Socialising farming

I am pleased to see comrades taking a technical interest in the details of the foot and mouth epidemic (Letters, April 5). Communist answers to social questions do require a detailed understanding of the issues.

The difference between this epidemic and previous ones is not primarily a question of scale or changes in agricultural practices. What really makes the policy of mass slaughter untenable is the effect it is having on other rural businesses, which create more employment and much more income than is generated by small farmers in the same areas. An answer has to be found that is acceptable to these forces.

But the most significant difference between now and 1967 is that in 1967 the small farmer knew that the state would secure the future of their farm, whatever the cost. The same farmer today knows that, whoever wins the next election, the government will not raise a finger to save them. Small farmers on marginal land appear to be facing extinction as a class - and pretty soon too. We can simply take the view that capitalism is destroying capitalists and converting them to workers - what could be better? This is a philistine, abstract approach when what we need is a positive political answer that addresses the concrete issues under capitalism, but also thereby opens the road to socialism.

Fortunately one exists ready-made in embryo. Agriculture has been described as "the last nationalised industry". Technically untrue, but enshrining an important reality: namely that small farmers are in essence state employees of a peculiar sort who grow more or less what the government wants in more or less the way they are told. Property ownership over their land and tools is not the bedrock of their independence, but a terrible burden. I am assuming that agriculture without subsidies is generally impossible and adequate food production can be produced by large farms. I am certainly not arguing that we should adopt solutions like protectionism or organic farming that would put up the price of food.

Actual nationalisation of small farms to make farmers the collective responsibility of capitalism could relieve them of their debts in an emergency and give them a breathing space, but is not in itself an answer. Farmers would need a new job description, bringing them into a democratic relationship with the working class, which would make them responsible for the wellbeing of the countryside as well as farming.

We need to raise the question in the working class as to exactly what our countryside should be and discuss the practicalities of it with farmers. Our aim should be the socialisation of agriculture and is linked of course to the concept of the social ownership of all land, so we can make housing affordable and put town and country planning on a footing that gets rid of rural isolation and urban ugliness and much more besides.

Another thing we need to address is the question of agricultural subsidies. Presently these are decided very undemocratically in favour of large farmers by the European Union. This may or may not make good agricultural sense, but the point is we need to take control of these subsidies. Also, while the EU may ensure sufficient food is produced, it has little concern for the areas that are not economically necessary: ie, the most beautiful parts of our countryside. We require no less than a fully democratic parliament in Brussels and a federal republic of Europe.

I would be happy to have a totally centralised, unitary, democratic Europe, but we need to introduce unity in a manner that is palatable to the very real anxieties about national identities. 'Centralised' does not mean that every decision is made at the centre by the centre.

On the contrary decisions should all be made as locally as possible. The centre's power comes from the fact that it represents the political will of the whole and can override local actions that endanger the wellbeing of the whole. It does not have to impose uniformity. Being the most representative body with the widest remit and greatest resources, it should be able to lead by example, not coercion. As an approach to Europe, this demand has the advantage of uniting the largest possible number of workers across the largest possible area.

Phil Kent