CAPITALIST EXPLOITATION OF SOIL
Marx’s analysis in Capital of the capitalist exploitation of the soil indicates his understanding of the relationship of capitalism to nature. Marx: “Capitalist production, by collecting the population in great centers, and causing an ever-increasing preponderance of urban population, on the one hand, concentrates the historical driving force of society; on the other hand, it disturbs the circulation of matter between man and the soil, i.e., it prevents the return to the soil of those of its elements consumed by man in the form of food and fabric; it therefore violates the conditions necessary to the continued fertility of the soil. By so doing, it at once destroys the health of the urban laborer and the intellectual life of the rural laborer… In modern agriculture, as in the manufacturing industries, the increased productivity and output of labor are bought at the cost of pathologically laying waste to labor-power, itself. Moreover, all progress in capitalistic agriculture is a progress in the art not only of robbing the laborer, but of robbing the soil, as well; all progress in increasing the fertility of the soil for a period of time is progress towards ruining the lasting sources of that fertility. The more a country bases its development on the foundation of modern industry, as does the United States, for example, the more rapid is this process of destruction.”
Marx does not relate to nature in terms of its possible obliteration as a life-generating whole, but as an object of labor, and he criticizes capitalism for its excessive exhaustion of the soil, which deprives it of fertility. The same critique can be applied to previous historical periods: exhaustion of the soil and the working people is typical of both slavery and feudalism. What is the specificity of capitalist exploitation of nature and man? Departing from Marx’s critique of capitalism, the key difference between capitalism and previous social-economic formations is that production under capitalism is aimed at making profit and not at meeting human needs. Rather than the “ever-increasing preponderance of urban populations”, itself, it is the intensified process of agricultural production aimed at profit that results in the increased exhaustion of the soil, regardless of its potential for fertility and people’s real needs. In addition, capitalism increases the fertility of the soil by ruining the soil as the “lasting source of that fertility”. Marx realized that the problem is not primarily in the limited potential of the soil, but in the capitalist method of soil cultivation, which deprives it of its most important quality – natural fertility. However, Marx does not understand that the specificity of the capitalist method of soil exploitation is that it ruins the natural fertility of the soil through artificial fertilization, which means by turning the soil into a technical space and man into a technical vehicle for ruining nature. Moreover, contemporary food production indicates that capitalism does not even need the soil. In the food industry, raw material is obtained artificially and the whole process of production is carried out in technical conditions, by technical means and in a technical manner. The ultimate result of capitalism’s ecocidal barbarism is that capitalism obviates not only the soil, but also the very planet on which we live, as well as man as a natural and human being. Capitalistically degenerated scientists and their “sponsors” from the world of capital and politics have discarded the Earth as man’s cosmic home, along with “traditional humanity”.
Marx’s critique of the capitalist exploitation of nature is presented within the context of the critique of hyper-production. For Marx, capitalism is not an ecocidal, but an exploitative order. The issues are taken at the level of production and consumption. Marx overlooks the fact that capitalist production implies not only the consumption of raw materials, energy and human labor, but also the destruction of nature as a life-generating force and man as a natural and human being. For Marx, rather than implying the ecocidal nature of capitalism, and, in that context, the endangered survival of humanity, ruining the soil is one of the harmful effects of industrialization. At the same time, Marx overlooks the fact that the exhaustion of natural resources does not only have a mechanical and quantitative character, but also a qualitative character, which means that it conditions the concrete nature of capitalist progress, the nature of the bourgeoisie and the working class, the nature of the class struggle and socialist revolution, the relationship to the future and even the possibility of a future… As far as the working process is concerned, by developing technical means intensively to cultivate of the soil, capitalism magnifies the productivity of labor and reduced the amount of physical labor and, thus, the physical exhaustion of workers.
According to Marx, capitalism transforms nature by turning it into useful objects and thus increases the certainty of human survival and expands the borders of human freedom through material goods and the development of man’s creative powers. At the same time, Marx indicates the danger in exploiting the soil to such an extent that it is robbed of its natural fertility and the survival of future generations is threatened, because a future society should be based on a rational cultivation of nature that involves its regeneration. Marx relativizes the importance of the truth that capitalism threatens the survival of future generations. He criticizes capitalism for its exhaustion of the soil, but the consequences are projected into the future, which acquires an abstract dimension. Given the fact that capitalism creates possibilities for artificial fertilization of the soil and manages increasingly to penetrate the Earth and thus provide new raw materials and energy resources, and their more efficient exploitation, the question of the soil’s exhaustion is being relativized. Indeed, capitalism has been threatening the survival of future generations by increasingly ruining nature ever since its beginning. What was perceived by Marx as a possible existential danger, unless in the meantime the working class abolishes capitalism and establishes a qualitatively different relation to the soil, has actually been in place since the emergence of capitalism (which was indicated by Fourier in early 19th century and, half a century later, by the chief of the Seattle tribe), reaching its peak in the “consumer society“. What appears in Marx as a potential existential threat to future generations, in the form of excessive exhaustion of the soil, has turned today into a real threat to the survival of humankind, in the form of the destruction of nature as a life-generating whole. At the same time, capitalism threatens humankind’s survival not only by robbing the soil, but also by robbing man of his own fertility. As a totalitarian destructive order, capitalism will make future generations face in an increasingly dramatic way not only a fatal ecological crisis, but also their own biological degeneration. The capitalist mode of developing the productive forces has doomed man to biological demise not only by cutting the organic link between man and nature, but also by robbing nature of its natural qualities and man of his human qualities. This comes about by the de-naturalizing of nature and the de-humanizing and de-naturalizing of man, turning nature into a technical space and man into a technical object.
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