September 18, 2011

Who’s the Rope For? (Walmart and Growing Power)

Filed under: Corporatism, Food and Farms — Tags: — Russ @ 3:06 am


Lenin said, “the capitalist will sell us the rope we’ll use to hang him.” This applied just as much to money “freely” given, as when the Bolsheviks were taking German money in 1917. Lenin’s position from early in his career was always clear – take anything you can get and use it toward the revolution. He scolded anyone who thought this was likely to mean the co-optation of Bolshevism. “Are we children or revolutionaries?”, he chided Bolsheviks naive enough to think they were going to abide by an agreement not to fraternize among German soldiers in Russia. “We’ve already violated the provision forty times, and we’ll continue to do so.”
Sure enough, Lenin never wavered from his goal of communist revolution, first in Russia, then Western Europe, and then around the world. (Although a skeptic might mention that Lenin’s version of communism was, in his own words, “state capitalism”, still potentially profitable for foreign investors, who Lenin ardently wooed. But this too was always at least implicit, and sometimes explicit, in his writings from early on.)
So the example seems to be proof of principle that it’s possible for an activist or a movement to take money even from the most criminal and corrupting sources but not be corrupted himself. Of course, we know that the odds are against this, but we can still take things on a case by case basis. In theory it’s possible for Will Allen’s Growing Power to take greenwashing money from Walmart and use that money to fight Walmart.
Of course, it would help those trying to have faith in Allen if he hadn’t immediately launched into pro-corporate propaganda:

I’d like to take this opportunity to share my position on the role that corporations can play in the Good Food Revolution…We, as a society, can no longer refuse to invite big corporations to the table of the Good Food Revolution…Wal-mart is the world’s largest distributor of food – there is no one better positioned to bring high-quality, locally grown food into urban food deserts and fast-food swamps. We can no longer be so idealistic that we hurt the very people we’re trying to help. Keeping groups that have the money and the power to be a significant part of the solution away from the Good Food Revolution will not serve us.

It’s not exactly, “they’ll make us a grant of the rope we’ll use to hang them”, is it?
Allen knows perfectly well that Walmart’s greenwashing is a scam. So here he’s telling a flat out lie. (And who could possibly think the problem is that society is too prejudiced against big corporations?) It looks like he already sees himself as on the payroll. Maybe he didn’t even need a list of talking points. He started out as a corporate salesman, after all.
One wonders how to square this with his daughter’s noble statement on how Growing Power in Chicago rejected Monsanto money a few years ago.

In 2009 we had an interesting situation with Monsanto/Seminis (Monsanto purchased Seminis, a large, regional fruit-and-vegetable seed company, in 2005). They’d hired a communications firm in Chicago to find an urban agriculture group so they could fund a youth urban agriculture project. They just wanted to give
us money, just do an urban farm so that youth could learn about what we do and also be introduced to other
forms of agriculture; Monsanto’s name wouldn’t be on it. These people from the communications firm said,
“This guy that we know at Monsanto, he’s really nice, and there are some really good people within the company.” And I said, “I am sure there are.” But I and we had to do some deep soul-searching about what we, as leaders, should do with this approach from Seminis—potentially gatekeepers of resources that could mean employment versus incarceration for some of our youth corps members. Do I not accept $200,000 to $500,000, which would build up infrastructure, provide adult mentors and social-service support, and supply stipends for pay for a few years? Could this be recompense for the global impacts of this company, but also a boon to their public relations efforts to spin their methods “to end hunger and to increase production”? I had to think about it. It’s a real dilemma: What do you do when folks approach you and you’re representing people who have very limited options and you’re being offered all those resources to develop this infrastructure?

We turned it down because of the kind of work we do, the belief in our vision, and to show our solidarity with
Via Campesina and the Department of Justice’s antitrust hearings. We advocate seed saving and slow food,
and potentially if we accepted the Monsanto/Seminis funds we would have legitimized their work.

On top of that, it would have been so hard for us, as one of the rare organizations led by people of color in this kind of work—work where we’re doing something people can see, not just talking a good game. People, our youth most importantly, look to us as role models. You’re no better than what you are trying to defeat if you do the same thing and get sucked into that system. Fortunately we have reached a critical point in our development where we do have options.

Did Walmart just offer enough more money?
One thing’s clear – the contention that one can take the money and remain uncorrupted cannot coexist with the recipient spewing the giver’s propaganda. That’s an immediate contradiction. (But then, Allen’s defense doesn’t sound like he even considers Walmart the enemy at all.)
So the Allen example already looks like yet another in the long, dreary menagerie of sellouts.


  1. Something akin to Blood Money for every small town business that Wal-Mart snuffed out with a pillow stuffed with chemical synthetics Made in China. Or, just another capitalist baby spreading for his million dollars.

    The notion that Wal-Mart, the destroyer and usurper of the village geography and communal ideal, has any ground to stand on in the local food movement, is absurd.

    I’ll reserve my contempt for Will Allen.

    Comment by Ross — September 18, 2011 @ 8:25 am

    • I hope contempt will turn out to be too strong a response. But it’s not looking good so far.

      There’s no question at all about Walmart and its relation to food and the entire relocalization movement. It’s a mortal enemy.

      Comment by Russ — September 18, 2011 @ 10:01 am

  2. That is what we said about the polluters back in the 1970’s when they began to sponsor environmental groups. Corporations can give all sorts of goodies to environmental groups so that we fail to notice that it is their very immortality that corrupts the system.

    Their gifts turn radicals into reformers. On the other hand, the elites and the corporations have got all of the money so there doesn’t appear to be much choice for an organization that can either take this money or cease to exist.

    Comment by Ellen Anderson — September 18, 2011 @ 2:16 pm

    • I’ve never heard that Growing Power was in any danger of ceasing to exist, and Erika Allen explicitly says they were in good enough shape to have other options, so that they had the luxury of rejecting the blood money without facing a Hobson’s choice.

      In the long run, the only real option is to build alternative economies, alternatives to the command currency. That’s a necessary and core goal of the relocalization movement. Relocalizing with DC dollars is a contradiction in terms.

      Comment by Russ — September 18, 2011 @ 3:26 pm

  3. I don’t know much about Allen, but the notion that “no one is better positioned” to bring locally grown food to food deserts is absurd- for one thing, food deserts aren’t usually characterised by, you know, supermarkets. For another, Walmart’s entire distribution and logistics chain is one enormous excercise in centralised distribution, and it’s the centerpiece of their business strategy. So suddenly Walmart is going to switch from a top-down, vendor-centric central logistics system to a bottom-up producer-centric system? Give me a break. Look at the map of their distribution hubs here: http://places.designobserver.com/feature/walmart-logistics/13598/ – “Map of U.S. Interstate Highways and Walmart Distribution Centers”. I can’t possibly see how ~150 distribution centers for the entire United States constitutes anything like a system that’s well-positioned to distribute locally grown food. Wal-mart’s logistics system is the very definition of a modern corporate JIT system designed to pipe cheap foreign-made crap to indebted American consumers.

    As far as the money goes, it’s been demonstrated over and over that gifts and grants of essentially any kind make the recipient more favorably predisposed to the interests of the gifter, regardless of the professed beliefs of the recipient or the relationship between the gifter and recipient. There’s a reason why drug companies give out pens and other seemingly meaningless swag- they demonstrably affect behaviour. So I’m really suspicious of the notion that you can accept the money of a group with obviously divergent interests from the movement and not be influenced by that, unless you have some way to immediately and violently disown the influence of that group (which, of course, precludes further gifts/grants/bribes, and probably the timely delivery of the money from the current one- most granting organisations aren’t stupid enough to give a potentially squirrelly recipient total control over the bulk funds immediately). That might be possible in one-off relations between states or non-state actors with substantial autonomy, but for a small non-profit or relocalisation group, it seems absurd. These guys aren’t Pashtun militants, taking American money and arms and then disappearing into the hills, only to turn those resources against the hapless gifter. They’ve obviously accepted a subordinate role in a ongoing power relationship and should be treated as such.

    Comment by paper mac — September 18, 2011 @ 3:40 pm

    • Yes, I hope my own skepticism about that was clear enough, especially since, as I parenthetically noted, Lenin may be “the exception that proves the rule”.

      Nevertheless, I didn’t want to be dogmatic about it, and meant what I said about taking things case by case, but keeping in mind the general bulk of the evidence.

      In this case, I suppose Allen’s claiming they can induce Walmart to open stores in these urban food deserts, which will bring affordable produce to people who today have no access to it, and can even help urban growers thanks to Walmart’s “sustainability” and “local” initiative.

      (I think I just made Allen’s argument better than he did.)

      But in fact none of this is true. If Walmart thought it could profit from opening stores there, it already would have done so. And the links in my Walmart trick-or-treat post which I linked above demonstrate how all of Walmart’s happy talk about organic was always a scam, and how this too is a scam. (Just one preliminary ex-scample: They define “local” as within the borders of a state. Yes, I’m sure that if Walmart did open a store in a Milwaukee food desert, they’d stock it with produce from Milwaukee growers who they’d render economically viable, rather than corporate farms from elsewhere around the state.)


      I started reading Graeber’s book. Three chapters in so far, and it’s going down easy. I think having read those NC posts (and your summaries) was a good primer for it. The whole argument is familiar, and it’s mostly fleshing out what I already knew of it, as well as clearing up a few things that weren’t clear. I think this will be a pivotal book.

      Comment by Russ — September 18, 2011 @ 4:21 pm

      • I think avoiding dogma about this kind of stuff is probably the right approach, and clearly in this case Allen has failed to meet even the most basic standard we could apply for situations like this. Generally speaking I think the standard for taking corporate money has to be pretty high, particularly in cases where the corporation has a vested interest in the corporate agriculture system. I’ve been volunteering at a rooftop garden that produces produce for a food bank here on campus, and they’re starting to get some small one-off corporate donations, banks and the like. In that case, it’s pretty clear the banks just want to add to their “community giving”/greenwashing profile, and I’m mostly ok with that insofar as it’s a few grand of bank money that’s basically being transmogrified into food for the poor, and the bank has zero actual interest in the activities of the group- there’s no ongoing relationship established. If it were my call, I don’t think I could stomach taking bank money, but I’m not going to boycott them for it unless I see some untoward influence (not likely given that a handful of people like me do most of the work). But it’s still tricky.

        I’m glad you’re enjoying Graeber’s book. It’s exceptionally well-written, in my opinion, for what amounts to an anthropology survey text, and I’m glad Graeber eschewed the field’s jargon in favour of plain language argumentation.

        I’ve posted all the GW Skinner stuff I have here:

        Which are the three parts of the marketing structure paper (I realized the one I sent before is actually a re-print of part I from a 2002 edition of Etudes Rurale, which has a somewhat nicer printing quality than the scan from the 1964 journal, but Parts II and III weren’t reprinted, so I put in all three parts from the original Asian Studies scans), as well as a paper regarding the extent to which Chinese peasant communities were open to the outside over dynastic cycles, which seems relevant from the point of view of relocalising communities in a declining empire.

        Comment by paper mac — September 19, 2011 @ 3:12 pm

      • Incidentally, I finally finished Scott’s “Weapons of the Weak”, and I’m not sure I’d recommend it. It’s basically an ethnography of a Malay rice-paddy-growing village in Kedah, focusing on class conflict between poor peasants and rich peasants as a consequence of the changes brought about by the green revolution. Eg, combine harvesters have destroyed the reliance of rich peasants on the poor for labour, etc. It analyses the ways in which this conflict proceeds in a non-overt, non-revolutionary manner, with both the rich and poor engaging in various rhetorical battles, as well as various covert resistance projects by the poor (covert strikes, work stoppages, ineffectual work/footdragging, thefts, etc). It uses this ethnography as a way to criticise the structuralist Marxist/Gramscian notion that the peasantry oscillate between blind obedience and revolutionary rage. It basically argues that “hegemonic thought” isn’t really brainwashing the peasantry (ie the peasantry are quite capable of both conceiving non-hegemonic societal arrangements as well as criticising existing arrangements within the logic of the hegemonic ideals) in the way that some structuralist Marxists have posited. This is astoundingly obvious to pretty much anyone with any contact with the working class, but there you go. Unless you have a particular interest in ethnography (it’s a decent one), the effects of the Green revolution on monocroppers in southeast asia, or criticisms of structuralist Marxist ideas about hegemony, it’s probably not worth your time. The last couple of chapters (critiquing theories of the effects of hegemony on peasant consciousness) are worth skimming if you find it in a library, but I wouldn’t go out of my way.

        Comment by paper mac — September 19, 2011 @ 3:21 pm

      • I agree with that way of looking at it. We too have gotten little grants here and there. So far as I know, they’re from smaller entities, though some people talked about approaching a TBTF bank for some kind of sponsorship, and I think I mentioned how we’re talking to Wells Fargo about using their parking lot (the bank manager is said to be interested, but there’s plenty of logistical issues to be cleared up; it would meet some “community giving” requirement they have, I forget what it’s called). Certainly that’s sub-optimal, but if the tradeoff is getting something and passively giving in return some minor PR/goodwill, where the corporate propagandist doesn’t directly contradict what we stand for (I could never stomach any association at all with Monsanto, for example), I think that’s within the realm of necessary and justified bending.

        The rooftop garden sounds cool. I’ve never been on one.

        I read chapter four of Graeber this morning. It’s the chapter which discusses Nietzsche’s Genealogy, which I’ve also been rereading in light of this.

        Thanks for the review of Weapons of the Weak. It sounds interesting, though maybe it’s stuff I already know about. The thing I’m most interested in, where it comes to that stuff, is how to convince the peasantry (in our case, the disintegrating post-Stolypinized “middle class”) to criticize and fight “hegemony” instead of letting themselves be astroturfed by it; that’s the key question Fanon posed.

        Thanks for putting up more of the Skinner piece. I’ll print it out.

        Comment by Russ — September 19, 2011 @ 3:36 pm

  4. Here’s more on this, including some specific reminders about Walmart’s labor practices.


    Comment by Russ — September 19, 2011 @ 6:07 am

  5. Thought provoking post Russ…


    To be or not to be, that is the question… To be complicit and live a seemingly crumb full life without trials and tribulations, or to not be complicit, and live a life seemingly of few crumbs with suffering and many trials and tribulations.

    In Scamerica we exist under a pecking ordered alliance of distribution. I like to call it Crumbunism. Note that I did not call it a ‘system’, rather it is an ‘alliance’.

    When working properly, under direct democracy of all of the people, it can be an OK, even an ideal alliance of societal distribution, if rewards are roughly proportional to contribution and modified only with a morality that provides for the sick, elderly and infirm, and limits are put on wealth that reign in the excessively greedy and insecure.

    The problem with Scamerican crumbunism, as we all know, is that first; it is not a direct democracy of all of the people, and that second; it has been corrupted, the rule of law is a farcical scam and the societal alliance has been shredded, intentionally, in oh so many ways.

    Corporations, like Allen’s, owe their unpatriotic alliance breaking power to past corruption that gave corporations person hood rights as citizens, and as such, many other benefits that ordinary citizens do not have, most important of all being enormous size to suppress and eliminate competition. He is an immoral prick for aspiring to and operating under that fuck your neighbor corporate structure. His daughter, however, took the moral high road – but only because she was able to afford to do so as mentioned.

    We have a forced means testing then on morality here… to be complicit or not to be complicit, that is the question…

    • Should the senior citizen, on a fixed income, shop at a local chain super market and pay higher prices, or, at a Walmart and save ten or twenty dollars per week so as to be able to pay the light bill and the rent?

    • Should Joe Six Pack pay $75 dollars to go to a corporate owned and controlled football game to watch overpaid complicit sports ‘heroes’ in a stadium that was more than likely built at taxpayer expense and loss of other ‘competitive’ community sports recreation thus driving fan boy to the game in the first place?

    The question should not be can you afford your complicity but rather is it moral to do so? Having said that it would be immoral to impose that standard on the senior citizen who makes an essential sustenance decision to stay alive. But I would condemn the sports fan as immoral and ignorant (or extremely stupid if he is aware of the dynamics involved) for discretionary support of the forces that oppress him.

    We must all pick our way carefully through the mine field.

    Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

    Comment by i on the ball patriot — September 19, 2011 @ 9:22 am

    • That’s a thing about trying to live as democratically as possible within a hostile environment, how much does one have to bend? I’d say that the clear rule is that no one can ever justifiably commit direct crimes. Beyond that it gets harder, and you do the best you can within the limits of conscience.

      No matter what I ever thought of something, even if I were willing to go along with something distasteful out of perceived necessity, I could never say the stuff, tell the lies, Allen already has. (For example, if the organization I’m part of ever took a grant from such a source, the best I could do would be to remain silent.) It’s especially bad coming from a relatively famous figure. (Although maybe there’s a connection between ability to become famous and the media’s sense that one’s not really opposing the corporate system.)

      And again, I’m not hearing that there was any necessity here at all. (That’s where the morality/necessity dynamic comes in. Necessity has to be at stake before you can legitimately consider running tactical and credibility risks like this.)

      Growing Power’s a non-profit, but yes technically a “corporation”, I suppose.

      I guess we can only ever judge anyone by current actions, and be careful whenever investing anyone with moral authority based on past record. We must never have implicit faith in the rep in the face of new, contrary evidence.

      Carefully through the minefield. It’s often like that, yes.

      Did you see the Schneidermann data point? (I’ve been a skeptic all along.) Any real fighter fights for his own people first of all. He doesn’t drop them at the first trivial, trumped-up thing. But this wuss caves in the moment there’s the slightest trouble. So we can bet he’ll never really fight for the people if things actually get rough.

      Comment by Russ — September 19, 2011 @ 3:19 pm

      • “Did you see the Schneidermann data point?”

        Don’t know what you are referring to here Russ. If you mean the NY AG I have no hopes in his or any within the system remedial effort. My last glimmer of what little hope I had left was blown when Fitzgerald ‘went after’ Cheney.

        Peaceful election boycotts and a constitutional rewrite are the only things that will save us. Positive change will not come from within the system – its to far gone.

        Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

        Comment by i on the ball patriot — September 19, 2011 @ 4:22 pm

      • I figured you weren’t the audience for that. But I’ll probably have to bring it up at NC the next time the Schneiderman proto-cultists are out. I’m referring to how Schneiderman’s cutting ties with an effective (according to what’s alleged to be his project) staffer because she’s been revealed to be a dominatrix on the side. Supposedly it’s because of a minor financial impropriety, but I’m sure it’s really because of the alleged scandalousness of it.

        The point is, this loser won’t stick up for his own people, but turns on them the second the bankster propaganda machine can dig up any trivial dirt. And yet the Better-Elites cultists are already looking to him as their next Great Hope.

        Comment by Russ — September 19, 2011 @ 6:14 pm

  6. […] And now here’s more on the subject from Russ, on his “Volatility” blog: […]

    Pingback by Walmart’s donation to Growing Power | The Bovine — September 19, 2011 @ 9:35 am

  7. I’m sorry. I have been to Will Allen’s operation in Milwaukee and it’s a scam. I know we are suppose to feel good about all this happy talk but at the end of the day the on site “farmer’s market” sells nothing his operation has raised. I toured the facility and the petting zoo but it’s a feels good scam, fleecing donations from companies, NGO’s and government agencies. When I asked how they sell the fish they raise I got blank stares. There is no ice machine, mice run around the “greenhouse”…….The workers are volunteers and the only one flying to around to accept undeserved awards and a paycheck is Will Allen.

    I totally accept the concept and the challenges but corporate sponsors, NGO’s and governmental agencies need to look past the hype and understand what is really going on here.

    I’m sorry for bursting balloons.

    Comment by Jason — December 30, 2011 @ 5:11 pm

  8. […] we have the mournful spectacle of movement activists temporizing with the corporate system and even selling out completely. This example may be a good opportunity for me to suggest a basic ethical rule. While this system […]

    Pingback by Notes on Strategy and Tactics (1 of 2) « Volatility — March 1, 2012 @ 11:15 am

  9. […] over at Volatility agrees.  “In theory it’s possible for Will Allen’s Growing Power to take greenwashing money […]

    Pingback by Will Allen’s Growing Power gets a million from slaver Wal-Mart - Infowars Ireland — August 3, 2013 @ 2:59 pm

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