18mars 1999
15août 1999

The New Luddite War
We Will Destroy Genetic Engineering! 

Two years ago direct action against geneticengineering in Britain was non-existent. Two years later and it has becomeone of the main struggles in which our movements are involved. Hundredsof new people have got active in everything from mass trashings to nighttime sabotage. With over seventy experimental Genetically Modified (GM)test sites destroyed, our action is crippling the advance of the technology.This article will cover how the campaign has evolved and some of the reasonswhy it is so important that genetic engineering is stopped. Many newspapershave covered the ecological and health disasters that could arise if geneticengineering goes badly wrong. Instead this article will chart the ecological,social and health disasters that will arise if genetic engineering goesbadly right. 
Though Britain has been the (First World) country whereactions against genetic engineering have really kicked off, people havebeen resisting for over a decade all over the world. The first outdoorgenetic test site was a crop of genetically engineered strawberries atthe University of California in 1987. The night after the plants had beentransplanted Earth First!ers climbed fences, evaded security guards andsucceeded in pulling up all 2,000 plants.1 In 1989 Earth First!ers destroyedyet more test sites in the US which in turn inspired actions in Hollandwhere three test sites were dug up. Claiming responsibility for the Dutchattacks, the ‘Raging Diggers’ stated in their July 1991 communique: 

“The destruction of a test field is designed to both starta discussion on the subject of bio-technology, as well as to offer a directcounter to pro-biotechnology propaganda in the form of sabotage!”2 

Throughout the early and mid nineties a growing allianceof Indian peasant groups organised against GM and the patenting of seeds.The campaign, which involved everything from setting up community seedbanks to the mass destruction of an installation belonging to the multinationalCargill, culminated in a 500,000 strong demonstration. Back in Europe,1996 saw German eco-anarchists squatting fields to stop them being plantedas genetic test sites. A third of all sites were prevented from being sownthat year and many of those which had been sown were subsequently sabotaged.By the end of the year twelve sites had been dug up, and the remainingexperiments were under 24 hour police guard.3 Crop squats and anti-GM actionsin Germany continued throughout the following year. The growing internationalnature of the resistance showed itself on April 21st ‘97 when activistssimultaneously occupied Monsanto’s head offices in both Britain and America.Two weeks later a GM potato test site was dug up belonging to the FederalResearch Institute of Germany. The leader of the research project describedit as ‘a direct hit’. 

“On the 8th of June [1997] just five days after the actionin Germany the Super Heroes Against Genetix decided to play cricket ona GM potato test field site just outside Cambridge. Due to the nature ofa somewhat muddy and sticky wicket, potatoes replaced the traditional redball. Fielders had a difficult time of it—most of the batting resultingin the ‘balls’ being smashed to pieces, or else being lost amongst upturnedsoil. The entire GM crop was destroyed.”4 

Days after the first British GM test site sabotage, Germanysaw another field dug up, this time GM sugar beet. Around two months latermore sites were dug up in Britain followed in November ‘97 by the firstof many GM site trashings by the French Confederation Paysanne (p. 103).The following year saw a massive escalation of direct action in Britainwith numerous office occupations and test site sabotages. In 1998 overthirty test sites were destroyed, including seven rape-seed-oil experimentsin different parts of the country on the same night. Last year also sawthe first genetic experiment planted in Ireland. Almost immediately theexperiment was dug up, never to be replaced. The year ended with the Indianfarmers in Karnataka launching ‘Operation Cremate Monsanto’ by settingfire to three of the companys crops. 

Already this year over thirty three sites have been destroyedin Britain either through covert action at night (p. 101) or mass trashingsin daylight (p. 99). During the glorious Carnival against Capital in theCity of London on June 18th, the British HQ of agribusiness multinationalCargill was closed down and its windows and foyer smashed up (p. 1). Theinternational aspect has grown too, with Indian farmers visiting a squattedgenetic test site in Essex and blockading a pro- GM greenwash institutein London (p. 97). On the other side of the Channel, the French peasantsare continuing their actions, while across the Atlantic, American activistshave destroyed three test sites—one action claimed by the ‘Cropatistas’.As I write, three people have been remanded in prison for alleged ‘Conspiracyto Cause Criminal Damage’ at a GM maize field in Lincolnshire (p. 104).For those unaware of what lies behind genetic engineering this explosionof activity around the globe might seem strange. The next part of the articlewill aim to give a bit of background to the issues of power behind thestruggle. 

[IMAGE] May ‘98 saw activists occupy a trashed genetictest site in Norfolk. Laughs and lettuces replaced corporate agribusinessas a new community took control. 

Elite Technology—Weaponry for the Class War

Enveloped in darkness, they walked silently through thefields, groups of friends intent on destruction. The elite’s new technologywas their target and night after night they laid their blows at progress.The repression started, but while captured comrades languished in prison,others walked the night time paths. I could be describing today’s campaignagainst genetic engineering but I am not. These bands of merry friendsare of the past and despite bravery, imagination and countless escapadesthey failed. The war waged at the beginning of the last century by theLuddites of Northern England against the elite’s new technology—the emergingfactory system—was lost, drowned in blood and compromise. The followingyears saw an armed uprising (the Swing Riots) by the rural poor againstnew technologies in agriculture, but that too was defeated. The price ofsuch deafets is the ecological destruction, pathologcally warped emotionsand wage slavery of global industrialism. 

A strange tale to tell in an article about the resistanceto genetic engineering? No. On the nights I have helped destroy genetictest sites I have thought of people, like those described above, who walkedthe night time paths before me. Listening to their voices both inspiresme and helps me pick out the truth otherwise drowned out by the cacophonyof corporate propaganda. With vast budgets the PR departments of the GMcompanies are trying to convince us that their technology is aimed at feedingthe poor and increasing food production.5 The Luddites of the past remindus of the reality, that the technologies foisted upon the poor by the eliteare aimed at accruing profit and power. As one Indian scientist put it; 

“Monocultures spread not because they produce more, butbecause they control more.”6 

We and the Luddites are fighters in the same war. Two hundredyears ago the English elite’s main enemy was the peasantry who lived forthe most part outside the cash economy and were forever rising up. Theelite used the enclosure of land and the mechanisation of crafts and agricultureto crush the rebellious autonomy of the English poor. The class was eradicatedby physical force and the elite’s technology and forced either to becomeeither wage slaves in the emerging factories or on the farms of the rich. 

Two hundred years, and many struggles later, the Britishpoor are for the most part wasting their life in crap jobs or depressedand drug-ridden on the dole—their rebelliousness almost totally extinguished,our history forgotten.Meanwhile the—now global—elite continues to wagea war on the class that remains the main threat to its existence—the globalpeasantry. The relative autonomy and link with the land which fuelled theZapatiastas in Mexico, the Viet Cong in Vietnam and the MST in Brasil hasto be destroyed. This is where genetic engineering comes in. 

The new technologies being pushed by the food industry—asector which has more companies in the top 1000 than any other—aim to purposefullydestroy the social fabric that keeps the land community together and tofully incorporate the peasantry into the global cash economy. The threatis neutralised and becomes fuel for the machine’s further expansion. 

To understand genetic engineering you have to look at theprocess it is part of. The last thirty years have seen, in what was calledthe ‘green revolution’ (sic), massive industrialisation of agriculturein the Third World. The highly expensive inputs for industrial agriculture;machines, pesticides etc. have forced millions of small farmers off theirland. Mechanisation has made redundant many jobs done by agricultural labourers.This process is purposeful, as it was two hundred years ago when the elitedispossessed our ancestors. As one pro-industrialisation advocate put it: 

“Economic development. is not compatible with the maintainanceof a people’s traditional customs. What is needed is a change in the totalityof their culture and their psychological attitude, their way of life. Whatis therefore required amounts to social disorganisation. Unhappiness anddiscontentment in the sense of wanting more than is obtainable is to begenerated. The suffering and dislocation that is caused is the price thathas to be paid for economic development.”7 

The poor pay the price while the elite reap the profit.Radical social movements usually can’t keep up with the rapid rate of socialchange, failing to effectively organise. As a result the dispossessed turn‘the violence of the green revolution’ not on their enemies (who sit backcomfortably in air conditioned offices often thousands of miles away) buton their own class and families. Increases in suicide, the domestic abuseof both women and children, and the re-emergence of serious communal/religiousconflict have all been linked by Indian eco-feminists to this social dislocation.8In general women bear the brunt of the horror caused, especially the malnourshimentand hunger. In her new book, Germaine Greer points out that women are alsoincreasingly burdened with the sole responsibility of child rearing. Lonefemale headed families are the poorest sector of the worlds population. 

“As the extended family has crumbled under the pressureof urbanisation, increasing landlessness and economic change men no longerconstrained by their elders to live as husbands and fathers have backedaway from women and children. One quarter of all families in the worldare headed by a loan female. In the Caribbean, Latin America and Sub-SaharanAfrica it is about a third and rising.”9 

Going hand in hand with the destruction of human lives,has been devastation of the ecologies those lives were once a part of.In the Third World, as in Britain, industrial agriculture is responsiblefor more ecological destruction than any other factor. Corporate PR agencieshave been spreading the idea that GM crops will need less chemical sprayingand are therefore good for the environment. The truth is that the mostcommon GM plant varieties have been engineered to be ‘herbicide tolerant’.This enables a crop to be sprayed with more chemicals than ever before. 

In general, genetic-industrial agriculture is characterisedby both continuities and discontinuities with the chemical-industrial approachof green revolution agriculture. 

It is continous with it to the extent that they both sharea static, one-dimensional, commodified, fragmented, uniform, toxic, andcapital and input-intensive approach to agriculture. Genetic-industrialagriculture will continue, and indeed extend, the industrialisation ofagricultural production, including the practice of monoculture cropping,the replacement of diverse plant varieties with static laboratory- bredvarieties, and the use of toxic inputs. 

Genetic engineering will also enable the destructive practicesof industrial agriculture to continue where they may otherwise have reachedtheir limits by creating plants that can tolerate greater quantities ofchemical inputs or that are adapted to the soils degraded by industrialagricultural practices. For these reasons, the new genetically engineeredseeds and inputs will perpetuate and intensify the environmental problemsand concentrations of power and wealth produced by chemical-industrialagriculture. Indeed it is the very same multinational corporations thathave developed and continue to sell chemical products and hybrid seedsthat are now developing and commercialising the products of genetic engineering. 

Despite these continuities, the elite’s new technologiesdiffer significantly in the mode in which they take hold of nature andreconstitute it in new forms, since they now engage with organisms at themolecular level. In being able to tamper directly with the genetic structureof organisms, and to transfer genes across species boundaries, geneticengineering creates new kinds of ecological dangers as well as new formsof social control.10 

[IMAGE] Jaws drop at an agricultural fair when activiststrashed a GM display crop. 

The Colonisation of the Seed

The relative autonomy of the peasantry has always restedon its ability to grow its own food without the major involvement of themarket. Every harvest farmers can collect the seeds from their crops andresow the following year. In many ways, the seed both symbolically andactually holds the key to freedom. Understanding this, the elite’s newtechnologies change the seed from a key to freedom to a key to furtherslavery. 

One of the most important weapons being developed for useagainst the rural poor is ‘terminator technology’. Terminator technologyallows seed companies to sterilise new varieties, meaning that farmerswill not be able to obtain healthy seeds for the following year at harvest.Instead, every year they will have to buy seeds off the corporations. Thisis once again an extension of the green revolution which created hybridisedseeds that were by nature sterile. However, in the past, hybridisationhas not been possible with many crops. Terminator technology will allowcompanies to sterilise any of their seeds. Research at the moment is aimedat crops such as rice, wheat, sorghum and soya beans, the basis of a largesection of the world’s daily survival. To paraphrase Brecht; “First controltheir fodder, then you’re in control of their philosophy”. 

[IMAGE] Indian farmers in Karnataka burn GM crop in ‘OperationCremate Monsanto’. 

[IMAGE] The structures go up and the sun goes down overa GM crop squat in Essex. (May 1999) 

“Through patents and genetic engineering, new coloniesare being carved out. The land, the forests, the rivers, the oceans, andthe atmosphere have all been colonised, eroded, and polluted. Capital nowhas to look for new colonies to invade and exploit for its further accumulation.These new colonies are, in my view, the interior spaces of the bodies ofwomen, plants and animals. Resistance to [biotechnology] is a resistanceto the ultimate colonisation of life itself—of the future of evolutionas well as the future of non-Western traditions of relating to and knowingnature. It is a struggle to protect the freedom of diverse species to evolve.It is a struggle to protect the freedom of diverse cultures to evolve.”11 

Like most dominant technologies in this society, geneticengineering is an ecologically destructive, socially devastating weaponused by the elite in its continuing war of expansion against the wild andthe worlds poor. In this context it is handy to remember that Monsantowas the producer of Agent Orange, the chemical defoliant used by Americain its war with the peasantry of Vietnam. It is no accident that Chiapas,home to the Mexican Zapatistas, is the first place where GM trees are beingcommercially grown. 12 

[IMAGE] The mobilisation of communities all around thecountry has succeeded in engendering wide scale mistrust of GM. The nextstage must be massive assaults on the corporations and scientists behindthe approaching nightmare. Give those kids a mask and a monkeywrench. 

Disarming the Elite

What strategies can we use? Many reformist campaignershave mistakenly pinned their hopes on two tactics; (a) lobbying governmentand (b) consumer boycotts. Neither of these tactics can stop or seriouslyslow down genetic engineering. Lobbying the state will never have an impactbecause Western governments are in fact corporate fronts and genetic engineeringis too important to them. Third World elites who see genetic engineeringas a further grasping back of the small amounts of power they have overtheir turf, almost unanimously oppose patents on life and GM technology.They are irrelevant, none have the power to stand up to the global elitepushing genetic engineering. This was graphically shown at the 1999 InternationalBio-Safety Protocol Negotiations: 

“As ever the motives were money and power, with the N.Americans wanting to continue in their global control, the Europeans tryingto re-assert their right to the global foray at par with N. Americans;and the Southerners trying to be spared from continuing to be the prey”13 

The above quote is the view of Dr Tewolde Egziabher, thegeneral manager of Ethiopia’s Environmental Protection Authority and chairpersonof the African group of delegates at the negotiations. His conclusion wasthat global elite’s aim in running the conference was probably that “itmerely wished to fool its own public”. 

On the surface, consumer boycotts look more hopeful; atleast they hit the companies in the pocket. Due to mad cow disease andother similar crises the European public are very suspicious of anythingthe companies and government say about food. Most people also feel thatGM is inherently ‘wrong’, that is ‘tampering with nature’. Despite massivePR propaganda by both the state and the corporations this view only solidifies.A report leaked to Greenpeace, written for Monsanto reveals: 

“An ongoing collapse of public support for biotechnologyand GM foods. At each point in this project, we keep thinking that we havereached the low point and that public thinking will stabilise, but we apparentlyhave not reached that point”. 14 

Some retailers interviewed believed there was a ‘fifty-fifty’chance of ‘losing to the pressure groups’. Against the odds, thanks mainlyto small local demonstrations, trolley blockades, determined leafletingand pure public cynicism many retailers are backing out of GM foods. Indeed,the elite is getting very worried at this situation. The deputy head ofthe American Treasury said in a statement to the Senate this spring thatthe campaign against genetic engineering in Europe “is the greatest blockto global economic liberalisation presently in existence”. People deserveto give themselves a pat on the back for this. However, as the main marketfor GM crops will be in the Third World consumer boycotts in the firstworld cannot stop the advancement of genetic engineering. 

Two hundred years ago the English elite was forced to constructits new technological weaponry—the factory system—in hostile territory.Night after night the Luddites of northern England laid waste to the technologythey knew was aimed directly at the destruction of their communties. Twohundred years later, the elite designs its new technological weapons thousandsof miles from the people who will eventually feel the effects. Unable toreach and destroy the experiments themselves the peasantry are forced torely on us to be the long arms of the third world. We must make the territoryhostile again. 

The challenge has been taken up and people all over Europeare walking in the footsteps of the Luddites. The test site sabotage iscrippling the development of the technology, giving valuable breathingspace to Third World movements and really beginning to intimidate companies.This year after many of its test sites were destroyed, Britain’s leadingplant breeding company, CPB Twyford, announced that it was pulling outof the development of GM crops. In a press statement they said; 

“…it was felt that the risks of continuing work with GMOswere not worth taking while the threat of indiscriminate vandalism exists.” 

Other research organisations have also given up on geneticsdue to the possibility of their crops being uprooted. This includes theRoyal Agricultural College, who were told by their insurers that premiumswould rise massively if GM crops were planted. Nearly half of all testsites in Britain have been destroyed this year and the number will continueto rise. 

As the Luddites of today, we know that given the continuationof this society, halting—forever—the development of new technological weaponrymight not be possible. Even if we don’t succeed in stopping genetic engineeringwe have already slowed down the introduction of this technology. What thismeans in real terms is that we’ve succeeded in delaying the further degradationof the lives of millions of people. We have delayed for months, maybe yearsthe ecological destruction, hunger, dispair and domestic abuse that socialdislocation brings. If that is all we succeed in then we have achievedmuch. 

[IMAGE] After campaigners destroyed the first GM treesin Britain, one scientist adopts the dewy-eyed ‘how could they cut downthe trees’ expression. Hey, I thought us eco-warriors had trademarked thatlook. 

Growing the Global Land Community

As well as the ‘thumb in the dam’ aspect of anti-GM,campaigns, the resistance is serving other purposes. Groups all over theworld are linking up, training and learning from each other. France, America,Britain, Holland, Germany, Ireland and India- people are together takingaction. The hope for a free and ecological future lies in these embryonicmovements which understand their enemies are the machine and its masters,and their comrades the land and its lovers. In helping to catalyse thegrowth of these revolutionary ecological groups around the world the elitemay have designed a weapon which will rebound on themselves. 

Under the cover of the mass, masks and midnight we, thenew Luddites, will continue to fight back in the land struggle that hasnever ended. 

‘Together we, the peasants and you, the poor of Europewill fight the multinationals with our sweat, and together we will succeedin defeating them!’ - from a speech in London by an Indian peasant of theBharta Kissan Union- Punjab, May 1999 


The Triumph of the Code

Enabled by the total colonisation of the seed, control of the global foodindustry will be further centralised into the hands of transnational corporations.This is the technologies’ aim. This fusion of the agribusiness corporationand techno-science now culminates in the triumph of the logic of the code;in particular, the genetic-code of biotechnology, and the bar-code of consumer-industrialcapitalism. The genetic-code and the bar-code are the means through whichever more aspects of contemporary life are being colonised, commodifiedand controlled. In this context, perhaps the fusion of these two codesmay even lead to the imprinting of bar codes directly onto the DNA of geneticallyengineered organisms. Scientists at the Novagene corporation have apparentlyalready ‘devoted enormous time and money to write the company logo intoa cell, the world’s first living trademark.’ (Cary Fowler, ‘The Lawsof life’, Development Dialogue, 1/2 1988, p. 55.) 

Further Reading

Colonising the Seed: Genetic Engineering and Techno-Industrial Agricultureby Gyorgy Scrinis. Available from AK Press see page 332 for contact details.If you read one thing on genetics, read this pamphlet. Biopoltics: A Feministand Ecological reader on Biotechnology, ed.Vandana Shiva and Ingunn Moser,(Zed Books 1995) £14.95, 294 pages, ISBN 1-85649-336-9 Overly academicbut nevertheless illuminating collection of essays on everything from geneticsand the Third World to the flawed reductionism of western science! Farmageddon:Confronting Industrial Agriculture, Do or Die No. 7, p40 An over view ofthe history of land struggle and the horrors of industrial agriculture.The Luddites War on Industry: A story of machine smashing and spies, Door Die No. 6, p. 65 Learn about some of our inspirational political ancestors.BioPiracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge by Vandana Shiva, (GreenBooks 1998), 143 pages, £7.95 Without a doubt the best book writtenon genetics and power, even more powerful as it comes from a Third Worldauthor. Genetic Engineering, Food and Our Environment by Luke Anderson,(Green Books, 1999), 160 pages, £3.95 A newly published intro guideto the subject, though coming from a rather reformist perspective is definitelyworth reading. Contains good scary facts. 


  1. Earth First! Journal, June/July 1987 
  2. Attacks on biotechnology in the Netherlands, Do or Die No.1 
  3. Anti-Genetics Actions: Crop Circle Chaos and Vegetable Vandalism, Do orDie No. 6, p. 57. 
  4. Genetix Update June 1997, No. 1. 
  5. The increased food production of green revolution agriculture is yet anotherdevelopment fallacy. Study after study has shown that labor intensive smallscale agriculture is far more efficient in producing food than capitalintensive large scale agriculture. Nonindustrial farming techniques producea large supply of food, consisting of many crops. Industrial-monocultureon the other hand produces a larger supply of one particular crop but asmaller amount of food in general. This uniform production of crops lendsitself to mass society and the non-local—and therefore formal —economy.Production from the perspective of capitalist economics is relevant onlyif it is commodified. In the starving of the millions we see the conflictbetween commodity production for the market and food production for thestomach. 
  6. Monocultures of the Mind: Biodiversity, Biotechnology and the Third World,by Vandana Shiva, Third World Network, 1993, p.7. 
  7. The Social Anthropology of Economic Underdevelopment, by Sadie, J.L, TheEconomic Journal, No.70, 1960, p. 302. 
  8. The Violence of the Green Revolution by Vandana Shiva, (Zed Books, 1991) 
  9. The Whole Woman by Germaine Greer, (Transworld, Doubleday, 1999), p.320 
  10. Colonising the Seed by Gyorgy Scrinis (FOE Australia) 
  11. Bio-Piracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge by Vandana Shiva, (GreenBooks, 1998) p11 
  12. See the June 1999 report Eucalyptus, Neoliberalism and NAFTA in SoutheasternMexico, as yet not published on paper but available on the web 
  13. Of Power Affirmed to Men and of safety Denied to Life, by Dr Tewolde Egziabher,Third World Resurgence Magazine, Issue 106 Web: 
  14. Genetix Update December/January 1999 No.11 

18mars 1999
15août 1999