Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Peasants as a "Sack of Potatoes"

Each individual peasant family is almost self-sufficient, directly produces most of its consumer needs, and thus acquires its means of life more through an exchange with nature than in intercourse with society. A small holding, the peasant and his family, beside it another small holding, another peasant and another family. A few score of these constitute a village, and a few score villages constitute a department. Thus the great mass of the French nation is formed by the simple addition of homonymous magnitudes, much as potatoes in a sack form a sack of potatoes. Insofar as millions of families live under conditions of existence that separate their mode of life, their interests, and their culture from those of the other classes, and put them in hostile opposition to the latter, they form a class. Insofar as there is merely a local interconnection among these small-holding peasants, and the identity of their interests forms no community, no national bond, and no political organization among them, they do not constitute a class. They are therefore incapable of asserting their class interest in their own name...
- Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon (1852)

Of course, potatoes are an incredibly versatile and resilient food source. You can also drop one just about anywhere and it will become a potato plant. It is seed and food in one. That's self-sufficiency.

I do sometimes wonder if the peasant model isn't a rather poorly-developed economic ecology compared to a large, mature, diversified market. More like a field of annual weeds than a biomass and biodiversity-rich forest, for example. More resilient for its modularity and simplicity, but not affording the same capacity for energy storage, diversification, or the sustenance of large and glorious top-of-the-food-chain projects (like a tiger, for example, or a lunar landing).

No comments: