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Friday, May 31, 2019

Trump is America's Lysenko

Our future?

Trump's fascination with Russia may have its roots in Soviet agriculture policies. The Soviet Union had a problem with recurring famines.  Its Marxist revolution had an alliance with behaviorist psychological theory developed by Ivan Pavlov, the guy who rang a bell when he fed dogs and then made them salivate by ringing the bell.  Although the behaviorists and the Marxist had some differences, the Soviet political operatives were fond of the idea that humans could be conditioned to behave on command like Pavlov's dog.  The idea fit into the Marxist belief that life is a process of being conditioned by our environment.  Therefore, in the Marxist view, whoever controls the environment controls the people.  If some people were slow learners, they were put into the environment of a prison camp for re-education.

For many decades Soviet agriculture policy was invested in a man who rejected genetics and scientific farming and imposed his own "science" on the raising of food.  His name was Trofim Lysenko.  He, for example, believed that exposing wheat to severe conditions of cold and moisture would cause it to adapt to those conditions and eventually thrive.  And then, as Marxist doctrine contended, it would pass those adaptations on to succeeding generations of wheat, which would produce bumper crops.  Meanwhile in America, colleges of agriculture were applying genetic knowledge to the breeding of plants and were producing strains of wheat that could thrive and make surpluses that could be sold to the Soviets. 

Lysenko formulated a cult of pseudoscience that became known as Lysenkoism.  Lysenko attacked the validity of science itself, subordinating it to politics.  He instituted a campaign against those who engaged in the true scientific method, which included imprisoning them when science contradicted Soviet doctrine.

I was a farm editor at the time Lysenkoism was coming to an end.  At the time many delegations of Soviet scientists were coming to the United States to visit colleges of agriculture, American farms. and farm equipment manufacturers.  The Eisenhower administration under Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson also arranged visits to the Soviet Union by farmers, professors of agriculture, and farm journalists to make a comparative study of agriculture in the U.S. and the Soviet Union.  American visitors came away from those trips understanding why collective farms in the communist system struggled to produce while U.S. farmers were coping with overproduction.  They warned about the dangers of consolidating farms into huge industrial units that operated as factories rather than as agricultural enterprises.  They said there was no appreciable difference between a system of agriculture run by the Kremlin and one run by a corporate headquarters.  Both impose the culture of a bureaucracy onto agriculture and reduce farmers to the status of serfs.

A key concept in the development of American agriculture was self-sufficiency.  Each farm supplied the food and the shelter for the family that operated it.  The early family farms contained a full inventory of the livestock, crops, and gardens that supplied their food throughout the year.  Farm life was self-sufficient but arduous, sometimes exhaustingly so. As rural America was electrified, farmers were conflicted.  Electricity could vastly improve life for them.  They realized the convenience and safety of simply turning on a switch during the dark winter mornings to do their milking rather than fueling, lighting, and moving kerosene lamps around to light the work.  But the power line coming into the farm represented a tie to a corporate bureaucracy, the acquisition of a dependence, and the loss of some self-reliance which was the basis of their independence.  There are stories told of farmers who electrified only the barn and skipped the house in order to limit the dependence, as well as keep the electric bill in check. 

When American farmers visited the collective farms in the Soviet Union, they were struck by the fact that the farmers working the land were literally serfs whose every action was monitored and supervised and whose work produced no benefits of equity for them.  The collective farms were not self-sufficient, but were  knots of dependencies that imposed limited possibilities on their residents and denied them the freedoms of choice and the aspirations to satisfying lives.  The American farmers witnessed people living lives of desperation in which self-fulfillment was not even a consideration.  The Americans recognized that while their lives required endless toil, their work with the land produced opportunities for a way of life free from want and undue interference in making their own choices.  They saw a parallel with the collective farms and the American farms that were relinquishing an agriculture for an agribusiness.

It is incongruous that rural America has embraced Donald Trump, who is the antithesis of the values that once occupied the American farmland.  As a real estate developer, Trump has been a spoiler of the land.  His plague of lies and defamations has infected the land and has emaciated the soul of rural America, as its members have chosen serfdom under him.  His policies, like Lysenko's, deny the science on which American agriculture thrived, and have replaced it with ethnic and political hatred and systematic dishonesty.  Rural America believes Trump fights for it, but there is no evidence that Trump has ever fought for anything but his greed and lust for power.  His business record is one of fraud and ruin for those he has cheated.  In a word, Trump is a criminal, and he does little but prey on the gullible. But rural America believes he fights for them.  

Rural Americans turned to Trump because they felt the country was neglecting them.  Part of that neglect was because of the federal farm programs that were once designed to support and sustain family farms were now pouring most of the money into corporate, industrial agribusiness.  Urban and suburban people, who are living paycheck to paycheck and facing infrastructure and environmental problems saw programs for rural America of a kind that is not available to them.  Rural Americans thought they were neglected.   Their alliance with Trump is making them despised.  The political and social divide becomes irreconcilable.

The failure of collective farms run on Lysenko's policies was a big factor in the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Trump has introduced the same kind of policies into American agriculture, and as farms become industrial agribusinesses, they are under the rule of a bureaucracy that will dutifully adhere to Trump, just as the collective farm managers adhered to Lysenko.

The transformation of agriculture to agribusiness proceeds apace, as farms consolidate.  South Dakota, for example, lost 2,000 farms between 2012 and 2017. The question is if the transformation portends for America what it did for the Soviet Union.  As Trump likes to say, we'll see.

Many of us have already seen it.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States