Part 1 – Notes For A Left Land Politics in the Global North
The Left has remerged in the UK through working within the party political system rather than against it. We see this with the mass membership movement that has led Jeremy Corbyn to be repeatedly elected as leader of the UK Labour Party. However, I believe there is something in the Left’s strategy that is lacking to convincingly win a General Election and at the same time plug the fundamental gaps in its flagship Green Industrial Revolution policy.
In my opinion this something can be found by looking at the original Industrial Revolution and the ideas that gave rise to the Labour Party. Primary amongst these is the idea of the Labour Party as the party of the working class, the party of those who laboured to deliver the Industrial Revolution, the party organised through trade unions, the party of the miners.
However, the resurgence of The Left does not come from this tradition. The resurgence instead draws its energy from a younger technologically adept generation, many of whom are diaspora of colonised countries. However, as the resurgence has found its feet within the Labour Party it has been allied with this older tradition.
This older tradition is the idea of appealing to an electoral base of industrial labourers. But if this was historically the base, it no longer materially exists beyond a loose ‘working class’ identity politics. In addition, whilst trade unionism does still hold together a significant electoral base, it has largely been relegated to the service industry and is interested in bargaining with power rather than seizing it. Even if it did, the problem is much deeper.
The theory behind trade unions and the working class, identify UK industrial means of production as the primary basis of societal reproduction. Hence, the Green Industrial Revolution as retrofitting the UK at an industrial scale with energy efficient technologies, but ignoring, as was done under colonialism, that this often simply means outsourcing the environmental costs and exploiting minerals elsewhere. But more importantly, not putting the central basis of our reproduction at the heart of theory: water, soil, and living ecosystems.
This is a mistake, because it misses out on land entirely. At best it starts with the idea of the factory worker, the teacher, the miner needing to seize their means of production and forgets that the wealth of the UK was not simply rooted in the labour of its working class. This labour was the processing of raw materials appropriated from various land, whether as people, plants or minerals.
In the face of this, the resurgent Left in this country needs to make a new and for some uncomfortable step. It needs to make an alliance with people who understand the land, because the fundamental basis of any societal reproduction is not its factories, mines or services, but its fields, farms and fisheries.
If the Left does not do this, it leaves the ‘blood and soil’ politics of those with fascist tendencies to exploit peoples inherent valuing of the fields, farms and fisheries, whilst the Left remains alienatingly ‘London’. In the Global South land has been recognised as forming the basis of political struggle, a lesson that the Left needs to learn in the Global North.
This is not simply about nutrition, food sovereignty, personal health, biodiversity, water quality, water availability, waste management, decentralised energy grids, soil health and many other key basis of the reproduction of life in this country. It is also about building regional communities proud of their land, urban-rural economies associated with bioregions, and people not having to be alienated and embarrassed, because their inheritance is being part of the colonial theft of land and the alienated industrial labour of processing it.
Despite the problem’s highlighted here and embedded in the idea of labour in Labour Party, Corbyn’s allotment was a small beginning. Now it is time to ally with the fields, forests and fruitful landscapes, their people and ultimately join in. The first step in ‘where next for the left’ is inviting farmers, farmers unions and fisher-folk to your left-wing event, for you to attend agricultural forums, find out how alliances can be made between the urban younger generation and the aging farmers across the UK increasingly being sold off to petro-agribusiness.
Click here for Part 2
Notes: I am aware of the historical precedents of the levellers, diggers, georgists, agrarian socialims etc. These are not quite what I mean as will become clear in later notes. Also I am not simply highlighting the sickle instead of the hammer.