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Nigel Harris

Muddy Boots and Pressure Groups

(Autumn 1962)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.10, Autumn 1962, pp.31-32.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The State and the Farmer
Peter Self and H. Storing
Allen and Unwin. 30s.

The Economics of Subsidising Agriculture
Gavin McCrone
Allen and Unwin. 25s.

Allen and Unwin are to be congratulated on the publication of these two complementary volumes. The first is a political study of the organizations within agriculture (the Marketing Boards, the Farmers, the Workers and the Landowners) and their interaction with the State. Comment is at a minimum, and although one can disagree vigorously with their solid middle-of-the-road perspective, nevertheless the highest commendation one can make these days on pressure group books is deserved in this case: the book is firmly sensible. The second volume is much more ambitious and less successful – the subject here is the economic sources of food in their world context and the place of Britain and its indigenous supply in this context. The book is clearer and sharper than the first but the subject, the world economy, is too wide for adequate comprehension either in a volume on world food trade or an economist’s narrow focus of efficiency.

However, the wealth of information in both books is an illuminating and exciting spotlight on this small corner of the British economy where autarchy, protectionism and other flotsam of the 1930s have been preserved into the ‘market economy’ of the 1950s. In addition, Self and Storing have a trenchant account of the relationship of the farmers to the Labour Party – or rather the contortions of the Labour Party in seeking to woo agriculture at the top while doing nothing for the agricultural workers. A limitation of the book is that it is written in the pause before the Common Market storm – and may well be merely historical within five years. Similarly, McCrone’s book is limited to some extent by sticking to his subject – i.e. he has no examination of Eastern European and Soviet agriculture which should contain useful lessons (and in this case, possibly crucial ones) for the relationship of farming to the State. However, for Socialists the Self-Storing volume is important – agriculture is a unique problem, and the politics of it have played an important role in Britain since the 1930s. The second volume is more specialized, although its information is valuable. The pity is that the two books could not have been written by one author.

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Last updated: 11 March 2010