The mostly unspoken basis of the 1787-88 Constitution, in the minds of its framers, was to establish a monopoly on political and economic power by elites: Landed, merchant, creditor elites. Their success depended mostly on their having a coherent ideology and plan.
In the same way, if we envision a New Constitutional Convention, it won’t do to be scattershot, starting on an ad hoc basis, speculating about how this or that sounds good. That’s sort of what I did in this post
, proposing a list of possible amendments. Let’s review:
* The enshrinement of Food Sovereignty as a basic right. (This would certainly have been the First Amendment if anyone in 1788 could have contemplated a day when the federal government would explicitly deny we have a right to grow and eat the foods of our choice. But even the opponents of the centralized government who demanded the inclusion of a Bill of Rights, as suspicious as they were, never contemplated such an obscene assault on our liberty and dignity.)
* Corporations are not persons and have no constitutional rights. Only humans have rights.
* If corporations are to exist at all, an amendment could explicitly limit them to the purposes and constraints which would have been familiar in the 1780s.
* The Full Faith and Credit clause shall not be construed to include corporate charters. All corporate activity shall be subject to the chartering laws of the state, except as restricted by one or both of the two previous amendments.
The point of these would be to prevent races to the bottom (since e.g. Delaware’s not all that big a market, and outside Delaware a corporation chartered in Delaware would be subject to the provisions of those other states, not those of Delaware)
* The federal government power shall be strictly construed according to the explicit letter of the Articles.
* “Interstate commerce” is only commerce which within a discrete transaction crosses a state line.
* Some way to declare that globalization “treaties”, i.e. contracts of adhesion, are most definitely not “the Law of the Land”, overriding federal, state, and local law.
* Clarify Article 1, section 8, to specify that the government may not alienate the sovereign power to coin Money. That is, the Fed and all private bank money is unconstitutional and to be abolished.
But we should start with a unifying principle. For example, let’s say that a critical mass of people agreed upon Food Sovereignty as this principled anchor. What follows from that? Let’s look at Via Campesina’s Seven Principles of Food Sovereignty
, and consider what constitutional basics follow from them. For each of these, one can either support it or not. But if you will the end, you must will the means. (Reformists and “progressives” pretend to will certain ends, but their flinching from the means gives the lie to their alleged will to the end.)
1. Food: A Basic Human Right. Everyone must have access to safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food in sufficient quantity and quality to sustain a healthy life with full human dignity. Each nation should declare that access to food is a constitutional right and guarantee the development of the primary sector to ensure the concrete realization of this fundamental right.
2. Agrarian Reform. A genuine agrarian reform is necessary which gives landless and farming people – especially women – ownership and control of the land they work and returns territories to indigenous peoples. The right to land must be free of discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, race, social class or ideology; the land belongs to those who work it.
This denies property in land, since it says land cannot be rationed by wealth.
3. Protecting Natural Resources. Food Sovereignty entails the sustainable care and use of natural resources, especially land, water, and seeds and livestock breeds. The people who work the land must have the right to practice sustainable management of natural resources and to conserve biodiversity free of restrictive intellectual property rights. This can only be done from a sound economic basis with security of tenure, healthy soils and reduced use of agro-chemicals.
The same denial of property in natural resources. It also implicitly rejects globalization, commodification of food, and explicitly rejects the current intellectual property regime.
4. Reorganizing Food Trade. Food is first and foremost a source of nutrition and only secondarily an item of trade. National agricultural policies must prioritize production for domestic consumption and food self-sufficiency. Food imports must not displace local production nor depress prices.
An explicit attack on globalization and commodification. Food is food first. Combining Principle 4 with some of the others, it’s also primarily a means of a fulfilling work life. Only when these basic needs have been satisfied can we think of trading food for profit.
5. Ending the Globalization of Hunger. Food Sovereignty is undermined by multilateral institutions and by speculative capital. The growing control of multinational corporations over agricultural policies has been facilitated by the economic policies of multilateral organizations such as the WTO, World Bank and the IMF. Regulation and taxation of speculative capital and a strictly enforced Code of Conduct for TNCs is therefore needed.
An explicit attack on globalization in general and its totalitarian bureaucracies in particular.
6. Social Peace. Everyone has the right to be free from violence. Food must not be used as a weapon. Increasing levels of poverty and marginalization in the countryside, along with the growing oppression of ethnic minorities and indigenous populations, aggravate situations of injustice and hopelessness. The ongoing displacement, forced urbanization, repression and increasing incidence of racism of smallholder farmers cannot be tolerated.
Again, this can be achieved only by the overthrow of commodification and illegitimate property regimes.
7. Democratic control. Smallholder farmers must have direct input into formulating agricultural policies at all levels. The United Nations and related organizations will have to undergo a process of democratization to enable this to become a reality. Everyone has the right to honest, accurate information and open and democratic decision-making. These rights form the basis of good governance, accountability and equal participation in economic, political and social life, free from all forms of discrimination. Rural women, in particular, must be granted direct and active decision-making on food and rural issues.
While written in anodyne language, willing the means here implies farmer-based democracy. The “equal participation” clause cannot be fulfilled except through the constitution of direct economic and political democracy and bottom-up confederation. Since post-Peak Oil food production will again be the primary occupation, it follows that this democracy has to be a grower-based democracy.
So now let’s look at those amendments again and what their unified goal would be.
The formal enshrinement of some aspects of Food Sovereignty as a Constitutional rights is obvious from any non-corporatist point of view. As I said in the quote above, even the framers would have rejected the tyrannical presumptions and arrogations of this government where it comes to food. If they’d had any inkling of what was to come, this would have been the First Amendment.
The anti-corporate amendments would strike a severe blow against the system’s ability to organize food commodification and globalization. It’s not that domination of food is impossible in the absence of the corporate form; history provides examples of other modes of domination. But this system is based on the corporate form, and it can’t fundamentally change itself in mid-flight. A mortal blow to this tyranny would kill it, and any subsequent tyranny would have to start from scratch. (Our vigilance against that eventuality shall be our subsequent citizen responsibility. But that discussion’s for another time. Right now our priority is liberation from this tyranny.)
An amendment declaring treaties to be Constitutionally binding only directly between governments, while agreements to abdicate sovereignty to rootless globalization cadres are Constitutionally invalid, would directly attack globalization’s ability to impose direct corporate tyranny. Again, while coercive “trade” can and has existed in other ways, the corporate globalization regime is the mode to which this kleptocracy is committed. It stands or falls with it.
On the domestic front, breaking the tyranny of the commerce clause would strike a direct blow on behalf of the rights and freedom of local and regional food production and distribution. Let’s recall, the seminal case Wickard v. Filburn
centered on wheat production. The recent Food Control bill (taken in tandem with the health racket Stamp mandate) threatens to greatly expand this federal assault on food freedom. The anti-constitutional abuse of the commerce clause is the core tactic for all of it.
Above I mention Article 1, section 8. Another provision of this section is the Constitution’s view of intellectual property:
To promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries
It’s obvious that today’s IP regime does not fulfill these two strict conditions, and in fact assails both. By now corporate copyrights, patents, etc. aren’t used to promote progress but to smother it. Oligopolies by nature don’t want innovation or entrepreneurialism. They want stagnation, with high rents enforced by nothing but market muscle and government looting and thuggery. Any innovation anywhere threatens to upset the balance of monopoly. As for the “limited Time”, this was originally just a few years. So while the Constitution doesn’t explicitly define a time period, anyone who subscribes to originalism, strict construction, or simply to the normal usage of the English language and common sense, would agree that this time period must not be very long. It certainly mustn’t exceed the lifetime of the inventor.
That’s a general condemnation of the corporatist IP regime. The specific application to Food Sovereignty involves primarily the alleged right to patent plant germplasm and the seeds from those plants. No matter what one’s view of patents in general, any sort of patent in a plant is illegitimate. Plants are first of all the produce of nature. Second, plant selection and breeding has been the project of tens of thousands of years of cooperative work. All modern selection, including genetic modification, has merely added tiny increments to the vast collective accomplishment. For a corporation to usurp a patent here is as if someone came into your house, changed a light bulb (which didn’t even need changing), and declared that he now owns your house.
To restore the integrity of the Constitution and to enshrine Food Sovereignty, amendments could clarify the useful inventions clause in general, and specifically declare humanity’s seed heritage off limits.
So there’s some potential jobs for the Convention, as they’d apply specifically to the enshrinement of Food Sovereignty. We can develop similar analyses toward other goals of principle and practice.