the foundations of oppression can't be plucked up without the anger of a multitude

#SavePikpa: Food and the Border crisis. “Those who eat together, fight together”

leave a comment »

Opening Prayer

We are grateful for the food and remember those who do not have. We think about the labour that went into to produce this meal, from the production, the distribution and the beautiful creation that’s been made here. We hope that the work was meaningful and rewarding as we believe work can be, not oppressive and tedious as so much of it is.


RebelFridaysJuly31correctRebel Tuesdays happen every few months at Black Cat Café, Hackney. Each time we have a three course, vegan meal prepared by the Clarence Road, E5, cooperative. In between courses, we have three speakers, one who talks about non-capitalist food production, one who will talk about a cause and another about solidarity. Hence, the event’s tag line, an aphorism from the late A. Sivanandan: ‘Those who eat together, fight together.’ The most recent incarnation, on 31st July 2018, launched a fundraiser, starting with the money paid for the event, to get some funds to Lesvos Solidarity. As usual, speakers talked for a short time between each course. This serves the dual purpose of whetting appetites for the meal because, as they say, ‘hunger is the best source’; and also, if it goes well, leaving people with questions and ideas that they’d want to discuss with the people sitting around them. This is the talk I gave, adjusted slightly to make sense out of context.

Food and the Border Crisis

I’m going to try and talk about food and the border crisis.


Borders have never been more numerous, more invisible, more multipliable and more murderous.  Those who voted to leave the EU in order to prevent more migration might not have been aware of, or cared to think about, how the EU orders migration and how it has built a series of concentric redoubts to protect its North-Western citadels. Just as its power as a trading bloc is increased by nation-states’ combination, so is its power of border control magnified, under the banner of its European Border and Coast Guard Agency, fka Frontex.Deaths at the border

Britain has its fair share of detention centres, it has (in partnership with the French state) the squats and campsites of Calais and North-Eastern France. But overwhelmingly, the victims of Capital’s economic and military violence are kept out of Europe, warehoused and trapped in various degrees of hell in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Libya, Morocco, etc. Much of it paid for by the EU. There are also those places on the edges of, but inside, the EU which are tasked with holding migrants. The island of Lesvos (Lesbos) is one such place. Close enough to Turkey to be able to see it on a clear day, the island of 90,000 residents saw half a million refugees pass through in 6 months in 2015. Since the EU-Turkey deal,[1] a route out of the island has become more difficult to obtain. And so in the sea around the island, on the island and all around the borders of Europe, thousands die, and tens of thousands more are kept waiting in squalid conditions, with nothing to do and nothing to hope for.


Food we are now told will run out post Brexit. So much for the efficiency of capitalism. As you would have heard if you were at the last one, millions of people starve, millions of tonnes of food go to waste. Thinking about food helps us remember the importance of land again. This era, say certain scholars, is the capitalocene.[2] The Age of Capital, begun in the 16th century on genocide and conquest. Land, for Feudal power, was in the end ‘surplus appropriation’, says James W. Moore in The Rise of Cheap Nature. It was something you didn’t really need. You just took it: its woods, its wildlife, its peasants, as a way to extend your status , power and control.  In the 1500s, Land, across Europe (in some places rapidly, in others quite gradually) became instead the ‘condition for rising labour productivity within commodity production.’ Capital appropriated Cheap Nature and appropriated Cheap Labour. It enclosed land and dispossessed peasants, stripped whole forests and began mining. ‘Nature’ became, conceptually, a thing separate from ourselves, and, pragmatically, a sum of extractable resources waiting to be appropriated for profit.

‘Mother Nature’ indeed. Worse than Oedipus, for they do it in full knowledge.

And so now food is produced in vast monocultures, its labour of planting, weeding, fertilising and harvesting automated or chemicalised. And where thchicken-011ere is human labour, it is done in the global south or by migrants in the global north. A 2017 House of Commons survey reckoned that in the UK, 27,000 (non-British) EU nationals worked in food production and 116,000 in food manufacture  that year (1/3rd of the sector). A further 75,000 (98% non-British) did seasonal labour on British farms. These figures, the authors admit, are likely to be underestimates. In the bloody and unpleasant business of meat, dairy and egg production, the proportion of migrant labourers is particularly high: ½ the egg packers, 60% of poultry industry workers, 63% of all meat processing. Employers in the food industry claim they are severely understaffed.

Fear of Decline in the West

The reason the British are afraid enough to keep voting Tory or to support racists like Nigel Farage or Tommy Robinson, is that they do not want their precarious standard of living to be sunk even further to the point of having to work in abattoirs or packing factories. A depressingly bleak future. The death of the cockle pickers in Morecombe Bay momentarily exposed why those with a choice don’t choose to work these kind of jobs. It is not because, as the confused ethno-nationalists claim, the British are somehow congenitally less hard-working than their Polish counterparts. What counts as worthwhile employment and what is a good wage are relative to your circumstances.

The effect of this mass migration on those European migrants’ home countries is close to devastating. Romania has lost 14% of its 1991 population, Bulgaria and Lithuania 20%, Latvia 25%[3]. Is this the EU’s ‘free movement’ that Remainers are pining so longingly for? Do they think Latvians are such free-spirited travellers that 1 in 4 of them have set off inter-railing to explore the sights of Europe?  This, to me, looks more like indentured labour: selling off years of their life to try to provide for themselves or their families. At the fall of Communism, the EU forced the newly independent states to privatise state assets and state enterprises, causing millions to be unemployed while at the same time, cutting back extensively on social housing, welfare, education and healthcare. A new elite got very rich from it. So instead of the state-run surveillance states of the Soviet puppet governments, now they have ethno-nationalist, pseudo-dictators, like Viktor Orbán offering payment to Hungarian women to fulfil their national duty to have more pure Hungarian babies to revitalise the glorious Hungarian nation, and along the way, he hopes, replace a severely depleted working-age population.

War as the birth and continuation of Capitalism

Balboa claims possession of the Pacific OceanIt is genocide and conquest which gave birth to this civilisation – or syphilisation as James Joyce called it. Between 1535 and 1680, “the capitalist world ecology more than doubled in size, conquering some four million square kilometres.”[4] Now, with the whole planet as its ecology, in a uni-polar, globalised capitalism, war and repression are the means to discipline labour and to deal with capital’s ongoing crisis of profitability. Missiles explode in piles of flying dollars. 80% of the world own less than 5% of its wealth[5], while Apple, Microsoft and Google each hold between 100 and 250 billion dollars in reserves, absorbing huge amounts of money from financiers who are unable to invest it elsewhere, when so much of the world can’t afford to buy anything. And so war and repression (weapons, reconstruction of bombed cities, appropriation of conquered resources, border control, surveillance, security etc.) all absorb some of this excess capital. As William Robinson writes in the latest edition of Race and Class, “the fate of Silicon Valley and Wall Street become tied to that of warfare and repression.”[6]

And, just lake chadas violently, usually with war involved too, indebted countries of the Global South have their resources and land appropriated, and must deal, impoverished as they are, with the ever more frequent typhoons, earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis that an abused planet throws up at them. Lake Chad has shrunk in size by 90% since the 1960s.

From this nightmare, millions of people flee. And are warehoused in camps, entrapped into slavery or killed along the way. Perhaps they will get to Britain, where there is an even chance they will be made destitute, denied access to work or social welfare or end up in indefinite detention waiting to be sent back ‘home’.

A future for all

And so food. Once we remake this city into a series of communes, assembly-run and commonly-owned, then organisations like Growing Communities, the Food Growers Network and Organic Lea will lead us in establishing cooperatives of organic food production. The land of Africa, the Caribbean, Asia and South America, the industrial glasshouses of Holland, Spain and Italy need no longer provide us with so much of our food. Their land may be used for themselves. The sea will no longer be thundering with the throbbing engines of supersized tankers; ancient hydrocarbons can remain in the ground, instead of ‘the residue of millions of years of life becoming the residue of capital in petrochemical plastics’[7]. Work will be rewarding and communal; food will be local, seasonal, and quality, produced with care for the earth it grows in.

No longer cheap nature and cheap labour but an attitude of care for the planet, care for humanity, enjoyment of life and gratitude for its plenty, which is both the reward of our work for change and the mind-set of that work that will make the change happen.


Protest in Mytilene

Refugee Protest, Sappho Square, Mytilene, April 2018, against conditions in UN-run refugee camps on Lesvos, triggered by death of Ali Khoshi. Photo taken shortly before fascists violently broke up this week long occupation.

In the meantime, that night, we pledged to support Lesvos Solidarity in their work to host and make common cause with the guests to their island. Pikpa camp, which I visited in April, takes some of the island’s most vulnerable people and is run with much joy and camaraderie. They have also set up Mosaik which runs art, education and language classes in the capital, Mytilene; a workshop that upcycles abandoned refugee life jackets (mostly fake, as we learned on the night) into bags; a restaurant called Nan; and are attempting to set up a medical centre which can be used by the island’s residents and guests alike. All of this is done without government or EU money. They are currently fighting an order to close Pikpa camp from the hypocritical Greek health and safety inspectorate. In our privileged position in the EU’s order of things, perhaps we can find some money to donate to those who are dealing with the human victims of this crisis first-hand.

Bon Appetit everyone.


[1] In March 2016, the EU struck a deal with the Turkish state under which Turkey was given £6 billion to keep migrants out of Europe. As well as this huge sum of money, ‘Turkish nationals would be granted visa-free travel to Europe and, once the number of irregular arrivals dropped, a “voluntary” humanitarian scheme to transfer Syrians from Turkey to other European countries would be activated.’

[2] cf. Anthropocene or Capitalocene? Nature, History and the Crisis of Capitalism, ed. Jason. W. Moore; PM Press, 2016.

[3] Le Monde Diplomatique, July 2018.

[4] Moore, ibid.


[6] Race and Class 2018

[7] for that excellent phrase I am indebted to Justin McBrien.

Written by angrysampoetry

August 6, 2018 at 11:16 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: