Socialism -- True Embodiment of the Environmental Movement


Socialism -- True Embodiment of the Environmental Movement
reprinted from
The People
May 27, 1995


By B.B.

It may not be the first thing on its agenda, but somewhere high at the top of the list of the first congress of the socialist industrial union government of North America will be placed sweeping measures to reverse centuries of plunder and destruction of the earth's resources and the attendant environmental degradation. Millions of workers who remained unemployed, underemployed or engaged in totally useless nonproductive occupations will suddenly find themselves absorbed in the tasks of rebuilding their world, one shattered by the abuses of class rule and open-ended profiteering. Their ardent efforts, freed from any restrictions imposed by private-ownership interests and operating only for the good of humankind and the world, will be in sharp contrast to the feeble and timid actions of the "environmentalists" of the capitalist system who are perennially preoccupied with garnering political influence among politicians and trying to raise the monetary funds to carry on their work.

Current environmentalists, limited in their world view and understanding of the capitalist system, imbued with notions of the "evil men" theory of history, are prone to divorce their specific environmental cause from the whole socio-economic fabric. These environmental warriors of capitalist society endlessly flounder, winning, at best, only a delaying action against the disintegrating effects of capitalism on the natural world.

However, there is one important legacy they are leaving behind for the future. It is data, mountains and mountains of exposes, reports and documentation, that amount to indictments of capitalism as the culprit for the destruction of the environment. University libraries are bulging, research establishments are filled, publishers are glutted and periodicals are saturated with data: data about endangered creatures large and small, from sea lions to snail darters, wolves and coyotes to Bengal tigers, pandas, eagles, condors, spotted owls, whooping cranes, salmon and sea horses, along with all the vegetation of their native habitats. Hardly anything seems to have escaped the scrutiny of those scientists and researchers who weigh in with pounds, kilos and tons of reports and findings that Mother Nature is in deep trouble.

The capitalist system finds all of this tolerable as long as no explicit condemnations of its operations are forthcoming. Indeed, reports and data accumulation are welcome and even encouraged by various foundations, and one can make a comfortable living because of the earth's dying. It's as though uncovering an environmental problem is equal to doing something about it; a lot cheaper, too!

Two recent examples of such documentation, blaming individuals without indicting the system, appeared recently. One, an article in The New York Times of April 7, entitled "El Dorado, Lost Again?" by Leah Martins and Patrick Tierney; the other, "The Puzzle of Declining Amphibian Populations," by Andrew R. Blaustein and David B. Wake, in the April edition of Scientific American.

The former informs us that Venezuela and Brazil are selling off vast areas of rain forest to gold-prospecting companies in the Guiana Highlands separating the Amazon and Orinoco watersheds. Gold deposits estimated at $90 billion, "perhaps 10 percent of the planet's resources," are there. European, Japanese and South African gold capitalists are destroying "one of the planet's richest rain forests" and the habitat of the last unassimilated tribal peoples, the Pemon Indians.

Yellow-Jack Resources, a Canadian outfit, has evicted native peoples from their hunting and fishing domains while the lecherous Robert Friedland, owner of the notorious Summitville gold mine in Colorado, has descended upon the Guiana Highlands (with $50 million he obtained from the Vancouver Stock Exchange) for a repeat performance of the polluted mess he left behind in Colorado, where the clean-up costs were estimated by the EPA at $100 million. Incredibly, this villain acquired a vice presidency in the Minas Guarich strip-mining company partially owned by, of all people, explorer-naturalist Charles Brewer-Carias, a renowned research associate of the University of California and the New York Botanical Gardens!

Brewer-Carias, while posturing as an environmentalist and savior of the Nanomami Indians, saw nothing contradictory in operating open-pit mines on over 12,000 acres in the environmentally protected headwaters of the Cuyumi River! Not to be outdone by Friedland, he employed unsalaried Maguiritare Indians for mining while "he destroys not only nature but also the men who work for him," according to Gergio Milano, an anthropologist and retired police official. The "innovative" Mr. Brewer also ferried University of California anthropologists to the last uncontacted cluster of aboriginal villages in the Amazon without quarantine precautions on a gold-extracting junket, according to three Venezuelan Air Force colonels.

The report goes on to urge the Brazilian and Venezuelan governments to prevent strip-mining and encourage environmentally safer measures. Fat chance! Capitalists always take the most "cost-effective" route to extract minerals and wealth from the earth. The conditions of capitalist competition force them to do so -- a realization too distant for the authors of the Times report to grasp.

In the other article, from Scientific American, the authors report that the declining populations of frogs, toads and salamanders worldwide to be partially due to their high exposures to ultraviolet radiation as a result of ozone depletion in the atmosphere. These research scientists documented "massive die-off of fertilized eggs" in Cascade Mountain frogs in Oregon, and in the western toads. Their experiments on fertilized eggs hatched in controlled laboratory conditions using the same lake water that they breed in produced healthy specimens. They proved that extensive environmental destruction, acid rain and snow, fungicides, herbicides, insecticides and industrial chemicals -- in other words, capitalism's infernal brew -- were all contributing to dramatic declines in amphibian populations. None, they emphasized, have been more damaging than "habitat degradation and destruction [which] clearly remain the most powerful causes of amphibian disappearance around the world."

These scientists have drawn innocuous conclusions, without the essential inference that environmental degradation is inherent in capitalist development. Such an inference would, of course, have led to only one conclusion: that meaningful action to repair our world can only be taken when the competitive pressures of capitalism, indeed the capitalist system itself, is abolished and socialism established.

Upon the basis of the evidence accumulated by today's environmentalists, a socialist industrial union government will take swift, positive and massive efforts to restore the environment. The first step toward doing so, of course, will be to change the basic purpose of social production, from production for profit to production for use -- inherently conservationist in its orientation.

We can expect the workers of every industry to evaluate the repercussions of the productive processes they are engaged in. Biologists, botanists and scientists throughout society will be part of this reassessment, in which the measure of production will be humanity and all living things, and the future generations of all living things.

In this sense, the possibility for a true environmental movement lies within the program of the Socialist Labor Party, for only that program can turn the accumulated mass of environmental documentation into effective action to restore the world.