April 1967 issue of the Socialist Standard
Capitalist production is concerned with the realisation of a profit, not the satisfaction of human needs. No profit — no production, is the criterion, though millions of people are ill clad, ill housed and hungry. This is something we have said many times, and there are plenty of examples to support our claim. But perhaps one of the most outstanding in recent years has been the U.S. Government’s farm policy.
Attempts at ‘support’ for farmers in the States date back almost half a century with the first of the Farm Relief Acts just after the end of the first World War. But the foundations of modern policy were really laid in 1938, when the Agriculture Act was passed by Congress. It was an effort to ‘stabilise’ prices by a Commodity Credit Corporation, and involved loans to farmers at a specified rate. In return, the farmer had to store his grain for a fixed time, releasing it before the expiry of the period only if the market price rose above the ‘support rate’. He could then sell, repay the Corporation loan from the proceeds, and keep the remainder. If, on the other hand, the market price did not rise within the specified period, the grain was surrendered to the Corporation, who could store it or sell it at a loss, under Public Law 480 — a foreign aid measure.
Loans were made only to those farmers who planted within their allotted acreage. This system of ‘allotments’ was designed to restrict production of grain, and there was also a limitation on the range of crops a farmer could grow, to prevent him diverting to another crop and creating a surplus in that as well.
With modifications, this basic scheme has been in operation ever since, and it reflects the essential craziness of capitalist economics, and the inability of the ‘planners’ to make any sense out of it. For stripped of all jargon and verbiage, what does the U.S. Government’s policy amount to, other than the restriction of production during a slump and (as we shall see later) its increase during a boom? Perhaps the best that can be said is that they have tried to tidy up the process a bit. by eliminating some of its piecemeal aspects and pushing financial responsibility more onto the shoulders of the capitalist class as a whole. Memories of the severe depressions of earlier years, with agriculture deeply involved, have probably acted as an added spur to their efforts, and a similar attitude can be detected behind the farm subsidy programmes of other countries.
During the Eisenhower Administration, the policy was developed a stage further with the ‘soil bank’ provisions, enabling the government to lease land from farmers to save for future use. Which is just another way of saying that they were actually paying farmers to take land out of cultivation. At that time, you may remember, there was a gigantic surplus of unsold wheat which the U.S. Government had bought and was unable to release to the market for fear of depressing the price. It was stored, billions of bushels, in warehouses, ships and barges; in fact anywhere out of the way.
And millions of people starved, as usual. Some idea of the madcap state of affairs can be gained from a U.N. Food and Agricultural Organisation report, published at the beginning of October 1959:-
World surplus stocks in agricultural products are estimated to have risen by twelve per cent in the past twelve months, North America holding almost eighty per cent of the total. (Guardian 1.10.59.)And so helpless were the planners in face of such conditions that by early 1965, some 57 million cropland acres had been taken out of cultivation in America. Against this background, the statements of capitalist politicians are noteworthy for their cynicism and hypocrisy. Thus, President Kennedy at the World Food Congress, in Washington on June 4th, 1963: —
We have the ability, we have means, we have the capacity to eliminate hunger from the face of the earth. We need only the will . . . The war against hunger is truly mankind’s war of liberation. For victory in this war will liberate the energies and the talents and the creative abilities of an entire half of mankind.Since then, the world market for wheat and other crops has begun to revive, so that the U.S. stockpile had by the middle of last year been depleted by half, and the crisis had changed to one of underproduction. There was now a rush to bring land back into cultivation, and the upward trend of production was matched by a boost in incomes. Already in the first few months of 1966, farm cash receipts in some areas of the U.S. had risen by as much as twenty per cent. (Financial Times 22.6.66).
It is true that a lot of the produce will be sent abroad on a ‘non-commercial’ basis (as the newspapers so delicately put it) to countries like India, but this only illustrates the strong political factors also involved in the change. The American capitalist class are anxious to maintain their strategic advantages and spheres of influence in a world where they are threatened by yet another competitor in the shape of China. They will obviously consider the cost worthwhile if they can can thereby keep such areas in their pocket. Sympathy for the millions of starving Indians and other Asiatics, is not a very strong factor in their calculations.
All of which merely goes to reinforce our argument that home policies are always at the mercy of world capitalist conditions; this applies just as much to America as to any other country. It shows also the sheer unpredictability of capitalism and the inability of the planners to control it. They never planned for a wheat glut, but they got it nevertheless. Now they have been caught even more unawares by the rapidly mounting demand, and so it goes on . . .