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Extractivism and Mining

Extractivism is a mode of capital accumulation that has integrated gas, oil and minerals mining, fishing, agriculture and forestry; it is happening across the globe, both in the North and the South, relying on unsustainable modes of consumption with ever increasing demand for goods – an “imperial mode of living” (IML- Edgardo Landerra). IML has centres of global imperial power but liberal globalisation has expanded and opened up different parts of the world as a result of free trade.

Extractivism has destroyed previous modes of production with millions of people being deprived of land and water and of their modes of subsistence. Usually these become criminalised while survival for the dispossessed often means engaging in system defined “illegal and criminal” activities (gangsterism, drug dealing, prostitution, military conflicts, and “illegal” logging and mining, the products of which are often then bought by MNCs).

Countries in Latin America (LA - and many others elsewhere) have undergone de-industrialisation as they cannot compete with cheap imports from South East Asia and as a result of relationships with China. The only fields in which South countries have competitive advantage are natural resources and thus extractivism has been seen by South governments (whether left or right-wing) as the only path to finance development policies and projects, regardless of the socio and environmental consequences. They also make people believe that there is no other alternative towards “development”.

We are facing a crisis of a civilisation that is destroying life itself, based on the logic of permanent accumulation: there is a contradiction between the reproduction of capital and the reproduction of life.

There are also other (extractivism and our) contradictions. China, for instance, cannot go on forever extracting and producing at the same rate as workers’ resistance and the power of trade unions is likely to increase. We will also still need mining (e.g. metals to make solar panels) for alternatives.


Extractivism has to be fought in different ways:

  • Local territorial resistance and
  • By reclaiming our concepts, concepts that were part of the ‘old left’ – de-globalisation, de-linking, self-sufficiency (at local, regional and national levels), etc.

In the current “development” path, our governments destroy the livelihoods of those whose “development” they want to promote. Why is this happening, even when governments can see that extractivism is not leading to feasible economic solutions? Both the ANC in SA and the PT in Brazil, for instance – brought to power through years of mobilisation and pressure from peoples’ movements – act the same way.

Corporate co-optation and capture of leaders and elites seems to provide some of the answers. Corporates also destabilise labour and social counter-formations. A stark example is seen in Kenya, where despite an electricity cost decrease of 75% in the last three years due to the contribution of independent alternative energy suppliers, the government is still commissioning new power stations. In South Africa, while some coal mines are closing down and the country has surplus energy at the moment new power stations are being commissioned. At a local level, in mining communities chiefs and local police are bribed and co-opted, while activists are persecuted and even killed.  

One of the challenges for social movements and the left is to (re)define ‘development” and “development for whom”.


This is a very complex process of how capital organises itself, which involves many different sectors and actors and is subject to price booms and falls (banks and international finance institutions are involved in financing and shaping technology, industry, railways, shipping, pipelines, markets, financial markets, etc.).

Mining also involves different legal instruments in conceding mining licences, the appropriation of land, water and the environment and the transfer of property rights as local populations are dispossessed. Mining also has a conflictual link to the environment, and a supremacy of underground over aboveground. There is also capture by the logic of transforming raw materials into manufactured goods as a path to growth and development.

The global capitalist crisis is leading to restructuring of the mining sector, with mine closures and increasing unemployment.

We need to take all this into consideration when we think of alternatives and approaches and when discussing concepts such as sustainability, the environment, humans, social justice and the earth as having life in itself.