All posts by Tony Gosling

Beginning his working life in the aviation industry and trained by the BBC, Tony Gosling is a British land rights activist, historian & investigative radio journalist. Over the last 20 years he has been exposing the secret power of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) and élite Bilderberg Conferences where the dark forces of corporations, media, banks and royalty conspire to accumulate wealth and power through extortion and war. Tony has spent much of his life too advocating solutions which heal the wealth divide, such as free housing for all and a press which reflects the concerns of ordinary people rather than attempting to lead opinion, sensationalise or dumb-down. Tony tweets at @TonyGosling. Tune in to his Friday politics show at BCfm.

Were the Biblical Prophets Anti-Semitic? by Michael Hudson

Were the Biblical Prophets Anti-Semitic?

Were the prophets self-loathing Jews? Are those who criticize today’s right-wing politicians abolishing the land’s courts of justice, urging the mass murder of civilians and destroying an entire society’s infrastructure anti-Semites?

If the prophets of ancient Israel such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Malachi and Amos were alive today, Benjamin Netanyahu would accuse them of anti-Semitism for daring to describe his government as a travesty of what the Mosaic covenant was all about. A common thread running throughout the Jewish Bible – Christianity’s Old Testament – was to criticize kings, the wealthy and corrupt courts for violating the Mosaic commandments to create a fair and equitable society protecting the poor from the economic oppression of debt bondage, and loss of their land. If the prophets were summoned to give judgment today, it is Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party and the steeply unequal economy of Israel that would be condemned as violating the most basic laws of Biblical Judaism.

Prophet after prophet described the Lord as being so displeased with Israel on so many occasions for deviating from his commandments that he withdrew his protection and condemned the land to which Moses had led his followers to be conquered as punishment. The Biblical prophets attributed Israel’s defeat by Sargon in 722 BC to the Lord’s punishment for its falling away from the covenant the Lord had offered. Israel’s punishment fit the crime: Just as its wealthy creditor elite had dispossessed their brethren from the land, so the ten tribes of Israel were deported to Mesopotamia and Media, and Judah’s size was reduced to only the region surrounding Jerusalem.

Ezekiel, the great prophet of the Exile, was taken to Babylonia in 597 BC as a military hostage. He became the leading influence on Ezra and the priestly school that edited the Torah’s early sources into a version that was finalized when the Jews returned from Babylon and wrote the Babylonian concepts of economic justice into the Mosaic Holiness Code. In an apocalyptic tone Ezekiel 7 announces: “The word of the Lord came to me: … ‘The end is now upon you and I will unleash my anger against you. I will judge you according to your conduct and repay you for all your detestable practices,’” citing the polarization of wealth by the wealthiest Jews, corrupting the law courts and violating the original covenant with the Lord.

Were the prophets self-loathing Jews? Are those who criticize today’s right-wing politicians abolishing the land’s courts of justice, urging the mass murder of civilians and destroying an entire society’s infrastructure anti-Semites? Does commenting that October 7th did not occur “in a vacuum,” as UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres did – even indeed after characterizing it as an atrocity – make one an anti-Semite?

What I find most amazing is that no religious scholars are pointing out that Netanyahu’s claim to be following a Biblical covenant as his excuse for committing genocide to seize Palestinian land and destroy its existing population is a travesty of what actually is written in the Bible.

By a sleight-of-hand like that of a stage magician trying to distract the audience’s attention from what really is happening, Netanyahu has evoked what he claims to be a Biblical excuse for Israeli genocide. But what he pretends to be a covenant in the tradition of Moses is a vicious demand by the judge and grey eminence Samuel telling Saul, the general whom he hopes to make king: “Now go and smite Amalek [an enemy of Israel], and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys” (1 Samuel 15:3).

These were not the Lord’s own words, and Samuel was no Moses. And there was no blanket promise to back the Jews regardless of their behavior. And indeed, in following Samuel’s demand for conquest – as a means of making Saul popular enough to be made king – Saul broke the Lord’s commandments about proper religious ceremonial and dietary behavior. One would have no idea from Netanyahu’s celebration of the compact between Samuel and Saul to become popular by military conquest. Saul’s misbehavior led Samuel himself to rebuke him, telling him that the Lord had decided that another man must be found to be king of Israel.

It was not the Lord offering that command to destroy Amalek, but a prophet anxious to place a king on the throne. Invocation of such a command is prima facie evidence of an intention to commit genocide. But that seemed less important to Netanyahu than pandering to the desire for revenge amongst Israelis. Netanyahu makes no mention of the fact that Saul disobeyed the Lord’s commandments and the Lord rejected him as king. Nor does Likud acknowledge the context, a few chapters earlier in I Samuel 12:15, describing the corrupt rule of judges and Samuel’s warning that “if you do not obey the Lord, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you.” The Lord’s warning that “if you persist in doing evil, both you and your king will be swept away” should have rung loudly for Netanyahu.

The Jewish Bible is remarkable in criticizing the kings who ruled Judah and Israel. It is in fact a long narrative of social revolution, in which religious leaders sought – often successfully – to check the power of a selfish and aggressive oligarchy that was denounced again and again for its greed in impoverishing the poor, taking their land and reducing them to debt bondage. (My book “… and forgive them their debts” [Dresden 2018] describes this history.) The Jewish kings, wealthy families and corrupt courts led the Lord repeatedly to abandon them in the face of Assyria, Babylon and lesser opponents when they lapsed into selfish and oppressive behavior.

What was the covenant at Horeb near Mount Sinai? Simply put, the Lord gave Moses the Ten Commandments, which had a moral focus on economic justice, and made a bargain binding all future Jews to obey these commandments (Exodus 19-23 and Deuteronomy 5:2 and 28:43). From the very beginning the Lord threatened to punish the Jews if they broke this covenant. The prophets are quoted as citing the many ways in which succeeding generations broke it.

Reference to that context of fair rule was the role of a prophet (both ancient and modern): to awaken the people – and to be despised by those in power, especially by oppressive oligarchies. Judea, in accordance with the commandments, was supposed to provide mutual aid and protect the poor, not let creditors take the land for themselves.

So Judea lost battles to foreigners, whom the prophets described as used by the Lord as his instrument to punish the Jews for their transgression against the economic and other moral laws that the Lord had laid down. Does one doubt that today’s greater Israel [the land over which it exerts total control, including Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem] is economically polarized and unequal both financially and in terms of human rights?

Deuteronomy 28:21-25 warns that if the Jews fail to obey the Lord’s commandments, “The Lord will plague you with diseases until he has destroyed you from the land you are entering to possess,” and “will cause you to be defeated before your enemies.” Deuteronomy then (29:24-25) reminds the Jews that if the Lord does to them as he had done to Sodom and Gomorrah, Admath and Zeboiim, “It is because this people abandoned the covenant of the Lord, the God of their fathers, the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt.”

The prophets described what obeying the covenant meant. Isaiah 5:3 and 8 cited economic inequality as the greatest woe, blaming the elders and leaders for taking “plunder from the poor into your houses.” He declaimed: “Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field, till no space is left alone in the land.” That is exactly the fate that is befalling the Palestinians driven off their land by today’s Israel as a settler state.

Isaiah 10:1-3 declaims: “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and rob my oppressed people of justice, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar?” And in 29:13-15: “The Lord says: ‘These people come to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men. … Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord.”

Sound familiar? Isaiah 48:1 and 8 says, “Listen, O house of Jacob, you who are called by the name of Israel … and invoke the God of Israel – but not in truth or righteousness. … Well I know how treacherous you are; you were called a rebel from birth.”

The next prophet, Jeremiah 2, accuses Israel of abandoning the Lord and thus breaking the covenant, bringing disaster upon itself with its “wickedness and backsliding” and becoming “a corrupt, wild vine.” Calling Israel unfaithful (3:8 and 20-21) the Lord “gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away,” and Judah was just as bad. The Lord again threatened (17:3-4): “Through your own fault you will lose the inheritance I gave you … for you have kindled my anger and it will burn forever.”

In a move that has failed to shock or dismay conservative Christians, the United States has become modern Israel’s protector and lord, while Israel’s economy (like that of the United States) is polarizing along the same lines that the Biblical prophets denounced, such as when Ezekiel 7 and 16 repeated the Lord’s anger at unfaithful Jerusalem, saying metaphorically (16:13) that “you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute,” not heeding the poor and needy. And in 34:2: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves” but plunder their flock.

Amos 2 accuses Israel of numerous sins: “They sell the righteous for silver, and … trample on the heads of the poor … and deny justice to the oppressed.” And Micah 7:3 declaims: “Woe to those who plan inequity, to those who plot evil on their beds … because it is in their power to do it. … Therefore, the Lord said, ‘I am planning disaster against this people, from which you cannot save yourselves’” when the wealthy join up as “the ruler demands gifts, the judge accepts bribes, the powerful dictate what they desire – they all conspire together.”

Today’s modern Zionism is at odds with the Jewish Bible. That is understandable given that its ideology comes from a very secular group despite its recent takeover by self-identified orthodox Jews. The rhetoric used by Netanyahu is a travesty when one notes how the Jewish Bible proclaimed that wealth and property were to be distributed equitably, not concentrated in the hands of an oligarchy. Exodus 23:1 and 9 give the following insight into how aliens – the Palestinians of their day – were to be treated: “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong,” but “lay down the law of justice and mercy: Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.”

Is it justice and mercy to shut off water, food, medicine and fuel to an entire population and level or damage half of its buildings and most of its critical infrastructure including entire swarths of homes? Is it justice and mercy to force hospitals to shut down, bomb ambulances, and drop six 2,000 pound bombs on a refugee camp?

While billions around the world witness the super-Kristalnacht carnage in Gaza and blatant pogroms on the West Bank, “serious” Western journalists warn that an existential threat is posed by refugees with hang gliders but no planes, tanks or artillery pieces. The same journalists ignore the time-proven truism that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the faith” and that killing thousands of innocents immediately and many thousands in the chaos that follows will not weaken but strengthen a resistance movement. It was that same reaction in the wake of Nazism that turned today’s Zionist leaders into haters.

In the final lines of the Jewish Bible, Malachi 4 speaks of the Lord’s emphasis that Israel’s covenant with God had a strong contractual quid pro quo as a condition for his support: “‘All the arrogant and every evil-doer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,’ says the Lord Almighty. … ‘Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.’” If these laws continued to be disobeyed, the Lord threatened, “I will come and strike the land with a curse.”

It seems that this curse has now come, in the form of most of the world’s population so appalled at the self-righteous genocide being committed by two secular governments claiming (to the discredit of Western religions) divine sanctification, Israel and the United States, just as the Western non-Soviet economy created in 1945 in the wake of World War II is breaking into two parts.

We are living in secular times. The United States has become modern Israel’s protector and lord, and it itself has become corrupt along the same lines that the great prophets denounced. American evangelists, like the Israeli government, have excluded the message of the Biblical prophets and Jesus’s social message, selecting only the Covenant as a deed of conquest and promise of a ticket to heaven without any behavioral quid pro quo involved.

The broad spectrum of Judeo-Christian religion has been secularized as today’s world differs so fundamentally from that of classical antiquity. American TV evangelicals make a travesty of Jesus’s attempt to restore the Mosaic Jubilee Year cancelling the debts that threatened ancient populations with bondage and led to the loss of their means of self-support on the land. The “Prosperity Gospel” has replaced Jesus with Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman and Frederick Hayek.

Already in the 4th and 5th centuries, almost as soon as Constantine made Christianity the Roman State religion, Augustine changed the translation of the Lord’s Prayer and Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount by replacing debt cancellation with the non-economic idea of original sin inborn from Adam. To cap matters, the new interpretation replaced Jesus’s call for debt cancellation with Church demands for monetary contributions to obtain indulgences and forgiveness. Subsequent Christianity became so pro-creditor that it defended the sanctity of debt, not its cancellation. To finance the Crusades in the 13th century, the popes excommunicated Christian clergy and secular reformers who opposed paying usury – which was re-defined as “interest” and permitted as long as it was Christian bankers who were making the loans.

Israel may have a convoluted legal right to shoot Palestinians coming over its wall in an attempt to defend land that settlers have seized illegally from them. But as an occupying power it does not have the sanctimonious right to disregard virtually every international law regarding war and collective punishment simply for revenge and to demonstrate to Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and Iran what it will do to them with American support if they join in the fray. Netanyahu’s actions and claims for religious sanctification for them are the antithesis of the original Judaism. His Likud government rejects the ethic of the Jewish Bible as much as America’s Christian evangelists reject the message of Jesus.

One family told to leave their home every 8 minutes in England as no-fault evictions soar – ITV News

‘We’ve been treated like criminals’: Families left desperate and homeless as no-fault evictions soar

VIDEO REPORT: Friday 10 November 2023 – Daniel Hewitt – Investigations Correspondent

A record number of families are being evicted from their homes through no fault of their own.

Victims of Section 21 eviction claims, ITV News Investigations Correspondent Daniel Hewitt spoke to some of vulnerable families being left with nowhere else to go

The number of no-fault evictions taking place in England has risen to its highest level in seven years, as an ITV News investigation finds families being made homeless with nowhere else to go.

Ministry of Justice data shows the number of Section 21 eviction claims – otherwise known as ‘no-fault’ evictions as the landlord does not have to state a reason – have jumped by 38%.

Between July and September 2023, 8,399 Section 21 eviction claims were taken to court by landlords, compared to 6,092 in the same period last year.

The number of bailiff repossessions also jumped by 29% to 2,307, the highest since before the pandemic.

The government has promised to scrap Section 21 evictions since 2019, but Housing Secretary Michael Gove has cast doubt on whether it will happen before the next general election – after promising to reform the court system in England before bringing in a ban.

Increased mortgage rates have seen landlords increase rental prices, or in other cases decide to sell their properties. Landlords also point to changes to the tax system which have made renting out properties less lucrative.

Under reforms to the private rental sector currently going through Parliament, landlords will still be able to evict their tenants if they can prove they wish to sell their property.

The issue for many families is the lack of affordable housing to move to.

An ITV News investigation has seen first-hand the impact on families evicted through Section 21.

In Northampton, Carol, her daughter and two grandchildren have privately rented their home for almost a decade. They have never missed a rent payment and have been good tenants.

They were notified earlier this year that the landlord wanted to sell the property and were given eight weeks to leave. Despite both working, Carol and her daughter couldn’t find anywhere affordable to rent, and were told that the local council had no properties for them.

They went to court, but they lost their case. Right now, the law is on the landlords’ side.

On the day of their eviction, with the bailiffs waiting outside, Carol told me the family had nowhere to go once they handed back the keys.

‘I wake up some mornings and wish I had died in my sleep,’ Carol told ITV News Investigations Correspondent Daniel Hewitt that her life cover would help her loved ones escape homelessness

At 10am, the bailiffs walked through the door. They didn’t even knock – the property was theirs to take.

The moment Carol and her daughter walked out – the home they’ve lived in for nearly a decade with two little boys aged three and five – the locksmiths moved in. It is a swift and brutal process.

An increasing number of Section 21 evictions are ending up in court, driven in part by a chronic shortage of affordable housing – both in the private sector and in social housing.

ITV News has seen evidence of councils advising tenants who receive a Section 21 to not leave after eight weeks – as stated in the eviction notice – and instead go through the court process all the way through to a court-ordered bailiff repossession.

In Luton, Charlotte, her husband and three sons have privately rented the same home for 10 years, but received a Section 21 notice stating the landlord wanted to sell the house.

Like Carol, they can’t find anywhere they can afford on the private rental market, and the council have told them they will only consider them for housing once they have been evicted.

Charlotte’s husband works full-time, so they don’t qualify for legal aid, but they also can’t afford a solicitor. It means Charlotte has no choice but to represent herself in court.

‘I have nowhere to go, I don’t know what I’m going to do’: Charlotte has been told she has just six weeks to find a new home with her husband and two children, or bailiffs will be sent to evict them

We met her after her case was heard. Like Carol in Northampton, she lost.

The law does not protect tenants against no-fault evictions.

Housing charities insist the government must ban Section 21 before the next election, and say renters are living in fear of eviction.

“It beggars belief that this government is prepared to use cynical tactics to delay the banning of no-fault evictions, while record numbers of renters are being removed from their homes without cause,” said Polly Neate of Shelter.

“Renters have waited four long years for the government to come good on scrapping Section 21, to make that now dependent on unspecified court reforms taking place is ludicrous.

“Renters shouldn’t have to live for one more day with the fear they can be evicted from their home for no reason, knowing that once that notice lands on their doormat, there is nothing they can do.”

A government spokesperson said: “Our landmark Renters Reform Bill offers better protections for tenants and gives them greater security to challenge poor conditions in their homes.

“We are abolishing section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions and the Bill passing through Parliament will see this happen.”

If you or someone you know is homeless, facing eviction, or want to get in touch with us about your housing issue, please email us at


One family told to leave their home every 8 minutes in England
Carol has lived in her home for 10 years. Today she waited as bailiffs evicted her, her daughter and two grandchildren.
Carol has lived in her home for 10 years. Today she waited as bailiffs evicted her, her daughter and two grandchildren. Credit: ITV News


‘Jumping Jack’ Manson vs. land-grabbing Squire Myers (1970) Anti-enclosure comic strip for junior school children to teenagers

Jumping Jack Manson comes across a land-grabbing squire…
…who gets his minions to burn hay-ricks and blame it on the plucky peasants…
…but wicked Myers’ didn’t plan on Jumping Jack and his amazing spring-heeled boots!

Taken from comic The Hotspur (1970) this six-page strip is available below as single image files 3×2 or 6×1 and as a printable PDF [right click or touch and hold to download]

7MB PDF – ‘Jumping Jack’ Manson vs. land-grabbing Squire Myers (1970)

Jumping Jack Manson enclosures (1970).pdf

2MB 3×2 JPG – ‘Jumping Jack’ Manson vs. land-grabbing Squire Myers (1970)

2MB 6×1 JPG – ‘Jumping Jack’ Manson vs. land-grabbing Squire Myers (1970)




Empty mansions in abandoned HS2 ghost village ‘taken over by squatters, dealers and religious cults’

Empty mansions in abandoned HS2 ghost village ‘taken over by squatters, dealers and religious cults’

Empty mansions in abandoned HS2 ghost village ‘taken over by squatters, dealers and religious cults’

The homes in Whitmore Heath were purchased by the government for the line that will now never be built

A HS2 ghost village in the West Midlands is full of abandoned mansions that locals say have been taken over by squatters. Whitmore Heath’s beautiful and pricey homes once made it a thriving community – but now squatters, drug dealers and even religious cults have allegedly moved in.

HS2 purchased 35 properties in the rural hamlet. The average property price was £600,000, but houses were compulsorily purchased by the government because the train line was set to pass under several multi million-pound mansions in the area.

Now that plan is in tatters – even though other parts of the line are still being built, some near Coventry, amid much local anger. PM Rishi Sunak announced at the Tory Party conference that the West Midlands to Manchester line would be scrapped.

Yet because people have moved out, remaining residents say the the empty homes are now trouble-spots with squatters living in the houses.

Edward Cavenagh-Mainwairing, 61, is the 33rd generation of his family to live in the Staffordshire village. He said three properties are now used as cannabis farms – and warned there is no longer a sense of community in the area.

Mr Cavenagh-Mainwairing said: “When you walk around the area, it’s a bit sad to see it all locked up and three houses are now used for cannabis. There was a sense of community, but now there isn’t.

“HS2 has strengthened us all together in a way – because we are all suffering from it. But hearing the news about it being scrapped made me feel numb, it’s still not a victory because it’s confirmation that it was a really bad decision.

“It should have been stopped earlier. A lot of people’s lives should have not been upset to the degree they have been.”

One security guard, who asked not to be named, said they had been hired to guard the home as squatters have previously lived there. They said they had even seen cults ‘trying to break in’ to the house.

What’s more, they said a religious group had even tried to arrest security guards. They said: “We’ve had cults trying to break in.

“They would even try and arrest you.” However, some residents actually like living in the village – and they are confident more people will return to the area.

Chris Shemilt, 65, moved there around five years ago with his wife, although he is in the process of moving away. Yet he has said he ‘doesn’t see anything wrong’ with the area.

He believes the homes bought by the government will go back on the market. Chris said: “I don’t see anything wrong with it myself.

“I think people will move back to the area, I think a lot of them were bought by the government – who bribed people to sell them.

“I suspect they will go back on the market.” Chris said the costs of HS2 were ‘way too high’ for it to have ever been completed as planned.

The financial advisor said: “As far as I’m concerned, the costs were way too high for them to do it. Quite simply – all they’ve got to do is run the train to Birmingham on the same line they’ve already got – which is quite a good line anyway.

“If they slightly improve that line, then they can go straight through to Manchester.”

Rishi Sunak has defended scrapping the Birmingham to Manchester line. He said: “We’re going to take every penny of that £36 billion and we’re going to spend it on transport across the country – on bus, on road, on rail, on all the forms of transport that you use every day.

“We’re going to deliver it far quicker so that you can see the benefits faster. We’re going to see it across more parts of our country.

“I think that is the right thing to do for the long term.”

Great Lives: Ken Loach on Digger, Gerrard Winstanley – BBCR4 – 26 Sep 2023

Great Lives: Ken Loach on Gerrard Winstanley – BBCR4 – 26 Sep 2023

But sadly not a lot on Pride’s Purge, or the injustice and horrors of Charles’ execution, which drove Winstanley to act, and cleared a way for the mercantile classes’ British Empire…
Veteran British film director Ken Loach nominates the 17th century radical pamphleteer and and leader of the Diggers, Gerrard Winstanley.

Born in Wigan in 1609, Winstanley began writing religious pamphlets after his cloth selling business in London went bankrupt and he was forced to move to the country. There his ‘heart was filled with sweet thoughts … that the earth shall be made a common treasury of livelihood to all mankind’, for ‘the great Creator Reason, made the Earth to be a Common Treasury… for Man had Domination given to him, over the Beasts, Birds and Fishes; but not one word was spoken in the beginning, that one branch of mankind should rule over another.”

Winstanley began to dig a nearby wasteland, calling on others – rich and poor -to join him in the digging, which he believed would start a revolution and feed the poor. His ideas were radical, communal, spiritual and deeply challenging. Within a year the Diggers had been aggressively expelled from their site of occupation.

The late Tony Benn called the Diggers, ‘the first true socialists’, but Winstanley has also been claimed by anarchists and environmentalists.

With Emeritus Professor of Early Modern history, Ann Hughes. Presented by Matthew Parris and produced for BBC Audio in Bristol by Ellie Richold

The Land Is Ours’ 1999 occupation of St George’s Hill

Winstanley (1975) dir. Kevin Brownlow


Or buy via the BFI – Winstanley – A powerful story of the 1649 St George’s Hill commune inspired by the visionary leadership of Gerrard Winstanley. 1649. With poverty and unrest sweeping England, a group of impoverished men and women, known as the diggers, form a settlement on St George’s Hill, Surrey. Inspired by the visionary leadership of Gerrard Winstanley, the commune’s tireless, yet peaceful attempts to assert their right to cultivate and share the wealth of the common land, are met with crushing hostility from local landowners and government troops. With Winstanley, filmmakers Brownlow and Mollo (the creators of It happened Here) have produced an astonishingly authentic historical film, and a powerful, moving story of one extraordinary man’s vision. Special features New restoration by the BFI National Archive. New filmed interview with Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo (38 minutes) It happened Here Again (Eric Mival, 1976, 48 minutes) ­ the making of Winstanley 9 Dalmuir West (Kevin Brownlow, 1962, 12 minutes) Fully Illustrated 32-page booklet with contributions by Marina Lewycka (author of A Short History of tractors in Ukrainian), Eric Mival, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Tom Milne, and David Robinson; plus biographies and credits. Dolby Digital 2.0 (320kbps)

Winstanley is a 1975 British black-and-white film made by Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo and based on the 1961 David Caute novel Comrade Jacob.

The film details the story of the 17th-century social reformer and writer Gerrard Winstanley, who, along with a small band of followers known as the Diggers, tried to establish a self-sufficient farming community on common land at St George’s Hill (now a private gated estate, the ‘Beverly Hills’ of Britain) near Cobham, Surrey.

The community was one of the world’s first small-scale experiments in socialism or communism, and its ideas were copied elsewhere in England during the time of the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell, but it was quickly suppressed, and in the end left only a legacy of pamphlets and ideas to inspire later generations of socialist theorists.

Ramblers unite at Scots Dyke, near Richmond, North Yorkshire, to protest against England’s draconian right to roam laws

Ramblers unite at Scots Dyke to protest against England’s draconian right to roam laws

English and Scottish walkers meet in mass trespass to call for greater public access to land in England and Wales, like the more generous laws of Scotland

Flag-waving activists for land reform have expressed their demands for greater freedom to roam in England and Wales by staging a symbolic trespass through farmland on the Scottish border.

In a bid to highlight Scotland’s far more generous rights of access to the countryside, around 40 campaigners tramped through boggy, dense woodland to arrive at an earth dyke north of Carlisle which once marked the medieval border.

They lined up on the Scots Dyke, built in 1552 to fix the English-Scottish border in a largely lawless district then known as the Debatable Lands, where Jon Moses, an organiser of the Borderlands rally, stood on the bank with one leg in England and the other in Scotland.

“My left leg is lawful; my right is unlawful,” he said, referring to the substantial differences in right-to-roam laws on either side of the border. That message was echoed by the activists, who sang and danced to an ironic version of the hokey cokey in a static congo line along the dyke.

They were met at the dyke by Scottish activists, including Andy Wightman, a land reform expert and former Scottish Greens MSP, and Dave Morris, former chief executive of Ramblers Scotland. They had legally walked there across land north of the border owned by the Duke of Buccleuch. The southern contingent had technically trespassed over a farm track and private woodland to arrive at the dyke, before staging a ceremony in a Scottish field which was symbolically doused with Newcastle Brown Ale and Scotch whisky.

The Borderlands event was arranged by the Right to Roam campaign, bidding to replicate Scotland’s statutory freedom to walk, row or swim across the vast majority of open land, farm fields, woods and waterways in England and Wales.

Scotland’s longstanding traditions of free access, subject to restrictions to protect private gardens and work such as forestry, were enshrined in law by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003; the protest at Scots Dyke was intended to mark the act’s 20th anniversary.

In England and Wales, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 is far more restrictive. It provides “strikingly limited” rights which are also starkly unequal, argues the Right to Roam campaign.

The act allows free access to only 8% of England and Wales, chiefly along defined paths or designated open land such as national parks. But that leads to hugely unequal levels of access for people to their local areas. While 72% of the Peak District has open access, that falls to 0.6% in Kent.

Recent analysis by the New Economics Foundation and the Ramblers shows deep social inequalities regarding access to designated rights of way in England and Wales; people in the richest areas have 80% more paths, and in the whitest areas have 144% more.

The England and Wales act also prevents free access to around 97% of England and Wales’ lakes and rivers, unlike Scotland’s legislation, which allows kayakers, swimmers and rowers the statutory right to use nearly all open water.

The Right to Roam campaign is pinning its hopes on Labour following through on its recent pledges to replicate Scotland’s access laws for England and Wales if it wins power at the next election.

Nadia Shaikh, a Right to Roam organiser, told the protesters the Scottish legislation allowed English activists “to remind ourselves this is absolutely possible; it is absolutely achievable”.


But there are splits in the English access movement: the Ramblers group believes the English act can be enhanced to include access to watersides (but not on to the water), to woodlands and some downlands. England’s very large number of rights of way makes Scotland’s model unsuitable and unnecessary, and would undermine the “trust and consensus” built with landowners, they argue.

In a brief ceremony at the Scots Dyke, Wightman handed over a mocked-up land reform bill for England and Wales – modelled heavily on Scotland’s legislation – to 11-year-old Shafag Elnour, the daughter of Sudanese refugees now living in Newcastle.

“I just think that we should have a right to roam,” said Elnour, carrying a small green banner she had made with the slogan “right 2 roam” in her hands.

“It is just stupid that all those people buy lots and lots of land and do nothing with it.”

Her father, Mohaned Ahmed, a human rights lawyer and consultant present at the event with Elnour’s two brothers and mother, said being a black refugee added additional barriers to enjoying the English countryside.

“I think it is inhuman that land is for a handful of people, not for everyone,” he said.

Indigenous people in Brazil shed tears of joy as the Supreme Court enshrines their land rights in win for president Lula

In several former European colonies, such as Vancouver and Australia, rights to freely inhabit and work reservation lands, formerly under private ownership or otherwise threatened, are being returned to indigenous people

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Indigenous people celebrated Thursday after Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled to enshrine their land rights, removing the imminent threat those protections could be rolled back.

The justices had been evaluating a lawsuit brought by Santa Catarina state, backed by farmers, seeking to block an Indigenous group from expanding the size of its territorial claim. Nearly all of the high court’s justices voted to support the Indigenous group, which has far-reaching implications for territories nationwide.

Dozens of Indigenous people in traditional yellow feather headdresses and body paint danced, sang and jumped around in front of a multitude of flashing cameras in the capital of Brasilia after the decisive vote was cast. Some wiped away tears of joy.

“I’m shaking. It took a while, but we did it. It’s a very beautiful and strong feeling. Our ancestors are present — no doubt about it,” said Jéssica Nghe Mum Priprá, who is from the Xokleng-Laklano Indigenous group.

In the case before the court, Santa Catarina state argued a legal theory being pushed by opponents of further land allocations for Indigenous groups. It said that the date Brazil’s Constitution was promulgated — Oct. 5, 1988 — should be the deadline for when Indigenous peoples to have already either physically occupied land or be legally fighting to reoccupy territory. They also claimed it would provide legal certainty for landholders.

Nine of the court’s 11 justices rejected that argument.

“Areas occupied by Indigenous people and areas that are linked to the ancestry and tradition of Indigenous peoples have constitutional protection, even if they are not demarcated,” said Justice Luiz Fux, who cast the vote that established the majority.

The two justices who voted to support Santa Catarina’s position were appointed by the President Jair Bolsonaro, who was a vocal opponent of expanding Indigenous territories and supported their assimilation.

Indigenous rights groups argued the concept of the deadline was unfair, saying it does not account for expulsions and forced displacements of Indigenous populations, particularly during Brazil’s two-decade military dictatorship.

The lawsuit put at risk the status of Brazil’s hundreds of Indigenous territories, said rights group Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, known by the Portuguese acronym Apib.

Large groups of Indigenous men and women from different states and ethnicities had gathered in and around Brasilia in recent months during the high court’s deliberations.

Francisco Cali Tzay, the U.N. special investigator on the rights of Indigenous peoples, had urged Brazil’s Supreme Court to protect Indigenous lands.

“Under the constitution, Indigenous peoples are entitled to the permanent possession of the lands they traditionally occupy,” Tzay said in a 2021 statement.

He said a ruling in favor of business interests “could legitimize violence against Indigenous peoples and inflame conflicts in the Amazon rainforest and other areas.”

Though the case involved only one Indigenous group, the Supreme Court gave it “general repercussion” status, meaning the ruling will serve as a precedent for all instances of justice involving Indigenous groups.

It thus applies to hundreds of administrative procedures and legislative initiatives that are in progress and is likely to torpedo a proposal in Congress to enact the same 1988 deadline.

However, that legislation also carries other threats to Indigenous rights, potentially opening the door to an easing of restrictions on mining, dam construction, agricultural and transportation projects in Indigenous lands.

“We’ve won the battle, but not the war,” Dinamam Tuxá, executive coordinator of Apib, said in Brasilia. “We will continue to fight for Indigenous territories to be demarcated, so that the rights of indigenous peoples are safeguarded and protected.”

Since taking office in January, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has given significantly more attention to the demands of Indigenous peoples than his predecessor, Bolsonaro.

He created the country’s first Ministry of Indigenous Peoples, headed by Indigenous woman Sonia Guajajara, and demarcated eight new Indigenous territories.

Indigenous territories cover nearly 14% of Brazil’s vast expanse, according to data from the Instituto Socioambiental. The process to officially establish an Indigenous territory can take decades.

MST Founder João Pedro Stedile Confronts Landlords in Brazil’s Congress

MST Founder João Pedro Stedile Faces Off against Right Wing in Congress

Posted by Internationalist 360° on August 17, 2023

João Pedro Stedile of the National Board of the MST testifies in the CPI on the MST

The leader was summoned by right-wing deputies to testify before the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry that is “investigating” the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement

After seven hours of questioning before the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry (CPI) “investigating” the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (MST), João Pedro Stedile exited the Chamber of Deputies and was embraced by dozens of representatives of people’s movements, religious leaders, and parliamentarians who sang “This struggle is ours, this struggle is of the people. And only in struggle, will we create a new Brazil.”

Stedile was summoned to testify to the CPI by the right-wing deputies Ricardo Salles, the minister of the environment under Jair Bolsonaro, and Zucco, a member of the Brazilian military. The establishment of the CPI was approved on April 26 by the Chamber of Deputies of the National Congress, dominated by the right, in order to “investigate” “the activities,” “the real purpose,” and “the means of funding” of the MST.

The CPI had its first session on May 23 and since then they have received testimonies from diverse “witnesses” and experts who are questioned by the deputies in the commission. The information collected throughout these months is then drafted into a report which is presented to different entities of the judicial, executive, and legislative branches of power with conclusions and recommendations.

However, analysts have pointed out that the “investigative” commission has largely focused on bringing former or disgruntled members of the two million person movement to testify about grievances they have with local leadership, alleged irregularities or even alleged crimes which they participated in or witnessed, and other isolated incidents. Right-wing deputies which until recently composed the majority of the commission, have also used the space to launch baseless sweeping accusations at the movement and criticize its struggle not only for popular agrarian reform but for social change, against racism, and for a sovereign Brazil where all can live with dignity.

Many have also pointed out that it is no coincidence that this CPI is occurring alongside moments of great political difficulty for the country’s right-wing including an ongoing CPI investigating the coup actions committed on January 8 in Brasilia by thousands of Bolsonaro supporters with links to government officials and businessmen, as well as the investigation of several members of the Bolsonaro government as well as some of his close allies over corruption.

So, what has come to be known popularly as the “CPI Circus against the MST” had one of its last major days of work on August 15 with the testimony from João Pedro Stedile, one of the founding members of the MST and a member of the national board. Despite their efforts to catch the leader off guard and tire him out through hours of questioning and accusations, the testimony of Stedile ranged from explanations of Marxism, a defense of the organizational structure and vision of the MST, and a deep criticism not only of capitalism and agribusiness, but also of how the deputies carried out the work of the commission.

Methodological errors

The deputies running the CPI have employed a common tactic used by the right, which is to use testimonies of specific individuals who have been sought out and previously identified as against the MST, to support their claims about the movement. This move was sharply criticized by João Pedro in his testimony.

He said that in order for the CPI to have results found more faithful to reality, it should have taken a random sample of people that live on MST settlements and encampments, and not pick certain groups in advance.

“I want to make a statistical observation. We have 500,000 settled families and 60,000 encamped families, according to INCRA [National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform]. If you take a random sample of 1%, that would be 5,000 families you would have to listen to, although the most serious evidence is of even higher percentages.”

After Deputy Salles, asked his opinion about cases where people allegedly try to personally benefit from the MST’s projects on settlements and encampments, the landless leader responded by referencing the German sociologist Karl Marx: “In a capitalist society, all classes, whether the bourgeoisie, the petty bourgeoisie, the working class, the peasantry, the workers in general, have a lumpen fraction. What is a lumpen? It’s that opportunist who wants to live off the work of others, who wants to exploit the work of others. So these lumpens exist throughout society. You’ll find them among the bourgeoisie – drug traffickers, for example, are billionaires and are lumpens – in the middle class, among liberal professionals, among lawyers, journalists, MPs, among workers and among peasants.”

Can the right understand movement organizing?

Another major line of questioning lodged at the landless leader was regarding the work that often takes place in the collective areas of the MST. The right-wing deputies, seemingly unable to understand why people would willingly organize collectively and distribute work to advance the common good, attempted to accuse MST leaders of authoritarianism and imposing forced labor on members.

In response, Stedile highlighted the characteristics that mark the movement’s form of organization, citing aspects such as the collective awareness, the use of a decision-making process that is always collective rather than individual, the division of tasks, discipline, and the educational and intellectual training of the militants that join the movement on their own volition.

When he mentioned the organization’s characteristics, the economist sent a message to Kim Kataguiri from the União Party and one of the founders of the Free Brazil Movement (MBL) who is part of the CPI. The organization has produced different conservative and extremist youth leaders since its creation nine years ago.

“Among the organizational principles, everything has to be collective. Everything has to be in the form of a committee because it is the collective that protects [us] from the opportunism of false leaders. Don’t adopt this terminology of ‘president’, ‘treasurer’, ‘secretary’. The organizing principles are universal. They apply to the workers’ movement and they apply to Kim’s movement. I hope he’s taking notes. Any popular social movement has to adopt these principles,” Stedile explained in what many have deemed a master class on popular organization, provoking laughter from the audience.








Education for all: another conquest of the MST

While explaining the actual work and functioning of the MST, João Pedro also emphasized the centrality of study and education in the MST. Whether its carrying out literacy campaigns with adults and young people for people in MST and in communities they work with, developing popular pedagogy for the childcare and primary schools organized within the MST settlements and encampments, or fighting for policies that facilitate access to higher education for the landless, education for all is more than a slogan.

During the CPI, João Pedro highlighted that, as a result of this historic effort, around 250 landless workers have already studied law in the university. He also highlighted the importance of the National Program for Education in Agrarian Reform (PRONERA) created in 1998 during the Fernando Henrique Cardoso government (1994-1994), as a result of pressure from union and social struggles. Stedile described PRONERA as a “fantastic achievement” for the movement.

“I brought here the proof of the ‘crime’ – that’s how you use [the word], right? Ney [Strozake], the comrades who are here, are all lawyers who are children of [land reform] beneficiaries. Can you believe that? If it hadn’t been for PRONERA, they’d be [working the land] or they’d have become lumpens,” Stedile joked, pointing to the group of MST lawyers accompanying him at the session. The mention was also made in front of a silent plenary and a visibly embarrassed Ricardo Salles: Ney Strozake, one of the MST’s legal advisors, is also the lawyer of the former Environment Minister in some cases.


During the hours-long testimony, the economist heavily criticized the more conservative agribusiness. At one point during his answers to the CPI deputies, the leader pointed out that this segment of the rural sector is currently experiencing divisions in response to the PT administration. Part of the sector is active in the Lula government, as is the case of the Minister of Agriculture, cattle rancher Carlos Fávaro, who is a senator-elect for Mato Grosso and is currently on leave from his mandate.

“Agribusiness is divided. The half that has any sense supported Lula. The other half is Aprosoja [Brazilian Association of Soybean Producers, one of the sector’s political arms], which only thinks about making money. Part of agribusiness is already aware of the limits and is already migrating to another form of agriculture, what is now known as ‘regenerative practices’, to replace pesticides with agroecological pesticides. Part of agribusiness is still going to heaven,” Stedile joked. “But the dumb agribusiness, which only thinks about easy profits, has its days numbered,” he added.

Occupation vs. invasion

The key political disputes between the Bolsonaristas and MST supporters were present throughout the landless leader’s CPI testimony. At one point during the hearing, deputy Rodolfo Nogueira from Bolsonaro’s Liberal Party, questioned Stedile about whether the leader “believes he has a license of impunity” for allegedly “inciting crimes” in the country. “I have never incited any crime,” replied the economist, to which he was interrupted by the deputy, who said that “land invasion is a crime.”

Stedile took the opportunity to highlight the difference between “occupation” and “invasion”, the latter being an expression often used in public debate by more conservative politicians to create confusion on the subject. “Land invasion is a crime, like the farmers in Mato Grosso do Sul invading indigenous land. What the MST is doing is occupying land as a way of putting pressure so that the Constitution is implemented. Invasion of land or any public property is when someone does it for their own benefit, and then it is characterized as squatting and is criminalized by the Penal Code,” said Stedile.

The MST leader continued his reasoning by highlighting the legal aspects surrounding the issue: “What our movement is doing, recognized by jurisprudence, is not an invasion. It is occupation, and occupation here is not squatting, so much so that, to your despair, of the many occupations that have taken place over the last 40 years throughout Brazil, no one has been arrested or convicted.” “If you want to end the occupations, expropriate large unproductive properties, because then there’s land for everyone,” he added.

In another moment, the deputies asked about Stedile’s participation in the entourage that accompanied President Lula to China in April this year. Deputy Salles asked him if there was “any movement in China analogous to the MST in Brazil”. “No, because in 1949 they carried out land reform. [For] those of you who want to defeat the MST so badly, the formula is simple: carry out agrarian reform and the next day the MST will disappear,” he said.


Half an hour before the start of the hearing, João Pedro Stedile’s arrival at the Chamber drew the attention of everyone nearby. The landless leader was welcomed by dozens of people who had gathered there to show solidarity. Federal deputies, religious leaders, trade unionists, and members of different popular movements crowded around and chanted slogans and songs about agrarian reform as a way of embracing Stedile with words of support. From there, he made his way to the room, accompanied by a procession. “We are here in the name of the model of society that we seek to give our support to those who help organize the people in Brazil,” said Pastor Luís Sabanay.

“What drives me to be here is that I want the land for those who plant on it. I want nature alive because we don’t eat dead nature. And what moves me to be here is that, as well as not letting go of anyone’s hand, is that it is [important] to be together at a time like this. It is to say that the MST moves us because it teaches us what my religion already brings in its daily life, which is [the idea that] we need nature because without it there is no orixá,” said Makota Celinha, general coordinator of the National Center for Afro-Brazilian Africanity and Resistance (Cenarab), who received a public greeting from Stedile at the start of the session.

Members of parliament who are not part of the CPI also joined the procession to embrace Stedile and wish him strength. “The MST is a movement that we all cherish, which fights for the democratization of the land, demonstrates to the Brazilian people that it is necessary to fight the ultra-right, defend democracy, and share wealth. It’s a movement that lives in our hearts, that’s why I came here, on his behalf, to congratulate the entire MST,” said Congressman Rogério Correia of the Workers’ Party (PT).

Politicians from other levels of government also attended the event with the same objective. This was the case of Pernambuco state deputy Rosa Amorim of the PT, who is the daughter of founders of the MST in several states and grew up on an agrarian reform settlement. “We have an elected agrarian reform caucus in several states of the country and, at this very important moment, which is also a battle in the institutional realm, we have to be here to show our solidarity. Today we are going to send a message to Brazil about what the MST does and produces,” she said.

One sighting that attracted the spotlight was that of the governor of Ceará, Elmano de Freitas of the PT. Having come to Brasilia to fulfill agendas in some ministries, he went to the Chamber of Deputies to greet Stedile at the CPI and stayed for a couple of minutes. Speaking to Brasil de Fato, Elmano highlighted the movement’s work in the countryside of Ceará.

“In Ceará, we are closely acquainted with the landless movement, which has built an agro-industry in the milk production chain in the Quixeramobim region, which has developed agro-industries in the area of [production with] goats and sheep, in the area of honey, generating opportunities for thousands of families who used to live in extreme poverty and today live with dignity, have children going to college, going to school full time. Therefore, the landless in Ceará, as it is throughout the country, represent an organization of the most humble people to be able to live with dignity,” said the governor.

Various parliamentarians from the progressive camp wore MST hats during the CPI meeting as a way of paying tribute to Stedile and the organization. “I wear it with great pride and as a way of recognizing the struggle for agrarian reform in Brazil,” said Fernanda Melchionna, deputy from the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL). Congressman Nilto Tatto of PT also joined the group. “Wearing the MST hat at the CPI that wants to criminalize the movement is an act of resistance, solidarity and gratitude for everything the organization has done for the Brazilian people,” he said.

MST evaluates CPI

Ayala Ferreira, one of the leaders of the MST’s Human Rights Sector, said following the hearing that Stedile had demonstrated his superiority in terms of political capacity and knowledge of the subject.

“Our evaluation is that he gave a lesson, which we already imagined would happen. He didn’t come here to convince the agro-military, Bolsonaro sectors of the importance of agrarian reform and the relevance of the MST in this agenda. He came to talk to Brazilian society, to all the people who followed [the testimony] online, on the pages that published [the testimony], to see everything we’ve been saying: that the MST is going to celebrate 40 years of history and struggle for the democratization of the land, highlighting the need for agrarian reform,” said Ayala.

In a public statement sent to the press shortly after the committee’s session, the national leadership of the MST expressed a positive assessment of João Pedro Stedile’s participation in the committee, but also criticized the CPI’s handling of the work. “This CPI has been running for three months, under the command of Bolsonaro parliamentarians, in an attempt to criminalize the MST and prevent the resumption of the National Agrarian Reform Policy, as well as trying to wear down the federal government. However, the baseness and lack of legitimacy and seriousness of the Bolsonaro deputies is leading it to be closed earlier than expected by these parliamentarians themselves,” the text says.

With reports from Brasil de Fato.

Buenos Aires authorities face questions after MST campaigning journalist dies at hands of police

Photojournalist and social justice activist Facundo Molares has been officially pronounced dead after being detained during a demonstration against the Argentine primaries last Sunday.

The Buenos Aires City Police Force and City Hall officials were under pressure on Friday after the death of a demonstrator at a protest.

Facundo Molares, an Argentine identified as a former FARC guerrilla fighter, died after taking part in a demonstration with activists from the Rebelión Popular group near the Obelisk in central Buenos Aires.

Human rights groups said Morales was a victim of “police repression.” He reportedly lost consciousness while being pinned to the floor by City police officers.

“Activist, photographer and reporter Facundo Molares died as a result of the actions of the Buenos Aires City Police at a demonstration by the Obelisk,” the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) said in a post on social media.

Human rights organisation Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo “repudiated the brutal doings of the City of Buenos Aires Police that led to the death of Facundo Molares.”

Molares was a former FARC guerrirlla fighter who had been arrested in Santa Cruz, Bolivia during the country’s election in 2019, which ended in the exile of former president Evo Morales.

His death was confirmed by the Buenos Aires City Hall in a press release, though they did not name the victim.

“Attempts to resuscitate him lasted over half an hour, until he was declared dead. The cause of death is related to a cardiac arrest due to risk factors,” the report stated.

Buenos Aires City mayor and presidential hopeful for the opposition Juntos por el Cambio coalition, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, said he was sorry for his death in a press release. However, he also fully backed the actions of the police officers.

Soon after his death, television channels broadcast a video recorded at the time of Molares’ arrest. Images showed the man immobilised on the floor, with his hands on his back, by three police officers.

“He’s turning purple, let him breathe,” a woman can be heard saying in the video. “He’s dying,” she shouts, imploring people to call an ambulance.

According to demonstrators, police officers sought to delay his resuscitation.

“We were in front of the Obelisk at the square having a peaceful chat, a meeting about Sunday, about the voting (…) We were about to leave,” Delia Delgado, a demonstrator who attended the rally, told AFP.

That was when “the police approached covertly” and started detaining people, she claimed.

“That’s when the chaos started. We realised afterwards that some comrades were missing. They arrested five. Molares was being held by six officers in a circle, on his back, holding him with a knee on the back of his head. He was already dead, he was on the floor for 40 minutes,” she said.

Demonstrators stayed by the Obelisk and put together a large banner which read: “Facundo was murdered by the State.”

Campaign closing rallies were cancelled amid the commotion about the death of an 11-year-old girl on Wednesday near her school in Lanús.

A personal project to save the world? Nothing beats land: Bill Gates is America’s biggest farmer

A personal project to save the world? Nothing beats land: Bill Gates is now Americas biggest farmer

By Harry de Quetteville and Olivia Rutgard April 8, 2021

He is famous for his sensible office garb and digitally-amassed fortune, rather than rugged overalls and a weathered hand on the plough. But the pioneer spirit, it turns out, burns bright in Bill Gates.

Late in life, the sultan of software, emperor of intangibles, has discovered what the British aristocracy have known for a thousand years: nothing beats land.

There is a certain irony, of course, about Gates, 65, becoming the USA’s biggest private owner of farmland, which American publication the Land Report recently declared him to be. Here is the epitome of elite coastal America, born in liberal Seattle on the Pacific, educated (until he dropped out) at Harvard, investing financially and emotionally in the rural fly-over states between, swapping ones and zeros for soil and sod.

Ready to swap books for gum boots? Bill Gates has become the largest squire in the US.Credit:

His taste for the tilth knows few rivals, now that he has put together a reported portfolio of prime farmland amounting to 269,000 acres (108,860 hectares) 6000 more than the farmland held by the Queen in the Crown Estate.

There are romantically named holdings on the West coast, close to Gates home country up in Washington state, places like the Horse Heaven Hills, where the prized soil can change hands for $US15,000 ($19,700) an acre and even the local town is called Richland. But most of his new acquired land is elsewhere, spread across 19 states, with the biggest lots in places the tech titan, worth more than $US120 billion, is perhaps less familiar with Louisiana, Arkansas and Arizona.

They are the fruit of a financial strategy going back a quarter of a century to the day, in 1994, when Gates decided to diversify his fortune, then concentrated in a 45 per cent stake in the company with which his name is synonymous: Microsoft. The man he brought in to run his investments was a bond manager called Michael Larson. And it has been under Larsons leadership, via a business called Cascade Investment, that Gates has gone from coastal techie to landed gentry.

He may not have started wearing red trousers; nor is his hallway draped in wet Labradors (though he does profess love for his dogs, Oreo and Nilla). But the cold hard facts speak for themselves: in the first two decades of Larsons stewardship, Gates acquired more than 100,000 acres of land across America.

That may have been eye-popping enough. But the last few years have made the pace of those purchases seem positively pedestrian, with Gates splurging on a series of deals that have more than doubled his holdings and propelled him ever faster up the charts of landowners. Finally, this year, according to calculations by the experts at Land Report, he was the biggest squire in the US.

It was 2017 when the purchasing really picked up. Cascade splashed more than half a billion dollars on more than 100,000 acres across nine states. The following year, a further $US171 million went on buying 14,500 acres in those idyllic Horse Heaven Hills, for a total of around $US690 million in just a few months.

That sum may only represent about half a per cent of Gatess wealth. And 269,000 acres may only represent about a quarter of a per cent of US farmland. But it is still a staggering space to have bought in so short a time. Which begs the question: what does he want with it all?

What does he want with all that land?

The obvious answer is money. Larson, after all, was brought in to invest the Gates fortune and grow it, just as surely as a farmer is brought in to grow crops. Land, particularly rich arable land, is in ever growing demand as the globes population rises. As the old saying goes, They arent making any more of it. The value of UK farmland has historically increased at 6 per cent per annum, according to Savills. But after the turn of the millennium it more than trebled in value.

So when Gates was asked a fortnight ago, in one of his periodic Ask Me Anything sessions on the online forum Reddit Hey Bill! Why are you buying so much farmland? his answer seemed refreshingly straightforward. My investment group chose to do this, he noted. It is not connected to climate.

All cleared up then. Farmer Bill couldn’t care less about hoe and plough, it was all just a smart financial play.

Except, in the very next breath, Gates contradicted himself, and suggested that yes, his purchases actually were very much to do with the environmental concerns that he makes plain in his latest book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster.

The agriculture sector is important, he wrote. With more productive seeds we can avoid deforestation and help Africa deal with the climate difficulty they already face.

Later on in the discussion he added: We have lots of water. The problem is that it is expensive to desalinate it and move it to where it is needed. The cost is prohibitive for agricultural use of water. New seeds can reduce water use but some areas wont be able to farm as much.

All of which seems to hint at lines of research that a benevolent billionaire might want to acquire farmland to pursue. In fact, Gates’ interest in productive and sustainable ways of feeding the planet does not stop with arable.

He has long had a curiosity in producers of synthetic meat such as Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, in order to replace the carbon intensive business of rearing animals for slaughter. Such companies aim to replicate the taste and structure of meat either by replacing the protein cells of a steak, say, with plant cells, or by growing protein cells in a lab, not on a cow. From this perspective, the Gates Estate makes sense both as investment and personal project to save the world.

He is not, after all, the first billionaire to embark on rural empire building for purposes which cynics might write off as vanity eco-burnishing or fantasy kingdom building.

Ted Turner, the American media mogul who founded CNN, has acquired 2 million acres of land (not just farmland) on which roam one of Americas last herd of buffalo. All very noble, though critics cant help pointing out his private ranch was once promised to Native Americans.

If Gates’ motives are to make money and progress, though, who can fault him? He certainly doesn’t have a problem giving it away. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation last year set up its own agricultural innovation project, Gates Ag One, driving innovation to help smallholder farmers in developing countries, many of whom are women… sustainably improve crop productivity and adapt to the effects of climate change.

It is one part of an effort that has driven Gates up the charts in another field of endeavour: philanthropy. There too, having given away $US35 billion and counting, he is very much number one.

How much land does he own?

In total, Mr Gates and his wife Melinda own 269,000 acres of land across 19 states, including 69,071 acres in Louisiana and 47,927 acres in Arkansas.

The land holdings are worth more than $US690 million ($906 million), a fraction of his estimated $US128.1 billion net worth.

Its equivalent to more than 1000 square kilometres. The US’s agricultural land covers 896 million acres in total.

The land is owned through a private investment company, Cascade Investment, which also owns shares in artificial meat company Beyond Meat and tractor company John Deere.

Wider trend

Mr Gates is not alone in buying up large amounts of agricultural land. Investment from wealthy private individuals and funds surged after the financial crisis, driven by the belief that land is going to be a lucrative asset class.

He is part of a wider trend towards investment in farmland by owners attracted by growing demand and productivity gains because of new technology.

Experts say the potential financial benefits of restoring degraded land and encouraging biodiversity are tempting investors, as governments consider carbon taxes and financial rewards for boosting nature and tackling climate change.

Some investment funds also have to meet targets around carbon neutrality and other climate goals, and are buying land in an attempt to achieve this.

Mr Gates has a particular interest in agriculture and food, having been outspoken about the need to invest in technology to overcome food shortages and tackle climate change, and has argued that high-income countries should switch entirely to synthetic beef.

His charitable foundation, which is not linked to the investment fund, has also funded research into technology designed to improve farming productivity.

Why is it controversial?

Critics of Mr Gates argue that he holds too much power over food and agriculture, and is interested in enriching himself rather than helping the planet.

There are concerns that the purchase of land by corporations and billionaires accelerate the industrialisation of agriculture, depriving smallholders and family farmers of the chance to make a living from land that they may have longstanding connections to.

In a piece for the Guardian, academic and indigenous American Nick Estes, of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, argued that it is monopolistic and deprives ordinary people of access to land.

The land we all live on should not be the sole property of a few. The extensive tax avoidance by these titans of industry will always far exceed their supposed charitable donations to the public.

The billionaire knows best mentality detracts from the deep-seated realities of colonialism and white supremacy, and it ignores those who actually know best how to use and live with the land, he wrote.