Combating Desertification and Drought

What The Mountain Taught the Mouse

From the desk of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research

Jan 25 2019 - (Tricontinental) – In June 1931, the Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci wrote a letter to Giulia Schucht, who lived in Moscow and with whom he had two children. One of the children – Delio – had taken an interest in literature, with a particular fascination for fantasy literature. This gave Gramsci, locked in a fascist prison, the opportunity to recall a story from his village on the island of Sardinia.

A child sleeps, a mug of milk at his side for when he awakes. A mouse drinks the milk, which provokes a scream from the child and his mother. ‘In despair, the mouse bangs his head against the wall, but he realizes that this doesn’t help, and he runs to the goat to get some milk’, writes Gramsci. The goat says he will give milk if the mouse gets him grass, but the meadow is dry because of a drought. So, the mouse seeks water from the fountain, which has been ruined by war. It needs the mason, who needs stones, so the mouse heads to the mountain. But the mountain has been deforested by speculators, and it ‘reveals everywhere its bones stripped of earth’.

The mouse explains his predicament to the mountain, and he promises that when the boy grows, he – unlike the rest of humanity – will replant the trees, which motivates the mountain to give stones and so the child gets his milk. ‘He grows up, plants the trees, everything changes: the mountain’s bones disappear under new humus, atmospheric precipitation once more becomes regular because the trees absorb the vapours and prevent the torrents from devastating the plains, etc’. In short, Gramsci writes, the mouse conceives of a true and proper piatilietca’, a five-year plan.

What the mouse and the mountain teach us is that everything is connected. There is war here but also deforestation for profit and drought and greed. The child, when grown, recognises the need for deliberate planning. But before the plan comes the recognition of linkages.

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