Karl Marx, inspired by his study of the agricultural chemist Justus von Liebig, called capitalist agriculture a robbery system, because it maintains current production by undermining the ecological processes required for future production.
In Marx’s words: “All progress in capitalist agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of robbing the worker, but of robbing the soil; all progress in increasing the fertility of the soil for a given time is progress towards ruining the more long-lasting sources of that fertility”
Marx goes on to explain: “…an entire society, a nation, or all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not owners of the earth. They are simply its possessors, its beneficiaries, and have to bequeath it in an improved state to succeeding generations as ‘boni patres familias’ [good heads of the household].”
Capitalist agri-industry steals from the future, and the present and future generations suffer the consequences. It robs the soil of its nutrients and pollutes the air and waterways. This manner farming is more akin to mining and other extractive industries.
It must be replaced by a society that consistently works for a better future. A system that protects the interests of our children and their children.
The human nature argument is central to mainstream economics, which assumes that human beings always want more, so economic growth is just capitalism’s way of meeting human desires. For our species, the economists say, enough is never enough. This leads to many to conclude that the only way to slow or reverse the environmental damage is to slow or reverse population growth. More people equals more stuff; so fewer people would equal less stuff. It is troubling that population numbers are often seen as causing or worsening climate change, environmental degradation, poverty, war and conflict. The fact that the countries with the highest birth rates have the lowest standard of living, own the least stuff, and produce the least pollution. The truth is that if the poorest 3 billion people on the planet ceased to exist tomorrow, it would scarcely have any effect on the environmental destruction of our planet for they have the lowest standard of living, consume the least and produce far less pollution. When population is cast as the villain, right-wing advocates call for racist anti-immigration policies and restrictions like family planning to engineer population size, militarised borders and detention which they pose as solutions. The idea that population reduction is progress is a flawed assumption.
Growth is as essential to capitalism. It is the inevitable result of the profit system, of capitalism’s inherent drive to accumulate ever more capital. Investors and CEOs act as “personifications of capital.” Regardless of how they individually believe they are capital in human form, and the imperatives of capital take precedence over all other needs and values. When it comes to a choice between protecting humanity’s future and maximising profit, they choose profit. Capital must grow, no matter who gets hurt. And the proof is evident by the example of the car industry. Car manufacturers developed software that cheated the exhaust emission tests, knowing full well the health consequences caused by car pollution.
Corporations are machines for turning capital into more capital. Share-holders in corporations invest in order to get more money back. They really don’t care how, so long as they receive dividends from their investment. If protecting our planet reduces profits, business prioritises profits. If the capitalist system stops expanding, it faces economic crisis and collapse.
Capitalism has only one purpose. Make more profit, that is all what counts. A business with lower costs or bigger market can eliminate the competition. There is constant pressure to expand physically, financially, and geographically. Capitalism must grow. A zero-growth capitalist economy simply cannot exist. As Marx wrote, “Accumulate, accumulate! This is Moses and the Prophets!”
Fertile land is destroyed, forests are clear-cut, and fish populations collapse, all because of what Istvan Mészáros calls the “incurably short-term horizon of the capital system.”
Capitalism’s destructive impacts are driven not just by its need to grow, but by its need to grow faster. The circuit from investment to profit to reinvestment requires time to complete, and the longer it takes, the less total return investors receive. Competition for investment produces constant pressure to speed up the cycle. Once it took sixteen weeks to raise a two-and-a-half pound chicken, today chickens twice that big are raised in six weeks.
Capitalism’s grow-or-die imperative is driving humanity to the brink of extinction. At the present rate of global greenhouse gas emissions, the climate crisis alone could soon end civilisation and destroy the biosphere. Global capitalism is not only creating unprecedented extremes of inequality and injustice, it is destroying the planet. The evidence is all around us. Capitalist expansion drives and accelerates the environmental catastrophe.
In his book, Into the Tempest, William I. Robinson, argues for a “globalization from below” where the “whole notion of national citizenship needs to be questioned” and replaced by a concept of global citizenship. Robinson rejects the restructuring of capitalism into “green capitalism” and calls for a transnational ecosocialist project.
Indeed, this is what the Socialist Party has also been saying for many years when it talks of “world socialism” but it is also aptly expressed by Eugene Debs: “I have no country to fight for; my country is the earth, and I am a citizen of the world.”