Indian industry and the Indian middle classes, like their counterparts elsewhere, have for some time now been dependent on and defending a model of development that is based on expanding vast opportunities for profit and growth in manufacturing and services at the expense of agriculture. Their attitude towards agriculture is Stalinist in an important sense: squeeze the peasantry into giving up their land, not to collectives this time, but to corporate farms (practising industrialized agriculture) or to factories, and kill them if they resist. Perhaps it's a sign of moral progress that the state doesn't actually massacre or starve them the way Stalin did, but modernizing states like China and India have adopted Stalinism by stealth, keeping below the radar of an already somnolent global corporate media. The farmer suicides and the armed resistance to the state in the shape of the so-called Maoist movements are partial evidence of a growing reaction by its victims to this destructive and predatory model of development.
It is as if the twentieth century experience of industrialization all over the world provides no lessons at all in terms of how it has squandered and degraded natural as well as human beings. Very little is being done to search for socially and naturally benign alternatives to the prevailing models of industrialization, energy generation and supply, consumption and employment. There are no systematic and urgent attempts to foster practices and life styles that can reverse the damage already wreaked on people, air, land and water and the creatures that live in them. Patkar and her supporters, or anyone committed to finding another model are held up to ridicule as latter-day Luddites living in a fantasy world. But people like Patkar are no more propagating an alternative vision (Gandhian or any other), but fighting a rearguard action to protect the victims of predatory industrialization from its worst excesses.
Not only is the trend towards industrialization occurring at the expense of agriculture, but industry is providing the organizing metaphors that are re-shaping the norms and practices not only of agriculture, but also of services like education, as well as in other areas of social life. I will use the word "industrialism" to refer to this metaphoric imperialism.
Here - a paper titled "Farm Policy in an Industrialized Agriculture" - is a good example of what I mean by "industrialism". The paper focuses on questions of "(a) competitiveness of product and input markets, (b) supply chains and market performance, and (c) privatization of intellectual property and innovation." It goes on to consider various policy options in response to the changing supply chain structures of agribusiness for better co-ordination of production and distribution. But there is not a word in it about the costly effects of industrial agriculture on its natural resource base, nor about the huge negative externalities generated by it, nor about the destructive effects it is having on human communities that have sustained themselves through agriculture as a way of life.
This refusal to consider alternatives to industrialism is inexcusable especially at this juncture in history when so much is already known about the harm that industrialism has caused not only in agriculture, but also in other areas of life such as education, human and animal health, and even the arts. In claiming this, I am opening myself to accusations of being a Luddite, an agrarian or rural romantic, pining for a past that didn't actually exist. I reject all these accusations, because what I would like to propose is not a return to "the idiocy of village life" (a slur that could only have come from the pen of one who was cooped up in a library for large parts of his life, and probably knew nothing of the intelligence and attention needed to grow food through the seasons). Instead of the industrialization of agriculture and all that it entails, I would like to suggest a reversal of the direction of the metaphor referred to above, and propose the "agriculturalization of industry". By this, I mean a greater emphasis in industrial processes on the longer term, and on the patient husbandry and careful use of resources. I mean too a greater vigilance for signs of unintended externalities (both positive and negative), a much greater emphasis on individual quality rather than on standardization, a much deeper awareness of relationships between co-workers, between workers and machines, between consumers and producers, between teachers and taught, between humans and their natural and social environment. In short, I am proposing a much more ecological view of industrial processes, and anything that leads away from the "autistic" obsession of industrialism with a narrowly construed notion of efficiency.
This is not really original, but a consolidation of many disparate trends that have engaged far more productive minds than mine. Why "agriculturalization"? Because the common theme unifying agriculture and industry could be a concern with quality and with relationships rather than with efficiency, and a sense that the effects of economic processes are non-linear, i.e., cumulatively much more than the sum of their individual effects, embedded in larger frameworks of meanings and values, just as agriculture once was in now industrial societies. I feel that the "agriculturization" of industry is an idea whose urgency is being forced on us by the destructive invasion of the industrialist metaphor into all areas of life. We have a choice between finding ways of "agriculturalizing" industry, and destroying the world through industrialism, and agriculture with it.