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Political ecology and capitalism

Political ecology and capitalism


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By Joel Sangronis Padrón

Capitalist economic rationality is characterized by the mismatch between the forms and rhythms of extraction, exploitation and transformation of natural resources by the system and the conditions necessary for the conservation and regeneration of the intervened ecosystems. The acceleration in the rates of capital turnover and the capitalization of land rent to maximize profits has generated an unsustainable pressure on the different ecosystems that exist on earth.


The liberation of nature is the
Recovery of life-giving forces
What is in it, of the qualities
Aesthetic and sensual that are alien
To a life wasted in acts
Endless competitive: with strength and qualities
That the new features of freedom suggest.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the spirit of capitalism
Reject or ridicule the idea of ​​liberated nature,
Let it be relegated to the poetic imagination ...
H. Marcuse

It is well known that the term ecology was coined in the late 19th century by the German biologist Ernst Haeckel.

Like every scientific discipline born in the reign of positivism, ecology, as natural science, was also born with aspirations of pure science, not contaminated with metaphysical elements and much less with elements of the so-called soft or humanistic sciences.

As in so many other scientific disciplines and so many aspects of the historical-social reality, the old Karl Marx came to introduce a questioning within this new discipline that was just taking its first steps in the scientific scene of Western culture. Marx pointed out that: "As long as men exist, the history of nature and the history of men condition each other."

With this idea, with this dialectical vision of nature as an "inorganic body of man", developed extensively in Capital, Marx, as he had done with economics, introduced politics, understood as the activities of men divided into classes and faced with each other by the contradictions that this division entails, in the field of ecology.

These pioneering ideas of Marx created the necessary framework so that in the last 40 years studies on the serious and increasingly dangerous socio-environmental crisis, but carried out from the political point of view, flourished throughout the world, that is, a crisis studied and understood as a consequence of certain forms and relations of production within the framework of certain economic and power systems.

Authors such as the North Americans James O'connors, editor of the journal Nature, Murray Bookchin with his treatise on the Ecology of Freedom and John B. Foster with his sharp work Ecology of Marx; the French Andre Gorz with his works Political Ecology and Capitalism, Socialism and Ecology; the Austrian Hans Magnus Enzensberger with his classic text For A Critique of Political Ecology; the Spanish Joan Martínez Alier or Héctor Alimonda in Latin America.

All these authors agree on the fact that the ecological crisis that humanity is experiencing, and that has been accentuated in the last 30 years, (desertification, loss of biodiversity, global warming, breakdown of the ozone layer, massive and accelerated extinctions , famines, and climate change) cannot be understood as neutral phenomena, they cannot and should not be studied, according to positivist methodology, as isolated facts of the political, economic and social organization model that has dominated most of the world in the last 300 years, that is, capitalism.

Capitalism must be understood not as a simple system of property and production but as a system of economic and social organization, as a system of relations between men and between them and the non-anthropized natural environment.

The culture of domination, of private appropriation and exploitation, paradigms of capitalism, has spread not only to the relations of production between men, but also to nature. In capitalism, nature is transformed from an ecological entity with complex holistic relations to an economic entity with mercantile relations of production. Property rights and capitalist production relations explicitly condition the forms and management of ecosystems located in each country or region subject to its laws.

Homo sapiens in itself is not incompatible with the terrestrial ecosystem except for the fact that a super-predatory subspecies emerged from our species that since 1945, from a place in the US called Bretton Woods, designed economic globalization, a perverse energy-sucking machinery vital of the entire terrestrial ecosystem towards a delusional, runaway, wasteful and maddened imperial center.

The logic of capital as a mode of production and as a culture is this: to produce accumulation through the exploitation of men's labor power by the domination of classes, by the imperial subjugation of the peoples and finally by the pillage of nature.

In order to maintain high profit rates (this is its reason for existing), this system needs to permanently resort to new sources of production (natural resources) in order to maintain high consumption, which in turn translates into the generation of colossal amounts of waste as externalities of the process.

Capitalist economic rationality is characterized by the mismatch between the forms and rhythms of extraction, exploitation and transformation of natural resources by the system and the conditions necessary for the conservation and regeneration of the intervened ecosystems. The acceleration in the rates of capital turnover and the capitalization of land rent to maximize profits has generated an unsustainable pressure on the different ecosystems that exist on earth.

The territorial expansion required to guarantee the capitalist mode of production cannot take into account the rhythms of regeneration and recovery of the ecosystems that supply it with raw materials, it overwhelms everything, it makes everything part and parcel of its logic.

The cause of this type of destructive and predatory development is not, therefore, its irrationality, but on the contrary, precisely its intrinsic rationality.


The incompatibility (contradiction) between the capitalist economic rationality that by intervening an ecosystem pursues the massive generation of a single product (soybeans, corn, cattle) in order to be competitive in the market economy, with increasingly shorter and accelerated economic cycles with In order to maximize profits and the diversity and complexity inherent in every ecosystem (especially tropical ones) and their slow, sometimes millennial reproduction cycles, is absolute!
The decrease in natural resources necessarily entails the degradation of the environment, so it is then here that we must understand that pollution is nothing other than the waste products of the private appropriation process of natural resources that by their very essence would have to be social and community, such as water, land, air, landscapes, etc. ; When these resources are converted into merchandise, they are tied to the logic of the system that needs to consume their value and quickly dispose of them as externalities of the process.

The progressive and indeclinable depletion of natural resources that capitalism needs to maintain its rhythm of operation is the main cause of the new hegemonic-imperial model that the world suffers from today.

As the Basque author Artemio Baigorri points out: “anticipating the depletion of their own resources, the imperialist countries have once again set out to hunt and capture the colonies. Today they are no longer the determining factors of imperialism or the need to import labor power (slavery), or the need to export capital or place an overproduction in colonial markets, much less the political struggle between blocks. It is a simple and straightforward matter of removing minerals, water, energy, work and even DNA from wherever they are ”.

We can conclude then by affirming that what we know today as an environmental crisis is basically nothing other than the result of the prevailing social and economic regime (capitalism). That the modes of production and structures of domination that lead to the exploitation of man by man inevitably also lead to the exploitation of nature by the ruling classes of human society.

The alienation of man also includes the alienation of anthropized nature. Liberating man from oppression also implies liberating nature from the current relations of exploitation and domination.

What is at stake, more than the survival of the human species, is its vocation and right to a beautiful and free world, capable of dimensioning a life of relationships based on being more and not more having, and in a struggle competitive, sterile and dehumanizing, which survives in the shadow of a possible nuclear holocaust, with the permanent neurosis of a degraded, hostile and polluted environment, with economic crises that project images of nightmare into the future, a human being dislocated in its deepest fibers , mutilated from his environment, enemy of himself and of all other life forms.

The socialism that human beings will still have to build in this century that has just begun, will not only have to face and overcome the socio-ecological contradictions that capitalism has generated in the last 300 years, more importantly, it will have to create a new cultural model that allow man to produce the goods that are necessary for his subsistence in an integrated and non-destructive way, respectful of the cycles and rhythms of the terrestrial ecosystem. A socialism in which men do not aggressively condition nature but are integrated into it harmoniously and fully. Titanic task indeed, perhaps the greatest that we have faced as a species, but that for that very reason we cannot take any longer to assume it.

Joel Sangronis Padrón
Professor UNERMB


Video: Marxism and ecology - John Bellamy Foster - Marxism 2011 (June 2022).


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