If You Eat, You’re Involved in Agriculture: Report from the Rural and Farm Comm.

 
September 22, 2001

Opening to the National Board

Karl
Marx tells us that the ability to abstract from the minutia of concrete
facts is key to understanding the "laws of motion" of society.
But it is very hard for reporters like me to think that way because our
minds are so fixed on the next big breaking story: Sen. Jim Jeffords of
Vermont, for example, and his decision to bolt the Republican Party. But
everything is connected and the farm question is a factor here. Vermont
is a major dairy state and all those dairymen up there are plenty P.O.’ed
at George W. Bush’s arrogant greed for profit, and more specifically,
Dubya’s threat to pull the plug on the Northeast Dairy Compact. The fact
that a Republican Senator from a rural state inflicted such a huge blow
on the ultra right is a very good reason for the Communist Party USA to
be paying more attention to the farm question.

Karl
Marx, Frederick Engels and V.I. Lenin devoted much study to the "agrarian
question." To prepare this report, I read for the first time parts
of Volume III of Capital. "This natural productivity of agricultural
labor (which implies here the labor of gathering, hunting, fishing, cattle
raising) is the basis of all surplus labor," Marx writes. "So
is all labor primarily and originally directed toward the appropriation
and production of food. Originally, agricultural and industrial labor
are not separated. The second joins the first." For Lenin, the strategy
that underlay the Russian Revolution was the alliance of workers and the
poor and landless peasantry. In the U.S., for much of the past century,
the strategic goal of left and progressive movements was the creation
of a Farmer-Labor party.

So,
as a farm boy, I think we are on safe ground in asserting that farmers
and the farm question are a major concern. I have the warmest memories
of growing up in Clallam County, Washington with the Olympic Mountains
looming every time I looked up from pitching hay. I invite everyone to
come and see for yourself how beautiful the Dungeness Valley is. Our farm
is not as near as Wally Kaufman’s spread in Ashtabula, County, Ohio but
we will welcome you with just as much down-home hospitality.
I still preserve strong feelings of affection and solidarity with family
and independent farmers. I know their dawn to dusk toil producing a life-sustaining
commodity for very little in return. We mourned when so many of our neighbors
couldn’t make it and were forced to sell their places.

My
mother saved records from our twenty years on the farm. The 1967 annual
report of the Clallam County Dairy Herd Improvement Association featured
a photo of our cow, Maybe, on the front cover. I’ll tell you how she got
her name. We sold our bull calves to the local mink farmer. One day he
arrived in his pickup with this darling little Jersey heifer he had acquired
from one of our neighbors. "I’ll trade you my bull calf for that
heifer," said my dad. "O.K.," he replied. "Maybe she’ll
turn out to be a good producer." A few years later there was no maybe
about it. She was the Clallam County butterfat queen producing 13,203
pounds of milk, about 6 tons, and 801 pounds of butterfat in one 305 day
lactation.

Our
favorite, Tizzy, was the offspring of our Brown-Swiss bull, Cocoa, and
a little Jersey named Daisy. In six years Tizzy produced 70,000 pounds
of milk, 35 tons. She also produced more than 4,000 pounds of butterfat.
That’s a lot of ice cream.
In our years on the farm, milk and butterfat production per cow nearly
doubled through artificial insemination and selective breeding. But these
cows were more than "milk factories" to us. My sisters belonged
to 4-H and showed them at the Clallam County Fair and at the annual Irrigation
Festival in Sequim. Many were so tame and so beautiful they were like
family pets.

Every
year my dad wrote an annual report of Far Pastures Farm. Here is what
he reported for 1958: That year we produced 320,000 pounds of milk or
160 tons. Our gross income was just under $26,000 for 7,000 hours of labor.
The bottom line is that after subtracting expenses, we were just breaking
even.

Now
flash ten years into the future, 1968. Our acreage had tripled. We were
now milking more than 100 cows. Every day a tanker truck arrived and hauled
away 300 gallons of milk, 2,400 pounds. That’s more than a ton of milk
each day or about 438 tons that year. And yet we were still just breaking
even.

Why?
The answer given by the apologists of monopoly capitalism is that we were
"inefficient." Our cows didn’t produce enough. If we couldn’t
do better, we deserved to go broke. These lies really infuriate family
farmers who are so incredibly productive that each one produces enough
to feed several hundred people. We produced enough milk on our farm to
supply a small town. Family farmers and hundreds of thousands of farm
workers have been the engine that has made U.S. agriculture so phenomenally
productive. The lies told about family farmers are exactly the same as
those told about steelworkers in the U.S. Today at Bethlehem Steel’s Sparrow’s
point mill, 5,000 steelworkers produce as much steel as 30,000 workers
produced in 1965 and the corporations are still screaming that these workers
are "non-competitive."

The
real reason for our plight was that we bought all our "inputs,"
from giant corporations like Chevron, DuPont, and International Harvester.
It included feed, fertilizer, fuel, tractors, trucks, farm implements,
our machine shop, our 300 gallon refrigerated milk tank, our state-of-the-art
herring-bone milking parlor, milking machines, and loafing sheds. These
monopolies dictated inflated take-it-or-leave-it prices to us. Our one
point of relief was electricity, which we bought very cheap from the PUD,
a publicly owned utility with power generated at federally-owned Grand
Coulee dam.

We
sold our milk to Darigold, a marketing coop. They gave us a price well
below the actual cost of production and then retailed the milk in Seattle
supermarkets at inflated monopoly prices. Today, consumers pay about $2.87
for a gallon jug of milk. The dairy farmer’s share is less than a dollar.
A grain farmer’s share of a loaf of bread that sells for $1.39 at the
supermarket is five cents. A hog farmer’s share of a pound of bacon that
sells for about $3.29 a pound is 40 cents. This systematic robbery flows
from the farmers’ total lack of power over the monopolized food production
and distribution system.

We
were caught in a brutal cost-price squeeze with our profit margin shrinking.
The only way we could stay afloat was to double and redouble our production.
Our situation was hardly different from a worker facing speedup on a GM
assembly line. We were being fleeced both as buyers and sellers. In fact,
I would argue that we were generating surplus value that was stolen by
the capitalists in a way hardly different from the exploitation inflicted
on industrial workers. We fought back with our co-ops based on New Deal
measures intended to give farmers at least the cost of production for
their commodities. We call it "parity." Yet one by one the farmers
in our valley went broke. Only a handful of the 150 farms in the Dungeness
Valley that were operating when I was a kid survive today.

The
same process was going on across the country, larger farms gobbling up
smaller farms and those who couldn’t make it were forced to sell out,
find jobs in the paper mills or saw mills. It is called "proletarianization"
and it has been going on for a long, long time. Karl Marx devotes much
space in Capital to this process of forced eviction of peasants and the
rural population from the countryside. The system of tenant farming in
England is different than here in the U.S. where most farmers own their
land. Yet the underlying process of forced removal of the rural population
is very similar.

It
was the heart of the process of accumulation that gave rise to capitalism.
Feudal agriculture had been mostly subsistence agriculture. But as London
developed into a huge metropolis, a stable market emerged for farm produce.
Food then became a commodity like other commodities to be bought and sold
in the marketplace, its value determined by the socially necessary labor
power to produce it. This in turn created an incentive for increased farm
production. Innovations like the wheeled plow and the development of more
productive grain crops and selective breeding of livestock followed.

Increased
productivity on the farm meant that the rural population was also "surplus."
Tens of thousands were forced off the landed estates. Parliament enacted
"enclosure" laws, turning over to wealthy landlords for a pittance,
millions of acres of feudal lands that had been held in common. Denied
the right to graze their cattle and sheep or cultivate on these commons,
hundreds of thousands of these farmers were driven into destitution. Armies
of dispossessed people migrated to the cities to join the ranks of the
urban working class. Others remained in the countryside as farm laborers,
men, women and children, trekking from farm to farm during harvest, paid
starvation wages, sleeping homeless in the open. He could have been describing
the migrant farm workers here in the U.S. today, among the most super-exploited
workers anywhere.
In the U.S., "primitive accumulation" took the form of the plantation
economy based on tobacco and cotton production with enormous profits generated
by the unpaid labor of slaves. This was the engine that powered the development
of capitalism in the U.S. and Marx’s observation that "labor in the
white skin can never free itself as long as labor in the black skin is
branded." Marx also devotes a chapter to the ruination of Irish farmers
by British colonialism with millions forced to flee to the U.S.during
the potato famine.

It
is remarkable that 134 years after Marx wrote Capital, the same
system of "primitive accumulation" based on the ruination of
peasants and the rural community, is raging on as ruthlessly as ever.
Look at Mexico, for example, where one of NAFTA’s main results was the
acceleration of the forced removal of Mexican campesinos from the land.
They now live in huge sprawling slums without running water or sewerage
outside Mexico City and other urban centers. This is a reserve army of
labor that drives down wages and provides an enormous pool of cheap labor.
Millions have been forced to flee for survival across the border, seeking
sub-minimum wage in the factories and farms of the U.S. A general amnesty
is essential for these workers, permitting them to join unions and enjoy
the same rights of public education for their children and public health
care. After all, they pay taxes. Amnesty is the essential first step to
breaking this system of cheap labor.

Cuba
provides a startling contrast. One of the great achievements of the Cuban
revolution was the protection of the rights and interests of Cuba’s rural
population, organized sugar cane workers first of all. You find no slums
surrounding Cuban cities. It proves that socialism is a system that provides
a solution to the rural crisis by protecting the basic needs of the family
farmers and the rural working class while providing safe and nutritious
food for the population. Many U.S. farmers see Cuba as a potential market
and advocate the lifting of the blockade. A delegation of Black farmers
recently visited Cuba and met with Fidel about exporting to Cuba.

Nowhere in
the world has the forced removal of the rural population been as thorough
or as ruthless as here in the U.S. According to the 1930 U.S. Census,
just under 56 percent of the U.S. population lived in urban areas and
just under 44 percent lived in rural areas – a nearly even balance. Sixty
years later in the 1990 census, the rural population had shrunk to only
25 percent. The number of farms shrank from more than seven million in
the 1930 census to only 1.8 million today. From a high of 14 percent of
farms being owned by Black farmers in the 1930s, we are down to less than
one percent Black-owned farms today.

The ruination
of family farming is not the result of the "invisible hand of the
market." It is the result of deliberate policies enforced by Republican
and Democratic administrations since the 1950s. Mark Ritchie and Kevin
Ristau wrote a pamphlet back in 1987 titled "Crisis By Design: A
Brief Review of U.S. Farm Policy." They had uncovered a report produced
in the 1950s by a big business think tank, the Committee for Economic
Development (CED). Dominated by agribusiness corporations, the report
was titled "An Adaptive Program for Agriculture." The report
called for a program that "would involve moving off the farm about
two million of the present farm labor forces." Key to this strategy
would be destroying measures enacted during the New Deal to save family
farmers from the effects of the Great Depression. The report states, "The
price supports for wheat, cotton, rice, feed grains and related crops
now under price supports (should) be reduced immediately."

The CED report
argued that displacing the farmers would force those that survived to
submit to "greater capital investment in agriculture, more mechanization
and greater reliance on petroleum-based products such as pesticides and
fertilizers." Driving down farm commodity prices, the CED argued,
"would induce some increased sales of these products both at home
and abroad. Some of these crops are heavily dependent on export markets."
Thus, the CED report anticipated by decades the global strategy of the
agribusiness corporations in dominating agricultural export markets. The
aim of U.S. imperialism is to use food as a weapon of worldwide domination.
The result has been the destruction of sustainable food production in
Africa, Asia and Latin America in favor of cash crops for the export market.
The result has been hunger and famine in many parts of the world.

Corporate
America has followed the proposals in this CED report like a script. They
are on schedule. About two million farmers have been forced off the land
in the U.S.
Mergers in agribusiness are like a runaway train with no anti-trust enforcement
to apply the brakes. It has created what has been called the "Food
Industrial Complex." Cargill, the number one grain corporatio, swallowed
number two, Continental, giving them control of more than 50 percent of
the grain market in the U.S. The soybean market is dominated by Archer
Daniels Midland and ConAgra. Beefpacking is dominated by Iowa Beef now
called IBP, which just merged with Tyson, the biggest poultry producer.
Pork is dominated by Smithfield, IBP, ConAgra and Cargill. Smithfield
also operates huge hog feedlots and Cargill and ConAgra operate similar
cattle feedlots with hundreds of thousands of head of livestock. Notice
that these goliaths are consolidating their grip over the food production
system both vertically and horizontally.

Tyson, Perdue,
and ConAgra have contrived a system of "contract farming" in
which they supply the chicks, the mash, and all other "inputs"
and when the chicks have matured in seven weeks they pick the broilers
up and deliver them to their non-union poultry processing plants. Contract
farmers refer to themselves as "sharecroppers" in a modern-day
system of peonage or serfdom. The average annual income of these farmers
is $12,000. In fact, they have become sub-minimum wage-earners in everything
but name.

No sector
of the economy has changed more dramatically in the past 15 years than
agriculture. A whole new vocabulary has been added to our language: monoculture,
biotechnology, industrial agriculture, factory farming, and "frankenfood."
A handful of agribusiness conglomerates are driving hard to gain total
control of food production from the farm to the dining room table. They
see biotechnology as the silver bullet to enable them for the first time
to consolidate total control.

Monsanto
is now selling genetically-engineered seeds that germinate when planted
but produce only sterile crops. Thus the farmer cannot save "seed
corn" to be planted next season as farmers have done since agriculture
began in the Nile Valley. He or she must buy the next batch of seed from
Monsanto, which holds the patents on these so-called "super-grains."
Other Monsanto seeds are genetically engineered with immunity to herbicides.
Farmers are then instructed to saturate their fields with Monsanto’s "Roundup,"
a highly toxic organophosphate herbicide that kills everything but Monsanto’s
corn. Environmentalists are up in arms that the collateral damage of this
Monsanto chemical warfare may include the extinction of Monarch butterflies,
perhaps our modern day "canary in the mine."

Monsanto
uses genetic engineering to produce these varieties of so-called "super-grains"
while thousands of other varieties are threatened with extinction. This
monoculture is a deadly assault on bio-diversity. Monsanto tries to make
this appear a benign search for super-grains to feed a hungry world. Monsanto’s
real motive is to gain total worldwide control of grain production to
insure maximum profits. The moral issues raised by corporate control of
the food chain are stirring a powerful backlash of mass anger and alarm
literally among billions of people on this planet.
Agribusiness is enforcing intensive methods of agriculture that farmers
and scientists warn are non-sustainable. The Ogalalla aquifer which provides
water for a huge region of the Midwest is being depleted to irrigate land
better suited to dry farming. Farmers are pressured to apply chemical
fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides even though it is creating a major
environmental crisis. The Colorado River is a sewer of toxic soup by the
time it flows out of the Imperial Valley into Mexico laden with chemical
fertilizer runoff. Every year we are losing three billion tons of topsoil
due to wind and water erosion caused by fencerow to fencerow cultivation.
We are facing the danger of a new "dust bowl." Factory farming
with huge hog and cattle feedlots is poisoning the air, soil, and water,
and also producing beef, pork and poultry of dubious nutrition and safety.

No wonder
Eric Schlosser’s book Fast Food Nation is on the bestseller list.
He points out that ten years ago, 75 cents of every food dollar was spent
on food prepared at home. Now it is down to 50 percent with the other
50 percent spent on highly processed and prepared foods or restaurant
meals. The lion’s share of this "eating out" is at fast food
restaurants. This diet is creating a major public health crisis, obesity
in the first place, an epidemic of heart disease, and other ailments caused
by a diet rich in red meats, fats, and carbohydrates. While McDonald’s
and other fast food giants reap enormous profits, the potato farmers in
Idaho who supply McDonald’s french fries have been decimated so that only
about 1,000 remain. The price these farmers receive for potatoes is so
low, Schlosser reports, that potato farmers would actually save money
by leaving the potatoes to rot in the fields. But they cannot because
rotting potatoes can poison the soil.

There is
also a growing fear of food borne illnesses such as e-coli and salmonella
from tainted foods produced in centralized meatpacking and poultry processing
factories. We read with horror of hoof-and-mouth disease in England with
entire herds slaughtered and burned in huge funeral pyres. Scientists
believe that the integrated monopoly system of food production is a factor
in spreading this highly contagious disease. Mad cow disease is the result
of using ground up animal parts in cattle feed, a grotesque agribusiness
scheme to turn these herbivores into carnivores. Prions from sheep infected
with this disease were then transmitted to cows. And when humans consumed
meat of these infected cows, they too caught the disease. The British
government halted the sale of these contaminated feeds in England, so
these criminal grain corporations began exporting it to other countries.

A major factor
in agribusiness’s stranglehold on the food chain is the policies of the
Reagan-Bush and now the Bush-Cheney Administration. Agribusiness has been
among the most aggressive corporate bankrollers and promoters of ultra-right,
fascist-like political domination of all levels of government for the
past 20 years. They are among the most hard-line corporate unionbusters,
with the aim of making the Food Industrial Complex a union-free environment
from field to supermarket. Their aim is to nullify anti-trust enforcement,
giving agribusiness free rein to eliminate all competition. They are moving
to terminate enforcement of safe food laws by the Food and Drug Administration
(FDA), to repeal all the New Deal programs aimed at protecting family
farms and insuring sustainable family farming and a safe and nutritious
food supply.
This is a diabolical scheme to roll back all the gains in agriculture
and food production won as a result of the public outrage following Upton
Sinclair’s 1906 exposé, The Jungle. It exposed the
brutal exploitation and filthy food handling in the trustified meatpacking
industry. The FDA was established as a result. It also spurred the packinghouse
workers under William Z. Foster’s leadership to launch a militant union
organizing drive. Under Bush-Cheney, expect the fake system of "self-inspection"
and "self-policing" to spread right along with more outbreaks
of food poisoning. There will also be pressure to accept the use of irradiation
to sterilize meats. We are witnessing a return of "the jungle."

Like the
current steel crisis, family farmers face the possibility of a total collapse
of the agricultural economy. The current desperate crisis is the result
of farm commodity prices plunging to the lowest levels in 25 years. Steve
Linder, a Minnesota wheat farmer, told me at the Rally for Rural America
a little over a year ago that he is receiving about the same price per
bushel for his wheat today as he received when he went into grain farming
in the early 1970s. The only thing keeping him afloat is emergency federal
loans. For many farmers half, three-quarters or even all of their income
is derived from these emergency federal programs.

This crisis
was aggravated by the agribusiness-sponsored "Freedom to Farm"
act pushed through the ultra-right dominated House and Senate by Newt
Gingrich as part of his "Contract on America." President Clinton
signed it. In the name of U.S. farmers getting rich quick by exporting
grain to Asia, it repealed the system of New Deal farm commodity price
supports. A year after it was enacted, the Asian meltdown destroyed the
grain export market. The price of grain collapsed. Only emergency bailouts
to the tune of $28 billion each year in the past three years or so has
kept farmers from going bankrupt.

Agribusiness
prefers this setup. For one thing, the biggest farms receive the hogs’
share of these federal subsidies. It forces taxpayers to, in effect, subsidize
the rock bottom low prices the food processing monopolies pay for their
"raw material."
The ultra-right has concentrated on infiltrating rural America, taking
advantage of the despair of many farmers who, in their isolated dawn-to-dusk
toil, see no way out of the deepening rural crisis. Thus the armed militias,
the John Birch Society, Aryan Nation, Posse Comitatus, and the U.S. Farm
Bureau have been able to make inroads in rural America. The ideology of
"rugged individualism," of "being your own boss" is
actively promoted by the ruling class to keep farmers from seeing the
need for organization, cooperation, and solidarity. Tragically, this "individualism"
means that farmers blame themselves when they begin to go broke. Suicide
is a major killer in rural America today.

The rural
crisis, of course, is not limited to farmers. Sections of the Midwest
are losing population at such a rate that the U.S. Census now classifies
them as "frontier" regions with fewer than six people per square
mile. Many rural towns are becoming ghost towns, their main street businesses
boarded up, schools and churches closed, houses abandoned. At the heart
off this crisis is the destruction of family farming, the economic bedrock
for these once thriving communities. On the other hand, in some states,
North Carolina, for example, manufacturing had been shifted to the rural
areas as part of monopoly’s unionbusting strategy. Even now, North Carolina
has the highest per capita concentration of manufacturing of any state
in the union, much of it textile plants located in rural communities.
Yet the factories too are now closing down in rural America as the transnational
corporations follow NAFTA’s cheap labor out of the U.S.

While the
progressive coalition of labor and family farmers defeated the ultra-right
in several farm states such as California, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois,
Washington and Michigan, Bush-Cheney were successful in winning both the
popular vote and the electoral college count in most of the farm and rural
states. It reflected a weakness in the program of the Democrats and Al
Gore in addressing the grave crisis of rural America. Gore called for
repeal of the Freedom to Farm Act but that was about it. It is now crystal
clear that there can be no decisive defeat of the ultra-right without
a progressive program to save rural America.

Bush-Cheney
have given farmers a sharp slap in the face since they stole the election.
Bush’s budget conspicuously left out any of the emergency funding that
has kept so many farmers afloat. When the Mississippi flooded, the Bush-Cheney
gang sent in agents who told the farmers and the people of Davenport,
Iowa, "Its your own fault." The
New York Times
featured a front page article May 14 headlined,
"Far From Dead, Subsidies Fuel Big Farms." It was based on a
report from farmers in the Texas Panhandle who are receiving major emergency
bailouts. The Times reports that ten percent of the biggest American
farmers receive 61 percent of the billions in federal payments. "The
data shows that government subsidies are tilting the playing field in
favor of the largest farms," says Clark Williams-Derry, spokesperson
for the Environmental Working Group.

There was
another Times article, May 19 headlined, "Rising Fuel Costs
Join Growing List of Troubles for Struggling Farmers." It reports
on the plight of Nebraska farmers who are being wiped out by the skyrocketing
cost of gasoline and diesel fuel as Bush-Cheney deliver billions in payoffs
to their oil corporation cronies
Agribusiness is playing a major role in packing the U.S. Supreme Court
with justices friendly to corporate America and hostile to farmers. Clarence
Thomas is a product of Monsanto, serving in their legal department. When
his nomination to the Supreme Court ran into trouble, Sen. John Danforth,
heir to the Ralston Purina fortune, rushed to his rescue. So did Monsanto
legal eagle, Larry Thompson, who orchestrated the smear job that Anita
Hill was suffering from "erotomania." Bush recently named Thompson
as Assistant Attorney General.

John Ashcroft
received $50,000 from Monsanto for his unsuccessful campaign for a Senate
seat in Missouri. Now he is Attorney General. Secretary of Agriculture
Ann Veneman was on the Board of Directors of Monsanto-owned Calgene Pharmaceuticals.
She chose as her Chief of Staff a top executive of the National Pork Growers
Association, an agribusiness front group that is working to destroy hog
farmers while promoting factory farming. Tommy Thompson received $50,000
in biotech campaign contributions, helping him become Wisconsin governor.
He paid them back by making Wisconsin a testing ground for Monsanto’s
Bovine Growth Hormone even though dairy farmers opposed it by a 9-1 margin.
Thompson, as Secretary of Health and Human Services, hands out press releases
on the dangers of cigarette smoking. He received $53,000 in campaign contributions
from another agribusiness giant, Phillip Morris.

Bush-Cheney’s
arrogant slap in the face of rural America is one reason Vermont’s Republican
Senator, Jim Jeffords, decided he couldn’t take it anymore and resigned
from the GOP. The word is that the Bush-Cheney gang are out to sabotage
the Vermont-initiated dairy compact aimed at protecting hard-hit New England
and New York dairy farmers.

Most farmers
understand that they are no longer strong enough to resist the onslaught
of agribusiness by themselves. They are actively looking for allies to
fight the agribusiness common enemy. The National Farmers Union is actively
recruiting farmers with the concept that only with union solidarity can
they hope to win in the struggle against the monopolies. The NFU has developed
a close working alliance with the AFL-CIO. Several thousand farmers traveled
to Seattle in Nov. 1999 to join organized labor, environmentalists, youth
and other progressive groups to shut down the World Trade Organization.
A few months later, these same forces brought about 3,000 farmers and
their allies for a "Rally for Rural America" in Washington,
D.C. It was co-sponsored by the NFU, the AFL-CIO, the National Coalition
of Family Farmers, the Corn Growers Association, the Federation of Southern
Cooperatives and a dozen other rural organizations and movements. It was
an impressive outpouring of Black, Latino, and white farmers from every
region of the country.

Senator Tom
Harkin (D-Iowa), now the chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture
and Forestry, and Senator Paul Wellstone (D-Minn) delivered powerful speeches
in which both zeroed in on the key questions: a fair price to the farmers
for the commodities they produce; tough enforcement of antitrust laws
to break up the agribusiness conglomerates; a ban on feedlot factory farms
that are polluting the air, land and water across the country. Gerald
McEntee, President of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal
Employees, delivered a strong blast at the agribusiness profiteers and
appealed for farmer-labor-environmental unity.

We have reestablished
a commission that we propose now to name the Farm and Rural Life Commission,
which has met three times in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Bill Gudex, a dairy
farmer from Wisconsin, is the chair of the Commission. Lem Harris, at
age 96, is still going strong, traveling to Minnesota in the dead of winter
to interview leaders of the farm movement and getting the stories into
the PWW. Lem is a living link to the Party’s pioneering work in rural
America, the "farmer holiday" movement, the "penny auctions,"
the struggles to defend family farmers faced by ruin during the Great
Depression. We were part of the struggle that won enactment of the Agricultural
Adjustment Act and other New Deal legislation for farmers and farm workers.

Our goal
is to build up our ties and connections with the coalition of farmer organizations
including the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, the NFU, Coalition
of Family Farmers, and so on. Obviously, the goal is to recruit farmers
and farm workers, Black, Latino and white to our Party. We will have a
workshop on the crisis of farming and rural America at the Convention
to be held in "America’s Dairyland."

The Convention
should develop a CPUSA program to meet the crisis of rural America. It
should include measures to defend family farming, starting with repeal
of the infamous "Freedom to Farm" Act which farmers call "Freedom
to Fail." It repealed all the farm price support programs enacted
during the New Deal. Farmers need a farm bill that provides fair prices
for the commodities they produce. We join in the call that the Agriculture
Department deliver on the $2 billion compensation to Black farmers for
decades of racist discrimination by the U.S.D.A. Native American Indian
farmers are preparing a similar lawsuit.

Our Party’s
farm and rural life program should also encompass the many related issues
that I have spoken of in this report. We greet the victory for farm workers
in California in winning a holiday celebrating the birth of Cesar Chavez,
founder and president of the United Farm Workers. Chavez is a symbol of
the struggle of farm workers for union rights, a living wage, and dignity.
Agribusiness is working night and day to keep the food production sector
of the economy "union free." Our answer must be union organization
at every stage of food production from field to factory to supermarket.
Rural cooperatives and other forms of mass organization must also be organized
in rural America – including of course, the Communist Party U.S.A. A mass
party organization in the countryside such as we had in the 1930s and
1940s would dramatically alter the political landscape and advance the
goal of labor-farmer unity.

This program
should reject the notion that the depopulation of the countryside and
control of the food chain by corporate agribusiness is inevitable or irreversible.
A strong worldwide movement is now demanding policies that promote sustainable
agriculture both here at home and for countries all around the world.
Preservation of family farms is at the heart of this movement.

We say that
no model exists for the socialist future. Without negating the past, we
need to visualize the future. Will a socialist U.S.A. establish a system
of collective and state farms as existed in the Soviet Union? We should
not dismiss the achievements of socialized agriculture in the former Soviet
Union and China. Both these huge countries were notorious for massive
rural poverty. Millions starved in famines before their socialist revolutions.
The rural populations were abjectly poor and illiterate. Socialism ended
the famines and the Soviet and Chinese people enjoyed a steady improvement
in their diets and their overall standard of living.

As for the
future in the United States, I believe self determination for farmers
and the rural population will be a determining factor in what path we
take. The size of farms will be determined by what is best for the farmers
and rural communities while producing a safe, nutritious, affordable diet
for the people. Production cooperatives in which farmers voluntarily join
together yet retain title to their land, a system used in the socialist
German Democratic Republic, is one possible solution. We believe that
family farming will remain an important form of agricultural production
under socialism.

In decades
past, the Non-Partisan League and the Farmer-Labor Party blazed the way
for progressive change in the U.S. A state-owned system of grain elevators
and a publicly-owned state bank were established in North Dakota, and
they still exist to this day. Socialist Elmer Benson was elected Governor
of Minnesota. In the current struggle to break the grip of the ultra-right
in the U.S. we are seeing the beginnings of the same coalition today broadened
to encompass many other movements and organizations that are alarmed and
outraged by agribusiness’s drive to enforce corporate control of food
production, forcing on us a diet that is neither nutritious nor good tasting.
The potential for this movement is limited only by the number of people
who eat.

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