Pieter Lawrence

How socialism can increase food production

Source: World Socialist, April 1984.
Transcription: Socialist Party of Great Britain.
HTML Markup: Adam Buick
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2016). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit "Marxists Internet Archive" as your source.

The statistics which arise persistently throughout the world from the problem of malnourishment and starvation, exceed all other measures of death and misery. Yet whilst this is the problem from which humanity in 1984 suffers most, the solution to it in socialism would be straightforward, taking relatively little time.

World capitalism can enter up on the debit side of human suffering hundreds of millions of dead from lack of food. Despite the abundance of labour, technique and productive resources, the absolute numbers of men, women and children dying from lack of food are greater than ever before. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation state that in 1974/5 a conservative world estimate of seriously undernourished people was 435 million. This was 75 million higher than 5 years previously. UNICEF state that 40,000 children are dying every day from starvation or malnutrition related-disease, or annually around 15 million.

Malnourishment is not only a problem of "underdeveloped" countries. Within the EEC, 30 million workers are living below the poverty line, which means living on less than half the average income for those countries. This results in impoverished diets, a reliance on cereals, starchy root vegetables and sugar. The London Times reported in July 1983 that "Thirty-two million of the (American) population of 233 million are graded as below the poverty line, but the mayors say that soup kitchens are not keeping pace with the hungry". The London Sunday Times reported in August 1983 that some pregnant women in Hackney, London, were consuming only 1,613 calories per day during the first 3 months of pregnancy as against their needs of at least 2,100 calories. The FAO definition of "seriously undernourished" is a calorie intake of 1,600 calories per day and less.

Malnourishment exists in every country of the world because under world capitalist production, food is produced as commodities for sale at a profit on the market. Food production is not organised directly for human needs, it is geared to market capacity where profit is realised. To support the market the EEC destroys food every year, and maintains a policy of restricted food production. In 1982, American farmers took 82 million acres out of food production.


A great deal of discussion about socialism centres on how needs will be determined in the absence of markets, money and prices. How will decisions be made about production? Needs are socially given by the nature of existing problems. The objective of socialism is to organise society directly for human needs and therefore support for socialism must be on the basis that we take over the means of production and resources, and then concentrate the priorities of social action on the areas of greatest human need.

This element of material necessity is a pressure on what social ism is bound to do. This existing material position pre-empts the important social policies of socialism and these policies are not therefore subject to arbitrary choice. The socialist movement is bound to formulate its programmes of action for dealing with problems in advance of the capture of political control and foremost amongst these actions will be the increase of food production from the present artificial scarcity in relation to sufficiency for human need.

This is not to suggest that every option open to world socialism for increasing food production is determined mechanically by the pressure of necessity. The socialist movement is committed now to the overall policy of increasing food production within socialism, but within this overall policy of action, the need for particular democratic decisions will arise.


The organisation of the production of food must be considered together with the social procedures for decision-making. The working class organised for world socialism, acting consciously and politically, will take over the various State machines of capitalist governments and immediately adapt these structures for the purposes of useful world administration. This will mean the capture of the machinery of government at the various local and national levels, and the conversion of these State instruments of government into local and regional councils, with the present United Nations Organisation providing a ready-to-hand administrative facility for a world council.

Centralised State control is hostile to democracy. The present position whereby governments impose their decisions on the wider population will have to be replaced by a system of decision-making and action where the decisions flow from the broadest social base to make up the democratic view of the community. This is the reverse of the present system of centralised state control, and it is what is meant in the socialist object by "democratic control . . . by and in the interests of the whole community".

In practice, this means that the basic unit of social organisation, and therefore of decision-making will be the local community. The local community will elect its delegates to the local council, and these persons will be delegated the responsibility of local administration. One procedure could be that these members of the local councils could elect, from amongst their numbers, delegates to the regional council. If this procedure were to be adopted then it would follow that the regional council would elect from amongst its numbers, delegates to the world council.

This system of electing delegates to the various councils would have to include machinery whereby these councils could be instructed by poll. On an everyday basis, matters could be left to these delegates and provided that the numbers were enough they would reflect general opinion. But circumstances could arise where these various councils would want to ascertain precisely the view of the whole community on specific issues. The same machinery could be used to challenge a council decision.

The poll of the community would be the final arbiter on all social issues requiring a social decision. On this basis we would have a system whereby local communities would instruct their local councils, the sum of local council opinion would instruct the regional council, and the sum of regional council opinion would instruct the world council.


The three spheres of decision-making, local, regional and world, are an adaptation of existing structures; they also coincide with the different scales on which production is required to be organised.

We need local agriculture, and the local work of producing useful goods according to local needs and work preferences. We also need local services. Also we need world bodies, mainly for the organisation of the extractive industries such as oil and metals, and then world transport, world communications, control of space, energy supply etc.

Between the local and world scales, regional organisation will be required. This would be particularly for the manufacture of component parts and assembly of goods and equipment. Tractors, for instance, would be produced regionally and distributed to the various localities covered by that region.

Democratic decision-making must be integrated with the organisation of production in the local, regional and world spheres, and applied as a priority to the need to increase food production. We can envisage ways in which firstly, local communities can increase food production; secondly how this local food production extends to regional manufacture, and thirdly how this also extends to world productive organisation.


To overcome the problem of scarcity of food on a world scale we estimate on the basis of all the available evidence that socialist society will have to increase food production by at least 60% as a short-term target.

The production of the great variety of vegetables, salad crops, fruits, oil seeds, spices, animal produce, fish farming etc., could be organised on a local basis. In local communities, the knowledge and unique experience of working particular soils exists. Those individuals with this experience would be given the assistance required to organise the ways in which local food production could be increased. In its first period, the greatest advantage that socialism would enjoy would be the availability of extra labour, which would be released as a result of the ending of the useless functions associated now with the running of capitalism. With the availability of all the people at present engaged in insurance, finance, banking, commerce and competition, plus the present labour wasted in armed forces and armaments production, the state bureaucracies and the millions of unemployed, socialism would be able to at least double the numbers of people available for useful production throughout the world.

By immediately concentrating greater numbers of people on the work of increased local food production results could be quickly achieved, especially with labour intense methods of cultivation. In the short term this would be appropriate, since the work of providing more mechanised equipment would take time.


Having emphasised that socialism could quickly increase local food production by more people getting on with this work, at the same time, regional manufacture would also be applied to this priority of production. A great advantage to local food production in the temperate climates would be the use of greenhouses. By this method it is possible to more closely control the conditions of cultivation, extend the season of growth, and diversify the crops. In response to the desirability of local food production for local consumption, local communities would want to construct greenhouses. But obviously, not every local community would have its own glass-works. Glass would be produced on the regional scale of manufacture, and we assume that the existing glass production facilities, taken over by socialism, would be under great initial pressure to supply glass.

Arising from this position of a widespread requirement for glass, decisions will be called for. Once durable greenhouses are in place in local communities they will be available for use over a very long time. Production for need, in the position of inherited scarcity is a pressure to produce, but it also embodies a limit to production. At a certain point local communities have sufficient greenhouses for their purposes.

In response to this very high peak of initial requirements, the region could increase the means of production, that is, build more glass works to increase the productive capacity. But as a prudent society, socialism will not want to create massive over-capacity. This would be increased production facilities set up to cope with the high peak of initial requirements but then soon becoming redundant. This has to be set against the consequences of not increasing productive capacity, which would be that the high peak of initial requirements would take longer to supply. Getting the balance of this right would be one of the decisions which would have to be made.

In socialism, since this matter would involve regional production facilities, it would come within the framework of decision-making of the regional council. Those who have taken on the responsibility of running the regional glass works would put all the relevant information in front of the regional council together with the various options which arise from that information. On this basis and in consideration with possible information from any other relevant source, the regional council would make a decision, bearing in mind that the regional council will be made up from delegates from all the local communities of that region.

This example of glass production is one of how a social priority, the need for more food, extends from local organisation to regional organisation, and also how food production extends to manufacture.

The work of setting up local greenhouse cultivation would extend to regional manufacture but it would also extend to organisation of production on a world scale. Greenhouse structures require rigid supports. Socialism would be unlikely to use timber. It is not a durable material, it would require a lot of maintenance, and moreover, socialism has to plant trees not cut them down.

A metal such as a durable alloy could be used, and also suitable would be plastic. Plastic is a product of oil extraction, and this would be organised by a world body. Obviously the regional facilities for converting oil into oil products already exist, but we are bound to have a world oil body monitoring the process of extraction and use in relation to the reserves of the material.

Demand for oil products would flow from many needs. A particularly important use of oil will be with plastic water pipes, arising from the need to supply piped clean water to the entire world's population. Working with the world council, and in association with other world bodies, the world oil body would have to assess how best this material could be used in respect of the wide range of initial needs, and also in respect of other possible solutions.

The sequence of productive activities we are describing is initiated as a response to needs in local communities, and as with such items of food production equipment as tractors, flows through regional manufacture of components and assembly, and then to the supply of basic materials from the extractive industries organised on a world scale.


Whilst the great variety of foods included in vegetables, fruits, salad crops, oil seeds, spices, animal produce, fish farming, etc., are most suitable for local production for local consumption, the basis of agriculture is cereal production. In response to the urgent need to increase world cereal production, socialism is bound to take a world view of the problem. The present world bodies which could be adapted for useful organisation are the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and the International Wheat Council.

With the continuation of world capitalism, it is accepted by the FAO that no remotely feasible rate of economic growth could eliminate serious undernourishment in the foreseeable future. The FAO have predicted that a continuation of a 2.8% increase in agricultural production given for 1977 (it is lower than this now) will result in an increase in the numbers of seriously undernourished from 435 million to 590 million in the year 2000 with the position rapidly worsening into the 21st century.

These projections assume an increase in the world's population from the present 4,415 million to 6,199 million during the sixteen years between now and the year 2000. It must be emphasised here that the cause of the problem of world hunger and malnutrition is not one of numbers of people in the world. The problem is entirely the result of the motive of capitalist production—profit, and the operation of the world capitalist market, and cannot be understood by an alleged imbalance between numbers of population, availability of labour, technique and productive resources.

The International Wheat Council monitors the world production of cereals or grains. Their work is aimed towards achieving a balance between world production of grains and market capacity so that wide fluctuations in the world market prices can be averted. In its present work, the International Wheat Council is not the least interested in human needs except as they are expressed as market capacity. As with the FAO, the forward projections of the International Wheat Council about world grains production and market capacity are equally pessimistic in respect of satisfying human needs.

In 1980 world production of all grains was 1.45 billion tonnes. This was an average per person of the world population of 329 kilograms for all grain uses.

The projected figures for the next sixteen years to the year 2000 for world grain production given by the Council are 2.177 billion tonnes, which with assumed population increases, will amount to a total grain use of 357 kilograms per person.

Not all grain use is that of direct consumption. Of the average per capita consumption of grains in 1980 of 329 kilograms, 162 kilograms was directly consumed, and the remaining 167 kilograms was used as animal feeds, brewing, etc. Behind these figures for average world total grains consumption exist wide differences of real individual consumption. These differences range from 203 kilograms per person in the "developing countries" to an average of 588 kilograms per person in the countries of Western Europe, USA, Canada and Australia.

However, again within these populations, different levels of consumption apply as a result of class differences and the different positions of individual workers. On existing patterns of food consumption, determined by individual access to the market, and the limitations of that access according to relative poverty so far as workers are concerned, the present world production for a world market of approximately 1.6 billion tonnes, forms the background against which 30 million people die every year from lack of food.

Whilst forward projections of the operation of the world capitalist market are subject to many unpredictable variables the projections of current market trends put out to the year 2000 by the International Wheat Council is one which must assume over 500 million deaths from lack of food over the next 16 years.

The standard of food consumption which is average in Western Europe and North America is based upon a total grain use of 588 kilograms per person per year. (With 138 kilograms being used directly as food, and the remaining 450 kilograms being used for animal feeds and all other uses.)

On these existing patterns of food consumption, and to bring every individual on the planet up to the standard of food consumption which is average in Western Europe and America, socialism would need to increase world grains production from the present 1.6 billion tonnes, which is world market capacity, to 2.6 billion tonnes for human needs on present world population numbers. For a world population of 6,000 million, projected for the year 2000, socialism would need to produce 3.6 billion tonnes of grains for human need, as against the projected 2.2 billion tonnes for market capacity.

With socialism, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, working in cooperation with the world and regional councils, would be responsible for coordinating this work of increasing world grains production as an urgent priority of action. There is no shortage of potential productive land, though the necessary work of preparing this land for cultivation may take some time. Irrigation schemes, for example, would require the FAO to cooperate with other world specialist bodies as world wide cooperation was swung behind the concerted effort to deal with hunger and malnourishment. A great deal could be accomplished in the short term with improvement of storage facilities and safe control of pests and disease.


With a more equal distribution of inherited scarce supplies of food, together with a more efficient use of these supplies in terms of nutritional values, socialism could stop people dying from hunger immediately. This would be the immediate measure that world wide socialist cooperation would implement.

Alongside this more equal and efficient use of scarcity, local initiatives would be of crucial importance. Local democratic action could be concentrated on increased local production with more people using existing land resources for more intensive production. This would be the most immediate way of increasing production, and the main thrust of socialist action could centre on these local initiatives, and upon the results of this would depend how far socialism would progress towards sufficient supply. However there can be no doubt that within a period of up to 5 years these local initiatives would transform the position.

Together with these measures at the local level, the FAO as a world agency could organise aid and assistance for those areas of the world where the means of agricultural production are underdeveloped. The work of bringing more productive resources into cultivation presents itself mainly as the irrigation of semi-arid soils. With world cooperation and concentration of action on this priority, socialism could reduce the time usually taken to complete irrigation schemes, when they are undertaken under world capitalism within the constraints of the market system. Socialism could count on bringing in extra land for cultivation, even for the most elaborate of irrigation schemes in something like ten years.


At the present time of world depression, the economic signals sent to production units within the world market system are substantially those which indicate stoppage of production. This applies to world cereal production. Using information put out by the International Wheat Council, the United States government in 1983 agreed with farmers that they should take 82 million acres out of food production, which is approximately 100 million tonnes of grains forgone, as a result of the operation of the market. Self evidently this is in reverse of the direction that we need to go to provide for human needs.

With production for use the indications to production are those of need, not market capacity and profit. Production for use will operate as a sequence of productive activities, arising as a response to need in local communities and extending to different scales of production in accordance with necessity and practicality. Needs will be communicated as quantities of things in line with social priorities, and will pass through as applications of different labour to all the necessary sequences of productive activity in the local, regional and world spheres. In the first instance needs are an indication to produce, but they also define the limits to necessary production.

Socialism will take over from capitalism an existing structure of production and this will be the material basis from which the development of socialism will begin. Initially this will take the form of the adaptation and expansion of the useful elements of existing production. To begin with, the socialist community will impose its priorities of need on this existing structure.

This will be an essentially self-regulating system whereby the usefulness and therefore the continued part played by any element of production will be determined by the factor of need, expressed as quantities of things, and passing through all the interdependent parts of production as a whole. Each particular part of production will be responding to the particular demands placed upon it. It is a system which is self-adjusting over time on the basis of experience. Each part of production will know what its position is in relation to this demand of need. If stocks accumulate, then this will require the adjustment of reduced production and if there is a time delay in supply, then this, self evidently, will require increased production.


In respect of so-called overproduction there is one difference between production for the market and production for use, which has an important bearing on organisation. If a part of capitalist production overproduces for its particular market this generally results in crisis which can lead to depression. There is overproduction of world grains in relation to the market and this has resulted in 82 million acres being taken out of production in America. The farmers who would otherwise have been producing on these millions of acres, would also otherwise have been in the market themselves for their own particular supplies. They would have stopped buying these supplies and in this way the chain of stopped production spirals down to other parts of production.

Whereas overproduction for the market is a problem for world capitalism, overproduction for human need in socialism would be a positive advantage. In respect of the world availability of basic materials, production for use could aim to stockpile supplies of these in excess of immediate demands. Whilst there would be no point in going on and on stockpiling greater reserve supplies, nevertheless current production could aim to top up the reserves of basic materials, as they were distributed for consumption to every region and local community throughout the world.

With a well developed world storage system socialism would stockpile a reserve supply of grains in excess of the needs of current consumption. Given such storage facilities, grains are durable, and easily transported in bulk without damage.


Production for use and democratic control is adaptable. Different productive activities can be organised in different ways according to practicality and according to the importance of the activity as it affects the whole community. All sorts of spontaneous activities could arise in different local communities between enthusiastic individuals. At the same time it will be necessary to take a world view of cereal production, the use of finite materials such as oil, and metals, and also a world energy system.

For these reasons, the organisation of production for use must be adaptable within a world which is integrated, with the basic unit of social organisation being the local community.

Within this integrated system we have the facility of organisation for any need or purpose. It can provide for the spontaneous initiatives of individuals or small groups, and at the same time it can deal with the important problems where society as a whole needs to take a larger scale and more long term view. The anarchy of current world food production shows the urgency of a new system now.