ECOLOGICAL CRISIS, WATER, PEASANTRIES AND ECOSYSTEMS
OLD AND NEW QUESTIONS FOR MARXISTS
(Globalization and social recomposition, III: land, water and peasantries)
Global Justice School 2003
* Three reports in this session, with one common red thread:
-- Growing resistance to capitalist globalization as a new “founding historical experience” – an opportunity to make the effort to update our thinking (contrast with the 1980s)
-- Trying to plot the evolution of our conceptions (my generation)
=> Reports are thus different from earlier reports (their “methodological” conclusions have been pushed further)
--- My own limits (for example around peasantries!)
--- A very uneven collectivization, and very diverse experiences
=> This leads to some lines of thinking, not to a new orthodoxy
I/ THE NATURE OF THE CONTEMPORARY ECOLOGICAL CRISIS
* In the past, ecological crises (including global crises) were of natural origins and localized crises of human origin
* For the first time: an ecological crisis of human origin with a global dynamic
=> Origins: developments of capitalism after the Second World War.
Subject of controversies over the scope and causes (demographic causes?)
* The example of water, the choice of France as an illustration
--- France: rich, with an average, stable demography, a humid, temperate climate and ... the reality of the crisis
--- Mechanism: productivism (choice of maize, for example) + pollution (agribusiness) + privatization. It’s all very capitalist...
--- ... and imperialist: French “environmental” multinational s and privatization of water from the US to Asia.
=> Creation of international activist networks on the right to water.
=> A new thing: a Third World problem (access to drinking water) is occurring in the North (with differences of scale, of course).
=> But at the moment: easy to integrate for classical Marxism (relationship between ecology and modes of production).
=> The peasant question makes it impossible to go further.
II/ CENTRALITY OF THE CONTEMPORARY PEASANT QUESTION
* A notable trait: the role of peasant movements in developing resistance to capitalist globalization, including in the North. Compare Via Campesina: the Brazilian MST, the French Peasant Confederation.
=> Question: How is it that the Peasant Confederation has become such a popular organization in France, which is such an urban country?
A. Identification with the Peasant Confederation’s fight. The WTO, the right to trade versus the right to food security. Roquefort cheese and wrecking McDonald’s. José Bové & co.’s arrest and their mass support. Millau.
B. Agribusiness’s outrages (mad cow disease, Brittany’s polluted waters, genetically modified organisms, etc.). The rise in consciousness = all of society is affected by the way agriculture is organized. How to feed our children? The danger of a blind rush for profits.
=> The change in the social meaning of the word “peasant”/ “farmer”. Yesterday = backward clod. Today = embodies a more human, responsible relationship to nature and society than big capitalist (agri)business.
C. The groundwork done by the Peasant Confederation (composition: 50% peasants’ children, 50% “settled” political militants).
- A “non-productivist” way of producing = high quality food (taste and health), preserving jobs (stopping the rural exodus and reducing unemployment) and the social fabric of the countryside (and thus public services), controlling the impact on the environment (reducing pollution), international solidarity (against French agribusiness’ policy of exporting basic products) = each country or group of countries has the right to authenticity and food security and independence. Against export subsidies, for subsidies to production oriented towards the domestic market.
=> Two visions of society: that embodied by agribusiness and that embodied by peasant production.
=> An activist commitment: in ATTAC, with the unemployed, in Via Campesina, with small farmers in the US, etc.
D. The peasant question = a modern issue, a current issue, an issue for the future.
=> A current issue: from the Brazilian MST (Landless Workers Movement) to the French Peasant Confederation = a major component of resistance to capitalist globalization and of the convergence of struggles.
=> An issue for the future = which puts in question a certain kind of Marxist tradition (identification of progress with the single model of big socialist agribusiness). A thread to be pursued.
II/ SOME IMPLICATIONS
A. The “moving contradictions”
* Political intervention is fuelled by an infinite number of contradictions. Specificity of a “moving contradiction”.
* Question: is there only one “moving contradiction” under capitalism (class)?
* Importance of the ecological contradiction today + the distinctive question posed by political ecology: relationships between society and nature.
* => Several different “moving contradictions”: class, gender, ecology (and a “democratic contradiction”?). A key: their interactions.
=> Ecology after feminism: a condemnation of “reductionism” within Marxism.
B. Revolutionary transformation of society and convergence of struggles
* Transformation of social relations as a whole (production, gender, etc.) and of relationships between society and nature => implies a convergence of struggles.
* The global justice movement: recognize the plurality of actors and social movements. One of the main reasons for its strength.
C. Ecosystems and the variety of social relations
* Thinking in terms of ecosystems: biodiversity as a framework, impact on climate, etc.
* Relationship between semi-natural ecosystems and social relationships. Diversity of ecosystems = diversity of social relationships. Compare once more the peasant struggle against agribusiness. Shepherds: the profession of the future.
=> The general model of agribusiness is put in question, not just capitalist agribusiness.
=> Socialist society is not the result of generalized proletarianization.
* The question of alliances. Developing positions on the peasantry, and on “indigenous peoples.”
- A very temporary alliance (1917).
- Lenin 1923: “On Cooperation”, part of a profound renewal of his thinking. A durable, evolving alliance. The Chinese and Vietnamese revolutions.
- Today: the place of (transformed) peasantries in the societies of the future.
=> A profound modification of the conception of “modernity”: social relationships that yesterday were considered “doomed by progress” are today considered models for the future.
=> A similar question raised by “indigenous peoples”. Compare a question that I thought of in the past: how to explain the success of the Vietnamese CP among certain highland tribes, and its failure among others? Compare the current case of Mindanao: the link between the RMP-M and the Lumads and its changed orientation after leaving the CPP.
=> For me: issues of alliances must not be seen as a simple tactical (military) necessity. They must be integrated into our thinking about the society we’re fighting for.