Like many areas of value, some are existentially more global than others even as we all know our personal differences in daily, lived experience. The urgency of the climate crisis compels us to adopt ecosocialist ideological tendencies, especially in addressing renewable energy resources including those that affect the production of ecosystem services.
For example, vegan culture and other “slow food”, in its consumer resistance to factory farming of animal products demonstrates one aspect of the mythic resource curse that also carries into the associated crises of economies based on fossil fuels. The externality costs of nonrenewable energy are a consequence whose market structure reflects the North/South, center-periphery inequalities of base and superstructure. Surrendering to any assumptions of commodities markets is instantly confronted with its anticapitalist critiques, where “the problem of environmental disaster (is) a limitation imposed upon the valorization process of capital.”
Nature is that universal which cannot yet be annihilated by the Anthropocene, even as its relentless exploitation also constructs its extinction. The structure and agency of governance that intermediates its development is about human history and its political economy but also its environmental history. The form of that governance has evolved under capitalism with its conflicts arbitrated by capital rather than labor. That conflict is reflected in criticism of an ecosocialism that reduces it to ignoring the counter-revolutionary “grappling” of how an ecosocialist revolution can tend to its opposite. This accusation may in fact be a straw one.
New scholarship projects like the new Heinrich interpretations of Capital and the Saito book on ecosocialism address the slide into orthodoxy. Saito claims, “that Marx’s ecological critique possesses a systematic character and constitutes an essential moment within the totality of his project of Capital…that it is not possible to comprehend the full scope of his critique of political economy if one ignores its ecological dimension.”
In order to ground this statement, I will explore Marx’s theory of “value” and “reification” (Versachlichung), because these key categories reveal that Marx actually deals with the whole of nature, the “material” world, as a place of resistance against capital, where the contradictions of capitalism are manifested most clearly. In this sense, Marx’s ecology not only constitutes an immanent element for his economic system and for his emancipatory vision of socialism, it also provides us with one of the most helpful methodological scaffolds for investigating the ecological crises as the central contradiction of the current historical system of social production and reproduction. The “precious heritage” of Marx’s theory can only be appreciated completely with his ecology. To be sure, it is important to admit that Marx was in the beginning not necessarily “ecological” but sometimes appeared to be “productivist.” Only after a long, arduous process of developing the sophistication of his own political economy, during which time he earnestly studied various fields of the natural sciences, did Marx become fully conscious of the need to deal with the problem of environmental disaster as a limitation imposed upon the valorization process of capital. (Saito p.11)
In contrast, I stress in this book that Marx’s practical and critical method of materialism actually goes beyond this type of “form” analysis and deals with the interrelation between economic forms and the concrete material world, which is closely related to the ecological dimensions. Insofar as Marx’s analysis regards the destruction of nature under capitalism as a manifestation of the discrepancy arising from the capitalist formal transformation of nature, it becomes possible, after examining formal economic categories in close relation to the physical and material dimensions of nature, to systematically reveal Marx’s critique of capitalism. Thus I argue that “material” (Stoff ) is a central category in Marx’s critical project. This is not a minor point. (p. 12)
Kohei Saito: the Anthropocene poses an interesting question in terms of the relation between humans and nature mediated by modern technology. For example, it poses a paradox, in which the modern attempt to conquer nature has been completed, but only in such a way that it produces unexpected consequences. The project of the domination over nature, which is often characterized as “the end of nature”, did not lead to the realization of human freedom based on the ability to freely manipulate nature. On the contrary, precisely because of the increasing power over nature, nature is now returning as an uncontrollable force against humans. This age of the “Great Acceleration” obviously has to do with the development of capitalism, but there is also a tendency to not explicitly discuss the impact of capitalism, reducing the entire problematic to the ahistorical issue of nature, technology, and ontology. The Anthropocene thus needs to be analyzed in relation to the capitalist mode of production, and this is why a Marxist insight can be useful.
S&F_: Jason W. Moore, in his essay Metabolic Rift or Metabolic Shift? Dialectics, Nature, and the World-Historical Method1, states that the metabolic rift theory shows an unresolved contradiction «between a philosophical-discursive embrace of a relational ontology (humanity-in-nature) and a practical analytical acceptance of Nature/Society dualism (dualist practicality)», what do you think?
KS_: Moore’s monistic theory and his critique of the concept of “metabolic rift,” which he falsely attributes to Foster alone, and not to Marx himself, seems to attain the increasing influence. Moore is more a Latourian than a Marxist because his monism is incompatible with Marx’s own method. Foster and I regard his theory to be anti-ecosocialist. An important problem is “monism,” which, despite its apparent radicalness, ends up falling into an anti-ecological argument. It is apparently wrong to blame the concept of the metabolic rift for Cartesian dualism for the reason that it presupposes a fully separated set of entities. But Marx’s theory of metabolism discusses the unity in separation, and nature and society are always in their interaction.
It remains true that the problem of Marxism in the last century is its response to statism, how state-capitalism (and neoliberalism) have thwarted the development of social democracy and socialism.
If we are to re-create socialism for our day, a fundamental criticism of post-Marx Marxism is necessary—including its narrowing of Marx’s revolutionary humanism, his all-sided concept of human development as liberation, which encompassed the human relationship to nature, the relations between the sexes, and the abolition of the division between mental and manual labor.
STATE-CAPITALISM IS THE OPPOSITE OF SOCIALISM
Consider two of the most prominent ecosocialists, Joel Kovel and Michael Lowy, who co-wrote the 2001 International Ecosocialist Manifesto and were among founders of the International Ecosocialist Network in 2007. Their manifesto announced:
“We see ecosocialism not as the denial but as the realization of the ‘first-epoch’ socialisms of the twentieth century, in the context of the ecological crisis. Like them, it builds on the insight that capital is objectified past labor, and grounds itself in the free development of all producers, or to use another way of saying this, an undoing of the separation of the producers from the means of production.
“Ecosocialism retains the emancipatory goals of first-epoch socialism, and rejects both the attenuated, reformist aims of social democracy and the productivist structures of the bureaucratic variations of socialism. It insists, rather, upon redefining both the path and the goal of socialist production in an ecological framework.”
What is totally written out of this historical summation is the counter-revolution that came from within the Russian Revolution. The fact that revolutions as great as that ended up being transformed into opposite, into state-capitalism, and that these totalitarian regimes called themselves Marxist, only served to disorient genuine revolutionaries.
The “productivism” of these societies, their drive to industrialize no matter the cost to environment or to workers, did not stem from some alleged roots in Marx’s theory but from the law of motion of capitalism, which these states had no choice but to follow because the production relations were capitalistic.
Our ecosocialists draw the wrong lesson from history: lumping Marx in with Stalinist “productivism,” yet failing to grapple with how to prevent an ecosocialist revolution from turning into opposite.
It’s not as dichotomous as they suggest and the temptation is to lose oneself in the minutiae of Marxological inerrancy discourse and the battle of sectarian political commitments about the “correct” path to socialism. That path often verges on the precipice of revolution, scientific or otherwise. For the global ecology the path to disaster could be irreversible without carefully considered approaches to materialism. There remain a variety of questions as Mike Davis asks: Is revolution possible in the age of the Anthropocene?
The recovery on a higher level, of the dialectics of nature—to be seen as connected to the dialectics of society—is a vital task for Marxian ecological theorists today, who are seeking to explore the ecological contradictions of the Anthropocene, and to pave away to a truly revolutionary praxis. The seeds of a more comprehensive dialectical ecology—a full historical materialist critique rooted in the materialist conception of nature as well as the materialist conception of history—already exist at present. As Caudwell wrote in the mid-1930s in his Illusion and Reality (1946)—shortly before dying in 1937 (age 29) at his machine gun while he covered the retreat of his comrades in the British battalion of the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War:
“Humans make their own biosphere, but they do not make it just as they please”
There are plenty of possible solutions, but the one least attractive is to do nothing and allow capitalist logic to prevail.
Steve Keen offers a different approach to monetizing pollution credits as carbon taxation. Unlike tax credit transfer markets, property rights would not transfer or suffer from capital accumulation problems.
We need a mechanism that puts the politics first, and lets the economics follow. A “Universal Carbon Credit” (UCC) could be that mechanism.
This is the problem with only using prices to attempt to reduce our carbon consumption: while the rich consume far more carbon per head than the poor, increasing the price of carbon affects the poor far more than the rich. When you’re already barely able to meet your monthly expenses, a higher price for petrol for your car means you can’t afford to drive to work. But when you’re a billionaire, a higher price for avgas won’t make you leave your private jet parked on the tarmac.
We need a mechanism which would be popular with the poor—so much so that they would campaign in favour of it, rather than against it. We need a mechanism that hits the big consumers of carbon—the rich—rather than the poor. In short, we need a mechanism that puts the politics first, and lets the economics follow.
A “Universal Carbon Credit” (UCC) could be that mechanism.
Every adult in a country would receive a UCC, measured in tons of carbon dioxide per year, for the carbon dioxide in their purchases of goods and services. This allowance would be set, initially, at the level of the average carbon consumption in a country. Given how unequal the distribution of income has become, this average would in fact be well above the amount of carbon consumed by the vast majority of the population—90% or more of the population would not consume that much carbon per year.
All goods and services would have their carbon content included, so that as well as running down your wallet when you went shopping, you would run down your UCC. For 90-95% of the population, this would not be a problem: they’d end up with unused UCCs. But the top 5-10% would exhaust their ration, and have to buy unused UCCs from the poor. The richer they were, the more they would have to buy.
Suddenly, the poor would benefit from a scheme to reduce humanity’s generation of greenhouse gases, while the more the rich wanted to buy CO2-generating products, the more it would cost them. Suddenly, products with a low CO2 footprint would become much more desirable than those with a large one. Corporations might put more emphasis on designing low-carbon products, if their CEO suddenly found a large slab of his income ending up in the pockets of the poor.
…human civilization can disappear before capital accumulation becomes impossible.
Competition, the key driver of capitalism, ensures that this focus on profitability for each capitalist, is a fight to the death. Even if one company were to spend the resources necessary to cut down on pollution, carbon emissions, and waste, it would be competing with companies that don’t do this and can therefore sell their products more cheaply and in greater numbers, and the responsible company would quickly find itself pushed out of its necessary market share. Capitalism therefore promotes a built-in focus on short-term profitability to stay ahead of the game, with regard only to the money at the end of the process, rather than the utility or rationality of what is produced. Of course a focus on short term gains is deadly for the environment, which by definition is a long-term issue.
Lastly, this circuit of M-C-M´ implies constant growth for both individual capitalists to stay competitive, and the system as a whole. The entire process of M-C-M´ implies an unending process, since the end goal is not a commodity to be used or consumed, but is money which in and of itself doesn’t do anything unless reinvested into the next round of production. This drive for expansion at any cost puts capitalism at odds with the environment both because it needs more and more inputs on the production side, pillaging our natural resources as fast as they can be used; and because it needs more and more of a consumer base to sell as many products as possible. The requirement for ever-greater material and energy to keep expanding puts capitalism profoundly and irrevocably at odds with a sustainable planet. Indeed, according to a study by the National Academy of Sciences, the world economy exceeded the earth’s regenerative capacity in 1980, and by 1999 had gone beyond it by as much as 20 percent. Today the gap is estimated to be about 30 percent.
Ecosystem services are defined as the direct and indirect contributions of ecosystems to human wellbeing, and have an impact on our survival and quality of life. There are four types of ecosystem services: provisioning, regulating, cultural and supporting services..
- Avoided cost: Services allow society to avoid costs that would have been incurred in the absence of those services (e.g. waste treatment by wetland habitats avoids health costs)
- Replacement cost: Services could be replaced with man-made systems (e.g. restoration of the Catskill Watershed cost less than the construction of a water purification plant)
- Factor income: Services provide for the enhancement of incomes (e.g. improved water quality increases the commercial take of a fishery and improves the income of fishers)
- Travel cost: Service demand may require travel, whose costs can reflect the implied value of the service (e.g. value of ecotourism experience is at least what a visitor is willing to pay to get there)
- Hedonic pricing: Service demand may be reflected in the prices people will pay for associated goods (e.g. coastal housing prices exceed that of inland homes)
- Contingent valuation: Service demand may be elicited by posing hypothetical scenarios that involve some valuation of alternatives (e.g. visitors willing to pay for increased access to national parks)
Two long centuries of industrial capitalism have left us with a perception of time which is no longer adequate to the material conditions now reshaping our lives. The ecological historians Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz typify this old order of time by its dependence on the extraction of fossil fuels: “The continuous time of industrial capitalism,” they write, was “projected onto cultural representations of the future, conceived as a continuous progress unfurling to the rhythm of productivity gains” (2016, 203). The shock of our present moment is that this steady and linear increase in productivity, conceptualised as the natural progress toward a tomorrow greater than today, was only ever the product of a temporary influx of energy from a diminishing resource. As Rob Nixon writes, “in this interregnum between energy regimes, we are living on borrowed time—borrowed from the past and from the future,” with the continuation of the status quo only accelerating us “toward an abbreviated collective future as fossils in the making” (2011, 69).
“The Anthropocene is the recognition that some of what Marx called metabolic rifts are global in scope.”
The concept of the Anthropocene has also been approached via humanities such as philosophy, literature and art. In the scholarly world, it has been the subject of increasing attention through special journals, and conferences, and disciplinary reports. The Anthropocene, its attendant timescale, and ecological implications prompt questions about death and the end of civilisation, memory and archives, the scope and methods of humanistic inquiry, and emotional responses to the “end of nature”.
The ‘anthropocene’ has been also criticized as an ideological construct. Some environmental scholars suggest that “Capitalocene” is a more historically appropriate term. At the same time, others suggest that the Anthropocene ignores systematic inequalities, such as imperialism and racism, that have contributed to the environmental degradation that would mark the Epoch. In this vein, some thinkers have proposed the “Plantationocene” as a more appropriate term to call attention to the role that plantation agriculture has played in the formation of the Epoch, as it marks “the ways that plantation logics organize modern economies, environments, bodies, and social relations”.
Today the discoveries of second-stage ecosocialists, who created a kind of “modern synthesis”—connecting classical Marxism dialectically with the modern ecological critique emanating in large part from ecological science—are widely accepted.5 The rediscovery of the ecological value-form character of Marx’s political economy, his conception of metabolic rift, and his recognition of unequal ecological exchange (and ecological imperialism) have all shifted the ecological debate globally in more revolutionary directions. Few involved in ecosocialist discussions today doubt the importance of Marx’s foundational contributions to the ecological critique of capitalism.6
Yet, the general convergence of views within ecosocialism on Marx’s ecology, particularly around Marx’s theory of metabolic rift, has only served to bring to the fore the conflict with the various forms of hyper-social-constructionist monism now developing in Marxian, post-Marxian and postmodernist circles (e.g. Smith 2008; Castree 2015a; Bensaïd 2002; Moore 2015a; White, Rudy, and Gareau 2015). Such analyses emphasize the growing unity in ecological relations as nature is subsumed within capitalist society. They are thus at odds with the viewpoint of most radical environmentalists and ecosocialists. The production of nature perspective, which has gained influence during the past three decades, primarily within radical geography, represents a kind of parallel current, largely independent of the fierce debates that have taken place within environmentalism and ecosocialism.7 It contends that almost all other left approaches to environmental nature-society questions (including that of Marx himself) are characterized by Cartesian dualism.8
It is not a crude mechanistic or idealistic monism, any more than dualism, that Marxian theory offers in relation to the crisis of the Anthropocene, but rather an open-ended materialist dialectical outlook aimed at totality but without closure, revealing both the limitations and the possibilities of our time. What it points to is the need to create a new earthly existence—the object of which will no longer be the conquest of nature but a world of sustainable human development (Burkett 2005). “Freedom,” Engels wrote, “is the insight into necessity” (Marx and Engels 1975a, vol. 25, 105; Lukács 1980, 120–25).Today the freedom of necessity is best exemplified by ecological revolution (Foster 2009).
Such an ecological revolution must be aimed at creating a new “ecological civilization,” going beyond capitalist society (Magdoff 2011). What is required is social action that will generate a more collective, egalitarian, and sustainable—and therefore socialist—mode of global production. An ecological civilization conceived in this way will necessarily reverse the “rift in the interdependent process of social metabolism” between nature and society, and bring about the “restoration” of that essential relation (Marx 1976, 63–68; 1981, 949;Foster and Burkett 2016, 239–40)—while meeting no-less-essential human needs. From this perspective, humanity has yet to face its greatest historical challenge
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