Saturday, 18 September 2010

Interview with Richard Hunt

Richard Hunt is author of To End Poverty: The Starvation of the Periphery By the Core (1998) and Editor of Alternative Green magazine. The following interview first appeared in Issue #6 of The Crusader.

Q. By way of an introduction for people who have not yet heard of Richard Hunt, can you give us a brief history of your past political activity, your ideological development and the events that led you to establish Alternative Green?

RH: Having worked out my theory of the causes of poverty, I tried to sell it to the Left via a community newspaper in Reading. And failed. I then joined the Greens and tried to persuade their economic working party. And failed. I tried to interest the (urban) Anarchists. And failed. So I and two others started Green Anarchist, which does now accept our economic analysis; but a difference over strategy developed. The two other (different others) wanted to go further Left for short-term advantage. I wanted to hold the centre-ground between Left and Right for long-term advantage. So I had to leave and start Alternative Green.

Q. You have a specific viewpoint regarding the way in which the present economic system operates, i.e. the exploitation of what you call the periphery by the core. Again, for those who have yet to come into contact with your ideas, can you briefly explain your theory?

RH: ‘Primitive’ societies are not poor. Food and fuel are always available and free. They have been called ‘the original affluent society’. They never store food or grow it. Growing food is harder work, so unintelligent. They obey the Law of Least Effort (which is why they won’t feed the cities). Population growth is controlled by the group, otherwise they would have to work harder by growing things to feed the extra mouths. Then, it seems, chiefs or shamen invented religion to persuade, con or force others to produce a surplus and hand it over. “The gods say so”. This happened before settlement. In case they objected the peasants were disarmed (this also meant that the King/State and not the clan now had responsibility for peace and justice because the clan, disarmed, could no longer enforce a decision).

The top people, with food from the peasants, were no longer constrained to keep the population low, the rich had the children. And so they demanded more food from the peasants and created the poverty. Conventional economics says that it is the lack of trade and industry which creates poverty. This is not so. Trade and industry cause further poverty by again transferring the natural resources from the periphery to the core. The periphery peoples do not choose to trade. They share resources. They do not exchange them. Barter or trade is seen as extremely anti-social and, “Far from being of a trucking disposition, primitive man was strongly averse to acts of barter” [Polanyi, 1977]. So there’s nothing natural about trade. But their periphery rulers force the peasants to produce a surplus which the rulers remove and sell to the core to buy the core’s luxuries and arms. Thus the artisans at the core who make these luxury goods are able to obtain their food. They depend on strong rulers on the periphery. The urban artisans have hardly ever made goods for periphery peoples (rather than their rulers) who are proudly self-sufficient.

Nowadays, the periphery peoples are forced to produce the surplus, not by the sword, but by direct and indirect taxation. They are forced to pay an income tax or poll tax etc., in cash. Their only way to obtain cash is to grow extra crops; cash crops which they exchange for cash, which they then hand over as taxes. After the invention of money rulers found they could increase their income, and therefore their power, by taxing trade. The traders paid the taxes and increased the prices of their goods to pay for it. So the consumers paid the taxes without realising it, as we pay VAT. It was therefore in the ruler’s interests to increase trade to increase their income, and therefore the poverty of everyone else. In the Middle Ages the peasants produced a surplus to feed the priest and the soldiers because it was ‘seemly’. there was no suggestion that their crops were being exchanged for the products of the urban artisans.

In the Age of Enlightenment ‘seemly’ wasn’t good enough. They had to find another excuse for forcing the peasants to feed them. Adam Smith said that entrepreneurs create wealth by trade and industry. this wealth, he says, ‘trickles down’ to the middle classes in return for their services. They consume some of it. the rest ‘trickles down’ to the workers in return for their products. They consume it. All of it. All that’s left to ‘trickle down’ to the peasants is soot, sewage, scrap and shoddy. Adam Smith in his theory of Division of Labour said that if all the members of a firm specialise in what they are best at, the firm is more successful. Correct. He then said that all the employees are better paid. Incorrect. the wage rate of the lowest paid is determined by the hungrier at the factory gate, prepared to work for less. The theory of Comparative Advantage, the justification for international trade between the core and the periphery, says that if countries specialise in what they are best at, more is produced. Correct. It then says that all the workers in both countries are therefore better paid. Incorrect. The higher wages all go to the higher developed country. The wages of the agricultural labourers in the Third World are determined by the millions of their unemployed countrymen. Since trade and industry are supposed to create wealth, the presumption is that they also create employment (by ‘trickle down’). Wrong. Employment is created by the amount of food (and the other necessities of life) which are in the market and can be bought by the workers. More food, more employment. Thus economics is a zero sum game. If we get the jobs (i.e. the food), another country doesn’t get the jobs (i.e. the food). Global employment has gone up, not because of more trade and industry, but because more cash crops are being grown. As I have shown, rulers cause the poverty. If you hand over power to rulers, you will get exploited. All power corrupts. It is only small villages of less than 500 people that don’t need rulers: “When a group exceeds 500 persons it requires some form of policing” [Pfeiffer]. So to end poverty the only option is autonomous, self-sufficient, armed villages. There are three ways of getting from here to there:

(i) Revolution on the periphery, where the periphery peoples fight for independence;

(ii) Progressive break-up of the political unit. So the European Union breaks up the individual countries, and then Britain breaks up into Scotland, Ulster, Wales and England, each with their own coinage and Final Appeal. Then these break up into regions with their own coinage and Final Appeal. Then these break up, etc.; and

(iii) Cutting taxation (first, indirect taxation on the poor) until government has no income and therefore no power. It can’t hire a shed to hold a meeting.

Q. Can you explain how, in your view, this exploitation of the periphery has led to the industrialisation of the West and the impoverishment of the Third World.

RH: When the food is taken from the peasants, it is stored in the chief’s stockade (the core), later to become castles and then cities. The poorest peasants go to these cities to earn by labour the food taken from the periphery. because of the higher cost of living in cities where water and fuel must be bought, to say nothing of infrastructure costs - policing, prisons etc. - wages would have to be higher. Because wages are higher it is necessary for the core to invent labour-saving machinery, if they are in competition to sell exports. The empires of Rome and China were not in competition with others. They were both self-sufficient. Britain was not. For centuries she was a low-wage periphery. Then Cromwell started to re-arm, financed by direct taxation. This continued for a hundred years to pay for the wars with Holland and France, by which time it was the highest-taxed country in the world with the highest cost of living and the highest wages. Its expensive clothes were being priced out of the market. So it was forced to invent labour-saving machinery, forced by poverty, by the need to import timber, food etc. Labour-saving machinery saves the amount of labour in the product. It does not save the worker labour. He has to still work the same eight hours or more to make the new machine profitable to install. In fact we’re working harder and harder. Hunter-gatherers work about two hours a day, cultivators four hours. Athenian farmers only worked half the year, in the growing season. Victorian factory workers, a small percentage of the population, certainly worked the longest hours. Today factory hours taking into account overtime are a little shorter, but the female population is working in the factories as well, so together we’re working harder and harder.

Technology is always more advanced in the cities, so as long as the producers can sell enough goods to cover the cost of the machinery, goods from the city will always be cheaper than the periphery goods. Therefore if core goods are allowed in without duties to bring them up to the price of the periphery goods (free trade), the core industries will always destroy the periphery industries. This was the way Africa was de-industrialised. Having been de-industrialised, Africa was encouraged by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to concentrate on agricultural crops according to the theory of Comparative Advantage. Africa now grows food and other crops for the rest of the world. The money goes to the rulers, the peasant having no money cannot buy their own crops. And so starve.

Q. In order to redress the balance you say that the wilful exploitation of the Third World must cease. If and when this comes about it would lead to a dramatic change in our own social and economic circumstances. Can you explain how a revolt by the exploited Third World populations would affect the British Isles, and more specifically how it would force the emergence of a Natural Society?

Another Shade of Green: Collected Writings
RH: This is crystal-gazing, which is dodgy. There are far too many unknowns. How long will it take for this analysis to be discussed, let alone accepted? Because of democracy, education and more open government, it gets more difficult to hide from the workers the fact that others are starving to feed them. But how long will that take? Can people reject religion and its demand for obedience? But here’s one possible scenario. If the Third World stop sending us their oil, timber, cotton, food etc. it will stop sending them slowly. And at the same rate we can cut our population by having fewer babies. There are now two major conflicting trends, the trend towards larger economic units against the trend towards smaller national units. The trend towards national units will be stronger at the periphery, which has less to lose industrially. They will impose duties on imported goods from the core to protect their own industries. This will reduce the amount of cash crops coming into the core to pay for them, which will cause unemployment - less food to feed workers, who will migrate to the periphery countries for that food which no longer comes to the core. With less trade government will receive less indirect taxation and so will be able to afford fewer guns, both to arm periphery rulers and to control their own peripheries which will break away, reducing still further the power of the core and reducing the jobs in their cities. The workers will migrate to the countryside, country towns and other countries. And the population will decrease. This happened at the decline and fall of the Western half of the Roman Empire. The Empire had split for organisational reasons. More of the taxation went to Constantinople than to Rome, so Rome had less money for soldiers. When the barbarians came, Rome fell. When the Roman Army left Britain abruptly (and for good as it turned out) in 409-10 to defend Rome against the barbarians, the taxation could not be collected and taken to the towns. So there were no jobs in the towns. In fifty years the towns were all derelict. Industry no longer existed. They forgot the potters’ wheel. It had been the army which had produced the demand for sufficient pottery to make the investment in the pottery wheel economic. No army, no wheel. They stopped minting coins and used no money for 150 years. And, it is thought, the population collapsed. Today the army won’t leave abruptly, so regression will be much slower.

What holds the economy and the nation-state together is not the army but Adam Smith’s economic theory. Who knows how long that will take to be discredited? But when that happens the demand for decentralisation of power will be irresistible. Britain will leave the European Union. Then Scotland, Ulster and Wales will get independent regions with their own coinage and Final Appeal. And they in turn will break up etc. Well, that’s a possible tidy scenario. But it takes no account of people, charismatic leaders, stubborn fear of change, epidemics, ecological crises, religion or all the other jokers in the pack. Anything could happen. And nothing at all will happen until the threat of America’s bombs is removed and America itself has broken up.

Q Can you give us a glimpse of what such a society will look like? What future is there for Capitalism and its pursuit of constant expansion, economic growth and profit-making?

RH: The shape of society will be determined by population density. If the population of Britain dropped to 15,000, the people would be hunter-gatherers. Least Effort. If the population can drop to 15 million and the people are able to re-arm, they could live in autonomous, self-sufficient villages. A key moment in the renewal is at which point the population re-arms itself. During the Roman Occupation, Scotland was still not disarmed and so was free of Roman domination. When the Roman Army left, presumably some of the population of England was able to re-arm, the north certainly. Kent with links to the Continent stayed disarmed with its Romano-British aristocracy staying in control, with their henchmen and freemen maintaining their monopoly of arms and forcing the peasants to continue producing the surplus. Elsewhere the clan would take back responsibility for peace, justice and welfare. In tribal societies, if someone is murdered the whole extended family of the murderer has to pay recompense to the whole of the victim’s extended family - 50 head of cattle, for example, shared out. So the murderer would be very unpopular in his own family, which is the sanction for good behaviour in an Anarchist society. There would be ‘chiefs’, or perhaps ‘spokesmen’ would be a better word, and a peck order of respect but not obedience. The chief acts as spokesman of the group to outsiders; but within the group “one word from the chief and everyone does as they please.” Without mobility of labour, which has destroyed the extended family, that family can be rebuilt and the welfare state dispensed with.

Capitalism can only exist when the strong are separate from the weak and no longer expected to help the weak in an interdependent society, so that individual greed is allowed full rein. When one depends on the rest of the group for one’s plot of land, when one is expected to share rather than exchange in an interdependent society Capitalism, economic growth and profit-making are impossible. It is money and private ownership of land which makes Capitalism invincible.

Q. Is your idea of a Natural Society built upon Natural Order? Do you believe that the world has a Natural Order dictated by nature?

RH: The only things that are natural are what you don’t have to make laws about. You don’t have to make a law that apples fall downwards. You don’t have to make a law that people should live in villages. So there are laws of nature such as gravity or survival of the fittest. But there are no laws which say that Blacks should not intermarry with Whites. And who is going to say what this Natural Order is? The Star Chamber? The Politburo? The Chairman? Professors selected for their opinions? What’s to stop the Committee of public safety decreeing that slavery was natural, as Christianity once did? It’s the high road to tyranny?

Q. In Issue #14 of Alternative Green [p.10] you state that “although racism is inevitable and universal, in a multi-racial society it is disastrous and must be suppressed. Peace is more important than racial purity. To prevent the inevitable injustice meted out to minorities, it is necessary to intermarry as quickly as possible”. Firstly, why do you advocate the destruction of that which nature has created, that is, racial diversity through intermarriage, and is this not contrary to the Natural Order? Secondly, exactly who or what is going to suppress those of us who are fundamentally opposed to racial integration?

RH: Since I don’t accept your concept of the Natural Order, it can’t be contrary to it. In order to preserve the peace in a multi-racial society, people, individually, must suppress their own racism, as nearly all people already do.

Q. A fair reflection of our position would be that racial integration is a product of the internationalist ideology of both Capitalists and Marxists, and that loyalty to Race, Nation, Region, Culture and Tradition are natural barriers to the imperialist, globalist tendency and must be encouraged, not destroyed. It would seem that you concur with this view on all points but Race. Why is Race the exception for you?

RH: Yes, I concur with your view on all points but Race, because Race alone of all these factors is all mixed in our multi-racial society. To unmix them would cause far greater unhappiness than all the capitalist exploitation. By concentrating on all the other factors we can still repel Capitalism. And anyway, you can’t use racism against Capitalism because most of the Capitalists are the same race.

Q. Internationalists, of every description, have no understanding of the relationship that exists between the people, generations of people, and the land from which they are drawn, i.e. the concept of Blood and Soil. This lack of understanding leads them to advocate a global society with a rootless populace, devoid of all sense of Ancestry, Heritage and Tradition. What, if any, is your understanding of the bond that exists between people and land, and more importantly, do you think it will have any significance in the emergence of the Natural Society?

RH: I have no attachment to any land. I only know where most of my great-grandfathers came from. So do most other people, so in Britain there is little bond between Blood and Soil nor will it have any significance in the emergence of the Natural Society. It will have great significance in its continuation; but it is an exclusive idea and it looks as if I’m going to be one of those excluded.

Q. We have a specific view of how society should be governed through what we call Meritocracy, or Natural Selection. This would appear to concur with your own view of a Natural Society being ordered through hierarchy, or the peck order. Will you please explain your understanding of hierarchy?

RH: All power corrupts. If you allow yourself to be governed, you will be exploited. The object of The Natural Society was to show how people have, and can, live without government or Meritocracy. In communities of less than 500 there is no need for policing or government. They would be, as are all ‘primitive’ societies of this size, Anarchies. There would be no Meritocracy. There would be a peck order of influence and respect, but no government, no obedience. The confusion happens because of two usages of the word ‘hierarchy’; one meaning obedience to superiors (which you, I think, mean and I don’t), the other meaning peck order as observed in all animal groups (which I mean and you don’t). But it’s necessary for me to go on about hierarchy/peck order because it explains the consumer society, whereby one’s place in the peck order is determined in an anonymous society by what can afford to buy - how big is one’s car? the function of the peck order in animal societies and ours is to minimise fighting and protect the weak by the ritual of building the peck order - conventional means to conventional goals. So we don’t have to fight every time to get the best seat. Conspicuous consumption is vital to creating the peck order and keeping the peace. But peck order doesn’t mean government.

Q. We have noticed that you place great importance on the role of the family within your vision of a Natural Society, but why is the family so central to your theory of how society will be ordered and what role will it play in keeping the peace?

RH: In an Anarchist society it is the family, the extended family, cousins, uncles, great aunts who provide the sanction for good behaviour and welfare in times of difficulty. There are no policemen in an Anarchy and no social workers. If parents don’t seem to be coping with a child, the child is moved up the road to stay with auntie, not put into a children’s home. Auntie takes the child because neighbours, friends and family think she should. There is no such pressure today. No one knows. And bringing shame on the family is the most important sanction for good behaviour.

Q. It would appear that a Natural Society based upon agrarian self-sufficiency and non- -exploitation, such as you advocate, can only work and be maintained if the population level is rigorously controlled. You have mentioned a specific figure for a ceiling limit on population growth within the British Isles for a Natural Society. What is this limit and how did you come to arrive at such a figure?

RH: About 16 million. The United Nations says (I can’t remember where) that each self-sufficient family needs 8 acres. Assuming four children, that’s four per family. There are about 33 million acres of farmland extending rough grazing which is enough for 4 million families, which is about 16 million people.
Q. You state that an increase in self-sufficient communities would see a natural decline in population. Can you explain how this would occur? More specifically, what methods would be used?

RH: It is in the community’s interest to keep the population low. With fewer mouths to feed you don’t need to grow so much food. It’s less work. About primitive societies: “It appears as if several of these societies strove to maximise labour productivity. This involved limiting the population to the number that could be supported with a fairly modest effort. The means of achieving this limitation varied. Sexual taboos - e.g. the prohibition of intercourse during a nursing period of 3-5 years was common, as were various abortion methods. Different ways of legitimising abortions also appears to have existed. The condition for the functioning of the system was that the land was collectively owned and that the food was distributed according to need” [Anell and Nygren]. Specifically, it’s impossible to say what methods would be used. That’s a judgement for each community.

Q. Can you explain whilst on the one hand you oppose the power of the State and the enforcement of the laws of obedience, and on the other you praise the “responsible lead” [AG #13, p.18] taken by China in the area of population control? Do you imagine that the Chinese populace would ever countenance supporting such a policy if people were not forced to spend the whole of their lives looking down the barrel of a gun? How do you equate decrees issued by a Marxist dictatorship with a free society?

RH: This is three different questions: (i) should I, an Anarchist, obey the law and therefore recommend others to obey the law?; (ii) is the Chinese law to have one child a good law?; and (iii) should such a law be introduced in other countries?

Let’s look at each in turn. Firstly should I, an Anarchist, obey the law? Society, without policing and the law, is only possible in communities less than about 500 people. Since I live in a city of about 50,000, law is necessary otherwise chaos would ensue and there would be no money for food, and violence would be uncontrolled. So I obey the law because otherwise I would starve or be killed. secondly, is the Chinese law to have only one child a good law? Is it a good thing that as many families as possible should have only one child (it’s not a matter of freedom. You would be no more free to have as many babies as you like in a self-sufficient village as in China. In one you are constrained by public opinion. In the other by the law)? But I just don’t know whether it is possible to make fair laws about it. So the ‘lead’ which China gives of only having one child is a good one. The law is debatable. Thirdly, because China has been under heavy rule for three thousand years (not just Marxism) the Chinese people are apparently used to obeying extreme laws. Perhaps other peoples are not. So whether it is a just law or not, it probably wouldn’t work in other countries anyway.

Q. Would you say that you were opposed to technology in the way that the nineteenth-century Luddites were, or do you see a role - possibly a limited role - for technology in a Natural Society?

RH: I would miss newspapers and the radio etc. I’ve no objection to technology itself. So in principle I’d be quite happy to see computers etc. in villages. But when everybody’s got their own land, no one is going to work in the factories. we may like computers, but they simply won’t be available.

Q. We noticed your comment about feminism being a luxury for the middle classes in a Police State. What do you mean by this and what would be the role of women in a Natural Society?

RH: The main function of the police is to preserve the property of those who have, the middle classes, from those who have not, the poor. As poor women have found, they can expect no sympathy and little protection from the police. So they need the protection of a strong male or at least one that looks strong, macho. The middle class women get, and depend on, the protection of the police so they don’t need, and can afford to denigrate, strong macho men. An Amazonian Indian, on television, said that men and women were equal, unambiguously. Probably the smaller the group, the more equality there would be between the sexes.

Q. What do you think of veganism and vegetarianism?

RH: We have incisor teeth and a short gut which means we’re designed to be omnivores. The further from the equator one gets, the more impractical is vegetarianism. Even in Britain it depends in the Winter on beans imported from warmer countries for protein. For Eskimos it’s impossible. And in temperate climates the only materials to keep warm are feathers, fur and wool. Cotton won’t be available. So animals are going to have to be exploited.

Q. You say that there are two methods of activism necessary for a change over to a Natural Society, the first being to elect MP’s who are committed to cutting government power by cutting taxation. Don’t you think it is misleading to ask people to support the System’s politicians on this basis? Do you see the System’s power simply diminishing as the new autonomous communities multiply? Do you think there is a role for revolutionary vanguards?

RH: Cutting taxes and subdividing the political units go hand in hand. No autonomous, armed, self-sufficient villages will be allowed by any sort of government. They will only happen as government loses control of its peripheries. If one is to recommend a gradualist approach such as cutting taxes, it’s no use being all purist and refusing to take part. I don’t know what a revolutionary vanguard is. If it’s persuading people of revolutionary ideas, that’s fine. But using violence won’t work. I think it will be counter-productive. It will turn people against the ideas at this point. When sufficient people agree with the ideas, violence on the periphery to fight for independence would work.

Q. The second method of activism is revolution in the exploited Third World. Accepting that the present economic system is unjust and should not, even if it could, be maintained, what is the possibility of a revolt by the Third World populace? Would not the internationalist system use everything it had to prop up friendly elements within what are effectively satellite states?

RH: Yes, the internationalist system would use everything it had. But it hasn’t worked in Somalia or Somaliland, nor in Liberia. Perhaps the Capitalists think they have less to lose in Africa? It is not true, but their economic liberty would tell them that it is. So they are not willing to risk television filming body bags coming home. So perhaps Africa will quietly drop out of sight like Somaliland? Free and no fuss. All we notice is another radio station off the air. And fewer crops coming from the Third World. Britain left India because, faced with Gandhi’s truths, it lost the will to exploit. So the important thing is to face the internationalists with the truth and undermine their convictions.

Q. Is the Natural Society inevitable?

RH: No, it depends on the death of religion.

Q. Finally, for those who wish to know more can you recommend any books or literature containing further information on self-sufficiency and ecology, etc.?

RH: Both Green and Anarchist literature is awful. the Anarchists present a view of human nature that is quite beautiful and hopelessly unconvincing. Green literature is smugly self-righteous and without answers. For self-sufficiency early John Seymour is a delight. He became the guru of self- -sufficiency, but I haven’t read his later books.

20 Upper Barr,
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1) Equality
1) Liberty
2) Economies of Scale
2) Small is Beautiful
3) Higher Taxes to Increase Government Power
3) Lower Taxes to Cut Government Power and therefore
Redistribute Wealth
4) Free Trade
4) Protectionism
5) Pro-GATT
5) Anti-GATT
6) Pro-Technology
6) Anti-Technology
7) Pro-European Union
7) Anti-European Union
8) The Core
8) The Periphery
9) Capitalists
9) Nationalists
10) Liberals
10) Anarchists
11) Marxists
11) Greens/SNP
12) Conservative, Labour, Political Parties, BNP
12) Religions, Liberal Charities, Regionalists, Tribals/Hippies
13) Fascists
13) Racialists
14) Socialists
14) Third Positionists
15) Internationalists
15) Survivalists
16) Workers
16) Peasants
17) Townspeople
17) Country people
18) Third World Rulers
18) Third World People

* The Theory of Alternative Green
* The Natural Society
* Who’s Starving Them?

Related articles:

 * Another Shade of Green: Collected Writings of Richard Hunt