Away With the Garbage of Capitalism!


Away With the Garbage of Capitalism!
reprinted from
The People
June 10, 1995



The English-language daily, THE NEWS of Mexico City, recently featured a commentary from one of its contributors to the effect that that segment of the population of Mexico City that ekes out a bare subsistence by rummaging through the mountains of garbage produced in a growing and unending stream be paid for their services. It was argued that they are performing an environmentally useful task. Such proposed nostrums have become the measure of the environmental movements' vision: recycling for profit.

In fact, the denizens of Mexico City's trash heaps were once organized by an overlord of the city's most notorious refuse dumps. He accumulated a fortune in his garbage empire, located in the Santa Fe district of Mexico City, and wielded great political influence as a result. The "king of garbage" was murdered by one of his concubines and his empire crumbled. But the idea of employing the very poor to recycle garbage persists.

And no wonder -- there is profit in garbage! This thought tends to mitigate the wanton destruction and plundering of natural resources; it tends to justify the rapacity of capitalism and salve the conscience of the liberal. But the rate of destruction dwarfs the pace of recycling.

Mexico City, the most populous city on earth, the ancient city of the Aztecs, the once enchanting capital that evoked glowing reports from the conquistadors, is now home to 22 million souls writhing in squalor, pollution, crime, violence and degradation. As such, it is perhaps the prototype capitalist city -- a vast devouring beast, an engine with an insatiable appetite for resources. It epitomizes hundreds of cities globally in both developed and "third world" countries. Together, in concert, they are sucking the world dry of its resources, and returning to it pollution and waste. These are capitalism's cities.

The historical process of how the world became mired in its present state of environmental degradation is beyond the brief commentary we can offer presently, but this much can be summarized:

When Karl Marx and Frederick Engels called for the end to the conflict between town and country, between the antagonisms of rural and city life, they were referring to a historical process set on foot with the advent of private property and the growth of class-ruled societies. Although these arose as the necessary development of the productive forces of society, they have become a monumental hindrance to human development, just as has capitalism. Marx and Engels perceived enormous squandering of society's resources, a fact that caused Engels to observe: "When one observes how here in London alone a greater quantity of manure than is produced by the whole kingdom of Saxony is poured away every day into the sea with an expenditure of enormous sums, and what colossal structures are necessary in order to prevent this manure from poisoning the whole of London, then the utopia of abolishing the distinction between town and country is given a remarkably practical basis." (THE HOUSING QUESTION.)

Marx's and Engels' perspective was consonant with the thinking of the most advanced scientists of their day such as Justus von Liebig (1803-1873), who in his writings on the chemistry of agriculture, in which his first demand was that humanity shall give back to the land what it receives from it, and in which he proves that only the existence of the towns, and in particular the big towns, prevents this.

Indeed, if one were to seek that form of class-ruled society that most effectively squanders and devours resources, one need go no further than capitalism's urban agglomerations.

Contrariwise, if one were to discover that system of human habitation most conserving of natural resources, socialism would be that form.

Consider satellite photographs of the planet Earth at night. The entire globe is laced with glowing agglomerations -- of illuminated cities, from pole to pole. The purpose? Illuminating uninhabited buildings and vacant streets, except for stray cats and vermin. This is but one aspect of urban sprawl and real estate anarchy. The energy consumed to keep lights fruitlessly glowing is immeasurable and totally irrational. It comprises light pollution.

Urban sprawl is an organic component of capitalism driven by the mechanization of agriculture and the exodus of large populations from the countryside. In the process, productive farmland is despoiled as housing and commercial development surges into the countryside surrounding historical towns. The market stimulus such development induces is a part of the massive waste-stimulating growth in appliances, building components, steel, wood, concrete and a myriad of other commodities, not the least of which is automobile production.

No product of capitalism epitomizes the waste of the system more than the automobile. Like all other inventions and discoveries, an otherwise ingenious product has been perverted into the commodity par excellence of capitalism.

To visualize millions of cars daily hurtling down expressways conveying a single passenger will baffle the reason of all future generations like nothing else capitalism has produced. The destruction and squandering of resources this mode of transportation has entailed is exemplary and unmatched by any other commodity the system has produced.

For future generations to visualize anything, however, this generation must first survive and leave its legacy to those who will follow. Reason tells us that the world in which we live does not belong to this generation, or even to the human species. Is it reasonable, then, to permit its ongoing destruction -- not by the human species, but by that tiny minority of the species that is befouling the nest of all species -- the capitalist class? There is no reason inherent in the human species that prevents it from living in harmony with its natural surroundings. Indeed, humanity is itself an integral part of the total environment and no more at odds with it by nature than woodpeckers or wildebeests. Capitalism was as necessary to the development of the human species as adolescence is to the individual human being. But, just as the adolescent must progress into maturity if it survives, so must humanity continue to progress toward the maturity of its social development -- to socialism. History cannot stand still. If we do not move forward we must either stagnate or regress. It is time to choose.