Monday, October 15, 2007

Shmitta in a Cooperative Agrindustrial Society

In my post "How Many Hours Do/Did You Have to Work?", I touched briefly on how the unnecessary hours that we work in order to make others (sometimes fabulously) wealthy, at any rate more wealthy than ourselves, impinges on Shmitta.

It is clear that if the technology that exists today was used for the benefit of the worker, we would be able to produce far more foodstuffs than we do in much less time. In fact, there is no upper limit on how much agriculture we can produce and no lower limit on the time involved.

In the space of this post we will discuss a related topic that contains within it great implications for observance of Shmitta – the creation of an agrindustrial society, which will also, as we shall see, produce far more rounded and physically healthy people.

I have read that the farmers, whose income depends entirely upon farming, who are economically hurt by the Shmitta year and dread it, rather than welcoming it as a blessed relief and a time of personal and communal renewal, will be engaging in a court action against the Rabbinut.

How tragic this is! How unnecessary! This sad state of affairs is only the result of an unnatural division of labor – a strict and unnatural, wholly contrived, division of workers into "city workers" and "farmers".

The following was written in 1912. Matters have changed since then. People have become far more divided into city workers and farm workers, to the point that some city kids have no idea where bread comes from.

I recall as a child, and so I am going back some forty years, my Mother had a friend who had two daughters. The youngest was two years older than I.

One day my Mother offered to make dinner for their family at their house.

She made a pot roast and as she peeled the potatoes, the younger of the two daughters asked: "What's that?"

At first my Mother thought she must be kidding. But looking at the child's face, she realized she was entirely serious.

My mother answered: "It's a potato."

The child responded: "That's not a potato. Potatoes come in boxes."

It is this sad state of affairs that we will now address and proffer a solution as well as a solution for Shmitta observance.

"Agriculture is so much in need of aid from those who inhabit the cities, that every summer thousands of men leave their slums in the towns and go to the country for the season of crops. The London destitutes go in thousands to Kent and Sussex as bay-makers and hop-pickers, it being estimated that Kent alone requires 80,000 additional men and women for hop-picking; whole villages in France and their cottage industries are abandoned in the summer, and the peasants wander to the more fertile parts of the country; hundreds of thousands of human beings are transported every summer to the prairies of Manitoba and Dacota. Every summer many thousands of Poles spread at harvest time over the plains of Mecklenburg, Westphalia, and even France; and in Russia there is every year an exodus of several millions of men who journey from the north to the southern prairies for harvesting the crops; while many St. Petersburg manufacturers reduce their production in the summer, because the operatives return to their native villages for the culture of their allotments.

Agriculture cannot be carried on without additional hands in the summer; but it still more needs temporary aids for improving the soil, for tenfolding its productive powers. Steam-digging, drainage, and manuring would render the heavy clays in the north-west of London a much richer soil than that of the American prairies. To become fertile, those clays want only plain, unskilled human labour, such as is necessary for digging the soil, laying in drainage tubes, pulverising phosphorites, and the like; and that labour would be gladly done by-the factory workers if it were properly organised in a free community for the benefit of the whole society. The soil claims that sort of aid, and it would have it under a proper organisation, even if it were necessary to stop many mills in the summer for that purpose. No doubt the present factory owners would consider it ruinous if they had to stop their mills for several months every year, because the capital engaged in a factory is expected to pump money every day and every, hour, if possible. But that is the capitalist's view of the matter, not the community's view. "

The passage above reminds me of something my husband told me. When he was a youngster, a teenager, he would go to a Kibbutz during the summer vacation and help them with the picking of the fruit. He loved the work.

"As to the workers, who ought to be the real managers of industries, they will find it healthy not to perform the same monotonous work all the year round, and they will abandon it for the summer, if indeed they do not find the means of keeping the factory running by relieving each other in groups.

The scattering of industries over the country ----so as to bring the factory amidst the fields, to make agriculture derive all those profits which it always finds in being combined with industry (see the Eastern States of America) and to produce a combination of industrial with agricultural work--is surely the next step to be made, as soon as a reorganisation of our present conditions is possible. It is being made already, here and there, as we saw on the preceding pages. This, step is imposed by the very necessity of producing for the producers themselves'. It is imposed by the necessity for each healthy man and woman to spend a part of their lives in manual work in the free air; and it will be rendered the more necessary when the great social movements, which have now become unavoidable, come to disturb the present international trade, and compel each nation to revert to her own resources for her own maintenance. Humanity as a whole, as well as each separate individual, will be gainers by the change, and the change will take, place.

However, such a change also implies a thorough modification of our present system of education. It implies a society composed of men and women, each of whom is able to work with his or her hands, as well as with his or her brain, and to do so in more directions than one. This "integration of capacities" and "integral education"…
Chapter VII, FIELDS, FACTORIES AND WORKSHOPS, by Peter Kropotkin, Second Edition 1912

"To the division of society into brain workers and manual workers we oppose the combination of both kinds of activities; and instead of "technical education," which means the maintenance of the present division between brain work and manual work, we advocate the education integrale, or complete education, which means the disappearance of that pernicious distinction."

"Have the factory and the workshop at the gates of your fields and gardens, and work in them. Not those large establishments, of course, in which huge masses of metals have to be dealt with and which are better placed at certain spots indicated by Nature, but the countless variety of workshops and factories which are required to satisfy the infinite diversity of tastes among civilised men. Not those factories in which children lose all the appearance of children in the atmosphere of an industrial hell, but those airy and hygienic, and consequently economical, factories in which human life is of more account than machinery and the making of extra profits, of which we already find a few samples here and there; factories and workshops into which men, women and children will not be driven by hunger, but will be attracted by the desire of finding an activity suited to their tastes, and where, aided by the motor and the machine, they will choose the branch of activity which best suits their inclinations."

"And, whosoever he might be--scientist or artist physicist or surgeon, chemist or sociologist, historian or poet--he would be the gainer if he spent a part of his life in the workshop or the farm (the workshop and the farm), if he were in contact with humanity in its daily work, and had the satisfaction of knowing that he himself discharges his duties as an unprivileged producer of wealth."

"THE two sister arts of agriculture and industry were not always so estranged from one another as they are now. There was a time, and that time is not so far back, when both were thoroughly combined; the villages were then the seats of a variety of industries, and the artisans in the cities did not abandon agriculture; many towns were nothing else but industrial villages. If the medieval city was the cradle of those industries which bordered upon art and were intended to supply the wants of the richer classes, still it was the rural manufacture which supplied the wants of the million, as it does until the present day in Russia, and to a very great extent in Germany and France. But then came the water-motors, steam, the development of machinery, and they broke the link which formerly connected the farm with the workshop. Factories grew up and they abandoned the fields. They gathered where the sale of their produce was easiest, or the raw materials and fuel could be obtained with the greatest advantage. New cities rose, and the old ones rapidly enlarged; the fields were deserted. Millions of labourers, driven away by sheer force from the land, gathered in the cities in search of labour, and soon forgot the bonds which formerly attached them to the soil. And we, in our admiration of the prodigies achieved under the new factory system, overlooked the advantages of the old system under which the tiller of the soil was an industrial worker at the same time. We doomed to disappearance all those branches of industry which formerly used to prosper in the villages; we condemned in industry all that was not a big factory.

True, the results were grand as regards the increase of the productive powers of man. But they proved terrible as regards the millions of human beings who were plunged into misery and had to rely upon precarious means of living in our cities. Moreover, the system, as a whole, brought about those abnormal conditions which I have endeavoured to sketch in the two first chapters. We were thus driven into a corner; and while a thorough change in the present relations between labour and capital is becoming an imperious necessity, a thorough remodelling of the whole of our industrial organisation has also become unavoidable. The industrial nations are bound to revert to agriculture, they are compelled to find out the best means of combining it with industry, and they must do so without loss of time.

To examine the special question as to the possibility of such a combination is the aim of the following pages. Is it possible, from a technical point of view? Is it desirable? Are there, in our present industrial life, such features as might lead us to presume that a change in the above direction would find the necessary elements for its accomplishment? Such are the questions which rise before the mind. And to answer them, there is, I suppose, no better means than to study that immense but overlooked and underrated branch of industries which are described under the names of rural industries, domestic trades, and petty trades: to study them, not in the works of the economists who are too much inclined to consider them as obsolete types of industry, but in their life itself, in their struggles, their failures and achievements.

The variety of forms of organisation which is found in the small industries is hardly suspected by those who have not made them a subject of special study. There are, first, two broad categories: those industries which are carried on in the villages, in connection with agriculture; and those which are carried on in towns or in villages, with no connection with the land-the workers depending for their earnings exclusively upon their industrial work.

In Russia, in France, in Germany, in Austria, and so on, millions and millions of workers are in the first case. They are owners or occupiers of the land, they keep one or two cows, very often horses, and they cultivate their fields, or their orchards, or gardens, considering industrial work as a by-occupation. In those regions especially, where the winter is long and no work on the land is possible for several months every year, this form of small industries is widely spread…

Again, when the industrial, or rather technical aspects of the small industries are considered, the same variety of types is soon discovered. Here also there are two great branches: those trades, on the one side, which are purely domestic -- that is, those which are carried on in the house of the worker, with the aid of his family, or of a couple of wage-workers; and those which are carried on in separate workshops -- all the just-mentioned varieties, as regards connection with land and the divers modes of disposing of the produce, being met with in both these branches. All possible trades -- weaving, workers in wood, in metals, in bone, in india-rubber, and so on -- may be found under the category of purely domestic trades, with all possible gradations between the purely domestic form of production and the workshop and the factory…

The small industries are thus quite a world, which, remarkable enough, continues to exist even in the most industrial countries, side by side with the big factories. Into this world we must now penetrate to cast a glimpse upon it: a glimpse only, because it would take volumes to describe its infinite variety of pursuits and organisations, and its indefinitely varied connection, with agriculture as well as with other industries."


"Agriculture cannot be carried on without additional hands in the summer; but it still more needs temporary aids for improving the soil, for tenfolding its productive powers. Steam-digging, drainage, and manuring would render the heavy clays in the north-west of London a much richer soil than that of the American prairies. To become fertile, those clays want only plain, unskilled human labour, such as is necessary for digging the soil, laying in drainage tubes, pulverising phosphorites, and the like; and that labour would be gladly done by-the factory workers if it were properly organised in a free community for the benefit of the whole society. The soil claims that sort of aid, and it would have it under a proper organisation, even if it were necessary to stop many mills in the summer for that purpose. No doubt the present factory owners would consider it ruinous if they had to stop their mills for several months every year, because the capital engaged in a factory is expected to pump money every day and every, hour, if possible. But that is the capitalist's view of the matter, not the community's view.

As to the workers, who ought to be the real managers of industries, they will find it healthy not to perform the same monotonous work all the year round, and they will abandon it for the summer, if indeed they do not find the means of keeping the factory running by relieving each other in groups..." - Ibid.

"It has been proved that by following the methods of intensive market- gardening-partly under glass-vegetables and fruit can be grown in such quantities that men could be provided with a, rich vegetable food and a profusion of fruit, if they simply devoted to the task of growing them the hours which everyone willingly devotes to work in the open air, after having spent most of his day in the factory, the mine, or the study. Provided, of course, that the production of food-stuffs should not be the work of the isolated individual, but the planned-out and combined action of human groups."

"If you return to the soil, and co-operate with your neighbours instead of erecting high walls to conceal yourself from their looks; if you utilise what experiment has already taught us, and call to your aid science and technical invention, which never fail to answer to the call-look only at what they have done for warfare-you will be astonished at the facility with which you can bring a rich and varied food out of the soil. You will admire the amount of sound knowledge which your children will acquire by your side, the rapid growth of their intelligence, and the facility with which they will grasp the laws of Nature, animate and inanimate." – Chapter IX

This, then, is the answer to our problems of Shmitta.

If we were to apply technology wisely and well for the good of all workers, there is no upper limit either to how much we could produce in factories and no lower limit to the amount of time.

Likewise, in the book FIELDS, FACTORIES AND WORKSHOPS Kropotkin discusses farming techniques that increased some produce as much as a hundred fold – in his time, with the technology of the beginning of the 20th C.


If we were to integrate farming and industrial or service work such that the one served the other, such that we were more rounded people and make technology work for us in both – we would produce an amount of agriculture unimaginable. We would be able to store and preserve so much fruit and vegetable product during the 5th and 6th years of the shmitta cycle that we would all enjoy the shmitta.

There would no longer be people whose entire income was based solely on farming. And so, they would not face shmitta with trepidation. They would anticipate the shmitta as a time of leisure during which they could cultivate a better society and edify themselves as individuals.

Neither would shmitta be for us a time of reduced enjoyment of produce that is so very essential to our health.

Moreover, we would not be putting ourselves at the mercy of other peoples to produce food for us once every seven years.

Shmitta is meant to be a blessing. It is not meant to be a punishment or a reason for factiousness among us.

We have been given the blessing of Me'ah She'arim (produce a hundredfold) if we go about our farming and our industry in justice and in a way that serves everyone, in a way that builds everyone.

Kropotkin has proven that promise was already possible in his time.

Surely, it is possible in ours.

Doreen Ellen Bell-Dotan, Tzfat, Israel
DoreenDotan@gmail.com


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