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Post Land Reform and Its Discontents: S Africa and Brazil
Created by John Eipper on 08/09/18 6:40 AM

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Land Reform and Its Discontents: S Africa and Brazil (Istvan Simon, USA, 08/09/18 6:40 am)

I have no personal knowledge of what's happening in South Africa regarding the expropriation of white-owned farms, but I think that Tim Ashby is closer to the truth here than Rodolfo Neirotti's friend Mqondisi Ngadlela.

How can I say this, if I just confessed that I have no personal knowledge on the matter? It is because I recognize in Mr. Ngadlela's response and also in what Tim Ashby wrote certain common features with a kind of "land reform" I am much more familiar with, which is the expropriation of land in Brazil, more precisely the so-called Movimento dos Sem Terra, MST, essentially a Marxist guerrilla organization that was greatly encouraged by the now disgraced governments of Lula and Dilma, finally removed from power. This is, I hasten to add, does not imply an endorsement of current president Temer. Temer is corrupt as well, though much less corrupt than Lula.

In Brazil the MST worked like this: Bands of poor armed "farmers" would occupy a farm by violence, declare it an "unproductive latifundio," and demand the occupied land be distributed to the occupiers for free. The government would expropriate the land and distribute the land to the "farmers," who would go on to the next farm and repeat the process. The owners, naturally, would object to this, often with violence, and so armed conflict would ensue. The owners would hire their goons, arm them, and the goons would kill the "farmers" occupying the land illegally, who would shoot back, and sometimes kill some of the hired goons.

Now this process in Brazil has clear parallels with what Tim Ashby described, and also has some recognizable features in common with Mr. Ngadela's rosy view of the situation in South Africa.

The problematic aspects of Mqondisi's post I see are the following:

1. He refers to the "rightful owners" as if the current owners were not rightful. Now this definitely needs a lot of explaining, explaining that I believe Mr. Ngadela would not be able to convincingly provide.

2. Why is it that the expropriations in South Africa are essentially racist, with the farms of only whites being expropriated? This is no less intolerable than Apartheid was. The color of the skin of the owners should make absolutely no difference, yet it clearly does in South Africa. This repeats in South Africa the disgraced absolutely disastrous and corrupt actions of Robert Mugabe, fortunately now gone from Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe should be hanged for his crimes and abuse during his reign. Zuma should also at the very least be imprisoned for his corrupt rule.

The ANC, as Tim Ashby accurately diagnosed, has become a thoroughly corrupt pseudo-Marxist organization. It's Marxism is in its rhetoric only. In reality it is just a bunch of self-enriching corrupt politicians using ideology for benefitting themselves. Again obvious parallels with Lula and Mugabe.

3. Mr. Ngadela wrote of absurdly high prices demanded by the current owners. Now what on earth does that mean? If the asking price is "absurdly high" do not buy it, period. Who on earth can determine what is the "fair price"?

JE comments:  The story of land reform has invariably been one of disappointment, even though the intentions are good:  start with 40 acres and a mule.  Mexico's post-Revolutionary period led to situations like the one described in Juan Rulfo's story "Nos han dado la tierra" [They Gave Us the Land]:  faceless bureaucrats arrive from the city and distribute barren scrub with no access to water.  When the illiterate campesinos protest, they are told to put everything in writing and send the proper documentation to the authorities.

If we scan the globe, have there been any examples of land reform done right?

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  • Has Land Reform Ever Been Done "Right"? (Istvan Simon, USA 08/10/18 4:46 AM)
    When commenting on my post August 9, John E asked:

    "If we scan the globe, have there been any examples of land reform done right?"

    My answer:  Yes and No. Yes, because the United States did land reform right when it distributed correctly sized land parcels to farmers in the expansion of the West for free, without favoritism and more or less honestly.

    No, because the American Indians got cheated and got the short end of the stick.

    JE comments:   Was the 1862 Homestead Act "land reform" or theft, pure and simple?  To echo Istvan Simon, I'd say yes and no.  Turning again to South Africa, Rodolfo Neirotti has sent a further comment on this subject from Mqondisi Ngadlela (next).

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    • Homesteading in Texas, New Mexico: My Father's Experience (Richard Hancock, USA 08/11/18 4:06 AM)
      Istvan Simon (10 August) characterizes land reform in the US as fair and honest. It is a much more complicated story than he asserts. The Homestead Act of 1862 provided 160 acres of public domain to American citizens at the age of 21.

      The homesteader received ownership after 5 years of residence. The 160-acre grant was impractical for lands west of the 100th Meridian because of dry conditions, so the grant was raised to 640 acres, still not adequate for the Great Plains and lands further west. The only exception was Texas, where a person could homestead on 8 sections (5,120 acres,) a much more practical size although a minimum for ranchers.

      My father homesteaded in Texas, sold his land there and moved to New Mexico, where he purchased a ranch of approximately 20 sections (10,240 acres) near Corona, in central New Mexico. There were three 640-acre homesteads on this ranch. They were basically fraudulent because the homesteaders did not live on these properties. They built a small house and pretended that they were in residence. Their goal in homesteading was to sell the property as soon as they acquired ownership. This was troublesome to my father, who had free use of their land but was eventually obliged to purchase each of these homesteads with money borrowed at 12% interest at a time when money was short.

      The treatment of Indians is a complicated subject. American Indians were not peaceful "paisanos" living in a rural paradise. To get a feel for the real life of American Indians, one needs to read Cabeza de Vaca's Adventures in the Unknown Interior of America, written in 1542. It tells the story how he and three others, after being shipwrecked in Florida, made their way for 6,000 miles from Florida through Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, and finally to Mexico City. They were disillusioned by the backwardness, poverty and hostility of the Indian nations that they lived with.

      One other book that I would recommend is Empire of the Summer Moon, by S.C. Gwynne. It is a history of the Comanche Indians in Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico. The Comanches were perhaps the greatest warriors among all the tribes of North America. They owned thousands of horses and were superb horsemen, raiding throughout the "Comancheria," and deep into Mexico. There was no way to negotiate successfully with them, so the US Army eventually defeated them and also killed off all the buffalo that sustained them, so that they were forced to file for peace.

      There were many instances of mistreatment of American Indians in American history, but I think no more than other such mistreatments which have occurred throughout the history of the world when a stronger nation conquers a weaker nation. The betrayal of the Five Civilized Tribes by removing them from southeastern states, requiring them to travel to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) was one definite instance of mistreatment. Today these tribes are quite prosperous. As sovereign nations, they have established more than 100 gambling casinos throughout Oklahoma and seem to have an abundance of money and power in the state.

      JE comments:  You have to be in awe of the Homesteaders' courage.  Imagine arriving on barren land and having to do everything from scratch.  I possess exactly 0% of the skills necessary for survival.  What?  No CVS?  No Home Depot?  No Internet?

      I've said it before, but it bears repeating: Richard Hancock's first-hand stories of the Old West are WAIS treasures.

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      • Smallpox and the Native Americans (Henry Levin, USA 08/12/18 4:09 AM)
        Richard Hancock's stories of the Old West and the run-of-the-mill suffering of the indigenous population, no worse than others who were conquered, is missing an enormous piece. That is the devastation of indigenous populations from European diseases for which they had no natural defenses. And, although some of this was not deliberate, some of it was.

        All that one need do is read any biography of Lord Amherst (yes, the person honored by Amherst College) and his gifts to the Indians of blankets contaminated deliberately and surreptitiously with smallpox, a particularly contagious and deadly disease. By the time of the Homestead Act, much of the nasty devastation was completed, which explains the "backwardness" of the native population. We need to avoid so much of the presentism when referring to historical outcomes.

        See: https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/impact-european-diseases-native-americans


        Further, the Wikipedia on "Native-American Disease and Epidemics" seems to have
        good documentation on the devastation of our Indian population by transmission of European disease.


        JE comments:  There are some suggestions that Cortés used the smallpox blanket tactic centuries earlier, in Mexico.  The second link above gives no documentary proof that Amherst deliberately infected blankets to give to the Native Americans, although there is no question about his hatred of the "savages" and desire to eradicate them.

        In 2016, Amherst College did "fire" Lord Jeffery as their mascot, adopting instead the Mammoths in honor of a famous skeleton in their Natural History museum.

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  • Land Reform under Mussolini (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 08/10/18 6:37 AM)

    When commenting on the excellent post of Istvan Simon, 9 August, our esteemed moderator asked:

    "Has there been an example of land reform done right?"

    I'll give a loud and clear answer: Mussolini did it!

    The two principles of Fascist agrarian reform were collaboration and co-participation.

    Only two months after having been nominated prime minister by the king with the overwhelming approval of the Parliament and Senate on 11 January 1923, Mussolini started working on land reform with the following points:

    1) Elimination of the "bracciantato"--workers employed on a daily basis without a contract (presently the bracciantato is used, even if theoretically not legal, with undocumented immigrants).

    2) The massive recovery of uncultivated lands mostly due to the marshes. More than 100 towns and rural villages considered now (finally) an example of great city planning and architecture were constructed. Some names: Littoria (now Latina), Sabaudia, Pomezia, Aprilia, Pontinia, Guidonia, Acilia, Colleferro, Alberese, Albinia, Arborea, Carbonia, Arsia (Rasa in Istria), etc. The same was done overseas in Dodecaneso (many tourists villages in these Greek Islands were constructed by Fascists), Libya, Somalia, Eritrea (just starting in Ethiopia). Tellingly, Fascist Italy was doing the contrary of what Israel is doing now. The Italians first built Muslim villages with mosques, schools and hospitals (but also for the local Jewish communities), while Israel is destroying villages. The United Nations has made hundreds of resolutions against Israel to no avail.

    3) Expropriation with compensation of large unproductive estates.

    4) Reaching grain self-sufficiency with the famous "Battaglia del Grano" introducing modern technology.

    5) Large-scale reforestation of the mountains.

    6) Creation of the agricultural consortia to protect the producers, with special technicians to help them. My wife's uncle was one of the last technicians/instructors in the reclaimed areas of Etruria.

    Interestingly, the main figure of the leader of Opera Nazionale Combattenti (ONC) who was in charge of the main projects, the great (always socialist) Andrea di Crollalanza, reconstructed in three months the villages destroyed by an earthquake.  Now after two years in the earthquake-devastated towns we still have rubble in the streets while people remain in temporary lodgings. Crollalanza was famous for completing the work under budget.  Now we go two or three times over, but we are lay, democratic and antifascist.

    With the Battaglia del Grano (proclaimed on 20 June 1925), the production of grain in Italy jumped to 81 million quintals. The importation of one-third of the grain requirements ended and we could even export. Agriculture was mechanized with the famous tractors (and threshers) Landini and Super Landini. These were the best in the world at that time, personally used and demonstrated by Mussolini. The US production record of that time was 8.9 quintals per hectare. Under the Battaglia del Grano, this was beaten with a 16.1.  But unfortunately, this history is long in the past.

    I could go for more but I do not believe it is necessary, as I mentioned various points that one can research further on one's own.

    JE comments:  Nationalized agricultural production campaigns have been notorious failures--think of Soviet collectivization, Cuba's 10 Million Tons of sugar, Mao's bizarre bird-killing schemes, and the list goes on, painfully.  Eugenio Battaglia is famous on WAIS for his rosy view of Mussolini, but how can we be convinced the Battaglia del Grano was different?

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