I have been supporting the thesis that Covid-19 is a counterattack of Mother Earth against the system of capital and its political expression, neoliberalism. It brought to its knees, humiliated, the militaristic powers that with their weapons of mass destruction could destroy life on the planet. If the war against the planet continues, it may no longer want us. A more lethal virus, immune to any vaccine, could lead a large part of the human species to its end.
Such an eventuality is not impossible because this system of death of beings of nature and human beings, in the words of Pope Francis, has a suicidal tendency. It would rather risk death than renounce its voracity.
This short story, taken from Len Tolstoy (1828-1910), told to the peasants of his farm Isnaya Poliana with the title How much earth does a man need, may make us reflect.
“There was a peasant who worked on a piece of land that was not very fertile. He worked hard but without much fruit. He envied his neighbors who had bigger land and more abundant harvests. He was extremely annoyed by the heavy taxes he still had to pay on the little land and the meager earnings.
One day he thought a lot and decided: “I will go with my companion, far away from here, in search of better lands. He learned that many leagues from his home, there were gypsies who sold land very cheaply and even for ridiculously low prices when they saw someone more needy and willing to work.
This peasant, eager to own more and more land to farm and become rich, thought: “I’m going to make a pact with the devil. This one will bring me luck,” he said to his wife, who wrinkled her nose. He warned her:
“My husband, beware of the devil, no good ever comes of making a pact with him.
But, at her husband’s insistence, she decided to accompany him to carry out his ambitious project. With that they set off, taking few belongings with them.
When they arrived at the gypsies’ land, the devil was already there, all dressed up, giving the impression of an influential land merchant. The peasant and his wife politely greeted the gypsies. When they were about to express their desire to acquire land, the devil, unceremoniously, immediately stepped forward and said:
“Good sir, I see that you have come a long way and are seized by a great desire to own good land to plant and make some fortune. I have an excellent proposal for you. The land is cheap, within reach of your pocket. I make you the following proposal: you leave a reasonable amount of money in a bag here beside me. If you walk through a territory for a whole day, from sunrise to sunset, and are back before the sun sets, all the land you walk through will be yours. Otherwise you will lose the money in the bag.
The peasant’s eyes, shone with emotion and he said:
“I think it’s an excellent proposal. I have strong legs and I accept. Early tomorrow morning, at sunrise, I will run, and all the territory that my legs can reach will be mine.
The devil, always malicious, smiled all smiles.
In fact, very early in the morning, as soon as the sun broke through the horizon, the peasant started to run. He jumped over fences, crossed streams and, not satisfied, didn’t even stop to rest. He saw before him a laughing green plain and immediately thought: “here I will plant wheat in abundance. Looking to the left, a very flat valley opened up, and he thought: “here I can make a whole plantation of linen for fine clothes.
A little breathless, he climbed a small hill, and behold, a field of virgin land appeared at the bottom. Then he thought: “I want that land too. There I will raise cattle and sheep and fill my donkey with money.
And so he traveled many kilometers, not satisfied with what he had conquered, because the places he saw were attractive and fertile and fed his unrestrained desire to own them too.
Suddenly he looked up at the sky and realized that the sun was setting behind the mountain. He said from himself to himself:
“There is no time to lose. I have to hurry back, otherwise I will lose all the land I have covered, and the money on top of that. One day of pain, one life of love,” he thought as his grandfather used to say.
He started running at a speed too fast for his tired legs, but he had to run without noticing the limits of his strained muscles. He even took off his shirt and dropped the bag with some food in it. He kept looking at the position of the sun, already near the horizon, huge and red as blood. But it had not yet fully set. Even though he was very tired, he ran more and more and could no longer feel his legs from so much effort. Sadly, he thought: “maybe I have run too far and might lose everything. But let’s go ahead”.
But when he saw the devil standing solemnly in the distance, with his bag of money beside him, he took heart again, certain that he would arrive before the sun went down. He gathered all the energy he had and made a last effort. He ran, without thinking about the limits of his legs, as if he were flying. Not far from the finish line, he threw himself forward, almost losing his balance.
Then, exhausted and without any strength, he collapsed on the ground. And he died. His mouth was bleeding and his whole body was covered with scratches and sweat.
The devil, maliciously, just smiled. Indifferent to the dead man and greedy, he looked at the bag of money. He even took the trouble to make a grave the size of the peasant’s and tucked him inside. It was only seven palms of earth, the smallest part that fit him of all the land he walked. He didn’t need more than that. The woman, as if petrified, watched the whole thing, weeping copiously.
This tale reverberates the words of João Cabral de Melo Neto (1920-1999) in his work Morte e Vida Severina (1995). At the farmer’s funeral, the poet says: “This grave you are in, measured by inches, is the smallest bill you took in life; it is your share of this latifundium”.
Of all the attractive plots of land that he saw and wanted to own, in the end, the avid peasant was left with only the seven palms for his grave.
Is this not the fate of capitalism and neoliberalism?
Leonardo Boff wrote: Covid-19: Mother Earth Strikes Back at Humanity: Warnings from the Pandemic, Vozes 2020.