Criticism from the Left

Here is an article that is interesting partly because of where it comes from; the State of Nature describes itself as a quarterly online journal of the Left which is

…opposed to the capitalist economic order and the imperialist ambitions of the world’s great powers. As such, we remain committed to a thorough critique of global capitalism, the development of protest movements and the construction of radical alternatives to the status quo.”

A post from 2013 is entitled “Biodynamic Organic-Intellectuals” and is a critique of the combined history of the organic and biodynamic movements. Not simply disapproving of people with enough disposable income to afford the luxury of buying organic carrots in the supermarket, here is an explanation of how Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophical method of farming has been influential from the beginning of the organic movement, and detail about the individuals involved.

Much support for biodynamics and indeed all things anthroposophical in this part of Gloucestershire comes from people who would probably describe themselves as on the political left, with posters in windows frequently promoting both Steiner Institutions and “Stroud against the Cuts” for example, so it is interesting to see biodynamics thoroughly taken apart by this article in State of Nature.

The author of the article, Michael Barker refers to a book by Philip Conford, The Development of the Organic Network, which he describes as enlightening, although in his view it wrongly downplays the influence of biodynamic farming on the organic movement. Interestingly he says Conford prefers not to credit Steiner with much influence, since this leaves the organic movement open to mockery from opponents(!)

In the article Barker goes on to explain exactly how influential anthroposophy has been and points out that the Soil Association

“…chose to employ a biodynamic farmer to help direct their comparative study of organic farming and conventional chemical-based farming (otherwise known as the Haughley Experiment). The individual in question being Deryck Duffy, who was a member of the Soil Association’s “original Panel of Experts and became, with Friend Sykes, a co-director of the Organic section of the Haughley Experiment.”

He also notes that the Soil Association has “aristocratic roots” and an “elitist pedigree that correlates nicely with the determinedly anti-materialistic and anti-socialist thinking of their leading activists and organic-intellectuals.”

We are taken through the connections with the Astor family, with Prince Charles and his route to organic farming, and to the supermarket chain Waitrose who are the largest supplier of his organic Duchy Originals.

I find Barker’s conclusion interesting, as he calls for a Marxist solution. He describes those who promote organics as

“bourgeois predators who, on the one hand, consume the planet to enrich themselves, and then offer us irrational solutions to distract us, to enable them to continue to sustainably rape the planet.”

People I know who support local initiatives involving anthroposophy and organic farming including Stroud Community Agriculture and the anthroposophical health centre – not to mention Transition – would certainly describe themselves as supporters of the political Left. It has also been a habit of those who object to criticism of the Steiner movement to describe critics as fascistic in their outlook, and to maintain that Steiner followers are the direct opposite of the “bourgeois predators” Barker describes. They are often described as working sustainably and as eco-friendly, and have acquired a veneer of respectability in some quarters based on these claims.

So anthroposophy has critics on all sides, not just from rationalist, so-called “materialist” objectors. The only precursor to becoming a critic for anyone not already in the Steiner fold is a willingness to sufficiently understand the tenets of anthroposophy in order to realise that the “nonsensical environmental theories” Barker highlights along with the rest of Steiner’s imaginings, are harmful to society.

The Green Party’s apparent support for Steiner initiatives is surprising when viewed in the light of this reporter’s take on biodynamics proponents  as “consuming the planet to enrich themselves”.

It is well worth reading the article, but if you haven’t already seen it and don’t have time to digest the whole piece, at least read the concluding paragraph, which provides food for thought.




  1. Jim

    I think the apparent support from some on the left is often no more than a misplaced solidarity with anything “alternative”. The assumption seems to be that it may at worst be a bit silly but is at least opposed to capitalist society and therefore basically on the right side. That and a feeling that it is somehow wrong to criticise someone’s “spiritual beliefs”.

    The article was interesting and the BD links with the Soil Association are perhaps deeper than I’d realised. But the last paragraph did read a bit as though the author got to the end and remembered he hasn’t yet trotted out the Marxist party line!

    • Helen

      Thanks, interesting to get your take on it.
      I think I was surprised that people who write State of Nature and support anti-establishment ideas should see the problems with anthroposophy (and particularly biodynamics which usually avoids censure) which delights in being “alternative” and would love to be the very solution to “managing our world for the benefit of all” that SoN calls for.

  2. Jim

    Interesting – in today’s Stroud News and Journal a prominent local anthro calls for would be green voters to support Labour to prevent the conspicuously useless Tory MP being re-elected.

    The dawn of rationality perhaps?

    • Helen

      So you’re saying the rational course is to vote tactically. Not everyone will agree. The prominent anthro in question also suggests a reciprocal arrangement with the voters in Brighton Pavillion, where Labour voters could vote Green, to support caroline Lucas.
      All this is in contrast to the views of the Gloucestershire Young Greens who write in the Stroud Life today urging people to stick to their principles in the election, which they clearly think has not been the case with Dale Vince of Ecotricity.

      • Jim

        Yes, I think so. Voting tactically does not mean abandoning your principles but taking the course which most effectively applies them in the prevailing circumstances. So if your preferred party clearly has no chance of winning your vote could make the difference between a party which supports some of your principles or one which opposes all of them. I would even vote Tory if it was the only way to keep the BNP out ( though I might emigrate first).

        Incidentally I was expressing surprise at the dawn of rationality among the anthros, not the greens.

        • Armchair Supporter

          Unfortunately, if you believe in polls and the suggestion that if you vote for X (no hopers) you will get Y, things will not change that much. I wish polls, or the publishing of their findings, could be banned in the run up to an actual election. Then, with no undue influence, people may actually vote for what they want and may actually get it.

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