Publications

Farmers’ upheaval, climate crisis and populism

Ploeg, Jan Douwe van der

Summary

This article aims to unravel underlying reasons for the enigmatic outburst of farmers’ fury that swept large parts of Europe in the autumn of 2019. It does so by focussing on the Netherlands where the upheaval was particularly striking. Farmers’ resentment against ‘agribashing’ was a common theme in the many protests. This refers to, and simultaneously delegitimizes, all critiques of the current organization of farming and the unequal international patterns in which it is embedded. The article argues that the currently emerging farmers’ movement basically represents a regressive populism. It ignores the many-sided crisis of agriculture (related to ever increasing use of nitrogen, pesticides and energy that contribute to the climate crisis and loss of biodiversity) and the politico-economic processes and unequal power relations underlying this. Although this movement creates many smoke screens, it is essentially fighting for the reproduction of the same order that makes a substantial contribution to these multiple crises. As international comparison shows, this new form of right-wing, rural populism reflects the degree to which entrepreneurial agriculture has internalized the logic of capital: it needs ongoing expansion, both for material and symbolic reasons. Peasant agriculture could provide a much needed counter-image to this. In practice, though, it is highly segmented and dispersed and is in urgent need of a new unifying device.