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A short introduction to Reclaim the Fields

Anarchist Peasant | 02.01.2012 12:36 | Ecology | Gender | Social Struggles | World

Reclaim the Fields is a European network that takes an anti-capitalist / anti-authoritarian stance on peasant struggles. This article is selection of articles from activists within the network. To find out more check out the RTF bulletins ( To get involved check out the U.K. constellation / branch on the website and join us at the next European assembly which will take place in Turino, Italy 29th of February till the 4th of March.

An Agricultural Vision from within Reclaim The Fields

During the last RTF gathering in July I offered a collective brainstorming on our agricultural vision(s). This article tries to capture the flashlights that appeared in the workshop. It avoids the term "peasant agriculture" as it and it's translations are subject to debate for it's conservative tendencies.

First off, some general points. As concepts we thought that "food autonomy" and / or "production autonomy" are quiet useful. However it seemed obvious, that a diversity of concepts is needed, which in turn need to be pragmatically adjusted to the local conditions. They can not be copied one by one. Lastly it was stressed, that our vision is utterly dependent on collective access to land. And that vice versa, those who practice this vision should gain this access.

In short, our agriculture practice should ideally entail the following elements:

* Enriching soil fertility as the very basis of our practice.
* Further bio-diversity within the different production and cropping systems.
* Minimise external inputs and create circular flows of ressources and nutrients which are decentrally available and accessible through low-tech means.
* Establish seed autonomy in cooperation with existing and within our own networks.
* Decentral, local / regional production and distribution.
* Further multifunctionality in agriculture through integrating social and cultural aspects.
* Create craftsmansship and workshops for local manufacturing incl. agricultural products.
* Use appropriate technology which is autonomously understandable and repairable. If wanted and possible focus on human or animal-powered technology.
* Build up energy autonomy through the intelligent use of excess biomass as truly renewable ressource (wood, vegetable oil, biogas) and D.I.Y. renewable energy (sun, wind etc.).
* Preserve, create and sustainably use wilderness area

An extended section of our brainstorming focussed on the broader social and economic aspects of our vision:

* Establish non-market based and autonomous structures for production and distribution.
* Strenghthen cooperation against competition.
* Trust and exchange within our distribution networks instead of state-based organic labelling.
* Exchange of agricultural goods between collectives in different regions through tours and travels.
* Organise an emancipatory village economy.

Two questions arose at this point:

* Do we only want to engage in subsistence and sell our surplus or rather engage in some sort of diviion of labor that makes sense?
* If we want to organise a non-commercial, needs-based production: How do we regulate the demand? How do we communicate what within the network?

As to the social and economic on the farm level we noted:

* Collective farming with working groups and decentralised, consensus decision-making.
* Intergenerational living on our farms.
* Self-determination of "work" and "leisure" avoiding the usual work treadmill on farms.
* Therefore formulating a critique of (self-)exploitative work e.g. on family farms and finding new forms of organising "work".
* Through this creating more motivation to become farmers and find fullfilling work in the countryside.
* Overcoming individualism and private property through a re-establishment of common ownership in land, buildings and other means of production (also formally).
* Questioning gender roles and challenging the often strong patriarchal and sexist conditions in rural areas.
* In order to do this: Analyse critically the (pre-)agricultural history which avoids romantacising the "traditional pesant world".


Thinking about money...

At the last Reclaim the Fields gathering on Basta in Germoney a rather controversial discussion about money arose. It inspires me to offer some of my personal thesis on money (and farming) as a basis for debate:

In the capitalist state of affairs, money is mistaken as the main form of appreciation for our creation of good food and other produce. This leads to the conviction of many peasant farmers that "food is to cheap" and that they have to "earn more" in order to "live well". This conviction reproduces the capitalist ideology. It degrades our artisanal produce to commodities and fortifies money as main form of appreciation.

Instead we have to create non-commercial spaces: We have to find new ways of distributing appreciation, new forms of satisfying our needs beyond capitalist mediation. For example through gift networks in which everybody offers their skills, produce etc. unconditionally to all. The "good life" for all is only possible once we do away with capitalism and it's mindset.

Sadly, until this radical transformation, we still need

-> money to farm well (what this could mean, see also "An agricultural vision from within Reclaim the Fields" in this bulletin).
-> money to satisfy our needs.

However, I claim that selling our produce (even directly to consumers) can be counter-productive to these two points:

Capitalism does not honour our idealism and hyper-ecological production. We stand in direct competition with Spanish tomatoes produced under minimal organic standards and the dreadful exploitation of sans-papiers / "illegal migrants" in Spain and Italy. Especially if we work low-budget, low-tech and "not effective" (in capitalist terms) and sell our stuff to reasonable prices we also start exploiting ourselves and others. If not, we have found a niche were we sit in the office half-day and do accounting and marketing to sell our stuff for outraging prices to a white, middle-class elite that grumps at the market stalls: "Your carrots aren't straight enough".

Some practical perspectives that lead out of this mess could be:

-> Spend less money through voluntary simplicity, shoplifting, dumpster-diving, recycling, hitch-hiking ... whatever!
-> Invest your money in appropriate means of production that make you more independent from the capitalist system: good tools, low-tech machinery to clean your own seeds, an oil mill to produce your own fuel ... and so on!
-> If you want to make money from farming do it in CSA / AMAP producer-consumer cooperatives that are needs-oriented and give you freedom for creative eco-farming.
-> Organize money differently: ask your rich friends or the foundations that know them, subsidies, money from the welfare state, applications to EU-funds, other jobs that you like and still pay off more than farming ... whatever you like and doesn't contrain your freedom and desires.
-> Distribute your produce in non-commercial networks of mutual aid and voluntary contribution.
-> Give-away appreciation: Nice words, hugs, kisses, songs, poems ... whatever!
-> Organize the resistance!


Compost Sexism and Gender

At the last gathering at Wieserhoisl in Austria I hosted a workshop on "Sexism and Gender Issues" with which we are confronted with in our collectives, activist networks and in peasant / organic agriculture more generally. I felt that the workshop went really well, the atmosphere was relaxed, conscious and respectful which was the basis to handle such a sensible issue. Much was talked about but the time we had wasn't nearly enough. We need to follow up on this and repeat these sessions at coming gatherings, camps and at home in our collectives.

This article is thought to be a first cautious step forward, trying to sum up and structure the results of our workshop and deliver a basis for ongoing reflections.

[When is use the terms "men / male socialised" or "women / female" I mean people who have been socialised to fit into these constructed gender idenities and / or identify with these and therewith bear different priviliges and embody specific behaviours or not. The * is thought to pay tribute to the diverse gender identities beyond these hetero-normative categories.]


The Problem: Patriarchy, Sexism, Gender stereotypes in everyday life.

It turned out, suprise, suprise, that our own collectives are far from having overcome sexist behaviours, patriarchal social structures and gender stereotypes.

One of the issues we touched upon is the *division and visibility of different types of labour*. Most obviously this is the case for *productive versus reproductive labour*. Doing household work and child care is still, frequently rendered invisibile (we called it *"shadow work"*) when opposed to "productive" therefore manual, heavy, physical work or paid wage labour. And even though, especially in agriculture (the example was from Austria), this productive farm work is increasingly done by part-time women* farmers, while the men* work in wage labour, this increased visibility does not necessarily mean more acknowledgment for women*. This is the case because doing farm work plus reproductive shadow work and child care leads to a *double or triple work load* which is still not consciously discussed. One the other hand a patriarchal division of labour still sustains, which is not least because of male *paternalism* towards women* who (want to) do heavy "men*'s work": Either she is laughed at, thought of as "cute / sweet" or defined as "too weak" needing a sexist gentleman to take over the work. Hence, we need to talk about "work" and what we define as such and re-think *patriarchal definitions of "efficiency"*: Why does digging often seem more "efficient" as weeding, cooking or looking after the kids?

During this strand of discussion it was also noted that parents (mostly mothers) often feel discriminated, also in "emancipatory" spaces, which are not child-friendly, have no collective child care and where an intellectual, rational atomsphere renders children and their parents "annoying" and "disturbing" without offering reasonable alternatives.

The second big issue we came accross was *gender stereotypes* and the problems connected therewith. We noted that these are deep ingrained and also rendered invisible. It therefore takes a conscious effort to dig them up and try to deconstruct them. And even if many collectives claim that they have them in counciously in mind, this doesn't mean that we have overcome them. It was noted that there is a lack of talk about this and a lack of safe spaces where we can honestly talk about our feelings.

Interestingly enough we talked a lot about male gender stereotypes with which many of the male socialised people didn't feel comfortable. These included a very strong work ethic and connected therewith a need to feel tired and "worked out" at the end of the day, demanding both a lot of emotional and physical stenghth of them. These norms were felt to always make men* adjust to the work pace and load of the strongest and override the real needs and limits of the weaker / sensible male socialised beings. Maybe we should adjust to the latter. While these issues are based on the competetiveness of male stereotypes, similar mechanism is at work when men* avoid physical body contact with each other, may it be because of homophobia or the fear that, to relate initimately and lovingly to other men*, rather than competetively, might make their very identity as men* shake and tumble. Another patriarchal pattern was observed in discussions where men* are present, they try to dominate others instead of empathatically reacting to contributions. This seems to be once again connected to competetiveness and the will to "be right" and "to win" over others and force their egos upon others. In the end it seemed like getting rid of patriarchy, sexism and to reflect male privilige might indeed be rewarding for men* as well.

Another question that remained is whether there is an interconnection between different modes of production (industrial, peasant, subsistence, family, collective farming etc.) and the social relations that exist within them. Here once again the term "peasant farming" remains unclear. If by it we mean conservative, nuclear family-based "peasant" farming then maybe this rather reproduces sexism and gender injustices. And even if by it we mean emancipatory, collective, "peasant" farming then unless an honest and practical focus is put on these issues, it remains doubtful if we will overcome these patriarchal mechnisms of oppression.

Lastly it should be noted that (as we note at the Wieserhoisl as well) all of these issues are interrelated with other broader mechanisms of discrimination like racism etc. or more specific ones, based on the political culture where people come from, different expectations, language and problems around the open- or closedness of meetings.


Solutions - Reflecting and surrendering male identity, supporting the feminist struggle, creating safe spaces and the feminist revolution of everyday life.

Now that you have read all this, you might feel theoretically "aware" of these issues. But that doesn't necessarily mean that they get practically challenged or tackled. We have to conciously reflect about gender issues and the division of labour. We need to be aware of gender balances in the groups we work in. And all of this needs time and space. Consciously taken time and created space. Not 5 minutes during lunch break. In these spaces we need to develop methods and rituals to reflect and create the change we wish to see.

As we have seen the problem is diverse and complex. Nevertheless solutions might seem rather straight forward. But by really attempting to overcome this shit we will have to challenge our very personalities, the ways we are programmed. Especially as men*, "we" should be challenged and our behaviour questioned and criticised. This might leave some, frustrated and confused as it shakes the very foundation of our socialised identity. But instead of resorting once again to patriarchal masculinity and behaviour we should try liberate ourselves from male (sexual) identity while staying aware of the priviliges that this socialisation gave us. These anti-sexist, empathetic spaces, which might be helpful to express our emotions and feelings, they have to be once again conciously created. This and the active intervention into sexist and patriarchal behaviour might be a first step in supporting the feminist struggle.

Maybe the most practical way to handle these priviliges is to share knowledge, skills and experiences horizontally with those who don't feel proficient with them and wish empowerment. Once again, consciously take time and create space for it. This could, for instance, mean a women* / lesbian / trans-only workshop on how to dismantle, repair and properly run a tractor (or a chainsaw, or an axe). By the way: This actually already happened, as it turned out in the workshop. Maybe these workshops can be the beginning of an active dismantling of symbols of patriarchy in agriculture?

When it comes to such protective space, actively encourage or at least passively respect them. As a result men* in our collectives should be questioned in their "traditional roles" (wood-chopping, chainsaw-wielding, tractor-driving ... alpha-male) and challenged as abusing their priviliged position. When women* question their gendered work patterns and want to take over these "male" tasks, it might often lead to conflicts where men* react defensive to these attempts to "take away" "their jobs" that are constitutive to their identity. A feminist collective would support women* in this conflict as "they" are less well positioned and more likely to "give in" during this process.

When it comes to shadow work (cooking, household, kids) there was the idea to spread it justly or evenly between genders, taking into account both personal needs and desires as well as socialisation and privilige. There was also the proposal to put this shadow work more in the centre of attention and acknowledgement. This could also mean to celebrate it and find ways to give it as much value as to all other work.

On a more visual and atmospherical level it definitely makes a difference, if in our collectives we make feminist, queer and trans politics more visible. May it be through posters, flyers or other queer and feminist symbols.

Another debate about solutions we had was centred around explicitly matriarchal / women*-only / feminist collectives. Are the oppressive because they turn hierarchies upside down and replace one form of domination with another? Or are they rather necessary protective spaces? I would argue that men*'s perception of these places are once again strongly effected by the identiy crisis they experience when they enter a space where they feel like loosing their priviliges. To me to criticise these spaces from their priviliged standpoint is rather inacceptable. Rather men* should see these spaces as opportunities and experience. As a space where they get mirrored quiet effectively and experience what it means and feels to not have the everyday priviliges.


What it means for RTF an it's gatherings / camps concretely.

We also collected some actions points for coming RTF events:

Parents / child care:

* Offer collective child care / childrens space
* Include male socialised in this process

Practical Work

* Avoid or make visible classical division of labour
* At Wieserhoisl it looked like this: Seed sorting - women* / Bean harvesting - mixed / Shoveling shit - men*)

Analysis of the style of discussion at Wieserhoisl:

* men* dominant
* Wanting to "be right". Pushing through their ego.
* Intellectual / rational more dominant than emtional / personal stuff -> male gendered values
* Argument to justify this: "Too little time".

Politcal position:

* Critique conservative peasant agriculture and it's politics

Methods / Workshops:

* Emotions- / Gender-focussed small groups and workshops
* Budy up with newcomers / people for whom we can't translate

Anarchist Peasant

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