“Avatar” and eco-socialism

“Avatar” in Hindu mythology means reincarnation. A sequel to the film of that name was released internationally on 15 December. The earlier part had mountains as the battlefield between “sky people” and the natives; this time it is the ocean.

It is an interesting film at a time when Elon Musk is trying to be the saviour of the human species by transplanting them to another place in the universe where life is possible, after making life miserable here.

The irony is that the same people who destroy the ecosystem of the only planet that we know so far that supports life, and who are unwilling to invest in renewable energy to reduce carbon emissions, are seeking justification for the billions to be spent on migration to colonise other parts of the universe.

There can be questions about the film Avatar, regarding whether evolution will produce species that are similar to humans, if there is life at all anywhere else. Even if life begins again on Earth from scratch, we cannot say that humans will be an inevitable result of the evolutionary process. Nor will the family structure and family bonding be the same elsewhere in the universe, because the family as we know it now is a creation of a historical process, having origins in private property, which came into existence at a particular epoch in history.

But let us not miss the wood for the trees.

Apart from the computer graphics, 3D animations, and visual effects, this film is an excellent criticism of the capitalist system—a system that destroys everything that stops it from making profits, a reckless destruction of life forms that took millions of years to evolve and on which our own existence depends, just for immediate gratification.

The battles in “Pandora” depicted in the film are happening right here on Earth in our time. “Operation Artemis” is the name given to driving away millions of indigenous people in Congo who are evacuated for extracting coltan (a main ingredient of laptop computers and mobile phones), deforestation of the Amazon in Colombia by mining companies from Canada, such as Auxico Resources, violating all human rights, and in India the Vedanta group, which labels the tribal people “terrorists” and hunts them down.

These people have nowhere to go and are driven away to allow the mining companies to extract the resources and make profits. In the process they destroy the ecosystem and pollute the water, exploiting Nature, of which they too are a part.

After all the destruction to the planet Earth they are seeking a place somewhere else in the universe for humans to colonise.

If the audience sympathise with the people of Pandora, then the indigenous people of Earth also deserve their support, because it’s their story. And if you dislike the cruelty of the “sky people” in the film, then you should be against capitalism. The people of Pandora in the film and the indigenous people in the real world are not just fighting for themselves: they are also fighting to preserve the planet on which they live from people who are willing to destroy it for the sake of profit.

The fight of the people of the real world has resulted in left-wing governments being elected in many Latin American countries. But, as has always been the case, imperialism, led by the United States, won’t allow the democratically elected governments to function.

Peru has been the latest casualty, with the elected president Pedro Castillo being arrested. Governments that don’t allow the plunder of resources by transnationals are called “undemocratic,” and actions against them are justified. There is a list of coups sponsored by imperialism and of assassinations, from Patrice Lumumba of Congo to Salvador Allende of Chile—the list is endless.

And if we indulge ourselves in the visual effects of the film we miss the larger point and the politics behind it.

The Jungle (1906) is a novel by Upton Sinclair that tells the story of a meat factory. The author tried to portray the inhuman working condition and unsanitary work practices in a capitalist quest for profit; in fact it was not just the animals that were slaughtered in the factory but humans too. But readers missed the point of the capitalist exploitation of that which the author emphasised, being  more concerned about the hygiene in the meat industry. The effect of the novel was that the government brought in laws for inspecting and maintaining hygiene in the meat industry. The author disappointedly said, “I aimed at the public’s heart and by accident I hit it in the stomach.”

We don’t know where James Cameron aimed while making Avatar; we can only hope it will hit the public’s heart. Will the public limit themselves to enjoying the technical excellence of the film, or progress to think about eco-socialism?