The Earth will defeat capitalism
There is an indisputable and sad fact: capitalism as a mode of production and its political ideology, neoliberalism, are so thoroughly established globally that it seems to make any real alternative impossible. It has in fact occupied every space and aligned almost every country to its global interests. Since society has been commercialized and turned everything, even the most sacred things, such as human organs, water and the capacity of flowers to be pollinated, into an opportunity to gain wealth, most countries feel obliged to participate in the globally integrated macro-economy and much less inclined to serve the common good of their people.
Democratic socialism in its advanced version of eco-socialism is an important theoretical option, but has a small worldwide social base of implementation. The thesis of Rosa Luxemburg in her book, Reform or Revolution (Reforma o Revolución), that «the theory of the collapse of capitalism is at the heart of scientific socialism» has not become reality. And socialism has collapsed.
The fury of capitalist accumulation has reached the highest levels of its history. Practically 1% of the wealthy population of the world controls nearly the 90% of its wealth. According to the reputable NGO Oxfam Intermon, in 2014, 85 members of the super-rich had the same amount of money as 3.5 billion of the poorest in the world. This level of irrationality and inhumanity speaks for itself. We are living explicitly barbaric times.
Until now, the usual crises of the system occurred in the peripheral economies, but since the crisis of 2007/2008, it exploded in the heart of the principal countries, in the United States and Europe. Everything seems to indicate that this is not a usual crisis which can always be solved, but that this time it is about a systemic crisis that destroys capitalism’s ability to reproduce itself. The solutions put forward by the countries that have hegemony in the global process are always alike: more of the same. That is, to continue with the limitless exploitation of natural goods and services, guided by a clearly material (and materialistic) measure, such as the gross national product, GNP. And woe to those countries whose GNP decreases.
This growth worsens the state of the Earth even more. The price of trying to reproduce the system is what its spokesmen call «externalities» (things that do not enter into the business accounting). There are principally two of these: a degrading social injustice with high unemployment and growing inequality; and a threatened ecological injustice with the degradation of whole ecosystems, the erosion of biodiversity (with the extinction of between 30-100 thousand species of living beings each year, according to data of the biologist E. Wilson), the growing global warming, the scarcity of drinking water and general unsustenability of the life-system and of the Earth-system.
These two aspects are bringing the capitalist system to its knees. If it wanted the well being it offers the rich countries to be universal, we would need at least three Earths equal to the one we have, which clearly is impossible. The level of exploitation of the «goodness of nature», as the Andean people call the natural goods and services, is such that this September the «Earth Over-Reach Day» occurred. In other words, the day when the Earth no longer has the capacity, by herself, to meet human demands. She needs a year and a half to replace all that is taken from her in one year. She has become dangerously unsustainable. Either we restrain the voracity of wealth accumulation to let her rest and replenish herself, or we must prepare for the worst.
Since it is about a living super-Being (Gaia), finite, with scarce goods and services, and now infirm, but still combining the elements that guarantee the physical, chemical and ecological bases for reproducing life, this process of excessive degradation could cause an ecological-social collapse of Dantesque proportions.
The consequence would be that the Earth would definitively defeat the capitalist system, which would be incapable of reproducing itself, with its materialist culture of limitless and individualistic consumption. What we historically have been unable to accomplish by alternative processes (that was the goal of socialism), nature and the Earth would accomplish. The Earth, in fact, would free herself from the cancer that threatens to metastasize throughout the whole organism of Gaia.
Meanwhile, our task is within the system, to widen the openings, exploring all its contradictions to guarantee the essentials for subsistence: nourishment, work, housing, education, basic services and some free time, especially to the humble peoples of the Earth. This is being done in Brazil and in many other countries. From the bad, we must take only the necessary minimum for the continuity of life and of civilization.
And, also, we must pray and be prepared for the worst.
Leonardo Boff is theologian and writter.
Free translation from the Spanish by
Servicios Koinonia, http://www.servicioskoinonia.org.
Done at REFUGIO DEL RIO GRANDE, Texas, EE.UU.