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Problems of the Modern Industrial Farmer According to Marx

December 7, 2010

Here at The University of Michigan I take a class called Biology 101: Food, Energy, and The Environment.  While this class is labeled as a biology class, half of what we learn is about how the political and economic (capitalist) systems in place in modern society have detrimental effects on modern society.  In Political Theory after reading Marx and Engels’ text “The German Ideology”, I couldn’t stop thinking about the food system and the modern farmer.  My professor in bio John Vandermeer reiterates the fact that in the “Global South” the food producers have no connection to their product.  For example, people in Guatemala that grow bananas aren’t growing bananas for their own personal survival, reward, or benefit (one can only eat so many bananas).  Marx was and would still be very against the fact that modern industrial workers are machines who are alienated from their labor and production.  In Marx’s world, “You are what you do,” or more accurately, what you produce.  But I’m sure workers in the assembly line do not connect their sense of self with doing the same thing over and over again, day after day with little reward or connection to the final product.    Just as Marx criticized the treatment and behavior of the industrial worker, he would feel the same about the  modern industrial farmer.  For example, we have learned about chicken “farmers” in biology who have extreme regulations, have to perform inhumane tasks, and have to work under the watchful eye of large corporations who ultimately reap the benefits of the farmers production.  They aren’t farming chickens for their own personal needs or “ownership” as Marx calls it; they are alienated from their production and therefore lose a work-related identity.  These workers may receive a small amount of money for their labor, but the large corporations are the people really gaining anything of substance.  In Marx’s terms these people are under the mask of idealism. Their true interests to produce in a self-fulfilling manner are masked.  So, as dated as it may seem to some, the weakened proletariat farmer, worker, citizen,etc, is still alive and well today.  There are people out there though, that are doing everything in their power to stop the Bourgeois from being the only wealthy and fulfilled in society. Joel Salatin for example runs Polyface Inc. a sustainable farm and market in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.  On Salatin’s website he states that,

“We are in the redemption business: healing the land, healing the food, healing the economy, and healing the culture.”

After doing some research on Salatin I found that he is running a company where he produces and receives the benefits of that productivity.  He doesn’t give anything to anyone, and is satisfied. He puts the labor in and he gains the product, and helps society in the process. Salatin is living by some of Marx’s principles in that he is not alienated from his labor or his product like those other farmers.  He also understands the importance of material substance.  People call Salatin an idealist, but according to Marx, he is really quite the opposite.

To learn more about Salatin…

http://www.polyfacefarms.com/


One Comment
  1. changmc permalink
    December 8, 2010 12:29 AM

    I agree with your parallel with the modern industrial worker and the industrial worker of Marx. Each one faces the same problems of alienation, subjugation, and low wages. Work related identities as you call it are the only identities for the these people. But then again capitalism is as alive as its ever been now. More businesses are outsourcing because foreign labor is just plain cheaper with little regulation. It’s an endless cycle that will continue its global domination of people being alienated from their work and the Salatin example is quite different that is not reflective at all of our global culture.

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