The privatization of nature and the enclosure of life – Colectivo ETCÉTERA

The privatization of nature and the enclosure of life – Colectivo ETCÉTERA

A 2012 essay on the transformation of capitalist industrial agriculture into an all-devouring monster that strikes at the heart of life itself, at its reproductive capacities and genetic heritage, in the blind pursuit of profit without regard for biological or social needs, taking the form of a second “enclosure” movement, accompanied by a renascence of eugenics and neo-Malthusianism, that patents life forms and snake venom, and is simultaneously an appalling “experiment” with possibly catastrophic results, which the authors say can only be forestalled by uprisings and general strikes like those of the indigenous and urban excluded populations of Brazil, Bolivia, Guatemala, Nigeria, etc.

The Privatization of Nature and the Enclosure of Life – Colectivo ETCÉTERA

The totalitarian process of capitalist expansion, which turns everything into a commodity, has now penetrated, in its current stage of globalization, the very heart of life, with technologies of genetic manipulation and modification, patents on seeds and every other substance or component of the natural world of which we form a part. This can only lead to either the total submission of our lives to the power of states and big corporations, or else to the extinction of life itself. Only by rebelling, by fighting for our freedom and our autonomy, will we be able to put an end to the currently prevailing capitalist insanity.

In the previous issue of the journal Etcétera (No. 38) we addressed the pillaging and destruction of Nature by Technics, the enclosure of life that the capitalist system implements as a totalitarian force that lays claim to encompass everything, transforming everything into a commodity and into private property, and that seeks to create, and offers, a culture ruled by two disciplinary factors: the market economy and the bureaucratic apparatus of the state; and it dictates that everything that lies outside of these spheres either does not exist or is something that must not exist and must be fought. This enclosed society, this total universe of commodities, has succeeded in rendering us, as human beings, increasingly more alien to each other, and in making the market the principal source of social communication.

Control is exercised over broad areas of life by way of Technics. This particular form of domination over Nature has gone so far as to supplant Nature itself; its power of transformation has supplanted that of Nature, like a new god who recreates the world of life.

The separation from Nature takes place parallel with the separation—the hierarchization—between men, in the same way that the domination of Nature takes place in tandem with the rule over the majority of human beings by a handful of men. As Horkheimer cogently observed: “The history of man’s efforts to subjugate nature is also the history of man’s subjugation by man.”

During the 19th century and the early 20th century, European colonialism, based on war and death, helped the capitalists stuff their moneybags (accumulate) and extended their power to most of the world. After the Second World War, neither the governments that had arisen from the independence struggles in the colonies, nor the states that had been created and imposed during that same process, questioned either the social model or the type of economy that would be established, but instead, following the script of the sordid interests that underpinned the “cold war”, only paid attention to the rewards or “bribes” that they could obtain.

Some took the orders, and the loans, of the IMF and the World Bank, bureaucracies raised above the states of the “free market”, while others took orders and aid from the bureaucrats of Soviet state capitalism; in both cases, however, most of the money ended up in the pockets of bureaucrats and local political bosses, who expressed their gratitude by handing over their countries to the big multinational corporations that would continue the process of pillage that had begun under colonialism. The corporations in the mining, oil, chemical, construction, tourism, food processing and agricultural sectors, along with other industries, have taken lands and lives under their control, and in exchange have opened up the doors to death, war, hunger and various plagues (AIDS, for example). A state based on terror and war has besieged the countries of Asia, all of Africa, America, the countries that succeeded the defunct USSR, and the heart of Europe. And insofar as its consequences, thanks to the excuse of terrorism induced by one or another of their multitude of secret services,1 have multiplied in the U.S. and in the countries of the European Community, its purpose is undoubtedly to enclose the entire world.

The enclosure of life by the current system of capitalist civilization is coming up against certain limits that question its very survival, so that we now find ourselves faced with the question, not how we shall live, but if we shall live. The process of the globalization of capital which turns everything into a commodity has affected life itself by way of agribusiness, the chemical and nuclear industries, genetic modification, etc. The technological development that we are currently witnessing, rooted in the contemporary capitalist system, transforms every aspect of life—communication, health, food—and modifies the whole environment that envelops life—climate, air, water—in a process of appropriation, creation of the conditions for profit making, and devastation (chemical pollution, radioactivity, deforestation, desertification…), leading life to the verge of extinction.

In Nature as we know it, profoundly subjected and exploited, the various species that live within it and the various ways we reproduce have been attacked and altered. All the living beings that populate the planet are now being viewed as useful objects for that great capitalist experiment2 that is now proposing to transform every living organism, as soon as possible, in order not to have to rely on the “slow” evolutionary process of Nature. This hoped-for non-evolutionary change, based on biotechnology and genetic manipulation, is what is leading us now to a situation where everything from seeds and plants to animals and protozoans, is being “designed” and patented.

As Ivan Illich pointed out: “enclosure is as much in the interest of professionals and of state bureaucrats as it is in the interests of capitalists.” Human life is increasingly being enclosed, and the individual himself, increasingly more endangered and dangerous, is more atomized in this massified and gregarious society. This is now becoming more obvious, when, besides enclosing life, life is also registered in the Patent Office for the purpose of obtaining big profits on these patented life forms.

Patented Life

Barely fifty years ago, millions of peasants all over the world controlled their own reserves of seeds and exchanged them with their neighbors. Today, due to a strategy set in motion by the big multinational corporations, with the help of the state and economic bureaucracies, in order to seize control over seeds, most of these reserves of seeds have been manipulated, hybridized, converted into “terminator seeds” [seeds whose progeny in the next generation are sterile: the result of “terminator” gene technology that ensures the monopoly of the seed producer] that, having been patented, have become the property of about a dozen of these multinationals that not only control the seed market, but also the sale of the product (grain), as well as the sale of pesticides, chemical fertilizers and other inputs needed for industrial agriculture. The farmers who still remain on their lands, because a large proportion of the farmland has already been acquired by agricultural firms linked to the big transnationals, are increasingly more obliged to produce certain products and to do so in accordance with the methods of industrial-style agriculture and livestock raising that are totally dependent on the interests of these big corporations.

The power and range of influence of big transnational capital have created a situation favorable for the formation of big industry, by merging previously separated branches of production into large corporate entities. The pharmaceutical, chemical, agro-toxin, food, seed and grain, genetics (biotechnology), etc., companies have merged, forming enormous conglomerates: DuPont with Agribiotech and Dow Chemical; Monsanto bought Cargill, Pharmacia, Upjohn, in the U.S. The Swiss corporation Novartis merged with Ciba Geigy, Sandoz and Sygenta. The French corporation Aventis took over Rhone-Poulenc and Hoechst. And there is the case of the French conglomerate Limagrain; the British Astra Zeneca and the German corporations, Bayer and BASF. Cargill alone, the gigantic grain corporation that is now a division of Monsanto, controls 60% of the world trade in cereals and its annual gross revenue is approximately equal to the GNP of Pakistan.

There is a veritable jungle of organizations with acronyms standing for ostentatious names, created for purposes contrary to their ostensible goals, staffed by disdainful and aggressive executives, and concealing their real concerns: the Club of Rome, G-8, WHO, IMF, the World Bank and its Institute for Economic Development, the WTO or GATT (General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs). It is within these organizations that the strategies of penetration of the big corporations are elaborated, where states are bought or overthrown, where the structural adjustment programs or trade liberalization programs are approved and implemented.

The hegemonic states (of the so-called Global North), the U.S., Canada and the EU, implement an agricultural policy of dumping, subsidizing agribusiness in their own countries in order to maintain artificially low prices for international agricultural products, destroying the competition of the poorer agricultural countries and thus creating a situation where they can import surplus products at a low price. Meanwhile, by way of the IMF, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization, the national governments of the dependent countries are pressured to eliminate aid programs and subsidies for their farmers, and to compel the latter to plant only certain products (monoculture). In this way, the surplus that cannot be sold must be exported and bought by the multinationals at very low prices. This is why “globalization” is wreaking havoc in the so-called “Third World”, making the poor poorer, to make the richest even richer.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the propaganda machine insistently repeated, over and over again, that the (first) “green revolution” would definitively put an end to hunger in the world by way of the massive application of chemicals, “terminator” seeds in agriculture and the conversion of the latter and of livestock raising into a kind of industrial production. At the present time [2012], we note that half of the inhabitants of the planet live in conditions of (food) insecurity and that the world food situation has never been so precarious. Hunger has been subordinated to the extraction of exchange value and to the acquisition on the part of these giant corporations of the greatest possible profit, while attempting to conceal their boundless avarice behind a neo-Malthusian propaganda campaign that “informs” us that there are too many people and not enough food, when it is a well-known fact that world agricultural production has increased by 95% over the last 30 years and that twice as much food is produced as is needed by humanity, and that tons of perfectly useful products are dumped in the sea in order to create scarcity and to raise their price.

However, the false disappearance of hunger remains the preferred theme of propaganda and apologetics for the unlimited development of the productive forces of industrial agriculture, thus seeking to conceal the boundless voracity of the capitalist system of technology. Now, we are once again being “informed” that the “second green revolution” will address this problem, but in order for it to do so, we must allow life to be owned, controlled and exploited by way of the technology of genetic engineering applied to Nature (patents on life) and by way of the techniques of political economy applied to humans by the IMF, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, etc.

It is with these facts in mind that we should contemplate the growing interest on the part of the most powerful states and big corporations in patenting the genetic heritage of the planet. This is why the TRIPS Agreement was signed [TRIPS: Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights]. This agreement was conceived and drafted by a so-called Intellectual Property Committee composed of representatives from big corporations like Monsanto, DuPont, Merck, Pfizer, etc., who attended the Uruguay Round of the GATT. The patented theft of medicinal plants, seeds, animals, insects and trees used by the peoples of the world for centuries is as palpable as it is obvious: the seeds of rice, beans, corn, soy and other grains are being patented, but so, too, is the yew tree, quinoa, ayahuasca, dragon’s blood, the umbilical cords of newborn babies, and the venom and saliva of reptiles, etc. Of particular interest is the fact that the U.S. National Seed Storage Laboratory, in Fort Collins, Colorado, contains more than 400,000 seeds from all over the world.

Enormous quantities of genetic data pertaining to every living organism are stored in the so-called Genetic Data Banks, owned by a handful of states and a few corporations, with which they seek to obtain vast profits and even more power in this biotech century. The Human Genome Project, financed with public money so that its results may then be handed over to private corporations, has made it possible to map the genome of human beings (concerning which, it is true, the “scientists” have discovered more and more similarities with the genome of the fruit fly).

Meanwhile, the recombinant DNA that has made it possible to isolate and then combine fragments of genetic material of unrelated organisms to create a new organism, has become the most effective tool for transgenics or genetic engineering that is expected to be the “science” that will make it possible to transform the essence of things, the creation of living beings in the laboratory by combining genes from different species. This has made it possible to create phosphorescent plants by inserting the genes from fireflies into tobacco or corn plants; or insert chicken genes into potatoes; or for Monsanto to patent a mustard plant that produces plastic; or the creation of an animal that is a cross between a goat and a sheep; or to create a mouse with AIDS; or a chicken that is made for MacDonald’s without feathers, without bones, etc.

The confluence of various factors in the possibilities of genetic manipulation, in the advances of biotechnology, along with the bureaucratic rulings on patents on life, and the globalization of trade and business transactions that allow a global industry of life sciences, in addition to the use of tools like computers and telecommunications and propaganda technologies, only brings us one more step closer to the perfection of the culture of domination and submission.

Once again we see ideologues who call for the implementation of a policy of eugenics—similar to the one practiced by the Nazis, and not just the Nazis, for eugenics was also popular in the U.S., and even one of its presidents, Theodore Roosevelt, openly supported it—whose spokespersons loudly proclaim a future in which there will be only two clearly differentiated classes: the “genetically well-endowed”—about 10% of the world’s population, which will hold power—and the natives whose vocation is to “obey without complaining”. Other, more pragmatic biotechnologists speak of beings with “good genes” and others with “bad genes” and it is obvious that they are trying to manufacture a being that is fully equipped with “good genes”: submissive, hard-working, disciplined.

The assault on reason has been carried to life itself. Life and reason are objects of derision when they no longer serve their masters. Only its own life matters to capital: its own development, accumulation; our lives are only of interest to it as labor power and as capacity for consumption, that is, our possible transformation into money. This is what it wants to reduce us to.

The world, a factory, a concentration camp under the constant threat of terror and war; society, a disciplined machine; this is the “brave new world” that they are trying to design. But will life be able to escape such enclosure? Revolt, the exercise of liberty and autonomy, is present in many corners of the earth. There are still many outbreaks of resistance in this world that they are trying to enclose. These outbreaks include arson attacks against GMO crops, and peasant demonstrations in Brazil, the Philippines, India and Thailand. Or the general strikes of the people of Bolivia, and in that same country, in Cochabamba, the victorious struggle against the privatization of the water supply by a multinational corporation. The struggles of those known as indigenous peoples, the Mayas in Guatemala and Mexico, the Quechuas, or the Mapuches in Chile against the exploitative schemes of Endesa and Repsol, the struggles in Nigeria against the oil companies, Shell and Total, etc.

Bibliography

Karl Marx, Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy, 1858.

John Zerzan, Future Primitive and Other Essays, Autonomedia, 1994.

David Watson, Against the Megamachine, Autonomedia, 1998.

Ken Knabb, “The Poverty of Primitivism”, in Public Secrets: Collected Skirmishes of Ken Knabb, Bureau of Public Secrets, 1997. The section on primitivism is available online at: http://www.bopsecrets.org/CF/primitivism.htm.

Jacques Cauvin, Naissance des divinités. Naissance de l’agriculture, CNRS, Paris.

Marshall D. Sahlins, Stone Age Economics, Aldine de Gruyter, 1974.

Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society, tr. John Wilkinson, 1964; originally published in 1954 under the title, La technique ou l'enjeu du siècle.

Bernard Charbonneau, Le systeme et le caos, Económica, 2000.

Lewis Mumford, The Myth of the Machine, 2 vols.: Technics and Human Development (1967) and The Pentagon of Power (1970).

Günther Anders, Die Antiquiertheit des Menschen, 1956-1980; translations of excerpts from Vol. 1, and Vol. 2 in its entirety, are available online at the website of Libcom.org.

M. Horkheimer and T.W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, 1944; rev. ed. 1947.

David F. Noble, Progress Without People: New Technology, Unemployment, and the Message of Resistance, Between the Lines, 1995.

Joel Kovel and John Clark, Nature, Sociétés Humaines, Langages, Atelier de creation libertaire, 1999.

T.C. McLuhan, Touch the Earth: A Self-Portrait of Indian Existence, Touchstone, 1976.

***

Published in issue no. 83 of Polémica.

Translated in March-April 2017 from the original Spanish text available online at: : https://jesmart.blogia.com/2012/110402-la-privatizaci-n-de-la-naturaleza.-cerco-a-la-vida.php.

  • 1. Everyone knows that Al Qaeda, which claimed responsibility for the attacks in New York, and its leaders were trained and armed by the CIA during the war in Afghanistan against the former USSR, and were financed by Saudi Arabia, the staunchest ally of the U.S. in the region; likewise, the Taliban were financed and armed by the state of Pakistan, also a solid U.S. ally. At a more local level, the explosives and detonators used in the attacks on the trains in Atocha were manufactured by an explosives factory owned by the Spanish state, whose production and distribution of such a dangerous commodity, as admitted by its own spokespersons, is under the strictest surveillance of the Civil Guard; furthermore, however, the person accused of having sold the explosives to the terrorists is a police informer.
  • 2. As Günther Anders wrote in his book, The Obsolescence of Man, today “the laboratory is coterminous with the world”.

Comments

Spikymike
Apr 6 2017 11:52

Genetic manipulation in the hands of capitalist corporations and the state is certainly scary added to all the other results of the rampant commodification of human and animal life, but I'm not convinced that the marginal revolts of the 'only externally enclosed' peasant and indigenous peoples referred to without an equivalent and fundamental revolt by the 'more fully enclosed' global working class will save the day!