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Socialism does not have an opinion on bananas
The point of socialism is to make your opinion on bananas matter.
It’s been a week since The Great Bananas Controversy of 2023 kicked off and everyone is still arguing over this, so I suppose I might as well weigh in. For those who’ve blessedly managed to avoid this: a week ago, Malcolm Harris declared that
socialism in banana-producing countries (including the expropriation of the transnational fruit companies) will almost certainly reduce consumer access to bananas and that is FINE.
I’ll give this much to Harris: it’s not often anymore that left Twitter stirs up this much controversy. The GBC2023 has now extended beyond the borders of Twitter onto multiple publications and podcasts; just yesterday, for example, Ben Burgis announced in Jacobin that Socialists Really Do Have to Talk About Bananas.
I disagree! To appreciate why, let’s look at some maps:
You’ve probably seen these before. They’re models of what global temperatures and rainfall may look like if we don’t do anything about climate change. This, of course, would have a direct impact on banana production; but these outcomes are even more difficult to predict than the changes in climate. Given the threat that high temperatures pose to bananas, for example, you might think that South America and Africa both will see significant declines; a 2019 study, however, actually found production increases throughout Africa, as well as Ecuador and Honduras. Only three South American countries — Colombia, Nicaragua, and Panama — were labelled “at risk.”
To complicate this picture even further: climate change may even have consequences for banana growth outside of the global south. Rising temperatures will actually make parts of North America more hospitable for bananas, particularly those that see increased precipitation as well. As the Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security put it in a policy brief commissioned by the UN:
Warmer winters caused by climate change could provide an opening for cultivating certain varieties of bananas in higher altitudes that soon may get much warmer—possibly even those places that currently grow potatoes. Warmer weather may increase banana productivity by shortening the time between planting and harvest.
So are we going to start seeing bumper crops of Idaho bananas instead of Idaho potatoes? I’m skeptical, but ultimately I really have no idea, and neither does anyone else.
And that’s what’s driving me crazy about this debate: no one has any idea whether there will be bananas under socialism because that question is predicted neither by socialism nor any other science known to man. Even if you think socialism demands degrowth or some form of primitivism this says nothing about whether Chuck Grassley is going to be eating sustainable bananas in 2050 or not. If climate change hits us hard enough, the unsustainable thing may be for Grassley to not eat bananas.
Socialism is a narrow political project specifically concerned with empowering workers to control our economy through the arm of the state. That’s it. Socialism cannot tell us whether or not we will or should eat bananas, but it does us one better: it guarantees that our opinion will actually matter. Right now it absolutely does not. We can have these debates about bananas all we like, but we as workers get around to seizing control of the means of production, Dole Inc.’s Rory Byrne is going to do whatever he wants.
In that light, the GBC2023 has become a very good case study in how socialist politics have become erased in our discourse. Everyone has gotten used to saying “socialist politics” when they really mean something like “moral politics” or “rational politics”; and since that’s all it means, you can watch people talk for years on end about “socialism” without once seriously engaging with the basic problem of property. What does it say about this argument that socialists are debating it with Harris — an anarchist, last I checked — without even settling the basic question of “who decides banana policy?” What happens in anarchist utopia if my worker commune decides that we want to import bananas and there isn’t a state in place to stop us?
Raise questions like this and liberalism loves to respond that you are being sectarian. Funny how you never hear that word when we’re arguing about bananas.
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Yes I know, the standard anarchist answer to this is “we will have a thing that performs the exact same coercive function as the state but we won’t call it a state.”