The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Grain Prices:
Russian Missiles and Global Speculators

Jul 18, 2022

This article is translated from the July 15 issue #2815 of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group of that name active in France.

Ukrainian authorities accused the Russian army of deliberately setting fire to wheat fields for a number of days, “destroying grain granaries and agricultural equipment.” This is not implausible. On the contrary—each side strikes both civilian and military targets.

For the four-plus months it has gone on, this war between Ukraine, Russia, and the great powers is being waged on all fronts, including communications and the media.

French and Western media loyally repeated the accusation, calling Putin’s army practices a scorched earth policy figuratively and literally.

This accusation has two advantages for them. In the opinion of their countries, the accusation blames Russia as responsible for the soaring prices of everyday consumer products like bread, pasta, sunflower oil, and so forth. These include the grains and other plants of which Ukraine is one of the world’s leading producers.

This propaganda is also intended to appear humanitarian—emphasizing the fate of poor countries especially in Africa, whose population depends 40% on Ukrainian and Russian wheat. Ukrainian wheat burns while Russian wheat prices are high.

The apparent good conscience of the media barely cloaks a row of shameless and even odious lies. If Africa in particular depends on imports to feed itself, this is because French colonial domination and then British imperialism strangled food crops there. This doomed a big part of its population to total dependence on imports, and therefore a state of permanent quasi-starvation.

As for the prices of grains and the food products derived from them, they are soaring everywhere, but this began before this war. From July 2021 to February 2022—before Russia launched tanks on its neighbor—the price of wheat rose by 50% on average, from 200 to 300 dollars per ton. When the war started, the price continued to rise, reaching 328.25 dollars on July 4. A little less rapid for the time being, still this rise exhibits strong fluctuations, which indicates a speculative market. Big brokerage firms and agribusiness giants lead the way at the Chicago World Agricultural Commodities Exchange, where growers and speculators from around the world cluster.

Local media are happy to interview farmers from around Zaporizhzhia or Mykolaiv who are saddened by their burning fields. But the same media are careful not to explain that Ukrainian oligarchs and Western capitalists own huge areas of the most fertile soil of Ukraine, which they have cultivated for starvation wages by farm workers and impoverished small farmers. This with the blessing of Zelenskyy—this president whom the West praises and whose electoral program included, among other things, a major privatization of land requested by the International Monetary Fund.

Protected by Zelenskyy and the Western states, the predators of Ukrainian agriculture know how to throw their weight around. They have the means to partially get around the Russian navy’s blockade of Black Sea ports. Germany, among others, aids them there, and helps its own agri-food market by providing them with DB trains (the German equivalent of France’s SNCF rail lines) to carry huge quantities of grains out of the country. It takes 15 trains to transport as much as a bulk ship. But, in war anything goes. Capitalist groups operating in Ukraine have been able to export a fifth of its wheat production since February.

And if Ukraine and Russia are major grain exporters, the United States, France, and Canada are their main rivals in this field and are well placed to profit from the consequences of the war. It offers them the possibility of snatching markets in other countries and allowing their corporations and speculators to inflate their profits by imposing food price increases on a global scale—while blaming the Kremlin!