Once upon a time, simple bands of hunter-gatherers roamed the earth. But then BANG! Agriculture came onto the scene. A Revolution! With it the grain surpluses upon which Empires were built… So the story goes…
We say our human ancestors were hunter-gatherers. Then came the farmers and ploughmen, enabling a surplus upon which new divisions of labour and leisure could depend. The kings, the artists, the scientists. With-it civilization and ultimately some political choice.
The tradition of telling this story has been with us since Europeans encountered indigenous critiques in the Americas, which defined European political and religious culture as one of unhygienic and oppressive suffering.
The response, not at first but conclusively, to this critique was to characterise the peoples that voiced them as uncivilized, as being without politics, as defined by the techniques, they used to feed themselves.
Political dialogue and agreements that had been made became meaningless. The European guests reimagined their indigenous hosts in the Americas as barely human, massacring them when their hosts did not submit to being beasts of burden.
Part of this was defining thousands of cultures, peoples, and whole expanses of history as hunter-gatherers, reducing all this down to a one technique for securing food. It’s not far off calling people Roast Beef, Kraut or Frog and thinking thats science.
So what does it mean to speak of a Landworkers Alliance when living as part of this history and its conceptual traditions? As a nod to what this bitter history became focussed on – land?
As a nod to being defined by technique – landwork? But also a nod to one tradition of resistance by peoples in Europe – workers – against their unhygienic and oppressive masters?
Evidently it is crucial to speak of alliance, acknowledging political form and choice.
How this braided bridge of self-identification goes on to speak to the mythological, political, and personal possibilities that the world currently asks of us, is all to play for:
- The freedom to move (right to roam or grow where you go).
- The freedom to disobey (right to not do what you are told without retribution).
- The freedom to create and transform social relationships (right to dissent or consent to hierarchy).
Freedoms that have defined the rich heritages of human ancestry until the bitter reprisals of Europeans for having been put to shame by the rest of the world for being so unhygienic and oppressive.
A reprisal that led to the current convergence of the three elementary forms of domination:
- Control of violence (state sovereignty)
- Control of information (corporate and state bureaucracy)
- Personal charisma (manifested, for example, in electoral politics).
To plough or not to plough is a question. The painful plough faithfully enabled the farmworker to pay their taxes and survive their suffering. Would a no-till, horticultural, silvo-pastured, or food-forested future would have the plough play a central role?
Entangled about this question of technique, a real formative questions:
Which threads of freedom – or domination – will define the emerging braid of the Landworker’s Alliance?
In doing so, how rich a rope will is actually being woven to pull us through the unfolding crises of our time?
A short reflection on the Landworkers Alliance in the UK through the lens of ‘The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity’ and inspired by my friend Nick’s rendition of The Painful Plough.