

The renewal of the party presupposes a new approach to the understanding of its place in society and its relations with the state, and in the choice of means for the achievement of its political goals. The party acts exclusively by legal political methods. It will fight for deputies’ seats in democratic elections, winning the support of voters for its electoral platform and its basic directions of policy and practical action. Taking part in the formation of the organs of state power and administration, it will conduct its policy through them. It is ready to enter into broad collaboration wherever this is dictated by circumstances, and to conclude alliances and coalitions with other parties and organizations in the interest of carrying out a program of democratic reforms. In those organs of power where the Communist deputies are in the minority, they will assume the place of a constructive opposition, standing up against any attempt at infringing with the interests of the toilers and the rights and freedoms of citizens. Collaborating with other parliamentary groups, Communist deputies will manifest cooperation toward positive undertakings that come from other parties and movements…

The CPSU is built on the adherence of its members to the ideas of certain values. For us the main one of these is the idea of humane, democratic socialism. Reviving and developing the initial humanitarian principles of Marx, Engels and Lenin, we include in our arsenal of ideas the entire richness of national and world socialist and democratic thought. We consider communism as a historic perspective, a social ideal, based on universal human values, on the harmonious union of progress and justice, of the free self-realization of the individual.


It’s an inspiring document, and if it had been passed and Communism and the Soviet Union not collapsed, it would have transformed the Communist party into a modern, centre-left party, committed to genuine democracy, religious freedom, technological innovation and development, tackling the ecological crisis, rooting out corruption within the party and standing with other groups to defend workers’ rights. I do have a problem with its condemnation of extreme anti-Communism. You would expect this from a leader who still wanted the Communist party to be the leading political force in the Soviet Union. It could just refer to groups like the morons who set up various Nazi parties and organisations in the 1980s. They had absolutely no understanding of what Nazism stood for, just that it was anti-Communist. But that clause could be used against other, far more moderate groups demanding radical change. I was impressed, however, by the statement that the Communists should be prepared to take a back seat in opposition. This completely overturns the central Communist dogma that the party should always take the leading role, even when in a coalition with other parties. It’s how Stalin got them to win democratic elections, before purging and dissolving those parties and sending their members to death or the gulag.

Ultimately the programme failed. One reason is that Gorbachev really didn’t understand just how hated the Communist party actually was. When I was studying the rise of Communist and Fascist regimes at college in the mid-80s, one of the newspapers reported that there were underground pop groups in the USSR singing such ditties as ‘Kill the Commies and the Komsomol too.’ The Komsomol was the Communist party youth organisation.

Daniel Kalder in his book Dictator Literature: A History of Despots through their writing (Oneworld: 2018) that Gorby’s project was undermined by the release under glasnost of Lenin’s suppressed works. Gorbachev had based his reforms on a presumed contrast between a democratic, benevolent Lenin, who had pledged Russia to a kind of state-directed capitalism in his New Economic Policy, and Stalin with his brutal totalitarianism, collectivisation of agriculture and the construction of the Soviet command economy. But Lenin frequently wrote for the moment, and his writings contradict themselves, though there is a central strand of thought that is consistent throughout. More seriously, he himself was viciously intolerant and a major architect of the Soviet one party state through the banning of other parties. The newly republished works showed just how false the image of Lenin as some kindly figure was, and just how nasty he was in reality.

But even after 30 a years, I still think Gorby’s proposed reforms are an excellent guide to what socialism should be. And his vision was far better than the bandit capitalism and massive corruption of Yeltsin’s administration, when the Soviet economy melted down. And its anti-authoritarianism and intolerance of corruption makes it far better than the regime of the current arkhiplut, Vladimir Putin. Although it has to be said that he’s done much good restoring conditions after Yeltsin’s maladministration.

And it’s also far better than the neoliberalism that has infected the Labour party, introduced by Tony Blair in Britain and Gerhard Schroder in Germany. I think we need something like Gorbachev’s vision here, in the 21st century Labour party, instead of further Thatcherism under Starmer.

Black and Islamic Calls for Autonomous Communities and Colonies in the West

On Tuesay I put up a piece comment on the plans by two Black entrepreneurs to set up a Blacks-only town in rural Georgia, to be named Wakanda after the fictional African supertechnological nation in Marvel’s Black Panther. The idea’s part of a long tradition of American ideal communities, beginning with the first Puritan settlers. it recalls the Utopian Socialist communities of the 19th century as well as the Free Black townships set up by Baptist missionaries in Jamaica, Antiqua, Demerara and Berbice in order to protect the newly freed former slaves from re-enslavement by the planters. However, coming nearly a century and a half after the abolition of slavery in America and the British Empire, this looks more like the compounds and proposed colonies of White racists, that have been set up in the Hayden Lakes area of America and which a group of British Nazis tried and failed to set up on a French farm.

Paul Boateng and the Black and Asian Studies Association

Way back in 1984/5 the Black British Labour politician, Paul Boateng, called for the establishment of autonomous Black communities in Britain. He was criticised for this in the pages of the Observer, which rightly viewed it as an attempt by Blacks to introduce apartheid. I’ve mentioned before that when I was doing voluntary work for the Empire and Commonwealth I was for a time corresponding with a Black studies organisation. This was the Black and Asian Studies Association, based in London. I split with them over the views they expressed of Whites in a copy of their magazine they sent me. I think it was no. 32/33, around about 2001-3 or so. One of the views, which I objected to was their comment that Blacks need their own space. I presume they meant by this separate arts and community centres, rather than separate geographical areas. When Blacks and other ethnic groups are a minority, and a depressed minority, this is actually reasonable and just. But they made it after reporting an article in the Observer that predicted that after the middle of this century Whites would be a minority in Britain and Europe. This was followed by another comment firmly rejecting any restrictions on non-White immigration, because it was racist. Now there was no comment about the Observer article itself. It was simply presented as something their readers should know about. I don’t know whether the editor believed the prediction or not. They could have felt it was alarmist. I don’t know. But coming after this prediction, the continued support for unlimited immigration and separate spaces for Blacks – but not for Whites – struck me as simply a form of colonialism.

Demands for Muslim Autonomous Colonies

I recall reading a passage in Ali A. Allawi’s The Crisis of Islamic Civilisation (New Haven: Yale University Press 2009) in which he discusses the establishment of autonomous Muslim communities in America. He bases his argument on the methods used by the British in founding their own colonies. The British themselves were a minority, and so they encouraged the citizens of other European nations to settle in their colonies in exchange for which they promised to respect and preserve these peoples’ own languages, culture and laws. Thus America should permit the similar establishment of autonomous Muslim communities, who would be free to follow their own culture under sharia law but which nevertheless would still be loyal to the American state. Allawi, a former Minister of Defence and Minster of Finance in the postwar Iraqi government, is a critique of both the westernisation of Islam and Salafi fundamentalism and Islamism. But this call for Islamic colonisation really can’t be tolerated. The best defence against it is the American separation of church and state, which was used against the followers of one of the grunge gurus from India when he tried to set up a theocratic town in Oregon.

The radical Islamist Anjem Chaudhry made the same demand for an autonomous Muslim community in the pages of the Financial Times colour supplement for the 1st January, 2000. Chaudhry, then running an outfit called Sharia4Belgium, was claiming that Muslims should have their own separate community with Arabic as its language under sharia law. I think he may have been able to argue this as Belgium is already split into several different regions occupied by its different traditional ethnic groups – French-speaking Wallonia, Flanders and a German-speaking enclave. Chaudhry’s own lack of engagement with Belgium’s traditional peoples is shown in the title of his organisation. The 4/for pun simply doesn’t work in either of the country’s two majority languages, French or Flemish. This is another demand for what is in effect Muslim colonisation.

Way back in the 1990s I briefly tried a postgraduate degree researching British Islam. I eventually gave up, partly because I couldn’t handle some of the polemic coming from the radical fringes. During this time I came across similar arguments contained in books from British Islamic publishers. One was on sharia law by Ibrahim E. Doi, the former head of the Islamic society at Oxford University. Another was a guide to the adab, the traditional Muslim system of morals and courtesy. The introductions to both books demanded the establishment of independent, autonomous Muslim communities, governed by sharia law, in Britain. If these were not permitted, then British multiculturalism was a sham.

Self-Enclosed Communities in Britain and Germany

Since then I have seen plenty of articles in the press, including liberal journals like Prospect, worrying about the increasing separation between White and Muslim communities. There was an article a while ago in that magazine discussing a city in the north of England, where the Muslim and non-Muslim White communities were nearly separate with a minimum of interaction. Other articles elsewhere in the press have mentioned the situation in Germany, where the Turkish minority may also form self-enclosed communities. It has been argued that in these communities, people can get by without any knowledge of German, supported as they are by Turkish businesses and able to watch and listen to Turkish broadcasting. But I don’t believe I’ve ever come across anyone discussing the demands for separate Islamic colonies, at least not in Britain. It’s possible that the journos writing those articles don’t know about and neither do British politicians. I’ve also never heard Tommy Robinson mention them either, so it seems very likely that he and his gang of thugs don’t know about it. On the other hand, it’s also possible that the authorities are aware of them. They’re just not publicising them for fear of riots and the breakdown of ‘community cohesion’. The same reason they permitted the Asian paedophile gangs in Rotherham to go on for so long.

In many ways this is doubtless a good thing, as you can imagine the massive scaremongering and islamophobia that would be generated by the right, including Tommy Robinson and the EDL and the Daily Heil. 9/11 saw a rise in hate crimes against Muslims, and Boris Johnson’s infamous article in the Torygraph attacking the burqa resulted in further physical attacks on the minority of Muslim women clad in the garment. Several were murdered.

Sharia Law Small Minority in British Islam

It’s important not to exaggerated the numbers of western Muslims, who may support this view. One of the papers a few years ago notoriously claimed that the majority of British Muslims wanted the establishment of sharia law here. In fact a close reading of the stats showed that only 5 per cent of Britain’s Muslims wanted it, and then only where it didn’t conflict with British law. I’ve heard that most Muslims in the West base their ideas on Islamic law on the Qu’ran, where most of this is about inheritance, rather than systems of government. I very much doubt that the majority of Muslims would welcome the formal imposition of what amounts to a system of autonomous ghettos, and certainly not those immigrants who have come to Britain to escape persecution in very draconian and authoritarian Islamic states.

The demands for separate, autonomous Muslim communities seem to be attempts by Islamic traditionalists to impose their views on the majority of their coreligionists, who seem more comfortable in a multi-faith society allowing the free interactions of people with different religious or non-religious views. And the general Muslim community seems to have become less insular, stressing engagement with wider British society rather than retreat. This has been shown in Muslim restaurants feeding the poor and homeless during the Christmas period, and community festivals like Eid, commemorating the end of Ramadan. This is celebrated with a large feast, which the Muslim community in parts of Bristol shared with their non-Muslim fellow residents.

No No-Go Zones in Britain

Fox News made itself a massive laughing stock a few years ago when it hysterically claimed that Muslims were taking over Britain. Birmingham was 100 per cent Muslim, which surprised the mayor and people of that great city. There were no-go areas in towns throughout Britain, where non-Muslims feared to tread. This was also angrily refuted by the mayors and politicos of those towns so accused, as well as ordinary British peeps.

Nevertheless, these calls for segregation do seem to be still around. A while ago I noticed in the ‘ethnicity’ shelves in Bristol’s Central Library a book by a prominent Muslim woman from one of the northern cities. I can’t remember who she was, but one of her claims was she was a matchmaker and an agony aunt, who had appeared on the Beeb’s Asian Network. The book’s blurb stated that it was about the rise of racial conflict and violence between Asians and other ethnic groups, and offered ‘a surprising solution’. The only surprising solution I can think of is segregation. I didn’t look at the book, so I might be wrong.

Belfield on Islam in Birmingham

I also wonder if this, or similar views, are secretly held by some of the leaders of Britain’s Muslim communities. Following the stabbings in Birmingham, right-wing radio host and Youtuber Alex Belfield put up video calling for Birmingham’s authorities to clamp down on the threatening environment in one particular area of the city. Some of this was uncontroversial. He specifically mentioned the druggies on the streets there. But he also, and some of the callers to his programme, claimed that there was a Muslim presence there which was overpowering and threatening to non-Muslims. He attacked the chanting coming from the local mosque, as well as preaching, some of which seemed to be political by Muslims on the street. This, he said, was not tolerated in other towns.

I wouldn’t like to say that Belfield is personally racist. Certainly one of the callers supporting his view wasn’t. She said she had no problem with the Black population of the area, who were also Brummies. But he is vehemently anti-immigrant, condemning the arrival of asylum seekers from Calais. He also seems to be have been taken in by the rumours that the stabbings were committed not by a Black Brit with mental health problems, but by one of the Somalian asylum seekers he and Nigel Farage have been moaning about. He also attacked Leeds English language local radio for broadcasting warnings about the Coronavirus in Urdu, which is the language, or one of the languages used on the Beeb’s Asian Network, which is also based in Leeds.

Covert Support for Extremism Among Some British Muslim Leaders

But there is a problem in that the leaders of Birmingham Central Mosque and British Islamic organisations have a history of saying one thing and believing quite another. Ed Hussain in his book, The Islamist, an account of his time as a militant Islamic radical, describes the various leaders of the British Muslim community, who visited No. 10 to reassure Tony Blair that they supported his campaign against Islamic radicalism, all the while holding the very beliefs they affected to condemn. It’s therefore quite possible that the leaders of whatever mosque Belfield was attacking may want Muslim autonomous areas, and are acting on this belief as far as they can in a democratic, pluralist society. I hope not, but I don’t know.

This is a situation that needs watching. It will be interesting to see if Black British and Muslim radicals start making demands for autonomous areas following developments in America. If so, they need to be discussed, refuted and fought. Such views would be unacceptable coming from White supremacists and racists, and should be no more tolerated coming from any other colour or religion.

To Win in the Countryside, Labour Can Start by Defending the Small Farmers

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 09/09/2020 - 1:28am in

Mike put up a piece yesterday reporting the prediction that if Boris and the Tories get the no deal Brexit their paymasters, the hedge funds, want, 1/3 of Britain’s farmers will go bust in the next five years. These are going to be the small farmers, who were suckered into believing that leaving the EU would make things better for them. They were wrong, and Mike asks how much sympathy we should have for them, considering they voted for Brexit. Actually, it’s not difficult to understand how. We were taught about the EEC as it was then in geography at my old school, including the Common Agricultural Policy. I can’t remember the details, but this was geared to granting subsidies and rewarding the much-less efficient farming systems of France and Germany, and penalised our agricultural sector, which is much more mechanised and employs far fewer people. The system of subsidies, if I remember correctly, also tranferred money and funding from the advanced agriculture of northern Europe to the less developed farms of the grain belt around the Mediterranean. Given that the Common Agriculture Policy actually put our farmers at a relative disadvantage, it isn’t hard to see why our farmers, like the fishermen, wanted to leave.

However, the big farmers were advised not to vote for Brexit, didn’t, and probably won’t suffer quite as much as their smaller cousins. However, I do think this crisis offers Labour an opportunity to show Britain’s rural communities that it hasn’t forgotten them. There have already been discussions about how Labour could win in the countryside, including a Fabian pamphlet about the issue. Well, I think Labour can start by following the example of the Swedish Social Democrats in the 1920s and 1930s. I can’t remember where I read it, but I read somewhere that the Social Democrats’ 50 year stay in power began in the 1920s when it backed the small, peasant farmers against the threat of bankruptcies and land seizures. I think the party and its members not only opposed these in parliament and local councils, but actually physically turned out to stop the bailiffs seizing individual farms and evicting the peasant farmer.

There’s a crisis going on in the countryside. If you watch the Beeb’s Countryfile, you’ll have seen reports about British farmers rural communities being under threat. Apart from the continuing problems of British agriculture, many rural communities are also suffering from cuts to local services and a lack of housing that local people can afford, rather than rich outsiders. Also, if you read George Monbiot’s Captive State, you’ll also know how the corporativism of New Labour and now the Tories actually harms farmers and local small businesses. Corporativism gives government subsidies and positions to big business in return for their donations. New Labour especially favoured the big supermarket chains, like Sainsbury’s, and gave it’s chief, David Sainsbury, a position on one of regulatory bodies, because Sainsbury at the time backed the party and donated to it. However, the supermarkets offer their cheap food at the expense of the producers, who are bound into manipulative and highly exploitative contracts. One of the supermarkets boasted a few years ago about the money it was giving to charity. In fact, none of that money came from the supermarket itself – it was all taken from its producers. At the same time, supermarkets undercut small businesses, like the local butcher, greengrocer and so on. But this also creates unemployment, because small businesses like theirs employ more people. If Labour wants to improve conditions in the countryside for small businesses like Arkwright’s in the classic Beeb comedy series, Open All Hours, it has to attack corporativism and the big supermarket chains. But I can’t see that happening under a Blairite like Starmer.

I expect that most of Britain’s farmers are probably Conservatives. But this doesn’t alter the fact that, whatever they believe, the Tories have abandoned them and their policies are actively harming small farmers and businesses and rural communities. The Labour party can start winning back the countryside by actively and obviously defending those hit by Tory policies.

And that means protesting against the closures of small farms when the Tories’ no deal Brexit hits them.