What the discussion on ‘food security’ tells us

Escribe Jorge Altamira

The ‘left’ converts to developmentalism

Tiempo de lectura: 7 minutos

The Fernández's unborn project to declare Vicentin “public utility” and proceed with his expropriation, has led to what tried to be a debate on “food security”. However, a minimum dose of mischief would be enough, to warn that we are before a smokescreen, so that the gaze does not rest on the cost that the nationalization of Vicentin would imply for the state, as proposed by the official project. The expropriation for public interest would imply that the state bears a liability of US$ 1,500 million and the payment of the compensation established by the state appraisers, without counting the hidden debts left by the maneuvers of this employer. The bankruptcy proceeding searching to legalize an employer gutting, and to enable the Family Group to be crowned by an international vulture. It also highlights the functional complicity of public banks with business gutting. The official account that incorporates YPF into a restructuring of agricultural trade, has the disadvantage that YPF itself is objectively a gutted company.

Nothing’s for sure

The issue of food security made its entry into the economic and political literature, as a consequence of the internationalization of food production in the 1970s. Countries with large populations, such as India or Mexico, saw their domestic production collapse in the face of international competition. NAFTA, for example, ended Mexico's self-sufficiency of corn, which went on to import it from the United States. From this crisis a movement was born that claims a return to local production and small production and, beyond this, to the fight against the genetic modification of seeds and the use of pesticides.

The discounted victory of large-scale production ruined vast local populations, sparked massive internal migrations, and greatly increased poverty. Mexico lost corn, but 'won' the 'maquiladoras': the assembly of automobiles, at a bargain price for labor, by German, American or Chinese companies, destined for export to Europe, the United States and Canada. The country that most decisively entered the internationalization of food production was Argentina, under the government of Menem (Duhalde and Kirchner), to the point of recognizing the highest rate of incorporation (90%) of transgenic seed. So fa, no "fan" of food security has been heard to encourage the end of genetic applications and various pesticides for Argentine production. Under the twelve years of Kirchnerism, the advance of chemistry in agriculture did not stop at any time. The official PO has not even made a brief comment on the celebration of China's recent legalization of imports of genetically modified food.

As a top food exporter, Argentina boasts of having high food security. Chávez said the same about Venezuela's energy security, or Perón with reference to wheat, which ended in an acute shortage of bread towards the end of the 1950s. 'Security' in economic matters, regardless of the sector in question, it does not exist, because capitalism is a system of economic anarchy, where what is an exceeding at one moment is missing at the other, going through increasingly severe crises. Argentina also exports motor vehicles and that does not make it a 'safe vehicle', because what it has to import to assemble them represents a much higher value than the export earnings of the finished product. In the agricultural sector, in fact, there is still a surplus between the inputs that it imports and the products that it sells abroad, but this could change in a short time given the growth of prices of the international chemical industry, on the one hand, and the decrease of prices and added value of exports on the other hand.

Several specialists in farming subjects have begun to speak of "excess capacity" in the agro-industrial sector. The Argentine soil loses fertility due to monoculture, lack of field rotation and excessive use of chemical. Looked at, it works as a farming "maquiladora" of the international chemical industry, that metabolizes genetics and pesticides. Attempts to add biodiesel to production reinforce this path, although they have failed due to protectionism in Europe and the United States.

Capitalist ‘insecurity’ has grown with the pandemic and international capitalist bankruptcy. Nobody can get masks if they don't go through China, who dominates the mask or face mask production chain; other countries must import parts of the product or inputs, which is currently almost impossible. On the other hand, all the governments of developed countries have taken measures to prevent their strategic 'champions' from being absorbed by international rivals, especially, now, in the pharmaceutical sector, based on Covid-19 and its aftermath. Capitalism is historically incompatible with any social security. That is why the pension and health systems break down - including the most relevant one, that of Great Britain. In capitalism, to make sure you have to buy insurance from an insurance company, which will surely go bankrupt, as happened with AIG, in 2008, the most important in the world.

The time of a ‘new left’

In this framework, the left has entered on the controversy stating what is obvious: in the country of food security, poverty is growing steadily and even, we add, malnutrition. However, it does not attribute this pauperization to the capitalist decay and the violent crisis that have became increasingly closer between them in the last decades, but, says Gabriel Solano (see Infobae, “La soberanía alimentaria le queda muy grande al Kirchnerismo”), that food is dollarized and wages are paid in Argentine pesos. He probably repeats, unknowingly, the developmentalist’s thesis that sixty years ago began the cycle of the peso devaluation and withholding taxes on agricultural exports. They denounced the ´export model´ because it made what they called “goods-wages” more expensive, that is, food and, as a consequence, wages. It was necessary, they argued, for the industrialization of Argentina, to separate the local wage from the international wage. The attempt at developmentalism, which Peronism later tried to appropriate, ended in a complete failure. Relaunched by Onganía´s government, it sank with the 1969 devaluation and the Cordobazo.

That the left has step back from a pretended Marxism to developmentalism is an unsurmountable historical leap, of course backwards. “This contradiction”, says Solano in Infobae, (“food in dollars and devalued wagesin pesos”), “is the main (main!) source of poverty creation in the country”. It is not even an original proposal but a rehash of Raúl Prebisch, an economist who went through all the developmentalism attempts in Argentina, since Yrigoyen’s overthrow.

If the price system is the “main cause” of poverty, the entire world should swim in abundance, starting from the United States. Three major cereal exporters, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, should be mired in malnutrition. Hunger and malnutrition exist throughout the capitalist world, especially in the United States, where more than 20 million people live off the “food stamp”, a food card. It is obvious that poverty is not the result of a contradiction of trade structures, but of the capital and, above all, of capitalist crises.

To solve this price contradiction, Solano can think of nothing but the nationalization of foreign trade, of the biggest agribusiness, etc. He proposes the expropriation of capital to solve a market anomaly. It is to kill a mosquito with a missile. It is obvious, however, that once the entire export complex is nationalized, the price scissors, determined by the world market, will remain intact. The expropriation of capital and socialism are not intended to nationalize relative prices, but to modify the historical conditions of work by means of planning management by the working class. If high wages hurt industrialization, that will continue to happen in a state system. Solano's thesis, like that of the developmentalists, is that industrialization requires an undervalued workforce and a salary below the international average. That is what the Fernández are doing.

Solano fully confirms it. He says: “It could be conjectured that a different way to achieve the food sovereignty of the people would not be to make food cheaper within the country, but to increase the wages of the entire population so that they could buy them at a dollar price. The objection to this statement is very simple: Argentina cannot pay wages of that level, because it would bankrupt a large part of its industrial complex, which could not survive with such a high variable capital cost. After all, the wage level depends on the distribution of surplus value between capitalists and workers, that is, on the class struggle, but it can never exceed the total value creation in a country”.

The transcript would be signed by any director of the UIA –Argentine Industrial Union– (and the CGT, General Confederation of Labour, bureaucracy). Obviously, “the wage level” does NOT “depend on the distribution of surplus value between workers and capitalists”, but depends on the distribution of the value of production between surplus value, on the one hand, and wages, on the other. As the rate of surplus value in Argentina has not disappeared, but is, on the contrary, very high, wages can still rise a lot without keeping the total value of the product, nor causing bankruptcy for anyone. Solano's approach is the theory of budget cuts.

The argument that a nationalized trade would otherwise distribute agricultural income and extraordinary export income does not benefit the workers but the industrial bourgeoisie, which would keep a part of that income as a consequence of the relative reduction in the price of labor. This is what all governments have done so far, in a hundred years, with control institutions or export tax. Socialism is not identified with export tax policies, IAPI’s, the Grain Board, or a Meat Producers Corporation. It is in particular what Kirchnerism did, reinforced even by another pesification – the ones of the tariffs. At that time, the Workers Party (Partido Obrero) denounced that the pesification of food and tariffs was a subsidy to the national bourgeoisie, which was making the workforce cheaper. Solano now calls for pesification because “the industry (sic) cannot pay higher wages”. The distance between the 2008 Workers' Party and the officialism of PO is, as you can see, growing. In Argentina, not only does the Gross Domestic Product per capita fall, but also the share of workers' income in that product falls. The share of capital that corresponds to the labor force falls and surplus value rises. The participation of the labor force in the GDP in the United States is in a backwards trend. In addition, social misery grows, which is the sum of poverty, job insecurity, habitat conditions and the destruction of the environment. In short, it is the capital and the historical stage of its decline.

Recovering developmentalism in a stage of exceptional crisis in the capitalist economy implies a theoretical and therefore political regression. The democratizing tendency on the left works like a tumor, that is, it is taking over the entire organism. It is showing more clearly the political boundaries that take place in the sphere on the left.

Suscribite a Política Obrera