The climate crisis is accelerating before our eyes and the whole world sees it. Australia is burning, floods and other disasters abound. Not long before the smoke of burning trees darkened the skies of Australia, it did so in South America, where the deforestation of Amazonia rapidly progresses. This catastrophe is the subject of the following text, translated from “La Oveja Negra” (“The Black Sheep”), a group and publication based in Argentina, with an outlook similar to ours.
Brazil’s right-wing president is often blamed for the burning of the Amazon Forest, but this article shows that left-wing governments did and do the same thing; that it is not a particular government that causes the climate crisis but capitalism itself. As scary as the burning forests are, for La Oveja Negra , it’s even scarier, “that we continue to bear the unbearable, that we continue choosing the lesser evil. The most worrying thing is the inability of human beings to imagine something other than life in capitalism, just at the moment when this way of life is falling apart. The deforestation of the imagination is as dangerous as the deforestation of the Amazon.”
Is this inability permanent and irreversible? There are signs that this might not be the case. The future is ours to make.
The fires in the Amazon rainforest began the first week of July 2019. Added to the previous ones of the same year, they make up the largest number of fires recorded in the region since registration began in 2013 and 80 % more than the previous year. When we talk about deforestation, we also refer to the more than 40,000 species of plants, 1,300 types of birds, and 426 different mammals that live in the Amazon rainforest, the largest in the world, with 6.7 million square kilometers. To that number of mammals that dwell in this “natural sanctuary,” we must add one more: the people who live there, and not just indigenous communities.
The magnitude of the thousands and thousands of hectares burned is such that the smoke covered the sky of the city of São Paulo causing a general darkness in the afternoon. In those days the ashes were seen even in the city of Rosario in Argentina at dawn. From this urban perception, the smoke and the ashes appear an indicator of a gravity that we cannot fathom.
Having to refute that the destruction of the most important forest area on the planet is not a consequence of the Bolsonaro government, but of capitalism, would seem at this point almost ridiculous. Anyone who follows the news or sees the memes on their cell phones could draw this conclusion, but no. It turns out that it’s not a coincidence that the dominant ideology is dominant. What appears to us openly as the greatest destruction of nature of our times is but one more episode in the relationship that this system of production has with the world, its way of conceiving it: as a resource from which to extract more and more value, more profit, more capital. The lungs of the Earth are burning and we cannot reverse it. Perhaps that is why, during the first days of the fire, out of impotence the call went up to pray for Amazonia.
It is clear that politicians, in opposition or in power, don’t care about the Amazon or its deforestation. The land is a commodity, both for those who deforest it and for those who make speeches on how irresponsible that is. Their “concern for the Amazon” is just an attempt to make the right noises to win the next election. But there is a “small problem”: speeches can always be recycled but the trees that are gone can’t be included anymore.
Progressives, populists, the left of capital, reduce the catastrophe to a political opposition, to a “down with Bolsonaro.” And postmodern environmentalists encourage us to contribute individually, to vote better, to stop buying from large companies, to change our consumption habits. “Consumers must reduce their human capacity to protest and struggle collectively to an individual attitude: consume or not consume, consume more or less. In both cases the problem that emerges is one and the same: when one speaks the language of the master, his rules are necessarily defended … In perfect democratic equality, any proletarian and a bourgeois of the chemical industry have the same responsibility, according to the vision of those who destroy the planet and the environmentalists who manage the catastrophe.” (la Oveja Negra No. 41, Energy saving and disciplining)
Without entering into a detailed analysis, once again we see how the “opposition” vanishes between the different governments that present themselves as progressive or leftist on the one hand, and conservative or fascist on the other. One of the seats of the current fires is the Chiquitano Dry Forest, in a region controlled by Bolivia, whose left-wing president Evo Morales approved a decree last July, authorizing a clearing of the forest for agriculture in the provinces of Santa Cruz and Beni. This on top of a 2016 law that allowed small properties and community properties to burn up to twenty hectares of grassland each.
In 2009 the left-wing government of Lula Da Silva privatized 670,000 square kilometers of the Amazon rainforest. The progressive mechanism of giving part of these lands away to small producers (and selling the rest) today shows its real results. The objective is to expand agricultural borders, expand the exploitable zone for Capital. Bolsonaro himself clarified, responding to the attempts of Europe and especially of the French government to “protect” the Amazon: “If we continue with protected areas and indigenous regions, agribusiness ends in Brazil and if agribusiness ends, so does our economy.”
Without going any further, during the entire “década ganada” (when the left was in power) our region suffered the worst amount of forest clearing for agriculture ever, while welcoming new investments of Monsanto and the Barrick Gold mining company. But this neither is typical for a certain type of government. The Argentine province of Santa Fe had almost 6,000,000 hectares of forest in 1935 and 840,000 in 2002. In eighty years 82% of native woodland was “lost.” “Nothing is lost, everything is transformed,” the soothing self-help slogans say, and they have a point: under the logic of this system nothing is lost when it is transformed into value; those forests were systematically destroyed for profit.
Sometimes we need to repeat ourselves, faced with the invariable in capital. In March 2012, in the second issue of this bulletin, we wrote: “Capitalist production is intrinsically predatory towards the medium in which it develops. From the very genesis of this perverse system, the exploitation of natural elements, seen as mere ‘resources’ (coal, rubber, oil, amongst others) is constantly destructive of biodiversity everywhere. In Argentina, an almost exclusively agro-exporting country, the modification of thebiome has been a constant since the end of the 19th century. More than 90% of the Pampas region has been modified as a result of agricultural exploitation.”
Hiding this aspect of the problem is what’s really being done when we are encouraged to put all the blame on Bolsonaro. Hiding the reality that the productivity of Capital is based on this kind of dispossession and destruction, that all governments are capitalist, and that this means more and more evictions, murders, disappearances. It would take several pages to remember all the militants, activists and communities harassed and persecuted for the defense of the land. Not to mention those were murdered and no longer here to defend the forest from the clutches of profit, from the Mexican region to Patagonia on both sides of the borders, passing through Colombia which has the sad record of having the most murders in social conflict situations on this continent during the last years.
Towards the end of last year, we warned, as if anticipating these sad days of destruction and renewed indignation: “it was under the governments of the PT 1, and not under fascist governments, that the deforestation of the Amazon reached the ‘point of no return’. Bolsonaro has arrived to impose order after the progressive social democracy has worked very hard for the progress … of Capital! May we not be so surprised next time. It’s not about appearing to know everything or exalting extremism, but about the possibility of doing something in time and not regretting when it is too late.” (La Oveja Negra No. 59, Brazil: Progress and order). What we keep asking ourselves is, when will it be too late? Because just like our capacity to be surprised and become indignant seems inexhaustible, so does our capacity to endure the unendurable.
“The last years of progressive governments in the Latin American region have demonstrated the deep involvement of the left and progressivism in capitalist development. Not only have they not questioned the inherited productive models, but they have greatly deepened them. Extra-activism with transgenic and agro-toxic monocultures, the energy race that ignores all types of limits and promotes projects such as Vaca Muerta in the Neuquén basin, and megalomaniac transport infrastructure plans such as IIRSA 2, are some of the main examples … The runaway and forward flight that capitalism presents us is not the work of the mind of a few millionaires of the right or the left. They themselves are riding an uncontrollable horse with a thirst for profit. Controlling it by pulling the reins farther to the right or more to the left is a fantasy. Capital is heading towards our ruin in its race to multiply, because if it stops growing it dies.
The root of the problems is not questioned and our imagination is destroyed. They want us to comment on every detail, so that we don’t have a notion of the whole. Our most obvious enemies and our most direct actions are diluted in problems of experts.”
(These paragraphs are excerpts from a leaflet that we distributed in the city of Rosario during the May 1, 2017 event).
The scariest thing about the present moment is not to see the forest burn, but seeing that the fire does not spark barricades against the course of destruction, that we continue to bear the unbearable, that we continue to choose the lesser evil. The most worrying thing is the inability of human beings to imagine something other than life in capitalism, just at the moment when this way of life is falling apart. The deforestation of the imagination is as dangerous as the deforestation of the Amazon, because it means the deforestation of an antagonistic imagination. The deforestation of the Amazon is only possible because of an advanced deforestation of rebellion, of imagination in action.
1PT: The Workers Party (lead by Lula da Silva) which (co)governed Brazil from 2003 to 2016 (translator’s note).
2The IIRSA plan (Initiative for the Integration of the Regional Infrastructure of South America) proposes to draw lines for commercial transport over the lands and waters of South America as if it were merely a map. All this is promoted by the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) whose president in 2017 was Nicolás Maduro and is currently Evo Morales (translator’s note: this text appeared before Morales was toppled).