Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Cottage Economy or Collective Farm? English Socialism and Agriculture Between Merrie England and the Five-Year Plan

My contribution to the special issue of Critical Quarterly on food is all about how British writers thought about Stalin's collectivisation of agriculture in the Soviet Union. Here's the abstract:
The cottage economy and the collective farm are two alternative models of socialist agriculture that relate broadly to the traditions of Romantic and utilitarian socialism and embody diametrically opposed attitudes to food and its production. In the decades following the Russian Revolution of 1917 – at a time when collectivised agriculture was being implemented on a previously unimaginable scale, with disastrous consequences – the case for such a model was made enthusiastically by British Stalinists such as George Bernard Shaw, Jean Beauchamp, Margaret Cole, and Sidney and Beatrice Webb. This fed into a wider shift in British society where responsibility for securing the food supply was increasingly seen as a function of the state rather than the market. During the inter-war decades the centre of gravity for British socialists’ thinking about food production shifted from the cottage economy to the collective farm. Yet there were those – like Chesterton, Belloc, Orwell and Muggeridge, as well as the emerging thinkers of the organic movement like Louise Howard and G. T. Wrench – who in various ways held on to the cottage economy ideal and the peasant smallholder as a bulwark against the vast, industrialised mega-farms of the Soviet Empire. They were often seen not as socialists but as cranks. This paper explores the debates around this issue and considers their continuing relevance to our own thinking about the ways food is produced.
Lucky institutional subscribers can access the piece here, anyone else is welcome to contact me for details.

Some tractors. Sergei Eisenstein, The General Line (a.k.a. Old and New)

Critical Quarterly 53:3, a Special Issue on "Food", edited by Matthew Taunton and Lucy Scholes

The new issue of Critical Quarterly (53:3) is a special issue edited by me and Lucy Scholes, on the subject of food. The issue includes contributions by Alex Mackintosh and Laura Salisbury, as well as by Lucy and me. As we put it in our editorial:
The media today is food obsessed. Our television schedules are packed with food programming, cookery books sell like hot cakes, and questionable nutritional advice is everywhere. Celebrity chefs are the philosophers of our time.
There has also been a significant increase in academic interest in the histories and cultures of food, spanning a number of disciplines. This issue of CQ does not attempt to provide a comprehensive survey of this material. It seemed to us, however, that the general emphasis of much of the existing work has been on consumption, and part of our aim was to redress the balance by putting production back into the picture. So we have brought together four essays that address aspects of food culture, from agricultural production and animal slaughter to contemporary food-media and finally the bodily – and psychological – processes of ingestion, digestion and excretion. Although it was not our original intention to produce an issue that was primarily concerned with the abject side of food, this has turned out to be a significant feature of the collection: among other things, these articles discuss famine, slaughter, cannibalism, vomiting, and Jamie Oliver.
 Institutional subscribers can access the full issue here. Anyone else is welcome to contact me for details.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Anglo-Russian Research Network

The Anglo-Russian Research Network has its inaugural meeting from 5.30-7.30pm on Friday 4th November at Pushkin House. It is a reading group focussing on the work of John Kenworthy, a leading British Tolstoyan who established a utopian Tolstoyan colony at Purleigh, Essex. The reading will be circulated in digital form soon - please let me know if you would like to attend. We will also be discussing possible future texts and subjects for the reading group.

Co-organised by Rebecca Beasley and me, the Anglo-Russian Research Network brings together scholars with an interest in the influences of Russian and Soviet culture and politics in Britain in the period 1880-1950. We are getting started with a termly reading group, but hope that the network will provide a context for developing future events and publications. The reading group benefits from the generous support of Pushkin House and the Leverhulme Trust.