On the Farmers' Protests

We present here three translations of recent articles from our comrades in France and Italy. They deal with the ongoing farmers’ protests that have erupted in Europe, and are now spreading to Britain and, once again, India (where a similar movement back in 2020/1 managed to repeal the controversial Farm Bills). The agricultural crisis is a reflection of the wider crisis of capitalism, which, without the active intervention of the working class, is plunging the world further and further into the abyss.

The Agricultural Crisis: A Perfect Example of the Current Capitalist Crisis

Without money, modern agricultural production is impossible, or, what is the same thing, it is impossible without capital. Indeed, under the present mode of production any sum of money which does not serve the purpose of individual consumption can be transformed into capital, i.e., into a value begetting surplus-value and, as a general rule, actually is transformed into capital. Hence, modern agricultural production is capitalist production

Kautsky, The Agrarian Question, quoted in: marxists.org

Now more than ever, modern agriculture requires enormous investments in materials and input (plant protection products, especially pesticides, growth stimulants and retardants, plants and seeds) in order to function, which can only be supported by the big financial, indeed speculative, groups due to the high prices of grains on the stock markets. In this sense, family farms are doomed in the long term.

However, the decrease in productivity that large financial operations are seeing is also increasingly pushing a reduction in non-cultivated land. To anyone with a modicum of sense, the 4% reduction in fallow land (hedges, etc.) proposed by the French government and the EU is utterly risible. What difference will a few extra hectares make? Especially for those who have larger farms! In this way, the agricultural crisis is the perfect example of what the future holds for all other sectors of the economy.

In the past few weeks, farmers’ protests have begun to arise across Europe, with mobilisations in Germany, the Netherlands, Romania, Poland, and other countries.

In France, the movement is gaining traction, and since mid-January has expanded to road blockades across the country (the first blockade began on 18 January in Carbonne in Southern Toulouse on the A64 towards Tarbes). At first glance, the causes of the farmers’ anger appear disparate, since the content of their demands varies across Europe, and even within France.

The French farmers are not the only ones being shaken up by extreme weather events, the surge in production costs, the consequences of excessive deregulation of commercial markets, and finally by the war in Ukraine. For these reasons thousands of farmers blockaded Berlin on 22 January to protest against the phasing out of the fuel tax concession for farmers, after weeks of demonstrations spread out across the country. On Tuesday 23 January, the Romanian farmers took up their own mobilisation against the costs of these same fuels, the price of insurance and environmental standards.

In France, two hundred farms are going under every week, according to the environmentalist platform Pour une Autre PAC (For an Alternative Common Agricultural Policy). This is due in part to age (half of all farms are operated by a farmer over 55 years old) but moreover to low incomes and the volatility in the prices of agricultural products. One of the five objectives of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, set when it was first introduced in 1962, was “to ensure a fair standard of living for the agricultural Community”. Ultimately, farmers will go under, unable to compete with the big capitalist farming enterprises which have benefited from globalisation and income from the Common Agricultural Policy, which is distributed mostly among big industrial farms.

The Capitalist Impasse

In reality, agriculture is above all a capitalist activity, heavily industrialised and for the most part heavily concentrated. To understand the current crisis, it must be analysed as such. However, its global evolution is a perfect reflection of the current impasses of capitalism. Indeed, this crisis uniquely reveals the global situation of the system.

Contrary to what the ruling classes try to imply, the goal of agricultural production in France is no longer to “feed France”, but rather to conquer the global markets to maximise their profits. However, for the EU, the continuous liberalisation of European markets means to open borders and conclude treaties with states whose production costs are low (the CEFTA with Canada in 2016, the JEFTA with Japan in 2019, the Free Trade Agreement with Vietnam in 2019, the Free Trade Agreement with New Zealand ratified on 22 November 2023 for the export of mutton to Mercosur countries)(2), which the majority of farmers in Europe and in France are unable to match. Just as for industry in general, this policy seeks to drive prices down to those of countries where income is not guaranteed and is well below the French minimum wage.

But these were the prevailing conditions during that “happy” globalisation, in which the ruling classes believed that free trade was the key to developing industry and conducting business “as usual”.

We have come a long way since then. Everything came to an end for agriculture in the 2000s. It was then that productivity in the French agricultural sector began to stagnate, and indeed to decline, according to the journal of French Chambers of Agriculture, Analyses et Perspectives.(1) In this document, the cumulative gains made in productivity between 1980 and 2022 are estimated at 25 billion euros, but three quarters of these are accounted for in those gains realised before 1995. The favourable conditions for industrial agriculture have since been completely overturned and reversed. Hence the FNSEA (“Fédération nationale des syndicats d'exploitants agricoles”, the National Federation of Agricultural Holders' Unions) is seeking talks to renew the European regulations of the Common Agricultural Policy. The sector must face strong headwinds with the environmental crisis, increasingly aggressive international competition, and global demand still slowly growing. This is the capitalist impasse.

How Can They Survive?

Without gains in productivity, increasing profits is no walk in the park. The only options are to reduce wages or to raise prices. However, neither method will truly solve the problem for the agricultural sector. And in any case, it is not possible to raise production prices in the face of the big retailers which constantly negotiate downwards. Consequently, the farmers of smaller and medium-sized farms are doomed without public aid. And the industrial farms are also finding themselves faced with enormous market competition. So they too are doomed in the longer term.

Thus agriculture is at the forefront of the current capitalist crisis, but this is a crisis within the crisis. If wages are pushed down by decelerating gains in global productivity, a strategy based on prices, even at a time when farmers are getting rid of all middlemen, is unsustainable in the long run.

From there we can understand the current discontent of the farmers who, like all the strata of the middle classes, are doomed to disappear in the face of financialisation and the big industrial groups. In a way, the farmers are joining the other social strata feeling the full force of the consequences of the economic crisis like the Gilets jaunes, the taxi drivers, the fishermen etc. All this should ultimately push the working class to react. They alone hold the key to the situation.

Groupe révolutionnaire internationaliste
29 January 2024

The Farmers’ Movement in France and in Europe: As Ever, the Bourgeoisie Comes Out on Top!

On 1 February 2024, the leaders of the two main farmers’ unions in France, the FNSEA (“Fédération nationale des syndicats d'exploitants agricoles”, the National Federation of Agricultural Holders' Unions) and the Jeunes Agriculteurs (“Young Farmers”, JA), announced the end of the tractor blockades which had paralysed motorway traffic into Paris, following the measures announced by Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, namely financial support to the tune of 400 million euros (3), opposition to the EU-Mercosur Trade Agreement, and a temporary freeze in the Ecophyto plan, which aimed to reduce the use of chemical pesticides by 50% by 2030. Many of the farmers demonstrating have now returned home (in reality, mainly those in the FNSEA and the JA) after two weeks of “struggles” and blockades, ostensibly happy to be able to continue to make their profits on the backs of the health of workers, by pursuing an intensive, productivist and heavily pollutant agricultural model.

Nevertheless, in a whole series of European countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Romania and Belgium, the farmers’ protests continue. The reasons for them are very diverse: opposition to European environmental standards and free trade, suspension of tax hikes announced by their governments (on diesel that isn’t used on roads for example), regulation of agribusiness margins and large retailers, or even demands for state funds to survive the economic crisis. In a previous article, we addressed the structural reasons for the crisis in which capitalist agriculture finds itself.(4) Here, we aim to further analyse the class nature of the farmers’ movement in Europe (in particular in France), and to re-emphasise the pertinence of the Marxist analysis of the agricultural question.

A Bourgeois Movement?

At first glance, the farmers constitute a unique social group, characterised by private ownership of the land which they cultivate in order to profit from their farms and increase their capital. In reality, there are class divides within agriculture between small farmers, medium-sized farmers and large landowners. In France, 36% of farms were considered “small” farms in 2010. Among those, nearly 80% had no employees. These farms comprise an average of 11 hectares, compared to the 108 hectares (or more) of the large farms. The latter, fewer in number than the small and medium-sized farms, still account for 63% of the total surface area of cultivated land.(5) Thus we see from these few figures that the interests of farmers in general are anything but unified; the petty bourgeoisie is guided by its (illusory) desire to “make a living from its work”, while the big capitalists seek to maximise their production and continuously expand cultivable land by processes which are dangerous to human health and to the soil.

However, this movement, despite its sociological heterogeneity, fits squarely within a bourgeois, “poujadist”(6) framework. Indeed, the small and medium-sized farmers, though a mass presence in the movement, have been thoroughly manipulated in a movement led by the big farmers and their main unions, which are integrated into the state apparatus, namely the FNSEA, the JA and to a lesser extent the Coordination Rurale (CR), the latter having played a less important role. The demands concerning floor prices or better remuneration have been swept aside in favour of demands aimed at maximising profits: fewer standards, lower taxes, less control.(7) The struggle of the farmers, animated as it has been by the right and far right, notably in France and Germany, boils down to supporting bourgeois demands which are environmentally destructive, concerned with sovereignty (and thus xenophobic), and totally alien to the working class. What is there to support in the demand to poison yet further our food and soil, to “produce in France” by attacking foreign workers, particularly truck drivers,(8) and to authorise total freedom to exploit farm workers with no minimum wage, as has been demanded in Germany? Absolutely nothing!

Moreover, further proof if it were needed of the bourgeois character of this movement can be found in the reaction of the French authorities: extremely severe in response to the workers’ movement, yet notably feeble in its treatment of farmers, despite a far higher degree of violence, and aimed particularly at public buildings at that. This movement in no way represented a threat to the bourgeois order. On the contrary, through its union framework, it aimed to preserve it. It is in the reaction of those in power that ultimately reveals the real “spectre haunting Europe”: not a few tractors on the motorways, but of course the force of millions of conscious workers ready for a final, decisive battle with Capital.

What is the Perspective for Marxists?

If all the parties of the bourgeoisie from the far left to the far right have supported this movement,(9) this is not so for us. As we recalled in our previous article, the small and medium-sized farmers are essentially doomed as a social group by the advance of the large farms, financialisation, and the growing pressure from big agribusiness and supermarket groups to increase their profit margins. Capitalism inevitably dooms the petty bourgeoisie in favour of big property by the concentration and centralisation of capital: this is a fact. However, this does not mean that we must accelerate this process; on the contrary. In The Peasant Question in France and Germany, Engels wrote in 1894 that,

the French programme [of the French Workers’ Party of 1892, drafted by Jules Guesde and Paul Lafargue] is absolutely correct in stating: that we foresee the inevitable doom of the small peasant, but that it is not our mission to hasten it by any interference on our part. Secondly, it is just as evident that when we are in possession of state power, we shall not even think of forcibly expropriating the small peasants (regardless of whether with or without compensation), as we shall have to do in the case of the big landowners.(10)

This speaks to the clarity of the Marxist position, and of the red thread of revolution which we share: the immediate expropriation without compensation of the large landowners, the “neutralisation” of the medium-sized farmers, and appealing to the small farmers for support, not through demagogic measures nor diluting the class programme, but rather by explaining their necessary decline, and the strength that large-scale collective farming represents for them to finally break free of capitalist misery. We are obviously not indifferent to the suffering of the small farmers, suffering which has pushed some of them to suicide. Instead we say to them that the solution lies not in confused mobilisations for the benefit of the FNSEA’s agricultural capitalists, but in a fierce battle against capitalism and its devastating effects on agriculture. Clearly, the relationship to farmers cannot be the same in Europe as in Asia and in Latin America, where many farmers are semi-proletarians with no land of their own, or otherwise in a position of quasi-servitude, but a more in-depth analysis of this is beyond the scope of this article.

Ultimately, this movement says much about the situation of the class struggle: it shows that, for now, we cannot depend on the small farmers to establish a balance of forces with the big farmers, because they did not know how to, or else did not want to, within this movement (though this situation could change for the better in time). It also reveals anew the fundamental danger that the left capital and the unions represent, since their task is to destroy through class collaboration what little class consciousness exists. And it shows, above all, that the only solution lies with the working class, and its international communist party, and that the working class alone can overthrow the capitalist system, since they have nothing to lose but their chains, and a world to win.

Groupe révolutionnaire internationaliste
3 February 2024

The "Tractors’ Protests" and Bourgeois Double Standards

City streets across Europe, including in some capitals, have been occupied. There have been skirmishes with police in riot gear, roadblocks, even on motorways, whilst manure and other organic materials have been dumped in front of the seats of power. In short, a stack of breaches of public order. However, the state institutions, the governments of the bourgeoisie, usually so quick to deal with anything that can disturb their precious public order, compete to smile on the “tractors movement” by offering it a velvet glove. They have indulged a social sector that, undoubtedly, is the flesh of their flesh, especially when supplying them with their best cuts of meat. However, beyond ironic jokes, it is clear that not all “peasants”(11) are equal. They don’t all have the same ability to respond to the mechanisms of a market in which they are totally submerged. In short, they can’t all deal with the problems caused by the capitalist management of agriculture – problems that have only been exacerbated by the historical crisis of capital in all its dramatic manifestations, from the pandemic and the climate catastrophe, to wars unleashed by the opposing imperialist blocs. However, they have also to deal with others of their own class, usually those who are much better equipped in the struggle to survive in a dangerous environment like the market: large-scale distribution, the big producers and multinational agribusinesses, the hedge funds speculating on raw materials, capable of decreeing with a “click” of a key the life and death of thousands of farms, or at least making them victims of their “financial caprices”. Whilst the shadow of closure, of social downgrading, is a concrete threat to thousands of small and medium-sized “peasants”, it is however also beginning to worry even the larger ones, who favour, and in some cases directly lead, the “revolt” of the “peasant” mass. Although the “peasants” are paying, and will pay, higher and higher prices for capitalism-induced climate change, it is very difficult – though always possible, but at the moment very unlikely(12) – that they will take a critical attitude towards a system that has them on the ropes.

To counteract the fall in the average rate of profit in the last few decades, manufacturing capitalists in the major countries have greatly increased the relocation of production to places where there are no impediments of any kind to exploiting the labour force, or to the environmental devastation and pollution they promote, whilst loudly claiming – and obtaining – significant aid from the state. In similar fashion the “tractors” demand – and are getting – a reduction in the feeble laws of the so-called Green Deal and other measures limiting the use of pesticides and other chemicals in agriculture, as well as the restoration or increase in subsidies and tax breaks – a small part of the substantial funding that the EU has always allocated to the agricultural sector. From a bourgeois perspective, the “tractors” are right: how can they compete with the large-scale agribusinesses that squeeze the profits of the real producers to unsustainable levels? How can they cope with the competition from agricultural products from other continents (or from Ukraine...), where huge farms produce massive crops which by themselves undermine prices, and where laws on the use of pesticides and antibiotics either do not exist, or are even weaker than in Europe? Although relatively few, in numerical terms, the “peasants”, usually vote on the right, and this year there will be elections for the European Parliament; this is why, the bourgeois political apparatus, starting with the hated bureaucracy in Brussels – so hated, but so generous towards them, at least, the older ones – has now engaged reverse gear. The current slogan (we will see later what follows) is to put things back as they were before, and carry on with the poisons that are sprayed on the earth. Don’t worry if irrefutable scientific studies have shown that the use of a certain chemistry – that of capitalism – causes cancer and other no less serious diseases, don’t worry if these pathologies inevitably affect even individuals of the bourgeoisie (although in a much lower percentage, due, of course, to their greater economic resources): profit is a bloody but just deity, who does not hesitate to sacrifice even its worshippers. Who cares, if the pesticides torment and kill the super-exploited workers, very often immigrants, often without a residence permit, forced to bend their back for 2 dollars – 2 or 3 euros per hour for 12/14 working hours a day – in conditions not very different from those of slave plantations in past centuries? So, in parts of the manufacturing and tertiary sectors, segments of the bourgeoisie don’t have to go thousands of miles to find cheap labour – they can do it without leaving home.

If this hastily-drawn picture of capitalist agricultural practice is accurate (and we believe that it is), it shows that the capitalist mode of production is intrinsically murderous and that its managers can be compared to a planetary band of murderers (mainly of the working class). Perhaps this will make the eyebrows of some guardians of the bourgeois legal system rise, but it seems to us that it is not far-fetched.

The petty bourgeoisie is, as they say, always the same and always different. It is fully part of the bourgeois family, even if the rest find it annoying, but, beyond its vulgarity and the impatience that it shows from time to time towards the political-economic orientations of the big bourgeoisie (the so-called big hitters), in the end it is its safety belt, the mass base of the system. It is the (black) well from which bourgeois political personnel are drawn. The poorer they are, the greater their experience of a mode of production and a way of life that the very rich do not know – because they cannot find a way out of their own cyclical historical crisis, except temporarily, through an increase in exploitation, and ultimately in the drive towards generalised war. Thus the "tractors" get pampered as do the ravenous group of professionals and self-employed, to whom the neo-fascist government has given a shamelessly low VAT tax rate,(13) and a no less shameless incentive to evade tax altogether (the so-called tax arrangement). On the other hand, they now also legally benefit from the lower taxes that capitalists, especially the largest ones, have enjoyed for several decades in every country.

Whilst these sectors get mollycoddled, for the struggling workers who picket workplaces, for young ecologists who, rightly distressed by the environmental catastrophe – but unfortunately without a class perspective – carry out roadblocks or smear “fake” paint(14) on buildings and works of art to denounce the environmental disaster that, together with wars, poverty, social degradation, is the offspring of capitalism, there are only beatings and condemnations.

At a superficial and naive look, it might seem strange that the “pitchfork” Salvini, author of the “security decrees”, forgets his legal duties when it comes to the “tractors”, but in reality he is perfectly consistent. Not only do “tractors” represent one of his electoral bases, but, as they said, are one of the components of that bourgeois society of which Salvini is one of the most vulgar defenders.

Today, among the most militant “left-wing people”, it is fashionable to quote a phrase of Martin Luther King which goes, more or less, like this: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Paraphrasing it and translating it into class terms, we could say that from the “evil” (the bourgeoisie) we expect nothing else ; the problem is, precisely, the “indifference of the good”, that is, the lack of a proletarian reaction in the face of the decades-long attacks that the “evil” are bringing them on a global level. We have explained many times why this “sleeping giant” has yet to stir. It is certainly one of the fundamental problems of our time, which conditions – and from which it is in turn conditioned – that other no less crucial factor: the absence of the international party of the communist revolution.

Meanwhile, until the current wind changes direction, the “discounts” for the petty bourgeoisie will be paid for by the repression of our class, the working class.

Battaglia Comunista
10 February 2024


(1) N° 2206 mai 2022: chambres-agriculture.fr

(2) Mercosur is the Southern Common Market. Full members are Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

(3) leparisien.fr

(4) See the article The Agricultural Crisis: a Perfect Example of the Current Crisis of Capitalism just above.

(5) For these various data, see: Pauline Lecole. Les petites exploitations agricoles françaises : types, contributions et soutiens. Notes et Etudes Economiques, 2021, 50.

(6) “Poujadism” was a movement “created by Pierre Poujade after 1953, mobilizing the lower middle classes, shopkeepers and artisans, and the peasantry in the south, in opposition to big business and the unions, the state and the administration, but mainly to taxes. Right‐wing and populist, but also republican, the Poujadists exploited widespread discontent with the Fourth Republic, winning over two‐ and‐a‐half million votes in the 1956 election and returning fifty‐three deputies. Within two years, lacking leadership and a programme, the movement collapsed.” oxfordreference.com

(7) This complaint of “too much government” is part of a more general complaint about labour laws. So it was in 2004 that the CR in Lot-et-Garonne supported a farmer who had killed two labour inspectors who had been investigating the working conditions of seasonal migrant workers, see: monde-diplomatique.fr

(8) On 30 January 2024, anoraked farmers in le Gard violently attacked a foreign truck driver for transporting labelled food products outside France.

(9) The Parti communiste français, La France Insoumise, Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste, Lutte Ouvrière, Révolution Permanente, the Union communiste libertaire, the Confédération paysanne, the CGT … all of these bourgeois groups have supported the movement more or less critically, hoping to encourage a “convergence of angers”.

(10) mronline.org

(11) We are using this term for convenience of synthesis, conscious of its approximation.

(12) There are two essential conditions to ensure that at least a part of the small “peasants” can take on this perspective: these are those mentioned at the end of the article.

(13) It is obvious that we are referring to authentic self-employment, not to that whose conditions are, in fact, comparable to those of wage-labour, which are often in its most oppressive and worst paid forms.

(14) The dyes they use are non-toxic and washable.

Monday, February 19, 2024