[Marxism] The second contradiction of capitalism

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Dec 31 07:06:49 MST 2013

James O'Connor has developed a theory of the "second contradiction" of 
capitalism that addresses these sorts of concerns.

The first contradiction is generated by the tendency for capitalism to 
expand. The system can not exist in stasis such as precapitalist modes 
of productions such as feudalism. A capitalist system that is based on 
what Marx calls "simple reproduction" and what many greens call 
"maintenance" is an impossibility. Unless there is a steady and 
increasing flow of profits into the system, it will die. Profit is the 
source of new investment which in turn fuels technological innovation 
and, consequently, ever-increasing replacement of living labor by 
machinery. Profit is also generated through layoffs, speedup and other 
more draconian measures.

The second contradiction of capital arises out of the problems the 
system confronts in trying to maintain what Marx called the "conditions 
of production". The "conditions of production" require three elements: 
*human labor power* which Marx called the "personal conditions of 
production", *environment* which he termed "natural or external 
conditions of productions" and *urban infrastructure*, the "general, 
communal conditions of production".

full: http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/ecology/harvey_oconnor.htm


NY Times December 30, 2013
Pollution Rising, Chinese Fear for Soil and Food

CHENJIAWAN, China — The farm-to-table process in China starts in 
villages like this one in the agricultural heartland. Food from the 
fields of Ge Songqing and her neighbors ends up in their kitchens or in 
the local market, and from there goes to other provinces. The foods are 
Chinese staples: rice, cabbage, carrots, turnips and sweet potatoes.

But the fields are ringed by factories and irrigated with water tainted 
by industrial waste. Levels of toxic heavy metals in the wastewater here 
are among the highest in China, and residents fear the soil is similarly 
contaminated. Though they have no scientific proof, they suspect that a 
spate of cancer deaths is linked to the pollution, and worry about lead 
levels in the children’s blood.

“Of course I’m afraid,” said Ms. Ge, in her 60s, pointing to the 
smokestacks looming over her fields and the stagnant, algae-filled 
irrigation canals surrounding a home she shares with a granddaughter and 
her husband, a former soldier. “But we don’t do physical checkups. If we 
find out we have cancer, it’s only a burden on the children.”

With awareness of China’s severe environmental degradation rising, there 
has been a surge of anxiety in the last year among ordinary Chinese and 
some officials over soil pollution in the country’s agricultural centers 
and the potential effects on the food chain. In recent years, the 
government has conducted widespread testing of soil across China, but it 
has not released the results, adding to the fear and making it more 
difficult for most Chinese to judge what they eat and pinpoint the 
offending factories.

An alarming glimpse of official findings came on Monday, when a vice 
minister of land and resources, Wang Shiyuan, said at a news conference 
in Beijing that eight million acres of China’s farmland, equal to the 
size of Maryland, had become so polluted that planting crops on it 
“should not be allowed.”

A signal moment came in May, when officials in Guangdong Province, in 
the far south, said they had discovered excessive levels of cadmium in 
155 batches of rice collected from markets, restaurants and storehouses. 
Of those, 89 were from Hunan Province, where Ms. Ge farms.

The report set off a nationwide scare. In June, China Daily, an official 
English-language newspaper, published an editorial saying that “soil 
contaminated with heavy metals is eroding the foundation of the 
country’s food safety and becoming a looming public health hazard.”

One-sixth of China’s arable land — nearly 50 million acres — suffers 
from soil pollution, according to a book published this year by the 
Ministry of Environmental Protection. The book, “Soil Pollution and 
Physical Health,” said that more than 13 million tons of crops harvested 
each year were contaminated with heavy metals, and that 22 million acres 
of farmland were affected by pesticides.

But the government has refused to divulge details of the pollution, 
leaving farmers and consumers in the dark about the levels of 
contaminants in the food chain. The soil survey, completed in 2010, has 
been locked away as a “state secret.”

“We think it’s always the right of the public to know how bad the 
situation is,” said Ma Tianjie, an advocate at Greenpeace East Asia who 
is researching toxic soil. “The Chinese public can accept the fact that 
our environment is polluted. The important thing is to give them the 
means to challenge polluters and improve the environment, and not just 
keep them in the dark.”

There has been some acknowledgment of the problem by top officials. In 
January, the State Council, China’s cabinet, announced that it would set 
up systems to comprehensively monitor soil pollution by 2015 and promote 
pilot projects for treatment.

Scholars say soil pollution is especially acute in Hunan Province, 
China’s rice bowl. In 2012, Hunan produced 17 million tons of rice, 16 
percent of the national total, according to one market research company.

The province is also one of China’s top producers of nonferrous metals. 
As a result, it is the leading polluter of cadmium, chromium, lead and 
nonmetal arsenic, according to data collected in 2011 by the Institute 
of Public and Environmental Affairs, a research group based in Beijing.

That year, the province was responsible for 41 percent of the nation’s 
cadmium pollution when measured by its presence in industrial 
wastewater; the number has not dropped below 30 percent since 2004, when 
the data were first collected by the group. The wastewater is discharged 
in rivers, where it flows into irrigation channels.

“There’s this pressure from the central government on Hunan to maintain 
a high level of yield for rice production,” said Mr. Ma, the Greenpeace 
program director. “On the other hand, rice production never gives you 
the same kind of G.D.P. growth that industrial development gives you.”

Hunan’s abundance of raw metals has led to a push by provincial 
Communist Party leaders to develop mining and smelting there further, 
leaving officials caught in what Mr. Ma calls a clash of two 
imperatives: “They have to feed the country with their rice, but they 
want to grow their economy.”

Among the heavy metals seeping into Hunan’s crops, the worst may be 
cadmium, which at high levels has been linked to organ failure, 
weakening of bones and cancer, scientists say.

“Cadmium has a tendency to accumulate in the kidney and liver,” Chen 
Nengchang, a scholar at the Guangdong Institute of Eco-environment and 
Soil Sciences. “When the accumulation reaches a certain point, it will 
pose a serious health risk for the organs.”

Cadmium that accumulates in rice plants gets not only into the rice on 
China’s tables, but also into animals’ meat, since the husks are fed to 
farm animals. There is no public data, though, that shows the level of 
cadmium pollution in food.

Increasingly, Chinese news organizations are reporting on clusters of 
villages that have high rates of cancer, raising questions about the 
potential link between cancer and various forms of pollution. Some 
scientists are now conducting studies.

In July, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Pollution published 
some findings from a study that drew a direct connection between 
pollution of the Huai River, which crosses several provinces in central 
China, and high rates of cancer among people living by the river.

Here in Hunan, and particularly in this area administered by Hengyang 
City, which includes Ms. Ge’s village, stories of cancer are common.

One woman in the village of Liujiacun said her husband had died in his 
late 50s of liver cancer. “He didn’t do heavy labor, didn’t smoke, and 
he would drink only a little bit,” said the widow, who gave only her 
surname, Li.

As in nearby villages, crops here appear wilted, and the village well is 
clogged with green muck. These were all sharp changes from Ms. Li’s 
childhood, she said.

Twenty people live in Chenjiawan now, down from a population of about 
100 in 2007, most of them elderly, Ms. Ge said, adding that many recent 
deaths had been from cancer.

There is no public data drawing a direct connection between these cases 
and the factories that loom over the farmland. But a 2009 study 
published in a Chinese journal said that the area’s main crops were “at 
a high risk of heavy metal contamination,” and that only less than half 
could be rated “secure” or “good.”

Chinese farmers “have such a profound connection with the land,” said 
Mr. Chen, the Guangdong soil scientist. “Since China’s household 
registration system makes it difficult for them to relocate to other 
areas, there is a sense of fatalism, and they accept whatever comes 
their way.”

That sense of futility ripples throughout central Hunan. In one part of 
Hengyang, a mound of industrial waste that has destroyed adjacent 
farmland has drawn outraged comments from villagers on the Internet. But 
they expect no action because the nearby factories are tied to local 
officials, villagers said in interviews.

“There’s no way to close these factories because of local 
protectionism,” said one farmer, Wang, who wanted to be identified only 
by his surname for fear of retribution.

For Hunan officials, the mines and factories around Hengyang are central 
to maintaining the province’s leading role in the production of 
nonferrous metals, essential for industrial processes like the 
manufacture of lead-acid car batteries. “It’s difficult to lobby against 
those companies,” said Sun Cheng, a spokesman for Green Hunan, an 
advocacy group.

Hunan officials are eager to expand the nonferrous metals industry. In a 
development plan for the five years ending in 2015, officials have 
pledged to increase the industry’s revenue by an annual rate of 18 
percent, and have approved 80 new projects that have a total investment 
of under $10 billion.

Given the nationwide health risks, some environmental officials in 
Beijing have praised recent experiments done by scientists that show 
certain plants could help clean the soil by absorbing poisons. Still, 
there has been no sign of action on the State Council’s announced goal 
for comprehensive monitoring and treatment of soil pollution. Many 
farmers working their ravaged lands remain fearful and fatalistic.

“You’re born on this earth, you grow up on this earth, and you can’t do 
anything about it,” Ms. Ge said, sitting in an alley next to a pail of 
carrots. “Those who are most vulnerable have died. We’re still here 
wasting away.”

Chris Buckley contributed reporting from Hong Kong, and Patrick Zuo 
contributed research from Beijing and Chenjiawan.

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