Brazil: nature, its destruction, and capitalism

The fires in the Amazon and central-west regions of Brazil were felt in São Paulo. The sky darkened at 3pm and many people did not understand why. Then the news came, explaining that, besides the cold front, this was caused by the ground-clearing fires used in “slash-and-burn” agriculture. And then, a general commotion was stirred up on social media, in the newspapers, and across the international media. The environmental problem, which did not seem to be a major focus of public indignation, become a new point of expression for widespread dissatisfaction and government crisis. This issue fed the anger and resentment against the Bolsonaro government, which responded with nothing but dismissive sarcasm.

Originally published in Portuguese at Liberdade e Luta on 22 August |

The deforestation of the Amazon rainforest advances, the use of pesticides is soaring, and now the fires complete the picture. Not to mention the indigenous population, and the fauna and flora, which the Bolsonaro government is deliberately killing by its inaction on this front.

Imperialism and the environment

Foreign interest (e.g. from France or Germany) in “protecting” Amazonia is nothing but imperialist interest. They wish for more control – and direct control – over our natural resources. Capitalists do not seek to improve humanity’s living conditions, to protect nature, to rationally manage natural resources, etc. Their only concern is to increase their profits, by reducing the costs of production. Their only objective is for their merchandise to be cheap and to be sold. Nothing else.

Capitalism has no real interest in developing forms of production that respect the planet. The capitalists’ representatives in parliament reproduce their logic and facilitate the exploitation of natural resources in a completely irrational manner. One of the most shocking examples internationally is the sea of floating rubbish in the Caribbean Sea between the coasts of Honduras and Guatemala, where one finds plastic, dead animals, syringes and even human bodies… The residents live in a true hell, being exposed to contamination by diseases are forced to live with rubbish on their doorsteps.

Amazon fire Image Flickr Matt ZimmermanCapitalists don't care about the planet, they only seek to maximise their profits / Image: Flickr, Matt Zimmerman

Earlier this year, demonstrations in the Philippines led the country to ship back 69 containers, containing over 1,500 tonnes of rubbish, to Canada, which had been dumped illegally between 2013 and 2014. The protests spread throughout Southeast Asia and several countries followed suit, refusing to act as dumping grounds for wealthier developed countries. On 20 June, it was the turn of protesters in Thailand to take to the streets. The whole affair started with imperialist countries sending shipments of waste to be recycled in these countries. However, the rubbish turned out not to be recyclable, but was instead made up of toxic products, electronic waste, and non-recyclable plastic.

Another high point for activism linked to environmental issues were the strikes against climate change, which took place in Canada, the USA, and countries throughout Europe. About 1.5 million high school students occupied the streets, demanding environment protection measures.

These episodes reveal how little capitalism cares about the environment, and moreover, that it is only through mass action – not just against climate change, but against the whole capitalist system – that we can find a solution to climate and environmental problems.

Nature and humanity

Humanity has developed through labour. This process took place via man’s domination over nature and its transformation, be it in the production of tools for hunting or in the development of agriculture, for example. This process not only changed nature but it also changed humanity, transforming and developing it. We have arrived at a point in which we have at our disposal all the necessary tools to develop human life without destroying nature, making use of its best resources in a rational fashion. We have arrived at a point in which we produce enough food for all the population on Earth. We have developed technologies that have taken us to space and to the moon; we have discovered new planets, stars, and galaxies. We have real possibilities of not being confined to live only on planet Earth, as we can also explore other planets in the vast universe.

As Engels writes in Dialectics of Nature:

“In short, the animal merely uses external nature, and brings about changes in it simply by his presence; man by his changes makes it serve his ends, masters it. This is the final, essential distinction between man and other animals, and once again it is labour that brings about this distinction.

“Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human conquest over nature. For each such conquest takes its revenge on us. Each of them, it is true, has in the first place the consequences on which we counted, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel out the first. The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor, and elsewhere, destroyed the forests to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that they were laying the basis for the present devastated condition of these countries, by removing along with the forests the collecting centres and reservoirs of moisture. When, on the southern slopes of the mountains, the Italians of the Alps used up the pine forests so carefully cherished on the northern slopes, they had no inkling that by doing so they were cutting at the roots of the dairy industry in their region; they had still less inkling that they were thereby depriving their mountain springs of water for the greater part of the year, with the effect that these would be able to pour still more furious flood torrents on the plains during the rainy seasons. Those who spread the potato in Europe were not aware that they were at the same time spreading the disease of scrofula. Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature - but that we, with flesh, blood, and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other beings of being able to know and correctly apply its laws.”

Even having developed technology and knowing the impact of our intervention in nature, we remain limited by a system whose priority is not humanity’s future, but rather profit. It is destroying our rights, our sciences, our education, our health, our planet, and our future! If capitalism cannot offer anything to the youth and the working class, then it must die! But if its death agony (which is already being felt and observed in our lives) is not to lead us to descend into barbarism, it must be consciously overthrown. Our task as young people and revolutionaries is to understand the laws that govern nature and to learn to apply them to society, so that we can once again intervene in the environment in which we live, in a decisive manner, and open up a bright new future for the whole of humanity.