Climate change has long prompted migration, now it can also lead to anti-capitalist consciousness – People’s World

In this May 2, 2018 photo, Pam Weeks, curator at the New England Quilt Museum, points to the names on a quilt by artist Jennifer Eschedor, which is part of the exhibit: ‘Beyond the Border Wall, The Migrant Quilt Project’ , at the museum, in Lowell, Mass. Artists, quilt makers and activists have joined forces to create unique memorials to Mexican and Central American migrants who died in the southern Arizona desert. They sewed quilts from scraps of clothing, souvenirs and found items collected from makeshift migrant camps. | Steven Senne/AP

US government programs for migrants crossing the country’s southern border are punitive and inconsistent. Left-wing political groupings may be critical, but they too have failed to conceptualize dignified lives for migrants in the United States. They also do not sufficiently take into account the adverse circumstances that weigh on the lives of migrants in their country of origin.

The first of the forces pushing masses of people north is the environmental crisis. The role of climate change in reducing soil productivity and food availability and predisposing already beleaguered people to migration is of great concern.

One hypothesis here is that capitalist systems of production and consumption have played a central role in worsening the climate. Another is the need for a war against capitalism in order to avoid further climate change and deal with its fallout. This has not happened in the industrialized countries of the North.

Southern regions may be different. The excesses of capitalist globalization have hurt masses of people there; they never had the relief that the peoples of the North got through the remedies of the welfare state. Thus, in some cases, they may be more ready to undertake the fight against climate change.

Climate change fighters in the North who are anti-capitalist should establish bonds of support with their counterparts in the South. A precedent for them is Spain. The anti-fascists joined the International Brigades in 1936 to defend the Spanish Republic. Now, one way or another, northerners would join a far-off fight, this time against climate change. One locality is Guatemala.

Unidentified migrants, who did not wish to be named, from the state of Jalisco, Mexico, cross the waters of the Rio Grande, with the help of two “coyotes” or smugglers, in an attempt to reach the US border, in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, May 18, 2006. | German Garcia / AP


Author Ilka Oliva Corado describes herself as an “undocumented native immigrant to the United States.” An English version of his story, set in Guatemala and titled “The Plum”, appears here. The exceptions follow:

Guillermina leaves the grocery bags on the table and hurries out a plum, washes it and takes a bite… She is grateful for the hands that have cared for her since the seed of the tree was planted. Since childhood, her peasant grandparents have taught her to be grateful for the work of those who work the land.

She was from Parramos, Chimaltenango, Guatemala. When she arrived in the United States, she only spoke her mother tongue, Cakchiquel. … She spent 20 years working as a housekeeper in New York. … Guillermina left Guatemala with her brother Jacobo to help her parents raise her younger siblings … She was on the eve of her fifteenth birthday when she left her native clothes behind and put on two pants and two T- shirts in his backpack…

(Oliva Corado writes that traffickers sexually abused Guillermina and her brother as they traveled through Mexico, from Chiapas to Tijuana.) “She doesn’t know what happened to her memory. But she managed to block any reminder of the trip after they arrived in Tapachula [in Chiapas]. (The author writes that Jacobo was similarly abused. He remembers, has nightmares, and sleeps intermittently at night.)

He has three jobs. Every Friday they collect their money so that Guillermina can send the money. Neither will allow their younger siblings to emigrate. At home… they work the land of their grandparents, but Miguel, the youngest, did not listen to them and emigrated with another group of friends. He wanted to leave to help his older siblings cope with the economic burden of home. Now he has been missing for three years.

Guillermina bites into the plum which reminds her of bean fields, the shade of avocado and orange trees, and the furrows of cornfields. It was there that she saw her younger siblings start walking while her parents worked.

Plum juice drips from the corner of her lips. … But tasting the fruit that Miguel loved so much triggers the pain that for three years has been tied in her throat and she begins to cry inconsolably.

It was at the supermarket that she received Jacobo’s call. There’s news from Miguel. A forensic team did some tests and they confirmed his identity. Months ago, a humanitarian rescue team searching for a missing migrant woman found her bones in a dry river in Sonora. His parents will finally be able to bury their young son in the city cemetery.

The context

The family land may not be producing enough food to meet nutritional needs, nor enough to sell and provide cash. International agencies concerned about food shortages use a scale that records severity. It consists of phase 1 – no significant problem; stage 2 – stress; phase 3 – crisis; phase 4 – emergency; and phase 5 – generalized acute malnutrition.

The Global Report on Food Crises 2022, compiled by United Nations agencies, reported on trends in Guatemala, which has a population of 16.9 million. In November 2018, 2.12 million Guatemalans have been classified as being in a food “crisis”. The corresponding figures in August 2020 and May 2021 were 3.24 million and 3.29 respectively. On those dates, 4.67 million, 7.21 million, and 7.78 million people, respectively, suffered from dietary stress. A recent report indicates that in September 2021, 4.6 million Guatemalans were facing a food crisis (phase 3) or a food emergency (phase 4).

The World Meteorological Organization, in its July report on the impact of climate change in Latin America and the Caribbean, pointed out that “droughts, heat waves, cold spells, more tropical storms and floods have led to loss of life, severe damage to agricultural production and infrastructure, and displaced populations”.

The authors of another detailed report on the region’s “climate change urgency” state that “Central America’s current bimodal rainfall pattern could be distorted in coming decades…Extreme events such as droughts, hurricanes, and Niño Southern Oscillation will be recurrent… and their intensity will increase with climate change… These phenomena amplify the socio-economic vulnerability of the region.

A survey of the impact of climate change in Guatemala affirm that drought “mainly afflicts the semi-arid region of the country known as the ‘Dry Corridor’ and that ‘in coming years this area is expected to expand to higher elevations’. Recently, the rain has been unusually rare or absent during heat waves.

Rural families in Guatemala grow up or produce food of their own land. Family members may also work seasonally on large farms so they can buy extra food, or fish or hunt. High poverty rates highlight the vulnerability of their lives: 70% in the Chimaltenango department of Guillermina and nearly 80% among the indigenous population of Guatemala. Now, the impact on food supplies of droughts, storms and floods – which are more severe due to climate change – adds to their plight.

Many Guatemalans and other people from southern countries have to move. They travel to big cities or cross national borders to start a new life and/or earn money to support their families. There are many other reasons for migrating, such as land grabbing, government chaos, and violence from criminals, gangs, paramilitaries, and soldiers.

But the migration undertaken in response to the effects of climate change is very important, so much so that the victims are everywhere and number in the millions. As a result, the prospect of mass political mobilization and a growing awareness along the way of capitalism as an enemy emerges.

Capitalist-inspired intrusions already fill the landscape with mines and oil extraction facilities, dams and flooded rivers, pollution, mega-landholdings and monoculture farms. American political interference, debt to foreign banks, privatizations and cuts in social spending have provoked opposition movements. The growing appreciation of the connection between these manifestations of global capitalism and capitalism’s contribution to climate change can serve to spur anti-capitalist resistance movements that are poised to confront the environmental crisis.

This possible scenario in the countries of the South should resonate with anti-capitalist activists in the North. The great need is international solidarity. Author, publisher and eco-socialist John Bellamy Foster offers perspective in his recent published article in Monthly review, entitled “Ecology and the future of history”. Excerpts follow:

“The agent of revolution is increasingly a class which must not be conceived in its usual sense as a purely economic force but as an environmental (and cultural) force: an ecological proletariat…[and] Most major class struggles and revolutionary movements over centuries of capitalist expansion have been driven in part by what might be called ecological imperatives, such as struggles over land, food and environmental conditions. .

He adds: “Third World liberation movements in general were aimed at both the environment and the economy and were struggles in which peasants and indigenous peoples played a central role, as well as proletarian and nascent petty bourgeois…[and] All material struggles are now environmental class struggles as well as economic class struggles, with the separation between the two blurring.

Finally, “The objective consequence of the evolution of the social and ecological environment, the product of unchecked capitalist globalization and accumulation, stemming from the forces at the center of the system, is inevitably to create a more globally interconnected revolutionary struggle: a new eco-revolutionary wave emanating mainly from the countries of the South.


WT Whitney Jr.

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