Nobody is real: A Small Farm Future meets A People’s Green New Deal

I’ve been reading Max Ajl’s book A People’s Green New Deal. In this and possibly the next post I’ll be comparing a few of its themes with those from my own book A Small Farm Future, which I hope will lay some groundwork for discussions of small farm societies and small farm politics in the rest of this blog cycle1.

I’d warmly commend Max’s book as a thought-provoking, informed and informative contribution. Nevertheless, I think there’s something of a tension in it between a (neo-agrarian) populist perspective and an eco-socialist or Marxist one. I have a few sympathies with the latter, but ultimately I find the former a more plausible and appealing political route into the future. I’m not going to try to review or summarize Max’s book here, so much as try to explore some populist themes with his book (and mine) at my side.

Many political doctrines invest themselves in the notion that there are some kinds of people who are more ‘real’ than others, that they are the privileged possessors of a more authentic political agency, and it’s this dangerous idea (dangerous particularly when it’s associated with arguments about assuming control of the centralized state) that I’ll particularly be exploring in this (I’m afraid rather lengthy) post. Towards the end of it, I’ll explain what I mean by neo-agrarian populism a little more, and why I find it more appealing. But first I’m going to consider some other political traditions and their investments in notions of authentic peoplehood.

Before I do that, I should note that I’m not the only person to pick up on the blending of socialist/Marxist and populist themes in Max’s book. In an interview in ROAR Magazine, Kai Heron asked Max about this very point. Heron, some readers of this blog might recall, co-authored a review of my own book that homed in on its populist elements for a ferocious critique.

In my opinion, the review was none too fastidious about accurate characterization of my arguments, ill-informed about basic concepts such as ‘feudalism’ and seemingly actuated by a doctrinaire old-school Marxism with which I’m out of sympathy. My brief interactions with Heron didn’t suggest much possibility of constructive engagement, so I decided not to debate with him – a decision that remains firm.

But this hasn’t left me entirely satisfied, and I found it hard to read Max’s book without puzzling over the various alignments and non-alignments between me, Max and Heron concerning populism and socialism – for example in the call for a mix of family and cooperative farming that Max’s book shares with mine. So in posts to come I’ll address this via issues I raised in my book like gender, kinship and property rights that Max also touches on in his own volume and that particularly prompted Heron and his co-author Alex Heffron’s fusillades towards me. Whether I’ll respond directly to Heffron and Heron’s criticisms now I’ve reached the relevant part of this blog cycle, I’m not yet sure. Let me know if you think that might be interesting.

For now, though, I’ll stick to my theme of ‘real personhood’ and broach it in relation to a wholly different front in the political war of words.

Real People #1 and #2: the cultural nationalist and the countryperson

Over the years, my writings have gained some engagement from a small subset of people who, like me, are supportive of small farm localism and opposed to capitalist globalization, but from a vantage point quite far to the political right. Usually, our engagements haven’t ended well, and usually the point of no return has been around the issue of migration, on which the right stakes one of its major claims about authentic personhood.

The argument typically goes that large-scale migration is a bad thing, especially large-scale migration prompted by climate change and other crises at a time when we need to ‘look after our own’. How we define ‘our own’ – those real people of whom here I speak – is more often assumed than demonstrated, but usually relies on some form of cultural nationalism grounded in an existing structure of the nation-state supposedly threatened by the incomers.

I’m not going to expend many words on this. National culture is scarcely the fixed thing of the right-wing imagination (see A Small Farm Future, Chapter 18). The threat to culture is an artefact of a view of culture inclined to feel threatened. But even if one accepts these cultural nationalist premises (which I don’t), I doubt juridical and military attempts to prevent large-scale migration will ultimately be successful, and they will redound negatively upon political and cultural life in the places doing the defending. Moreover, the defending is probably unnecessary on livelihood grounds (A Small Farm Future, Chapter 11). And it’s unethical. You have to be a pretty hardened cultural nationalist to turn your back on destitute and endangered refugees from other countries (looking at you, Nigel Farage), especially when the actions and inactions of your own country have played a large part in their destitution.

There is, however, a narrative of migration as cultural threat that’s popular on the left as well as the right – gentrification. In rural and agrarian contexts this can be ecologically flavoured too – how can we possibly retain ‘our own’ sustainable rural culture fitted to local circumstances if it’s perturbed by an endless stream of incomers? Gentrification narratives are heavy with ideologies of ‘real’ personhood: the ‘real people’ of this neighbourhood, town, region etc. as determined by culture, class and/or natality.

I hope to write more elsewhere about rural gentrification. For now, I’ll just say that I’m inclined to see gentrification of all kinds more as an issue of affordable local land or housing – an issue of economic justice – rather than a cultural one. Culturally, in much of the Global North – and indeed in much of the Global South too – the notion that there’s a sui generis sustainable rural culture threatened by the intrusion of incomers from elsewhere usually carries little more weight than parallel right-wing fears of a threatened national culture.

A ruralisation of the global population in the coming years seems to me inevitable, but while I don’t see large-scale migration as intrinsically bad, I don’t think it’s intrinsically good either. As Jahi Chappell said on this site a while back, it would be good if people could exercise a right not to have to migrate. This would involve breaking out of the centre-periphery structuring of the global economy with its highly uneven allocation of wealth and wellbeing that inevitably draws migrants from periphery to centre. I discuss this in Part I of my book, and Max also discusses it extensively in his one, making the case for climate change reparation payments from the Global North to the Global South. I find his case for it within present global economic structures indisputable.

Real people #3: indigeneity

Another much favoured category of real personhood nowadays is indigenous peoples, whose cosmologies and ecological practices are often seen as inspirational for renewable, post-capitalist human ecologies. I too find inspiration in this and briefly discussed it in my book, while Max plumbs the issue more thoroughly in his, most particularly in relation to people in settler-colonial societies who trace their ancestry to a pre-colonial population.

There is, however, a danger of invoking indigeneity generically as something that particular individuals have because of their ancestry and that elevates them above the non-indigenous. Indigeneity as authenticity. This is a simple inversion of modernist-colonial ideology, which typically emphasizes the inferiority of the indigenous culture compared to the modernity of the incomers, while indigenism recuperates the superiority of the indigenous compared to the inauthenticity of the modern.

I think Max courts this danger in his book, and his defences against it aren’t wholly convincing. But at its best his discussion of indigeneity emphasizes the importance of self-determination for indigenous people as modern people with a right “to decide how and with whom they want to live” (p.149) in contexts where that right was historically extinguished by centralized settler-colonial states operating on quite different political principles to their own. Such claims are not made upon the modern state but independently of it, albeit with a necessary recognition of its ongoing reach.

I’m in complete agreement with this. In my own book, I articulate it more generally as a future reality that many people will face worldwide, not just those who are heirs to an obvious indigenous ancestry outside the cultural reckoning of the contemporary state. It’s what I call ‘the supersedure state’, and I’ll come to it later in the blog cycle.

But one of the problems with the idea of a people’s self-determination is that it leaves unsaid exactly how you constitute ‘a people’ and who is the ‘self’ that’s getting determined. There are power relationships, alternative narratives and micropolitics within every would-be ‘people’, perhaps the more so when it inevitably has to organize itself with respect to the power of the modern nation-state. Accepting ‘a’ people’s right to self-determination is a basic prerequisite for transcending the existing power structure, but it doesn’t get you very far in addressing the political questions and conflicts faced by this new political ‘self’. Particularly if it involves resource claims against existing states based on personal identity as ‘indigenous’ or some such claim to meta-state authenticity, there’s much potential for manufacturing conflicted and novel performative identities around such notions of ‘indigeneity’ – as in analyses of ‘the hyperreal Indian’ or ‘the obligatory Indian’2.

As I see it, those novel performative identities are as ‘real’ as any other political identity, but it would be easier to clarify the messy political choices people face in modern societies if analysts stopped implicitly seeing certain people or political identities as more real than others. I encountered this in engaging with Peter Gelderloos’s view that the Standing Rock pipeline protests in the USA were somehow more authentic than the Extinction Rebellion (XR) protests originating in the UK along the lines that Standing Rock was a real defence of homeland, conducted by real people authentically grounded in a proper political identity. Max pretty much recapitulates this problematic dualism in his book. I think more plural and conflicted political imaginaries are necessary.

Max’s call for “tremendous investments in high-speed rail” (p.111) also interests me in relation to these questions of indigeneity and authenticity, at both global and local levels. Thinking globally, high-speed rail systems represent an enormous accumulation and concentration of capital that I think are colonial in origin and unachievable by any ‘indigenous’ culture oriented to living renewably from local resources. They also represent an enormous privileging of some people’s and some places’ connectivity at the expense of others.

Thinking more locally, here in England the costs of the government’s flagship new high speed rail project (HS2) have inflated threefold from initial estimates to around £100 billion, while the despoilation of the countryside caused by its construction along with associated quarrying and water drawdown has prompted extensive protests involving wealthy homeowners living alongside HS2’s various sites of extraction and construction, other local residents horrified at the destruction of much loved woodlands and natural habitats (defending their homelands?), eco-activists, left-wing critics of government spending priorities and small state libertarians, while XR has helped create a new ecology of protest linking these various causes. I don’t think older languages of indigeneity or of economic class interest are really alive to these shifting contemporary terrains.

Whether such populist allegiances will prove politically transformative remains to be seen, though the bar for success has been set pretty low by more traditional forms of leftwing and labour organization in contemporary England. I argue in A Small Farm Future that the real test will come with the declining ability of centralized nation-states to provide prosperity, wellbeing and geopolitical structure – in which circumstance, I think any local successes will mostly be plural and populist, rather than indigenous and/or traditionally class-structured.

A whole other side of ‘indigeneity’ is indigenous practices of livelihood-making. In this view, prior to the nexus of colonization, globalization, fossil energy use and capitalist development, indigenous people figured out renewable ways of living from local land and resources that can inspire a more sustainable future. It’s a view I share, particularly if we take a capacious view of ‘indigeneity’. People developed low-impact and low-energy forms of livelihood making everywhere in the world, and the local premodern ‘indigenous’ form should probably be the first place we look for inspiration today – perhaps, as I wrote in A Small Farm Future (p.152), in some places with an overdue dose of postcolonial humility concerning the livelihood skills of indigenous peoples through deep human time.

But some nuance is needed. Biogeographies and population distributions have changed. New crops and knowledges have emerged, while old ones have decayed (I find it hard to imagine, for example, plausible future livelihood-making in the UK without a greater dependence on the potato than in premodern times, or in the Pacific Northwest of North America without a lesser dependence on the salmon). Some people identifying as indigenous have learned ancestral skills of local livelihood-making. So have some people not identifying as indigenous, while there are indigenous people living urban lives who lack knowledge of those lifeways.

The point I’m driving towards is that indigeneity as political identity-making and indigeneity as economic livelihood-making both involve complex, potentially conflicted and changing practices. Fundamentally, indigeneity is more something that people do or create, make or remake, drawing on various pre-existing resources, than something that certain people simply and authentically ‘are’ or ‘have’. So I find it curious that Heron criticizes my book for having “no discussion whatsoever about race and indigeneity”, partly because it’s not actually true, partly because I don’t think one should invoke a generic ‘indigeneity’ without seriously questioning the term, and partly because my book is concerned with little other than indigeneity in the sense of how people worldwide – relatively few of whom, after the tremendous dislocations of modernity, have a good claim to being a ‘real’ local indigene – can learn to create their own sense of indigeneity in a future that Max aptly diagnoses will be one of “world-wandering refugees” (p.41). In such a world, claims to being a real person, an authentic indigene, will usually be at best irrelevant and at worst a status strategy pregnant with the potential for violence.

I don’t think the position I’m charting here is incompatible with the idea that people who identify as indigenous within contemporary settler-colonial states have a legitimate claim to self-determination which shines a spotlight on historical injustice. Nor, however, does this seem to me the most decisive challenge of present times. That challenge lies rather in how those of us who are not ‘real’ indigenous people might aspire to the label.

Real people #4: the proletariat

Now onto a final kind of political authenticity – the vaunting by parts of the left of the landless, waged, working-class (the ‘proletariat’) as the real agents of history. A key ancestor here is Karl Marx, with his insistence that the most exploited people in the most ‘advanced’ capitalist societies of his day, the industrial proletariat, would redeem capitalist society through socialism. This was a much more plausible claim to make when Marx was formulating it around 150 years ago than it is today, but towards the end of his life even Marx began recanting this position and entertaining the possibility of a peasant road to socialism – a smart move, since it turned out that all the major successful communist revolutions of the 20th century were predominantly peasant ones3.

Unfortunately this insight of the older Marx barely percolated into the later Marxist tradition, not least because of the efforts of Vladimir Lenin, father of Soviet communism. In The Development of Capitalism in Russia and other writings, Lenin made three interlinked arguments:

  1. The Russian peasantry was dividing essentially into an upper stratum of would-be capitalist farmers and a lower stratum of increasingly landless rural labourers, thus replicating Marx’s favoured scheme of a dualistic clash between capitalist and proletarian.
  2. The peasantry was incapable in itself of creating a transformational communist society. For this, it required the assistance of the proletariat and revolutionary cadres to take charge of the state.
  3. Forms of left-wing politics that deviated from these and other orthodoxies of Marxism-Leninism were ultimately incorrect, insufficiently transformative, complicit with capitalism and in need of cancellation.

These arguments have had a long afterlife as central tenets of orthodox Marxism, but none of them are terribly convincing. I see the second and third as basically hubristic self-promotion of Leninist doctrine. As to the first, it’s true that in circumstances of novel capitalist penetration and development (so, unlike the circumstances facing people across much of the world in the years to come…) there can be processes of economic differentiation among peasantries. But not just among peasantries. There’s no particular historical justification for Marx’s and then Lenin’s demotion of peasantries as transformational political actors, nor for the vaunting of wage labourers in this ‘real person’ role, supposedly immune to differentiations of their own. Göran Djurfeldt wrote “The postulation of law-like tendencies in the capitalist mode of production in Lenin tends to regress to a Hegelian postulation of essences”, concluding “those who take over the predictions of the classics and attempt to apply them wholesale to contemporary agriculture are engaged in a futile and dogmatic exercise”4.

That conclusion seems all the sounder in 2021 than when it was written forty years ago. Heffron and Heron invoke Lenin’s Development of Capitalism in Russia (published 1899) as if to disprove my argument that small-scale owner-occupier farming might form part of a worthwhile and stable future response to present problems, but to my mind their ahistorical postulation of essentialist categories – ‘‘upper’, ‘middle’ and ‘lower’ peasantries, progressive collective subjects and so forth – speaks more to their own rather fossilized search for authenticity than to any particular defect of my analysis. Perhaps I only have myself to blame for trafficking at all with the language of peasantries and 19th century debates about peasant transitions. Increasingly I’m inclined to think these have virtually no relevance to the agrarian transitions of the future. Again though, if anyone would like me to elaborate on that, do please let me know.


Notwithstanding Lenin, it’s undoubtedly true that humans of all kinds are extraordinarily gifted at splitting themselves up into disparate and antagonistic groups (Marxists are particularly adept at this – the differentiation of the peasantry is as nothing compared to the differentiation of the Marxists). If we let go of the notion that there’s some category of ‘real’ people with the singular capacity to stitch together a unified and authentic social order – and I think we do need to let go of it – then we’re left with the conclusion that any concept of society or of ‘a people’ is mere contrivance, an artificial construct.

In A Small Farm Future, I embrace that conclusion. Indeed, I argue that probably the only way we’re going to get through the years to come without horrific bloodshed is to effect forms of neo-agrarian populism that elaborate it. ‘Neo-agrarian’ because only a turn to low ecological impact, low-energy, job-rich agriculture serving primarily local needs can adequately address current biophysical and socioeconomic crises – the ‘neo’ referencing the point that, while in many ways these agrarianisms will be inspired by historic or ‘indigenous’ low-impact and low-energy agricultures, they will also have new elements fitted to new times and are not about restoring some notion of a better past.

‘Populism’ because it will be necessary to constitute peoples or ‘a people’ who are in some way unified around neo-agrarian practices out of the disparate constituencies and identities in the contemporary world. There are bad populisms that try to make only some kinds of people representative of the body politic, as in a good deal of the Brexit-mongering we’ve endured here in the UK in recent years. More sophisticated populisms recognize the contrivance involved in constituting ‘a people’, where nobody is any more ‘real’ than anyone else.

The downside of neo-agrarian populism is that hardly anyone in the world today is practicing neo-agrarianism, which makes implementing it an enormously tall order – an object without a subject. The upside is that this absence neatly sidesteps all the debates about who the ‘real’ people are, the authentic agents of history. Nobody is real. Or everybody is. What’s real is how we have to make a material livelihood, and in this people are a lot more constrained by the ecological feedback of the world around them than most currents of modern political thought seem to believe.

There are many openings toward neo-agrarian populism of this kind in Max’s book, but also various points where I think he shies away from the difficulties and compromises involved in trying to constitute ‘a people’ in favour of a more mechanical politics that too easily delivers it via ‘real person’ agency.

These tensions lurk, for example, within Max’s statement that “Marxism where it has been most successful has been able to adopt and rework populist and nationalist vernaculars and demands in the service of revolutionary transformations in the world”, referencing “Lenin’s adoption of some of the rhetoric of Russian populism”. This is all true enough. But Lenin was engaged in a fierce and high-stakes argument against the Russian agrarian populists, just as the agents of liberal capitalism in the US and elsewhere were battling their own local agrarian populisms around the same time.

Lenin and these other avatars of a supposedly progressive industrial modernity won their political battles, as protagonists for the centralization of political power and authority often do, but I don’t think they won the intellectual arguments, and their narrow visions of industrialized progress delivered by strictly delimited classes of ‘real’ people in alliance with centralized and more or less authoritarian states haunt the problems of the 21st century. I think part of the answer to those problems is going to have to be neo-agrarian populisms less dazzled by the idea of material progress, and less fussy about precisely which people it considers to be the true agents of history.

So I agree with Max where he endorses “autonomous thinking about the common life, or communism” (p.54) while believing that such thinking will have to claim a more capacious notion of the common life or communism back from a good deal of Marxist (and, more so, Leninist) thought. Elsewhere Max writes that one has to ask whom one’s friends are and whom are one’s enemies (p.68). I’d hope that neo-agrarian populisms can be friends with various currents of left-wing, socialist and Marx-inspired thinking. Certainly, there’s much I feel friendly towards in Max’s book, and I find his overall framing of the issues facing humanity very largely plausible. On the other hand, I feel little friendship towards the ongoing disdain of certain other leftists for what they see as the miseries of small-scale agrarianism and their taste for authoritarian big-state collectivism. Quite how such alignments and non-alignments play out in future politics is going to have a huge impact on future generations’ experience of the world.


  1. Max Ajl. 2021. A People’s Green New Deal. Pluto Press; Chris Smaje. 2020. A Small Farm Future. Chelsea Green.
  2. Alcida Ramos. 1994. The hyperreal Indian. Critique of Anthropology. 14, 2; David Stoll. 2011. The obligatory Indian. Dialectical Anthropology35: 135-46.
  3. See: Eric Wolf. 1969. Peasant Wars of the Twentieth Century. Harper & Row;Teodor Shanin. 1983. Late Marx and the Russian Road. Monthly Review Press; Kristin Ross. 2015. Communal Luxury. Verso.
  4. Göran Djurfeldt. 1982. “Classical discussions of capital and peasantry: a critique,” in John Harriss (ed). Rural Development. Hutchinson.

59 thoughts on “Nobody is real: A Small Farm Future meets A People’s Green New Deal

  1. Elsewhere Max writes that one has to ask whom one’s friends are and whom are one’s enemies

    Everyone is always asking this question, from those in an indigenous tribe to members of national political parties. It’s also always unfortunate that the answer is often a matter of life and death.

    In a small farm future one’s friends will be those people on surrounding farms who help each other make their work on the farm easier. Enemies will be anyone who makes it harder, no matter what their politics might be.

    Enemies will almost always be “outsiders” who want to meddle for one reason or another. It will be the rare interloper who can actually be welcome in a small farm community, perhaps by introducing a new crop or farming technique. Even in that case they will have their work cut out for them; there is so little room for error in subsistence agriculture that small farmers can be notoriously hidebound.

    Current alignments and disagreements in politics might have an important role in the transition to a small farm future, but once the transition is complete, they will be functionally irrelevant at best and mostly oppressive at worst. If national-scale politics still exist, it will only be a burden to the small farmer, who will mostly just want to be left alone.

    • Even the local mayor of a town of 200_ will never give composer to become functionally irrelevant . You only have to look at the” cancel Karen’s ” on social media . No one has come after XR , GND ,YET give it time , when they will cancel some one for calling a him a her when you cancel their cushy lifestyle and give them a hoe you’re toast .

      “. but once the transition is complete, they will be functionally irrelevant “

  2. An excellent post, as usual. I think your emphasis on the need to extend personhood universally, as a matter of political program, can find support in the universal fraternity of various spiritual traditions. It seems that secular ideologies are much more comfortable with utilitarian language and logic which excludes various people from personhood, because of their inability to contribute to a political program. But if personhood is grounded in essentialism (the imago Dei, etc), it is antecedent to earthly political concerns and the demarcations of mortal man. This is essentially the argument of Cavanaugh’s “The Myth of Religious Violence”; have you encountered the text?

    Also, is “neo-agrarian populism” your go-to pitch for the “label” of the small farm future? What do you think of adopting the name and legacy of other agrarian or eco-leftist historical movements (the kind that Marx denounced as romantic/petite-bourgeois/clerical/etc)? There are many to choose from: Luddism, Narodism, Distributism, Ghandian economics, Guildism/Guild socialism, Georgism…

  3. What comes to mind is some words by Ursula K Le Guin:

    “We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.”

    I think there is a strong tension between:
    1) trying to figure out some kind of right livelihood in the current context of financial power structures and de-facto supersedure states that are giving way to capture by those more interested in rent-seeking than the wellbeing of citizenry (or indeed humanity, but the state concerns itself primarily with citizens)
    2) trying to imagine a better context, one of which we haven’t much (or any) experience, and take steps to bring it about. This is the “sophisticated” populism I think you are aiming for.

    Empires fall. I wrote an essay in highschool to that effect; seat-of-the-pants stuff, but my basic argument was that Rome fell, the Third Reich fell, the British Empire fell, the USSR fell… some more gracefully than others, some faster than others, the criteria for overextension are variable, but overextension inevitably is followed by failure. We don’t often think, these days, of crapitalism as empire (we are taught to think of it as going hand in hand with democracy — a whole other tangent there for another time), but I do think that crapitalism as we know it (rent-seeking, expansion-dependent, extractive, exploitative capitalism) is hopelessly overextended.

    I mention a de-facto supersedure state that is giving way to capture by rent-seekers; I don’t have a good idea of the extent of this, but it seems clear to me that democratically elected national governments are not really running the show these days, and haven’t been for a while (hence Cameron getting the gamble wrong on the Brexit referendum). There is some kind of messiness with a gossip-focused media that treats government officials the same way they treat celebrities and royalty, and a lack of meaningful personal consequences for government officials who lie or screw things up badly, tangled up in this; there is some kind of messiness around politicians being courted by financial powers, and political positions being precursors to unearned wealth; there is some kind of stink around the way social media has been exploited to enhance people’s prejudices for the benefit of advertisers; but I have neither the capacity nor the will to untangle it all. I just know that when you talk about the increasing lack of ability of the state to provide some kind of common welfare, it matches what I see. It’s all circuses and so very little bread.

    I find it all deeply frustrating, because I don’t think modern welfare systems need to be inherently dependent on exploitation and inequality, it’s just that people have chosen to do things that way. It’s frustrating because the COVID-19 emergency funding is drying up, but the stream of people coming to our soup kitchen and food bank is not. (Insert another tangent here about how little it would take, in state-level funding or in the terms of someone like Bezos, Musk or Branson, to go for a “housing first” strategy which would hugely benefit many of our guests. Their concerns around security of tenure and individual autonomy mirror your observations about farming. We simply do not have the resources, at our scale, to solve this on our own, or even do more than a very little in partnership with other organisations.) We pick up the pieces as best we can because we see our guests as real people — the universal fraternity that Sean references — but also because we see serving our guests as serving Christ. However, I do feel we (and charitable organisations generally) are being taken advantage of, played for fools even, by much richer individuals who knowingly and intentionally leave the poorest, and those who will help them, to bear the consequences of overextension. It’s hard not to get a bit us-vs-them about it. Millionaires and billionaires are real people, with real agency, and… I really resent the choices they make.

    This is not a new theme, and I suspect it is not a function of crapitalism per se (though in crapitalism it is very clear), but of the power wielded within a crapitalist system. Other systems have had such power structures too. Leviticus includes agrarian welfare laws around things like gleaning and hospitality to the widow, the orphan and the alien — none of whom would have had any security of tenure. (Leviticus also has laws for how you should treat slaves. Francis Spufford’s article on changing his mind regarding same-sex marriage has a great short summary of why and how Christians got to a point of rejecting slavery: )

    So: everybody is real, or nobody is real. This is a very important idea which I wholeheartedly endorse! But… without enforcement, the idea alone never seems to quite bring about justice or sustainability. The enforcers are the people who have power, and it will always be abused.

    That brings other tensions, because if power differentials will always exist, there is arguably a moral imperative to seize power and to set up structures to mitigate against the worst abuses. But even if this can be done in a relatively ethical and non-violent manner, now you have a government and laws, and where there are laws there are loopholes, and where there are loopholes there are people who will game the system to their own benefit, and… well, here we go again. (Another tangent! personally, I am more concerned about billionaires doing this than about, say, disability benefits fraud — but the media and power entanglement I mentioned earlier means that there are a great number of people who see the two as morally equivalent, and a sufficient number who don’t care about billionaires but can be convinced to hate the poor that it gives a captured state plenty of alleged justification for making benefits increasingly harder to access and doing nothing about the loopholes exploited by billionaires. Sigh.) So, states will never be perfect, but we will always need some kind of governance, and where there is governance there is politics. Where I suspect I disagree with both Marxists and crapitalists is in what the ideal scope and scale of that governance should be. That needs to be answered very thoughtfully in order to avoid creating categories of “less real” humans.

    Accepting other people as real also means accepting that they have agency and choice. We can call people to repentance, to a change of life (metanoia), but we can’t make them respond. We can show people better ways to live, but we can’t make them join us. We aren’t going to reach a consensus, so we may as well get on with doing the best we can. Calling people to repentance and change has a risk, a cost. Showing people a better way to live has risks and costs. I worship a God who was crucified for doing these things: rocking the boat, upsetting the establishment, that sort of thing.

    Christ’s triumph looked a lot like failure to the rest of the world, and ultimately this is where I draw some comfort and courage: if I die while trying to feed others or clothe others or comfort them, if I burn myself out in trying to show others a different, more loving way to live, that is not a failure so much as a fulfilment of my vocation as a Christian. That doesn’t mean I am reckless in my decisions — and indeed you could make a strong argument that, given the faith I profess, I am really rather cowardly, picking my battles, protecting my safety, and conserving my energy wherever I can. The cop-out answer to that accusation is that not everyone is called to martyrdom and I am not Christ. One more nuanced answer is that vocational discernment is complex, the poor will always be with us, and I can’t feed anyone if I’m dead, so a certain amount of enlightened self-interest does seem to be in order. But there are lines I won’t cross. I won’t own or drive a car. I won’t engage in usury, or charge rents on my property (…what property? But I digress; if I rented out, say, a bicycle, I would charge the costs in insurance and wear-and-tear and my labour, but not seek to make profit from it). I won’t grow food without giving some of it to people who can’t (in fact, I roughly tithe my allotment produce.) These commitments are part of my religious practice, not just things I do because I think it would be better if everyone could do them, or things I do because I think they will help. Yes, they are commitments I make in a context of fear and mourning for the disruption and destruction I believe is ahead; but they are also commitments I make in a posture of hope and gladness, of gratitude for what I do have and an eagerness to share good news (that all are beloved children of God) with others. On a good day, that hope keeps me going. On a bad day I can hardly find it, but I keep going because I remember the good days. All of this takes place in community, not only a community of Christians but a community of people who think the work of feeding others (physically, spiritually, metaphorically) is worthwhile work.

    That’s all very personal, and it’s not my intention to proselytise here (I don’t think it works very well, or I would spend my time differently). But I wonder if movements like XR offer, at least for a time, a sense of hope, a sense of agency and being able to “fix” things. I wonder if HS2 as a symbolic symptom of our malaise (though it will also cause many problems, positive feedback systems suck sometimes, sigh) is just large enough for people to feel courageous and just small enough to feel surmountable (compared to the vast catastrophe of climate disruption we face), and whether that’s a good thing that will draw people together and give them durable hope, or something that will leave people burned out and jaded. This is where I think art (see the Le Guin quote I started with) and spirituality (in my case Christianity, but we don’t have a monopoly on hope) are so important, both in giving space for lament and in articulating a better future and the steps to get there.

    • “state-level funding or in the terms of someone like Bezos, Musk or Branson, to go for a “housing first” strategy which would hugely benefit many of our guests ”
      Here in the US this is happening in a way , a company called Black rock is buying up houses at up to 50% over asking price to turn them into rentals , Good or bad thing ? Well we shall find out , I doubt they will ask for less rent to provide a roof over your head , more likely they will drive rents higher .

      • Yeah, that’s… not a housing first approach to addressing homelessness.

        A housing first approach to addressing homelessness means *giving* people who are currently homeless safe, suitable and secure housing.

  4. To start with, aren’t all people real ? Am I any less authentic if I dress in a suit and tie and work in a high rise cube farm ? If my skin color is not pasty faced vegan white and I struggle to feed my kids ? This sounds like an us vs them thing.

    Socialism / Marxism are great ideas but really hard to implement when dealing with people. If your critics are not working and running a small farm, I’d take their comments with a grain of salt. Most of the small farmers around here are well to the left of center. Even the ones that are 70+ years old.

    There is a middle aged cohort that is struggling to survive in the vertically integrated farm economy. Paradoxically they lean to the right and support the faux populism of Trump.

    Looking back 100 years for ideas that are relevant to today’s problems does not seem very productive. Capitalism won that war and caused us a bunch of problems (unintended or not). More of the system that caused the problems is not the way forward. Ideas that failed on their own in the last century probably are not good solutions either. Remember ya gotta deal with real people.

    I came across a blog over at called My Solitary Hearth. A recent post was about The Problem With Philosophy. It made a lot of sense to me.

  5. The closing sentence from Chris: “Quite how such alignments and non-alignments play out in future politics is going to have a huge impact on future generations’ experience of the world.”

    How they will play out, and how long the transitions will take, are obviously big unknowns. The transition period(s) could — and probably will, in my view — involve multiple generations, beyond a single lifetime. There are many possible paths to a small farm future, and I’m not optimistic that a short, direct path will be “chosen.”

    Considering the largely unaffordable prices for farm land, and the expected increases in migration to rural areas, the landless will be a major segment of the population, perhaps a significant majority for some time. Ripe conditions for oppression, or a political movement.

    • “and the expected increases in migration to rural areas, ”
      And yet some greens want fewer people living in rural areas to cut down on the greenhouse effect / travel .

  6. Thanks Chris.

    I’m going to second what Steve L said.

    Also Greg Reynolds:
    ”If your critics are not working and running a small farm, I’d take their comments with a grain of salt.”

    At some meta-level, I’m pleased that you are doing the work of sorting out the possibilities for the future, and I agree with probably the majority of your conclusions. Still, I am deeply pessimistic.
    I live in a small urban oasis surrounded by productive farm land. Anyone who lives here and has a bicycle and a spare hour can go look at real live agriculture happening. And almost nobody here can identify a handful of wheat, even though this is the ‘Wheat State’ and grain imagery is very popular as advertising.

    All these people I’m referring to are nice, and mean well, they just don’t seem to be interested in where their material living comes from, and this works out because they don’t need to.

    I will exempt any small farmers from this critique (thus not exempting myself), but as you know, small farmers are a tiny minority in the US. Nearly everyone here makes their living by perpetuating some kind of fantasy. This bodes very badly for the time when fantasy becomes incapable of materializing food and shelter.

    Fortunately, there remain a few people who know how to operate a wheelbarrow, and might do that for a few hours if we make it sound fun.

    On another (hopefully less hopeless) note; I agree with you about the problems with the notion of indigeneity, and I think you present your arguments well .

    In my country, the indigenous populations were all treated to genocide, and I understand their anger, and I don’t believe that anything constructive will be done in response. But from my point of view, the most important feature of the indigenous societies that were on this continent before European conquest, is their value systems. It is true, as you say “indigenous people figured out renewable ways of living from local land and resources”. It is also true that they made unsustainable empires and slave societies. There was quite the gamut. For instance, we could certainly learn from the Inca military empire where there was no poverty.

    But that isn’t my point. What I’m driving at here is that the problem with Western Civ in the 21st century has much less to do with the particulars of how we grow and transport our sustenance than it does with our core values. If we could somehow (on a large scale) come to truly believe that the whole world is alive, and all of its individuals have as much right to their lives – if we actually cared about anything beyond our proximate gratification, then the world we all live in would be much better.

    And we’d settle down to finding a good way to make our living amongst all those others…


  7. Thanks for these comments.

    Much to agree with in Joe’s remarks. For me where they’re headed is kinship-based small farm societies within larger structures of cosmological political power – but I’ll say more about that probably in my next couple of posts.

    Thanks Sean for those interesting observations. Coming out of a mainstream secular left tradition, I’m feeling my way cautiously into the realm of the spiritual and the populist. Of course, there’s a lot of particularistic them/us articulation within locally grounded religious traditions, and also in the great universalist religions, but in the latter case I think you’re right that there tends to be a commitment to a pre-existing universal personhood, and this is probably a more promising basis on which to build the new traditions and practices we need than the particularisms of supposedly universalist secular political ideologies. Regarding appropriate labels for the new tradition, all of the movements you mention are informative and worthy of rescuing from the derision of mainstream capitalist and leftist thought. It’s interesting that they all arose in quite particular circumstances which can’t easily be universalized, though they have much in common. I don’t think I can fully sign up to any of them as a definitive new creed, so for now at least I’m inclined to stick with ‘neo-agrarian populism’. But distributism interests me as the one most connected with the politics of ‘the west’ – I mentioned it only in passing in my book, but it’s interesting that the book has been picked up on by people thinking within that tradition who previously I’d only been dimly aware of, and I appreciate that. I had a brief discussion with the literary notable DJ Taylor a few years back about distributism in the UK in relation to Wendell Berry’s thinking. He described it as ‘reactionary’ … and I must admit there are aspects of Chesterbelloc that trouble me! … but this is something I definitely want to ponder further.

    Rich set of reflections from Kathryn with much to ponder and admire – thank you! Certainly agree on the connections between capitalism & empire. The insidiousness of capitalism is the way that it reconfigures economic production from within in ways that often seem locally desirable, rather than more obviously imposing its rule from without – although maybe empires always do that in some degree. I agree with you on your more circus than bread point, and on your fears about whether people’s local care work turns them into useful idiots for the status quo. The punt in my book is that the truth will out at some point about the lack of bread, the local care work then becomes the basis of meaningful politics, and the articulations between that politics and the useless idiots at the centre get reconfigured in critical ways that I’ll discuss soon. Meanwhile, putting local work into contexts of care, duty, limits and faith as you do seem to me absolutely the right way to go.

    To Greg’s comment, indeed everybody is real. Though actually I prefer to say that nobody is real, or no political community is real, so we have to self-consciously construct them. In doing so, I do think it’s worth looking at the past – but particularly in our present moment at how small farm societies organized their practical local interactions, not so much their larger political/spiritual understandings. It’s this latter obsession on the left that I think draws people like Heffron & Heron (and sometimes me) into overstressing the salience of, say, class conflicts in 19th century Russia for constructing viable political communities in, say, 21st century England.

    To Steve’s point, indeed much depends on turning those ripe conditions into political movements of the landless. As I suggest above, if they’re to be successful I think such movements will be more populist than Marxist.

    Finally, Eric says “If we could somehow (on a large scale) come to truly believe that the whole world is alive, and all of its individuals have as much right to their lives – if we actually cared about anything beyond our proximate gratification, then the world we all live in would be much better” which again riffs on the underlying theme here of spiritual sufficiency versus the kind of secular aggrandizement that Heffron and Heron articulate against my position. I’ll simply say ‘amen’ to Eric’s comment.

    • I’d be very interested in seeing a blog post from yourself about how you relate to, or what key lessons you draw from, some of the different eco-radicals movements I mentioned. I agree that many of them are particular to their historical/regional context, but I’m very fond of the words “Luddite” and “Distributist”. While the first is particular to England’s industrial revolution, the English case is instructive for its primacy (Marx is obviously dismissive of the Luddites, but applies that title to a similar incidents across Europe in the tech section of Vol. 1). I like the word Luddite as a via media between primitivism and technocracy.

      I’m attached to the Distributist label in large part because I believe it describes a social principle (the ideal of widespread ownership) commanded by God through the Vicars of Christ. But I think it could have a lot of appeal to a broad coalition: not so particular to England, its founding thinkers believed it was a universal alternative to the path of industrial centralization under capitalism or socialism. As a school of thought, it boasts Peter Maurin, Schumacher, and Wendell Berry. And it anticipated the central themes of the degrowth community (restoring the commons, balancing a decentralized state and market, returning to the land, protecting the dignity of work, etc) by a good century.

      • Thanks Sean. Yes perhaps I could say something about this a few blog posts down the line. I agree with you about the Luddites and would certainly like to add my weight to the rehabilitation of the term from the derision of posterity. Approaching new technology from a perspective of social justice and earth systems integrity is now critical.

        Likewise with distributism. I need to read up around it some more, but I think I’m broadly on the same page with you about it as an alternative to strongly progressivist-modernist doctrines whose time has come around again. Also agree that it could appeal to wide coalitions. On that note, I’d be interested in your thoughts on how it seems to have remained strongly associated with Catholicism specifically, while its influence has perhaps spread more widely under other names?

        • The time to reclaim the Luddite legacy is certainly ripe. Even on the Marxist Left, I noticed Gavin Mueller’s “Breaking Things At Work” is trying to re-read the “old” Marx into doing so.

          As for distributism remaining mostly in Catholic circles, I think this is the case because Catholic philosophy/theology (and really all of pre-modern Christianity) makes a synthesis of two principles that have been sharply divorced in the modern world: the naturalness of hierarchy (the primary tendency of the Right, which Catholics would speak of in terms of “natural law”) and the liberation of the oppressed (the primary tendency of the Left, which we would describe as “the preferential option for the poor”).

          Historically, the radical Left has always struggled to find a place for just hierarchies or well-ordered power structures. For Marxists, the Proletarian State is a necessary evil transitioning towards the abolition of hierarchy, and Anarchism has been the home of skeptics of this claim who want more immediate leveling. There is little room in between for advocates of a permanent, but subsidiary/decentralized, government (I note that you yourself made a case for a “populism” which escapes this dichotomy in the “Dispossession” chapter), and the same goes for the hierarchical structures of religion and family (as you note w/ apprehension, there is a tendency towards various forms of patriarchy in traditional agrarian lifestyles). This dynamic has made even the pro-peasant Left very unpopular to actual peasants: the failure of the anti-clerical, anarchist, gender-egalitarian Narodniks in their “going-to-the-people” is typical of other attempts to radicalize the peasantry. Distributists have generally been comfortable with, if not strong advocates for, the Catholic Church, “The Family” (and the traditional gender roles and sexual morality that this implies), and a non-totalizing government of some kind.

          On the other hand, the distributists themselves should receive no small blame. While the original ‘Distribustist League’ was extremely radical, clear-sighted, and active in organizing, they were doomed by their milieu. Few wanted to hear critiques of technological progress in the age of the gasoline engine and the Model T. Then, later distributists fell into various traps. In postwar America, distributists took on a conservative (in the sense of fearing revolution/radical reform) and libertarian (in the US “don’t tread on me” sense) tone in which desired distributism as a merely personal lifestyle choice which they hoped would transform society. They are happy to advocate widespread property ownership as ideal, but naively uninterested in the political organizing necessary to accomplish this goal. They lost the holy zeal for liberation that impelled their predecessors. At the same time, this circle of college-educated, upper-middle-class Catholic intellectuals was integrated into bourgeois society, and have re-imagined distributism without the back-to-the-land element, as if all the capitalist world could gently transition into Mondragon cooperatives. There was, of course, always a radical underbelly, but they were very niche and are only now gaining greater popularity with the recent resurgence of Catholic environmentalism/Papal luddism.

          But I’ll note in conclusion to these ramblings that the most prescient and popular distributists or quasi-distributists (such as Berry) have all managed to maintain the synthesis of hierarchy and liberation, which I think is simultaneously why distributism is such a hard pitch to those on the Left and the Right AND why it’s such a promising alternative (especially for eco-leftists who are reconsidering the constraints/limits imposed by nature/ecology/Creation).

          • Fascinating response, Sean – thank you. I will ponder this and hope to pick it up again shortly. Talking to you about it soon enough anyway, I guess!

    • Thank you for the link. Very pretty little market garden. But like Singing Frogs Farm and others, it looks like almost 100% of the nutrients and soil amendments are imported. Plus, soil that has been in fallow grass for years is going to give them a great start, but fertility may not be sustained without even more imported compost and wood chips than they are using now.

      I’m glad that there is a niche market sufficient to allow these kinds of farms to exist, but they are not a scaleable model for a small farm future. If they had enough land to produce all of their nitrogen and carbon and recycled all their excreta, they would have the basis of a solid subsistence farm.

      But these market gardeners are certainly well along their learning curve after only a year or two, so good on them. They are doing the kinds of things that will prepare them well for what’s coming.

      • As a minimum extra acreage requirement for providing sufficient fertility for such a one-third acre market garden, Joe, what would you estimate? I believe Simon Fairlie and others have reckoned on the same amount of land again, maybe even throwing in the humanure too (And why not? What happens on the farm, stays on the farm, right?). But yes, it looks a wonderfully productive place on the edge of a pretty and probably fairly affluent French village – ooh la la!

        • Without humanure I think the amount of land is closer to 3X to maintain fertility. There are issues with perennial weeds and winter annuals in long rotations.

          With a little selection rye and vetch can be planted after vegetables are harvested. They may not come up in the fall but they do germinate, producing mature seeds the following year. Oats and peas are an all season soil building cover crop. I think that carefully working with both can control weeds and build soil.

          Loss of trace minerals are still an issue. A farm-year worth of humanure is nothing compared to a couple acres of cover crops. The problem with large scale nutrient cycling is that all kinds of toxic stuff goes down the drain along with the good parts.

          Adding off farm compost, either yard waste or municipal organics recycling (both typically full of plastic) or off farm composted chicken manure bring nutrients (calcium!) to the farm but they are expensive and time consuming to apply.

          Simply building the organic matter content of the soil with legumes and grasses seems to keep the soil productive.

          • Thanks, Greg.
            Slight aside – for anyone wishing to sow a population of heritage wheat, is there a recommended minimum, i.e. at least 6 varieties? I was reading about the Welsh Torth y Tir peasant bakery, whose website claims they have around 100 different varieties sown all together, with approximately 5 per cent ‘crossing’ annually. Any thoughts, anyone?

  8. Interesting post, Chris. I heard a definition of interesting recently as ‘that which increases our appetite for the future’, which struck a chord: I look forward to reading your work and it somehow helps to keep me focussed on my garden of garnish, too.
    Although the locals here (pop. 600 approx.) occasionally jest that our village is basically composed of just two families, that’s not the whole story. A glance to the fertile fringes reveals that actually there are people living here from elsewhere in Europe and even further afield (some place called America?). Home is not such a backward-looking cul-de-sac after all! So far no one has arrived destitute – i.e. everyone had enough money to move in – although some have left urban areas, and so-called decent jobs, to ‘look to the land’ so to speak. In conversation with them, the undercurrent of ‘It’s all gonna collapse! Somehow! Don’t ask me how!’ is these days palpable, hence they have come to start working the garden part-time and, if absolutely necessary, turbo-charge it. So far, so run of the mill no doubt.
    But many people are ‘born and bred’ here, which I’ve often thought must gift their lives a rare, deep emotional resonance at times. Take them to the neighbouring village, they say, and they’ll get homesick. This can also hamstring. And many long-standing members of this community have either worked abroad themselves or have family members who do, hence pointing a finger at newcomers when you haven’t got a leg to stand on will appear most unconvincing. We’re all in the same vessel is, I think, generally acknowledged. I might have a different story if my skin had been a darker colour than its current ‘common-or-garden peasant white’, however.

  9. If they only wanted to provision themselves and they were scrupulous about recycling all nutrients, including exceta, they could go a long way toward feeding themselves with what they have, depending on the climate (I don’t know their latitude/growing season). I’m used to the tropics, with a year-around growing season, in which a third of an acre is a huge garden and can have several crop cycles per year. They would obviously have to grow completely different crops than they do for the market, including lots of carbs and protein. Maybe potatoes, corn and beans? Squash are a good carb, but they take huge amounts of space.

    But they still need extra carbon for composting humanure, mulching, and fuel, so a woodlot of nitrogen fixing trees would be helpful and they would definitely need a lot more land if they were to eat meat, dairy or eggs. Perhaps they could mix some pasture with the woodlot as ally-pasture. If they don’t have to rely on rain for watering (another important issue), they can do with a lot less mulch. Its hard to get enough fat without animals, although nuts can help a lot. Chris is much more of an expert on temperate farming than I am, so maybe he will chime in on the required-land question.

    Their garden is so pretty, but I just have a hard time with the concept of importing huge amounts of compost for nutrients and exporting produce. It’s better than urban hydroponic farming with LED lights, but still …

    I am curious about the effect of their initial tilling on the health of the (fruit?) trees. I just don’t know how much their roots were damaged from being near the surface in the tilled area. They still seem to have plenty of foliage in shots of the garden when it is in full production, so maybe the trees are just fine. I would just feel skittish about tilling well inside the drip edge of fruit trees in my orchard. Maybe it’s not a big deal. I’ll have to research it.

    I like a mix of orchard and pasture. I pasture sheep, chickens (and one horse) in my orchard as part of the paddock rotation. I have to protect about half the tree trunks from the sheep depending on the variety of tree. Sheep will leave citrus alone but they will kill mac nuts, loquats, young avocados and guavas by stripping the bark off the tree. Goats are worse, but we don’t have any. Everything loves to eat banana foliage, but they don’t seem to eat enough to kill the plants or affect fruiting too much.

      • Thanks for your very comprehensive reply – much appreciated. I’ve considered community composting here, since they started trucking ‘green waste’ away a year or so ago (what a waste!). But there are around 200 bins out there in the village, full to bursting every fortnight – that’d be a job in itself. That is where the donkey is supposed to come in, but teaching an old donkey new tricks is going to be harder than I imagined. Ah well, we all have out crosses to bear. Onward!
        PS Whenever I’ve tilled beyond the dripline it doesn’t appear to do the tree any favours, and digging a pond too close to one apple tree meant the apple tree to years to recover.

        • I wonder if you could get the people who truck away the green waste to truck it not quite so far. A hundred wheelie bins a week with a suitable cargo bike wouldn’t be impossible, but it would still be a lot.

          • The company is impossible to deal with, and unfortunately I think the practice encourages people to see compost as waste to dispose of. On the bright side, just a few elderly neighbours, who’ve caught on to the fact that I’ll take garden waste away, now haul me in and to be honest it’s plenty helpful, almost a win-win.

    • Thanks, interesting discussion. Nothing to chime in on right now, but perhaps we’ll come back to this. Certainly agree with Joe on the fertility importation front – ‘it’s good, but not good enough’. TBH I’m pretty indulgent to anyone who’s producing food commercially and trying to stay in business, provided they don’t over-egg the sustainability claims.

    • Carol Deppe in The Resilient Gardener recommends five crops: potatoes, corn, beans, squash (winter and summer), and (duck) eggs. I think she’s a little further south than we are in the UK, but not that much further. If I were aiming for self-sufficiency in calories, I might add peas and beetroot to that, since corn and beans can be pretty marginal here in cool wet years (and some beans don’t set fruit at all until the days get a little shorter again). Peas can cope with cool and wet weather, so will do better in years when beans are a wash. But the beetroot is really no substitute for the corn, in terms of either storage or carbon stuff for composting. Maybe sunflowers and/or hazelnuts would help. Sunflowers are easier to keep the squirrels off, but hazelnuts don’t need to be grown from seed every year. Brassicas do well here so swede and turnips would be on the list of roots in areas where big rambly squashes don’t have enough time in the warm to get going. And leeks, celeriac and parsnips can also make some modest calorie contribution, even if nothing like potatoes.

      I wouldn’t like to guess at the required land area, just thought I’d pipe up about potential temperate crops.

      • And with the exception of the hazelnuts, I’ve stuck to annuals here, partly because Deppe does; but a good apple tree can provide quite a punch in terms of calories, and I have at least 10kg more plums and mirabelles still in my refrigerator and freezer that I need to sort out and process, having already started plum wine, umeboshi, and prunes…. The plums are from assorted urban street trees, mostly in children’s play areas. If we don’t pick them, they fall off the trees and attract rats and wasps, so in a spirit of public service… 🙂

        Anyway, yes, I think some perennial crops also make sense in a temperate climate.

        • Last time I dug out Jerusalem artichokes I got 33kg from 1.5m2, early March. They are one of those gifts that keep on giving, so we give loads away.

          • Good shout. Mine only went in this year and aren’t really established yet. (And it’s a smaller patch than that, but I might well move it to a larger bed, or just add a larger bed, in due course.)

      • Carol Deppe is a gem.

        We sold 5350 pounds (~2400 kg) of winter squash off of about 1/2 acre (~1/4 hectare) last year. Squash plants are big but productive. and they can be dried for long term storage.

        Seeds can be selected to be adapted to various climates. A tough growing year is usually good for selection.

        • Depends just how tough it is; I’ll find out this afternoon if any of my allotment beans have survived the flooding at the weekend. (They looked like they were pulling through
          after the last lot, a bit yellow but probably OK, while some neighbouring plots lost their entire crop. But it’s quite possible the additional rain this weekend has done them in.)

          With climate catastrophe upon us I fully expect to have years where my “hardy” perennials are damaged or killed, years where there is no rain to speak of, years where there isn’t much in the way of warm temperatures.l over the summer. I think there must come a point where a diversity of crops (and varieties) makes more sense than attempting to have one landrace variety that can withstand a very wide range of conditions.

          I still have the back garden beans though. They had a late start this year but it looks like from next week we’ll be eating a lot of them. And I do have other crops, too. I guess I should sow some autumn peas now, if we do have a wet autumn they’ll love it.

          • True, you need survivors to produce seed. Catastrophe may not be good… Beans can survive 2 days of being submerged. It is a long to to hold their breath, not all of them make it. The saturated soil is also a problem with disease. Good luck with them.

  10. You’ve written a swathe of thought-provoking posts recently Chris, and I regret not having the time at the moment to get involved in much of the discussion. This one’s just as interesting, and hopefully I’ll be able to get this comment out before duty calls!

    I read Max’s book recently, and like you I found much of value in it. I’m in broad sympathy with many parts of what you say above, but also feel slightly out of joint with others elements. As ever I’ll focus on the latter, and in particular on indigineity. It is a word, as you recognise, that demands careful treatment. But my own encounters with it ave taken me down slightly different avenues to yours, perhaps more aligned with Max’s. In particular, I disagree with the utility of defining indigineity as ‘more something that people do or create, make or remake, drawing on various pre-existing resources, than something that certain people simply and authentically ‘are’ or ‘have’’, and therefore something that anyone can in theory create.

    To be fair, I agree that indigineity is not something people simply authentically are. But the colonial genesis of the term as currently used seems crucial to me. You acknowledge this as history: indigenous people as those whose rights were historically extinguished, or whose forebears practiced a different form of ‘livelihood-making’, before ‘the nexus of colonization, globalization, fossil energy use and capitalist development’.

    But I don’t see much recognition that indigenous people are continually created in the present by ongoing discrimination that is colonial in form. Indeed, you seem more concerned by the potential for ‘manufacturing conflicted and novel performative identities around such notions of ‘indigeneity’’, as if indigeneity was some kind of lifestyle choice and not something that emerges within existing power relations in settler-colonial states (The Red Deal by the Red Nation has been helpful to me in thinking about this).

    That’s not to say I agree with those you criticise. I’ve not read the Gelderloos piece, but from what you say it sounds at best unhelpful and at worst wilfully ignorant. But I do think that indigineity as a nexus of ways of speaking and acting in the world today needs to remain very much part of the struggle to make a better world in the colonial periphery, where it is actively used by those seeking, for example, to oppose Line 3 in Minnesota. I doubt many of those who are part of that campaign would argue that their opponents weren’t ‘real’ – in fact they are all too real – but invoking indigeneity in that context does help to draw up the opposing lines in a very real modern power struggle.

    Part of the issue here is that the world today falls into two parts, capitalist core and colonial periphery, and that elements of one do not necessarily translate into the other. I think you’re right when you describe the similarities in the world-making activities necessary among both indigenous people and those like us in the core, but that’s not a reason to conceive of us as seeking to create some form of ‘indigineity’ in the core, especially as it opens the door to the kind of nationalism you convincingly weigh in against.

    There is no convincing sense in which indigeneity can be used in Britain, precisely because people here are not oppressed by colonial forms of power and have not been historically – in fact the lower classes in the UK, for all their poverty now or in the past, have if anything ‘benefited’ from colonial relations with other parts of the world. Locating an ‘indigenous’ population further back in Britain’s past is likewise historically non-sensical, at least if you accept that indigeneity as a category and a concept that belongs entirely to colonial history, as I’m suggesting it should.

    This does leave open the question of how to characterise the world-making project and its struggles here in the core, and this is something that perhaps Max’s book, and many others, have less to say about. You’re own small farm future project has been of great interest to me over the years precisely because it speaks to the agrarian situation in the global core without invoking tired tropes of nationhood or the rural ‘folk’. XR remains a very encouraging and influential movement, which is working through some of these issues in its own way, not always entirely successfully, but always in a way that provokes thought and soul-searching, and I think moves people onwards in the right direction.

    The answers, as we all know, are not easy, but I really don’t think the invocation of a more capacious form of ‘indigeneity’ is the right way to go. It confuses the intellectual lines of what you rightly recognise to be a global movement, obscuring the demarcation of contemporary power relations and, perhaps more importantly, it talks over those invoking their own indigeneity in settler-colonial states who should be treated as allies and co-creators in this project.

    • The word “indigenous” is also used in biology to describe a species that is “originating or occurring naturally in a particular place; native”. Of course, humans are one species, so the only way to use the word in the scientific sense would be to say that homo sapiens is indigenous to Earth. Thus, to even use the word to describe people as original inhabitants of a specific location is to create a new ‘species’ of people, something that, as you note, colonizers often do to justify their ‘right’ to lord it over another group of people

      I believe that people are genetically so much the same that it makes no sense to describe people by “what they are”, but, if necessary, by “what they do” (I agree with Chris). What people do differently can still result in power struggles and injustice, but it’s a categorization that can be useful and avoids the “authentically are” trap.

      However, I live in a place where the people descended from the people living here prior to European contact often proudly claim to be “native” Hawaiians. They rarely use the term “indigenous” but I think they mean the same thing. This creates a situation where the terms “native” and “indigenous” can be meaningfully used to describe ancestral status and pride by one group of people (the ‘natives’), but when used by another group (the newcomers, colonizers) it is meaningless at best and racist at worst. It’s similar to the uses of “Black pride” and “white pride”, one being perfectly acceptable and the other abhorrent.

      To me it feels strange that one’s ancestors can bequeath the right to use some words and not others. It’s irrational and a slippery slope into racist thinking, but that’s the way it is and I’m used to it by now. I used to think it was OK to use a word like “indigenous” or “native” if it was only used appreciatively. I now I think it is better to never use those words at all, since at their root they make no sense, but my attitude is now hopelessly out of fashion.

      • ‘I believe that people are genetically so much the same that it makes no sense to describe people by “what they are”, but, if necessary, by “what they do” (I agree with Chris). What people do differently can still result in power struggles and injustice’.

        I agree, but would add description “by what is done to them”, as I think that’s important in understanding Indigenous people within settler-colonial states, and just as important is the present tense – this does not only concern historical injustice suffered by ancestors but the persistence of that injustice by various mechanisms into the present.

        Clearly ancestry is important to many people in their lives, both Indigenous and otherwise, but it seems secondary to those Indigenous people who write about their current struggles against modern day persecution.

    • Hello Andrew, nice to hear your voice on here again. I hope you’ll find time to comment on a few of my upcoming posts, since they bear further on this issue and on some of the questions we were debating a while back in the light of Heron’s review.

      You suggest that I don’t recognize “that indigenous people are continually created in the present by ongoing discrimination that is colonial in form” and risk “talking over those invoking their own indigeneity”.

      In all honesty, I don’t find those criticisms of my position persuasive but I accept there are some very fine lines to tread, and I appreciate you raising these points constructively and with precision. I cited David Stoll’s article above, and I think it’s worth a read to get a sense of the political complexity of the issues that I’m trying to get at: One thing he explores interestingly in the article is the tendency for certain academic and political narratives among the ‘non-indigenous’ of the Global North and of international NGOs to vaunt ‘those invoking their own indigeneity’ in specific ways, while ignoring or ‘talking over’ indigenous people who *don’t* emphasize their indigeneity as a key political identity or emphasize it differently to the accepted narrative. I think the issues here are profound and require a lot of unpacking.

      I think context and interlocutors are very important in this debate. Who am I implicitly addressing in this blog post? Likewise who is Max writing to? Possibly, you’re right that I under-emphasize ongoing neocolonial discrimination in my writing. I’d defend myself by saying that I pretty much take it as a given that these processes are ongoing and implicitly I’m addressing myself to other people who take it as a given. Perhaps I shouldn’t make that assumption. Then again, as I see it there’s too much writing on the left that seems to think merely naming imperialism, colonialism, capitalism and various kinds of struggles against them is enough to define the parameters of the alternatives. A large part of my aim in this post was to suggest otherwise – and I stand by that.

      In a brief period where I was living in a settler colonial society I saw different factions among local indigenous people invoke their indigeneity in different ways in relation to a political conflict among them. I don’t think I’m entitled to get involved in that conflict and express my opinion about who’s right, but I do think I’m entitled to suggest that in most self-defined human groupings there are complicated micropolitics that usually can’t be effaced simply by pointing to a common overarching identity, even one forged in colonial oppression.

      All this reminds me somewhat of arguments I used to get into with ecomodernists, along the lines that their predilection for golden rice, urbanization and such like meant that, unlike me, they truly cared about the plight of the global poor. People numbering among the global poor were conspicuously absent from these discussions, so I vowed not to get into any more arguments with other rich white guys about who cared the most about poverty. Along somewhat similar lines, I don’t really want to get into generic debates here about how to better acknowledge a decontextualized ‘indigeneity’…

      Couple of points though. First, as I said a post or two ago, while I absolutely understand and support the need to discuss neo/colonialism in settler colonial contexts, I think the dominance of this context in the Anglophone world somewhat biases our perception of how it plays globally, and a bit of Asian or African-weighted de-centering wouldn’t go amiss. This is particularly so given impending migratory flows and political/economic meltdowns that are likely to fundamentally reconfigure ‘nations’, states and local political identities. Second, it strikes me that there’s kind of an original sin in the founding of a nation like the USA which seems all but impossible to absolve – however, people do invoke the language of authenticity around it, and I think it’s problematic. One guy I was reading online recently said that if white USAians such as himself took Black Lives Matter seriously they should be prepared to leave the country as he had done by moving to France. This strikes me as problematic at several levels … so ultimately, yes I do think the language of realness is there and could do with a bit of deconstruction.

      Regarding indigeneity in Britain, I pretty much agree with you. And yet … Discourses of colonialism and its corrosive effects propagate everywhere. Not only in implicitly but obviously racist references to the ‘indigenous’ (=white) people of the country, but also in common narratives of natality and gentrification (‘you’re not from around here, are you?’), and even in crypto-nationalist environmentalism – perhaps, for example, in the reinvention of the Norman yoke by Paul Kingsnorth? It feels like there are yearnings here for indigenous identities – localisms, traditions, Anglo-Saxons vs Normans and so on – which are only exacerbated by the (IMO problematic) implication that only some people are entitled to their histories. That’s why I prefer to say that nobody is real, and everybody has to constantly remake themselves in history. Which is not to say that the history of colonial oppression and genocide is not ‘real’, if you get my drift…?

      Ultimately, perhaps you’re right that a more capacious notion of indigeneity isn’t useful. Learning to be indigenous through livelihood practices does seem to me useful, indeed essential, but perhaps it doesn’t really need to be called ‘indigenous’. I guess I’d agree if you’re arguing that within the existing political economy ‘strategic essentialisms’ around indigeneity in settler colonial societies are politically important and somebody like me is in no position to contest them. As I said in the original post, I don’t think my arguments are incompatible with this. At the same time, I’d give that politics a less prominent role than Max does in relation to the political ecology of the future given the vast human migrations and political disruptions that are upon us.

      Anyway, those are some initial thoughts – perhaps not well thought through. Certainly interested in further comments on this.

      • Thanks very much for the reply Chris, much to think about. To begin with, I clearly need to acknowledge a much wider set of contexts in which an ‘Indigenous’ ethnic identity might be invoked. That complexity is clearly very important, but I don’t think it nullifies the question of recognising some claims as more significant than others – equally I accept that discussing that question in terms of who cares more about indigenous people is a non-starter, and that’s certainly not my intention.

        Thanks for the link to Stoll’s article, which I hadn’t read before. I can’t challenge the knowledge that he brings to bear on his subject, but I think I do disagree with some of his framing and the implications it has, and the following is an attempt to express that.

        To start with, Stoll’s intended audience appears to be other anthropologists, and his ‘Obligatory Indian’ category defines an indigenous person ‘who is expected to prioritize his/ her ethnic identity to prop up the utopian hopes of anthropologists’. I’m not familiar with the disciplinary context here, but I’ll assume the other anthropologists cited in his article did need to be reminded of the claims they were making on ‘Indigenous’ identity. Nevertheless, it’s notable that when Stoll talks of indigenous people invoking Indigeneity in service of their own utopian hopes, he talks rather disparagingly of ‘activist-intellectuals’ and questions the possibility that they might represent anyone but themselves. This strikes me as flippant, to put it mildly, and discounts the kind of work involved in building political agency – I’ll come back to this in a moment.

        I also think it’s worth noting that, whilst Stoll is concerned with explicit claims to ‘Indigeneity’, he clearly recognises indigenous (small i) as an objective category of people in South America, and he writes of them as ‘subordinate populations’ subject to a ‘racial hierarchy’. His discussion, however, doesn’t really factor this context into the phenomena he discusses, which are instead framed as the conscious and often cyclical claim to ‘Indigeneity’ in a variety of political contexts, as if the realm of politics was divorced from the world that it seeks to affect – ‘nobody is real’.

        This reminds me of theoretical discussions around ethnic identity that I was introduced to twenty years ago as a budding archaeologist, which at its worst emphasised such identities as choices that people were free to make for their own self-centred reasons. There was very little acknowledgement of power. Similarly, while I agree with you that ‘everybody has to constantly remake themselves in history’, I think we also need to accept that people start from different places in doing this, different ‘realities’ if you like, so I’m a little reluctant to accept that ‘nobody is real’.

        To return to ‘Indigeneity’, if we all accept the reality of neo-colonial oppression and the ways in which it draws hierarchies along lines that mark out indigenous people to the detriment of non-indigenous, then I’m not sure there’s any problem with choosing to highlight or magnify certain indigenous voices over others, in this case those who claim ‘Indigeneity’ as a way of drawing together a political movement against this oppression. An allegory from our part of the capitalist core might be the cultivation of ‘working class’ consciousness among a materially defined working class in nineteenth-century Britain. The systemic disadvantages suffered by that working class are indisputable, even as we acknowledge that many members of that class never sought to become politically active or even saw their way out through climbing into the capitalist class instead.

        So while the complexity discussed by Stoll is important, I’m more concerned with those indigenous people seeking to distill a political project through Indigeneity that is, I think, largely in tune with what you and others are seeking to do here. The People’s Agreement of Cochabamba, which Max highlights in his book, seems important here – it was a year old when Stoll’s article was published, so perhaps he didn’t have time to consider it. His thoughts would be interesting. You seem to acknowledge the significance of an ‘Indigenous’ political project as a ‘strategic essentialism’, which is fair enough, but I’m honestly not sure that essentialism is the most important thing here – claims to Indigeneity do not necessarily work in this context as appeals to a greater authenticity, but as a right to political self-determination for those so far denied it. Whilst you argue that you ‘give that politics a less prominent role than Max does in relation to the political ecology of the future given the vast human migrations and political disruptions that are upon us’, I would argue that such a politics is important precisely because of those disruptions.

        I do appreciate the dangers of claims made on the basis of ‘realness’, and that the world is a messy and complex place. Equally I think your white US citizen thinking of moving to France has fundamentally misunderstood the claims of the Black Lives Matter movement! Maybe politics always simplifies issues that are otherwise nuanced, but politics also only works through making demands that others might cohere around. To work, such a demand must be rooted in the reality of contemporary power imbalances, even if the demand itself is only one of many others that might be made.

        I agree with you about the dangers of a misplaced ‘realness’ in British politics, and I still lament Kingsnorth’s more recent direction, even if its germ was there in his earlier work, visible with hindsight. In my mind the error of responding to this country’s power imbalances with an ‘Indigenous’ discourse (whether rightwing nationalist or something more left of centre) lies arguably in the absence of actual colonial oppression here, both historically and now. The ‘Indigenous’ demand that has gained some purchase here is not one rooted in the disadvantages of those who lack self-determining power, but in the threats felt by those who already hold some form of power.

        So I don’t think it’s just about labelling, and what you’ve flirted with describing as ‘Indigenous’ in the aims of you own work probably needs to be called something different because it is different. The problem with breaking new ground, as you are, is that the labels that might name it do not yet exist!

      • Thanks for that Andrew. I think we agree on the overall context of a colonialism with real effects in creating and still reproducing differential structural experiences of violence, economic inequality and political silencing. Where we go from there seems to diverge considerably.

        If I understand you rightly, you’re saying that it’s right to magnify and amplify the voices of people who articulate opposition to that colonialism by mobilizing conceptions of their indigeneity. I think this is exactly the trap that Stoll is pointing to. Other people who get defined as indigenous articulate their (oppositional) politics differently, and yet certain activist positionings – including yours I think? – draw on some ether of authenticity and objectivity to promote the former and demote the latter. I don’t see where that authenticity or objectivity comes from.

        Your analogy with labour movement politics is apposite, and I covered the same terrain in my original post in my discussion of Marxism and Leninism. Modern forms of state domination also created differential structural experiences of violence and inequality that collective forms of labour organization contested. But they did it in many different ways – Sean’s comments on distributism above are to the point here. Yet there’s been a strong current of essentially Leninist thought on the left that only some of these forms constitute ‘real’ opposition, with arguably as much attention given to quashing competing forms of worker organization than to the forces of domination themselves. At the root of this is the question of who gets to define what counts as real opposition. Lenin and Stalin on the peasantry? Me and you on different forms of indigenist politics in Stoll’s Guatemalan examples? I think your idea of amplifying the realness of indigeneity is problematic, just as is the idea of the realness of the proletariat, the party or the mass line.

        You argue that claims to indigeneity work as a right to political self-determination for those so far denied it, and I agree that can be the case, but surely if you genuinely recognize a right of other people to political self-determination you cannot yourself determine what kinds of political identity they can choose that are more or less acceptable to you? To me, this really is a case of ‘talking over’.

        The issue of indigenous politics being important precisely because of the disruptions that are upon us is interesting. I agree that as examples of political self-determination within but outwith state jurisdictions that’s probably true. However, inasmuch as they’re articulated around exclusive in/out claims to authenticity, I’d suggest it isn’t – hence my appeal to populism. Steve’s comments about the MST in Brazil are to the point here. It’s an example that’s long been at the back of my mind. I need to find out more about it, because it seems to me a more relevant model to future issues.

        Regarding the UK, I think you’re operating with a more globally dualistic sense of colonialism and self-determination than I’m comfortable with. At some level, pretty much everyone in the UK has more self-determining power than many people in other countries – perhaps especially indigenous people in settler colonial countries. Nevertheless, I think some of the articulations around indigeneity here arise precisely because people do lack self-determining power relatively speaking (and I think relationality is the only relevant context here, ultimately). Denying the reality of their experience is a quick way to amplify the essentialization of the demand. Perhaps the rise of neo-fascism in former Eastern Germany is an example of the problem. This is why I’m drawn to the idea that material livelihood-making is the true ‘reality’. Beyond that, the challenge is to create political worlds of self-determination where people can be as real as they like without denaturing other people’s realities. Which isn’t easy – but I don’t think according differential realities around indigeneity is going to be helpful at all in the emerging world. Quite the contrary.

        There’s another discussion to be had about ‘activist-intellectuals’ where I pretty much align with Stoll, but maybe we can have that another time…

        • Thanks Chris, I must say it would be refreshing to find some clear water between us, as we tend to agree on many things. However in this case something’s not right, and I fear we’re talking past each other somewhere, because you are crediting me with positions that I don’t agree with. This discussion is getting quite long, but it would be interesting to get to the bottom of it.

          There is a zero-sum element in your characterisation of my position that I don’t accept. So, for example, by promoting an oppositional politics articulated around Indigeneity I am ‘demoting’ others ‘who get defined as indigenous [yet] articulate their (oppositional) politics differently’. That’s not my intention, but I see I did write of magnifying some voices over others – I had in mind there Stoll’s reference to indigenous people who would rather shed any reference to indigeneity in their lives and assimilate, to which I paralleled members of the British working class who would rather avoid politics and climb the ladder. The point is not to demote the voice of the latter, but rather to recognise that they are themselves trying to avoid having their own oppositional voice.

          If we move to talk about other forms of oppositional politics that indigenous people might prefer to involve themselves in, then the MST and the Zapatistas would be very good examples, and I like you would want to promote their voices if I could. Incidentally, I can recommend ‘Land and Feedom’ by Leandro Vergara-Camus, which features a great discussion of the aims, methods and progress of these movements. More broadly, I have no problem with a range of oppositional movements to neo-colonial oppression, and wouldn’t seek to decide which was more real even if I was asked to.

          But we’re talking about indigeneity here, and within this broader context my claim would be that opposition framed around Indigeneity has as much right to our support as the MST etc. The connecting theme is opposition to contemporary oppressions through self-determination. That’s a glib statement to which I’m sure we’d both sign up in principle.

          And yet I sense you’re wary of the notion that ‘claims to indigeneity work as a right to political self-determination for those so far denied it’. You hinted you might accept it in some cases – presumably you have Stoll’s caveats in mind to dissuade you in other cases. We can leave Stoll for now, but I would be interested in your thoughts on the People’s Declaration of Cochabamba. Max highlights its unifying possibilities in the creation of a globalised transformational politics, but given its demands around the ratification of the UN’s Declaration on the Rights Of Indigenous Peoples, would you endorse it as such? In my view it’s a good example of where a politics articulated around Indigeneity might work productively.

          More overtly, you suggest that you would not endorse such politics ‘inasmuch as they’re articulated around exclusive in/out claims to authenticity’. In principle I’d be wary of such a politics as well, but in the politics I follow I must admit that I don’t see it (perhaps I suffer from the echo-chamber effect?). Indigenous politics is often framed around specific demands defending land, water and treaty rights. Any exclusion in this politics is aimed squarely at the intrusive hands of corporations and their state backers. You can’t extrapolate from this the ways these communities would respond to climate refugees, but we might both agree that such responses in all communities are more likely to be positive if people feel they have control over their own spaces and resources.

          My original point was that a politics framed around ‘Indigeneity’ in the UK would not work in ways that either of us would consider productive, and that those oppressed by settler-colonial states should instead be supported in promoting an ‘Indigenous’ oppositional politics there. I reiterate that I’m likely to support any other oppositional politics that indigenous people choose to get involved in. I also agree that the MST and Zapatista movements probably offer more by way of inspiration to an oppositional politics here, inasmuch as they are concerned with agrarian self-reliance and the de-commodification of land.

          I must admit I’m not entirely clear on your last point about Indigeneity in the UK, but please only elaborate if you think it would be productive – I’m aware of gone on at length again. As for a future discussion about ‘activist-intellectuals’, I’d be very interested, although I fear it might hit me too close to home!

        • Re-reading this, it sounds a bit more aggressive than I intended – so just to say I appreciate you raising these issues Andrew!

    • Thanks for that Andrew. And by the way, if anyone else is reading this I love it that this blog can host simultaneous discussions about Jerusalem artichoke yields and the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. For now, though, I’m going to stick with latter and the issues that Andrew raises.

      Thanks for the clarification Andrew – so now I think I was misinterpreting your position and there’s less clear water between us than you’d hoped 🙂

      Nevertheless, there may be some differences of emphasis. I could happily sign up to the Declaration of Cochabamba as laid out on pp.10-11 of Max’s book. I’d particularly emphasize the political salience of this one:

      “Assume responsibility for the hundreds of millions of people that will be forced to migrate due to the climate change caused by [rich countries], and eliminate their restrictive immigration policies, offering migrants a decent life with full human rights guarantees in their countries”.

      While I agree with this demand, I have zero confidence in rich countries implementing it. If it happens I don’t think it will arise by processes of indigenous claims-making against extant nation-states. And if it happens, we’re also talking about vast population dislocations and – an issue where I disagree with Max – enormous ecological pressure on cultivable land in the places where agriculture is still possible. So the issues quite likely will not be about, for example, recognizing Lakota rights at Standing Rock, but about recognising the rights of Lakota people and other people who’ve migrated from the Dakotas and other places to, say, Vermont or British Columbia. In such situations, I don’t think governments in Washington DC, Ottawa and suchlike will be able to persist in their present form, but nor do I think they’re likely to be benignly disposed towards civil society. Again, I take a different line to Max as to why such large swaths of the globe remain under indigenous control and have retained great biodiversity, but I completely endorse the fights of indigenous peoples in these areas to retain control of land and water rights in the face of the corporate encroachment that both he and you emphasize. I don’t, however, think these fights necessarily provide a good model for the more demographically significant fights to come, which will more likely be about how people of diverse recent migratory origin will equitably divide up farmland and water resources between them in their new domiciles and learn to produce adequate household livelihoods on very restricted amounts of land and water.

      Aside from maybe this, I think our positions are probably quite close so I won’t try to work over too many other points. Except in relation to the British working class example, and by extension other examples of subaltern political identity articulation, where I disagree with what seems to me an implied dualism – either militant industrial/landless proletarian labour activism or collusion with the existing power structure; either militant political assertion of indigenous alterity, or collusion with the existing power structure. There were and are many other possibilities, and – as per my arguments above – I’m unpersuaded by basically Leninist arguments that insist on that essential duality.

      • Thanks Chris, and by the way, we happen to be having this discussion on the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples!

        I’ll settle for broad agreement. Your concerns here about the tumultuous effects of climate-related migrations include a pessimistic evaluation of state action and the likelihood that civil society might affect it that, I must admit, seems all too plausible. I would hope that the self-governing campaigns of Indigenous politics would take their place beside other movements in providing some experience and wisdom to cope with novel and developing demands.

        Regarding the British working class, I’m not attached to that dualism either, but I would emphasise oppositional politics. In the example I gave earlier I was thinking of E P Thompson’s distinction between the nineteenth-century working class broadly defined and working class consciousness. His book demonstrates that such consciousness could take many forms. I’m sure that pretty much closes up the last of the clear water!

        Our thing this discussion has cemented for me is the difficulty of setting oppositional agrarian politics in the capitalist core in the context of any kind of coherent historical precursor, in contrast to the way that Indigenous politics can clearly draw on a great deal of oppositional ‘heritage’ (not sure that’s the right word but trying to stay clear of implying greater authenticity here, merely distinct histories/traumas). In Britain the so-called ‘agrarian question’ forms a niche part of the historiography, but takes in various rather disconnected elements, such as the Chartist Land Plan, or the visions of Thomas Spence. Clearly looking to other parts of the world for inspiration in the here and now is a crucial part of the remedy, but I’m struck by the lack itself, and its likely influence in provoking discussions like this.

        Anyway, I’ll stop now and await the next instalment. Or possibly read up on Jerusalem artichokes…

        • I’d happily post you some, Andrew. We started with five, gifted to us… pretty soon they were springing up all over the place. Fortunately, donkeys love them too, shoots, leaves especially.

        • Interesting point. People here often talk about ‘the enclosure of the commons’ in these terms, but it seems to me that the more you look at enclosure – in England anyway – the harder it gets to frame an oppositional agrarian politics through it. Possibly enclosure/crofting in Scotland is a more plausible example.

          On the other hand, arguably there are more subtle agrarian traditions here of resistance to state or lordly power (or of playing the two off), which might be to the point in the future. I’m not quite sure of your meaning regarding the ‘agrarian question’ in Britain. We’re not talking Kautsky, right? Tawney? Would be interesting to hear more.

          I’m also interested in whether we’re talking about specifically oppositional *agrarian* politics or oppositional politics more generally. Is the precursor among indigenous peoples decisively agrarian, or more decisively political? And if we go beyond the settler colonies of the Anglo world, how does this play in other colonial contexts such as mestizo countries of Latin America, or in Africa and Asia – especially in the context of their own ‘indigenous’ (?) land politics around colonialism (Inca, Mexica, Qing etc), kingship and overlordship.

          • A lot of electrons have been excited in this discussion of Indigeneity buy I’m not sure I’m getting the point. Can someone give me a two sentence explanation of why it is important ?

            My grandparents on both sides ( and my mother) were immigrants so I’m not going to qualify as indigenous any time soon. But I also doubt than anyone alive today knows who is buried in the mound up by Hwy 12 or who died (or even fought) in the the battle that took place 1/2 a mile northeast of here a couple hundred years ago.

            Native Americans got screwed. Enslaved people were treated even worse. I get it. But my time machine is busted so I can’t go back and fix colonialism. And the future has not happened yet.

            If things don’t change pretty quickly, people migrating from Guatemala are not going to survive crossing 1000 miles of the newly desert western US to make it to our currently drought stricken part of the country.

            So, not meaning to be a smartass, why is indigeneity important ?

          • Greg, apologies I didn’t reply sooner. I was working on my next post … and on the farm. I pretty much agree with Andrew’s response to your question, and I don’t think I’d want to state your question quite as baldly as you do, but I nevertheless think you have a point, one that was somewhat at issue in my discussion with Andrew, broadly is this a politics that prefigures the future, or is it grounded more in present concerns that are destined to be overtaken by events? To be honest, I suspect the latter, although that’s not a good argument against indigenous politics right now – especially in its opposition to ecologically destructive land grabs. And I think Andrew has a point that there may be wider learnings from it about how to overcome the zombie modernist state.

          • I agree re enclosure. As a historical process in England I think it was very important, but it takes in too much time, too many episodes of different kinds, too many different experiences in different parts of the country, to offer much coherence to an oppositional agrarian politics. In my experience invoking enclosure politically is pretty much limited to a kind of aesthetics of rural loss – a John Clare poem, a landscape painting, the creation of a kind of rural nostalgia – not necessarily very useful.

            I’m trying to read more on the history of nineteenth and twentieth century farming and politics at the moment, and several authors have used the ‘agrarian question’, or sometimes the ‘land question’, to describe the nexus of agrarian livelihoods, developing capitalism and political debates. I guess the term comes from Kautsky originally, but It it’s certainly not intended as a direct response to his work, at least among those I’m reading – more a historiographical label.

            Interesting question about the agrarian nature of oppositional politics. Inasmuch as such politics often concerns control of land and its resources there’s likely to be a default agrarian element of some kind. But do we want to be specific about an explicitly agrarian politics, or
            are we happy to recognise its centrality to politics that is sometimes framed differently? I suppose I’m in the latter camp, but would be interested to know if you think the difference is important. Perhaps your questions about colonial contexts beyond the Anglo settler-colonial world can wait for your post on the MST, which is starting to seem inevitable!

            Greg, I would argue that Indigeneity is important not because of some general sense that historical injustices should be corrected, but because people primarily living in settler-colonial states are using it to define and promote a politics in opposition to ongoing practices of capitalism and colonialism that is aimed at tackling similar problems to those frequently discussed on here. To that extent, the creation of a series of different regionally specific movements of cumulative global scope capable of transforming the world is aided by expressing and promoting solidarity with them. That’s my two sentences worth!

      • Just a quick note to say that I am reading, and learning from the discussion. The quality and breadth of the comments here is part of why I keep coming back.

        Andrew, do try some Jerusalem artichokes, they’re dead easy to grow and a welcome treat after the stored potatoes have finished in late winter/early spring. But do yourself a favour and grow them in a large container (a discarded bathtub or something), they can get out of hand very quickly… sometimes quantity has a quality all its own.

  11. Really rewarding 20-minute listen, this, concerning a small dairy farmer in Hokkaido who started farming aged 57. The thoughts and observations of the farmer and his wife really touch upon what’s wonderful and really quite visceral about working with land and animals.

    From the website:
    Nick Luscombe travels to the coastal wetlands of Eastern Hokkaido in the north of Japan to meet Takashi Shirai, a dairy farmer with a background in feature films, who moved to the area with his garden designer wife Haruki in 2009. We learn about Takashi’s early experiences of farming and also about his vision for a farming future in Japan that works in harmony with his livestock and the local area. We also discover the unique aspects of this part of the country which allow their farm to produce highly regarded mozzarella and ice cream.

    The link:

  12. “The argument typically goes that large-scale migration is a bad thing, especially large-scale migration prompted by climate change and other crises at a time ”
    The USA has received over a million ” refugees ” this year so far while at the same time suffering with extreme temps in the NW, drought in the S W and center North ,cool here in the mid South , crops are terrible just about everywhere , the oat crop has basically failed , grains are poor and just about at the level of U.S consumption ,there is a shortage of bale string , a few farmers round here are making old fashioned hay ricks , many things are in shortage , electrical wire computer chips , certain tyres , electric motors , plumbing supplies and if all things Coke , a Latvian friend says it reminds him of the old Soviet union , prices are exploding , I just canceled one phone contract (land line ) as it went up from $15 a month to $98 a month in one billing month , U.S is not the place to run too , the pessant economy is being born .

  13. More insights and relevance might be found in the peasant and landless movements of the Global South (some still ongoing after four decades), such as the “peasant leagues” (ligas camponesas), the Landless Workers’ Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra, MST), and the Asian Peasant Coalition.

    I was curious about how the indigenous might be part of a successful populist movement, and found that “ethno-populism” has succeeded in Latin America when parties embraced the indigenous without alienating the non-indigenous.

    “This paper argues that the recent electoral success of the MAS and other ethno-populist parties in Latin America is a result of these parties’ ability to combine traditional populist rhetoric and platforms with an inclusive ethnic appeal. The MAS has sought to appeal to the indigenous population, but it has tried to do so without alienating white and mestizo voters. Thus, it has avoided exclusionary rhetoric, recruited non-indigenous as well as indigenous candidates and formed alliances with a variety of indigenous and non-indigenous organizations. At the same time, the MAS has used classical populist strategies, such as denouncing the traditional parties, market-oriented policies, and foreign intervention, to win the support of both indigenous and nonindigenous voters. This strategy have enabled the MAS to stitch together a coalition of indigenous voters, poor people, union activists, the politically disenchanted, and people with leftist, statist, and nationalist views.”
    Raúl L. Madrid

    • Thanks Steve, appreciate the link. As per my comment above, I need to learn more about the MST. I think it’s probably a model with wider implications.

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