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

A Wheat Affair

Jul 23, 2023

This article is translated from the July 19 issue #2868 of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

The Kremlin’s decision not to renew the Black Sea agreement on grain and oilseed exports, signed a year ago under the aegis of the UN and Turkey, is a new episode in the Russian-Ukrainian war.

The European Commission immediately described the decision as “cynical,” Washington as “inadmissible,” and Paris as “blackmail.” And the world’s rich countries, those that dominate the planet, were outraged that Russia was strangling Ukraine by depriving it of the 12% to 15% of its GDP generated by grain exports. What’s more, they claim, Russia wants to starve the poor countries they call “developing.”

As is always the case when the great powers flaunt their lofty sentiments, it’s time to look for a trick. Russia, for example, protests that the part of the agreement that was supposed to allow it to export its fertilizers and grain via the Black Sea did not work. There is undoubtedly some truth in this, at a time of Western economic sanctions against Russia. And when the European Union claims that 40% of Russian-Ukrainian agricultural exports went to countries that urgently need them for their survival, it’s a big lie.

It serves to mask the fact that, as confirmed by the chief economist of France’s Chambers of Agriculture on FranceInfo, only 3% of these exports went to poor countries, particularly in Africa. On the other hand, China and Turkey were the main beneficiaries for wheat, and Spain and Italy for corn. And let’s not forget the recent protests by farmers in the Eastern European countries of the European Union, who were furious to see that Ukrainian wheat, produced at very low cost, was literally throwing them out of business because, instead of transiting through these countries, it was partly sold there.

This is not just a question of one country against another, but of classes with opposing interests. Ukrainian wheat and corn are produced by very poorly paid farmers, but the profits go to the owners of the land, the Western companies that lease vast tracts at low prices, the agricultural brokerage firms, and the speculators who make everything move on the world agricultural exchange in Chicago. In fact, as soon as the agreement was announced, wheat prices rose by 4.2% and corn by 2.5%. And all this to announce that world food prices are set to soar even higher.

This agricultural and commercial war surrounding the military war in Ukraine will create millions of new victims, while doing the work of the big bourgeoisie, including the capitalists of global agribusiness.