Anger of the farmers: a cry of despair instrumentalised against workers’ consciousness.

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Since the beginning of the year, farmers have been mobilising against the fall in their incomes. The movement, which started in Germany following the abolition of subsidies for farm diesel, has now spread to France, Belgium and the Netherlands, and is beginning to spread throughout Europe. Farmers are up in arms against taxes and environmental standards.

The smallest producers, strangled by the agri-industry's purchase prices and the policy of farm concentration, have long been plunged into poverty,  sometimes extreme. But with the acceleration of the crisis, soaring production costs, the consequences of climate change and the conflict in Ukraine, the situation has become even worse, to the point where even the owners of medium-sized farms are sinking into poverty. Thousands of farmers are living a daily life of deprivation and anxiety that is even driving many of them to suicide.

A movement with no perspective

While no one can remain insensitive to the distress of part of the farming world, it is also the responsibility of revolutionary organisations to say it clearly: yes, small farmers are suffering enormously from the crisis! Yes, their anger is immense! But this movement is not on the same terrain as the working class and can offer no perspective for its struggle. Worse still, the bourgeoisie is exploiting the peasants' anger to wage a full-scale ideological attack on the proletariat!

Since the workers in Great Britain paved the way in the summer of 2022, workers' mobilisations have continued to multiply in the face of the crushing blows of the crisis: first in France, then in the United States, Canada, Sweden and Finland more recently. In Germany, railway workers have embarked on a massive strike, followed by Lufthansa airline pilots; the biggest strike in Northern Ireland's history broke out in January; in Spain and Italy, mobilisations are continuing in the transport sector, as well as in the London Underground and the metalworking sector in Turkey. Most of these struggles are on a scale not seen for three or four decades. Strikes and demonstrations are breaking out everywhere, with a nascent but unprecedented development of solidarity between sectors, and even across borders...

How did the bourgeoisie react to these historic events? With an immense media silence! A veritable blackout! On the other hand, initially it only took a few sporadic farmers’ mobilisations for the international press and all the political cliques, from the far right to the far left, to pounce on the event and immediately turn up the heat in an attempt to cover up everything else.

From small farmers to the owners of large modern farms, even though they were in direct competition, they all rallied around the same sacred idols, with the holy unction of the media: the defence of their private property and the nation!

Neither small farmers nor small businessmen have any future in the insoluble crisis of capitalism. Quite the contrary! Their interests are intimately linked to those of capitalism, even if capitalism, particularly as a result of the crisis, is tending to wipe out the most fragile farms and plunge a growing number of farmers into poverty. In the eyes of the poor farmers, salvation lies in the desperate defence of their farms. And in the face of fierce international competition and the very low costs of production in Asia, Africa and South America, their survival depends solely on defending "national agriculture". All the demands made by farmers, against "charges", against "taxes", against "Brussels standards", all have in common the preservation of their property, large or small, and the protection of their borders against foreign imports. In Romania and Poland, for example, farmers are denouncing "unfair competition" from Ukraine, which is accused of undercutting grain prices. In Western Europe, free trade agreements are being targeted, along with lorries and goods from abroad. And all this with the national flag waving proudly and vile rhetoric about "real work", "consumer selfishness" and "urbanites"! That's why governments and politicians on all sides, so quick to denounce the smallest bin fire, and rain down truncheon blows on demonstrators, when the working class is in struggle, have rushed to express their support for the farmers’ "legitimate anger".

Another step towards social chaos

The situation is nevertheless very worrying for the European bourgeoisie. The crisis of capitalism is not going to stop. The petty bourgeoisie and small businessmen will sink ever deeper into poverty. The revolts of cornered small owners can only multiply in the future and contribute to increasing the chaos into which capitalist society is plunging. This is already evident in the indiscriminate destruction and attempts to "starve" the cities.

Above all, this movement is clearly fuelling the discourse of far-right parties across Europe. In the next few years, several countries could tip over into populism, and the bourgeoisie knows perfectly well that a far-right triumph in the next European elections would further reinforce the bourgeoisie's loss of control over society, and erode its ability to maintain order and ensure national cohesion.

In France, where the movement appears to be the most radical, the state is using every means at its disposal to contain the farmers' anger, at a time when the social climate is particularly tense. The forces of law and order are being urged to avoid confrontations, and the government is making a series of "announcements", including the most despicable ones (increased use of underpaid foreign labour, a halt to the slightest policy in favour of the environment, etc.). In Germany, in order not to add fuel to the fire, Scholz had to back down in part on the price of agricultural diesel, as did the European Union on environmental standards.

After the 2013 revolt by small businessmen in Brittany, the so-called "Red Bonnets"[1], (1) then the interclassist "Yellow Vest" movement[2] throughout France, it is now the whole of Europe that is affected by a surge of violence by the petty bourgeoisie with no other prospect than to cause mayhem. So the farmers' movement does indeed represent a further step in the disintegration of the capitalist world. But, like many expressions of the crisis of its system, the bourgeoisie is instrumentalising the farmers' movement against the working class.

Can the proletariat take advantage of the "breach opened by the farmers"?

At a time when the working class is taking up the struggle en masse throughout the world, the bourgeoisie is trying to undermine the maturing of its consciousness, to rot its thinking about its identity, its solidarity and its methods of struggle, by instrumentalising the mobilisation of the farmers. And to do this, it can still count on its trade unions and left-wing parties, led by the Trotskyists and Stalinists.

The French CGT was quick to call on workers to join the movement, while the Trotskyists of Révolution Permanente valiantly headlined: "Farmers terrorise the government, the workers' movement must take advantage of the breach". Come on! If the bourgeoisie fears the dynamic of social chaos contained in this movement, who can believe that a small minority of the population, attached to private property, could frighten the state and its enormous apparatus of repression?

The "Red Bonnets" or "Yellow Vests" movements have already illustrated the bourgeoisie's ability to instrumentalise and stimulate a well-calculated "fear" to lend credibility to a big lie against the working class: your massive demonstrations and your general assemblies are useless! They'd have us believe that the bourgeoisie fears nothing more than blockades and small-scale actions. Nothing could be further from the truth! Because these methods are typically those used by the unions to divide and vent the workers' anger in perfectly sterile actions. Indiscriminate acts of destruction do nothing to undermine the foundations of capitalism or prepare the ground for its overthrow. They are like insect bites on an elephant's skin, justifying ever more repression.

But the bourgeoisie is not content with sabotaging the proletariat's reflection on the means of its struggle. It is also seeking to suppress the feeling that is beginning to develop through its mobilisations, that of belonging to the same class, victims of the same attacks and forced to fight united and in solidarity with each other. The left-wing parties are therefore quick to trot out their old, adulterated junk about the "convergence" of the struggles of the "little people" against the "rich".

Commenting on the demonstrations in Germany, the Italian Trotskyists of La Voce delle Lotte wrote that "massive peasant actions and railway strikes are taking place simultaneously. An alliance between these two strategic sectors would have an enormous strike force". The same old nonsense! The only purpose of these traditional calls for "convergence" is to drown out the struggle of the working class in the "popular" revolt.

In spite of everything, the bourgeoisie is faced with a great deal of distrust from the workers towards a movement that is not being strongly repressed (unlike the workers' demonstrations) and which flirts with the far right and very reactionary rhetoric. The unions and the left therefore had to resort to all sorts of contortions to distance themselves from the movement, while trying to push proletarians to "jump into the breach" by means of dispersed strikes, corporation by corporation.

The mobilisation of farmers can in no way be a springboard for the struggle of the working class. On the contrary, the proletarians who allow themselves to be swept up behind the farmers' slogans and methods, diluted in social strata fundamentally opposed to any revolutionary perspective, can only be powerless under the pressure of nationalism and all the reactionary ideologies carried by this movement.

The responsibility of revolutionaries towards the working class involves highlighting the pitfalls which punctuate its struggle and which, alas, will punctuate it for a long time to come. As the crisis deepens, many social strata, who are not exploitative but also not revolutionary, will be led, like the farmers today, to revolt, without having the capacity to offer society a real political perspective. On this sterile terrain, the proletariat can only lose. Only the defence of its autonomy as an exploited and revolutionary class can enable it to broaden its struggle still further and, in the long term, bring other strata into its own struggle against capitalism.

EG, 31 January 2024


[1] « Les bonnets rouges : une attaque idéologique contre la conscience ouvrière », Révolution internationale n° 444


Farmers' protests in Europe