Productive forces, environment and class struggle. Uruguay: Challenges for a left in crisis

Productive forces, environment and class struggle. Uruguay: Challenges for a left in crisis

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By Víctor L. Bacchetta

The growing rejection of sectors of the population to the possible social and environmental impacts of large investment projects promoted by the Uruguayan government would indicate a political awakening for which the left is not prepared, both due to lack of analysis and due to the defeats suffered. in the past. It must be understood that the current struggles for the preservation of the ecosystem are part of a major advance of capitalist exploitation that not only uses human labor as a commodity but also nature.

Since the beginning of this year, the most diverse social groups - rural producers, residents and friends of the Rochense spas, citizens and technicians of the capital and the interior - have expressed themselves in opposition to open pit metal mining projects, ports, bridges and alterations of the Atlantic coast, which would indicate the emergence of a socio-environmental movement without antecedents in Uruguay.

Urban and coastal populations, landless rural workers and small and medium producers are united in the defense of their living conditions and the environment. Those who live off the land and do not own it as a simple business know the soils that historically sustain agriculture in the humid pampas and are aware of the value of this ecosystem for the survival of society.

Foreign companies that today control unparalleled expanses in the country with a view to the exploitation of soybean and forestry monocultures, cellulose mega-plants and the large-scale extraction of metals from the open pit, resort to technologies of high social and environmental impact capable of upset the ecological balance.

Analysis stagnation

However, the historical left and sectors of Uruguayan trade unionism have not made systematic studies of the evolution of capitalism at a general or particular level. Thus, some leaders confuse the entry of these agro-industrial and mining companies with a modernization that would favor the development of the productive forces and the generation and organization of a new and thriving proletariat.

None of that happens. These companies require less labor even than that of traditional agricultural estates and also use, with the help of governments and legislation, subcontracting or outsourcing systems that further disintegrate and debase the workers employed in these activities. Large forestry and soy plantations are an example of this model.

In this framework, another central question in the evolution of capitalism not yet integrated by the historical left is the role that struggles for the environment occupy in the class struggle. It must be understood that the current struggles for the preservation of the ecosystem are part of a major advance of capitalist exploitation that not only uses human labor as a commodity but also nature.

The safeguarding of the natural environment, clean air, drinking water and a diet free of poisons or harmful radiation coincides with the need for survival of the human species on the planet, whose ecological balance is threatened today by the catastrophic consequences -climate change , destruction of the ozone layer, nuclear danger, etc. - of the unlimited expansion of capitalist productivism.

The relationship of capital with nature was briefly treated by Karl Marx and the left of the twentieth century - including countries ruled by socialists and communists - practically ignored it. Today that left recognizes environmental problems but considers them a technical issue to be solved while minimizing damage. It separates the social from the environmental and therefore subordinates the second to the first.

Minimizing damage is not enough to guarantee the sustainability of the ecosystem. Sustainable is the condition of the system that allows its reproduction, not one that only minimizes degradation processes. They may be minimal effects for the available technology but, despite being the best possible at the moment, if they do not allow the reproduction of the environmental system, they are not sustainable.

Ebb and flow of defeats

The ideological demoralization and political setback generated by the defeat suffered by the left and the Uruguayan popular movement -whose consolidation took twelve years of civic-military dictatorship- together with the collapse of the ex-Soviet Union and the countries of the so-called "real socialism ", has led some old militants to philosophize about the durability of capitalism or simply to rediscover it and want to be its good administrators in the phase of its greatest decline.

The Broad Front, which was the expression of an anti-imperialist and anti-oligarchic front, not socialist, but with a view to a more just and humane society, has today become a formless electoral alliance, integrated with groups that due to theoretical archaisms or mere passive acceptance they are defenders of the prevailing system. Better than the old right, already stagnant in the face of its own renewal difficulties.

Today, the preservation of the environment is a fundamental component of the class struggle in this phase of development of capitalism where not only the exploitation of the human being is exacerbated - expressed in social marginalization or the so-called "poverty" - but also the destruction of the balance of the ecosystem. A transforming left should propose to unite the social groups affected and determined to face this process for the sake of an overcoming alternative.

To achieve this, it is necessary to question the productivist notion of the traditional left that placed "the development of the" productive "forces above the class struggle as the engine of history. Likewise, it is necessary to get rid of the illusions of an environmentalist policy that indicates to anthropocentric, possessive and consumerist humanism, but exonerates the capitalist system that generates it.In this way, the environmental struggle is inextricably linked with the struggle for a new socialism.

The writer Michael Löwy has claimed ecological care as a task of a socialist society and refers to volume III of Capital where Marx opposed the capitalist logic of large agricultural production, based on the exploitation and depletion of the forces of the land , another logic: "the consciously rational treatment of the land as eternal communal property, and as an inalienable condition for the existence and reproduction of the chain of successive human generations" (1).

Löwy highlights, a few pages later, another similar argument: "Even an entire society, a nation, in short, all contemporary societies together, do not own the land. They only occupy it, they are the usufructuaries, and they must, as a good parent, leave it in good condition for future generations "(2). It is, practically, the same expression of the Bruntland Commission that in 1978 made explicit the concept, at this time so well-worn, of sustainable development.

Ecosocialism implies an even more radical break with capitalism since it not only points to a new society and a new mode of production, but also to a new paradigm of civilization. It would thus be an overcoming synthesis, on the one hand, of the productivist experiences of the so-called "real socialism", which also devastated the ecosystem, and, on the other, of an environmentalism that dissociates the criticism of unbridled consumption from the productivism inherent in the logic of capital.

Victor L. Bacchetta - Uruguay


(1) Michael Löwy, "Destructive progress: Marx, Engels and ecology", Published in J. M. Harribey & Michael Löwy ed., Capital contre nature, PUF, 2003.

(2) Ibid.

Video: Porter on Progress Hosted by SPI #SkollWF 2017 (June 2022).