Glossary of political concepts


Peasant

Notions of peasantry have been dominated by the dualism that viewed capitalist farmers and peasants as the main, and mutually opposed categories of rural endeavour. The capitalist model, represented as ‘conventional‘ or ‘modern’ (and massively state-led), was regarded as superior to the centuries-old traditional family farming with its artisanal practices and community values. The term peasant (Fr: local farmer) became stigmatised in referring to those of low class status who depended on cottage industry or agricultural labour as a means of subsistence — a life circumstance that in today’s world many would envy.

More recently the notion of ‘repeasantisation‘ particularly in Europe and U.S. has emerged to describe the increasing resistance to the input-output based practices, outcomes and outputs of conventional farming. This resistance can be found not only amongst consumers but in the places of production: as expressions of autonomy, sustainability, networking. This swing holds the capacity to develop new, constitutive potentialities that go beyond the reigning forms of domination and exploitation. And, throughout the empire-battered Third World this same struggle to express such autonomy is increasingly being taken up by traditional farmers. These too, are the new peasants, not just working for self-provisioning, but joining forces to resist industrialised agriculture and its economic and environmental consequences.

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Agroecology

Agroecology is a science, but is also seen as a movement, or practice which is concerned with farming methods that are based on peasant knowledge, local inputs as well as nature’s own principles – rather than relying upon external inputs and technologies that stress natural systems. Agroecology is critical of ‘conventional’ farming and particularly the ‘green revolution’ model. The concept has now come to include a social movement:

  • As a scientific discipline, agro-ecology questions the dominant model of intensive farming, but also the dominant ecological model, which separates the protection of biodiversity from the production of food. As such, it proposes an additional new role for farmers as stewards of the landscape and biodiversity.
  • As a social movement, agro-ecology questions the effects of agricultural modernisation around the world, and of the globalised market economy, which has become decoupled from productive and ecological constraints. It seeks alternatives in new approaches to agriculture, based on autonomy and the prudent use of resources.

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Conscionability

… of being acceptable to one’s own conscience.

Whether we understand it as such or not life is a spiritual process. How one engages in that aspect of being is a personal choice, renewed more or less in each moment, and based upon the ethical or moral principles that govern one’s ideals and actions. For many/most people there is a palpable empathy associated with an embedded sense of morality which they recognise as their ‘conscience’.
In The Authoritarians (2006) Professor Bob Altimeyer concludes that about 6% of the human population lacks the ordinary pangs of conscience and, unfortunately for the rest of us, such people tend to gravitate to power like moths to a candle.

Like money, markets have no conscience. Inevitably they favour those who are similarly unendowed.

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Sustainability

All that is before you, all of conditional existence resting in the fabric of space-time, is expressed as endless change. Within this realm of impermanence¸ this bubble of life we call Nature, the appearance of stability depends on cycles, more precisely the web of inter-related cycles we call ecology.

Even though Darwin’s theory of ‘Natural selection’ pinpointed the essence of change that is inherent in all reproductive cycles it was not until Mandelbrot extended the theory of ‘Chaos’ in his book, The Fractal Geometry of Nature (1982) that we had the tools to understand the underlying mechanisms of all natural cycles in which we are embedded – enabling the rules for sustainability of any self-organising systems to be deduced. For an in-depth background see the documentary The Secret Life of Chaos

Self-organising systems …

  • are generated by cyclic feedback loops maintained via at least one ‘simple rule’
  • always demonstrate patterns of self-similarity at multiple levels (as above, so below)

Stability is maintained only when the feedback has the right direction and intensity. In other words, it has to be ‘positive’ feedback and without so much gain that it chain-reacts its enclosing system into self destruction, nor so little gain that is attenuates itself into extinction.
For any self-organising system to mesh sustainably with Nature then all of its outputs must themselves mesh into the cycles of all the other systems which it impacts, at all levels. When it doesn’t then that means the ‘simple rules’ governing the outcomes of the system need to be changed. There are quite a number of human-originated systems which currently fall into this category – causing non-cycled, linear dead-ends.

For further discussion see our article Order form Chaos.

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Food Sovereignty

Essentially, the right of people to determine their own food and agriculture policies through the democratisation of food and agriculture, it has mainly been a grassroots movement formed by the world’s local farmers, fishers, indigenous peoples and landless workers. First framed
 by
 the international
 peasant movement La Via Campesina at the World Food Summit in 1996, this movement is rooted in the ongoing global struggles against Big Food over the control of food, land, water, and livelihoods.

Encompassing both food security and food justice, food sovereignty asserts the right of all peoples to produce and consume healthy and culturally appropriate food which has been produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods. It also claims their right to define and own their own food and agriculture systems.

Food sovereignty puts those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies, rather than forcing those systems to bend to the demands of markets and corporations. It defends the interests and the inclusion of the next generation.

It offers an alternative to the current trade and food regime, and promotes food, farming, pastoral and fisheries systems that are determined by local producers. Food sovereignty prioritises local and national economies and markets that empower peasant and small-scale sustainable farmer-driven agriculture, artisanal fishing, and pastoralist-led grazing.

Where people are struggling to feed their families, to stay on their land, and fight against land grabs that threaten their livelihoods and even their lives, food sovereignty includes an approach focused less on profit and instead more on people, communities sustainability.

Principles:

A Fair Share for all at Nature’s Table

Food sovereignty puts the right to sufficient, healthy and culturally appropriate food for all at the centre of its food, agriculture, livestock and fisheries policies.

Producer-driven, not Commodity-based

Food sovereignty values all those who grow, harvest and process food, including women, family farmers, herders, fisher-folk, forest dwellers, indigenous peoples, and agricultural, migrant and fisheries workers. It respects the right of food providers to have control over their land, seeds and water and rejects the privatisation of natural resources.

Local Production

Food sovereignty brings food providers and consumers closer together so they can make joint decisions on food issues that benefit and protect all.

Builds Knowledge and Skills

Food sovereignty values the sharing of local knowledge and skills that have been passed down over generations for sustainable food production free from technologies that undermine health and well-being.

Working with the grain of Nature

Food sovereignty focuses on production and harvesting methods that maximise the contribution of ecosystems, avoiding costly and toxic inputs and improving the resiliency of local food systems in the face of climate change.

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La Via Campesina

The international movement of peasants, small- and medium-sized producers, landless, women farmers, indigenous people, rural youth migrants and agricultural workers. It defends small-scale sustainable agriculture as a way to promote social justice and dignity.
La Via Campesina (LVC) comprises about 150 local and national organisations in 70 countries from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. Altogether, it represents about 200 million farmers and their families. It is an autonomous, pluralist and multicultural movement, independent from any political, economic or other type of affiliation.

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Left vs. Right

Considerable confusion has resulted from the multiple labels and meanings used for the different positions that can be taken in any political discourse. Arising from the core premise that some aspects of society are best left for individuals to self-organise, while others are best organised as a collective, comes the churning discontent between these two basic camps which here we deem the Left and the Right.
This Left-Right dichotomy also mirrors a (usually uninspected) fundamental split underlying our experience of consciousness. That is to say, our ordinary experience of life comprises two simultaneously existing but separate components: the me, and the not-me. This produces a dilemma when our actions affect others — since the motives of me (my political strategies) are divided into two – what ‘I’ want (or need), and what ‘we’ want (or need).

This root distinction is key, as it underlies the core value-sets which focus the Right – Left polarity. The self-centred approaches dominating the Right are favoured by business, wealth, and authoritarian regimes; whereas the Left is focused on collective moral perspectives such as egalitarianism, non-violence, social and ecological inclusiveness. The key concept identifying the New Left of grassroots action is ‘sustainability’.

Is there a natural Centre in all this? No. Real life is always a compromise between the tensions produced by the polarity of necessary opposites. Just as life would be meaningless without death, so the Right would be meaningless without the Left … historically the balance chosen is consequent upon the morals and values of society at any time. Authoritarian extremes from both the Right (facism) and the Left (communism) have proven equally brutal. Check the Political Compass for where the average is presently considered to be.

What needs to be emphasised though is that the Left is primary – meaning that human relations prosper where cooperation is favoured over self-interest – but rapidly decivilise in conditions of reduced social and ecological inclusiveness.

Links of interest:

Try the survey at Political Compass to evaluate your own Left-Right leanings.

PC Leftism: | Why This Radical Leftist is Disillusioned by Leftist Culture (Feb 2016)

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Capitalism vs. Socialism

Common usage of the terms capitalist and socialist more or less capture the divide between Left and Right in politics — the opposition between self-interest and the common good. But each term is now historically obfuscated by long-standing propaganda attacks from its political opponents. We need to clarify our meaning whenever using them.
Capitalism – strictly, the investing of one’s wealth in productivity and employment for profit. It could be, and only occasionally is, used in a socially-enhancing manner, such as worker-owned cooperatives. The stereotype however, is typically associated with personal self-enrichment: through the exploitation of people; the enclosure of resources; the externalisation of social costs and environmental degradation, etc. The amoral use of this otherwise sound principle is the underlying cause of our present-day financial, economic and social instabilities.
Socialism – a label often associated with radical unionism and totalitarian communism, in its anti-social extremes. For wealthy/right-wing/capitalists it typically conjures up the lazy/masses who want to steal their money and share it around – and other perverse everyday meanings. Strictly its use should be kept within the more general and politically neutral sense to characterise the organising of wealth, responsibility and ownership in a collective and egalitarian manner- similar to grassroots commoning.


Authoritarianism – in politics the social dimension is as important as the economic. How should a government control its people? A spectrum of Authoritarianism can be found on both the Right and the Left. For example, compare Stalin’s socialism with Ghandi’s socialism: in the first, the state was more important than the individual; but in the second, the individual was more important than the state.

Globalisationas based upon the neoliberal project for universal marketisation which advocates a platform of deregulation and reduced government is, in contradiction of its founding tenets, evolving into a highly surveilled and ultra-controlled social form of authoritarianism: the so-called New World Order of the American military-industrial empire.

For more insight into the Capitalist-Socialist spectrum and to understand your personal political positioning we recommend doing the Political Compass test. Note the use of ‘Libertarian’ on this site to denote the opposite of ‘Authoritarianism’. The correct term is ‘Anarchy’ – but this term has become re-mapped to suggest political chaos.

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Neo-liberalism | Neo-capitalism

Competition, according to neoliberal ideology, drives efficiency — fair outcomes are implied by evoking the familiarity and sentiments of sportsmanship. But beware the multiplying reflections of the bully’s instinct to beat and take, the Me interest, now manifesting as the New Right in globalist politics provides new horizons only for capitalist imperatives.
In a race to the bottom ‘free’ trade makes advantage, then takes advantage, normalising exploitation, degradation and exclusion without regard. Offered as the sword of freedom upheld, but unveiled by calculated scarcity as the downward-turned dagger of debt reflected upon the pond of Narcissus.
Neoliberal logic further claims that to manifest the hitherto invisible rewards of self-betterment it requires that all flows of trade and capital must first become fully unimpeded. That is to say, all forms of regulatory restraint be dismantled: in particular allowing for the prevalence of capital over labour, the enclosure and privatisation of all assets, all public services and knowledge:

human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterised by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade’. (Harvey, 2005:2)

Neoliberalism is little more than a simplistically constructed alibi for a larger project, the dispossession of poor and vulnerable people. It is not an economic theory, rather a renewal of the feudal ‘enclosure of the commons’ – echoing the birth of capitalism during Tudor times.

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Liberalism

One early consequence of the Industrial Revolution in England was the rise of a newly-monied class which had no roots in the aristocracy. They made its money off the backs of the factory workers, traditional peasants being forced off the land and into the towns and cities by the enclosure of their commons.

This ‘new money’ wanted, and could afford to pay for, change to the old order of political power. Capital began to organise itself as a major platform, seeking deregulation and the reform of the political landscape. For the first time in human history wealth and politics were separated. This new class referred to itself as the ‘Liberals’.

Modern liberals form their opinions from a confusing palette of notions: ‘reform’, ‘civil liberties’, ‘progress’, ‘laissez-faire’ and ‘self-regulating markets’.
Neo-liberalism overlaps but differs somewhat from ordinary liberalism. It upholds the notion that by focusing on one’s own self-interest that the greatest good for all will be achieved.

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